With the absence of “actual international socialist politics,” all revolutionary talk is a salve; a mere palliative and itching of guilty conscience. Or at least says Max Elliot Katz in his critique of Terry Eagleton’s book, Reason, Faith and Revolution (from The Platypus Affiliated Society). About Eagleton’s entire endeavor, Katz summarizes:

“English plague doctors prescribed smoking of tobacco, carrying around fragrant flowers, and a high dosage of laxatives. If the patient managed to avoid death by diarrhea, the treatments accomplished nothing. Perhaps the semblance of cure offered some small comfort. Today, the plague doctors offer up many different remedies for the dying Left: populist strongmen, community gardens, Lacan. Dr. Eagleton prescribes theology. Apparently, “radical impulses” have migrated to the theology departments, where one can find “some of the most informed and animated discussions of Deleuze and Badiou, Foucault and feminism, Marx and Heidegger” (167). The specific prescription does not matter. Anything will work: the latest continental guru, the latest rebels in the jungle, the latest “economic crisis.” Each provides warm comfort as the Red Death slips in and holds illimitable dominion over all.”

I found this critique helpful, but not because it shed light on Eagleton, far from it. Rather it highlights the very thing that some on the left can’t stomach, the idea that there is something other than pure market forces or a collective state made up of atomistic individuals. So, God gets in the way, any Marxist worth the name knows this; community gardens are merely a dialectical step along the way toward more commoditization, and Lacan is just a passing fad. What we need to realize, Katz leads us to believe, is that there’s just us and them, springing from homo economicus.

Such modern eyes, with their gaze of economic rationalism, can only see two specters: the state and market while all intermediary associations must be subsumed or evisceration; church, union, guild, community simply vanish. This is the very heart of liberalism, both in its left and right manifestations, as Patrick Deneen observes: “At the heart of liberalism – from its inception in the theories of Hobbes and Locke – was a hostility to any groups or associations that limit the purported natural autonomy of individuals. The logic of liberalism is the evisceration of associations in the name of the individual, achieved by means of the centralizing power of the State. Eventually the boundaries of the State itself are understood to be unjustifiably limited and arbitrary, leading liberalism to the ultimate logic that the autonomous individual can only be truly liberated within the context of the global State” (Front Porch Republic).

Are some on the life simply myopic; unable to see beyond state or market, or is there something more precise that can be said? There is: there seems to be an apparent disdain for what is not modern, what some in the past have referred to as the peasantry, the rural, what some see as backwards folk who do not want to go to the factories. In A Path of Our Own, Adam Webb finds something interesting during his work with indigenous villages and cultures. When asked if he’s a liberal or conservative he states:

“Obviously I’m concerned with social justice, with a fairer distribution of the world’s goods and with relieving poverty. I think most so-called conservatives are too enamored of an unfettered market. But I’m also a traditionalist, in that I think modern society has lost sight of the time-tested wisdom of the old civilizations, about how to live and what to demand of people. Liberals tend to neglect those foundations. And the radical left, even when it doesn’t cause carnage like the Shining Path did, tends to concentrate power in large bureaucracies. The story of Pomatambo moves me in part because I think communities like it still cling to what more prosperous parts of the world have largely lost: a sense of duty, of small decencies, of belonging. I’d like to see these communities prosper while keeping the best of what they have. I’m encouraged by one fact. My blend of traditional values and social justice may seem odd on the usual political spectrum. But it’s pretty close to what the rural poor in villages like this one want themselves. I’d even go so far as to say that, if you took the pulse of ordinary people in much of the world, you’d find more sympathy for this than for some of the fashionable ideologies of the last century. Maybe we need a political realignment in many countries to reflect that.”

Belonging, duty, decency. The modern Left sees these as code words for bourgeois ideology; true radical thought, by contrast, sees these notions as part of the emancipatory struggle, collective action and the human as an actually existing concrete being. If the modern left remains unwilling to listen to those on the underside of history, then their movement is truly dead. They must remedy what Eagleton refers to in another work as the “characteristically bourgeoisie mistake of confusing morality with moralism.”

Conspicuously absent from Katz’s critique of Eagleton is the notion of the poor Christ and the glaring omission that real debate is not between science and faith, but between how one reads history. As Eagleton states, “the difference between science and theology, as I understand it, is one over whether you see the world as gift or not; and what you cannot resolve this just by inspecting the thing, any more than you can deduce from examining a porcelain vase that is a wedding present. The difference between Ditchkins and radicals like myself also hinges on whether it is true that the ultimate signifier of the human condition is the tortured and murdered body of a political criminal, and what the implications of this are for living” (37). About theology, Eagleton continues,

“The only authentic image of this violently loving God is a tortured and executed political criminal, who dies in an act of solidarity with what the Bible calls the anawim, meaning the destitute and the dispossessed. Crucifixion was reserved by the Romans for political offenses alone. The anawim, in Pauline phrase, are the shit of the earth – the scum and refuse of society who constitute the cornerstone of the new form of human life known as the kingdom of God. Jesus is consistently presented as their representative. His death and descent into hell is a voyage into madness, terror, absurdity, and self-dispossession, since only a revolution that cuts deep can answer to our dismal condition” (23).

Not surprisingly, Kratz couldn’t quite get his mind around the radical logic of what started as a peasant movement in a backward outpost of empire. And in so doing, cannot travel to the depths of revolution.

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