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Missing the Mark...,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market (Taschenbuch)
This is a collection of recent op-eds, short lectures and speeches, and an essay or two by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It is a very short collection. None of the sixteen texts included in the book takes up more than twelve pages. The book runs to 108 text pages, printed on 8" x 5" paper. It offered for sale (in paperback) by the New Press for $12.95. Since two pages would fit on one 8 1/2" x 11" sheet without reduction, the cost of xeroxing the text would be about $2.70, 21% of the price of the book--which is quite a low value for this relative-cost-of-xeroxing statistic.
As the book is a collection of sixteen texts, written (or in some cases delivered) for different audiences under different conditions, it does not make a sustained argument. Think of it, rather, as a mosaic. Some pieces of the mosaic are truly excellent. Others are rather dull and commonplace. And--as often happens with mosaics--some large and important pieces of the picture the individual bits of glass would make are missing altogether.
It is also a very political book. It is not a collection of academic lectures, or of reviews of monographs. Instead, it is a collection of short (in some cases very short) interventions into the politics of the French welfare state at the end of the twentieth century. And at this point it is necessary for me to make a disclaimer. For when Pierre Bourdieu looks for his intellectual and political enemy he sees... me.
Bourdieu praises what he calls "the left hand of the state... the so-called spending ministries which are the trace, within the state, of the social struggles of the past" and condemns the "right hand [of the state] that no longer knows... what the left hand does... [and] does not want to pay for it" (p. 2). I am the right hand of the state. I stood in the back of the room--as one of U.S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen's aides' aides, as the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy--and listened to Secretary Bentsen tell U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich (the left hand of the U.S. state) that the potential tax-law changes which Secretary Reich had hoped to use to fund his labor-policy initiatives were reserved for other purposes.
Bourdieu condemns the "half-wise economists" "[l]ocked in the narrow, short-term economism of the IMF worldview which is also causing havoc... fail[ing], of course, to take account of the real costs, in the short and especially the long term, of the material and psychological wretchedness which is the only certain outcome of their economically legitimate Realpolitik: delinquency, alcoholism, road accidents, etc." (p. 7). I am a neoclassical economist; the chairman of my dissertation committee was the arch-neoliberal Lawrence Summers, now Deputy Secretary of the [U.S.] Treasury; I have been an advocate of NAFTA and of the Uruguay Round of GATT; a defender of the broad outlines (though not of all the details) of IMF policy toward Mexico, Brazil, and East Asia; an advocate of deficit reduction; a believer that we can properly manage "globalization" to make its benefits outweigh its costs; I have been called a "banner-waving proponent" of international capital mobility in the pages of Foreign Affairs.
Bourdieu has no respect for the "'intellectuals' of the political-administrative establishment, polymorphous polygraphs who polish their annual essays between two meetings of boards of directors, three publishers' parties, and miscellaneous television appearances" (p. 9). I have not been on TV (though I was quoted yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, and TV producers please call me at home any time of day or night at 925-283-2709) or attended publishers' parties (though I hope to someday) or served on boards of directors, but I have moved back and forth between academia, politics, and public administration--and I very much hope to continue to do so. And I very much want to be an intellectual (although I suspect that Bourdieu would see me as an 'intellectual').
Bourdieu denounces the "rationalism of the mathematical models which inspire the policy of the IMF or the World Bank... that of rational-action theories, etc." (p. 19). I have estimated econometric models and written technical arguments in economic theory for the Journal of Political Economy--although the one of which I am proudest is not a rational but an irrational-action theory ("Noise Trader Risk in Financial Markets," Journal of Political Economy, October 1990). But there is no doubt that when Bourdieu thinks of his intellectual and political foes, he thinks of me (or, rather, he would think of me if he knew who I was).
I look at Pierre Bourdieu, and I see... my friend. Well, perhaps not my friend but my... ally. Well, perhaps not my friend or my ally, but in any event someone who would be if he pushed his analyses just a little bit deeper, and made his intellectual position a little more coherent.
He is my hoped-for ally because there is a lot in Bourdieu's mosaic that I like already. And I find myself hopeful that as Bourdieu thinks more deeply about politics, he will find himself filling in the missing pieces of the mosaic in ways that I will agree with.
But let me start with what is excellent in the mosaic that is Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market. It contains splendid denunciations of the media-driven gossip-filled politics of celebrity that makes politics much less a process of collective decision-making about our common future and much more an arena for symbolic posturing in which most of us become not citizens but spectators. It contains eloquent attempts to recall France to its better nature, and adopt a humane and humanist policy toward immigrants.
I read with pleasure the attacks on Bundesbank head Hans Tietmeyer, whose overly-restrictive monetary policies have been (according to an excellent study by Johns Hopkins economist Larry Ball) a principal cause of high unemployment and slow growth in Europe. Bourdieu's reflections on how the permanent crisis of high unemployment and job insecurity is altering European culture and power relations are very fine, as are his arguments that there is no unmasterable process of "globalization" that requires the dismantling of the French welfare state.
It contains admirable defenses of the achievements of post-World War II social democracy--much of the work of the so-called "spending ministries" in modern European governments--and calls to rally to the continued defense of the social insurance or welfare state.
I have but two quarrels with Pierre Bourdieu's defense of the welfare state. The first is that he is fond of defending the achievements of the social welfare state against leftwing nihilist know-nothings by saying that they are "the trace, within the state, of the social struggles of the past." Perhaps it sounds better in French. But in English it sounds bad. Those who provide public social welfare services-- "counsellors, youth leaders... magistrates... teachers" (p. 2)--and the programs that fund them and that they carry out are not the mere trace but the substantive conquests of the social and political struggles of the past. To defund public education, public health, family services, disability and unemployment insurance, and so on is to strike at the heart of what the political and social struggles of the twentieth century won. That the main business of the late-twentieth century state is social insurance is an important fact--a fact that is minimized by referring to the spending ministries as "trace" (whether meant in the sense of trace--i.e., rare--elements or the trace outline of a now absent figure).
My second quarrel with Bourdieu's defense of the welfare state... but let me save that for later, for it belongs in the discussion of the large missing portions of Bourdieu's mosaic.
But not all of the mosaic is dazzling. There are duller pieces. Some are simply incomprehensible. I read the short "Sollers tel quel" and I get the message that Bourdieu disapproves of Balladur and Sollers--but I would have had to live in Paris for the whole first half of the 1990s for it to mean much to me.
And some pieces seem to me to be not just incomprehensible but reprehensible. When Bourdieu writes of "conservative revolutions, that in Germany in the 1930s, those of Thatcher, Reagan and others" (p. 35) I find myself thinking how Bourdieu wrote more truly than he knew when he wrote of how "at present, it is often the logic of political life, that of denunciation and slander, 'sloganization' and falsification of the adversary's thought, which extends into intellectual life" (p. 9). I loathe Ronald Reagan, but he was no Nazi. And the parallels between the return-to-an-imagined-classical-liberalism ideology of Reagan and Thatcher and the, in Jeff Herf's phrase, "reactionary modernism" of Nazi ideology is too strained and too remote for me to believe that Bourdieu did not intend the implication.
When Bourdieu writes that "the quest
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