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I have sat on this collection of comments on In the Long Run for a few months now, periodically rereading them in the hope that I would find a way to organize my thoughts. The obvious unifying feature I have come up with is that no one should read the book without also reading these responses to it. I cannot overstate my appreciation for the endorsements and generosity with which Emilie Cameron, Vinay Gidwani, Jesse Goldstein, Gill Hart and Cindi Katz each open their contributions. But it must also be said that each then goes on, in the kindest way possible, to offer a sharp criticism of the book. In fact, the critique of some key arguments is so sharp that if I had been presented with it while writing, I would have had to seriously rethink some aspects of the book’s argument before it appeared in print.
That said, it is the content and tone of the conversation that is the most rewarding aspect of this engagement, at least for me. None of these comments takes the book as some fixed object made up of once-and-for-all rights and wrongs—which would have been easier and pretty darn tempting, I’m sure. Instead, the responses model both analytical acuity and a generous and open orientation to scholarly and political discussion. They illuminate serious limits in the book’s account (even though they do it helpfully), but they do so by what I would call “seeing through” the book, to the worlds and ideas from which it came. This enlivens and enriches the conversation with those worlds and ideas (as did Jessica Dempsey and Nik Heynen as well by making this conversation possible), and I’d like to take this opportunity to keep it going.
Near the end of her contribution, Emilie Cameron asks “Why, I wondered, in a book that is willing to make the case that Keynesianism pre-dates Keynes by 150 years, was Mann not offering us a more radical reading of the place of empire in these men’s conceptualizations of political economy?” She goes on to suggest that because I immersed myself “in a tradition that thinks of itself as universal”, I had perhaps come to understand that tradition’s “dead ends and impossibilities” as absolute—as if the liberal tradition was in fact universal. I think this is probably true, or certainly close enough to true to matter. I also think there are reasons for it, if not necessarily all good reasons. If I am generous with myself, I would say that in the effort to understand the nature and origin of these limits, I slipped from analyzing liberalism on the terms of its own structures of possibility and impossibility to an analysis of possibility and impossibility on liberalism’s terms. On this account, the trouble arises because I failed to circle the argument back on itself.
But if I am honest with myself, I have to acknowledge that some of the limits shaping my efforts to excavate the foundations of Keynesianism—which I understand as an essential modern sensibility, with all the ineffability the term “sensibility” connotes—are not just a function of method or even of analysis, strictly speaking. Instead, as all of the commentaries remark (if in different words), that effort, which consumed almost a decade, involved something like digging a pit only to find myself at the bottom of it. That experience was not only disconcerting, but it also probably led me to embrace the “immanence” of my critique less critically, because immanence itself came to constitute a fundamental part of the book’s analytical terrain: it seemed to me that one of the key goals was to understand and communicate how all this made, and continues to make, so much sense to so many.
I still believe this is an absolutely crucial goal. In fact, I think grappling with immanence in this sense should be a central objective of any political-economic engagement with the world, but it rarely is. I should emphasize that not one of these responses suggests otherwise—but they were written by critics whose critical practices exemplify generous, careful reflection. There are lots of folks like this, but they are not the norm. Instead, far too much “critical” or “radical” social science expends most of its energies in taking apart the structures at which it aims its more-or-less radical “critique”, and hardly any in understanding why and how those structures make a lot of sense to a lot of people, both materially and ideologically. And even less of it considers the ways in which “critical” or “radical” social science might reinforce, or even be a product of, those structures in unreflective ways.
What is clear from these contributions is that my attempt to develop an immanent conception of Keynesianism would serve a greater purpose in combination with an attempt to breach its limits. Vinay Gidwani gets at exactly this in his reaction to my claim that there is “no outside” to either Hegel’s or Keynes’ accounts: “there is always an outside”. Gill Hart’s “NO!” to my argument that Keynesianism “has hardly reached beyond western Europe and North America” is motivated by a similar sentiment.
My point is not that I was wrong on these counts. I still think there is a great deal of truth to the book’s principal arguments. Nor do I see as incompatible Hart’s point (surely true) “that colonial ‘Development’ can be seen as a Keynesian (if oxymoronic) effort to save colonial civilization” and my own claim that “Keynes and Keynesians have always felt a vague and sometimes even urgent sympathy for the plights of the rest of the world, but ultimately, beyond the possibility that disorder elsewhere might impinge upon ‘civilization,’ they do not really care”. If, as I would argue, bourgeois Keynesians understand the collapse of “colonial civilization” to put proper “civilization” at risk, then both are true. And yet, all five commentaries identify ways in which, on crucial questions, I let a sensitive account of Keynesianism obviate the need for an energetic inquiry into its outside. It sometimes leads to what Hegel called “one-sidedness”. Reading the book now, it seems that in places I found myself at the bottom of the pit and dedicated myself to a critical study of its sedimentary layers. I can honestly say I never forgot that there were whole worlds above and beyond the pit, but too often I neglected to climb up and take a peek over the edge.
Perhaps the most crucial of these underexamined questions is that of the violence upon which so much of the liberal regime of political-economic power and thought has always rested. (Gidwani is right to remind us of the extraordinary work of the late Domenico Losurdo on this front.) Returning to the text, I find (as I remember) that violence is one of the red threads that run throughout—but almost always in the register of what Gidwani calls “hauntology”. The violence with which In the Long Run is most concerned is the spectre of the ungovernable masses and the horizon of violence with which the rabble are always associated in the liberal mind. It does much less work on (in Gidwani’s words) violence as “pharmakon—in its composite sense as remedy, poison, and scapegoat”, the means through which liberalism administers “a political community that is able to give place to those who otherwise have no place: the majoritarian ‘poor’”. This is surely also part of what underlies Hart’s “NO!”. Cindi Katz raises related concerns in her remarks on the inevitable violence of “the revenge of the capitalist state” on those who aspire to something beyond the status quo—a world not only beyond the worst of the neoliberal order, but “beyond Keynes” too.
In Violence and Civility, Étienne Balibar describes “civility” not as politeness, but as “anti-violence” (in contrast to non-violence). It seems fair to me to say that Katz’s aspiration, and all the political work it motivates—which she describes so nicely as “stepping out”—is part of a collective (if differentiated) effort to rescue “civility” from Keynes’ bourgeois “civilization”. That effort will require a (potentially ongoing) and multi-dimensional confrontation with violence, a terrible prospect. But, as Katz says, “going for it may be terrifying but it’s necessary”. If so—to state the obvious—one of the things those stepping out must constantly confront is the fact that the status quo is nonetheless rapidly disintegrating, however desperately it is defended by capital, the state, and the anxious Keynesianism convinced radical transformation always ends badly. Indeed, even in some fairy tale where everything else is hunky-dory, climate change alone promises that the days are numbered for what Jesse Goldstein calls Keynesianism’s “perpetual present”.
Relative to liberal orthodoxy, however, Keynesianism is noteworthy in that it at least has the conceptual capacity to understand a problem as “existential”. Indeed, part of my argument in the book is that existential anxiety is one of its defining features. In contrast to the murderous lies of neoliberal marketeers and austeritites who claim capitalism is “nature” and “progress” is inevitable, Keynesians are not so stupid as to imagine that, given changing consumer preferences, climate change will spur galactic innovation. New planets (or civilizations) are not coming to market soon. Keynesians realize, as Goldstein says, “the only planet worth saving is our planet”—even if the “we” behind the “our” is less than clear.
As each of the responses points out, much of my discussion in the book focuses on the impossibility of “honourable poverty” in liberalism, and on Keynesianism’s attempt to rectify this, or at least to manage it. In other words, the point is not to eradicate poverty as such, but to find a way to live with it: to find a place for the poor in what Keynes called a “modern community”. Without meaning to overstate my contribution, this remains for me a crucial point. For those who (as Cameron puts it) find themselves in “the disorienting position of both critiquing the liberal foundations of various institutions and bemoaning neoliberal attacks on those same institutions”, much of the appeal of Keynesianism is that it holds out the possibility of an “honourable poverty”. (This has enormous everyday material effects. I would go so far as to say it is, for example, an absolutely necessary ideological foundation for something as “normal” as gentrification and the fantasy of urban “social mix”.)
If I’m on to something, then one of the most important challenges is to build a politics that honours the poor without simultaneously accepting their poverty (or worse, celebrating it, as is standard in “creative cities” hornswoggle). But these comments have helped me to see limits to this I did not previously recognize. Cameron writes that one of the things I (and we) need to find is a way to “think poverty outside of the idea that it is a terrible, terrible fate”; I (and we) need to remember “there is more to being poor than what it looks like to the rich”. This seems to me true, and I have not thought about enough yet. It is another one of the “outsides” each of my colleagues has helped me to see.
My only fear is that, like some of features of radical politics I try to identify in the book, this understanding of poverty might affirm a liberalism it attempts to reject. On one hand, it affirms the dignity of the poor and of “being poor”, while simultaneously refusing the arrogance of the rich’s claim to comprehend it. But on the other hand—and perhaps this is the Keynesian in me speaking again—I do think it is often terrible, if certainly not fate. I don’t think Cameron—or Gidwani, Hart, Goldstein or Katz—would disagree. In the book, I wrote that “poverty is always a condition imposed upon the poor and in this true sense it is not the opposite of abundance or wealth, but the opposite of freedom”. The challenge would seem to be keeping both of these truths together somehow. It is not easy, at least not for me, but I cannot see how to “step out” of a blinkered “perpetual present” without doing a lot of things that are not easy. The first thing I probably need to do is climb out of the pit and look around.