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Stéphanie Roza, La gauche contre les Lumières ? The Left Against the Enlightenment.

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La gauche contre les lumières - Stéphanie Roza - YouTube

Stéphanie Roza, La gauche contre les Lumières ? Fayard,

The ‘culture wars’ , where to begin, where to end? “We are witnessing” writes Stéphanie Roza, “at the present moment, in some of the academic and activist world.. a “tir de barrage” against “imperial Reason”, the humanist Enlightenment Project originally formed in the 18th century. It stands accused as fundamentally imperialist, neo-colonial, male and oppressive, “in a word, ‘white’.” Against these views the feminist philosopher, specialist in the  Enlightenment ideas, and early socialist thinkers (Comment l’utopie est devenue un programme politique,)  member of la Fondation Jean-Jaurès, affirms that this blanket rejection offers no prospect of human emancipation.

For Roza the anti-Enlightenment currents she surveys offer are more than a dead-end.  Taken as a whole they are a “regression” to conservative and counter-revolutionary hostility towards the Enlightenment, the hatred of Edmund Burke and de Masitre, for the French Revolution. Sexed up by a reading of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, and the Frankfurt School’s critique of ‘modernity’ it melds into the view that the Enlightenment has become a prison powered by alienated, instrumental, rationality’s efforts to dominate Nature and Society. The authors of the Dialectic of Enlightenment(1947), in this respect, were precursors of the rejection of “universalism”, and an alternative search for indigenous pasts and ideas, something tying  together (some)  post-colonial studies and the return in force of national populism, and politics based on La Terre et les morts (Maurice Barrès).   Drawing, as she does, on the Zeev Sternhell’s Les Anti-Lumières : une tradition du xviiie siècle à la Guerre froide, (2004) she contends that they are unable to confront, and even are complicit, faced with a far-right founded in the line of the French nationalist Barrès, and his hostility to cosmopolitanism, a ‘biopolitics’ of blood and soil. 

La gauche contre les Lumières ? does not offer ‘an‘ Enlightenment to defend. We should call it a “plural” movement, with debates from differing standpoints on popular rights, on slavery, women, human universality, and religion. Those aware of the issues will recall this immediately. There were figures like Voltaire, who for all his willingness to challenge the authority of inherited values and (at personal risk) challenges to the the French legal system remained a deist, and wished for good government, freed from superstition, not popular rule. David Hume, whose questions undermined the basis of faith itself, adopted a modern form of the ancient Pyronnian scepticism. In the absence of a certain alternatives, it was best to accept conventional political order. There were those (brought to prominence with the Black Lives Matter protest)  who denied racial equality, adopting contemporary views, some claiming proto-scientific status, on a racial hierarchy. This contrasts with the early denunciations of the slave trade and  of European treatment of extra-European peoples, by leading Enlighement thinker, the Encylopedist, Denis Diderot (1713 – 1780), (see: Diderot, de l’atheisme a l’anticolonialisme.Yves Benot. 1970) and who was  prepared for whole-scale reform.  

Roza’s arguments often parallel the work of Kenan Malik in affirming the importance of the “radical Enlightenment” explored by Jonathan Irvine Israel (who put Spinoza as the forerunner of radicality)  which could be said to the forerunner of both the socialist movement and progressivist liberalism. That is the “package of basic values” that refused to accept inherited traiton or an appeal to fixed transcendant religious dogma, and defines modernity and the liberal and democratic socialist left in the broadest sense (including democratic Marxism)  – toleration, personal freedom, democracy, racial equality, sexual emancipation and the universal right to knowledge. As the author puts it, early socialists talked of the 18th century “Lumières des bourgeois” and the 19th as the  “Lumières des prolétaires.”  (Page 31) 

Threads on Michael Foucault recognise the  influence of the ‘genealogist’ within the present ‘culture wars. Roza begins with the thesis that his writings undermined every “démarche révolutionnaire traditionnelle” (Page 53) A critique of the “disciplinary society” – valuable in itself as she has remarked in interviews – and a certain debt to the Enlightenment, cannot hide that Foucault historicised the ideas of universalism, progress, and rationality, to political chimeras. Personal autonomy, she writes, has little meaning, without the ability to make rational decisions. His writings were welcomed, she observes, by the CIA as part of the fight against “socialist egalitarianism”, hopes still alive in 1970s France.  (Page 62) Appendixes are devoted to the further discussion of Foucault’s original philosophical project, later efforts to come to terms with the Enlightenment, and his idea of critique

There are powerful chapters on ‘anti-progressivism’, the association of the left with the idea of “Progress” , and the strain of Green ‘neo-Luddism’, that associates science with present-day ecological disasters,  and  post-colonialist claims that colonisation was an extension of the philosophy of human rights.

The authors covered are mainly francophone, such as Jean-Claude Michéa, who offers a leftist gloss on the Blue Labour loathing of liberalism and ‘Nowhere People’.  and the ‘post-colonial’ anti-semites of the Parti des indigènes de la République (PIR),  with the  exception of intersectionality theorists and the anti-Charlie Hebdo  Talal Assad.Many of the themes are common currency regardless of language. 

What exactly is being proved by denouncing ‘Western’ Enlightenment ideas? Were the movements to free countries from Western rule influenced by western ideas? Roza shows, the very obvious fact, that ‘western’ ideas were employed, and transformed, by anti-colonial movements, such as those in India and Indo-China,  to assert their own rights to independence.  Human rights are in this sense both universal and particular. They are part of the democratic inheritance that needs to be defended and developed in the way Jean Jaurès proposed not ditched.  Roza then  remarks that the original declaration of human rights affirmed that these rights exist inherently to everybody, “abstraction faite de leurs appurtenances communautaires” ‘ from whatever community they belonged to. In short, the mental operation is simple: we are not referring to people in “general” but to each and every person. (Page 145) It is up to people to change, and expand, these rights, not to leave them as abstract ideals..

Perhaps more controversially Roza puts into question the use of the word “blanc”, white, in debates on the left and post-colonial circles. She observes its use to shout down and label ideas put forward by “des universalistes noirs, arabes ou autres”. What is this category? she asks. Is is not a racial one, a symptomatic use, taken, in word at least, from racist discourse? What kind of political debate can take place when all there is stirring the pot is mutual accusation? It is time, she suggests, to go beyond this political stage.

La gauche contre les Lumières ? concludes that at a time of great political confusion, the fall out from so many failures it’s hard to count, has led some to reject the foundations of the left, the “la matrice historique d’où l’ensemble des combat d’emancipation sont issus” (Page 164) For all the setbacks, this remains our common ambition, “La gauche socialiste, anarchiste et communiste est née d’ambition de pousser toujours plus loin, jusqu’à son véritable accomplissement, le projet des Lumières de garantir à chaque être human le pleine exercise de tous ses droits et le plein épanouissement des ses faculties…”(Page 178) The socialist, anarchist and communist left was born with the ambition to push the Enlightenment further, to guarantee to every human being the full exercise of her or his rights, and to develop their faculties to the full.

Writing with clarity and freshness Stéphanie Roza, has, we hope, much to contribue to bringing this project back to the centre of the politics of the left. La gauche pour les Lumières.

Quel avenir pour l'universalisme ? Stéphanie Roza - YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

8 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on Socialist Fight and commented:
    This is good stuff. I have argued along these lines myself.

    socialistfight

    October 6, 2020 at 11:49 am

    • I somehow doubt whether we will agree about Jean Jaurès!

      Andrew Coates

      October 6, 2020 at 12:32 pm

  2. J’aimérais savoir un peu plus sur ce livre.

    Assez souvent des chercheurs peuvent avancer des évidences, enfoncer des portes ouvertes et en rester là. Que ces portes ouvertes ne soient pas connus de beaucoup de monde, ne change rien à la question.

    Parler de l’abandon par la “gauche” (c’est quoi ça?) non seulement des Lumières mais encore de toute sa tradition révolutionnaire est presque une Lapalissade.

    Mais pour proposer quoi? Revenir à la tradition?

    C’est ne pas comprendre, nier les causes de cet abandon qui n’est pas que idéologique, c’est le résultat de la disparition de la classe ouvrière comme acteur politique national et international. L’idéologie ne reflète que cette réalité.

    La crise est profonde et ne trouvera pas d’issue sans s’attaquer à la question idéologique: Quelles idéologies ont fait faillite au sein du mouvement ouvrier? Quelle ont gardé, à peu près, une orientation juste?

    Mais sans des luttes importantes de la classe, ainsi soit par une mobilisation spontanée (ou semi-spontanée) cette nécessaire clarification idéoligique ne se fera que très partiellement ou pas.

    Tout ça va ensemble.

    Les derniers évenements en France, avant la “gél” induit par le Coivid (une opération d’ingénierie sociale plus qu’une epidémie) ont montré à ceux qui veulent voir, la nécessité absolue d’un parti communiste ouvrier démocratique et de lutte.

    Hélas, on en est loin. Même parmi ceux qui se définissent comme révolutionnaires, “trotskistes”, “marxistes-léninistes” (sans parler des anarchistes qui sont une catégorie apart ” des libéraux avec des pistolets” mais sans pistolets aujourd’hui) et tout ce qu’on veut, il n’y a en fait, que trois tendances marquées: une de droite (qui se permet même d’acompagner les agressions impérialistes), une centriste, d’ultragauche en paroles mais sectaire et de droite dans les actes (aussi à l’international) et quelques élements homéopatiques de gauche, souvent inorganisés.

    Alors, chat échaudé craint l’eau froide, et les vieux militants regardent deux fois (ou plus) avant de s’enthousiasmer pour une analyse ou un autre corret ou plus ou moins correct. Peut-être totue une génération passe et ceux qui viendront derrière devront refaire presque tout le chemin de leurs ailleux.

    Peut-être aussi, et je l’espère encore,, les luttes des Gilets Jaunes et celles des militants de base qui rentent ont produit le miracle de créer, d’impulser une nouvelle génération des intellectuels fidèles (ici je m’avance trop voyant l’expérience antérieure) qui puissent illuminer le chemin d’émancipation des travailleurs.

    Mais je ne crois pas trop dans les “intéllectuels” ( trop des trahisons et un chemin de croix pour ceux qui défendent et les Lumières et l’émancipation des travailleurs). Je me méfie des bourgeois issus de la II Internationale, ils ont trahi; des petits bourgeois qui remplirent la III (trahirent et bureaucratisèrent) et IV (des bons à rien,incapables de toute pratique miniment réussie) Internationales et je prévoit que les difficiles conditions qui créent la Crise économique et, pêut-être, la prochaine guerre, vont faire surgir des travailleurs mêmes (assez qualifiés aujourd’hui) les élements d’intellect qui leur permettront de finir avec la capitalisme et se préparer aux luttes sous le socialsme.

    Car la rue va continuer de tourner (à un niveau supérieur) et les contradictions, même celles de classe, ne vont pas disparaitre comme par magie. Totue l’expérience de bureaucratisation des militants et des cadres politiques le montre. La lutte de classes continuera sous le socialisme.

    Viriato

    October 12, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    • Il serait bien un ‘miracle’ si les gilets jaunes – une lutte a quel but? – parviennent à qui que ce soit.

      Qu’un parti communiste révolutionnaire renaisse de ses cendres ou sur des bases nouvelles, ” démocratique et de lutte” (bien que je sois pas du tout hostile à toutes les démarches du PCF actuel) est aussi improbable.

      Mais il est surement tout à fait légitime de se demander si on a choisi un titre comme *la gauche* contre les lumières” pour des raisons autres que d’attirir des lecteurs.

      Il y a des courants de gauche qui sont contre les Lumiere’s, surtout aux Etats unis, proprement parler une gauche libérale, qui se pretend être radicale, elle n’existe guère en dehors des facs.

      Andrew Coates

      October 12, 2020 at 3:12 pm

  3. Je vais essayer de répondre en anglais.

    Precisely, the political experience that has left the Yellow Vests struggle, a movement completely sponstenated with revolt that learned in the struggle but also went astray because the entire left, with very few exceptions (the POI, part of a small fraction of the NPA) abandoned it, leaving it to its erratic course, shows the need for a democratic but fighting communist party.
    The spontaneous struggles against the Crisis of Capitalism, both of the petty bourgeoisie (Podemos, etc.) and of the poorest sectors (those left behind by the unions and parties of the left and/or extreme left) are international phenomena and could only fail without a conscious organization (a party of its own) to guide and lead them.
    But Podemos is not the Yellow Vests, Chile, etc. and the movement has advanced from openly petty bourgeois positions to positions of proletarian revolt but still under the ideological influence of post-modernists, ecologists, semi-anarchists, supporters of no organization, etc., in short, more or less the same soup as before the First International.

    From all this, the need for an ideological correct party emerges in a crystalline way, if we want to continue the march forward that the crisis obliges us to take.

    It will come, therefore, necessarily.

    If the intellectuals come to understand this and work for it, another step forward will be taken, but until the movement of workers’ struggles begins in earnest and a group of them takes the theoretical and ideological question into their hands, we will dance like the tango, one step backwards, another from the front and sometimes another forwards.

    The whole question is that of the party and the ideology that goes with it.

    .

    Viriato

    October 12, 2020 at 6:48 pm

  4. Precisely, the political experience that has left the Yellow Vests struggle, a movement completely sponstenated with revolt that learned in the struggle but also went astray because the entire left, with very few exceptions (the POI, part of a small fraction of the NPA) abandoned it, leaving it to its erratic course, shows the need for a democratic but fighting communist party.
    The spontaneous struggles against the Crisis of Capitalism, both of the petty bourgeoisie (Podemos, etc.) and of the poorest sectors (those left behind by the unions and parties of the left and/or extreme left) are international phenomena and could only fail without a conscious organization (a party of its own) to guide and lead them.
    But Podemos is not the Yellow Vests, Chile, etc. and the movement has advanced from openly petty bourgeois positions to positions of proletarian revolt but still under the ideological influence of post-modernists, ecologists, semi-anarchists, supporters of no organization, etc., in short, more or less the same soup as before the First International.

    From all this, the need for an ideological correct party emerges in a crystalline way, if we want to continue the march forward that the crisis obliges us to take.

    It will come, therefore, necessarily.

    If the intellectuals come to understand this and work for it, another step forward will be taken, but until the movement of workers’ struggles begins in earnest and a group of them takes the theoretical and ideological question into their hands, we will dance like the tango, one step backwards, another from the front and sometimes another forwards.

    The whole question is that of the party and the ideology that goes with it.

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

    Viriato

    October 12, 2020 at 6:49 pm

  5. She dreams the little lady…

    The “anti-rationalist” tendencies come from very far away and already Bernstein, founding father of the reformist “left”, attacked the materialist dialectic, the only possible, concrete, real form of rationality today.

    The other empiricists, subjectivists and neo-Kantians who passed as “leaders of the proletariat” were able, during the periods of capitalist growth, to delude the workers.

    As soon as the machine gripped, reformism, the capitalists’ concessions to social peace (extorted by the struggle led by the reformists, the empiricists) disappeared and took the opposite course.

    The Sartrean “left” was, as Lukacs showed, only a variant of a still major philosophical reaction, subjective idealism, and it was not the “leftists” à la Simone Weil, directly “inspired” by Heidegger the Nazi, who made things better.

    Then, with the fall of the USSR, which had been worm-eaten by Stalinism, things could only turn for the worse. The absurdities of a Negri, the passing fashionable postmodernists, all the anti-Party, anti-revolutionary Marx , anti-Lenin, “black book makers” were unleashed and took their place. These are the ones that the lady mentions as those who have “forgotten” the “rationalist tradition”.

    The less virulent ones, that is, those who have not put themselves at the direct service of the imperialists, have abandoned everything and passed on arms and baggage to reformism in a situation that does not allow reforms.

    “Logically”, for the most part they have supported all imperialist wars, or from an open position even calling for arming the auxiliary bandits of imperialism, or taking a position on a pro-imperialist right-wing centrism of the “nor-nor”.

    So, madam, to which “tradition” should we return? To that of the “left” of the Enlightenment? To the band of reformist traitors and their “philosophy” which today is summed up in a very short-sighted opportunism for their direct benefit?
    It is not enough to stay with Voltaire and Rousseau. It may satisfy intellectuals and provide them with a layer of “left” (how else can one look at oneself in the mirror in the morning?) is obviously not enough, even if it were possible and actually done. It lacks the Hegel, Marx-Engels component, it lacks the materialist dialectic, because without it, “rationality” is only mechanical absurdity that is easily refuted.

    In any case, rationalism alone is not enough for the workers who struggle to finish with capitalism and continue their march.What is needed is dialectical rationality, the criticism of the bourgeois ideological currents that dominate all the fields of the ideological superstructure. We need the defense of the most advanced fundamental elements of the ideological treasure of the proletariat, Marxism, Leninism, the contributions of a lot of other militants.

    All the same, the lady and her approach is a small step forward, very insufficient, which remains in the middle of theriver and can give nothing at all because it is obviously not enough.

    I hope she will go further. “Pourvou que ça doure”.
    Still, the lady and her approach is a small step forward, very insufficient, which remains in the 19th century and which can give nothing at all because it is clearly not enough.

    I hope she will go further. Her youth is her asset but she dwells in a terrible atmosphere and her path, if it is honest, is strewn with pitfalls. Let her approach the conscious workers and their struggles, the only guarantee that she will not be eaten up by the “university” atmosphere.

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

    Elle rêve la petite dame…

    Les tendances “antirationalistes”, cela vient de très loin et déjà Bernstein, père fondateur de la “gauche” réformiste, s’attaquait à la dialectique, seule forme possible, concrète, réelle, de la rationalité aujourd’hui.

    Les autres empiristes, subjectivistes et neo-kantiens qui sont passés comme “leaders du prolétariat” ont pu, pendant les périodes de croissance capitaliste, faire illusion.

    Dès que la machine s’est grippée, le réformisme, les concessions des capitalistes à la paix sociale (extorquées par la lutte dirigée par les réformistes, les empiristes) ont disparu et pris la marche inverse.

    La “gauche” sartrienne n’était, comme Lukacs l’a montré, qu’une variante d’une réaction philosophique encore majeur, l’idéalisme subjectif, et ce ne sont pas les “gauchistes” à la Simone Weil, directement “inspirée” de Heidegger le nazi, qui ont améliorée les choses.

    Alors, avec la chute de l’URSS vermoulue par le stalinisme, les choses ne pouvaient que virer au pire. Le abssurdités d’un Negri, les postmodernistes à la mode passagère, tous les anti-parti, anti Marx révolutionnaire, anti Lénine, “fauteurs des livres noirs” ce sont déchainés et occupent la place. Ce sont ceux que la dame mentionne comme ceux qui auraient “oublié” la “tradition rationaliste”.

    Les moins virulents, c’est à dire, ceux qui ne se sont pas mis au service directe des impérialistes, ont abandonné tout et passé armes et bagages au réformisme dans une situation qui ne permet pas des réformes.

    “Logiquement”, pour la plupart ils ont soutenu toutes les guerres impérialistes, ou d’une position ouverte même appelant à armer les bandits auxiliaires de l’impérialisme, ou se positionant sur un centrisme de droite proimpérialiste du “ni-ni”.

    Donc, madame, à quelle “tradition” faudrait-il donc retourner? A celle de la “gauche” des Lumières? A la bande des traitres réformistes et à leur “philosophie” qui se resume aujourd’hui dans un opportunisme à très petite vue et à leur profit direct?

    Ce n’est pas assez car rester à Voltaire et Rousseau peut satisfaire des intellos et leur fournir une couche de “gauche” (autrement comment se regarder dans le mirior le matin?) ne suffit manifestement pas, même si cela était possible et reellement fait. Il manque le volet Hegel, Marx-Engels, il manque la dialectique matérialiste, car sans cela la “rationalité” n’est qu’une absurdité mécanique facilement refutable.

    En tout cas le rationalisme tout court ne suffit pas aux travailleurs qui luttent pour finir avec le capitalisme et continuer leur marche. Il faut la rationalité dialectique, la critique des courants idéologiques bourgeois qui dominent sur tous les champs de la superstructure idéologique, la défense des éléments fondamentaux le plus avancées du trésor idéologique du prolétariat, le marxisme, le léninisme, les apports d’un tas d’autres militants.

    Quand même, la dame et son approche est un petit pas en avance, très insuffisant qui reste au milieu du guet et qui peut donner rien du tout car c’fest manifestement pas assez.

    J’espère qu’elle ira plus loin. “Pourvou que ça doure”. Sa jeunesse est son atout mais elle habite une ambiance terrible et son chemin, s’il est honnete est semé d’embouchés. Qu’elle s’approche des travailleurs conscients et de leurs luttes, seule garantie de ne pas se faire bouffer par l’ambient “universitaire”.

    Viriato

    October 13, 2020 at 8:04 am


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