Things We Don’t Need

Kotsko links to John Milbank’s longish take on Stephen Fry’s recent claim that women don’t enjoy sex. I will leave aside Milbank’s comments and concentrate on this one sentence:

“We need instead a more truly paradoxical mode of radical conservatism or conservative radicalism.”

No, this is what we don’t need. I sat through Bat-Ami Bar On’s plenary session at the RPA last Friday. Her claim was that, while she felt at home with these “radicals,” she could do so while (1) arguing that leftists need to just understand how tough Obama has it in that darn war on terror, (2) leftists don’t engage in policy discussions (despite the fact that they, uh, do all the time and no link is even necessary), and (3) that she supposedly does, despite her only references being the widely read National Security Estimate and Bob Woodward’s recent book on Obama.

(Seriously: if you ever hear me say something such as “what people need to do is X,” let me have it, since invariably it will be the case that I’ve missed half a library worth of books on the topic. And if I make such a claim while demonstrating, in front of a room full of scholars who have done just this type of work, no such research, please lead me safely from the dais before I hurt myself further.)

In other words, we seem to have a number of prominent intellectuals who use the word “radical” but then offer what can only be called a reactionary politics (in the literal sense—always reactive). Thus Kristeva’s claims about taking up the European culture of revolt, Stiegler’s contention that the radical move is to enhance France’s 19th century republic systems, and numerous other examples that seem to demonstrate (a) we’ve all learned that we really do need to be radical, (b) but, darn it, that can be tough and so I’ll say it’s a “paradoxical” conservative radicalism or something.

There’s a difference between a contentious, difficult, even aporetic politics, and the old-fashioned “it’s really a paradox because, you know, it’s completely illogical”–as in the claim made by Milbank. Wrap it and give it a bow all you like, but you’ve just given another crappy gift from the forces of dominance. So please, don’t do so and then act like we need to send you a thank you card for your deep efforts.


  1. Yes. Check how Bushco conservatism, deep ecology and nanoradicalism all overlap over mockery of Toyota Prii (is that the plural?). They punt ecological collectivity into the far future, leaving the polar bears to drown in the now, to satisfy their mockery of all things bourgeois.

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