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For an antidote to today’s identitarian leftism, look to old-school radicals like CLR James

by Benjamin Schwarz

In the interests of efficiency, I’ll start by asserting — not arguing — some propositions: In their discussions of cultural life and of societal trends, the organs of American educated opinion (the New York Times, NPR, the New Yorker, et al.); the faculty and students at our elite prep schools, colleges, and universities; and the members of the metropolitan class who read those publications and emerge from those institutions, frequently and increasingly assert, rather than argue, a set of vaguely interlocking propositions and slogans concerning (I’ll spare the scare quotes) white privilege, social justice, systemic racism, diversity, inclusivity, microaggressions, and the intellectual and cultural heritage — irrelevant at best, baneful at worst — of dead white males.

Although both the champions and critics of these propositions characterise them (and the attendant attitudinising) as ‘political’, they are nothing of the sort. They are merely gestural. Lacking subtlety and depth, they amount to the intoning of shibboleths unsupported by reasoned, detailed, systematic analysis and argument. An orthodoxy has taken hold of intellectual, cultural and academic life, an orthodoxy nurtured and protected by an overweening and aggressive sense of virtue and righteous aggrievement that permits it to go unchallenged by the scepticism and bracing scrutiny that used to characterise — in fact to define — intellectual, cultural and academic life.


Bearing in mind the crucial distinction that attending to aspects of a tradition does not imply endorsement of an entire tradition, let us briefly consider two revolutionaries. The first is Karl Marx, himself. The second, CLR James — the black Trinidadian pan-Africanist and anti-colonialist activist, socialist political organiser, stalwart anti-Stalinist, founder of the Johnson-Forest Tendency within the Trotskyist Workers’ Party; a profound historian (Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution), a novelist (Minty Alley), an innovative and subtle literary critic (Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In), a film critic, a rigorous Marxist theoretician (Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Marx, Lenin), and the greatest writer on cricket in history (Beyond a Boundary).

Please, continue reading on Spiked website, November 8, 2018.

on 16.02.2019 at 15:46

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