work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

The Voice of Sanity

07.26.2011 · Posted in Uncategorized

An excellent article by Alan Johnson on the world after Oslo in World Affairs Journal. Here is his conclusion:

When the terrible news broke, I recalled the summers I spent at the British Labour Party Young Socialist summer camp in the beautiful Forest of Dean, working-class kids drowning in honey as surely as Evelyn Waugh’s Charles Ryder ever did at Brideshead. So I know something of who these young social democrats were and what was in their hearts when the radical loser exploded in their midst. And I have an inkling what they need from us now. They need us to rouse ourselves and fight for a new vital center in society. They need us to discover within ourselves a zeal for moderation, an enthusiasm for skepticism, a dogmatic adherence to complexity, and an immoderate attachment to moderation.

Those of us who teach at universities – particularly in the social sciences and humanities  – have a responsibility to convey this ethos, this dogmatic adherence to complexity. It not only is at the heart of what it means to do, say, sociology, history or philosophy. It is a social virtue.

Back in 1926, facing a growing number of radical losers heading for victory in Germany, the philosopher and biologist Helmuth Plessner wrote his “Limits of Community: a Critique of Social Radicalism”. Like Johnson today he too called for such enthusiasm for complexity

“Strong is whoever affirms the entire essential complex of society for the sake of the dignity of the individual and the social whole” (Plessner 1999: 69f.)

He was not heard. Let’s make ourselves heard this time round!

Plessner, Helmuth (1999): The Limits of Community: A Critique of Social Radicalism, New York: Humanity Books.

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