This chapter investigates Shklar’s arguments on political obligation. I focus here on the claim advanced in her mature work that those made into exiles no longer owe political obligations to the regime in question. I argue, first, that this claim relies on a dichotomous distinction between exiles, on the one hand, and ordinary criminals, on the other, according to which the latter are faced with no moral conflicts at all concerning their political obligations. I argue second that Shklar’s exile/ordinary crime dichotomy is explained by a value monist approach that she takes to moral conflict in her mature work; but also, third, an alternative position is suggested in her early work, where she adopts a value pluralist approach to political obligation. I will show that Shklar’s early value pluralism shows why and how criminals may be faced with genuine moral conflicts concerning their political obligations. At the same time, I will also argue that Shklar’s early work contains the seeds from which her mature work emerges, namely a conception of freedom that presupposes elements of value monism, and it is this that explains the trajectory taken in her later work.
Because of the value monism of Judith Shklar’s liberalism of fear it is both prescriptive and utopian. And because of its value monism, it is beset by epistemological weaknesses, but also it remains blind to the moral harms committed in its name. These problems will afflict other value monist approaches to political thought as well, whether or not they are sceptical. What, then, are the alternatives? Shklar’s first book, After Utopia, fails in its attempts to be both sceptical and also completely free from normativity. Indeed, all political thought will be normative insofar as it engages in a critical analysis of the values and paradigms of politics, as is the case, for example, with the various conceptions of freedom and the diverse liberal models of political life. We must therefore consider how political thought can be normative and yet avoid the shortcomings of value monism. Value pluralism provides the compelling answer. If we have not identified the general rule for resolving moral conflict, political theory cannot offer moral guidance in politics. It requires both that political theory should play a restricted role, and that it should be supplemented by practical reasoning and practical judgement.
What do the victims of tyranny owe each other? In this chapter, I examine whether they can be condemned for betraying their friends, and I do so through a novel interpretation of Judith Shklar’s political thought. Shklar is a widely acknowledged and significant influence on non-ideal theory, including political realism. However, there is also a previously unnoticed transformation between her early and mature work, for, although she remains a sceptic, her approach to moral conflict changes from value pluralism to value monism. In addition, it is only in her mature work, as a monist, that she believes tyranny cancels obligations of justice. I argue here that Shklar’s monism fails, and this in turn has important implications for non-ideal theory. While non-ideal theorists have focused on developing a sceptical critique of ideal theory, this interpretation of Shklar’s work illustrates that greater awareness is needed of the pitfalls of monist strands of scepticism
This chapter examines what role utopianism can play in political thought. For Shklar’s liberalism of fear, utopianism is unjustifiable both on sceptical grounds and because it is implicated in illegitimate uses of cruelty. And yet the mature Shklar in fact defends utopian reforms that are, she believes, necessary so as to prevent greater cruelties and, therefore, to secure our freedom. Not only that, as argued here, Shklar’s position on utopianism in fact changes dramatically over the course of her writing career, reflecting a process of continual reappraisal of the work of Rousseau in particular. However, the monist utopianism of the liberalism of fear is marked by the following shortcoming: in her mature work she is, despite her scepticism, unable to identify the prima facie wrongs committed in the name of even legitimate utopias, including the radical and Rousseauian reforms she calls for in The Faces of Injustice and American Citizenship. And I will try to show that value pluralism is free from these problems. More generally, my argument is that a monist position on moral conflict, even when it is also a sceptical one, lacks a critical dimension crucial to the evaluation of such utopian projects.
Chapter 7 presents a counter-demagogic ‘selective tradition’ in popular art, including a contestation of ‘left-demagogy’. The inclusion of left-demagogy is quite deliberate as another charge against the Institute’s work, first enunciated by Shils, was that it neglected this phenomenon. Moreover, my critique of Laclau’s work emphasizes the blindness to this risk in recent ‘left populist’ strategies. The chapter opens with a consideration of the Institute’s planned film, Beneath the Surface, and its relationship with Adorno’s planned ‘vaccine against authoritarianism’. The 1957 Kazan/Schulberg film A Face in the Crowd, is situated as the paradigmatic case which even enacts many elements of the Institute’s work. Abbie Hoffman is presented as a left-demagogue who embraces culture industry logics only to meet his nemesis in the popular artist from The Who, Pete Townshend. Finally, the legacy of Ed Murrow’s conflict with Joseph McCarthy is examined firstly in its own journalistic terms as successful ‘liberal exposure’ of a demagogue. It is then located as a major trope within subsequent counter-demagogic popular art.
Critical theory and demagogic populism provides a detailed analysis of the relevance of the Frankfurt School’s work to understanding contemporary populism. It draws on the research that the Institute for Social Research conducted concerning domestic demagogues during its period of ‘exile’ in the USA. The book argues that the figure of the demagogue has been neglected in both orthodox ‘populism studies’ and in existing critical approaches to populism such as that of Ernesto Laclau. Demagogic ‘capture’ of populist movements and their legacies is thus a contingent prospect for ‘left’ and ‘right’ populist movements. An account of ‘modern demagogy’ is thus detailed, from the Institute’s own dedicated demagogy studies through to their dialogue with Weber’s work on charismatic leadership, the US liberal critique of demagogy and Freud’s group psychology. The Institute’s linkage of ‘modern demagogy’ to the culture industry speaks to the underestimation in ‘populism studies’ of the significance of two other ‘modern phenomena. The first is ‘cultural populism’ – the appeal to a folkloric understanding of ‘the people’ and/or ‘their culture’. The second is the pivotal role of modern means of communication, not only in the recent prominence of social media but demagogic exploitation of all media since the rise of literacy and the widening of the suffrage in the nineteenth century. The dialectical dimensions of these processes are also highlighted in reconstructing the Institute’s work and in extending these analyses through to the present. The book so concludes by weighing up potential counter-demagogic forces within and beyond the culture industry.
This chapter directly addresses the issue of cultural populism which is often bracketed out in the orthodox literature. It opens with an extended discussion of the relationship between aesthetic movements, fascism and populism. The Institute’s critical discussion of Volksgemeinschaft, ‘community of the people’, and its links to the culture industry thesis, is included here. The chapter so moves ‘cultural populism’ beyond the confines of its recent critical application to the British cultural studies project, the latter being the source of many cultural populist charges of ‘cultural elitism’ against the Frankfurt School. The similar earlier critique of the Institute by Shils, based in the category of ‘mass culture’, is critically assessed. Cultural populism’s longer history and relevance to ‘political populism’ is examined, drawing on the final writings of Eugene Lunn. The little recognized role of ‘popular art’ within the Institute’s culture industry writings is elaborated and deepened in order to move beyond the instrumental role of ‘popular culture’ in most Gramscian conceptions of the counter-hegemonic towards the focus of the next chapter.
This short excursus applies Adorno’s dynamic model of psychotechnics and culture industry to what might be considered the paradigmatic case of Donald Trump. His rise to power exemplifies the Institute’s insight that the culture industry could become a crucible for the production of modern demagogues. More particularly, his use of the rally is remarkably consistent with the Adornian understanding of that demagogic practice as a site of cultural production with the psychotechnic schema.
The Institute tended to assume modern demagogues’ repetitive performances were designed to merely ‘await their time’. So little was done to account for the preconditions of demagogic success, beyond social psychological ones. This chapter details these limitations and their relevance to the Institute’s internal debates about ‘state capitalism’. In so doing a remarkably consistent commitment to Weberian ideal-typification emerges. Adorno’s related conception of ‘physiognomy’ is introduced, including its role in his previously unpublished introduction to Lowenthal’s Prophets of Deceit. The question of what is ‘modern’ about contemporary populism is also raised, as is the related question of fascism. My initial assessment of these issues enables a preliminary ideal-typical mapping of pathways towards demagogic populism.