There are things you have to understand before you can believe them; and yet there are also things that you have to believe before you can understand. In between these two there’s a leap of faith.
Nouns and modifiers
Am I a Christian socialist or a socialist Christian? What’s the difference? Wittgenstein comes to mind. Speech acts can only be interpreted through the intent of the speaker; but in my case Christian is the noun and socialist is the modifier, a very contingent one. Contingent, because socialism, however defined, is an artifact of modernity. That’s why saying things like “Jesus was a socialist” is kinda ridiculous, given that socialism was a modern reaction against capitalism, which didn’t begin to congeal as a hegemonic structure until the early sixteenth century. The economy of first century Palestine was tributary, not capitalist. Socialism wasn’t even thought of, though Luke and Paul did preach an egalitarian communalism. That’s the source of these confusions. I call it anachronistic retrojection — imposing present-day categories on the past and its peoples and their ideas that didn’t yet exist. Socialism wasn’t even a word until around 1835. Getting one’s bearings in late modernity, between the Gospels and the present . . . finding ways to prolong the incarnation, to be a disciple . . . that’s not a simple transference based on proof texting and anachronistic interpretation.
My relation to socialism began as a devotee —as a Marxist to be exact, if exactitude is possible with so many interpretations, permutations, and distortions of Marx afoot. Around 2006, I suffered a kind of crisis of faith with Marxism. In 2008, I was baptized. I only came to realize later on that my attraction to socialism was also a reaction to my own military past, where as a de facto if not declared atheist I had done things that felt overwhelmingly, horribly wrong.
I realize now — and this may strike non-Christians oddly — that that feeling of wrongness and alienation was alienation from God. It was only after incorporating socialist thought, and in the context of working against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and after I had learned more about myself and violence from the study of feminism), that I was prepared to become a Christian.
Each convert has his or her own historical map.
One of my mentors in this process was theologian Stanley Hauerwas, for whom I shall always be grateful. He hammered on the point — one which the old Marxist in me resisted with all my might — that it is problematic, to say the very least, for Christians to participate in power predicated on violence — especially war. The shorthand for this is the “Constantinian compromise,” that is, the church taking a demonic turn by aligning itself with a violent imperial power.
Like my mentor, I count myself Christian and pacifist and consider this redundant. This doesn’t mean pacifism is passive-ism, nor does it compel us to follow any particular political program, nor does it commit me to some utopian delusion about this world becoming non-violent (it won’t).
Between Constantine and Daru
Constantinianism is not merely the urge to align with power, which can be incidental, but the belief that — with the right power moves — human beings can “make history come out right.” This delusion — and it is a delusion — is the motive force behind many “socialisms.” And in this respect, these socialisms are the same as the imperial white supremacist ideology of progressivism which held sway in the early twentieth century. A faith in the power of enforced social engineering to “make history come out right.”
It seems to matter little to many socialists that nothing in history suggests this is even possible, or that things have gotten so bad that we’ll spend the next hundred years inside a long, global emergency with no good outcomes.
For Christian socialists, who see socialist as the noun and Christian as the modifier, socialism is still reified — a thing we can define, and about which we can make exclusive claims about who is a “real socialist.” Even if there are fifteen versions of “real socialist.” The Gospels, for Christian (modifier) socialists (noun), are enlisted in support of that reification. Socialism comes first, and the rest is trying to bind the Christ onto a Procrustean bed.
The idea of “taking political power,” then, is precisely to “make history come out right.” Right-wing constantinianism is countered by left-wing constantinianism, both of which thrive on the delusion of “making history come out right,” both of which share a belief in the pernicious and bloody myth of Progress.
This is a conundrum over which barrels of ink have been spilled in Divinity Schools and seminaries. Here is history unfolding around us, a process within which we are embedded, and within which we have agency, albeit agency that is tightly circumscribed by historical forces sedimented into the contemporary built environment. We can’t step out of it, or float aloofly above it, because we are in it . . . and in it together.
. . . for he makes his sun to rise on the wicked and the good, and sends rain upon the just and unjust. (Matthew 5:45)
If we ought not align with power, how do we avoid it when our own actions play a role in it whether we like it or not . . . and whether we can control the ramifications of our actions or not (we can’t). I’m reminded of Albert Camus’ short story, “The Guest,” in which our protagonist Daru tries to isolate himself — hermit-like — from the social strife engulfing Algeria in its violent struggle for independence against France. Of course it’s impossible, as Daru discovers.
Sometimes doing nothing is doing something. Should I refuse to vote because voting is an exercise of power? What, then, about the danger — now temporarily receding — of the Trump presidency? Is my refusal merely empowering one side whether I like it or not? This is the kind of quandary that enlivens modern discussions of ethics, where the unspoken goal is to discover universal, one-size-fits-all “solutions” to every hypothetical ethical dilemma.
Pacifism for the violent
Pacifism is an unfortunate term in this regard, suggesting to every modern mind forged in the restless search for salvific universals that pacifism is a kind of unyielding principle to which every actual person must submit — an ideology instead of a practice.
The praxes for this principio pacifico are variable, but they include protest, criticism, even civil disobedience, sometimes at great risk. But can a pacifist, or a pacifist Christian, deal in things like electoral politics when electoral politics is itself a kind of low-intensity warfare? The state itself is constituted as a legal monopoly on violence. See how I keep defaulting to the search for a proposition to which we can all assent — a universal principle?
If I were to say, on the other hand, that my pacifism means that I myself cannot or will not participate in violence, does that mean I have to restlessly search out any way in which I might be collaborating with power and violence and war and break away?
Certainly, I can say that I’ll not raise my hand again to another human being, and that’s vitally important (as well as a huge relief). The thing is, every act any of us performs is already imbricated with power and violence, as Daru discovered. If this constitutes complicity with violence, then everyone is complicit. Kind of an ethical non-starter.
Being pacifist is an outcome of being Christian, not some attempt to float above the world as a non-participant signaling my “virtue” from on high. As Stanley Hauerwas was known to say, “I’m a pacifist because I am a violent son of a bitch.”
I say I’m a pacifist because I’m a violent son of a bitch. I’m a Texan. I can feel it in every bone I’ve got. And I hate the language of pacifism because it’s too passive. But by avowing it, I create expectations in others that hopefully will help me live faithfully to what I know is true but that I have no confidence in my own ability to live it at all. That’s part of what nonviolence is — the attempt to make our lives vulnerable to others in a way that we need one another. To be against war — which is clearly violent — is a good place to start. But you never know where the violence is in your own life. To say you’re nonviolent is not some position of self-righteousness — you kill and I don’t. It’s rather to make your life available to others in a way that they can help you discover ways you’re implicated in violence that you hadn’t even noticed. (Stanley Hauerwas)
What a strange thing it is to worship a vulnerable God! Stanley is a Texan male. I’m a former career Special Forces soldier. My every thought is stained with violence. Vulnerability is anathema to me. This is especially confusing when I talk about “tactics” as a political matter, as a socialist matter. Because tactics, as most of us understand them, are agonal. Tactics are about a fight. They are embedded in the war episteme, wherein the world is divided into allies and enemies, and loving those enemies is not on the menu.
“See, I am send you forth like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and as guileless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
I can’t do that alone, so “I create expectations in others that hopefully will help me live faithfully to what I know is true but that I have no confidence in my own ability to live it at all.” If I propose tactics (which few listen to anyway) or participate in tactics (elections are tactics), does that implicate me in violence because these are structured as conflict? Surely, neither I nor anyone else outside the structures of power (or, “the principalities and powers,” as we say) have that kind of power at all.
Let’s take elections as an example, since it’s an issue among both Christians and socialists. I participate in elections, even elections that generate increasing conflict; because I’ve made a calculation that elections are less likely to result in violence than the alternatives in our situation as it exists now. Time will tell if that calculation is correct. Peacemaking, in many contexts, is not some absolute choice, but a judgement call: which course of action seems likely to keep violence to a minimum?
This is difficult for many socialists — many of whom despise pacifism, because they are committed to a fantasy of social engineering that may require violence. Some socialists lean into the violence.
Can we social-engineer a proper future? This is a theological question, but also a practical one.
As we look into the approaching abyss of climate destabilization, financial failure, biome collapse, mass migration, political instability, the next “black swan” pandemic, our fantasy futures are being foreclosed faster than we can make them up. History has provided no evidence that we actually can (or should) “make history come out right.” Quite the contrary, every attempt so far has been built on horrific violence and failed anyway. That’s what Ivan Illich meant when he said, “To hell with the future. It’s a man-eating idol.”
You will never hear me refer to myself as a “progressive.” It’s gone from being a signifier for the modern imperial project to meaning anyone to the left of Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton. “To hell with progress. It’s a man-eating idol.”
Then there’s scale. Neither “progressives” nor socialists have much time for the question of scale; it fucks with their futuristic fantasies. Whether they want to attend to it or not, history seems to show an inverse ratio between the scale of a project (or a state) and the ability of those projects or states to do what they claim to intend. Our horrific penitentiary system was originally a scheme by devout Quakers, intended to restore the fallen to full membership in society. Socialists would do well to apprehend this, but alas most of us are still wedded to The Future . . . which we think “we” can “build,” like a Lego toy.
And yet I count myself a socialist. Why? Well, I’m also a Catholic, so I’m becoming ever more adept at making distinctions within complex contexts without falling for the easy out of treating these complexities as if they are contagion narratives, zombie movies where the prime motive is avoiding contamination.
If the starting point for any Christian or for any socialist is, “How can I become a purer person?” then we’re already off the rails. What Christians and socialists ought to be focused on, it seems, and what these traditions have in common, is how to pursue the common good (with a preferential option for the poor). (That’s not to say that personal character is unimportant; it is vital for the rational evaluation of what that good is. But this is not the same — in fact it is antithetical to — virtue signalling.) We Christians who eschew violence have an addendum — to pursue the common good, with a preferential option for the poor without relying on violence.
Pacifists oppose war, but are you and I participating in war if we work as trauma nurses adjacent to the battlefield?
I can already hear the ethics-nerds ginning up hypothetical quandaries that pit the common good against peace, so I’ll remind readers again — contra the entire episteme of modernity — that this move implicitly seeks a universal answer to a very singular hypothetical circumstance. These hypothetical quandaries are designed around the assumption — consistently disproven by history — that some universal principle can govern every particular or singular circumstance. Without veering too far off onto the side road of moral philosophy, the competing candidates for The Universal Answer, which can never be reconciled to one another and therefore have us stuck, are the duty-ethics of a Kant, the consequentialist ethics of a Bentham, and the “ethically neutral” contract-theories of Locke and Rousseau.
Christians, some of us, have access to a different approach — one that does not reach for universals during every encounter with the singular — called virtue ethics. The shorthand is to form in each person the capacity to judge circumstances based on their particular contexts and respond in ways that are prudent, practical, and just for each situation. I wish I’d hear more from socialists about character formation. But I again digress.
Peacemaking and the idol of Progress
Capitalism — an enforced system of social relations that progressively commodifies every aspect of social life as it progressively destroys the biodiversity upon which we all ultimately depend — has failed.
Late capitalist modernity runs now only on corruption and inertia; and it has created in us a spiritual poverty, a kind of vulgar mass narcissism built around consumer addictions that, combined with abject dependency, makes us feel ever more like rats in a maze. The reason capitalism has been more destructive than any other epoch is not that it is worse in any detail, but that capitalism — cancer-like — has spread itself throughout the globe, tying all our fates together in an unprecedented way. Wanna talk about scale yet?
Capitalism is failing, but it doesn’t follow from that fact that (1) we can control its descent or (2) accelerate its descent or (3) control the outcomes of trying to control or accelerate its descent . . . much less (4) “replace” this global social arrangement wholesale with an imaginary one.
Socialism — as idea, as fantasy, and-or as political method — exists solely as a response to capitalism. As Marx envisioned it, socialism is a hostile takeover of capitalist “development” from capitalist overlords by “the masses,” envisioned by many “Marxists” as led by a specially enlightened cadre of theoretical and technocratic intellectuals.
Then again, Marx is not the only socialist, nor is Marxism (in whichever sectarian guise) the be-all and end-all of “socialism.” Nor is every Marxist now a technocratic progressive (Silvia Federici, e.g., or Jason C. Moore are exceptions). The socialist response to capitalism has congealed as ideology (which always, imo, simultaneously conceals and reproduces certain kinds of power); but my interest in it and my contingent fealty to it are as a political method and a tactical orientation. Consequently, I don’t give a damn about what qualifies anyone as a “true socialist” or any of that other clique-like, we-are-the-enlightened-ones bullshit that preoccupies those who have chosen to live out their brief lives in little ideological bunkers.
My understanding of capitalism is very Marxist in many regards, but diagnosis is not synonymous with or even necessarily a movement toward a successful treatment protocol. “Development,” that manifestation of the myth of progress, whether capitalist or socialist, is still a war on subsistence (Marx did not emphasize this except as a marker of progress); and if there is a way out of our current morass, then what has to happen — as a matter of ecological necessity — is a return to local subsistence.
We will return to subsistence. That much is certain over time. But there is a crash landing scenario and a crash scenario (there are no soft landing scenarios). Unfortunately, in a world where more than half of us live in cities — the crash landing (as opposed to crash) can only happen with the massive assistance of the state. Because the crash scenario involves horrific scenes of destruction and unbridled violence, alongside many decades of disease, disorder, and despair; and because I believe the first measure necessary to crash land instead of just crash requires a social democratic/socialist bridge — one for which only the state has the capacity . . . here I am with the socialists.
What is the telos, then, my North Star, for participation in socialist politics as a pacifist Christian? Let’s call it peacemaking. Not seeking the violent “peace” of Pax Romana or Pax Americana, and not seeking the “peace” of calling for reconciliation in the aftermath of every offense — that tactical passive-aggression on the part of abusers who have suffered setbacks. By peace, I mean (1) resisting violence as a means to an end and (2) creating or intervening in relations that are structurally antagonistic and which lead to strife and violence. Nothing creates strife like scarcity. I’ve seen food riots. They’re indescribable.
Capitalism was built and is maintained by violence, and it structures all relations as competitive, baking strife into society using enforced scarcity — call it enclosure if you like. The inhering arms race of capital, whether in business or war (the two are combined now), has taken us to the brink of both biospheric collapse and nuclear annihilation. There is a real question about whether a post-capitalist crash landing (as opposed to crash) is even possible now.
What can be done and what we ought to do, then, are also big question marks. There’s no one answer to those questions either.
I don’t share the socialist delusion of “building a future” ex nihilo, or even of accurately anticipating “the future” (that ever receding fiction), so I’ve excused myself from these kinds of conversations. Nonetheless, I remain a part of the social democratic (Yes, not “real” socialists . . . damn, take a break people!) electoral movement in the US and of those socialists who anticipate raising the bar as this movement hopefully advances. Because they’re doing the best they can with what they have right now, and they’re advancing some key governmental reforms that will relieve enough suffering (scarcity) to let people catch their breaths and figure out how to navigate a world in economic, social, and environmental turmoil.
On the other side of that coin is the rise of the anti-intellectual, authoritarian right; and the only decent defense we have against it is to strengthen a left pole within some kind of united front as counterweight. This means, as far as I can see, resisting the Democratic establishment between elections and continuing to join them to isolate and neutralize Republicans during elections. Fantasizing (some call it theorizing) about a world where we’re not this weak won’t help. Imaginary strength is a weakness, and acknowledged weakness is a strength.
I saw a post from a young leftist man (of course) recently. He said, “Any compromise with capitalism will only strengthen capitalism.” As if anyone is in a position to dictate whether or not to “compromise” with “capitalism.” This is impotent macho bluster. And fallacious, beginning with reified “capitalism.” We all compromise with “capitalism” every day. Because that’s the air we’re all breathing. Capitalism isn’t some giant to be slain, but a deeply entrenched set of self-organized relations upon which every single one of us depends right now, and within which we were born, raised, enculturated, and disciplined.
These are practical matters, not ideological (a counterfeit of the theoretical); and in practice that means — speaking for myself, as a Christian, right now in the world as it is becoming — that I remain contingently socialist.
The only conceivable compassionate path right now appears to be some form of socialism — by that I mean expanding collective and democratic control over key infrastructure, like the nationalization of all medicine, financial institutions, social media, critical physical infrastructures, etc., and protecting these from commodification. A federal jobs guarantee would be nice, too, in conjunction with massive ecological restoration. Likely? Not really, but it seems we have to try . . . as peacemakers.
In the short term, that means electoral politics, specifically the push to colonize the decaying Democratic Party as a means of seizing legislative power. For those “revolutionary socialists” (mea culpa) who want a violent “overthrow of capitalism” I no longer have the time of day. Shit like that never works the way it was intended, and violence breeds more violence. The way to make big change without turning our streets into war zones is still . . . listen now . . . legislation. To make new legislation, we need new legislators.
But again, I digress.
GUMP, despair, nihilism
What it also means to be Christian (noun) socialist (modifier) is that when Christian commitments conflict with socialist ones, this conflict may provoke a reexamination of both to determine whether or not we have erred in our understanding of said conflicts. If we are satisfied that we understand adequately, then the Christian commitment trumps. To be a Christian, speaking for my own comparatively small cohort, means that we cannot subordinate our commitments to nationalism — our position in a lively debate ongoing among Christians now — or to ideologies. This means that we will not allow ourselves to be subsumed into some reified vision of “Socialism.”
The very reason Christians speak of “modernity” — which is obviously a capitalist modernity, but that’s beside the point here — is because we have a deep critique of the assumptions and practices that underwrite the whole modern epoch.
Marxism is a thoroughly modern phenomenon.
Christian critique of modernity is different from the so-called postmodern (neo-Nietzschean) indictments of modernity, which have proven to be a cul-de-sac of self-referential paralysis, intellectual and political. Reactionaries desire a return to some mythologized past; but modernist-socialists likewise “react” against the past, that is, they hold the belief that the past is something to be overcome — as if that were even possible. This has become the very basis of the post-colonial, imperial project, of what Ivan Illich called the “war on subsistence” . . . or development.
Modernity, even the modernity of most socialists, accepts and even celebrates the objectification (death) of nature, as well as the disenchantment and alienation that attend nature’s wake; then they wonder why people seek out spiritual fads or refuse to accept socialist ideas that are stated in the sterile, objectifying, white-urban language of liberal modernity.
We’re forced to swallow a narrative that disembodies us, that wants us to jump out of our skins and see the world from outside our own embodiment, a view from everywhere and nowhere that reduces creation to mass and motion, erasing all of creation’s signs and stripping it of meaning, a world devoid of mystery or transcendence, a world devoid of our ancestors and our angels, a world of absolute spiritual impoverishment . . . worse, spiritual death. I have two words, spoken in the modern idiom: fuck that.
Modernity is an epoch that fundamentally depends for its justification upon a world objectified, atomized, mapped, and disciplined for extraction. Modernity was birthed in war, in colonization, most especially in reducing creation to a basket of “resources.” It furthermore depends on a faith in the ability to subordinate all to one moral vision — a vision within which there is no real and ultimate arbiter, which — upon discovering the impossibility of achieving that universalism — leaves all decisions to power. This faith in a Grand Unifying Moral Perspective (GUMP) has been proven unfounded, and yet it persists, viciously in most cases. As does the faith in “The Revolution.”
Socialists and socialist Christians can be differentiated by the Christian account of fallen-ness. Our mythic account of the Fall is people — who have been given unprecedented power as creatures (and not creator) — who are forbidden one thing, which is the province of God, and that is the “knowledge of good and evil.” In our prideful attempt to seize that knowledge for ourselves we unleashed a fatal mischief into the world. Sibling murders sibling. People tried to build towers that could reach heaven. In this latter story, God’s remedy was anti-universal: God multiplied their languages and forced their decentralization.
The technologically optimistic socialists that predominate journals like Jacobin are as hostile to tradition and vernacular culture as any lizard-minded imperialist except when they’re employing the shallow cultural signifiers of poststructurialist identitarians to appease them.
As a Christian, I’m with the Jacobin/DSA types (I am an inactive member of DSA) at least as far as achieving some key social objectives like universal health care, because this kind of program abolishes a form of scarcity, and scarcity generates conflict; but I will continue to point out that their solar-powered magical future where no one is ever again avaricious, petty, jealous, vengeful, or cruel is horseshit. We are still the same broken creatures, thankless and prideful, and no “system” engineered by academic technocrats will ever change that . . . in fact, no “system” is ever going to be “engineered.”
Socialism can’t remedy some basic human frailties — pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth — and the spiritual impoverishment of so-called secular society can’t erase that constant, our apprehension of our own mortality, which — in a spiritually impoverished world — leads to the ultimate sin: despair.
Despair and nihilism are twins. And I promise you, despair and nihilism are as prevalent or more prevalent among those who have their basic material needs met. It’s only with time and space for reflection that people can grasp the horror — one kept at bay by all our noise — of a dead universe.
“Without God, all things are permitted.” That’s Dostoevsky! And that’s nihilism!
Most modern virtues — like “empathy” — are vestiges of a pre-modern period, now perverted and institutionalized. Following the modern (and “postmodern”) map to its logical conclusion, one encounters an abyss of meaninglessness, where everything goes, and where the nihilist is the only one who knows his or her own “authenticity.”
What is not to be done?
Now Christianity can’t explain why “socialism” can’t be created ex nihilo, and therefore cannot be engineered. For this practical concern, chaos/complexity theory — a modern mathematical project — will do nicely.
Complexity/chaos theory has an application to politics. “Chaos” actually gives rise to order (a creative tension without which we wouldn’t have a universe) through self-organization, which is comprised of many small feedback loops within feedback loops that “re-order” in the wake of serial “bifurcations” that lead to “the edge of chaos,” or systemic disruption. The idea, then, of “building a future” (ex nihilo) is an absolute delusion; because what we call “society” is ordered through billions of billions of small feedback loops, social and environmental.
These feedback loops are themselves both experienced and initiated by the tendency of each human being to seek accommodations within the range of objective situations and subjective choices that are known and available. The real changes can never happen as intended “from above.” The re-organization (self-organization) of systems that reach “the edge of chaos” is where the action is . . . in newly emergent feedback loops. And these are not predictable. So . . . social engineering never works as intended, but it can create a lot of mischief with those unintended consequences.
(This is also why tactics work far more often than strategies, by the way. Read Michel De Certeau’s The Practice of Everday Life.)
Think of your own daily routines and how you make decisions. All are decisions (choices), but each decision has to take into account one’s personal situation, customs, habits, regulations, and built environments which you’ve inherited, a matrix, if you will, that is too stable (through self-organization) to effectively disrupt (for now), but around and through which one can fashion creative responses.
What our actual “system” does is not really that systematic. Those in power establish and enforce the core practices (like capital accumulation), after having forcibly separated the masses from any form of non-monetized self-provisioning (subsistence), and the rest of us adapt. Based on various historical factors, resistance to this arrangement is met by power, based on the validity of any threat to accumulation, along a continuum stretching from ignoring minimal threats to state terror against it. But it is not managed throughout, like a massive machine. Power simply stamps out emergent alternatives to seeking our accommodations through anything other than monetized relations. Money is the key resource, and it’s made intentionally scarce for the masses. That’s the he and the she of it. Everything else self-organizes around this.
Which, to my mind, means practice trumps theory every time. Theory is sound only insofar as there are no exceptions to the theory in the particulars.
Marxism’s most significant theoretical departure from Marx has been an almost wholesale return to philosophical idealism; and this has crippled their movements again and again. Marx’s inversion of Hegel has been all but forgotten. That is, the Hegelian assertion that ideas give rise to practices, which Marx said Hegel got backwards, is manifest in the tiny Marxist grouplets (and even among more diverse groups like DSA) is the insistence that right practice can only be accomplished when their is absolute fealty to a “correct” theoretical account.
Instead of doing practical things in response to immediate needs then waiting to see how they ramify, these grouplets spend most of their energy in trying to convince others that their academic theories — which most plain people simply don’t understand — are a prerequisite to acting as political cadre. The problem is that theory is the view of the city from atop a skyscraper that conceals what goes on in the alleyways. These groups self-caricature in their constant and seemingly urgent arguments about which untested theory is “The Correct Theory.”
For the record, Marx bent the stick a bit far, but he was challenging his master. In reality, practice and ideas exist as self-reinforcing feedback loops, too, and they can never be segregated into pure laboratory forms. Where Marx was correct is in his claim that what exists — as structure — overdetermines our lives through the constraints that “the actual” exercises on our practices, habits, and imagination.
It’s over time, as we self-organize within our imposed constraints, that social stability is achieved in the same move that inscribes first our habits, and from there our consciousness. This bakes resistance to change into society at every level, making attempts to break through to new forms of consciousness, so to speak, a practically and intellectually arduous undertaking . . . one that is reinforced in its lack of efficacy by the basic Marxian premise that consciousness reflects lived experience, not vice versa. Our philosophical idealist default, on the left, continually and consistently marginalize us.
It’s already questionable whether “philosophers” ought to be the ones determining how to “make history come out right” — questionable as a goal, and questionable with regard to the strategy for that goal being changing people’s minds instead of changing their available choices and habits. Philosophers and theorists (some of my best friends are philosophers and theorists) are standing atop a skyscraper with no clear view of the city’s gritty, granular alleys.
Socialists who prioritize ideological conformity are an obstacle to any realizable socialist goals. Combined with the fact that Marx’s theoretical foundation is conflict, dividing the world into allies and enemies, this has created our self-isolating default on the left.
We’ve been drawn into a politics perpetual conflict, yes, but also a politics of panic, a politics that does precisely what capitalism does, valorizing speed, focus, efficiency. We seem to have forgotten that even Marx — the great conflict theorist — began his inquiries around the question of alienation, what might be properly called spiritual impoverishment. Nothing contributes more to that impoverishment than violence.
Violence occupies me, like an invading army . . . or a demon. It possesses me through a continuous and uninterrupted exposure to and enfoldment within the idols of speed, focus, and efficiency. Modernity is perpetual hurry . . . perpetual war.
This is what I have to learn again and again, because I, too, am a violent SOB. I can’t rely on speed, focus, and efficiency. Especially the kinds of speed, focus, and efficiency that underwrite the violence of modernity. As a Christian, I not only have time, I have a mandate — a hard one called enemy-love. I also have something — someone — upon whom I can rely.
I think that fundamental is the presumption that as followers of Christ we do not assume that we are going to rule the world. Rather, we assume that God has given us time in a world with deep injustice to do the kinds of things that are necessary for the recognition of the dignity of the enemy, and how that recognition can lead to reconciliation. And it takes time; … God became time with Christ, which means that we have all the time in the world to do what’s necessary. (Stanley Hauerwas)
And so we work and pray. Down here in the alleys. History came out right in an open tomb. We just have to bear witness to that in our actions. The tricky part is discerning what actions to take.