Tuesday, July 06, 2004


My understanding of "the dialectic"

Hegelian dialectics, in abstract, involves the interplay of conflicting forces, and the ultimate resolution of their conflict. The "battle" between thesis and antithesis resolves itself with the emergence of a synthesis of the two. This synthesis may then be challenged by a new antithesis and so on.

Having not yet read any Hegel, nor much Marx, I am no expert. But "dialectical thinking" might be a way to deeper understanding of the world we are faced with. That world is teeming with paradox and complexity, and it might do us good to recognise that rather than taking comfort in unreflective and dogmatic analyses which can only really deal with a preferred set of facts.

Frederic Jameson expresses my point wonderfully:

"In a well-known passage Marx powerfully urges us to do the impossible, namely, to think this development positively and negatively all at once; to achieve, in other words, a type of thinking that would be capable of grasping the demonstrably baleful features of capitalism along with its extraordinary and liberating dynamism simultaneously within a single thought, and without attenuating any of the force of either judgment. We are somehow to lift our minds to a point at which it is possible to understand that capitalism is at one and the same time the best thing that has ever happened to the human race, and the worst. The lapse from this austere dialectical imperative into the more comfortable stance of the taking of moral positions is inveterate and all too human: still, the urgency of the subject demands that we make at least some effort to think the cultural evolution of late capitalism dialectically, as catastrophe and progress all together."

(From "Postmodernism
or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" accessed at www.marxists.org)

To illustrate what me and Fred are getting at think of Churchill: die-hard imperialist, union-buster, arguably war criminal - but also Europe's saviour, the vanquisher of fascism. The truth of the former doesn't negate the apparently contradictory truth of the latter.

Only fools rush in. Step back, and observe the dialectic before making your ethical judgements.

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