imomus (imomus) wrote,

The real Neo-Marxism

Local man sometimes is. As we discovered yesterday, it's not so much that I refuse point blank to be interested in what's going on around me in Germany. It's that I'll pay attention to it when it's interesting. This produces a paradox: I'll agree to be local only when the local culture produces something of global significance.

The Germany I love is the Germany which has, occasionally, achieved that. Take the Frankfurt School. This group of New Left intellectuals -- Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin, Marcuse, Fromm -- made a worldwide intellectual impact in the postwar years. If there's such a thing as "Frankfurt School Pop Music", my early records are it. "The Man on Your Street: Songs from the Career of the Dictator Hall", for instance, couldn't have been made without Adorno's book "The Authoritarian Personality". The more introspective Momus records that followed drew heavily on Adorno's "Minima Moralia". (How could one man have written such different books? From the empirical to the diaristic, from the pragmatic-propagandistic to the subtly doubtful and despairing.) And Marcuse's concept of "repressive desublimation" has been bobbing in and out of Click Opera regularly recently, a useful mallet to hit our "compulsory fun", party-at-the-back mullet culture with.

So what would the titans of the Frankfurt School make of today's America, and today's Europe? Would they still believe in the inevitability of Marxist revolution? We know the answer, because one of them is still around. Jürgen Habermas, the youngest of the Frankfurt School intellectuals, is 77, and still active. "His work," says Wikipedia, "sometimes labelled as Neo-Marxist, focuses on the foundations of social theory and epistemology; the analysis of advanced capitalist industrial society and of democracy; the rule of law in a critical social-evolutionary context; and contemporary – especially German – politics."

As a student, I made a circle around Habermas. His work always seemed more grey, subtle, abstruse and meta than the great generation of Benjamin and Adorno; Habermas' thing is epistemology and hermeneutics -- in other words how we know what we know, who says so, and how we decide what's rational. He doesn't think revolution is inevitable; if it comes, it'll be based on people acting spontaneously in their own rational interests. Unfashionably (in a postmodernist and relativist era), Habermas believes that rationality can, to all intents and purposes, be underpinned by something we can think of as universal and objective -- an enlightened intersubjectivity, at the very least.

So far, so dull. But what of praxis? Well, recently Habermas has thrown himself behind the campaign of Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt for a United States of Europe. As reported in Sign and Sight, Habermas kicks away the idea that to let Europe drift without a constitution, or to have no army, is to be neutral. That, he believes, is to be spinelessly complicit:

"If we are not able to hold a Europe-wide referendum before the next European elections in 2009 on the shape Europe should take, the future of the Union will be decided in favour of neo-liberal orthodoxy. Avoiding this touchy issue for the sake of a convenient peace and muddling along the well-trodden path of compromise will give free reign to the dynamic of unbridled market forces..."

The same goes for Europe's military effectiveness:

"Only a European Union capable of acting on the world stage - and taking its place beside the USA, China, India and Japan - can press for an alternative to the ruling Washington consensus in the world's economic institutions. Only such a Europe can advance the long overdue reforms within the UN which are both blocked by and dependent on the USA. It is precisely in critical cases of joint action that we must break free of our dependence on our superior partner. That is one more reason why the European Union needs its own armed forces. Until now Europeans have been subordinated to the dictates and regulations of the American high command in NATO deployments. The time has come for us to attain a position where even in a joint military deployment we still remain true to our own conceptions of human rights, the ban on torture and wartime criminal law."

In other words, we need to remilitarize in order not to be complicit with America's tendency to invade and to torture.

I find this interesting, especially when we take it into the Japanese context. If Habermas is "the real Neo-Marxism", we see him fundamentally reversing the positions of our friend David Marx on the misleadingly-titled Neomarxisme blog. Neomarxisme is pro-business and anti-militarist, whereas Habermas is anti-business and pro-militarist. In the Japanese context, perhaps Habermas would see the non-militarism of the Japanese constitution as America's way to ensure that their own militarism goes unchallenged. While it's certainly true that Japan's desire to re-militarize is being actively encouraged by the American regime, it's a strategy that could backfire for the Neocons if, for instance, Japan used its new clout to challenge imperialism and torture, and to demand a return to the norms of international law, the Geneva Convention, and so on (as Habermas suggests a Europe with a defense minister would do).

I'm also interested to see that the first act of "remilitarizing hawk" Shinzo Abe is a highly positive one: he's moving to set up a meeting with South Korea, in an attempt to do what Koizumi so signally failed to: mend relations with Japan's Asian neighbours. Imagine a United States of Asia and a United States of Europe, both with armies, and both demanding that the renegade US return to the framework of international agreements and the rule of law. Only the strong can keep the peace, and only the united can be strong.

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