October 1, 2007

The Hand of History

Filed under: Philosophy, Politics — duncan @ 7:41 pm

Two quotes, today.

“Let no one be in any doubt, the rules of the game are changing.“ Tony Blair, August 5th 2005.

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule … The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge – unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.” Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’.


  1. “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us…”
    My question is: Isn’t it true that today there is a systematic effort by the dominant powers to erase this type of knowledge, to silence the oppressed, to turn them invisible or, worse still, to make them look evil, delinquents, unfit to the modern world (or even against it), etc.? The power to name and mis-recognition of its effectiveness work well if invisible. Blair speaks of change but it is the change-as-he-sees-it. It is he who has the power to frame the discourse in which it is spoken and the material consequences that follow and justification it is given. By creating the conditions for the acceptance of this framing of discourse and action and thus of people who are ready not to question and envision other possibilities and disputing the enframing and courses of action, aren’t we displacing that tradition and promoting the thoughtlessness Arendt speaks about?
    In that case no one learns anything from the oppressed because this very term is being preversely mis-construed and the language to set the record straight, so to speak, is disappearing- (By using Blair as example, I am not referring to the empirical man, but of his power position in wordly affairs, of course=

    Comment by tayoulevy — October 2, 2007 @ 1:21 pm

  2. Teresa –

    Thanks for your comment. I must read Arendt: one of the many shameful gaps in my self-education.

    I started writing a long response to your comment, but it turned into just another liberal blogger rant. I agreee entirely, but forgive me if I’m pretty brief.

    One of the more sinister things about the way the ‘War on Terror’ has been presented, at least in the U.K., is that it has consistently been sold in humanitarian terms. The defenders of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have regularly deployed the left-liberal rhetoric of the battle against oppression. Not that that isn’t sometimes justified: those states were nothing if not oppressive. But when pundits start using terms like ‘Islamofascism’, they’re trying to pull a fast one. The war on terror is largely a war *against* the oppressed – against the poor and the voiceless. By making it a war over ideology – and then refusing to discuss the material sources of that ideology – the defenders of the war have managed to present the murder of some of the world’s poorest citizens as a new kind of battle against tyranny, or potential tyranny. So yes – I agree: the term ‘oppressed’ – the entire discourse on oppression – is being distorted, in order not just to silence the oppressed, but to murder them. “In Baghdad’s giant slum of Sadr City, hepatitis and typhoid epidemics rage out of control. American bombing wrecked already overloaded water and sewerage infrastructures, and as a result raw sewage seeps into the household water supply.” (Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, p. 143-4 – though I’m quoting it from Radical Philosophy 142). Sadr City is a hell on earth; but when we hear about it on the news, it’s generally as a hotbed of terrorism – which justifies further attacks on its inhabitants.

    But of course you were making a broader point. Let the ‘war on terror’ stand as just one example – albeit one of the most massive – of how the terms of political discussion are framed in order to benefit and justify the powerful; and ignore the powerless.

    On the other hand, it was ever so. The discourse on oppression has always been complicit in oppression: the tradition of the oppressed has always also oppressed. So this type of knowledge is always being erased, and this language is always disappearing; and being rediscovered.

    Also, I’m about to be kicked out of this internet cafe.

    Comment by praxisblog — October 4, 2007 @ 9:17 pm

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