Now is the time of myths and fairytales, the traditional hunting ground of the nostalgist and the reactionary. The question is whether the left can create myths of its own that are convincing to the people as a whole.
As delighted as I that the boys are being rescued from the caves in Thailand I can’t help thinking constantly about the 2000 or 3000 migrants who will drown in the Mediterranean this year and nobody much will care.
In essence the Chinese Communist Party went down the road of perestroika without the glasnost in 1989. A difficult decision and one which was really not available to Gorbachev, but maybe it was the correct decision? What if the future is Chinese? Where does that leave the European Union and its project?
I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence but I thought I perhaps needed to explain further what I meant by the division between recognised and unrecognised recognition of necessity. This is taken from Hegel of course and was taken up by Marx and Engels as well as other post-Hegelian thinkers. What it essentially alludes to is that, in order to function properly within society, and indeed — perhaps this amounts to the same thing — to have a properly functioning society it is necessary for the members of that society to have an insight into the necessity of certain things to do with that society. We recognise, for example, the necessity of paying taxes (well, at least the vast majority of us do) in order to be able to pay for the basic necessities – there’s that word again – of social cohesion. Ayn Randian opposition to the role of the state in collecting these taxes in order to spend them on the collective remains, by and large, a marginal view. Certainly, it is more prevalent in the United States than it is in Europe. In Europe there, still, seems to be a recognition that the interwar period and the political disaster that led to fascism was largely a product of a non-functioning capitalist order. The social-liberal order that emerged after 1945 in Europe was largely based on the recognition of the necessity of collective action in order to stave off social dislocation and disintegration. In the UK this carried the name of Butskellism (a portmanteau word containing both the Tory leader RA Butler and the Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell — between whom there was a great deal of consensus on basic socio-economic categories for action) and the French call the period 1945 to 1975 the Glorious 30, again based on the idea of social cohesion. In the United States the tradition is far more individualistic but at the same time far more nationalistic and the political culture of the United States is a constant cultural tension between a more European social-liberal coastal consensus and a middle American individualistic nationalism. President Trump is the outcome of that tension with Randian individualistic nationalism triumphing. In the right wing Hegelian tradition of national cohesion in the form of American Patriotism, individual freedom is seen as subordinate only to the American nation and to God. Otherwise a muscular individualism means that the Recognition of the Necessity of a state is strictly limited. In that sense the recognition of the necessity to accept a restriction on individual freedom in order to be collectively free is that is constantly recognised and fought over. This is the recognised recognition of necessity. In effect it is a daily plebiscite in a very real sense and is one that can be rescinded extremely quickly if the centralised state is seen as intervening too much into the affairs of the individual and their locality.
In Europe, by contrast, the recognition of necessity is qualitatively different. Here, the state is seen not as a necessary evil, but as a social institution which can guarantee individual freedom within a collective framework. This has happened to such an extent that it becomes simply “the way things are”. This integration of social and political culture into individual consciousness is, of course, a definition of ideology. In other words it is an unrecognised recognition of necessity. What both Trump and Brexit have done is to raise the question once again of the role of the central state. In many ways the tension between the “Brussels bureaucracy” and the individual member states of the European Union as a replication of the tension between Washington and the rest of the United States. It is very easy to mobilise populist appeals against the centralising bureaucracy in the name of state and individual freedom.
The point of ideology, however, is that the recognition of necessity become so inculcated into individual and collective consciousness that it is no longer seen as ideology. It becomes unconscious in that sense. As long as there remain tensions within any society or group of societies between whatever subgroups there may be then it cannot be said that that society has reached a level of unrecognised recognition of necessity. The logical consequence of this is that fully unconscious, unrecognised recognised necessity becomes almost impossible to achieve in a society in which there are fundamental contradictions. Ideology, therefore, can only be seen as successfully developed, once it disappears.
It is for this reason that Ernst Bloch said that the idea of the withering away of the state can only be successful once the totality of society – globally – had accepted the Christian message of the love of neighbour.
The Recognition of Necessity has two phases: 1. The recognised recognition of necessity and 2. The unrecognised recognition of necessity.
For thousands of years we have dreamt of flight. Icarus and Daedelus found to their cost that attempting it without the correct technological base or scientific knowledge was doomed to failure. We have even dreamt of flying to the moon in a sledge pulled by a flock of swans. Anticipatory consciousness is the constant companion of human desire and ambition but it must be married with the ability to actually do these things. To put it in Blochian terms, the warm stream of human desire must be underpinned by the cold stream of human capacity.
Socialism, whatever you take that to mean, is similar. All attempts so far to achieve socialism/communism have failed because they have essentially been attempts to fly to the moon in a sledge pulled by flocks of swans. It is a beautiful dream but we are nowhere near being able to realise it. Only now are we starting to see, through the development of technology and automation, the rise of the material base necessary for socialism. It still remains imperative to overcome the social limits of capitalist development and we must maintain the dream but for now we remain grounded in reality.