October 23, 2016

THE RIGHT IS THE LEFT:

Adrift in the Present: On Mark Lilla's "The Shipwrecked Mind" (Nikita Lalwani, Sam Winter-Levy, OCTOBER 23, 2016, LA Review of Books)

"Many have attempted to understand the revolutionary mind," writes Lilla, a professor of humanities at Columbia University, "yet few have studied the reactionary one." But the two are not so different. Both feel adrift in the present. Yet while the revolutionary sees the promised land in the future, the reactionary locates it somewhere in the past -- in a Golden Age that man, to his detriment, has chosen to forsake. "The reactionary mind is a shipwrecked mind," Lilla writes. "Where others see the river of time flowing as it always has, the reactionary sees the debris of paradise drifting past his eyes."

The term "reaction," borrowed from science, entered the political vocabulary in the 18th century. "But after the French Revolution," Lilla writes, "the term acquired the negative connotation it holds today; the Jacobins used it to dismiss anyone who refused to acknowledge the forward march of history toward human emancipation." Reactionaries, Lilla notes, are not conservatives: in their desire to radically uproot the current political order, they share more in common with revolutionaries than with those who seek to preserve the status quo. So it should not be surprising that alongside right-wing reactionaries, such as the journalist √Čric Zemmour, Lilla also profiles leftists, such as the Maoist-Leninist philosopher Alain Badiou. (Badiou is a reactionary who wants to return to an age of revolutionaries, a member of a class of European leftists who have "never gotten over the collapse of the revolutionary political expectations raised in the 1960s and 1970s.")

Posted by at October 23, 2016 9:21 AM

  

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