Skip to main content

Test Your Theoretical Commitments!

A handy test to make sense of your philosophical-political agenda...

A. Science and Modernity:

1. How would you assess the following claim: "We know only a single science, the science of history. One can look at history from two sides and divide it into the history of nature and the history of men. However, the two sides are not to be divided off; as long as men exist the history of nature and the history of men are mutually conditioned."

  • (a) A well-reasoned and theoretically succinct principle about science
  • (b) Anything that uses the hegemonic qualifier "science" is immediately suspect since science is a suspect and eurocentric discourse.
  • (c) History does not qualify as science: whoever wrote this is ignorant when it comes to the disciplines of biology, physics, and chemistry.

2. What are your thoughts on the following: "The marginal or 'minority' is not the space of a celebratory, or utopian, self-marginalization. It is a much more substantial intervention into those justifications of modernity - progress, homogeneity, cultural organicism, the deep nation, the long past - that rationalize the authoritarian, 'normalizing' tendencies within cultures in the name of national interest."

  • (a) Utter mystification that stupidly ignores the fact that modernity is a capitalist and imperialist monopoly, not intrinsically flawed.
  • (b) Clearly the truth about totalizing modernity - it must be because of the confusing and unnecessarily obscurantist language.
  • (c) What is this crap? You lost me at "self-marginalization."

3. What is "the Enlightenment"?

  • (a) A break from metaphysical alienation limited only by its social-historical context.
  • (b) Sheer oppression.
  • (c) European brilliance.

4. How would you make sense of the statement: "a modernity critical of modernity."

  • (a) Dialectical brilliance.
  • (b) Ultimately non-sensical: since modernity is synonymous with oppression we cannot speak of a "critical" modernity.
  • (c) That's a contradiction! Stop your nonsense immediately!

5. Assess the following quotation: "As a rule, no one is more blind to the critical powers of science than a scientist. No one is better prepared by the educational apparatuses for slavery than an 'expert' or agent of a defined specialism."

  • (a) A vital warning [goes hand in hand with the quote in question 1].
  • (b) Since science is intrinsically annihilatory this claim makes no sense: science lacks "critical powers" to begin with.
  • (c) Sheer madness! The scientist is an expert by virtue of being a scientist. No that's not a circular argument - I understand logic fool!

B. History

1. Can we speak coherently of history?

  • (a) We have to: but we should always ask whose interpretation of history and for whom?
  • (b) History can never be coherent: there are only competing, fragmentary discourses wielded in the interests of power.
  • (c) I'm tired of people questioning the interpretation of my history.

2. How would you interpret the following statement: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living."

  • (a) Humans are both historical agents and, simultaneously, are constructed by the historical agency of previous generations of humans.
  • (b) First of all the statement should be rejected because the author is only talking about males. Secondly, even if the author was talking about human beings in general then the quote is still a problem because it presupposes a notion of human subjecthood which is clearly a problem for reasons too complex and long-winded to explain here.
  • (c) What? Men always make history in the ways they please. As long as social contracts are involved.

3. Is there such a thing as historical necessity?

  • (a) Yes - that's how we understand freedom.
  • (b) No - there is only contingency.
  • (c) What does this have to do with maximizing utility?

4. What do you make of this claim: "History does nothing; it does not possess immense riches, it does not fight battles. It is men, real, living, who do all this. . . . It is not "history" which uses men as a means of achieving--as if it were an individual person--its own ends. History is nothing but the activity of men in pursuit of their ends."

  • (a) A succinct way of explaining that history is nothing more than human history.
  • (b) Don't you remember my complaints about the use of men in question 2? I refuse to even recognize this question on the grounds that I find it totalizing and offensive.
  • (c) "Pursuit of their ends" is key: and I think that means liberty, don't you?

C. Distinctions

1. Who came up with the "friend versus enemy" distinction and why?

  • (a) Mao Zedong in 1926 in order to make a class analysis.
  • (b) Carl Schmitt in 1927 to examine the fundamental nature of the political in the modern world. He was a fascist but I kind of like him.
  • (c) Can't we all just get along?

2. What are your thoughts on the distinction between "needs" and "rights"?

  • (a) Needs are fundamental to existence and rights are socially constructed. In this society "rights" often conflict with "needs" - if we understand the conflict we can also understand the need for revolution.
  • (b) There are no such thing as "needs" or "rights" so the distinction is meaningless.
  • (c) The distinction is necessary in order to keep the political and economic sphere separate.

3. Can we speak of a distinction between ruling class and oppressed class?

  • (a) Yes, this is a contradiction that is an important law of historical motion.
  • (b) No, because to do this would be to impose problematic categories upon reality.
  • (c) The distinction is surmountable in a society where the so-called "oppressed", by their hard work, can become "ruling".

4. What is the distinction between "freedom" and "necessity"?

  • (a) They are dialectically connected: once we understand the limits of "necessity" we can properly appreciate "freedom."
  • (b) There is no such thing as "freedom" or "necessity".
  • (c) The "necessity" is the "freedom" of individual rights maximization.

5. Reform or Revolution?

  • (a) Revolution, of course: though performing reform is sometimes necessary it should not replace the need for revolution.
  • (b) The two mean the same thing for some people - what's your point?
  • (c) Reform: revolutions violate the harm principle by hurting people.

D. Political Practice

1. How do you understand the Terrors of the French Revolution?

  • (a) An historical necessity to get rid of the class responsible for terrorizing, for hundreds of years, the vast majority of people.
  • (b) Yet another example of totalizing violence.
  • (c) The tyranny of the majority

2. How would you explain the statement: "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."

  • (a) Part of an explanation of why, because of a violent and oppressive system, political violence is necessary to pursue a liberatory society.
  • (b) A claim that reveals the essential (here I use this word with qualification) violence behind a certain type of politics.
  • (c) A statement of ignorance because political power clearly comes from the general will and the social contract founded behind the veil of ignorance.

3. Do you agree that self-criticism is politically necessary?

  • (a) Maybe; hopefully.
  • (b) Since there is no such thing as a human subject, there is no self to criticize.
  • (c) Self-criticism should never be mandated - it's up to individual rights-holders to decide whether or not they want to criticize themselves.

4. What do you think of this claim: "the all-around political agitation will be conducted by a party which unites into one inseparable whole the assault on the government in the name of the entire people."

  • (a) Worthy of debate - there's definitely historical reasons for this discussion.
  • (b) I will not even recognize a discussion of this terrorizing nature.
  • (c) You lost me at "political agitation" - what does this have to do with the harm principle and the corn-dealer?
5. Do you think we should take the following statement seriously: "both the productive forces created by the modern capitalist mode of production and the system of distribution of goods established by it have come into crying contradiction with that mode of production itself, and in fact to such a degree that, if the whole of modern society is not to perish, a revolution in the mode of production and distribution must take place, a revolution which will put an end to all class distinctions. On this tangible, material fact, which is impressing itself in a more or less clear form, but with insuperable necessity, on the minds of the exploited proletarians—on this fact, and not on the conceptions of justice and injustice held by any armchair philosopher, is modern socialism's confidence in victory founded."
  • (a) Indeed: this is the logical force behind the slogan "socialism or barbarism."
  • (b) No: this is clearly a homogenization of a heterogeneous reality.
  • (c) What? If you actually think that liberty behind the free market leads to this worse case scenario then you don't understand the possibilities of market freedom.

Look at the first comment to tally your score!


  1. Give yourself 3 points every time you answered (a).
    Give yourself 2 points every time you answered (b).
    Give yourself 1 point every time you answered (c).

    If you had 0 - 19 points you are a LIBERAL: lover of free market freedom and defender of individual rights.
    If you had 20 - 38 points you are a POST-MODERNIST: enemy of universality and every totalizing project.
    If you had 39 - 57 points then you are an HISTORICAL MATERIALIST: dialectician and quite possibly a communist.

  2. No theoretical giant here. I just kept answering 'a' while thinking "go with your instincts". Reading B and C made my belly grumble. Class consciousness; works every time.


  3. Ha ha ha! I should have mixed it up so it wasn't (a) all the time and thus be tricky...

  4. This is a great blog post, JMP. That must have taken a lot of work. Very interesting stuff.


Post a Comment