Radicalism, past, present and future

Over recent years, it seems ‘radical’ has become a dirty word. In the wake of the anniversary of 1968, and with books and films galore about the romance and failures of revolutionary life and thought, it seems we’re comfortable with radicalism as an object of nostalgia, but less willing to understand its contemporary legacy – and its trivialisation.

Culture Wars is exploring radicalism – past, present and future – in an attempt to understand a lived tradition as well as how certain ideas filter through the culture. Having focused on past ‘Radical Thinkers’ and the legacy of 1968, touring from Iran to Haiti, investigating the role of ideology and demise of the traditional Left, we turn towards two contemporary variants: ‘political Islam’ and the environmentalist movement. These reviews and essays constitute a critical investigation of what shapes contemporary attitudes towards the future.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Swimming against an authoritarian current

The Bully State: The End of Tolerance, by Brian Monteith

The Bully State is often useful and entertaining. But Monteith’s anthropomorphising of social pressures into a list of bullying ‘socialist’ do-gooders risks underestimating an important part of hyperregulation today.

Friday 4 December 2009

Romantic capitalism

What explains the enduring appeal of Ayn Rand?

Contrary to Rand’s image of heroic capitalists as beacons of integrity and thrusting enterprise, the capitalist class has shown itself in recent years to be every bit as snivelling and mendacious as the worst of the collectivist villains in Rand’s fiction. Who’s been raking in all that bailout money, after all?

Ahistorical analysis

Why Not Socialism? , by Gerry A Cohen (Princeton University Press, 2009)

Cohen’s mental project is clearly within the bounds of analytical political philosophy, and distorts his view of socialism at a number of key points, rendering it sophisticated but an ultimately unconvincing response to the question of why not socialism.

Friday 2 October 2009

Legal highs

Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer, by Michael Mansfield (Bloomsbury, 2009)

Mansfield displays a passion for moral argument, which is likely to become rarer and thus considered more and more radical over time, as more and more regulation creeps into the courtroom. It is unlikely that the barristers of tomorrow will dare to talk with any normative authority for fear of missing some vital detail and finding themselves debarred.

Friday 18 September 2009

Sound bites from a revolution

A New World: A Life of Thomas Paine, Shakespeare’s Globe, London

Although we follow Paine through the upheaval of two revolutions, however, seeing him succeed and fail in his struggle to influence their direction, and meet some great historical actors along the way (Jefferson, Danton, Burke), we leave the play surprisingly ignorant of the content of his arguments

Friday 28 August 2009

A more or less partisan press?

The Political Economy of Media: enduring issues, emerging dilemmas, by Robert W Mc Chesney (Monthly Review Press, 2008)

Counter to the underlying implication in this collection, it cannot be simply business’ bloodthirsty desire for profit that has led to the disintegration of stalwart journalism and civic life today. There is also the matter of a very real defeat of the left, and the discreditating of any alternative, which has hurried on apathy, cynicism and lack of political contestation tout court.

Cold and oppressive yet strangely comforting

Chronicle in Stone, by Ismail Kadare (Canongate 2007)

Overall, the charm of this book lies in the innocent, imaginative playfulness of the young narrator, and the unselfconsciousness of his voice. Whether it was the best book published in English in the whole world in 2005 remains an open question.

Friday 19 June 2009

Moving on the human rights debate

Human Rights and Social Movements, by Neil Stammers (Pluto Press)

Although Stammers makes a powerful and timely case for revaluating our ideas of human rights independently from the state and the law, a more critical approach could easily have led him to conclude that NGOs in fact enforce this connection rather than challenging it.

Friday 5 June 2009

Divine violence

Violence, by Slavoj Žižek (Profile Books)

If the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ has been spread, like an infection belonging and intrinsic to Modernity, to all values; if all values are now questionable, relative, contingent and unreliable; if any ideological power is fatally undermined by its secret obscene supplement, then the West has become openly and fatally violent to itself, through its devastating self-deconstruction.

Friday 24 April 2009

Bad capitalism; paltry anti-capitalism

Feelbad Britain: How to make it better, edited by Pat Devine, Andrew Pearman and David Purdy (Lawrence and Wishart)

The government has not simply run out of ideas; the very New Labour project was a hollow shell devoid of any view of society or a connection to any social base.

Friday 17 April 2009

Mine the past, move on

Maggie's End, The Shaw Theatre, London

The play’s blatant agenda as an agitprop piece for the ‘Reclaim Labour’ movement lead it into trouble as soon the central issue of Thatcher’s funeral begins to take shape.

Changing cultural paradigm

Subcultural pluralism and the new social order: the end of the culture war and the dawn of a new American society

America is no longer the ‘melting pot’: it no longer assimilates minority groups into the majority culture. Instead of a homogeneous cultural majority imposing Western values on ethnic minorities, we now have heterogeneous cultural pluralism developing through acculturation.

Friday 10 April 2009

Conventional liberty; unconventional God

The Convention on Modern Liberty, 28 February 2009, London

It is a shame that it seems to be reactive fear of a dystopic future – be it totalitarianism, environmental catastrophe, corporate consumerism or a militant sharia state – that motivates a defence of liberty; and not a more generous project for freedom, stressing ongoing human liberation and what it’s good for – what we can make with it as a society – in a way that can inspire others.

Time to think

The Idea of Communism, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanites, London, 14 March 2009

In many ways the mood was similar to that at the early stages of the 1 April G20 protests: there was a strong mix of curiosity and anticipation, but no-one really knew why they were there. As one attendee exclaimed to her friends, ‘with a crowd like this, with the economy as it is and with Zizek, Badiou, Negri, Ranciere all talking about Communism… Something’s got to happen’.

Friday 27 March 2009

‘Deradicalisation’ as ideological conformism

A critique of the UK's 'Contest 2 counter-terror strategy'

The idea of ‘de-programming’ in itself has a long and ugly history, often associated with practices of brainwashing, thought reform or mind control as used by New Religious Movements and other cultish groups. Such programmes attempt to ‘gut-check’ participants into thinking along more ‘appropriate’ lines that serve to inhibit critical thinking and express support for the status quo.

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Resources

Blast from the Past! - the original Radical Thinkers series, intro and resources from the old world CW, plus, the printer-friendly pdf.


Radical Philosophy, journal of socialist and feminist philosophy

Radical Notes, coordinating radical voices around the globe

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