I have recently bumped into Alan Johnson’s piece ‘The New Communism: Resurrecting the Utopian Delusion’, where he warns us about the growing threat of the resurrecting communism. Prof. Johnson strongly admonishes, ‘[W]e can’t afford to just shake our heads at the new communism and pass on by.’ But what steps should be taken and why such theories still exist despite the unspeakable tragedies they cause if implemented?
First of all, it will be useful to discover the profound roots of different totalitarian ideologies among the intellectual circles. It may seem surprising that the vast majority of widely known intellectuals are leftist, usually radical in their leftism: different types of anarchism, communism, militant feminism or environmentalism and so on and so forth. Habermas and Zizek, Badiou and Wallerstein are very different in their beliefs and have different attitudes to each other, but what allows me to lump them and many more thinkers together is their unconditional adherence to the two ideas: one of injustice of the existing world order and the other of urgent need to change it by rethinking the very principles of the world order.
While so many influential beautiful minds (plus many artists like Picasso, writers like Wells or Shaw, musicians like almost any rock group) are bearing the flags of Leftism, the Right side of the debate is represented by clerics, conservative liberal economists, traditionalist politicians, populists, and silly-looking rednecks accompanied by a little bunch of creative people. This brigade looks rather conventional or blatantly dull (or they are simply agents of the global capitalism as a variant). Usually it is an argument strong enough for the rebellious youth to not care about the content of their ideas and align with the smarter ones. But still why are the smartest ones so often the leftiest ones? And does that mean the Left is always more progressive and its ideas enjoy more serious theoretical support?
I would answer this question negatively.
The first my reservation is about the nature of humanities in general. Every normal science (at least I believe so) should have in the first place a proper method. When a scientist looks at a problem in certain field of knowledge, he (or she) uses the method solving the problem. In the end he may get any result including sometimes something absolutely unexpected at the beginning of the research. And on the contrary the results conjectured at first and driven by personal preference are rare and attributed mainly to flash of intuitional inspiration.
On the other hand, humanitarians before advancing a theory have, as a rule, certain bias. This is explained not only by the specifics of the field but also by the simple fact that humanities lack effective cognitive methods with proven efficiency. Thus every single theorist applies his own method to any problem or adjusts already existing methods to his liking. But none of them is really supposed to be effective in searching for the truth. The main aim they serve is to provide support for the political views of the author.
I have no intention to play down the explanatory role of humanitarian sciences. But their practical use has not proven to be helpful yet. That is why we can safely state that different political theories were created more to support some type of policy, not to find something new and really applicable and there is little reason to consider these theories a valid argument in favour of certain ideas (no matter which).
The second important detail is the personality of a typical intellectual. Such people are experts in their spheres; they know what is wrong with a particular social process or phenomenon. Intellectuals tend to be proud of their knowledge. They regard people not only as persons but as objects of their studies and this inevitably brings certain degree of arrogance and ‘I know better what you need’ stuff.
So intellectuals are sure about flaws of social system and think they know how to eliminate them. Besides they are creative people and this means they don’t want just to study: they want to change and improve.
But traditional conservative liberal way of progress through slow-going and spontaneous development is not that stunning. The role of intellectuals is radically diminished in this process. They are demoted to truth-seekers, to inspirers, to people whose constant work must facilitate the development. For many it is too humble role. Moreover if the humanity starts making conscious, concerted and planned efforts on the way to improvement, it is very probable that none other than intellectuals will be at the helm. Because they know how and they have detailed plans.
The support for the leftist agenda from the side of creative people may also be explained by the natural, genetic factors. Imaginative people are prone to be on the Left as Ed West argued. I have doubt that this may be a predominant factor but it certainly explains much.
So don’t be fooled by the authoritative opinions. Politics is more about practice than theory just because there is no comprehensive political theory and it is essential to remember this.