ads without products

judt again on social democracy

with 8 comments

Tony Judt has a new and valuable piece on social democracy in today’s Guardian:

We need to rethink the state, and rearticulate the language of social democracy. Social democrats should cease to be defensive and apologetic. A social democratic vision of the good society entails from the outset a greater role for the state and the public sector. The welfare state is as popular as ever with its beneficiaries: nowhere in Europe is there a constituency for abolishing public health services, ending free or subsidised education or reducing public provision of transport and other essential services. We have long practised something resembling social democracy, but we have forgotten how to preach it.

Agreed. And I agree with just about all that Judt says in this piece… except one thing. When he casts around for an angle to take in preaching it, he (somewhat reluctantly) lands on morality as the fulcrum point of whatever case we might make moving forward:

If we remain grotesquely unequal, we shall lose all sense of fraternity: and fraternity, for all its fatuity as a political objective, turns out to be the necessary condition of politics itself. The inculcation of a sense of common purpose and mutual dependence has long been regarded as the linchpin of any community. Inequality is not just morally troubling: it is inefficient.

In post-religious societies such as our own, where most people find meaning and satisfaction in secular objectives, it is only by indulging what Adam Smith called our “benevolent instincts” and reversing our selfish desires that we can “produce among mankind that harmony of sentiments and passions in which consists their whole race and propriety”.

Morality is a lovely concept, but to my mind it’s better at filling Santa’s kettle outside Bloomingdales than forming an axiomatic basepoint for a political movement. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the coming weeks and months, but I would substitute beauty for Judt’s morality, aesthetic instincts for Smith’s benevolent ones. The aesthetic marks a point of negotiation and often enough junction between the individual and the collective, and as such it bears within it the possibility of the suturing of self-interest and collective good in a more psychologically and socially realist form than morality or benevolence.

Anyway, this is something I’m going to be working on moving forward, so there’ll be more on here about it I’m sure – and on Judt, whose Ill Fares the Land dropped through the mailslot as I was reading the above article in the Guardian. I’m sending my first book off for peer review today or Monday, and so it’s time to open up new research. And I gave my blog-derived paper that might be the start of a new book on social democracy and aesthetics for a second time in two weeks last night – this time to a management / marketting department which was interesting and appropriate, as it’s exactly the wisdom of advertising that I’m trying to poach for our side.

Written by adswithoutproducts

March 20, 2010 at 11:28 am

8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I don’t know much about Judt, though his ideas have been cropping up all over the interwebs lately. Some of his ideas do seem interesting, however this essay makes me think I could never share his worldview:

    http://blogs.nybooks.com/post/441569341/girls-girls-girls

    This blog post about the essay is interesting (not the post itself, but the comments):

    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2010/03/12/reader-i-married-her/#comments

    I don’t know if this essay is in the book or not.

    Anglofille

    March 20, 2010 at 3:03 pm

  2. Incy wincy DNA

    Tor Hershman

    March 23, 2010 at 8:14 am

  3. Kant: “Now, I say, the beautiful is the symbol of the morally good, and only in this light (a point of view natural to every one, and one which everyone exacts from others as a duty) does it give us pleasure with an attendant claim to the agreement of every one else, whereupon the mind becomes conscious of a certain ennoblement and elevation above mere sensibility to pleasure from impressions of sense, and also appraises the worth of others on the score of a like maxim of their judgement.” I was just taking a break from reading this in the Critique of Judgement when I checked your blog and the resonance struck me. But for Kant, it seems, one thing that is a symbol of another does not need to resemble that other thing, so the exact relationship between the beautiful and the good remains a bit tricky. What I find odd and provocative about Kant’s view is that while a priori human commonality is the basis for the universal validity that he attributes to aesthetic judgments, and while he also sees the beautiful as a basis for community, he also seems to suggest this capacity, to promote fellowship, solidarity and so forth, is a merely a felicitous, and perhaps incidental property of beautiful objects, and can never be the basis, or determining criteria, for finding things to be beautiful in the first place. So if you’re judging things to be beautiful because it will allow you to feel more connected to other people, you’re not really in realm of the aesthetic. This to me is kind of a brave stance, actually, given the almost reflexive and often painfully self-congratulatory urge on the part of academics to argue that their particular mode of work (appreciating literature and so forth) is necessarily good and useful. Nussbaum on how reading Henry James makes you a better person and etc.

    Tim

    March 27, 2010 at 3:09 am

  4. Tim,

    Christ alive, you have to know that it’s exactly that bit of Kant that I’m perhaps about to stake everything on. Exactly what I was back of the mind thinking about as I wrote this post. And your problematization of it is very smart and exactly right. Expect more posts on this in the coming months, as I’ve finally sent off (again) the book that you watched me write the early versions of and there’s going to be a little bit of time, the early parts of which will likely be devoted to a rereading of Kant’s CofJ.

    Excellent, perfect comment though. I owe you an email too, but things have become complicated enough that it is almost impossible to write. I’ll write it though very soon and thanks for bearing with me.

    adswithoutproducts

    March 28, 2010 at 1:08 am

  5. One other thing Tim. About to start writing about something having to do with DFW that is going to lead me to email many of our old profs. Do you remember hearing the “Describe hitting a tennis ball” anecdote about English 1-2. That’s where this thing I’m going to write this summer is going to start. It’s going to be about the relationship between our education and DFW’s central problematic…

    adswithoutproducts

    March 28, 2010 at 1:10 am

  6. Anglofille,

    Sorry your comment got caught in my spam folder until today! Must have been the links! I really appreciate you posting those links here. I am uncertain about what to make of them though. What do you think the relationship is between social democracy and what Judt talks about? Do you think there is one? I am not sure I can see it… Or, of course I can imagine a link, but I’m not sure I buy it…

    adswithoutproducts

    March 28, 2010 at 1:13 am

  7. A few things:
    1. I think I heard that anecdote about how to hit tennis ball from you, actually. The impossible writing assignment, right?

    2. I’ve been reading Kant mainly because I’m gearing up to say something (hopefully a bit polemical) about all this undertheorized new formalism, but anyway maybe we can share arguments at some point.

    3. Your Wallace post, which btw I thought was really smart and useful, made me think of my favorite line from Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illych, which I just taught: “Ivan Illyich’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.”

    4. Finally, no worries about getting back to me. I’ve been enjoying the blog recently and it struck me, I guess, despite some of our political differences, how much our interests, or perhaps fixations, keep matching up: FID, everydayness, the link between them, middle-class banality. This must have something to do with our alma matter (the first more than the second).

    Tim

    March 28, 2010 at 1:39 am

  8. This:

    Morality is a lovely concept, but to my mind it’s better at filling Santa’s kettle outside Bloomingdales than forming an axiomatic basepoint for a political movement. […] I would substitute beauty for Judt’s morality, aesthetic instincts for Smith’s benevolent ones. The aesthetic marks a point of negotiation and often enough junction between the individual and the collective, and as such it bears within it the possibility of the suturing of self-interest and collective good in a more psychologically and socially realist form than morality or benevolence.

    I haven’t read Critique of Judgement so perhaps I’m missing an assumption or insight crucial to this discussion… but it sounds amazingly wrongheaded to me.

    Not to be tediously literal about it, but please give one example of how this politics-of-the-aesthetic might work?

    Are you suggesting that for example, an *aesthetic* case might have been made for US healthcare reform? Rather than one based on social justice, which is after all essentially a moral issue? The NHS, the Moscow subway, these are beautiful because they were the *right* thing to do, to organize, to build, collectively for a collective good.

    Perhaps there’s a transatlantic disconnect here too… one way of looking at the New Labour era is through its aesthetification of policy – the relentless prettification, sanitization of politics on the basis that that will create public consensus. Spin is the crude shorthand.

    I don’t want a manifesto, just one thing you can imagine being done because it would be Beautiful to do so. Not getting done using its aesthetic value as a means to a greater end, but done because its aesthetic worth is enough of an end in itself.

    ZSTC

    April 1, 2010 at 6:42 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: