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<nettime> Newer, Lonelier, More Critical and Democratic [graham, henwood]

Phil Graham <>
     Re: <nettime> Wark, Criticism, Democracy
Doug Henwood <>
     Re: <nettime> NYT: Portrait of a Newer, Lonelier Crowd

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Date: Sat, 19 Feb 2000 01:16:54 +1100
From: Phil Graham <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Wark, Criticism, Democracy

A couple of questions, McKenzie: 

You claim to have transcended binary visions of politics and so on, yet you
still seem to be comfortable in defining what is leftist and rightist and
what is not. Seemingly, "social democracy" is the transcendent position for
you, whatever that means. It's worth noting that that's what the Third Way
also calls themselves. But I'll believe your claim that you are not a Third
Way person, if only to raise the following questions in a state of
suspended belief. Here: 

At 19:32 17-02-00 -0500, McKenzie Wark wrote:


>If i'm critical of the 'infantile disorder' of leftism, then i must be a
'third way'

What does "leftism" mean here? Define it, please. I don't know what it
means any more, so please tell me.

--- snip ---

>One thing i notice about the response to the 'Austrian situation'
>is the way intellectuals respond to it the same way as they did
>to the rise of One Nation in Australia. 

Who are these "intellectuals"? Do you mean all intellectuals? If not, who
are you talking about? Anyone that responds in a particular way? If people
respond like that, does that make them the "intellectuals" you are talking

--- snip ---

>It provides a way of attacking populism, without understanding
>what might motivate its supporters. Racism is taken to be the
>alpha and omega of populism, and the suppression of racism
>becomes the rallying call of the liberal forces. 

Are the "liberal forces" you mention here the same as the "leftists"? If
not, are *all* who rally to anti-racism part of the "liberal forces"? 

---- snip ---

>Where i differ from Zizek's column, and man y expressions like it,
>is that i think it concedes too much to populism to agree with its
>contention that social democracy has become indistinguishable for
>the liberal/conservative forces. It hands populism yet another
>stick with which to beat social democracy. 

Do you mean "social democracy has become indistinguishable [from] the
liberal/conservative forces"? Is liberal left or right for you? In some
places, it's left in others, right. I'm getting confused with your
categories here.  

>Those familiar with the
>history of One Nation in Australia will be aware of the selective
>use it makes of the critiques of the left. 

Which "left" is it that One Nation critiques? Perhaps you mean the right
wing of the NSW Labor Party. Is that the left you mean? Because that's the
left that One Nation critiques. I only know because I have interviewed all
the parliamentary members of One Nation (now the City-Country Alliance) in

--- snip ---

>2. insist on the difference social democracy makes. 

Which is ....? 

That sounds like an ad: "insist on the Social Democrat difference!"

"No thanks, I just put one out".

>politics may not be the answer to everything. there's a role for
>extra-parliamentary politics. There's a role for the critique of
>social democracy. 

What is social democracy, please, and how does it differ from the Third
Way, who also call themselves social democrats?

---snip ---
>The kind of criticism of the leftists just ends up agreeing with populism
>that its all fucked. 

Again, which "leftist" critiques are you talking about? The
liberal/progressive left, or the labourist/conservative left, or the
labourist/progressive left, or the neo-liberal/left (aka the right)? 

Or are you just talking about Marxists? Or do you mean the postmodern left
(which is also progressive, no)?

>It may well be that the immediate demands of disenfranchised sections
>of the electorate can't be met in the terms in which those people
>want them. Protectionism and anti-immigration policies only arrest
>growth, increase unemployment, erode t he tax base and thereby limit
>the redistributive capacity of the state. 

On what do you base this claim? Surely not the experience of the years
between, roughly, 1950 and 1973 when these sorts of policies were in place
and the "west" had the highest economic growth rates (real, not the
financial speculation bullshit growth that we have now), highest employment
rates, lowest inflation, and highest redistributive capacity? What do you
mean by "protectionism"? "Protectionism" is just another shibboleth that
has been animated by multinats so that they can avoid meeting any legal or
tax constraints. In Australia, they pay less than 6% tax as a group, most
pay less than 3%. That's what erodes the tax base, not protectionism. You
are uncritically regurgitating "Nanny State" neo-liberal rhetoric, I think.

>But, on the other hand,
>participation in an open economy need not be on economic-liberal
>terms of "let 'er rip, no social nets". There's a lot social democracy
>can do not only to socialise the burden of econoic development, 
>but to create the capacity with a people to get benefits from
>develoment for themselves. 

How so? Where is the evidence that "social democracy" can, or rather will,
do this? Not in the US, not in Britain, not in Germany - not anywhere. 

>And of course, there is a rhetoric at work here. Social democracy and
>its conservative opponents in mainstream politics are not, contrary
>to both populist and leftist prejudice, the same. 

Here's where I'm really getting confused. Are you saying that social
democracy is opposed to conservatism, or at least vice versa? That would
make social democracy "progressive", and thus on the "left" by many
definitions (US in particular, and also France and much of Western Europe).
But populism and leftism seem to be the same worldviews. Is that what you
are saying? I'm trying to transcend the binaries here, but you keep setting
them up, all different ones.

>But what is striking
>is how close populist and leftist thinking is on this sameness 

What sameness? The fact that they see mainstream political parties as biff
and boff; as tweedledum and tweedledee? If that is the case, then a great
majority of people are under the same illusion. Hence the rise of populist
parties who play on the - as you point out - very real fears and
deprivations of many people.

>, and
>in their common rejection of pragmatic, piecemeal, experiments in
>overcoming injustice and inequality. Both are epxressions of the same
>fantasy -- a purification of the messy, complex, chaotic world of

I think that you are an apologist for saying that the whole thing is all
messy and complex and chaotic. All governments exercise "the divine
science" (that's what the political scientists call their discipline),
which is by their own defintion "pragmatic, piecemeal, and experimental".
Do you know the origin of "statistics"? They were first designed by the
"statists", among them Francis Bacon, for the collection of piecemeal
knowledge about the state, expressly for designing piecemeal, pragmatic,
and experimental changes to society. You are describing an almost pure
conservative worldview.

This is what I think you have missed and what Zizek, I think, identified: 

What has happened is that mainstream political parties have given up the
pretence of governing, and the will to do anything about anything at all
except getting elected. They have rolled over in the face of
hypercapitalist rhetoric and threats, partly because they don't understand
the machinery they are supposedly in charge of (this is the technocrats'
domain now, not the politicians'- they don't make policy, haven't done for
a long time), and partly the fact that they are entirely dependent on large
organisations for their funding (I include unions here, an important part
of the corporatist [viz fascist] state). Also, the problems facing
societies are so big now, that it *is* complex and messy, and reductio
solutions have ceased to work. The best "social democrats" have to offer is
more of the same, but with entertainment, a glitzy smile, and an MBA.

I don't think you or the social democrats are offering anything alternative
whatsoever. I think you have confused yourself and don't know really where
you stand. Hence you have fallen into an inherently
conservative/neo-liberal (essentially reactionary) worldview without
knowing it. 

There's a couple of things I have learned about politics: 1. Aristotle
outlined all the forms of government - including communism - that we have
ever seen over the last three thousand years (the mass is different now,
granted). 2. It's very hard to come up with new ideas, and social
democratic (if you must call it that) syncretism is not one of them.  

All that said, I have no great answers, except doubt, scepticism, and
criticism (hopefully not cynicism, which is in abundance). So I'll just
keep at it.

Phil Graham

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Date: Fri, 18 Feb 2000 11:35:54 -0500
From: Doug Henwood <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> NYT: Portrait of a Newer, Lonelier Crowd

McKenzie Wark wrote:

>But really, this attempt to renew the relevance of sociology in
>a post-social world must be resisted

I'm assuming this is irony, or a joke, or something other than a 
frank statement of belief, because if it isn't you are truly outdoing 
yourself with silliness with each passing week. A post-social world? 
What in god's name would that be? Have human beings stopped living 
and working in groups? You're in New York City, surrounded by 
millions of your fellow humans, densely packed. We work in offices, 
congregate in unions and clubs and churches, have a government and 
political parties, affiliate in neighborhood and ethnic associations, 
commit crimes, and all manner of other social things. But I don't 
know why I bother to make this point, since this was really a joke, 
and I'm looking like an idiot for taking it seriously.


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