Feb 1, 2021

de-ing and re-ing

Often radical politics begins in critique—an effort to uncover the inconsistencies and limits of a doctrine, ideology, or orthodoxy. Intellectually, critique is undertaken for its own sake; politically, people undertake critique in order to evoke radical consciousness. It is thought that such consciousness, if it is shared broadly enough, may stimulate the kind of revelation that is required for revolution. Radical politics is anchored by skepticism and geared toward questioning. Politics that seeks transformation in relations of power asks that members of the polity view the normalizing institutional, cultural, and practical edifices of personal, social, and political life as both monumental and devious. As such, the task of those who seek justice, as defined from this point of view, must be to relentlessly take institutions to task: demystifying, deconstructing, and denouncing their failings.

However, in the process of this “de”-ing, the converse and politically necessary “re”-ing—reinterpreting, re-articulating, and reconstructing—often remains obscured, permanently deferred. It can often seem that radical politics is only a politics of undoing and subverting. These activities are necessary, but they are not sufficient to the task of challenging status quo arrangements of power and privilege. This is because highlighting problems of political understanding and policy is not enough, particularly if it is carried out in language that is careless about whether it is intelligible to the ordinarily competent person.

Some might argue that this kind of political pragmatism is the antithesis of radicalism. But I see no reason why that should be the case. If we take the meaning of the word “radical” seriously, as derived from the Latin radix, or root, it means to think, speak, or act in a way that affects the fundamental nature of a thing, specifically, of political and social arrangements. Radicalism requires no particular methodology, but instead a particular orientation toward recognizing problems and conceiving solutions…

[A] politics that takes into account the lessons of political acceptance must seek to persuade, and in doing so must be focused, well articulated, and consistent, attempting to answer the inevitable rhetoric of reaction with a rhetoric of change. It is unreasonable, and, more importantly, politically impracticable to ask members of the polity to change direction—to revise beliefs, common logics, practices, policies, or, certainly, political structure, without articulating a clear and intelligible vision, conveying that vision in a way that links to some beliefs and values that are already deeply held.

Deva Woodly, The Politics of Common Sense (emphasis above is mine)