Intellectuals in an Age of Transition
* Article: Intellectuals in an Age of Transition. by Immanuel Wallerstein
"Immanuel Wallerstein argues that in the context of systemic crisis, the challenge for intellectuals is to see clearly what is at stake intellectually, to measure clearly moral implications and assert moral preferences as well understand what is going on in the political sphere and how we can implement our vision of the true and the good. The struggle will require lucidity, openness, diversity, decentralized power, and people able to act as interpreters between multiple movements." (http://www.networked-politics.info/?page_id=175)
"I have argued in my recent book, The End of the World As We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-first Century, that the modern world-system is approaching its end, and is entering an era of transition to some new historical system whose contours we do not now know, and cannot know in advance, but whose structure we can actively help to shape. The world that we have "known" (in the sense of cognoscere) has been a capitalist world-economy, and it is beset by structural strains that it is no longer in a position to handle.
I can only here give the briefest outline of the source of these strains and how they are operating. They are three. The first is the consequence of the deruralization of the world, which is far advanced and will probably be largely complete with¬in the next 25 years. It is a process that is inexorably increasing the cost of labor as a percentage of total value created. The second is the long-term consequence of the externalization of costs, which has led to ecological exhaustion. This is driving up the cost of inputs as a percentage of total value created. And the third is the consequence of the democratization of the world, which has led to constantly greater demands for public expenditure on education, health care, and guarantees of lifetime income. This is pushing up the costs of taxation as a percentage of total value created.
The combination of the three is creating a massive long-term structural squeeze on profits from production, and is in the process of making the capitalist system unprofitable for capitalists. I will not argue this case in this text, since I have done this elsewhere. I will assume it for the purposes of the issues I wish to discuss.
As a part of the structural crisis of the capitalist world-economy, we are also seeing the end of the way we have "known" the world (in the sense of scire), that is, the end of the usefulness of the present frameworks of our knowledge-system. In particular, the concept that scientific knowledge and philosophic/humanistic knowledge are radically different, intellectually opposite ways of knowing the world - a concept we sometimes call "the two cultures" - is not only turning out to be inadequate to an explanation of the massive social transition through which we are living, but to be itself a major obstacle to our capacity to deal intelligently with the crisis. We should remember that this concept is only really two centuries old, and has never existed in any other historical system.
The concept was invented as part of the ideological framing of the modern world-system and may be going out with the prospective demise of this system. For a transition from one historical system to another, the result of a bifurcation in our trajectory, is both necessarily uncertain in its outcome but takes the form of a chaotic whirl of destructuring the familiar, exaggerating the thrusts in all directions, and of course confusing us all in the process. It is therefore appropriate to ask what the role of intellectuals is or could be or should be amidst the rapid, unsure, but very important transformations of our world through which we are all living.
We have always known that the pursuit of social knowledge involves not only intellectual questions, but moral questions and political questions as well. In the modern world, there has been however extensive discussion about how these different questions re¬late to each other. In particular the debate has, for at least two centuries now, centered around the issue of whether one can and should keep radically separate the intellectual, the moral, and the political questions the ones from the others. Passions run high in this debate.
In the multiple cultures that predate the construction of the modern world-system, there was far less debate. It had always been accepted that the three kinds of questions were inseparable, and that, in any case where they appear to be in conflict, moral considerations should take precedence and determine outcomes. The concept that one should keep these questions separate, like the concept of the two cultures, is an invention of the modern world-system. Indeed, the two concepts are logically linked. In the modern world, those who have called themselves scientists have asserted that science is the (only) domain of the pursuit of the true, rel¬e¬gating philosophy/letters/the humanities to the role of being the domain of the pursuit of the good and the beautiful. On the whole, this division of epistemic objectives has been accepted on both sides. Indeed, this set of credences has been cited regularly as one of its great achievements, one of the very hallmarks, of modernity.
How different this concept is from previous world views can be seen by looking at ancient Greece. Modern Wes¬tern thinkers of¬ten assert that Greek culture is their intellectual fount and in any case is quite similar in its meta¬physics by virtue of the centrality of "rationalism" in Greek thought. Of all pre-modern civilizations, ancient Greece is claimed as nearest to that of the modern Western world. Yet what is the great symbolic moment in the history of Greek culture that relates to this issue of separating the pursuit of the true from the pursuit of the good? It is Socrates being made to drink hemlock because he is charged with corrupting Athenian youth. Not only is he required to drink hemlock, but he does so without resistance, in a sense acknowledging the legitimacy of the demand. In the Wes¬tern cultural itinerary, the Inquisition can be considered the continuation of the world view that led to the Athenian judgment of Socrates. Intellectuals were a favorite target of the Inquisition.
In point of fact, in the modern world, despite "modernity," intellectuals are quite often still required to drink hemlock; they are still being burnt at the stake. But today, such repression is no longer accepted by the victims as legitimate, nor is it probably by most people. The theme of intellectual tolerance is very strong in the imaginary of the modern world. Intellectuals have tried to use this theoretical validation of tolerance to provide themselves with some space. But there is much hypocrisy in this imaginary, since the actual practice is so far from the theory. Intellectuals have been in fact under constant pres¬sure from those in power.
In the last 500 years, and particularly in the last 150 years, there have been two different modes by which intellectuals have struggled against the repression of their self-expression - two quite different ways, which reflect two quite different political stances.
The principal mode of argument within the social sciences has been the one that has built its case on the hypothetical distinction be¬tween science (the realm of truth) and politics (the realm of values). Most social scientists today argue that they speak as scholars only in the scientific realm and leave to the public arena all discussion of values and the conclusions one should therefore draw from the picture of reality that social scientists draw. They say that they advocate "value-neutrality," which, it is asserted, represents the only appropriate stance for the intellectual in general, and the empirical social scientist in particular. Such neutrality is said to justify the social and political tolerance of social science which the intellectuals demand in return.
While the exact definition of value-neutrality is subject to much debate, the fundamental idea is that the task of gathering data and interpreting their meaning should be pursued regardless of whether or not the results validate or counterpoise themselves to values espoused by the researcher, by the larger community, or by the state. Whether a description is correct or true is said not to have any connection with whether or not what it describes is desirable; that is, what is and what ought to be are asserted to be quite distinct. There is furthermore the subargument that it thereupon becomes the moral duty of the scholar to present fairly to the public the results of his research, whatever the implications this may have for public affairs. And conversely, it is the mark of a liberal society that it makes no impediment to the disclosure by the intellectual/scholar/scientist of results that others will find disturbing because of their moral or political implications.
One of the most influential statements of this basic perspective within the social sciences, and one that is regularly cited, is that of Max Weber, in his discussions of "value-freedom" and on "objectivity":
[I]t may be asserted without the possibility of a doubt that as soon as one seeks to derive concrete directions from practical political (particularly economic and socio-political) evaluations,
(1) the indispensable means, and
(2) the inevitable repercussions, and
(3) the thus conditioned competition of numerous possible evaluations in their practical consequences, are all that an empirical discipline can demonstrate with the means at its disposal.
Philosophical disciplines can go further and lay bare the "meaning" of evaluations, i.e. their ultimate meaningful structure and their meaningful consequences.... The social sciences, which are strictly empirical sciences, are the least fitted to presume to save the difficulty of making a choice, and they should therefore not create the impression that they can do so.
Note the language Weber uses: social science cannot save one the difficulty of making a choice. He himself seems to be aware of how wrenching such ascetic self-denial is for the scientist. In his famous talk to Munich students right after the end of the First World War, discussing science "as a vocation," he reminds us that Tolstoy said that "Science is meaningless because it gives us no answer to our question, the only question important for us: 'What shall we do and how shall we live?'" Weber acknowledges this: "That science does not give us an answer to this is indisputable."
But what does he thereupon conclude?
The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the "disenchantment of the world."...
To the person who cannot bear the fate of the times like a man, one must say: may he return silently, without the usual publicity build-up of renegades, but simply and plainly. The arms of the old churches are opened widely and compassionately for him....
[Intellectual] integrity, however, compels us to state that for the many who today tarry for new prophets and saviors, the situation is the same as resounds in the beautiful Edomite watchman's song of the period of ex¬ile that has been included among Isaiah's oracles:
He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.
The people to whom this was said has enquired and tarried for more than two millennia, and we are shaken when we realize its fate. From this we want to draw the lesson that nothing is gained by yearning and tarrying alone, and we shall act differently.
This is a sober, even pessimistic, text, But Weber insists on holding on his vision of a "disenchanted" world in the face all adversity, and hold high the ideal of objective science. Of course, a close look at what Weber said shows the complexity of the position, not merely his personal position, but the position in general.
As Runciman points out:
Weber did, despite his later advocacy of value-free social science, continue to use his influence where he could in matters of social policy. ...But this is not inconsistent...: as he had...written in the editorial of 1904, scientific objectivity and lack of personal convictions are quite separate matters.
Nonetheless. whatever the complexities of Weber's own argumentation, his basic position in the end comes through clearly:
[T]o judge the validity of...values is a matter of faith. It may perhaps be a task for the speculative interpreter of life and the universe in quest of their meaning. But it certainly does not fall within the province of an empirical science.... The empirically demonstrable fact that these ultimate ends undergo historical changes and are debatable does not affect this distinction between empirical science and value judgments....
I said that the position argued here represented a stance against intellectual repression. This is clearest in its early expressions in the modern world-system. The case for value-neutrality did not originate with social scientists, but with natural scientists and other philosophers, who were rebelling against the heavy hand of Christian theology on their lives and works. The classic cult-hero of this rebellion is Galileo, who was forced by the Inquisition to repent of his scientific argument about the orbit of the earth around the sun, but is said, romantically and no doubt apocryphally, to have ended his repentance by muttering "Eppur si muove!" The natural sciences to this day continue to feel they have to fight off what they think of as political intrusion into their work.
As for Weber, Runciman in 1972 noted that Weber's views may be the orthodoxy among the "great majority" as of then, but that this was not quite the case as late as Weber's lifetime:
Indeed, many readers of the essay on "The Meaning of 'Value-freedom,'" may have felt, as Halbwachs did, that Weber is making unnecessarily heavy weather of the obvious. To this, however, there is the immediate answer that, obvious though it may be, Weber was on the losing, not the winning, side at the closed meeting of the Verein [für Sozialpolitik] for which the essay had first been written.
Who Weber's immediate targets were has been subject to many interpretations. The most obvious target was Treitschke and those rightist professors in the German universities who felt that their primary allegiance was not to scientific truth in the abstract but to the German Reich. And of course Marxists were a secondary target, often explicitly.
What we can see, however, is that a position in favor of value-neutrality fits in most comfortably with the political arguments and presuppositions of the liberal center, and rein¬forces both its emphasis on the public policy role of specialists and the political desirability of arriving at consensus via debates within certain constraints. Such centrist liberalism includes a wide gamut of positions, and can tolerate almost anything that scholars/scientists say and do, provided that they do not in their work express political commitment to whatever is defined as the "extremes" of the political panorama at any mo¬ment.
Expressing commitment to consensus values is, on the other hand, considered normal, even mandatory.
Thus, the proponents of value-neutrality present themselves as creators of space for the pursuit of knowledge in all its forms, defending its practitioners both against the established orders of church, state, and community and against the counter-orders of the antisystemic movements. The justification for val¬ue-neutrality is self-referential. Its practice is said to represent not merely the preferred but the only road to the acquisition of truth. Its defense is thought therefore to create per se a good for the entire society/state/world-system. Furthermore, this good, it is argued, is best served if all control over possible abuses of the privileges this system accords to specialists lies within the corporation itself.
The second possible stance concerning intellectual repression is quite different, since it refuses the concept of value-neutrality. This view has come historically from both the political left and the right, and constitutes a claim that value-neutrality is a figleaf for the domination of centrist liberalism within the sphere of ideas. The most influential version of this argument was that of Antonio Gramsci.
Gramsci argued that intellectuals were all necessarily rooted in their class affiliation/commitment. And even more importantly, classes felt the need to create within themselves a group that Gramsci called "organic intellectuals":
Every social class, coming into existence on the original basis of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates within itself, organically, one or more groups of intellectuals who give it homogeneity and consciousness of its function not only in the economic field but in the social and political field as well....
It can be seen that "organic" intellectuals which each new class creates within itself and elaborates in its own progressive development are for the most part "specialisations" of partial aspects of the primitive activity of the new social type which the new class has brought to light.
Note what Gramsci has done. He has questioned the neutrality of value-neutral intellectuals, insisting that they are linked to their class affiliation, organically. This of course then raises the question of what if anything represents truth-value, and above all, who represents truth-value. As we know, this way of defining the role of the intellectual was used by the world's Communist parties to insist that intellectuals had to subordinate their personal analyses to those of the collectivity, which in turn was considered to be the party, since the party laid claim to represent the interests of the working class. Post-modernist scholars have essentially retained the core elements of Gramsci's claim of organicity, but have extended it to groups beyond "classes" while simultaneously refusing to recognize the existence of political groups that have the right to control their expression.
In a sense, Gramsci's concept led historically to jumping from the frying pan into the fire. To escape the dominance of right-wing nationalist intellectuals in the German academy, Weber insisted on the legitimacy of value-neutrality. To escape the dominance in the Italian intellectual arena of centrist liberalism represented by value-neutrality, Gramsci insisted on the organicity of the intellectuals which was interpreted to mean their subordination to political leadership. If the persecution of Galileo provided the moral tale for the claim of intellectuals to freedom from those who said they incarnated Establishment (Christian) morality, the persecution of Soviet biologists by Lysenko/Stalin provided the moral tale of the claim of intellectuals to freedom from the party that said it incarnated antisystemic morality.
And there the debate has stood throughout the nineteenth and especially the twentieth century, a true dialogue of the deaf, amidst ever more harsh infighting, as the recent "culture wars" have shown to us. While this kind of intellectual squabble was a natural reflection of the systemic tensions of an ongoing historical system, they are of little help to us when we are faced with a systemic transition, full of uncertainty about its outcome but full of certainty that we are living in the middle of a chaotic bifurcation which will mean the disintegration and/or disappearance of our existing world-system. We need a better grip on what is possible and not possible, what is desirable and not desirable, if we are to achieve optimal outcomes of the transition.
The modern world-system has one particularly curious feature. It puts forward a series of theoretical analyses of itself, which are supposed to be realistically descriptive and simultaneously prescriptive, but which however are inexact. We say that capitalism is based on competition in a free market, and ought to be. We say that the states, our mandatory political frameworks, are sovereign, and ought to be. We say that citizenship is based on equality of political rights, and ought to be. And we say that scholars/scientists practice value-neutrality, and ought to do so. Each of these statements is a description, and each a prescription. Not one of them however comes close to being an accurate description. And the majority of the world's populations and even of the elite defenders of the system seldom practice what is preached. Let us review each of these description/prescriptions.
The free (or competitive) market is the great shibboleth of the capitalist world-economy, its supposedly defining character¬is¬tic. Yet every working capitalist knows that, if a market is truly free as Adam Smith defined such freedom - a multitude of sellers, a multitude of buyers, and total transparence of operations (including full knowledge by all buyers and sellers of the true state of the market), it would be absolutely impossible for anyone to make any profit whatsoever. For the buyers would always force the sellers down to a price barely above the cost of production, if not below it (at least for a certain time).
What is necessary in order to make profit is some kind of at least partial restriction of the market, some degree of monopolization. The greater the restriction/monopolization, the greater the potential profit available to the sellers. To be sure, monopolies have their downsides, which are regularly pointed out to us. But what ends monopolies is not a social awareness of their downsides but the fact that monopolies invite their own destruction through the rational and inevitable efforts of new producers/sellers to enter highly profitable markets. These efforts sooner or later succeed but, in the process, they reduce the profitability of the particular market into which these new producers/sellers have entered.
So the market does indeed play an important role in the functioning of capitalism, but only as a mechanism whereby some producers/sellers constantly seek to undo the monopolies of others. The net result of this, however, is that those who have previously gained in a monopolized market, faced with the prospective end of their advantage, take their gains and move on (or try to move on) to find another (and often newly) monopolized market. In this back and forth, the role of the states is central to everyone's maneuvers - states as guarantors and/or begetters of monopolies, as well as "neutral" legitimators of monopolistic practices, but also states as disrupters of monopolies. Having the state on one's side is the royal road to large-scale profit. And if the state is not on your side but on someone else's side, then one's primary need as an entrepreneur is to change the politics of the state. Capitalists require states to make serious pro¬fits, but states that are on their side, and not someone else's side.
Sovereignty in turn is the shibboleth of the interstate system. Every state in the modern world affirms its own sovereignty. And every state claims to respect the sovereignty of others. But as we know, and as any proponent of Realpolitik will tell you, this isn't how things really work. There are stronger states and there are weaker states, the strength and weakness being a meas¬ure of the reciprocal relationship of states. And stronger states regularly interfere in the internal affairs of weaker states, while weaker states regularly try to become stronger so as to resist such interference. But even weaker states can insert them¬selves inside the politics of stronger states, albeit with great¬er difficulty. And all states, even the strongest, are con¬strained by the operations of the collectivity that is the inter¬state system. The phrase, the bal¬ance of power, refers precisely to such constraints.
If all states were truly sovereign, no state would have or would need an intelligence service, nor for that matter armed forces. But of course all states do have them, and do need them, if they hope to maintain a minimum of control over what goes on within their borders. It is not that the slogan of sovereignty is meaningless. It sets a normative limit on the degree and kinds of interference and can therefore be utilized by weaker states - up to a point - to limit the damage done to them by the stronger states. The United Nations is today one of the main vehicles through which such constraints are exercised. But how seriously is the United Nations taken in the foreign ministries of the world?
Ever since the French Revolution, every state has had "citizens" as opposed to "subjects." Citizens have rights. Citizens are equal participants in the political decision-making of their state. Except that, ever since the concept was launched, virtually every state has tried hard to limit the applicability of the concept in reality. One of the ways this has been done is that the world-system has reified a whole series of binary distinctions, and given them political importance to a degree unknown before: bourgeois-middle class/proletarian-working class; man/woman; White/Black (or person of col¬or); breadwinner/housewife; productive worker/unproductive person; sexually main¬stream/sexually aberrant; the educated/the masses; honest citizen/criminal; normal/mentally abnormal; of legal age/a minor; civilized/uncivilized. And of course there are more.
What one has to note about these binary distinctions, all elaborated theoretically in great detail in the nineteenth century, is that they build on ancient distinctions, but give to them a salience, an interconnectedness, and a rigidity that they seldom had before. What we have also to note is that the consequence of each binary distinction that is made salient is the restriction of effective citizenship. Citizenship as a concept theoretically includes everyone. The binary distinctions reduce this "everyone" to a relatively small minority of the population. This can be easily measured by looking at suffrage rights, and even more at the degree of acceptability of real political participation.
Finally, we come to value-neutrality. This is a concept created to constrain that rambunctious, difficult, and pseudo-intelligent group, the intellectuals. In theory, all scholars/scientists are devoted to the abstract truth, and tell the story as it is really is, as their research lets them understand the world. They claim they choose their research topics in consideration only of their intrinsic scholarly/scientific interest, and select their re¬search methods in terms of their validity and reliability. They draw no conclusions valid for the public arena. They fear no social pressures. They take no cognizance of pressures, financial or political, to amend their results or their report of results.
It is a nice fairy tale, but any one who has frequented a university or a research institution for any length of time and still believes this is consciously or subconsciously naive. The material pressures are enormous, the career pressures almost as great, and the political pressures always available if the others do not work. It is not that there are not Galileo's around. There are many, and some do more than mutter "Eppur si muove." But dis¬sent is courageous even in the most liberal of states.
One could easily explain why these four myths - the free market, the sovereign states, the equal rights of all citizens, and the value-neutral scholar/scientist - are necessary to the functioning of the modern world-system, why they are so loudly propagated and so widely believed (at least at a surface level). But that is not my concern here. My concern is to discuss what happens when the historical system in which one lives comes into a structural crisis and starts its bifurcation, the situation in which I believe we are today. And in particular, what happens to the value-neutral scholar/scientist, and what should happen to him/her?
I think the first thing we, the intellectuals, need to do is to discard the myth and assert with some clarity the real situation, which is that all debates are simultaneously intellectual, moral, and political.
This is then to recognize the real limitations of the complicated position of Weber, but without accepting the too simple position of Gramsci. I have deliberately used three words - intellectual, moral, and political - to characterize the kinds of issues with which intellectuals deal because I believe that, while debates simultaneously involve all three modes of analysis, the three modes are not identical, and each mode has its claims. Furthermore, I believe that what is most useful is to address these three claims in a certain order: first, the intellectual assessment of where we are heading (our existing trajectory); secondly, the moral assessment of where we want to be heading; thirdly, the political assessment of how we are most likely to get where we believe we should be heading. Each is difficult to do. To do the three in close concert and successively is even more difficult. But if we are not interested in assuming this task, then we should be in some other business.
Where are we heading? In order to answer this question, one has to have a chronosophy , a unit of analysis, and an analytic perspective. Mine are clear. My analytic perspective is something I call "world-systems analysis." My unit of analysis is a his¬tor¬ical social system. And my chronosophy is based on the assumption of the existence of an arrow of time, in cascading bifurcations, which makes possible, but by no means inevitable, progress (which is a moral concept). I call this a theory of possible progress. Al¬low me to translate that specifically into more concrete language.
Our existing historical social system is the modern world-system, which is a capitalist world-economy. It has been in existence since the long sixteenth century. This system has expanded geographically to cover the entire globe, having squeezed out and incorporated all other historical social systems on the earth by the last third of the nineteenth century. Like all historical systems, once having come into existence, it has operated by certain rules, which are possible to make explicit and which are reflected in its cyclical rhythms and its secular trends. Like all systems, the linear projections of its trends reach certain limits, whereupon the system finds itself far from equilibrium, and begins to bifurcate. At this point, we can say the system is in crisis, and passes through a chaotic period in which it seeks to stabilize a new and different order, that is, make the transition from one system to another. What this new order is and when it will stabilize is impossible to predict, but it is strongly affected by the actions of all actors during the transition. And that is where we are today, as I have already said.
The role of the scholar/scientist is to bring his skills to bear upon the nature of this transition, and most importantly lay out the historic choices that it offers all of us, individually and collectively. Since the period is chaotic and it is also intrinsically impossible to predict the outcome, the intellectual task of analyzing the transition and the choices it offers is not an easy one or a self-evident one. Persons of good faith can and will differ, perhaps profoundly on the intellectual analysis. This involves an intellectual debate, using the rules that govern intellectual debates. I have sought to enter this debate, and so of course have many others
Is this the only intellectual question we can ask? No, but during a systemic transition, it is probably the most crucial one for our collective future. So it is both desirable and eventually inevitable that it become the center of our collective intellectual concerns. Of course, saying this presumes that the chronosophy, the unit of analysis, and the analytic perspective that I have chosen provide a basically correct starting-point. Some will deny this, perhaps many. And a certain amount of our energy has to go into confronting the debate on what might be called this set of pre-analytic questions. But frankly, not too much. For those of us who are reasonably convinced that we are using the right set of premises, we cannot afford to spend so much time justifying the underlying premises that we cannot get to the knotty problems of diagnosing contemporary reality on the basis of these premises.
Once we have arrived at the debate concerning the nature of the transition, we have to engage in the tricky task of spelling out the vectors that are involved in the trajectory, the parameters within which they operate, the likely alternative paths they could follow, always bearing in mind that, in a chaotic situation, there will be many surprises and sudden reversals. The hard¬est thing is to distinguish between what is simply the continuation of cyclical patterns from the old system and what is truly new. It is made harder by the fact that one of the characteristics of our existing world-system is its ideology of newness, one of whose expressions is the inclination of scholars/scientists and indeed of publicists to celebrate every twist in the real world as "new" and therefore either "wonderful" or "terrible." We need a certain coolness in our appreciation.
In a chaotic situation, the one thing of which we can be certain is that new paths will be offered us, and in a real sense we are being asked to choose among them. Here is where the moral issues enter and cannot be averted or neglected. The choice is never technical and never one of formal rationality. It involves what Weber called "substantive rationality," which means choosing among ends, not means. And when I speak of ends, I mean not ends that are narrowly and technically defined, but the overall shape and fundamental values of the new historical social system that we prefer to build.
This is of course an issue for everyone, and not merely or even primarily for scholars/scientists. But it is not one that scholars/scientists can avoid, claiming it is the task of the "citizen" or some other social figure outside the domain of the intellectual. For our choices here impel the way we shall pursue the intellectual tasks. They are inescapably intertwined. Our choices determine what is formally rational, the inner domain of the scholar/scientist. What it means is that we have to open out¬wards the number of factors we have to take into account in our analyses, as well as in our prescriptions. Whether, for example, a particular ecological or industrial policy makes sense, may be said to be rational, depends in part on the range of consequences, and whether we are collectively willing to pay whatever is the price for these policies. And immediately, the question becomes, who are the "we" that is paying the price? We have to open out the scope of people included in that "we," open it out in terms of all the social groupings within the system, open it out geographically, and open it out in terms of generations (including those yet unborn). No easy task!
Then, we must confront the reality that some today have greater privilege than others, and that it is normal to expect that those who have greater privilege will desire to maintain it amidst the flux that an era of transition necessarily implies. In short, an era of transition is not a friendly sporting match. It is a fierce struggle for the future, and will lead to sharp divisions among us. When one thinks of what is the biggest moral issue with which we are confronted in an era of transition, it is unquestionably a rather simple one: Will the successor historical system (or systems) be one(s) that maintain(s) the pattern of the existing and past systems, that of a hierarchical, inegalitarian system, or will it (or they) be relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian?
Right away, we see that this is a moral issue - what is the good society? But it is also an intellectual issue - what kind of society is it possible to construct? Possible? Given what? Given a putative human psychology, given a certain level of technology? Every major social science issue of the past two centuries has be¬hind it this moral issue - what is the good society? And we are no nearer to a consensus on it today than we were in 1989, 1968, 1914-18, 1870, 1848, or 1789 - to mention only a few of the great moments of social division in the modern world-system.
We can expect therefore a serious struggle between two moral camps, each of whom will dress its claims in intellectual language as well as moral language. Furthermore, the intellectual language will not necessarily be honest - honest in the sense that the proponents truly believe that this is how things work, as opposed to how they should work. Proponents do not always in fact know themselves when they are not being completely honest in this sense. Ergo, intellectual clarity is part of the moral struggle, involving the effort to delineate the distortions of analysis caused by the needs of propaganda, in the largest sense of that word.
And if, perchance, we successfully navigate the interface between intellectual and moral issues, giving each its due, we are still faced with the biggest hurdle of all, the political issues. For it is not enough to see clearly what is at stake intellectually, to measure clearly moral implications and assert moral preferences, we must also understand what is going on in the political sphere and how we can in fact be substantively rational, that is, how we can actually implement our vision of the true and the good. What fascism was, is, as an ideology is the rejection of both intellectual and moral claims in the name of the rights of force. "Whenever I hear the word culture I reach for a revolver," said the Nazi leaders. There are still those who have revolvers and act this way. Historical choices are not gar¬den parties, and they can get ugly, no matter how rational the analyses of scholars/scientists.
It is at this point that we come to the question of how we might organize ourselves in an era of transition. Once again, this is not a question only for, or even primarily for, the intellectuals, but once again it is one they cannot refuse to confront. Those who say they decline to confront it directly are either deceiving us or deceiving themselves. The great problem, how¬ever, for those who have opted to struggle for a more democratic, more egalitarian world is the legacy of disillusionment bred by the achievements and failures of the modern world's antisystemic movements in the past 150 years, and particularly in the last 50 years. We have all become wary of movements - of the triumphalism, the centralism, and the fierce intolerances they have displayed.
So what can one say about the politics of the transition? First of all, that lucidity takes precedence over mobilization. If we mobilize, we must know why, and not merely how. And why is both an intellectual and a moral question, and not merely a political one. I cannot underline this too strongly. It is here that the intellectual has his particular contribution to make. Presumably, the intellectual is defined as someone who has spent more effort acquiring the skills of analysis that underlie lucidity than others. It is in the pursuit of lucidity that intellectual issues make their claims amidst the vortex of activities. One of the intellectual realities of the modern world is that the groups with which we identify are multiple, overlapping, and move in and out of salience, for us and for the world-system. This is in part the result of that plethora of binary distinctions the world-system institutionalized in the nineteenth century, and from which we shall not be readily or easily liberated. We must live with them for the moment, even if we deplore their exaggerations. Centralism, however democratic, will not, can not work. The lesson was made clear by the rebellions of 1968 and it has been partially learned and internalized by the movements since then. But only partially!
Those who wish to maintain hierarchy and privilege in the future historical social system we shall be creating have two great advantages over the rest of us. One, they have at their disposal enormous wealth, existing power, and the ability to buy the expertise they need. They are also intelligent and sophisticated. And they can organize more or less centrally. But those who prefer that the future historical social system we shall be creating is one that is relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian are at a disadvantage on both scores. They have less current wealth and power. And they cannot operate centralized structures.
It follows that their only chance is to turn a limitation into an advantage. They must build on their diversity. Whether we call this a "rainbow alliance" or "la gauche plurielle" or the "frente amplio" matters less than the basic idea that we are doomed to the necessity of creating a worldwide family of antisystemic movements that can have no, or anyway little. hierarchical structure. And this is of course organizationally difficult for two reasons. Such a loose structure may not be able to create a viable, coherent strategy. And such a loose structure is very open to infiltration and disruption from within.
In addition, such a loose structure, if it is to survive, re¬quires mutual comprehension and respect. Here again, there is a role for the intellectual. To the degree that the intellectual can pull him/herself back from the passions of the moment, he/she may be able to serve as the interpreter between the multiple movements, the one who translates the priorities of each into the language of the other, and into the mutual language that will en¬able all of them to understand the intellectual, the moral, and then the political issues they confront.
In the twenty-first century, I believe one could persuade Gramsci of the wisdom of such a revised view. I believe that one might even be able to persuade Weber, though that would be more difficult. But we have to try very hard. It is not sure that if one failed to persuade the Max Webers of the world that we could arrive at the kind of social transformation that we would want. The outcome of the struggle is very uncertain. But in eras of transition, no one has the luxury of sitting on the sidelines." (http://www.networked-politics.info/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/wallerst.rtf)