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Milbank Complex Space

Milbank Complex Space

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07/03/2012

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12
On Complex Space 
If one is to believe the Italian Marxist, Antonio Negri, the twentieth century has beenabortive, the mere outworking of the ideological projects of the century that precededit
.
1
 
 There have been three such projects, all characterized by a refusal to be ‘resigned’
to the unrestrained rule of the capitalist market: fascist corporatism, state socialismand social democracy. Only since 1989 has the failure and termination of all theseprojects become fully apparent; only since that new revolutionary date have thehistorical entanglements engendered by these three programmes finally comeunravelled.In one respect it would seem that the verdict of Antonio Negri is endorsed by-Karol Wojtyla. According to
Centtsimus Annus 
, the papal encyclical issued tocommemorate one hundred years of Catholic social teaching since
Rerum Novarum.
the twentieth century measures the distance of a failure which is the inevitable resultof a refusal to attend to the wisdom of papal social doctrine
.
2
The failure is that of state socialism, Marxist socialism, or indeed socialism
tout court 
, for the Pope allowsno such subtle discriminations. However, this failure by no means betokens hissimple resignation to
a ‘post
-
modern’ reign of the market; on the contrary,
unrestrained capitalism is still to be characterized, as it has been by Popes for acentury, as a surrender of justice to power and of truth to opinion.
5
In place of discredited Marxism, Wojtyla offers
to workers’ movements the relatively untappedtheoretical capital of ‘Catholic social doctrine’; this, he proposes, will provide the
necessary corrective.However, the Polish Pope is interested in only one-third of the story, he has littleto say, first o
f all, about the demise of social democracy (in the sense o: ‘reformedcapitalism’, or ‘welfare capitalism’) and the evidence that sufficient stau welfare
provision and trade union rights are predicated upon capitalist growth, and therefore will succumb to periodic downturns in market cycles, and periodically renewed effortsto maximize profits by reducing the proportion deducted in wages.\ and raxes. Witness Britain since the 1970s, and more especially Norway and
 
On Complex Space
269
 
Sweden. Second, the Pope has nothing to say about fascism, not simply a long-agobanished spectre, for its shadow today hovers once more over Eastern Europe. This,one might allege, is a subject that has to be avoided out of embarrassment, because itembraces instances where the capitai of Catholic social doctrine has already beforebeen invested in practice, with a yield of terror and tragic chaos no less patent that inthe case of East European state socialism.
4
Of course many will here protest thatfascism and nazism distorted the themes of Catholic social teaching out of allrecognition, substituting pagan cults of collective force for a Christian respect for
‘subjectivity’ at every level, However, I shall argue that, albeit against its apparent‘intentions’, the fascist tendency of all non
-socialist corporatist thought is inevitable.Moreover, I shall also contend that the same tendencies, albeit more muted, are
contained in Wojtvla’s own economic philosophy, which appears to lean somewhat
towards the n
otion of the 'social market’.
 Do these remarks imply that I wish to join an already existing chorus of protest
against John Paul II’s revival of the notion of a substantive Catholic social doctrine, a
chorus consisting of M.-D. Chenu, liberation theologians and others?
5
Not precisely.Here I want to make certain observations intended to re-orientate our perspectives on
the recent fissure in Catholic social and political thought, between ‘Church socialteaching’ on the one hand, and ‘liberation theology’ on
the other.Most of all it must be stressed that in comparing these two things one is notcomparing like with like. In the first case one has an ahistorical, prescriptive social vision: here is the general pattern for the well-ordered human society, time and place will supply unprescribed but legitimate variations. In the second case one finds littleconcrete prescription (economic, political or social), but instead an attempt to give apositive theological construal to certain temporal processes which supposedly characterise modernity -
the releasing of humanity’s rational and po
litical autonomy from religious tutelage, and the gradual flowering of human freedom and genuinesociality. This process is apprehended as being still under way, and as furthered by 
revolutionary socialism. Since free human practice and the logic of history will ‘of their nature’ deliver the liberated future, imaginings of future ideal space are relatively 
inappropriate. Utopianism and specifically Christian social prescriptions are bothruled out by a single gesture which entrusts emancipation to a negative casting-off of mystifying shackles, and the formalism of a truly self-legislating humanity.On the one hand: space, and sublimely confident authorization. On the otherhand: time, and a modest celebration of the human endeavour to be human. Surely the former approach is manifestly conservative and pernicious, the latter radical andenlightened? I want to suggest that things are nothing like so simple, and in particularthat in their obsessively temporal concerns and dislike of any direct association of Christian doctrine with socialist vision, liberation theologians are not, on the whole, in
continuity with the main lines of Christian and Jewish ‘religious socialism’.
6
If onetakes here as an example the case of Simone Weil, one finds someone who articulateda sophisticated suspicion of the more teleological and
 
270 Polistotalizing aspects of Marxism, and endeavoured to imagine patterns of spatialdistribution that would eliminate or drastically reduce, the instance of coercive powerand arbitrary domination
.
7
Weil was no slower to prescribe than Wojtyla, yet her
prescriptions were radical, egalitarian, anarchic. Was she guilty of ‘deductivism’? Of 
extracting social norms from
a priori 
religious principles in abstraction from all lived
actuality? The answer is surely ‘no’, and the tendency of liberation theologians tobrand as ‘deductivist’ any account of the derivation of norms other than that
contained in their
own ‘priority of praxis’ model, disguises from view the degree to
 which the latter is a fusion of a teleological historicism with a mystical activism whichfetishizes outcomes
.
8
 
By contrast, the attempt to envision, as a sort of ‘general
topos\
 a universally normative human society, may represent not so much a deduction frommetaphysical or theological first principles, as rather an attempt to more exactly articulate or concretely envision
in what those principles consist,
such that one is nothere talking 
about any merely secondary ‘entailment’. Moreover this envisioning will
always draw upon a chain of historical enactments which are irreplaceably exemplary in their performance - and thereby more
exact 
envisioning of - the continuously hovering vision itself. This co-belonging of deed with vision is somehow missed in
both 
Papal deductionfrom theoretical principles of natural law (although this is really only an intermittently present feature of encyclical exposition),
an
the liberationists equally iusnaturalist verifications of doctrine within the text of practice, which grants to the event as eventthe unwarranted status of disclosure or revelation,
It is no accident that what I have dubbed the ‘temporal* obsession of li
berationtheology stems not from Christian socialism, nor even in the first place fromMarxism, but rather from the somewhat whiggish spirit of John XXIII and thesecond Vatican council. Not content with a belated recognition of certain positivefeatures within modernity, which would have remained selective and discriminating, John and the council had a tendency to baptize modernity wholesale, as themanifestation of a providentially ordained process of increasing liberation and
socialization. The ‘general
 
direction’ is perceived as upwards and progressive Within
this perspective, capitalism was explicitly or implicitly endorsed
,
9
and liberationtheology merely added a dialectical twist to this endorsement. That is
t.,
say, whereas,on the whole, earlier Christian and Jewish socialists followed perspectives of anarcho-socialists like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Gust-i Landauer according to whomcapitalism is not a necessary stage in the passage
socialism
,
10
liberation theologiansappear to endorse the Marxist view th*r. proletarianization and concentration of the
means of production are necessar;. stages on the way to liberation and a ‘co
-
operative’
society, and must be enforox under state guidance in the ca
se of a ‘premature’
revolution. (One can have more Maoist, less industrializing, versions of this.) It istrue that one finds a certi.' commendable distancing from this position in thecelebration of 
the poor 
 
in genera’ not just the proletariat, as subject
s to beemancipated; nonetheless, this distanc®;

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