Christopher Niles and Racism

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Fri Dec 4 18:54:10 PST 1998

Christopher Niles wrote:

>So, Ken and Paul, you win. Happy?

[...and so on backwards, more than I can easily cite....]

from REMARKS ON MARX, Michel Foucault interviewed by Duccio Trombadori [Semiotext(e), 1991]

Duccio Trombadori: But still apropos of polemics, you have also stated clearly that you don't like and will not accept those kinds of arguments "which mimic war and parody justice." Could you explain to me more clearly what you meant by saying this?

Michel Foucault: What is tiresome in ideological arguments is that one is necessarily swept away by the "model of war." That is to say that when you find yourself facing someone with ideas different from your own, you are always led to identify that person as an enemy (of your class, your society, etc.). And we know that it is necessary to wage combat against the enemy until triumphing over him. This grand theme of ideological struggle has really disturbed me. First of all because the theoretical coordinates of each of us are often, no, always, confused and fluctuating, especially if they are observed in their genesis.

Furthermore: might not this "struggle" that one tries to wage against the "enemy" only be a way of making a petty dispute without much importance seem more serious than it really is? I mean, don't certain intellectuals hope to lend themselves greater political weight with their "ideological struggle" than they really have? A book is consumed very quickly, you know. An article, well.... What is more serious: acting out a struggle against the "enemy," or investigating, together or perhaps divergently, the important problems that are posed? And then I'll tell you: I find this "model of war" not only a bit ridiculous but also rather dangerous. Because by virtue of saying or thinking "I'm fighting against the enemy," if one day you found yourself in a position of strength, and in a situation of real war, in front of this blasted "enemy," wouldn't you actually treat him as one? Taking that route leads directly to oppression, no matter who takes it: that's the real danger. I understand how pleasing it can be for some intellectuals to try to be taken seriously by a party or a society by acting out a "war" against an ideological adversary: but that is disturbing above all because of what it could provoke. Wouldn't it be much better instead to think that those with whom you disagree are perhaps mistaken; or perhaps that you haven't understood what they intended to say?

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