A View of the Future and the Social Tradition

The following paper was presented at the conference “After the End of Revolution: Constitutional Order amid the Crisis of Democracy,” co-organized by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute and the National Research University Higher School of Economics, September 1–2, 2017, Moscow. For additional details about the conference as well as other upcoming events, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

Today is the time when we get to discuss our future together. This is a rare occasion that may or may not occur every hundred years. For once, we now have Russians, Americans, and Europeans sitting in one boat and considering together how to pass the rapids without capsizing. Steering out of the impasse where we have been driven by the global crisis requires clear thinking and direct, candid dialogue, i.e., the return to the “direct statement” culture. And this is exactly the way in which I will take the liberty to speak. I term the manner of speaking plainly in scientific discussions as “intellectual diplomacy.” And there are times when it is capable of achieving greater results than the combined efforts of the foreign ministries of a number of countries of the world.

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Sklar: Left and Right

This is the fifth—and last—in a series of posts that introduce the thought of historian Martin J. Sklar, as a prelude to a print symposium on his life and work in a future issue of Telos. For a fuller introduction, refer to the head note to the first TELOSscope post. On the basis of his understanding of political economy (see the third post) and international relations (see the fourth post), and building on his longstanding critique of sectarianism and vanguardism in left-wing politics, in his last decade Sklar argued that U.S. politics were undergoing what he termed a “transvestiture of left and right,” whereby each side of the political spectrum was (however unwittingly) adopting positions that are historically more in tune with the other end of the spectrum. Sklar’s argument will be more fully articulated in the posthumously forthcoming book American Century and World Revolution. For now, the following selections provide a window onto his evolving thinking.

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Sklar: Capitalism-Socialism Mix

This is the third in a series of posts that introduce the thought of historian Martin J. Sklar, as a prelude to a print symposium on his life and work in a future issue of Telos. For a fuller introduction, refer to the head note to the first TELOSscope post. Whereas the first two posts showcased the historian’s engagement with philosophy, this post highlights one of his important contributions to political economy. Sklar profoundly reinterprets the idea of a “mixed economy,” on the basis of the new concepts of “capitalist investment component” (CIC) and “socialist investment component” (SIC). In so doing, he also clarifies the meanings of capitalism and socialism as political-economic systems. Like conventional “mixed economy” theorists, Sklar came to believe that there would be a long historical period during which advanced societies would combine features of capitalism and features of socialism, with the later gaining gradual ascendancy. His understanding of which features belong to which system, however, upends conventional theories of government = socialism, “private” sector = capitalism.

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Sklar: Hegel and History, Part Two

This is the second in a series of posts that introduce the thought of historian Martin J. Sklar, as a prelude to a print symposium on his life and work in a future issue of Telos. For a fuller introduction, refer to the head note to the first TELOSscope post. That post featured something unusual for a historian: an excerpt from a perceptive essay on Hegel. Hegel’s understanding of human history as developmental and cumulative, particularly with respect to the expansion of human freedom, colored Sklar’s career as a historian. Excerpts from two of his published works (second and third selections, below) reflect that influence. Not all of Sklar’s engagement with Hegel was affirmative. In the first selection, he endorses Marx’s critique of Hegel’s statism. As will be further illustrated in future posts, one of Sklar’s longstanding criticisms of many fellow leftists was their equation of socialism with state control over society. From his research on the Progressive Era in the United States, he concluded that presidents and other strategic thinkers of that period consciously incorporated elements of socialism into their ideas and programs in ways that affirmed positive government as a middle way between laissez-faire and statism. This was the meaning of his somewhat cryptic assertion in an influential (but often misunderstood) 1960 essay that corporate liberalism was “the bourgeois Yankee cousin of modern European and English social-democracy” (Studies on the Left 1:3, 41). Over time, Sklar progressively (in both senses) fleshed out this insight.

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The True Meaning of Autonomy

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Yonathan Listik looks at Cornelius Castoriadis’s “Socialism and Autonomous Society,” from Telos 43 (Spring 1980).

Cornelius Castoriadis’s opening line in “Socialism and Autonomous Society”—”Henceforth, the terms ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ will have to be abandoned”—clearly indicate that he is breaking with orthodox Marxism. But one must not rush to a conclusion since upon closer inspection the dissonances are not that relevant to Marx’s overall project as presented by Castoriadis. His criticism of notions such as the “dictatorship of the proletariat” could automatically place him outside the Marxist discourse. Nevertheless he manages to illustrate, even within orthodox Marxism, the minor position of canonical notions, compared to Marx’s essential project of an autonomous society: a society composed of free and sovereign people.

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Our Present-er Crisis

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, James Santucci looks at Karel Kosík’s “Our Present Crisis” from Telos 13 (Fall 1972).

Karel Kosík’s story begins with the end of a statue. In 1962, a granite statue of Stalin that had been begun in 1955 was completed only to be torn down several months later. For Kosík, the statue, “designed to last forever,” perfectly represented the provisionalism and nihilism of modern times. It laid bare the inescapable tension between living peacefully in social life and the animal brutality that occasionally became necessary. When the statue was torn down, the base was left behind. In Kosík’s time, there were plans to transform the space into a garden restaurant. The restaurant’s relationship to its past would be complicated, but plans were scrapped, which saved any Prague tourists from the awkwardness of “Would you like to see our drink menu while you contemplate what it means to live under threat of random and instantaneous erasure?”

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