Criticism of the status quo…

“The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force, but theory becomes a material force as soon as it is gripped by the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter.”

Karl Marx

The most recognised and least understood symbol or radical action

stolen face of a radical

Every society has a need for the existence of The Radical. Although The Radical is misunderstood, misguided, maligned, malignant, vilified and of necessity, vindictive, they perform the duties that no-one else is capable of or would want to do, even if they could.

A society without radicals is a society bereft of an honest mirror from which it can clearly identify and observe its own imperfections. Whether a society is established on the basis of shared input and distributed power or oligopolic entrenchment, makes no difference. By definition, centralised power fails to criticise itself. So-called ‘democratic’ societies are built on an obligatory accumulation of agreement that negates an ability to see the deep blemish hidden beneath the surface. In a democracy, that blemish is  masked behind make-up composed of inumerable sediment-layers of compromise. You cannot ask the leaders, rulers, peace-keepers, judiciary or even the fourth estate of a society to comment on the image seen in the mirror, for that is foolishness of the first order. It is akin to asking a human being to criticise themselves. Milennia of self-preservation in communal groupings has instilled in us all a wariness of weakening our inner self. That inner self requires absolute certainty of the value of self-interest, and is bereft of room for material self-doubt or brutal questioning of our basic motives. Those motives are the basis for our actions. Few human beings are capable of stepping aside from those motives to perform the duties of The Radical, and no present or historical society ever has or will.

The Radical inhabits the ‘long tail’ of the societal bell-curve. They are few in number and will exist in groupings at polar extremes to each other. On any clearly enunciated issue they will be voraciously in favour or viciously against the middle ground of the generally accepted view. The Radical inhabits the same society as everyone else but they live in a alternate space, constructed on substitute foundations, with support structures melded by an altogether different glue.

The Radical lives a daily angst of frustration and suppressed anger foreign to inhabitants of the rump of the bell-curve. The Radical lives with the futlity of railling against an ersatz and meaningless existence, of living the daily debasement which accompanies the expression of contrary views and beliefs. The Radical does not harbour these fundamentals as a secret objective. They are activists, participants and agitators of the first order.  

This is their precise value. This is the role that the bell-curve rump is incapable of performing and the reason societies need to embrace The Radical – even while knowing that The Radical will never, ever return the extended arm. To do so would explode The Radical’s  inner self into a mist of viciously barbed, self-loathing shards.

  1. The Moderator says:

    You can find this in Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. The commentary is actually tucked into discussion on religion but the wording is precisely applicable to the context of defining the Radical – hence its use in the post.

  2. maya luzzatto says:

    The quotation from Marx at the beginning of this essay was excellent. Where (exactly) in Marx’s writings or recorded utterances would I find those words?

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