– There is little debate about the question of how to organize society’s institutions, and merely an unquestioning assumption that top-down hierarchy with a strong leader is the correct structure. More generally, there is little interest in the key questions of politics: how is power exercised? How should it be exercised?
These examples might seem very different. But they show that the turn away from politics which Julie describes is by no means confined to feminism.
It would be tempting here to say that what’s displaced proper politics is mere tribalism. But I fear that underlying this is something else – narcissism. From feminists calling out a guy for wearing a dodgy shirt to Ukippers demanding free parking and a return to the 1950s, we see a demand that everyone defer to one’s own wishes. In this sense, what lies behind anti-politics is the rise of individualism. What Robert Wyatt sang 30 years ago is even more true now. This is the age of self – and this suits capitalism just fine.
The reader who e-mailed this link adds:
1. Our dominant political ideology, at least among elites, is left liberalism. But the aims of that ideology are seriously at odds with reality. I’m not particularly a cheerleader for capitalism, but, on the economic front, there is really only so much the government can do for people before it starts to make things noticeably worse, and attempts to do things like abolish or even significantly minimize gender roles are doomed to fail. So, you get a lot of posturing, emphasis on symbolic issues like gay marriage*, and attacks on individuals who fail to be sufficiently PC. It’s a sort of impotent rage. Shirtgate etc.
Left liberals sure like to talk a lot about systemic change, but they seem to have completely abandoned any attempt at it.
*As a traditionalist, I’m fine with an emphasis on the symbolic, but I wonder what liberals are doing with such an emphasis.
2. A good deal of this comes down to contradictions on the left. The only way to root out “racists” from say the teaching profession would require giving authorities the power to fire people more easily. That’s not exactly going to go down well with teacher’s unions. Likewise, actually putting away significantly more rapists would require lowering the burden of proof in criminal cases. That’s really problematic from the perspective of liberalism too. For example, you’re going to end up putting away a lot of minority men, if you do that.
So, the system remains the same.
It is also the case, according to MacIntyre, that those involved in these philosophical and political debates claim to be using premises that are objective, based on reason, and universally applicable. Many of them even believe these claims, misunderstanding the nature of their particular inadequate modern philosophy, just as the people in MacIntyre’s post-disaster world misunderstand what it means to be doing real science. But what they are really doing, whether they recognize it or not, is using the language of morality to try to gain their own preferences. They are not trying to persuade others by reasoned argument, because a reasoned argument about morality would require a shared agreement on the good for human beings in the same way that reasoned arguments in the sciences rely on shared agreement about what counts as a scientific definition and a scientific practice. This agreement about the good for human beings does not exist in the modern world (in fact, the modern world is in many ways defined by its absence) and so any attempt at reasoned argument about morality or moral issues is doomed to fail. Other parties to the argument are fully aware that they are simply trying to gain the outcome they prefer using whatever methods happen to be the most effective. (Below there will be more discussion of these people; they are the ones who tend to be most successful as the modern world measures success.) Because we cannot agree on the premises of morality or what morality should aim at, we cannot agree about what counts as a reasoned argument, and since reasoned argument is impossible, all that remains for any individual is to attempt to manipulate other people’s emotions and attitudes to get them to comply with one’s own wishes.
MacIntyre claims that protest and indignation are hallmarks of public “debate” in the modern world. Since no one can ever win an argument – because there’s no agreement about how someone could “win” – anyone can resort to protesting; since no one can ever lose an argument – how can they, if no one can win? – anyone can become indignant if they don’t get their way. If no one can persuade anyone else to do what they want, then only coercion, whether open or hidden (for example, in the form of deception) remains. This is why, MacIntyre says, political arguments are not just interminable but extremely loud and angry, and why modern politics is simply a form of civil war.