The Corbyn left: the politics of position and the politics of reason

Hirsh, David. 2015. The Corbyn left: the politics of position and the politics of reason. fathom, Autumn, [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper is about a preference within contemporary left-wing culture for defining opponents as not belonging rather than seeking to win them over. Opponents are constructed as being outside of the community of the good or the progressive. This licenses their treatment as ‘other’, impermeable to political argument, reason and evidence.

The Corbyn faction in the Labour Party employs an ethic of disdain for ad hominem politics but is keenly concerned with the construction and policing of the boundaries of progressive discourse. This faction’s rise to leadership is symbolic of the prominence of this political culture.

As a sort of anti-imperialist ‘campism’ emerges as the pre-eminent principle of the progressive movement, hostility to Israel becomes a key marker of political belonging. This paper examines the Livingstone Formulation, a rhetorical device that seeks to construe the raising of the issue of antisemitism as more suspect and inherently problematic than the phenomenon of antisemitism itself. The construction of opponents of the Israel boycott campaign as external to the community of the University and College Union (UCU) provides case-study material.

The conclusion draws on the social critique of the Enlightenment notion of the autonomous rational subject. This critique downplays reason and human agency in social life. It is a development from the notion of false consciousness which facilitates a spiral into what Hannah Arendt (1975) analysed as a central feature of totalitarian politics: a culture in which disagreements are treated as ‘originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the power of reason’.

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9 November 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

13 Nov 2015 10:10

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:12

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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