The Politics of the Imperfect
On Global Politics: Building a Different World
Concrete Needs, Concrete Situations and Concrete Actions
The Global Context and Poly-Centric Perspectives – Taking Sides
I am speaking of global governance as a complex organisation which cannot be merely wished away. Getting from A to Z when you are at H requires that one go to I, J, and K, before X, Y, and Z. There have been movements to build a world government before, but that cannot even be an issue until America is reigned in – we are at a more preliminary phase of history, where even a weak institutional world federation would be a mammoth step forward in a world which cannot even have an effective United Nations. If we jump too far ahead in our thinking, we will become merely talkers and not actors of real history. We need to deal with the concrete and specific conditions of the world as it is evolving now.
Every single person upon this earth has a story to tell and a life to live.
Every single person is also radically finite, mortal, thrown upon the topography of the earth, and inhabiting an ultimately makeshift world.
Each in his or her way is also ‘eternal’ not only with respect to having been there, as a fact, or phenomenon, but also as a free and creative being engaged in his or her situation.
No one, no word, act or omission, no silence is every truly forgotten.
One tries to listen to all the stories, all the voices from across the world, but each is limited – there is only so much each of us can experience or know. One sifts through the material and makes a rough sketch of the evolving state of the planet.
Beyond the facticity of cosmopolitan life, each also seeks to speak with others, make connections, and create relations that transgress our own routine limited perspectives. Such relations are finite as each is finite, but this transgression of accomplices will have its ‘eternal’ impact in collective action.
It is upon this expanded topography that one begins to express strong instincts and suspicions in the context of a ‘we’, a relation. Experience and knowledge, experiencing and knowing, are collective as well as individual endeavours.
At the same time, however, life is not merely about ‘experience’ and ‘knowledge’, as it would be if one were merely a tourist of life, but life is primarily lived, and lived in very similar and basic manner by everyone – but in widely divergent avenues in terms of the quality of life. In this light, life is therefore about struggle, action, imagination, creativity, disappointment, patience, joy, sorrow, love and hate.
The tragic drama of life takes place upon a common earth, yet this place where we inexplicably live, ‘our world’, remains divided on so many grounds into an indefinite typology of territories, relations of subordination, servitude, hunger, violence, intimidation and outright murder or forced starvation.
Capital plays itself out as the global ‘gangster’ on this theatrical stage of a permanently militaristic political economy, democracy as McDonald’s-ization, franchises of KFC, Burger King, human trafficking – corruption, theft and chaos. Stock brokers snort cocaine off the bellies of corporate sponsored escorts while millions die of starvation, lack of access to clean water, to medicine, where the very principles of capital forbid the fulfilment of basic so-called ‘human rights’ (a thoroughly politicised and over-determined notion, rendered nearly meaningless via political and legal nihilism), and under the cynical cloak of ‘intellectual property,’ litigiously prevents the production (and distribution) of more affordable generic versions of food or drugs for the sake the poor.
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Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred
Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. 
Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.
Perhaps the most formidable obstacle in the task of retrieving a sense of the sacred in Marx consists in his repeated, and often polemical, statements against religion – or the edited selections of his editors and guardians. Indeed, such an obstacle may in the end be one of our own making, as we are trapped within the labyrinth of our own historical understanding. Yet, assuming, for the moment, that religion and the sacred are the same phenomena, if we take his pronouncement that religion is the opium of the people – which I purposely left out in the opening quotation – in isolation, we may be lead to believe that Marx felt that at best religion – and thus the ‘sacred’ – is a narcotic, which while it may be utilized to alleviate pain, remains an illusory amelioration for a situation of humiliation and despair. Religion is an opiate in that it not only implies sedation from the pain of a life of exploitation, but also – ambivalently – suggests a systematic and strategic attempt to deaden or absorb any critical impulse to liberation. In this sense, Marx’s characterization of religion as an opiate is a forerunner of many of the most radical criticisms of religion and ‘negative’ theology in last century – Gutierrez, Miranda, Bultmann, Heidegger, Derrida, and Bataille. Each of these thinkers, in his own way, articulated a sense of the sacred in the wake of Marx and his deconstruction of religion as an ‘ideology’ – despite, perhaps, his own generation’s scientistic blindness to the regulative status of all ideas.
The kinship which is shared by each of these thinkers is a disdain for mere religion in favour of the ‘sacred’. Religion simultaneously constructs a ‘picture’ (Bild) for contemplation (Anschauung) and an organization that cultivates our captivity to that ‘picture’ (Wittgenstein). The sacred, on the contrary, intimates ‘love’ (Badiou), ‘binding commitment’ (Heidegger), an engaged and affirmative eruption of liberation amidst finite existence. Religion constructs its eternal church as an everlasting perpetuation of the ‘picture’, of an idol – a captivating grammar of existence – while the sacred exults in this moment of lived existence, in the haeccitas of Duns Scotus. If religion is a ‘rational’ and ‘systematic’ orchestration of feeling and phenomena, the sacred is an attempt to seek access to a phenomenon beyond the array of objectification towards traces of the numen. Indeed, for Otto, one need only begin amidst this singular event.
In light of this preliminary distinction between religion and the sacred, it will be the task of Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred to excavate and disclose in the writings and historical activism of Marx an affirmative sense of the sacred which is alterior to his inherently negative conception of religion. With Marx’s empathy in his ‘sigh of the oppressed creature’, we can glimpse a sense of the sacred dissociated from a religious leviathan that merely serves to perpetuate suffering – we can begin to glimpse a sacred that exists as a radical commitment to liberation. In this way, I will contend that Marx’s criticism of religion as an ideology of oppression and sedation in no way forecloses on a possible relationship between his work and Twentieth and Twenty-First Century attempts to articulate a sense of the sacred in the world. There emerges in these latter attempts the possibility of an openness which discloses a topos for an encounter with a sense of a sacred not mediated by ‘ideology’ (or positive theology).
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The Tragic Community
Friedrich Nietzsche and Mao Tse Tung
With those two gods of art, Apollo and Dionysus, we link our recognition that in the Greek world there exists a huge contrast, in origins and purposes, between visual (plastic) arts, the Apollonian, and the non-visual art of music, the Dionysian. Both very different drives go hand in hand, for the most part in open conflict with each other and simultaneously provoking each other all the time to new and more powerful offspring, in order to perpetuate for themselves the contest of opposites which the common word “Art” only seems to bridge, until they finally, through a marvelous metaphysical act, seem to pair up with each other and, as this pair, produce Attic tragedy, just as much a Dionysian as an Apollonian work of art.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 1872
Contradiction is universal and absolute, it is present in the process of development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end. (II)
By the former we mean that contradiction exists in and runs through all processes from beginning to end; motion, things, processes, thinking — all are contradictions. To deny contradiction is to deny everything. This is a universal truth for all times and all countries, which admits of no exception. (III)
Mao Tse Tung, On Contradiction (1937)
Mao’s Ontology and Early Greek Thought
Contradiction, for Mao, abides at the heart of all things – within each particular being and amidst the universality of the cosmos, or the All. Contradiction is the existence of all things – the birth, life and death of all things, and of the incessant re-birth of all particular kinds of thing, or being. Contradiction consists in, and gains its immense power from, a unity of opposites. Mao describes this disunited, or dialectical, unity of opposites:
The interdependence of the contradictory aspects present in all things and the struggle between these aspects determine the life of all things and push their development forward. There is nothing that does not contain contradiction; without contradiction nothing would exist. (Mao Tse Tung, On Contradiction, II)
Contradiction is the modus essendi, modus existendi and modus operandi of all things. It is the reality, actuality and existence of all things. The primary axiomatic significance of the universality of contradiction, a notion to which Hegel and Marx also ascribed, is that change is ubiquitous to all things, and thus, nothing can or will ever remain the same.
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A Camera is a Paintbrush
It is not amiss, however, to remind the reader of this: that in all free arts something of a compulsory character is still required, or, as it is called, a mechanism, without which the spirit, which in art must be free, and which alone gives life to the work, would be bodyless and evanescent (e.g. in the poetic art there must be correctness and wealth of language, likewise prosody and metre).
Kant, Critique of Judgement, ‘Art in General’, pp. 133-134
As with his British forebears of the 18th century, Addison, Hutcheson and Burke, that which makes art aesthetic for Kant is the pleasure that is incited in the experience of art, or, as transcendentally indicated, of the harmony of the faculties conjured by the purposiveness of the object disclosed in aesthetic reflection. The pleasure is essential in that it alone distinguishes art as aesthetic from art (making) that is merely technical (production). However, the invocation of pleasure, for Kant, demands a clarification in the form of a distinction between fine art and agreeable art (entertainment). The latter is an art of enjoyment oriented to sensual pleasure (and is thus not purely aesthetic), while the former is an art of reflection and is oriented to the act of reflective judgment.
Nevertheless, in both cases that which distinguishes art as aesthetic from art as mere mechanism is the pleasure that is invoked in the mere judging of the aesthetic object. As Kant writes: ‘For, whether we are dealing with beauty of nature or beauty of art, we may make the universal statement: that is beautiful which pleases in the mere judging of it (not in sensation or by means of a concept).’ Fine art, in this way, manifests the pure aesthetic character as it is a free making of a free spirit, as Kant has alluded in the epigram. Fine art, for Kant, is that which brings forth, seamlessly, an object of free making that provokes a universal esteem, the expression of which is disclosed in the articulation of a universal communicability, as the discourse of a sensus communis.
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