d.garcia on Thu, 15 Jan 2015 16:08:16 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> “Je ne suis pas Charlie” - “My name is le

The Fearful Demon of Value Pluralism

My name is legion: for we are many Negri and Hardt, in their book
Multitude, relate an incident from the Bible when Jesus faced with a man
possessed by devils and asks him his name (since a name is required for
exorcism) the demon inhabiting the man, responds enigmatically My name
is legion for we are many. Negri & Hardt go on to describe this as a
curious and troubling aspect of this parable with its grammatical
confusion between the singular and plural subjects. The demonic is at
once both I and we.

Radicals of all persuasions have always struggled with a world made up
of plural values and their undomesticated (demonic ?) subjects. It may
be why liberal pluralism remains (often more than conservatism) the
belief system most despised by radicals of all persuasions.

One such radical with  totalitarian tendencies is Slavoj Zizek, writing
in the New Statesman on the Charlie Hebdo killings used the opportunity
to (once again) highlight the perceived weakness of liberalism. Here is
a short extract:

     -So what about the core values of liberalism: freedom, equality etc?
     The paradox is that liberalism itself is not enough to save them against
     the fundamentalist onslaught. Fundamentalism is a reaction- a false,
     mystifying, reaction, of course- against the real flaw of liberalism,
     and this is again and again generated by Liberalism. Left to itself,
     liberalism will slowly undermine itself-

So what is this fatal flaw? Zizek was not the only commentator to give
minimum attention to the key underlying attribute (or flaw) of a liberal
polity that came under a harsh spotlight last week. That attribute is
pluralism, and tragic pluralism at that.  Pluralism is distinct from the
many other words trotted out, (such as Zizeks truncated and typically
dismissive list of liberalisms core values: freedom equality etc..).
Zizeks argument sees liberalism as leading inevitably to Nietzsches
pitiful last man, it is an argument that falsely represents life in a
plural polity as the soft option. Nothing could be further from the

What last week brought home is that what evolved from the 18th century
tussle between the Enlightenment rationalism eg (utilitarianism) and the
Counter Enlightenment (eg Romanticism) is a political philosophy based
on the accepting (not denying) the predicament of the divided self. When
we celebrate diversity we often overlook the ways in which it is a
manifestation of human dividedness in which both our individual selves
and our societies are continuously torn by competing impulses and the
inevitability of conflict that arises. This fact led some of us to
refuse be drawn into demonstrations against -compulsory solidarity- and
to declare Je ne suis pas Charlie despite, perhaps even because, of the
outrage perpetrated.

In place of cultural unity ours is an system that allows for the
irreducible conflict between competing goods to (usually) coexist
without being forced to embrace. For radicals of all colors this is
often a matter of regret for pluralists it is the consequence of
recognizing that the conflict of values liberty vs equality; justice vs
mercy; tolerance vs order; liberty vs social justice; resistance vs
prudence; and last week piety vs artistic freedom- is intrinsic to human
life.  And that every choice may entail irreparable loss. The fact that
life in a plural polity may sometimes (and in this case did) lead to
tragedy does not mean that it has failed or is doomed. Far from
demonstrating failure the continued recognition of human dividedness,
both inner and outer remains the best argument and very basis for
maintaining a pluralist polity.


d a v i d  g a r c i a

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