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.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Thermal mass housing

Garbage Warrior (2007), directed by Oliver Hodge

A welcome breath of fresh air in a climate that collocates any discussion about alternative approaches to the environment with pointless schemes such as ‘offsetting’ your carbon footprint.

Thursday 26 June 2008

What does the ruling class do when it rules?

What does the ruling class do when it rules? Goran Therborn (Verso Radical Thinkers III Series)

It is key that Therborn’s historicisation of the class character of the state remains valid, even if we are forced to consider how the situation now looks thirty years on.

On Ideology

On Ideology, by Louis Althusser (Verso Radical Thinkers III series)

For all his talk of developing Marxism, Althusser is intent on rebuilding a new, overly deterministic system, where ideology, and in particular the educational state apparatus take on primary roles.

The Emergence of Social Space

The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune, by Kristin Ross (Verso Radical Thinkers III Series)

Ross constructs a highly persuasive argument that the 1871 commune, with Rimbaud’s poetry at the centre, should be observed from a spatial critique, with some startlingly comprehensible results.

Ghostly Demarcations

Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida's Specters of Marx, by Derrida et al (Radical Thinkers III series)

Having played fast and loose in his interpretation of Marx, Derrida seems very angry that any of his respondents should be so cavalier with him. His scorn for the attempt to seek Marx’s heritage seems like bad manners after so pointedly dancing on his grave.

Friday 13 June 2008

Savage civility

Wolf Totem, by Jiang Rong - translated by Howard Goldblatt (Hamish and Hamilton)

Rong is dual spokesman: Outer Mongolian to the Chinese and Chinese to everybody else, not caught between fact and fiction but navigating a path between the two roles.

Friday 9 May 2008

Ali Shari’ati: between Marx and the Infinite

An Islamic Utopian, by Ali Rahnema (IB Tauris)

Is Ali Shari’ati, the so-called ideologue of the Iranian Revolution, a poster boy for a utopian Islamic left, lost but not forgotten? Or is his legacy rather an allegory of good intentions gone awry and the irresponsibility of pursuing an exotic Leninist eclecticism at the edge of unreason?

The most disappointing generation ever produced?

1968ers from the Barricades to Baghdad

The end of the Vietnam War took much of the wind out of the sails of the American ‘68ers, many of whom were more interested in dodging the draft than fighting imperialism.

Like imperialism? Love sharia

The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, by Noah Feldman (Princeton University Press)

What is of course excluded from this entire discussion is any reference to the most defining discourse in the Middle East: anti-imperialism.

Friday 18 April 2008

You won’t fool the children of the ‘revolution’

Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy: Corporate PR and the Assault on Democracy, by William Dinan and David Miller (editors)

Dismissing political opponents’ ideas on the basis of ‘guilt by association’ means adopting a less critical approach than if one actually sets out to argue against them.

Monday 31 March 2008

Radical Oxford Blues

Oxford Radical Forum, Wadham College, Oxford, 29 February - 2 March 2008

If anything came out of the Forum at all, however, it was a snapshot of the radical state of confusion on the left today, combining nostalgia for the themes and slogans of the past with many of the prejudices of the present.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

A spectacular failure

Critical Lives: Guy Debord, by Andrew Merrifield

Guy Debord was an alcoholic French intellectual whose Situationalist group played a modest role in the dramatic events of May 1968 in Paris. In the 1970s he became a radical film-maker and spent the aftermath of those tumultuous times in rural seclusion until committing suicide in 1994.

The stone and the chicken

On Practice and Contradiction, by Mao Zedong (introduced by Slavoj Žižek)

If the liberal consensus nowadays is that Robespierre’s French Revolution went too far in the pursuit of liberté, egalité, fraternité, then that’s not as damning as it at first may appear.

Tuesday 4 March 2008

Putting the hippies on the payroll

Green Capitalism: Manufacturing Scarcity in an Age of Abundance, by James Heartfield

Everyone has gone green. Even reprobate oil corporations have stopped funding the ‘global warming sceptics’, as they retool their operations to cash in on the bonanza of carbon-trading. Bewildered by the sudden desertion of their corporate allies, a few isolated libertarians fight a rearguard action against the green tide.

The end of faith is not the answer (on romanticising reason)

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris / The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left, by Ed Husain

Leering under the surface of both these texts is a fear of ideology, of anything with a utopian tinge, and a tendency to merge having ideals with both these things. Rather than vetting individual beliefs for rationality, Harris would be better settling for rationality as a bearer of value and cornerstone of a broader world-view.

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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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