William E. Connolly (2005) Pluralism.

Durham and London: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3567-0.

In Defence of Good Breeding

Jeremy Valentine

In 2005 Comedy Central political satirist Stephen Colbert coined the word ‘truthiness’ to describe the phenomenon of justifications given ‘from the heart’ which are believed to be true because they ‘feel right’, and because they are desired to be true despite what the facts say, or even if facts exist that would support them. Colbert’s target was Bush’s communication style and all those persuaded by it.[1] The joke is symptomatic of a characteristic of left democratic thought for which the priority of feeling is generally considered irrational, right-wing and conservative, even though few people do democratic politics as a consequence of pure rational deliberation. Feeling is beyond rational argument. It just is. Yet the political force of the joke in this context rests on a disavowal. Jokes do not work primarily at the level of reason but as a bodily response, something that is felt. So the joke relies on what the joke is aimed at, the feeling that causes laughter and which is no more rational than sneezing. Those of us inclined to share the joke aren’t bothered by this paradox, but perhaps we should be? You don’t have to be Bakhtin to recognise the force of the ‘lower bodily strata’, or the contexts in which bodily-subjective connections get mixed up with values and ideologies to produce commitments and aversions. It may be of course that all humour is inherently conservative, lower case, in that it draws attention to something out of sync with normality, even if what is taken as what should be the usual way of things is sharply disputed. ‘Truthiness’ doesn’t fit with the usual left democrat way of looking at things. By the same token the laughter of religious observers at atheists is genuine. They enjoy the fact that we will burn in hell. Similarly, followers of personal development programmes enjoy the fact that the rest of us are poor and unhappy. And fat.

On the other hand the best jokes, and perhaps those with the greatest political importance, are the ones where no one knows where to stand. Or look. They tear the connectedness of thought and action, pausing its confidence. Recall Chris Rock’s response to Clinton’s announcement to the NAACP that he is the first black president: ‘Well, perhaps he has a point? After all, he does like to fuck fat white women’. Bang. The joke is outrageously funny before all political positions are dislocated by it, which is even funnier. As if one could prevent oneself from laughing by the force of political discipline, like Monty Python’s Roman Centurions, who can’t even hear the name Bigus Dickus without collapsing in giggles fail to do.[2] Unfortunately the reputation of left democratic thought on this issue is poor compared to its competitors, who invest less hope in the force of reason. It is worsened by the recent history of its attempts to reform people’s bodily-subjective connections by forcing existing political authorities to make everyone feel the right way about everyone else. Naturally the overwhelming response has been exit rather than voice or loyalty, and there is perhaps some dignity to be saved in the fact that ‘political correctness’ was a term coined by Alexei Sayle to ridicule the apparatchiks of Labour controlled London councils in the 1970s. In short, humour is a good example to use if we want to show the futility of political gymnastics, i.e. of trying to organise and shape bodily-subjective connections. People hate it, not least because those who do it enjoy it so much. Yet that does not mean one should retreat into the comfort of pure reason. On the contrary, the question emerges of how all this messy bodily-subjective stuff can be taken into account politically by virtue of its persistence.

Since the 1960s the American political thinker William Connolly’s political thought has consistently pushed at the messiness of political discourse, from hard core US style political science to the canon of Western political philosophy – not to clean it up but to show how it works with it.[3] As a consequence Connolly has also contributed to the enlargement of the scope of what counts as political, and perhaps the political itself, and which includes the emergence of the political as a question rather than an answer within it.[4] Increasingly that question has been shaped by the recognition of the importance of bodily-subjectivity, not simply as an end in itself or value to be affirmed, but more messily in its connections with more or less everything else. Connolly’s is a thought which, although not explicitly objectified as such, thinks from and within a historically and spatially specific conjuncture which it engages, hostile to some lines of thought that traverse it, friendly to and perhaps a part of the advance of others. In Pluralism Connolly develops and radicalises a line of political thought that emerged in some of his other recent works, notably The Ethos of Pluralization (1995) and the provocatively titled Why I Am Not a Secularist (1999), works which tested the adequacy of the canon of Western political thought with respect to the expression of contemporary political conflicts at a social and cultural level. In the former Connolly stressed the consequences of the ambivalent proposition that ‘nothing is fundamental’ in order to describe a process of pluralization, or ‘deep pluralism’, which is co-extensive with the immanentist becoming of the world. This immanent becoming disrupts and dislocates the plurality of elements which happen to compose it at any one particular time. In The Ethos of Pluralization Connolly argued that a politics of becoming, as opposed to being, was the only sensible response for progress and democracy, thus deepening pluralism and bringing thought closer to the experience of how the world really is. Moreover, in affirming immanentism Connolly developed the advantages of its commitment to an ontology in which the difference between thought and feeling, or mind and body, is an aspect or mode of the same process of becoming, and not an opposition between, for example, being and its transitory appearance.

Perhaps on reflecting that the dislocation of becoming is not always a good thing, the later book, Why I Am Not a Secularist, turned its attention to the dignity of those who, for one reason or another, cling to and defend any scraps of security they have left. That is, people hang on to ‘truthiness’, faith and religion, reasonable expectations of the future and a common sense of belonging which also, of course, divides them. Connolly’s critique turned more sharply on the dominant liberal response to this state of affairs which justifies itself by virtue of its self-description as secular and universal, and thus opposes itself to those stuck with particular identities. By imagining itself as above the plurality of the world, secularism is blind to the elements of faith that sustain it. By constructing political procedures that valorise the individual and exclude from the legitimacy of public reason the context of its existence which includes the experience of collective belonging – as with the influential legal philosopher John Rawls – liberalism is blind to its own collective project. It thus stokes feelings of resentment in others, insofar as it is experienced as exercising power over them, or threatening to. Connolly did not suggest for one minute that those on the wrong end of liberalism are really right. Neither did he propose that liberalism be replaced with something else. One must begin where one is at. Instead Connolly wrote about developing an ‘ethos of engagement’ predicated on the recognition that no one element in the world can provide an infallible account of itself and the world, as a result of which a space for give and take, for forbearance, is created. In adopting such a position one gets closer to the way the world actually is. In many respects this marks the finitude and economy of human existence, in the sense that the infinite now of immanence is too much for it to bear.

Connolly can be understood as having arrived at this position by bringing the pessimism of Nietzsche and the optimism of James together. In that respect Connolly’s approach echoes the American pragmatist tradition very strongly – as in Walter Lippmann’s recognition that despite the fact that, inevitably, everyone will view the world through a matrix of stereotypes, nevertheless these should be held lightly so that they can ‘modify them gladly’.[5] Of course there are no guarantees with that approach, as no one can be stopped from thinking they are right in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, which is what makes the whole process political. But it’s not political in the sense that someone like Lippmann would have understood it, where authoritative decision making is informed by the contribution of objective political science and responsible journalism to the creation of a valid public sphere. Rather, it’s political precisely because it’s plural. And because it is something that one might do, a way of conducting oneself, then it’s ethical too. And because doing is not all in the mind, but in the body too, then it’s bodily also and a matter of feeling as much as anything else – a topic Connolly also explored in Neuropolitics(2002). And because one is as likely to become plural through watching television or shopping or organising industrial action as through reading a book of political thought or being taught it, then it’s cultural as well. One thinks the way that one does not only as an effect of the application of pure reason, but as an effect of everyday practices and rituals in which thought is constituted alongside the habits of the body. In fact it’s probable that there are more pluralists in the world than would ever read Connolly’s books, which is possibly one of their strengths. Pluralism arises as a disturbance or dislocation of faith, including its non-theistic versions. Insofar as this can be traced to the process of the becoming of the world, then Connolly’s consistent aim is to emphasise the positive possibilities of such experiences, and to enable collective living which is tuned into it as a constant possibility.

With Pluralism Connolly defends this intellectual project against some possible objections, and develops it further in order to point to some new problems with it. Perhaps the overarching theme is what to do with positions you don’t like, and which may or may not threaten your own. On this point Connolly wants to refute the suggestion that ‘pluralism is a philosophy for wimps, for those whose beliefs are too saturated with uncertainty and ambivalence to take definitive action’ (3). It is tolerant but mostly of ambiguity, less so of univocity. Above all pluralism is a practice of self-cultivation with no assurances of reciprocity, and is as such very risky. One must learn to alter one’s own taken for granted assumptions before one can expect others to do the same, and there is no guarantee that they will, at least not in the direction that one might like. Yet one might say that in one crucial respect pluralism has added weight on its side which gives it a sporting chance. Pluralism is not relativism. Neither is it a nominalism or anti-realism. To be consistent, its ontology of becoming commits it to what Connolly calls ‘fidelity to the world’ (10). At the moment all the signs are positive that becoming is becoming plural. Globalisation and a sense of the increased speed of things are part of this process. One of its casualties is the unified territorial state, where not only does everyone think the same, at least on paper, but everyone is ruled the same. But one quickly realises that the problem is what is to be done with the consequences of all this, seeing as how so far it has caused unprecedented conflict between a plurality of positions, each claiming to be absolutely right at the expense of the other.

Beneath this problem is a more complex set of issues. Globalisation and, indeed, the process of becoming itself may be undermining the faith of positions that you might not particularly agree with anyway. It’s all too easy in such situations for the fear and resentment caused by the dislocatory effects of the process to be vented on those who do not share or oppose the faith under attack, especially if those who oppose it can be seen to benefit in some way from the process that undermines it, thus reinforcing and even justifying the opposition. There aren’t many of us who assent to Patti Smith’s observation that ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine’, and those of us who do, do so under quite specific temporal, spatial and material conditions that are not widely shared. And we want to hang on to them. Connolly’s solution to a self-defeating dialectic of antagonistic transference and sublimation is not to say either that everyone should try and get along, or that everyone ought to unite and fight against a common oppressor. It’s not that Connolly does not agree with those things. It’s that his commitment to a metaphysics of becoming renders such responses temporary and that therefore any political imaginary ought to take this fact into account. It is in this context that Connolly develops a familiar but unpopular and difficult notion of equality, not just in a formal sense, or with respect to opportunities and outcomes, but with respect to the cultivation of the conduct of equality through which it is sustained. Given the absence of a chain that ties reality to a primal notion of justice, of mine and thine for all time, equality is sustained by not treating anyone as if they are better or worse than you, or expecting to be treated differently. The contingency of faith is equal, yours as much as anybody else’s. This is not therefore a recipe for peace at all costs, but for what has been called ‘agonistic respect’.[6] It’s a politics of virtù. Good breeding might be another name for it. In any event it’s a matter of honour.

So the defining master-stroke of Connolly’s position is not to ask: ‘how can we make them more like us?’. It is instead to ask: ‘how can we become more like ourselves by becoming other than what we are?’. To which Nietzsche might add: ‘and are we strong enough to do it?’. None of that makes Connolly’s argument less than political. The purpose of the book is to seek out breaks or folds in the faith in an apparently seamless ordering of the world as opportunities to deepen pluralism. It’s clear that sometimes explicitly, sometimes as a background hum, the context of Pluralism is 9/11 and its effects, or ‘resonances’, to use a very Connolly term. Connolly’s procedure is to examine the character of the mix of thought and feeling that has arisen and to enter its genealogy. The difficulty of such a task should not be underestimated. Recall Raymond Williams’s notion of a ‘structure of feeling’ as one of the fundamental problems of what became Cultural Studies. To an extent Connolly succeeds by re-activating forms of writing not seen for donkey’s years which use descriptions of the ethical character of the world to effect an alteration in the ethical character of the reader. Not that these descriptions are particularly refined, as Connolly focuses on the power of ‘gut feelings’ and the visceral register in general, and how it gets mixed in with what people think and do. It is in those terms that Connolly addresses the question of evil as the name for that which causes a dislocation of taken for granted assumptions and practices. The reaction to dislocation is bodily and emotional. Expressed in those terms, it can’t be dismissed with a glib ‘resorting to violence means that you have lost the argument’ type argument. But equally, it doesn’t mean that these reactions are necessarily good or bad. There is no valorisation of ‘victim status’ in Connolly’s thought. After all these people want your Lexus precisely because the fact that you have one is as accidental as the fact that they don’t. Or, as P.J. O’Rourke replied to his daughter’s complaint that ‘life’s so unfair’ –‘yes, and you better pray it stays that way.’

To deepen the analysis Connolly explicitly writes from within the ways that the context of the United States and the shadow of its government’s ‘war on terror’ is felt. That’s clear from discussions of popular evangelical interventions in the current conjuncture, such as explanations in terms of divine punishment for toleration of homosexuality and abortion, a phenomenon that is often the humorous topic of personality driven documentaries about the USA on UK television. In no sense though does Connolly make the mistake of universalising this experience. Instead he uncovers resonances, such as between Sayyid Qutb, Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and on some accounts an influence behind Osama bin Laden, and the Christian theologian Augustine. This is not so as to measure an equivalence between both, but to complexify their difference. Also, Connolly makes an interesting contribution to a strongly felt debate about the political status of Leo Strauss’s political philosophy. Strauss is perhaps a bit obscure to non-American political philosophers and probably doesn’t even register with anyone else. Along with people like Hannah Arendt and virtually the whole of the Frankfurt School, Strauss fled Germany with the rise of Nazism and ended up in the United States as a political philosopher with a reputation established by a monograph on Hobbes. Strauss’s style, often revered as a ‘teaching’, was incongruous in the context of hard-nosed positivism and functionalism, the dominant paradigms at the time, as it was characterised by a sometimes kitsch ‘respect for ancient wisdom’ e.g. Plato argument which, in the face of the insulting relativism of the modern world, can only recommend a conservative pessimism for intellectual elites and a ‘noble lie’ for the rest of us. Above all Strauss was opposed to the distinction between facts and norms but grudgingly accepted that you can’t put the genie back in the lamp.

Strauss is significant not just because of his scholarship, but also for the influence his work had on students who then went on to occupy university positions and who tended to profess similar doctrines. Critics of this ‘cabal’ have even argued that it exists in the United States government itself, with recently disgraced World Bank boss Paul Wolfowitz as one of their number,[7] as an empirical explanation of the rise of the neo-cons, aka ‘colostomy conservatives’, a sort of sinister university fraternity like the one in The Departed or that Donna Tart book –but not Animal House or Porkys, obviously. Naturally Connolly rejects such easy thinking. As well as doubting the extent of Strauss’s influence Connolly probes and deepens what Nietzsche might have called the ‘reactive nihilism’ of Strauss’ teaching that subverts any assimilation of it to neo-con thought.[8] There is another reason for Connolly’s interest in Strauss, which is his work on Spinoza. Curiously, Connolly is persuaded by Strauss’s critique of Spinoza, which rests on exposing the absence of its metaphysical ground precisely because its positive expression is no more than a matter of faith. The immanence of becoming is no less a matter of faith than the transcendence of being. Spinoza’s arguments are not entirely persuasive, even if one is sympathetic of their aim of subverting a theology of transcendence and political systems predicated on analogies with it. The cold and prickly idea that the structure of existence is geometrical, and the endless scholastic distinctions that are supposed to express the modes of the oneness of becoming, are aspects of Spinoza’s thought that can’t simply be thrown out in order to retain the warm and fuzzy stuff about the body. In any event what matters more to Connolly is the importance of the difficulty of Strauss and Spinoza, as this sustains a positive ethos of engagement rather than a telos of consensus. For Connolly such an ethos is a matter of civic virtue.

That said, Connolly does assign a large part of the book, two chapters on ‘Pluralism and the Universe’ and ‘Pluralism and Time’ respectively, to developing the metaphysical side of a politics of becoming and weaving it into what we know about everyday political practices in the broad sense. The first begins with a discussion of William James’s ‘pragmatist’ pluralism, the idea that there is no external point to the ‘messy universe’ in which everyone is situated. On that basis the force of tight logical argumentation to which philosophers aspire as a standard of reason can be limited against the inevitability of chance events and incongruous phenomena that make up the ‘always-already’ (neither James’s nor Connolly’s term) connectedness of lived experience, and which exceed explanation and physical control. In particular Connolly draws out the influence of Bergson on James’s development of an account of time which reduces chronology to an ordering device that fails with respect to the experience of the passing moment. In contrast, both James and Bergson, and others such as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, are after the holy grail of immanentism in the form of an account of existence that is continuous with duration, pure ‘fidelity to the world’. Immanentists are realists in epistemology on the condition that their rejection of any Platonic notion of reality as stable is understood, but lovers most of the time. Connolly discusses the work of scientists such as Prigogine as contemporary examples of this aspiration, with their talk of autopoiesis irreducible to efficient causation. Again, the upshot for Connolly is measured by its potential impact on conduct: ‘To cultivate an ethical disposition of connectedness across difference is to refine our capacities of feeling’ (92).

The chapter on time picks up the Bergson emphasis on the perdurance and endurance of ‘duration’, ‘the very mobility of being’, as the antidote to the illusion of represented punctual time in the form of the intersection of memory and anticipation. Within this perspective Connolly improvises a space for the irruption of change into the ontology of becoming. For Connolly newness happens through the collisions and swerves of ‘separate trajectories of becoming, set on different scales of clock time’ in which, ‘for good or ill’, the outcomes are unpredictable (103). Of course, experience constituted in these ‘out of joint’ environments can be traumatic and the struggle to make sense of them can be reactive and even retroactive, a means to confirm a long held fear or prejudice. So what about the moral and ethical status of contingency? Clearly it is not something that can be decided by erecting a ‘a series of interlocking musts’, or deontology. For Connolly obligation and commitment are natural facts of the world, organs of action, not something arrived at through a process of deliberation, and are better categorised as feelings or instincts. Nor are the contents of morality and ethics derived from first principles: instead, they arise from variable social conventions. It is because morality and ethics are variable all the way down that they are capable of being cultivated to respond to contingency and, on that basis, to ‘transpose human life into another tone’ (120). After all, contingency won’t go away. It is because the implications of the politics of becoming are not always positive that ethical dispositions have to be cultivated. Contingency shakes things up.

Yet there is a world of difference between the fact of contingency and reflection upon it. I think that Connolly may be criticised for disingenuousness in not emphasising the latter and in particular in not giving credit to the limited ways in which this has been done, sometimes resulting in the re-invention of transcendence as a mark of those limits, as with Kant, but also nihilistically with Strauss, but always through the development of a common language and practice of reason that may become universal. So what if it is invented and not transcendent? Nietzsche hardly makes the case that it’s the wrong type of invention. So what if it is based on passions that are denied? They have Freud to explain that for them in their own terms. There is a world of difference between people who do those things and people who regard any unexpected event as an opportunity to confirm their bizarre inherited prejudices. Those who seek to develop a common language of reason are commonly called moderns, and those who don’t are called barbarians. Justifying this distinction is the idea that you have a better chance of getting moderns to cultivate an ethic of becoming than you do with barbarians, because unlimited critique and doubt is central to the identity of the former and it is alien, if not forbidden, to the latter. You can try and minimise the differences by categorising critique as just another faith, as Strauss did, but at the level of effects the differences are incommensurable. Barbarians will experience them as traumatic but moderns will experience them as part of the order of things, or lack thereof.

Another related critical point to make concerns the ‘pluralism/pluralization’ distinction, which seems to have been dropped from Connolly’s latest book in order to make room for the commonality of faith. It’s hard to see if faiths are really that different and plural, even if they like to think of themselves that way in a context, it’s worth noting, dominated by liberalism which values such phenomena and claims to guarantee their safety. For moderns these differences are insignificant because behind them is a common agreement on monotheism with broadly similar characteristics –all powerful, the cause of everything ever, and a common enjoyment in selecting and punishing apostates and infidels, if they can catch them, as Spinoza experienced first hand. Spinoza was lucky in one respect though, in that his thought goes some way outside the box of onto-theology. Others have been much slower and more cautious, but considering the political difficulties of doing so this is not surprising. Philosophers and critical thinkers are not known for their skills in physical combat and they don’t go out of their way to make themselves popular and accessible. So although superficial, the differences between faiths demonstrate that their common fantasies of transcendence will not happen. Faiths hate this and call it evil. That’s why they don’t want to listen to the truth – for example deathmetal songs about ‘your god is a liar’ – as it will pluralize them. Moderns love that sort of stuff. And barbarians don’t attack things that threaten their assumptions as a result of some primitive childish fear of the unknown. There are very good material reasons for wanting to keep things the same as you imagine they have always been, not least the stability of relations of domination and exploitation enjoyed by those who tend to organise opposition to contingency.

Nevertheless it is perhaps precisely because there is little chance of reciprocity from barbarians that moderns should cultivate the civic virtues of agonistic respect, which Connolly admits is a ‘kissing cousin’ –a phrase not widely used outside the US –of liberal tolerance (123), if only to demonstrate their superiority. And if by chance this gesture is met with reciprocity then so much the better, as it provides further proof that moderns are prepared to revise their views as well as an opportunity to rub a bit of modernity into barbarians. In other words, moderns are hard wired to practice the civic virtue of ‘critical responsiveness’ (126), something I have never encountered in any barbarians I have met. But I have met far fewer moderns.

Connolly does not take this line of argument except insofar as it is anticipated as a possible objection and negotiated by conceding that there is an element of ‘performative contradiction’ in the argument he does make. That is to say, Connolly admits that he seems to imply that things get better through time therefore time is progressive and linear as long as deep pluralism gets embedded deeper in it (128). Time is thus figured in a very modern way, which doesn’t seem to fit with talk of duration. The implied criticism may be true, but for Connolly the crucial point concerns the recognition of the unexpected event as unexpected event, and not as confirmation of a prediction, a line of thought also opened by Derrida, and others, from a slightly different direction (there is no ontological commitment in Derrida’s work and deconstructionists generally consider any such commitment to be a bit vulgar).[9] As Connolly clarifies his position: ‘I do not seek to replace a punctual image of time with time as creative evolution. I seek, rather, to complicate the experience of time, drawing upon each modality at different moments’ (129). Here though I think Connolly hits on another problem, which is that with the exception of certain peak moments the experience of time is humdrum and linear, or in any event ordered and repetitive, and probably for good pragmatic or evolutionary reasons. Without events duration is an eternity of boredom, but which it also easier to live with in the long run as without it there wouldn’t even be a long run.[10] So it’s more a question of relation than duration. Even so, I suspect that that the singular, and possibly privileged, moment when ‘time is out of joint’ doesn’t actually sit that well with Bergson’s notion of duration, although I don’t know nearly enough about it to be certain. What is clear, however, and is a weakness with the thought of contingency as such, and which modern system builders like Kant and Hegel tried to conquer, is that everything depends on the occurrence of some unpredictable event that will come from no one knows where. Perhaps this in itself is a new form of faith? That possibility would perhaps be the basis of a criticism from contemporary militant moderns like Zizek and Badiou, who have a much more detailed account of what is going to happen, and when and how.

In fact, all significant political arguments, agonistic or not, will sooner or later boil down to disputes over what is the case. That happens partly as a consequence of a common ‘fidelity to the world’ irrespective of competing ontologies, methodologies, ideologies, or whatever. For Connolly the case in question concerns the conduct of the United States in a globalising world. What will be experienced as contingent by some will be experienced as absolutely necessary by others. It is that situation which forces questions of sovereignty and democracy to meet questions of capitalism and state formation. Connolly examines this issue through a sympathetic critique of Hardt and Negri’s attempted fusion of Deleuze and Marx. Although Connolly argues that this never succeeds because their account is split between a positive endorsement of Empire and its ontology of becoming and contingency, and an expectation that the multitude will destroy it. In other words, why would the multitude want to destroy Empire? Actually it may be more accurate to say that Hardt and Negri transpose problems already present in Deleuze, in the form of the dialectic of territorialisation and deterritorialisation, and Marx’s ideas about the self-revolutionising of capitalism.[11] This may in any case be a strategic difference and Connolly agrees that Hardt and Negri provide an account of what actually is the case while at the same time, as ‘a Deleuzian with a liberal streak’ (155), directs the question of action to lessening the impact of globalisation in creating ‘unbearable humiliations’ that stimulate violent opposition to it. In other words, globalisation and those that benefit from it ought to concede more. For example, Connolly is in no doubt that Palestine should be supported politically and financially at least as much as Israel is. Thus instead of radical transformation, the cult of the dislocatory event, Connolly would rather political energy was directed at a ‘creative mode of intervention posed at several strategic sites in the service of reducing economic inequality, fostering intra- and inter- state pluralism, and promoting ecological sanity’ (159). There are no guarantees with this approach, although I would bet that if it was modestly successful the exaggerated significance currently enjoyed by organised faith would decline and its institutions would dissolve. Of course, I have no grounds for thinking that but it just feels right. Amongst other things, Connolly’s work gives us some practical ideas about how to make that happen, and how to be if it does.


1 It would be no surprise if ‘truthiness’ translated some obscure term in Heidegger to denote something like an equiprimordial experience of truth prior to truth in some sort of ‘the essence of truth is not truth’ style argument. There would not be a lot of laughs in that.

2 The political ambivalence of humour is brilliantly illustrated by the joke about Honecker in the canteen scene in Das Leben der Anderen.

3 For an introductory taste of Connolly’s thought see Macdonald (2002)

4 For an excellent introduction to Connolly in the context of recent developments in US political thought see White (2000).

5 See e.g. Lippmann (1997 [1922])

6 There are obvious similarities, but quite a few differences also, with the work of Chantal Mouffe in the common use of the word ‘agonism’. For a critique of Connolly’s agonism from a procedural and deliberative approach, see Deveaux (1999).

7 See the exposé in Norton (2004)

8 The similarities between Qutb and Strauss were also the main topic of Adam Curtis’s documentary The Power of Nightmares, first broadcast on BBC in 2004. Curtis hooked everything on the neo-con influence story to insinuate that Qutb was also a neo-con apostle. But both Connolly and Curtis may have missed a trick by overlooking an important aspect of Strauss’s past. After leaving Weimar, and on his way to first London and then Chicago, Strauss spent some time in Paris, where he fell in with the dashing and enigmatic Russian émigré and former student of Karl Jaspers Alexander Kojeve, who at the time was earning a living by lecturing on Hegel. This was subsequently published as Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on Phenomenology of Spirit. The lectures and the book are famous for two things. Firstly, Kojeve coined the phrase ‘the end of history’, subsequently revived in the 1980s by Fukuyama. Secondly the audience for the lectures included people like George Battaille and Jacques Lacan. Strauss would almost certainly have been part of that milieu. But the story gets better. After WWII Kojeve set up the General Agreement of Tarrifs and Trade, one of the institutional building blocks of the global financial architecture, of which the World Bank is one part. Strauss remained a life long friend and would visit Kojeve at his GATT job. That sort of story would certainly inspire the survivalists of Oregon. And it’s all on the internet.

9 See e.g. Derrida’s discussion of Negri in Sprinker (1999: 257 –262)

10 Connolly is closely associated with the journal Theory & Event.

11 Did Marx oppose capitalism or did Marx show that capitalism is opposed to itself? Discuss using references from the text.


Connolly, William E. (1995) The Ethos of Pluralization.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Connolly, William E. (1999) Why I Am Not a Secularist. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Connolly, William E. (2002) Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Curtis, Adam (2004) The Power of Nightmares BBC2: 3 episodes October –November.

Deveaux, Monique (1999) ‘Agonism and pluralism’. Philosophy and Social Criticism 25, 4: 1-22.

Lippmann, Walter (1997 [1922]) Public Opinion. New York: The Free Press.

Macdonald, Bradley J. (2002) ‘Towards an Ethos of Freedom and Engagement: An Interview with William E. Connolly’. Strategies 15, 2: 165-181.

Norton, Anne (2004) Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Sprinker, Michael (ed.) (1999) Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx. London: Verso.

White, Stephen K. (2000) Sustaining Affirmation: The Strengths of Weak Ontology in Political Theory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jeremy Valentine works at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the co-author of Polemicization: The Contingency of the Commonplace (1999) and co-editor of the manuscript series Taking On The Political. He writes about the overlap between culture and political thought. Recently he has written about the organisational politics of the global art world, and the relations between the cultural industries, the rentier economy and morality, as well as contributing to New Cultural
Studies: Adventures in Theory (2006) and The Truth of Zizek (2007).