The Recognition of Necessity

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.


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