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To browse Academia. Skip to main content. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Dan Wood. I n a recent set of debates on and off Al Jazeera, there has been a resur- gence of provocative arguments concerning the politics of Eurocentrism. Notably, the polemics gravitate around philosophy, on who counts as philosophers, and on who bears mentioning as exemplars of thinking philo- sophically.

This indirect intervention does not have as its end the postulation of an ultimate, final-word geopolitical program in regard to anti-imperialism, nor does it attempt to reconcile the debated positions. In a performative utterance, given that the proper conditions of context and authoritative relations are in place, an act of speech brings about a novel social situation.

Political Philosophy and the Vestiges of Colonialism then at that moment the meeting really is in session. And the emergence of this new social situation provides a revalidating indicator to most that the speaking authority in fact possesses a legitimate and real discursive power. In the most banal of collective relations, then, authoritative speech and the recognition of speech as authoritative produce certain social-ontological changes.

Those who invoke this notion situate themselves within a context socially recognized as valid for instance, a cod- ified historiographic tradition, a selective philosophical canon, a religious narrative, an intercultural polemic, etc.

The significant difference in regard to the discursive production of the West, however—to put the analogy in somewhat Kafkan terms—lies in the fact that the meeting does not constitute a momentary gathering, but extends to innumerable aspects of private and public life, whose social i. Those authorities that speak of the West and the participants that legitimate this milieu-altering discourse come to see this emergent self-organization as both self-evident and as defining normal historical and social encounters.

The invocation of the West in discourse creates a social world in which it is thought that the West indeed exists in a mind-independent sense, so much so that some social identities and practices themselves become codified as intrinsically Western.

And the effects of Occidental discourse—for instance, the setting of boundaries to standardized course syllabi, the establishment of new institutions, or the legitimation of imperialist politics—serve as so- cial indicators that in turn give authorities on Western identity the appear- ance of having real discursive and explanatory power. In this way, even the deceased figures, languages, and texts that have become ossified within and as the Western tradition delegate the capacity and jurisdiction of later fig- ures, languages, and texts to make valid performative invocations.

The foregoing likely sounds somewhat necromantic. This is not far off. The idea of a westward movement of empires achieved prominence in the Middle Ages as the theory of transitio imperii, which held that power would be repeatedly transferred from east to west. This does not imply that the production of Western identity has not been implicated in various linkages between colonialism and modern sciences—on the contrary.

But what I call the mytho-liturgical production of Western identity not only has traces within various sciences, but also exceeds the bounds of such discourses and forms of knowledge, shaping everyday patterns of thought, artistic production, mores, foreign policies, philosophical systems, etc. Chazan, Politics and Society in Contemporary Africa, We should analyze this essay not only insofar as it sheds light on the contempo- rary politics of Eurocentrism, but also insofar as it might symptomatically relate to broader issues within his work and to other segments of continen- tal philosophy as well.

The essay begins with a pseudo-provocation: When one says Eurocentrism, every self-respecting postmodern leftist in- tellectual has as violent a reaction as Joseph Goebbels had to culture—to reach for a gun, hurling accusations of protofascist Eurocentrist cultural imperialism. However, is it possible to imagine a leftist appropriation of the European political legacy? In this sense, the simplest 8. This shows that the Nazis—who were and are the most tragic expression of imperialism and of its thirst for domination—even if they were all degenerates like Hitler, had a clear idea of the value of culture as a factor of resistance to foreign domination.

Here, one can begin to see some of the divergences between anticolonial thought and that of continental philosophy. To the extent that his plea presents an argument, it can be reconstruct- ed as follows: 1.

That which appears for the first time in ancient Greece is something specifically European. Politics proper—i. Therefore, both politics proper and democracy are specifically European. Even if a particular history consists entirely of the disavowal of its specific provenance, this provenance can nevertheless be restored i.

Political Philosophy and the Vestiges of Colonialism 7. But in our current postpolitical situation, one must choose between cynical free market capitalism, foolish liberal multiculturalism, or an enactive re-appropriation of politics proper. One must not opt for either cynical free market capitalism or foolish liberal multiculturalism.

In what fol- lows I disarticulate and criticize these premises as well as their concomitant sub-arguments. His other premises and conclusions have no bearing unless this general statement is taken as given. In this initial and commonplace linkage between the originality of an ancient Greek phenom- enon and contemporary Europe in general, he outlines the classical and cultural-communal space of Western history.

But this premise is really quite dubious. Why, for instance, should one accept that something that appears in ancient Greece currently belongs to Europe in general—whether really or virtually?

And who ultimately legitimates these claims to such property rights? Again, why should something originating in ancient Greece not be- long only to contemporary Greeks, or to Mediterranean port cities, or to hu- man beings in general, or in fact to no one? The official codification of the march of Western history covers over these questions, concealing contin- gent decisions made regarding origins, trajectories, and units of historical analysis.

These decisions regarding the representation of Western history then give rise to officially recognized cultural-communal and mytho-liturgi- cal forms of Occidental self-perception. Yet, since we have bracketed belief Political conflict proper thus involves the tension between the structured social body, where each part has its place, and the part of no-part. This singulier universel is a group that, although without any fixed place in the social edifice or, at best, occupying a subordinated place , not only demands to be heard on equal footing with the ruling oligarchy or aristocracy that is, to be recognized as a partner in political dialogue and the exercise of power but, even more, presents itself as the immediate embodiment of society as such, in its universality, against the particular power interests of aristocracy or oligarchy.

But there are no good reasons for accepting the bases of this brief origin story, and in what follows I will analyze their inadequacy because his subsequent argu- ment depends entirely upon them. In fact, it is not unlikely that such examples of politico-religious struggle be- tween ruling and subordinate groups over the claim to stand-in for society Political Philosophy and the Vestiges of Colonialism at the least extend to early relations among sufficiently complex and size- able groups of Homo sapiens sapiens.

Yet even known historical examples might be invoked here. At one level, politics involves making demands, and while those de- mands may and often do entail beliefs about universality, such demands need not only be formulated as universals or in self-referentially universal terms in order to be considered political.

When a colonized people demand that their oppressors leave or face the consequences, this may entail, for example, beliefs that all human beings in no case deserve to be exploited, tortured, enslaved, oppressed, etc. But these political actors do not neces- sarily need to claim to embody some form of universality or all of society for their demands to be considered truly political. Nor, for instance, does an an- ticolonial party, movement, or front need to make a claim about adequately speaking for all peoples and cultures.

In fact, many do not precisely because they have grasped the hypocrisy of such pretensions in every dimension of their former political struggles.

Fanon, Toward the African Revolution, Dan Wood virtue involves deliberation about general goods, and so cannot in principle be reduced to a dialectical stalemate between a politics of universality and a politics of particularity.

But this claim is patently false. Those who could be considered part of the demos existed within a privileged stratum of the social hierarchy above slaves. Again, the demos also in principle excluded women, an exclusion which is often only passingly mentioned by scholars as though it were not debilitat- ing for a form of governance to be considered rule by a people. Only about Political Philosophy and the Vestiges of Colonialism 16 percent of the population could be considered citizens i.

Politics proper is defined so broadly that it can include veritably anti-democratic struggles. When a singular, subordinated group lays claim to embody so- ciety as such against an aristocracy or oligarchy, nothing necessitates that this representative pretension actually does embody society.

And again, nothing necessitates that these latter groups would need to pretend to stand in for society as such for their demands to be considered political. Even if, for the sake of the argument, we accept that politics and democracy are indeed synonymous, nevertheless— given the realities of ancient Greek democracy just highlighted—it remains unclear why this past, non-egalitarian patriarchy should harbor an ideal for the present and future.

Hansen, The Athenian Democracy, 88— Fine, The Ancient Greeks, As Fine mentions, one cannot understand ancient Greek society divorced from its imperialism. While one might object that the false universality of the demos allowed for significant political advances, one should not therefore dispense with an empirically based ruthless critique of such qualified advances and their frequent romanticization.

Maybe Foucault has a point here: the dis- covery of what went on before the loss is a topic for genealogy, which, pre- cisely, has nothing to do with the historicist topic of origins. This holds for every return to origins.

That is, how could one identify the history of something, for instance, a two-millennia-old histori- cal trajectory, if precisely what constitutes the perdurance of said historical trajectory has always-already been concealed, forgotten, or dormant?

The shortest answer is that one cannot clearly identify such perduring, occult formations because they do not exist beyond modern mytho-liturgical pro- ductions of Occidental identity.

This basic structure closely mirrors some classical Christian theological readings of Genesis 1—4. Dan Wood However, the crucial point and the proof of the non-political, corporate functioning of Japanese society is the fact that, although voices like that of Sumii are heard on their behalf, the burakumin did not actively politicize their destiny, did not constitute their position as that of singulier universel, claiming that, precisely as the part of no-part, they stand for the true uni- versality of Japanese society.

By means of an ironic and revealing contradiction, he substitutes a singulier universel a quite random anecdote for all of Japa- nese society. But this irrational methodological choice—and not anything inherent to the burakumin—in fact depoliticizes this group.

In this brief in- stance, the burakumin are depoliticized from without by means of an Ori- entalist caricaturization that naturalizes this caste as helplessly passive. But, of course, there exist various empirical examples of situations in which the burakumin have indeed mobilized politically. Krauss, Rohlen, and Steinhoff, Conflict in Japan, Cynical free market capitalists depoliticize struggle by naturalizing economic com- petition, championing globalization without allowing for true universals to emerge.

Liberal multiculturalists similarly depoliticize contemporary strug- gles by reducing all strife to mere negotiated inclusivity, never questioning the relation of nonchalant dialogical openness to the strengthening of glo- balized capital. We need not accept either of these options, however. While one might easily agree with the content of this premise outside the context of the current argument, one might also accept it for the more general reason that, given that one need not choose between two undesirable alternatives, then one should not do so.

But it is nonetheless crucial to analyze the specific dimensions of neocolonialism that support the rejection of this false dilemma within the Eurocentric political framework provided. For instance, he argues that one should not understand the violence of skinheads as a result of selfishness, ideology, or talk about Western values, but as the manifestation of id-evil.

One can account for skin- head violence, in other words, by analyzing the id within a postpolitical con- text. Dan Wood multiple social, historical, economic, cultural, and political causes of sub- jectivation that occur amid contexts of white supremacist, imperialist, and racial-colonialist relations and practices.

Political Philosophy and the Vestiges of Colonialism universality, against the particular power interests of aristocracy or oligar- chy. I am not just responsible for the slave revolt in Saint Domingue. I do not want to sing the past to the detriment of my present and my future.

I am not a slave to slavery that dehumanized my ancestors. And it is by going beyond the historical and instrumental given that I initiate my cycle of freedom.


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Skip to search form Skip to main content You are currently offline. Some features of the site may not work correctly. DOI: When one says Eurocentrism, every self-respecting postmodern leftist intellectual has as violent a reaction as Joseph Goebbels had to culture-to reach for a gun, hurling accusations of protofascist Eurocentrist cultural imperialism. However, is it possible to imagine a leftist appropriation of the European political legacy? Let us begin with the question, What is politics proper? View PDF.


A Leftist Plea for "Eurocentrism"

However, is it possible to imagine a leftist appropriation of the European political legacy? Let us begin with the question, What is politics proper? This identification of the nonpart with the whole, of the part of society with no properly defined place or which resists its allocated subordinated place with the universal, is the elementary gesture of politicization, discernable in all great democratic events, from the French Revolution in which the Third Estate proclaimed itself identical to the nation as such against the aristocracy and clergy to the demise of European socialism, in which groups such as the Czech Civic Forum proclaimed themselves representative of the entire society against the party nomenklatura. When the excluded, from the Greek demos to Polish workers, protested against the ruling elite the aristocracy or nomenklatura , the true stakes were not only their explicit demands for higher wages, better working conditions, and so forth but their very right to be heard and recognized as an equal participant in the debate. In Poland, the nomenklatura lost the moment it had to accept Solidarity as an equal partner.





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