Saturday, November 25, 2006

It's no problem, you can't have it

Robert Skidelsky, author in 1975 of a rather nasty biography of Oswald Mosley (on which I've commented before & will do again), is going strong as a cross-bench peer and occasional newspaper commentator. Witness this piece in last Friday's Indie:
The elements of a "whole Middle East" peace settlement are easy to see, though they will be hard to achieve. These elements include: a federal Iraq, with an agreed formula for sharing out the country's oil resources between the three main provinces; a fully-independent Palestinian state roughly within the 1967 borders, with an internationally-patrolled demilitarised zone along Israel's borders; a phased withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East in return for a guarantee of an uninterrupted oil supply; a nuclear free zone, without which Iran will never give up its nuclear ambitions (but Israel will have to give up its bomb as well); finally, a reactivation of the suspended customs union between Israel and Palestine, with a phased extension to Jordan and the Lebanon, and with a "Marshall Aid"-style programme to get it started, as happened in Europe in 1948.
...
Such ideas may seem crazily unrealistic. But sometimes crazy ideas are the only realistic ones: it is the cautious people who are the real crazies.
There's a false opposition in that last sentence, or rather a dishonest and wishful conflation of two separate oppositions. I'm reminded of something Terry Eagleton wrote in the current LRB:
the fixed is not necessarily to be regretted, or the fluid to be celebrated. Capitalism is endlessly fluid, whereas the demand that the Israelis stop mistreating the Palestinians should be unwavering. The belief that the malleable is always preferable to the immovable is a postmodern cliché. There is a good deal about human history which ought not to alter (educating our children, for example), and quite a lot of change which is deeply undesirable. Change and permanence are not related to each other as radicalism is to conservatism.

The opposition between change and continuity is not the same thing as the opposition between the cause of righting injustices and the cause of preserving them - and it doesn't do anyone any favours to pretend that it is the same thing, unless there's anyone whose interests are served by confusion. Similarly, the opposition between radicalism and caution is not the same thing as the opposition between what can realistically be achieved and what can't. Boldness of vision may be a political virtue (the Skidelsky who worshipped at the shrine of Mosley certainly thought it was) but boldness alone doesn't overrule reality. On the contrary, the truly bold vision is the one which identifies a real opportunity for change and formulates it in way that makes it realisable. The true critique of political caution, in some historical conditions, is precisely that it isn't adequate to reality.

But those conditions can't be conjured by an act of philosophical will - or by the exercise of imperial force. Under current conditions, Skidelsky's 'crazily unrealistic' ideas suggest nothing so much as a longing for somebody - or a lot of uniformed somebodies - to get stuck in and cut the knot of rebarbative reality. But the point is not to erase our starting conditions but to work within them. Debord had it right, again: "A critique seeking to go beyond the spectacle must know how to wait."

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Backword Dave said...

"On the contrary, the truly bold vision is the one which identifies a real opportunity for change and formulates it in way that makes it realisable."
A simple objection:

'What are the stars?' said O'Brien indifferently. 'They are bits of fire a few kilometres away. We could reach them if we wanted to. Or we could blot them out. The earth is the centre of the universe. The sun and the stars go round it.'
Winston made another convulsive movement. This time he did not say anything. O'Brien continued as though answering a spoken objection:
...If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever.'

The opportunity is there, you know. Thank god New Labour only gush drivel. Change? Fuck change.

Eagleton (whom I never particularly liked and whom I like even less for his god-bothering genuflecting but-Dawkins-didn't-read-Origen-and-St-Paul crapology) is talking through his ass: the fluid versus the solid is a Greek dichotomy; not a post-modern one. 'Capitalism is endlessly fluid' - and? So that proves fluid is bad? Because Tel is a Christian and anti-Capitalist? If I understand Tel's metaphysics, moveable is a physical concept and metaphor; yet in physics the science there are no immovable objects. That's not post modern: that's Archimedes and Newton.

There is only one commandment which should never alter: Do the right thing. What that means, however, whether it is to educate your kids to kill the Other or to study mathematics is up to you. History, being in the past, cannot alter. "Educating our children" means nothing: you educate yours: I'll educate mine. Or not.

26/11/06 00:27  

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