foucault? relativist? ROTFL!)

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Mon Nov 1 11:04:57 PST 1999

>>> Doug Henwood <dhenwood at> 11/01/99 10:01AM >>>
James Farmelant wrote:

>Radical skepticism has throughout history been
>more often an ally of conservatism rather than radicalism.

Where'd this opposition between "radical skepticism" and personal possession of scientific truth, with no apparent intervening ground, come from? Since when does a bit of doubt - including self-doubt - lead you down the proverbial slippery slope to conformity to the existing order? It's especially odd to see these claims to certainty made in the name of the fellow who wrote that fine letter about the ruthless criticism of all that exists. I'd have thought that one's own habits of thought might be subject to criticism as well as that of those who disagree with you.


Charles: I believe the "middle ground" ( but actually truer radicality) is practical-critical activity, which unites the opposites questioning/certain in that "critical" is questioning and in that effective action requires certainty.

Although Marx did write the letter calling for ruthless criticism of all that exists, I think it is inaccurate to elevate that comment to the number one principle in Marx's thinking. Marx was also very certain in the tone of much of his writing. One gets a definite feeling that he is very much convinced that what he is saying is true. By his own example, it is pretty clear that he does not mean we or he should constantly, continuously and only ruthlessly criticize ourselves.

For example, the definite conclusion that Marxists struggle for working class revolution to end capitalism and establish socialism is not held skeptically; and to hold it skeptically undermines accomplishing that goal. Marxist atheism is not held skeptically, but with certainty. For another example, the statement "history is a history of class struggles" is not asserted by Marx with a sense of uncertainty or self-skepticism.

In general, the above does not take account of the fact that one might have subjected one's own , past habits of thought to criticism and one's current habits of thought are the result of that past self-criticism. And one might have tested one's current habits of thought with criticism and concluded that they are correct, and the criticism fails to shake them or invalidate them. The above assumes that every test of criticism invalidates that which it critcizes, but this is not true. Marx may have decided that some of what exists passed the test of the ruthless criticism he subjected it to. Why do you assume that criticism automatically succeeds at invalidation ? Some criticisms strengthen the certainty of what is criticized.

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