Hegel and the Enlightenment

‘The True is the Whole Hegel

[This was a chapter for a book on Marxist theory but it is too long so it has been cut/cannibalised – this is the original draft]

When the philosophy professor Immanuel Kant in Germany published an essay in 1784 titled What is Enlightenment?; he concluded the answer was ‘dare to know’. Human intellectual advancement was held back primarily by fear and cowardice—in the heady days of the late 18th century, anything seemed possible if you had a will to do it. You could know what you want to know. Indeed, this was Kant’s main area of interest, how do we know things, or more accurately, how do we order the knowledge that we receive from the world around us? Kant was a Prussian professor in danger of irrelevance before he was ‘woken from his dogmatic slumbers’ by David Hume and the British empiricists. They argued that knowledge comes from our sense data, what we sense from the world around us. People like John Locke believed that the mind was a blank slate, a tabula rasa that absorbed knowledge from the world as we experienced it. Kant was sympathetic but ultimately unsatisfied with this explanation. He thought about philosophy in a new way. The question gripping enlightenment thinkers was one of the most fundamental ones of philosophy; how do we know anything? Freed from the simple theocratic propositions that we knew things because of God and the Bible, debates and arguments began over how any of us could know anything.

For Kant there was a world outside us that we were part of. We accessed this through sensory perception: touching, hearing, tasting and so on. For the empiricists, all knowledge is from sensation, but Kant disagreed. We cannot just rely on our senses to provide information about the world, we also need to order what we sense. For instance, how can we sense time or space or causality? These are not experiences, in the way drinking water might be, they had to exist beforehand for us to order what we were sensing. He called these transcendental, because we are born with them built-in to our conceptual apparatuses. These exist a priori, that is before we experience sensory information. These categories are similar to those developed by Aristotle, including inherence and subsistence, reality, negation, necessity, contingency and so on. This is an important development, since rather than humans being passive recipients of experience from the world out there, we become necessary to process our perceptions and experiences. Kant’s philosophy was thoroughly epistemological, concerned with the theory of knowledge itself. But for Kant there is a veil of reality behind which things-in-themselves exist, which we cannot pass. 

Kant said the world was divided between phenomena (what we experience through our senses) and noumena, the real essence of things, which we cannot know except through intuition. This marked Kant as an idealist philosopher; the unknowable things were deeply idealist concepts such as the soul, free will, a supreme being, and so on. Kant was interested in metaphysics, investigations into those things that exist outside our ability to perceive them. He described his theory as a transcendental idealism. Our minds, composed of matter, were inherently limited, which is why some things are unknowable, independent of the mind. Kant referred to these as the ding an sich, the thing in itself. On the one hand, our a priori limits our sensibilities and ability to conceptualise or understand, but on the other, Kant is arguing a radical demand for the rule of reason and lawfulness. There are laws in nature and human society, but they are placed there by the human mind, understood through our capacity to reason.

In Kant’s model there is a dualism between the natural and human worlds. Basically, science and ethics versus nature and history. Indeed, this dualism is a pronounced feature of Kantianism, which included several antinomies (things which cannot be reconciled). These antinomies include the contradiction that ‘The world is finite in time and space; the world is infinite in time and space‘ and ‘as part of the world or as its cause there is an absolutely necessary being; there is no absolutely necessary being.’ These antinomies are developed by Kant to show the importance of the dialectic in philosophy. 

In each point both the proposition and its contradiction can be equally valid within the limits of human knowledge, indeed the limits of formal logic. They exist because it is not possible for us to go beyond our own experiences and try to grasp a vantage point from which to see everything. But the irresolvability of these contradictions forms the basis of the disjuncture and gap which exists in the capitalist world. The separation of thought and its irreconcilability is an essential concept within strictly formal logic—within the modernist world that sees things in a parallax view of distance, where within the gap between ideas and reality or idealism and realism lie the grim hypocrisy of politics and social life.

There is a second important train of thought Kant is known for; his ethical writings. For Kant, ethics and morality are rooted in universal laws or categorical imperative. He suggests various versions, the most famous, ‘Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.’ This is not the same as the Christian ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, because Kant conceives it as a social and interdependent norm, not an individual one. The categorical imperative is the hinge around which much of Kant’s moral and political philosophy swings. This can be seen by his views on the relationship between politics and ethics. For instance, Kant posited the idea of a utopian state, where humans could one day live in a totally moral and ethical condition, where we no longer saw each other as means to an end, as mere utilities to get what we want, but perceive people as ends in themselves. Kant called this a Kingdom of Ends, a system of rational beings living moral lives according to universal principles, like the categorical imperative.

Politically, Kant was a republican who believed that in a system of democratic nations there would exist perpetual peace, as the citizens of free nations would never willingly go to war against citizens of another free nation. This concept of perpetual peace is popular today, and forms a cornerstone of the neo-conservative ideology of regime change and the war on terror. They argue that dictators not only oppress their people but are also warlike (for instance, seeking access to weapons of mass destruction). Therefore, spreading democratic values around the world helps prevent war. Kant may have disagreed with how his theory is being used, but it is still today deployed as a justification. The perpetual peace theory is a Kantian one, based on a categorical imperative of republican states to act in a certain way.

As far as people were concerned Kant was a progressive liberal in outlook. For him our moral judgements are products of our noumenal self, so that Kant believed we are self-legislating individuals who can make adequate moral choices. He disagreed with Hobbes’ more conservative notion of humans as essentially backward or irrational creatures who constantly warred. It is possible, thought Kant, to overcome such a state, and not through the necessary intervention of an all-powerful leviathan ruler as Hobbes proposed. The moral choice is the rational one, and so long as we can work within the categorical imperative of treating all other humans as ends in themselves and not simply means, we can live a just and ethical life. Kant did not accept the argument that the highest good is happiness—the highest good is the virtuous life well led. This is what leads to happiness, not the other way around. Duty is crucial for Kant; we have a duty to obey moral laws as a way of being spiritually better people. If people accept the universality of the categorical imperative and live their lives according to it then we have achieved what Kant calls the ‘Kingdom of Ends‘, which is equivalent to a religious concept like Heaven on Earth.

Kant is a philosopher of the emerging capitalist world. As far as the role of the state is concerned he believes it can be a force for good that can act to allow people the maximum amount of freedom they need to make their moral choices. It is right for the state to take action to prevent someone from preventing your free actions; in other words, the role of the state is to safeguard individual liberty. This notion of the state is highly bourgeois, it preserves the state as a moral arbiter and creates the philosophical justification for liberal thinking about freedoms and the state’s role in safeguarding them. Importantly it does not assume that the state is neutral—it has a moral imperative to act in the way it does to defend individuals and private property.

The crucial legacy of Kant’s work is to begin the process of developing the analytical tools that started modern philosophical epistemological inquiry. The concepts that we all hold, the product of reason, had to be critiqued. The categories we use to understand and order our knowledge had to be elucidated through philosophical inquiry. The project of constructing philosophy on a par with science was left uncompleted by Kant—his system contained a number of contradictions which contributed to a new round of debate and discussion among German thinkers. But Kant was hugely influential in European thought even to this day—and as we shall see, his ideas will resurface more than once in the political arguments of the emerging workers movement.

While Kant took key aspects of philosophy forward with his arguments, some felt he also left many questions unanswered. His philosophy formed an important bedrock for liberalism, but was transcendental philosophy sufficient to understand the human world and its relations? It was left to other philosophers to explore the ideas Kant raised. One of these was George Hegel, a professor of philosophy whose philosophy in many ways represents the highest achievement of German philosophy. Marx had a high opinion of both men, saying that Kant was the first and Hegel the last word in German idealism. 

Although Hegel followed on with some of the themes of Kant, he strongly criticised his arguments and developed concepts that were new. Hegel criticises Kant for empiricism because he sees Kant’s philosophy as an attack on metaphysics—Hegel, for his part, wanted to maintain a form of metaphysics and incorporate it into a historical narrative of change.

So, Kant argues there are two primary categories, phenomena and noumena. Hegel agrees that there is a divergence between appearance and essence, but for Hegel there is no unknowable ding an sich. The fact that Kant argues this leads Kant’s entire philosophy into the realm of appearances alone, since appearances are all that we can know. This leads directly to scepticism in the philosophical sciences. Hegel wanted to go deeper, into the essence of things, which he believed we can know. The whole of human history is now the struggle of the human mind to know itself better, to reach an understanding of what Hegel calls the Absolute.

In Phenomenology of the Spirit, Hegel explores how the phenomena of the mind can appear to the mind itself; in other words, how do we think? Hegel criticises two commonly held views about the faculty of thought. The first is that thought is the means (mittel—here understood as a tool or an instrument) through which we grasp the absolute (ding an sich). For others thought is a passive medium through which the absolute passes to reach us. This has problems for ‘natural consciousness‘. If consciousness is a tool then it is used to shape the thing we are thinking about, if it is a medium then it prevents us from knowing the truth (ding an sich) since we only conceptualise the medium.

In Kant’s preface to Critique of Pure Reason, he argues that since we cannot know the Absolute we must abandon any attempts to investigate it and instead focus on the subjective forms. Hence his claim that the objects must conform to our ideas and not vice versa. Hegel rejects the view that we must use thought as some kind of separate instrument, something we use to understand reality from the outside. He does so because this would imply that we are separate from reality.

Hegelian philosophy

Hegel’s philosophy is complex and it is possible to only give a broad outline here, focusing on the important aspects like the dialect and the relations of contradiction and motion. For Hegel, the task of philosophy is to contemplate the actuality in the process of history as it reveals itself to be part of a greater whole. All that humanity can do therefore is to reflect, Nachdenken (thinking after), so all true knowledge occurs after the fact—as Hegel famously said ‘the owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the onset of dusk’. Our knowledge first and foremost comes from sense certainty, the immediate and utterly particular act of an object impinging on our sense. In this case it is a cup of tea which sits in front of you. You can see, taste, touch and smell it, you know it is there because of these things. However, you cannot ascribe it as a cup of tea, because to use language to describe any sense perception involves utilising the universal ‘cups of tea’. It also locates it within a temporal context which by definition limits its truthfulness (since it can at some point dry up, becoming silt or be drunk and cease to be tea). In Hegel’s model the task of our thought process is to liberate itself from the material world. The material world appears immediate, but Hegel’s idealism means that he rejects sensory data as purely coming from a material relationship; instead he sees consciousness as ascending by gradually emancipating itself into purer forms of thought. Our consciousness must be a self-consciousness and it must recognise other forms of consciousness, other objects around us.

As such, the beginning of true knowledge, or knowledge of the Absolute, is self-consciousness. But Hegel does not think that self-consciousness is automatically given, self-consciousness is only realised when it comes into contact with an external object that is like it, i.e. another self-consciousness. The Cartesian starting point for self-knowledge, ‘I think therefore I am’ is uprooted and replaced ‘by the act of others thinking, and my recognition of that, I come into self-realisation and conscious being’. (Marx and the left wing materialists would transform the famous ‘I think therefore I am’ into ‘I am therefore I think’).

In a sense we can use the modern concept of the Other to illustrate Hegel’s point. It is only through the existence of the Other that the Us can be formed, in opposition and by excluding that which is not Us. But Hegel takes it a step further, we Desire this Other which is not Us. By desiring it we want to possess it, make it one with us, and in doing so incorporate it into our own being. We originally start in an undifferentiated but primitive unity with nature, before becoming alienated from it. Only in this way does the self-consciousness come to recognise itself as Spirit (or mind in some translations) and achieve a higher synthesis, a unity with the world by seeing ‘consciousness of itself as its own world, and of the world as itself.’

This concept is central to Hegel’s famous ‘Master/slave‘ relationship. In this analogy, Hegel asks us the question, who is really the master in such a relationship? At first glance the master (slave owner) has all the power, even the power to kill a slave if they wish, since they are often considered no better than cattle. But if the slave dies, then the master is left alone, unable perhaps to even cook or clean. Under capitalism the working class is the slave and exists as a wage slave at the mercy of their capitalist masters. But if the workers strike, then the workplace ceases to function, it ceases to make money or produce commodities or answer the phones or type at a computer terminal. The master is left at the mercy of their slaves. Such an act of slave rebellion poses the Hegelian question ‘who really rules?’ Indeed, the master must act as they do because, by recognising the other. they come to hate its existence, while feeling love (desire) for the material goods that they can produce or the service they provide.

What is the method by which Hegel arrives at these kinds of insights? Hegel draws from Ancient Greek philosophy and the dialectic, and in so doing reintroduced it into western thought. This method is best observed in Plato’s writings, for instance the Republic, where Socrates has various conversations and debates with Athenian gentlemen. Through asking questions and working through the answers they arrive at a higher plane of understanding; the dialogue is the process which helps clarify the terms of the debate and arrive at a new conclusion.

The method of the dialectic that is developed in Phenomenology is a breakthrough as for modern philosophy, though Kant and Hegel had salvaged the idea from the ancient Greeks. Whereas formal logic can only refer to identity and proceed along explicit lines, the dialectic analyses the relationship between content and form and therefore allows us to overcome formal content as the sole reach of analysis. Whereas Plato’s dialectic was inductive, starting from relatively small statements and limited questions to arrive at a universal truth, Hegel is (generally speaking) deductive, he begins from the big idea and works out its grounding in the world.

The dialectical approach to thinking does not see the world in fixed categories, so much as a series of processes and motions. Everything is a unit of many determinants, each one in possible conflict with the others, each one not dissolving the others but forming a higher synthesis. Within these processes are moments—or rather processes—of transition, both quantitative and qualitative, as things are constantly becoming something else. 

The dialectical method sees things as a whole, but also in the parts of the whole and—crucially—how they relate to each other. Importantly, contradiction is immanent within things, change comes from within not outside. The unity of opposites (in logical terms that both A and non-A co-exist) is a contradiction that causes motion and change. This was different from Aristotle’s concept of change, which started from outside, from an ‘unmoved mover’ who could only be God.

In his Science of Logic and Encyclopedia, Hegel undertakes the task of explaining how ideas are formed and enter the world. His method begins with the abstract and proceeds to the concrete through a series of categories and relations, each of which deals with a different stage in the process of an Idea as it makes its way into reality. He begins with Being which is simply abstract ‘pure thought‘, it is ideas without any sensual results (touching, smelling, etc) and as such is Nothing. But Being both exists and does not exist, in the same way that an abstract idea exists in our heads but not in the world, as such it emerges out of Nothing, it is always becoming. Being contains both quantities and qualities which can create new forms of Being Hegel calls measure, effectively the moment when numerous qualities culminate in something which achieves recognition. Being is a stage of ‘simple determinate objects’.

But Hegel was not only interested in being, he wanted to understand the essence of thinking and social relations. It is in the second realm, Essence, contradictions emerge because it is the phase of reflection in which ideas compete and clash. Essence happens when Being takes form, when the relation of Being to not-Being and to other forms of being (other abstract ideas for instance) take shape in a common relation, as tangible. At first as new information or data is processed and understood, there is a stage of Identity that agrees with what we know, but simple Identity eventually breaks down and gives way to a Diversity of views, then a Difference, then what Hegel calls Ground, the separation of differences into new Identities so process begin again. Hegel summarises this process as Distinction, Relativity, Mediation. At root, this shift from Being to Essence can be summarised as the shift from a simple to a complex view of social relations, because in essence all relations are mediated, they are no longer immediate. Essence contains more complex forms of contradiction and motion, for instance between form and content (appearance) and eventually achieves an aufhebung (merging and blending) in the unity of opposites, the unity of Being and Essence, which is the final stage of the motion of thought—the Notion.

The Notion emerges from a process of sublation, incorporation and re-establishment between Being and Essence; it is therefore concrete, the highest expression of ideas and human activity. Whereas the previous stages examined the most abstract aspects of intuition and knowledge, the Notion concerns more palpable concepts because it deals with a concrete apparatus of thought. It is the moment when subjective logic gives way to objective logic. The Notion begins as a subjective concept, it is self-referential, working out its own internal mediated relations. Just as Being and Essence have three stages of movement so does Notion, between Universal, Particular and Individual. 

The Universal is easy to see, the nation state is a universal concept, the market economy is another one. These ideas exist everywhere. Communism is another universal idea, though it is disputed. The Universal is concrete and abstract at the same time. The Particular can exist as the social, material form of the Universal while the Individual is our subjectivity. For example, ideas begin in the universal, descend into the particulars which are made up of individuals (though not necessarily people). The notion of God is a universal one, the Church is the particular and the individual’s relationship to the universal and the particular is contained in Psalm 23—the Lord’s Prayer. After the Notion has completed its subjective working out, it becomes Objective (although in reality this stage would almost certainly be commensurate with the former), it relates to the otherness in the world and establishes relations and processes externally. Finally the Notion becomes the Idea, it takes shape as a fully worked out and coherent argument. We can understand the different sub-divisions of logic as Being in the present, the Essence of the past (Hegel uses the phrases ‘Wesen ist wasgewesen ist’; i.e. Essence is what has been, or ‘what is past’) and the Concept of the Notion belongs to the future, to Being as it is to be. Hegel also explains this transition as the difference between consciousness, self-consciousness and, finally, reason. There are many other points after this in which the Concept and the Idea develop through stages and interrelations, before finally arriving at the Absolute Idea, which is the unity of practical and theoretical ideas, but we will return to this later.

To extend the analogy of the Church further, the idea of the Christian God emerges in opposition to Other concepts of divinity, salvation and worship. The ideas begin to connect to other ideas, to elaborate and form new relations until the essence of Christianity emerges, Jesus as the Messiah, rejection of aspects of Jewish law and so on. The essence takes the shape of both appearance and actuality, the cross is the appearance, the actuality of holy communion and physical locations for worship (early churches). The notion of Christianity has both a subjective side and an objective side, the particulars of the Church become objective when people form relations which constitute the church, after all the Church is nothing without the congregation (the English word Church is even a corruption of Ekklesia, meaning congregation or assembly). The objective form of the Church is both the embodiment of and embodied in the idea of Christianity, the life of a Christian, the Christian way of thinking. The absolute idea of the Church made into reality is the unity of the practice of Christian worship and the theory of salvation through Christ. At each stage of this process there has been or remains contradiction and even conflict (as splits in the Christian Church prove), and a struggle over the essence or appearance of the Church.

If the reader takes anything from that it should be two things. First, each category and concept has a relationship to the rest, which influences each process and outcome and that we can know the result of these deliberations. Second, the idea of mediation is important in Hegel; each concept is mediated due to its relationship and dependency on what came before and what comes after. An example would be that the universal and the individual are mediated by the particular. Lenin noted ‘everything is vermittelt = mediated, bound into one, connected by transitions…’ meaning, ‘not only the unity of opposites, but the transition or every determination, quality, feature, side, property in every other.’ This notion of a mediated relation between objects and subjects is an important part of what subsequently came to be termed ‘totality’ by 1920s Marxists.

As a general principle we can say Hegel starts from the concept of the living whole and its movement caused by contradictions and interactions. This is the essence of dialectical thinking, to see everything in motion. Everything is considered in relation to other things, and since it is in motion the analysis must also take into account the synthesis. Hegel primarily sees dialectical motion in thought and concepts, not living things which is why he is an idealist. For instance Hegel believed that the concept made up reality—the totality—but for Engels it was matter in motion (as we shall see later) that fulfils this role. In Hegel’s system the central dynamic of dialectics was negation; ‘The fundamental prejudice here is that the dialectic has only a negative result’ everything is in fact critique, drawing on the contradictions between what things appear to be or claim to be and their reality. The divergence between Being and Nothing which produces becoming is the starting point for the constant negation of things within themselves. The unity of identity and non-identity is the driving force of ideas and concepts and produces constant change. The drive of thought which yields positive results from the negation ‘produces the universal and seizes the particular in it’. It is this dynamic contradiction which, according to Rosa Luxemburg, is the ‘cutting weapon of the Hegelian dialectic’.

Some have attacked dialectics as only being metaphysics—a system so vague it can be applied to anything and is therefore meaningless. This is based on a misunderstanding. Let us start from the world. It is a well-worn phrase that ‘nothing ever changes’—it is also wrong. It would be a strange person indeed who could survey the whole history of humanity and come to the conclusion that nothing had seriously changed, from hunter gatherers living in caves to 9-5 workers living in apartment blocks, things have changed a great deal. What people mean is that things like war, sexism, a social divide between rich and poor has always existed—and indeed socialists would partially agree (at least within the confines of all class societies). 

So why do some things change rapidly but others not at all? A dialectician would locate the phenomena which remained constant throughout human history and analyse it within its proper social historical context. They would ask, why do wars happen? Most occur because of a fight over resources (the Sanskrit word for war Gavisti translates into ‘wanting more cows’). Through this we can begin to construct a theory of war linked to scarcity or a drive for greater accumulation of goods at the expense of other people. Even some things which historically remain the same, for instance the existence of a ruling class and a subservient, subaltern class, is only true at one level of analysis. These are categories which must be filled with social labels. The ruling class in Rome existed in a different economic and political context to the ruling class in today’s liberal democracies. The intention of dialectical thinking was to allow vulgar historical myths to be stripped away, to arrive at a more authentic and well-rounded analysis.

So why was this system of philosophy so popular in Germany then? When reviewing the role of Hegel’s logic in his own work, Marx later commented, ‘This dialectic is to be sure, the ultimate word in philosophy and hence there is all the more need to divest it of the mystical aura given it by Hegel.’  The mystical aura that surrounds Hegel’s approach is Absolute Idealism—the Idea takes the form of an actually existing independent subject, a ‘thing out there‘ and the world is the phenomenal representation of this Idea. This is the core of Hegel’s non-materialism, the dialectic takes place in thought, since thinking and our conceptualisation of freedom of ideas is the cornerstone of human development. Indeed the dialectics of nature is only a ‘miserable copy’ of the dialectical journey that the concept of freedom takes.

Hegel and history

How did this complex model of philosophy affect how Hegel saw the development of human civilisation? In case anyone was of the opinion that Hegel’s philosophy was just abstract word play with no bearing on his politics or historical theories, we can briefly sketch some of the German professor’s ideas about history and see how they relate to his philosophy. He was critical of how history was approached and studied, referring to ‘history as the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of states, and the virtue of individuals have been sacrificed’. In the context of the reformation and the enlightenment, with the incredibly rapid process of development taking place in nearly all corners of western society, there was more to history than just one damn thing after another, there had to be a purpose, a thread running through it. He was inspired by the Enlightenment ideas of the time that history was progressive, ideas were developed and refined, and that the human condition improved steadily over time. Hegel developed a philosophy of History that was both idealist and teleological, meaning looking at things from the ultimate purpose they serve not from how they emerged.

He saw history as made up of a series of societies, a paradigm for the time in which they existed. He argued that the Persian, Greek and Roman empires represented stages in the development of the Geist, the spirit of reason running through humanity. He thought mankind was alienated from itself, and that history would only become complete (or finished) when the subject-object became aware of itself, when it becomes identical with itself.

Hegel believed that ‘the history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.’ The early empires, which Hegel terms the ‘Oriental World’, are located in China, India and Persia (modern day Iran). These civilisations are stationary or static, they reached a certain level of development and went no further. This was a popular idea in Hegel’s time, western thinkers like John Mill were obsessed with the idea of stagnant Asian economies and fearful this could happen to the growing European empires too. The fear of collapse or of cultural retreat was palpable among the Victorians. Hegel believed that these ancient societies were stationary not because of some essential backwardness in the people but because no one had freedom apart from the despotic ruler, be they a Pharaoh or an emperor. When the Persian empire fought the Greek city states at the battle of Salamis in 480 BC, the victory of the Greeks was a victory for the idea of individual freedoms as personified by the Greek city states. The torch of history passed to Athens, a superior form of social and political organisation. The Greek city states were the highest form of democracy yet achieved by humanity. The citizens of Athens were part of the polity, the rule of the people, and had to take part in regular discussions at the Agora over political matters. The problem is that the Greek system was freedom and democracy only for some people—the entire civilisation was built on slavery and the subjugation of women in the home. The Greeks saw slavery as a necessary condition for the democratic rights of others, while they were away making political decisions about the fate of the city their home affairs and daily work was being carried out by the slaves. 

On a more philosophical level, Hegel believes that the Greeks were so tied to their sense of community within the city state that they had no real grasp of individual freedoms, but only a sense of the collective. Their urge to do right by their community came from an internal impulse, not external decree’s by an emperor, but it still meant that they were not totally free, from Hegel’s point of view. The collapse of the Greek empire was an inevitable result of the failure to overcome this lack of genuine individual freedoms. The emergence of the Roman empire was in some ways a step backwards and two steps forward. It was a step backwards for Hegel because it was much more authoritarian and disciplined by military rule than the Greek city states had been; it was more of a return to the Asian despotic model. But there was an antagonism, because at the same time the principle of individual freedom was contained within the complex legal judicial system, enshrined in the culture of Rome as it had not been before. It is only with the arrival of Christianity that humanity makes a breakthrough in the idea of personal freedoms. The Christians abolished slavery, introduced a cult of moral and spiritual love and ended the use of oracles, which represent the domination of chance over human will in the world.

All the way through his philosophy of history we see Hegel identifying his eternal Geist with the forms of institutions and cultures that existed in any given stage of human society. As Hegel finished the Phenomenology of Spirit on the eve of the battle of Jena, he spoke about how he looked out from his window to see the victorious Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte riding by on his horse. This connected with Hegel on a deep level; Napoleon represented the French Revolution and the pinnacle rationalising spirit of the age, defying old conventions along with religious obscurantism and absolutism. The new age was being born and finally coming to Germany. 

The conclusions that Hegel drew about the world and history changed as he grew older. After his initial enthusiasm for the French revolution he became disillusioned with its failures, ultimately adopting a more conservative outlook. Towards the end of this life Hegel concluded that the present day Prussian state in which he lived was the culmination of historical progress towards reason. For Hegel the early 19th century was the end of history in any meaningful sense, the state in his time the representation of ‘the Divine Idea as it exists on Earth’. Some have criticised Hegel for justifying the status quo, pointing to his well-known phrase: ‘What is rational is actual, what is actual is rational’ as proof he was theorising the existence merely of the Prussian monarchy. 

But what Hegel is saying is more complex; that is, the rational choice, the most logical and therefore progressive outcome, is actual—it really exists. Because this exists it is rational. This is somewhat of a tautology, but rather than simply being a conservative phrase justifying the status quo, it is something that the Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin would later take up. Arguably, the ‘actuality of the revolution’ is a concept that comes directly from Hegel’s concept of rationality and actuality. His idea of history gave prime position to the idea of Reason as the motor force of change, and it was teleological, in that everything was moving towards a certain end point. History was on a fixed trajectory towards a set goal, it contained a narrative made up of individuals striving, mostly unconsciously towards that goal. His views were romantic and imbued with the spirit of the age, rational progress, the contradiction between the lofty promise of modernity and the trauma of the modern condition. The world spirit was at work, striding the world like a colossus, always seeking to overcome alienation, the dialectic was playing louder and louder as the falling away from the self was met with the return to the self, as reconciliation loomed closer and closer.

Approaching the Absolute

As the mind develops its faculties, urged by the necessity of its self-realisation, it passes three stages. The first is Art; because it is beautiful and has moral value, it tells us truths about the world. The second is religion; it is through the religious symbols and institutions we practice faith and reach God. The third, higher than religion, is philosophy, the sense of truth. This is why, despite his idealism, Hegel was a rationalist. This opened him to criticism from the Church as an atheist or pantheist (who identifies God with the universe). Importantly, freedom in Phenomenology is not akin to political freedom, but the freedom of a free mind using reason to make rational choices. Hegel believes our rational choices are obscured by the clutter of the world; it is only by overcoming this self-limitation we can be free. This explains a dichotomy between his claim that the course of human history is the search for freedom and his conclusion it ended with the Prussian monarchy. For Hegel the political forms were not analogous to real freedom. Hegel rejected the singular notion of knowledge Kant inherited from Descartes, whereby the individual is the nexus through which knowledge is gained. Instead, Hegel socialises ethics into the community, making it a collective effort of achievement. For Hegel—a man who liked a triad—there are three ‘moments’ of ethics—the family, market and state, which altogether form civil society (in German bürgerliche Gesellschaf). While civil society is a struggle between competing bourgeois and private interests the state is ‘the actuality of concrete freedom’ because it not only mediates the relationship between the atomised individual and society, but provides the moral and legal framework for us to carry out our duty, ‘in duty that the individual finds his liberation’.

For Hegel the modern German state was therefore the pinnacle of human achievement precisely because it allowed for the national interest to be formulated and embedded in the people’s consciousness and resolve the contradictions of civil society. Living life according to the civil duty, mores and mutual social agreements under the rule of the state is the Sittlichkeit, the ethical life. Life is not a selfish ‘take-what-you-can’ dog eat dog world, it should be one in which the social contracts we all establish with each other are mutually recognised and reciprocated, living to these social determinations is the highest form of ethical existence.

The key question is—does the state separate from civil society and does it confront it? For Hegel the answer is that there is a certain degree of harmony, that the state works as an integral part of the whole to manage the whole. The role of government was to ‘actualise and maintain the universal contained within the particularity of civil society’. For Hegel there is unity in the appearance and content, these social relations represent the objective spirit of the rational idea, they are the absolute made manifest in the state which is acting to negotiate and balance civil society. The unity of civil society, the state was therefore the point at which the ethical life (Sittlichkeit) begins—we can now live rational lives in an ordered world.

This concept of the civil society was crucial to Marx’s early political development, in fact as he worked through his thinking on social structure and the possibility and method of creating change he wrote an entire critical essay on just two paragraphs of Hegel’s position on civil society. Ultimately, it was Marx’s critique of the idea of civil society in Hegel that contributed to the development of his socialist theory.

But Hegel did not simply praise the modern world, he was also critical of the condition of modernity. We are not complete beings as such, we are still alienated through our work. He wrote of how ‘a vast number of people are condemned to utterly brutalising, unhealthy and unreliable labour in workshops, factories and mines, labour which narrows and reduces their skill.’ From Hegel’s perspective every act of labour which produces something real and outside of us is alienating. Every kind of objectification is alienating to us, we are constantly suffering under the general malaise of modern production and labour. Hegel also criticised the divisions between the rights and freedoms of the individual and the existence and necessity of the community. Both had to exist, but under capitalism they existed in an antagonistic relationship to each other. But once again, the only way to overcome it for Hegel is through the Rechtstaat (the state of right) the aufhebung of all the contradictions of the modern world. In a Rechtsstaat individuals can live moral lives within civil society, social peace can be achieved and the end of history can be reached, namely the identical subject-object becomes aware and rational. As such, he is a thoroughly enlightenment thinker, seeking to provide the philosophical basis for a rational community. Hegel’s state is not the kind of thing we imagine today, but, as Pelczynski explains, ‘any ethical community which is politically organised and sovereign, subject to a supreme public authority and independent from other such communities.’ 

In conclusion, two possible readings of Hegel’s politics are possible. The first is as a liberal and emphasises individual rights within the state and the state’s role in defending those rights (private property, liberty, etc). Alternatively, he can be understood from a communitarian perspective, as a Republican calling for an ‘organic community‘ and the unity of the state and the individual in an ethical whole. Either way, Hegel also believes that society only works because everyone knows their place—it is ethical because people fulfil their duties assigned to them by the social order. Whatever he may have been, Hegel was not a revolutionary.

Death of Hegel and the rise of the Young Hegelians

Hegel’s ideas were a powerful force in Germany by the 1820s, but his life was cut short when he died on 14 November 1831. The doctors believed it was caused by cholera, which was epidemic across Europe. Germany had been deprived of one of its chief intellectuals. Those students influenced by his work were now largely divided into two groups, the Right Hegelians and the Left (also known as the Young) Hegelians. The Right Hegelians understood Hegel in a conservative manner, which emphasised his compatibility with Christianity and an orthodox support for the ‘rational’ Prussian monarchy and its state. The Left Hegelians were more radical. They emphasised the concepts of Reason and the teleological drive of human history towards a more rational and just society. They disagreed with the German liberal programme; that is, that a constitutional monarchy was the highest form of statehood. They wanted to explore more radical democratic options, which stressed collective freedoms and a criticism of the new powers as much as the old. It was from the intellectual debates among the left Hegelians that the young Marx and Engels were to fully explore and finally grasp scientific socialism.

The Young Hegelians were one of the most important intellectual movements in Germany at that time. Their influence was growing in universities and they acted as critics of the Prussian monarchy, the church and even the emerging bourgeois capitalist order, through people like Feuerbach who advocated a ‘true socialism’ (which Marx and Engels would later criticise in The Communist Manifesto). One of the young Hegelians, David Strauss, published The Life of Jesus in 1835. This was a deconstruction of the Gospels and caused a tremendous controversy for its ‘atheism’. It was reflective of a wider trend within the Left Hegelians to identify with the alleged pantheism within Hegel, although some, such as Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, drew more radical conclusions. When the new King of Prussia, Fredrick William IV came to power in 1840, he was initially welcomed by even some of the radical students, who believed that he would further the pace of democratic reform and national unity. Many hoped he might be an enlightened despot like Fredrick the Great or Joseph II of Austria. Their hopes were cruelly dashed, William IV, although he briefly allowed more press freedom than his father, turned back the clock on progress in the German states, promoting a romanticist ideal of the organic community (a phrase not unfamiliar to Hegel) and refusing to allow a constitution to be drawn up, in the hopes of slowing moves towards more democracy. Left Hegelians like David Strauss satirised the reforms by William IV, comparing him to the Roman emperor Julian who attempted to restore Paganism to the Roman empire after the death of Constantine. Strauss thought that William IV would eventually fail just as Julian had.

As part of their counter reforms, William IV and his advisor Christian Bunsen wanted the naturalist philosopher Fredrich Schelling teaching in Berlin. Schelling had been recommended to Fredrick William by his nephew, the Crown Prince Maximillian of Bavaria. At this time Berlin was the heart of Hegel’s intellectual authority, even after his death, and had the greatest number of Young Hegelians studying there. The two philosophers had a history together stretching back to their student days, Schelling and Hegel had been roommates at university in 1790. Legend has it that they celebrated the French revolution, along with Friedrich Hölderlin who went onto become a famous poet, by going onto a hill and planting a liberty tree. They even translated La Marseilles, the anthem of the French revolution, into German, though no reports survive as to whether the rendition carried the same lyrical power as the original. When the students, including Schelling, formed a readers club to study Kant, Hegel did not join, claiming that he was too busy reading Rousseau. After university they both travelled to Jena where Schelling and Hegel worked editing a journal called ‘The Critical Journal of Philosophy’. But Schelling was forced to leave the city due to an undisclosed personal scandal. It was with the publication of Phenomenology of the Spirit in 1807 that Hegel broke with Schelling’s philosophy. The two became opponents, and Schelling’s brand of naturalism began to lose popularity in the universities.

The Minister for culture appointed Schelling to go to Berlin with a brief to purge the university of Left Hegelianism. His inaugural lectures were widely publicised and attended by people whose names would go down in history, men like Mikhail Bakunin, Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Engels—key thinkers of anarchism, existentialism and socialism. Schelling started his lecture with the words ‘I feel the full significance of this moment, I know what responsibilities I have taken upon myself. How could I deceive myself or attempt to hide from you what is made evident simply by my appearance at this place.’ The audience listened intently to his lecture, sensitive to the political moment in this philosophical counter revolution. 

Afterwards, Engels wrote in a report of the event for a Hamburg newspaper; ‘If you ask any man in Berlin who has any idea at all about the power of the spirit over the world, where the battle site for control over German Public Opinion in politics and religion, thus over Germany itself, lies, he would answer that the battle site is at the University, and specifically in Auditorium Number 6, where Schelling is lecturing on Philosophy of Revelation.’24 Engels was not exaggerating. This was not simply some obscure philosophical dispute. The king believed that the philosophical question was ineluctably bound with wider issues of cultural and the political counter-reforms he was committed to. In that sense, Auditorium Number 6 was one of the central battlegrounds, a battle which would ultimately culminate in the revolutions of 1848-49 that shook Europe.

Many in the Prussian state and wider German society did not have a problem with Hegel as such, he had after all been considered the (un)official national philosopher, but now it seemed some of his followers had gone too far. Bruno Bauer, Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach were causing too much disturbance, their atheist propaganda and anti-monarchical politics were dangerous and had to be confronted. As Engels pointed out, Hegel may have been dead ten years, but he was ‘more alive than ever in his pupils’. Schelling for his part had been intellectually dead for over three decades, and now this living philosophical corpse had been dug up to purge the minds of German youth. Schelling’s mission at the university was to root out, as he saw it, the methodological errors within Hegel that had led to this state of affairs. His brand of positive-philosophy stated that only divine revelations could have any true, higher meaning, and anything derived from rationalism or logic was always inferior. This was a theological counter-attack against German idealism.

No doubt as Fredrich Engels sat in the audience at auditorium number 6 listening to Schelling he had a look of disdain on his face. In his youth he was a bohemian, disrespectful to authority, estranged from his father and scornful of the obligations of German society, such as military service. Yes, Engels was a draft dodger. Engels initial motivation for moving in increasingly radical circles was no doubt his distaste at his upbringing in his hometown of Barmen, located in the Wupper valley. He described it as the ‘Zion of obscurantism’, and satirised it in a series of articles and letters in the newspapers of the Young German movement. Engels was the type of young man who organised ‘moustache evenings’ with other young male friends growing facial hair as an act of rebellion and to look more Italian. He was a renegade, but not yet a revolutionary. However he was grappling and thinking about the most exciting ideas in the world, namely what was wrong with it and how to change it. He wrote to Fredrich Graeber; ‘I cannot sleep at night time, because the ideas of the century march through my head.’ 

Engels, like most Young Germans, was a proud nationalist who desired the unification of Germany into a single state. He considered Fredrick the Great as an important reformer and was disappointed by the failure of unification, which was dashed against the rocks of the Prussian aristocracy. In these days the desire for unification was a progressive urge, as it fought against the power of feudal princely kingdoms, demanding a modern united capitalist state as England and France had forged. It was in a letter in November 1839 that he wrote to Graeber and announced; ‘I am at the point of becoming a Hegelian. I cannot be certain now whether I will make the change, but Strauss provided me with insights into Hegel that made his system very plausible. [Hegel’s] history of philosophy strikes me beyond doubt as written from his soul.’

The year of 1841 is therefore a turning point. Feuerbach’s book ‘the Essence of Christianity’ was published. Elsewhere in Germany a young Jewish student named Karl Marx was completing his doctoral theses in philosophy, titled The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. Marx had been born in 1818 in a well to do family, going onto university to study jurisprudence. While studying he lost interest in legal theory and became increasingly inspired by philosophy, coming under the sway of the popular Hegelian ideas. 

In his doctoral theses on Epicurus and Democritus Marx conducted a study of the atomist school of thought of the ancient Greeks. He refers to the differences of opinion concerning the role of atoms, which Democritus claimed that only moved in a straight line or were repulsed from one another, but which Epicurus posited as having three possible paths to travel: in a straight line, curved and the ‘repulsion of many atoms‘. Even from his university studies Marx was learning about matter, motion and the question of material reality distinct from the world of ideas. These ideas had been blasphemous in the middle ages; after all, Epicurus ended up in Dante’s Inferno for the sin of materialism. But in the context of the enlightenment and the progress of knowledge, Marx was moving rapidly in the direction of rejecting idealist philosophy and ideas and towards a materialist worldview.

After his academic hopes fell through as the Prussian monarchy carried out a purge of radical and atheistic university professors during the intellectual counter revolution, Marx turned to journalism, finding an outlet for his energies and increasing passion to engage in political and social matters. He found work at the Rheinische Zeitung. Within a short space of time it became an increasingly oppositional paper critical of the Prussian authorities. He soon had a run in with the censor and was forced to leave Germany for exile to France, ending up in Britain. The mood of Europe was ripe for new ideas and revolutions. The growth of capitalism had brought with it a growth in the misery of the working classes and terrible conditions of existence for proletarians in the cities and towns. Many people were looking to change the world, or at least challenge the capitalist system. Before we consider Marx’s contribution to this, we should take a quick detour to examine other anticapitalist ideas that existed around the same time.

Can Citizenship achieve its goals? Citizenship through a critical reading of Althusser and Deleuze

In 2012 I was doing teacher training at the Institute of Education and I had to write an essay so I wrote this about Citizenship lessons and the educational theories of Althusser and Deleuze. Anyway I got a good grade for it so thought I’d publish for people to read!

Abstract

This paper examines the emerging role of Citizenship as an educational project to encourage civic participation amongst young people and examines some of the barriers or blockages that might prevent it from achieving this intended aim. By using insights from the theories of Louis Althusser and Gilles Deleuze, contrasting a structuralist and post-structuralist radical approach to education theory, the essay explores the antagonisms and contradictory pressures on Citizenship teaching and how young people react to it as agents in an increasingly post-political social arrangement. The paper suggests that unless Citizenship escapes the limitations placed on it by dominant ideologies then it will remain unable to fulfil its potential to engage new generations with political life.

Keywords: Citizenship, Althusser, Deleuze, structuralism, post-structuralism, critical theory, engagement

Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive: easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.

Peter Brougham 

As a new subject in the British curriculum, Citizenship was launched with a bold agenda, no less than to create “change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally” (Crick 1998:7). Yet a decade after its inaugural lessons, the ability of Citizenship to achieve its laudable goals remains unclear, even as the meaning of those goals is fought over by governments. This essay will critically examine the role of citizenship in the context of the educational theories of the structuralist thinker Louis Althusser and the post-structuralist ideas of Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. At its core it will ask if Citizenship can really re-engage young people and change the political culture, or whether the institutional barriers that Althusser and Deleuze identified prevent such a possibility. It will do this by exploring the relationship of the subject to the school system and wider society through a series of antagonisms, nodes of contradiction which offer either the danger of fundamentally undermining the course or giving it an even greater degree of effectiveness.

What it means to be a citizen, or whether such a thing could even be taught, is hotly debated (e.g. Osler and Starkey 2003, Furedi 2005). Whilst elements of citizenship teaching have existed in the curriculum and different subjects for some time, the idea of a separate course in Citizenship only really gained traction after the New Labour government took power in 1997. The White Paper Excellence in Schools (DfEE, 1997)called “to strengthen education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools”. The White Paper itself was the culmination of thirty years work by the Politics Association alongside other educators and politicians who saw a value in a course which specifically promoted civic participation (Crick 2002:488-493).

Sir Bernard Crick was nominated to lead the enquiry and provide recommendations to the government on the possibility of Citizenship as a subject. His report (published 1998) emphasised the “teaching of democracy” as a remedy to the “worrying levels of apathy, ignorance and cynicism about public life” (DfEE & QCA, 1998:8) Seeing a worrying deficiency in the political sphere concerning participation, most importantly by young people, Crick looked to old ideas of civic republicanism and political literacy (Hayward and Jerome 2009:2) to galvanise new generations into political life. As such, the new subject was intended to revive an ailing representative democracy through promoting an active “citizen democracy”. As a confirmation of the concerns of the Crick report, the 2001 general election saw a dramatic collapse in the popular vote, to the lowest level since 1918, with only three in five eligible people voting. Jack Straw rather complacently argued that the low vote was the result of “a politics of contentment” (BBC News, 2001). In fact the deeper concern was that it reflected a wider trend of political disengagement which if left unchecked would erode the legitimacy of the liberal democratic system.

Citizenship became a statutory requirement in UK schools in August 2002. The National Curriculum, initially sparse on the requirements for teaching the new course, eventually expanded its remit and clarified its content (DfE 2007). Whilst establishing cause and effect would be almost impossible, it is interesting to note that within a year of Citizenship being established Britain saw huge school walk outs against the war in Iraq, the biggest in over 30 years. Was this a new generation taking the ideas of active citizenship to heart? 

For some, the key test is whether young people re-engage in politics not through protests but through the ballot box, since a representative democracy begins to lose credibility when the electoral turnout remains stubbornly low (Weir 2008). Interestingly, whilst voting participation amongst young people actually dropped in 2005, down to 39% compared to 37% in 2001 (Electoral Commission 2005), it went up again in 2010 to around 44% (IPSOS 2010) However, the annual Audit of Political Engagement registered a small drop in the number of young people who were interested in politics or certain to vote (Hansard 2012:23-25). Overall interest in parliamentary politics remains stubbornly low in the last decade, despite Citizenship education. Does this reflect a wider exhaustion of politics, or even a post political age? 

Since the benefits of the course have yet to be seen in terms of overall civic engagement, the questions remains if Citizenship is capable of altering the trend of disengagement. Today, Citizenship as it currently stands exists in an ambiguous place within the education system. Its ambiguity is caused by its relationship to the wider society which it is designed to alter (Crick’s “change in the political culture”). Because what society is or should be is contested, citizenship emerges as something of a kampfplatz for competing notions of what being a citizen means and what it means to be active as a social and political agent. The subject could just as easily be taught as a key component of the Conservative Big Society agenda of charitable ‘good deeds’ (Rose 2012) as it could be taught from Freire’s perspective, as cultivating a sense of conscientização (critical) consciousness (1996:17). Therefore, the precarious existence of Citizenship is precisely because of the antagonism at the heart of competing models of the education system, is it designed to inculcate, through implicit rendering of the norms and values of society more generally, a participatory loyalty to the status quo or promote free thinking active political subjects, wherever that might lead?

To further elucidate these issues, we will examine the ideas of two radical theorists as applied to education. Whilst they both share a common heritage as Spinozaists, Louis Althusser and Giles Deleuze developed radically different ideas concerning society and human existence more generally. Nevertheless, we can apply their concepts to educational paradigms to analyse the antagonism within the heart of the subjects position vis a vis society and explore potential future directions for the subject. In terms of reflective learning it will also allow for an evaluation of whether the key contentions of Althusser and Deleuze are a useful tool for establishing an accurate relationship between student (as social being), curriculum, school and society.

Althusser’s structuralist theories of Marxism were influential in educational theory in the 1970s (Gibson 1984:50-60), and retained some credibility within the academy even after Althusserianism had waned as an intellectual paradigm for left wing intellectuals. His theory that the subject is created (to use Freud’s phrase interpellated) through ideology, and that ideology is primarily inculcated in the schooling system, was particularly attractive to radical educationalists who were critical of the content and method of teaching in schools. As a structuralist he acknowledged that education had a much greater degree of autonomy from economics than many orthodox Marxists had done previously (Gibson 1984:54), but nevertheless argued that schools constituted the core component of the ideological state apparatus (Althusser 1972:259-60). Such an apparatus promotes a “massive inculcation of the ideology of the ruling class” (Althusser 1971:148) into wider society. In his 1971 essay on Ideology he explained that;

“…education drums into [students], whether it uses new or old methods, a certain amount of ‘know-how’ wrapped in the ruling ideology (French, arithmetic, natural history, the sciences, literature) or simply the ruling ideology in its pure state (ethics, civic instruction, philosophy)”. (1971:155)

Moreover, “the school… teaches ‘know-how’, but in forms which ensure subjection to the ruling ideology or the mastery of its ‘practice’.”  An example of the ideological nature of the school system might be the recent changes to the Teaching Standards guidelines which require teachers to not undermine “fundamental British values, including democracy [and] the rule of law…” (DfE 2012) implicitly limiting the possibility of a critical appraisal – what Friere would call “problem-posing education” (1996:85) – of those values including whether the state is democratic or on whose behalf the law is implemented. In Althusser’s model, a schools fear of conscientização stems from its position within the ideological apparatus; the school’s role is to perpetuate bourgeois ideology, not to challenge it, as such critical thinking can only be allowed within certain parameters.

Althusser saw education as a structure, working alongside others, such as politics, and economics. The structure of education or politics interacts with other structures, producing a system of tension (Gibson 1984:55-56), eventually one structure over-determines the others, an event is not the result of one cause but several, overlapping ones. Within this arrangement subjects exist only as adjuncts to the structure, they have no causal will of their own, the ideological apparatus constitutes subjects – in this case the teacher’s demand to turn-around-face-the-front forms the student as a subject of the ideological power relation. This insight raises question over the capacity for Citizenship to act as a bearer of ideological subjectification – ‘write a letter to the Prime Minister’, ‘petition the council’, all these requests potentially act as reinforcers of a particular ideological arrangment. If participation in mainstream politics is declining (possibly because the ideology is dominant but exhausted) than simply reaffirming its necessity is not an intellectually serious approach to reversing the trend.

Whilst an analysis of structures and their interrelationship can be useful in an educational setting, Althusser’s has his limits, primarily around the question of subjectivity. For Althusser, because pupils are merely the bearers of ideological structures (e.g. femininity/masculinity or Britishness) they lack any coherent subjective agency of their own. His position was criticised for being “over-simplified” and “one sided”, (Barcan 1993: 154) because students “are relegated to static role-bearers, carriers of predefined meanings, agents of gegemonic ideologies inscribed in their psyche like irremovable scars” (Giroux 2001:83). Such an approach would render critical pedagogy useless, and makes teaching a thankless, hopeless task – which is why the approach should not be adopted wholesale.

However, if Althusser is right about schools as instruments of ruling class ideology, then one would expect Citizenship, like other subjects, to reflect the needs and desires of ruling elites at any one time, as well as the general bourgeois consciousness in wider society. Crick’s adamant defence of parliamentary democracy and limitation of civic activism within the parameters of centre left paradigms would possibly demonstrate such a perspective. The repeated calls to emphasise the teaching of a distinct “Britishness” in the course would reflect another. Although the School is represented “as a neutral environment purged of ideology” (Althusser 1971:157), the ideology works at the most general level, with -for instance – Citizenship taking liberal democracy for granted as the only political form of governance possible. This narrowing of possibilities was certainly Crick’s intention dating back from In Defence of Politics, and would reflect the interests of the politicians who pioneered Citizenship teaching in schools. Whether the subject could provide an emancipatory challenge to the perceived limitations of parliamentary democracy is therefore in question.

Within a post-structuralist framework, whilst Deleuzean philosophies are radically different they also point to a similar antagonism within the school system, and therefore into how Citizenship would be taught. The Deleuzean critique of standard educational models and practices examines the segmentation and differentiation of the multitude, in this case, the thousands of students going through the education system. Deleuze’s world is not one of structures, but of flows of desire, or assemblages and machines of capture and release. The flow of young students through society into adulthood is captured by the school machine, they are assembled (as pupils in a school) then disassembled (streamed, assessed, differentiated) in the process of becoming through education. For Deleuze differénce is an ontological root, to attempt to homogenise too strongly is to act against reality. However the school system, in order to function, must attempt to capture these flows of desire and transform heterogeneity into a degree of homogeneity. School is a regime of multiple systems of signifiers, including “objective assessment, competence, risk, standardization [and] efficiency” (Roy 2003:11). Importantly, Deleuze offers a way of overcoming the banking-deficit model of education (Friere 1996:53), by not focussing on a Freudian lack, but instead on the formative subjectivity of desire (Ringrose 2011:600).

From Deleuze’s perspective children are naturally nomadic, spontaneous and deterritorialised – meaning that they often defy attempts to control and restrain, they struggle against boundaries and conformity. Their flows of desire are orientated towards knowledge gained through play and peer interaction, through being embedded in the life world. Deleuze and his co-author Felix Guattari sought a politics and social theory which was rhizomatic (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:3-13), spreading out like interlinked roots, not arborescent forms of knowledge and organising which are binary, rigid and mechanical (ibid 1987:18). It sees separation and clear disciplinary boundaries between subjects. Citizenship can lend itself to rhizomatic activities and thinking, to seeing interconnections and points of reference, to engage critical thinking – or it can replicate the binary thought of mainstream society (immigration bad, Britishness good; riots bad, police good, etc). A further tension arises between the desire to turn young students into self activating political agents and the role of the school in acting as a thoroughly Oedipal “micro fascism” (1987:236), for instance by enforcing petty restrictions on uniform and behaviour. Deleuze’s concern over this is shared by Freire who also refers to the school internalising paternal authority (1996:136) and why this must inevitably alienate students.

The assembling and reassembling of citizenship and its component parts and the struggle to territorialise citizenship to ideologies indicate that citizenship is also part of this flow, that it could be used as an instrument of capture. For instance, Deleuze talks about majoritarian perspectives acting as an oppressive break on minoritarian viewpoint, it can be the case that students suffer because “differences have been subsumed by a largely inflexible education system that operates with liberal majoritarian assumptions” (Roy 2003:8). A citizenship that promoted conformist views of Britishness would be anathema to a critical reading of what being a citizen means, since it precludes the possibility that citizenship could also be the result of struggles by a currently excluded minority in the present day.

Applying this to the teaching of Citizenship directly, we can see how the school can be both/either a brake on, or a catalyst for the subject. If the classroom is thought of as a “public space” then it opens up the possibility of the lesson “not as a place of seminiation, but as an agora, a meeting place, with exchanges going on all the time…” (McMahon 1996:7), such a space would be facilitated by the teacher, even guided, but not directed. For Deleuze (as for Freire) the best kind of lesson is one which allows the flows of ideas and beliefs to come from the pupils themselves, one in which the power relations that controlled and constrained the students through regimes of discipline were undermined. However, whether a loss of all authority by the teacher would render a “public space” possible in practice remains a debated question. But conceiving of the classroom in this way and emphasising the importance of citizenship in the wider world (the flows and communications beyond the school gates) could also be the greatest strength of Citizenship. Done well it is one of the subjects most relevant to the lives of the students. A study by Hulleman and Harackiewicz (2009) found that lower performing school students scored higher results if they were able to connect their lessons to their everyday lives. Providing context and meaning for the lessons, which Freire refers to it as “an individuals contextual reality” (1962:85) benefits the students by allowing for connections beyond the bubble of academia and the school.

This has implications for the way that Citizenship is taught. For example, Citizenship lessons which concentrated on card sorts where arguments for and against a controversial subject are presented (for instance lowering the voting age to 16) potentially close down creative thinking and merely seek to inculcate in students coordinates of debate which are already agreed and rehearsed. Whilst this can have some value, on its own the task could only communicate a rather sterilised discussions which are always-already limited.

Deleuze goes even further in rejecting not only objectivity but even subjectivity, arguing for a philosophy of education rooted in the singularity of the encounter (Gregoriou 2004:247-248).  This correlates to the points made by Bang (2004:14) who argues that the new citizen has little interest in previous forms of ideological politics, but is more interested in the ‘micropolitics of becoming’, what he calls “everyday makers”, not interested in the big ideas but in “being ordinarily engaged in the construction of networks and locales for the political governance of the social.” However, citizenship teaching demands not only a respect for difference but also an attempt to integrate them with narrative of universalist values, otherwise the promise of a shared collectivity is dissolved utterly. By reducing Citizenship to the moment of encounter or only the political governance of the social means to consciously downplay the possibility of involvement in the political structures at the level of actual political decision making. It threatens to reduce citizenship to lobbying of those in power or ignores the question of power altogether, preferring to work around it through charity work. 

Arguably, if Citizenship does not have a fidelity to the political event, not simply within Crick’s view as negotiated compromise but the more radical conception of action designed to shift the co-ordinates and flows of distribution, then the major problem is that it remains trapped within the antagonism of depoliticised school. An example is when the campaigning project of active citizenship is limited to charity work where it would only be fulfilling the most non-controversial and non-emancipatory aspect of social interaction. Charity does not empower the people who raise the money nor the people who benefit from it. A more radical approach to social problems, one embedded in problem centred education which seeks to contextualise the dominant ideological constraints in order to challenge them may be needed.

Conclusion

We have now examined the contested position of Citizenship and how this relates to the debate around its goals. In many ways the subject offers a unique position within the school system. Unlike many subjects which offer an all too direct relationship between education and work – something which Deleuze argues threatens to produce only “worker-schoolkids or bureaucratic students” (Deleuze 1995: 175) – Citizenship offers a chance to for their highest forms of self actualisation through education in the political relations of society in order to change them. As such it could be incredibly empowering. So how can citizenship go forward under these conditions? Whilst we can reject the one-sided view of Althusser concerning the all-pervasive nature of ideology we can take from him a cautious approach, to question the content and intent behind aspects of the subject as it is taught. Likewise Deleuze’s notion of the school as an instrument of capture enforcing majoritarian perspectives is worth considering, in order to reinforce the need for alternative perspectives and points of view. The Deleuzean school as a place for debate and discussion, as one which identifies and equips students to confront entrenched flows of power and ideology has a certain appeal, one which demands a more radical approach to being a citizen today.

The ultimate question of the success or not of Citizenship as a subject relies precisely on its claim to be able to motivate activity outside of the school environment. In that sense it is a unique subject which potentially deterritorialises the school environment and creates flows of movement outside of the school gates into workplaces, communities and the political sphere. It could open a space in which students can critically engage with politics and political issues, but this is only possible if it retains the potential to act against dominant ideologies. This is not to privilege teachers with a position of ideological education over students, but to affirm the importance of using pedagogy to allow for a critical citizenship approach. In fact, any notion of an active citizenship has to be complementary with critical thinking, indeed it should be integrated into the course otherwise it trains only passive participants of the flows and structures of power.

Without a criticism of power relations and a pedagogy of conscientização it is possible that Citizenship would only reinforce powerlessness, because an unchallenged ruling elite is arguably less sensitive to the protests and claims of the wider population. As such, the limitations of Citizenship education are not simply a question of how well it is taught or whether it gets enough space on the timetable, neither is it even necessarily a matter of the content of the course. The failure to translate good Citizenship students into active participants of political and civil society lies in the failure of the wider political-civic landscape in Britain. Declining voting patterns and memberships of political parties cannot be arrested or reversed in schools. Indeed the role to which Crick and early Citizenship advocates ascribed to the course (to re-engage young people) must be seen in a wider social context – apathy around voting is the consequence of a general disengagement from politics, an alienation caused by a system that many deem to be unrepresentative. 

From this perspective the student protests or 2011 summer riots was not caused by a failure of civic engagement but by the failure of the establishment to provide for the needs of young people (politicians reneging on promises regarding EMA and tuition fees, long term youth unemployment, etc). The worryingly low levels of faith in the political system and processes that young people have (e.g. Henn and Foard, 2012) is not the result of inadequate teaching of Citizenship, but that hopes have been dashed by the actual practice of politicians. Henn and Foard found that 81% of young people did not trust politicians, and an overwhelming 75% said that there was no opportunity to change the current political system. As such, the lack of civic engagement cannot be solved in the classroom because it does not start in the class room, it starts with a post-ideological zeitgeist in which the mainstream establishment is seen as remote, elitist, opportunist and unreformable. 

Not limiting active Citizenship to system reinforcing tokenism or appeals to increase the voter turnout but creating informed, critical minded young people is the future not only of the subject specifically but of education more generally. In order to fulfil Crick’s ideals for the subject it may be necessary to go beyond his own notion of politics towards one which explores the antagonisms between the aspirations of young people and the mainstream polity in order to really engage future generations.

Bibliography

Althusser, Louis, (1971)Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly Review Press, London

Barcan Alan, (1993) Sociological Theory and Educational Reality, New South Wales University Press. Australia

Bang, Henryik, (2004) Everyday Makers and Expert Citizens: Building Political not Social Capital, Australian National University, mimeo.

BBC News website, 2001, Turnout ‘at 80-year low’ (accessed 12 October 2012 from bbc.co.uk/news)

Crick, Bernard, (1962) In defence of politics, University of Chicago Press, 

Crick, Bernard (DfEE & QCA) (1998) , Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools, (accessed 10 October 2012 at http://www.teachingcitizenship.org.uk/dnloads/crickreport1998.pdf)

Crick, Bernard, (2002), Education for Citizenship: The Citizenship Order
Parliamentary Affairs, volume 55 issue 3

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix (1987), A Thousand Plateaus, Continuum Books, University of Minnesota

Deleuze Gilles, (1995) Honoris Causa: “This is also extremely funny”, in E Weber (ed) Points… Interviews 1974-1994, P Kamuf et al (trans) Standford University Press

Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) (1997) Excellence in Schools (White Paper). London: HMSO

Department of Education (2007), Diversity and Citizenship in the Curriculum: Research Review (accessed 25 October 2012 from education.gov.uk)

Department of Education (2012), Teacher’s Standards May 2012, (accessed 12 October 2012 from education.gov.uk)

Electoral Commission (2005), Election 2005 Turnout: How many, who and why?, (accessed 12 October 2012 from http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk)

Furedi, F. (2005). Citizens can’t be made in class. The Daily Telegraph, 3rd February

Friere, Paulo, (1996) The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Penguin Books 

Gibson, Rex, (1984), Structuralism and Education, Hodder and Stoughton, Great Britain

Giroux, Henry, (2001), Theory and Resistance in Education: Towards a Pedagogy for the Opposition Revised and Expanded Edition , Greenwood Publishing Group

Hansard Society (2012) Audit of Political Engagement 9 The 2012 Report: Part One ( Accessed at 10 October 2012 from hansardsociety.org.uk/files/folders/3344/download.aspx)

Henn, Matt and Foard, Nick, (2012), Young People, Political Participation and Trust in Britain, Parliamentary Affairs, volume 65 issue 1

Hulleman, Chris and Harackiewicz, Judith, (2009), Promoting Interest and Performance in High School Science Classes Science, 4 December

IPSOS, (2010), How Britain voted in 2010, (Accessed at 16 October 2012 from http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/poll.aspx?oItemId=2613&view=wide)

Jerome, Lee and Hayward, Jeremy, (2009), Crick and Teacher Education, online at http://www.citized.info/pdf/external/Microsoft Word – Crick JH LJ.pdf

Osler, Audrey and Starkey H, 2003, Learning for Cosmopolitan Citizenship: theoretical debates and young people’s experiences, Educational Review, Vol. 55, No. 3 

Ringrose, Jessica, (2011) Beyond Discourse? Using Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis to explore affective assemblages, heterosexually striated space, and lines of flight online and at school, Educational Philosophy and Theory,Vol. 43, No. 6

Rose, Neil, (2012), Citizenship is integral to the Big Society , Guardian, 18 January

Roy, Kastuv, (2003), Teachers in nomadic space, Peter Lang publishing, New York.

Weir, Stuart, (2008), What is Britishness? Citizenship, Values and Identity, [accessed 15 October 2012 from www.opendemocracy.net)

Can Citizenship achieve its goals?

Citizenship through a critical reading of Althusser and Deleuze

Simon Hannah

Citizenship PGCE

Institute of Education

October 2012

Abstract

This paper examines the emerging role of Citizenship as an educational project to encourage civic participation amongst young people and examines some of the barriers or blockages that might prevent it from achieving this intended aim. By using insights from the theories of Louis Althusser and Gilles Deleuze, contrasting a structuralist and post-structuralist radical approach to education theory, the essay explores the antagonisms and contradictory pressures on Citizenship teaching and how young people react to it as agents in an increasingly post-political social arrangement. The paper suggests that unless Citizenship escapes the limitations placed on it by dominant ideologies then it will remain unable to fulfil its potential to engage new generations with political life.

Keywords: Citizenship, Althusser, Deleuze, structuralism, post-structuralism, critical theory, engagement

Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive: easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.Peter Brougham 

As a new subject in the British curriculum, Citizenship was launched with a bold agenda, no less than to “change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally” (Crick 1998:7). Yet a decade after its inaugural lessons, the ability of Citizenship to achieve its goals remains unclear, even as the meaning of those goals is fought over by governments. This essay will critically examine the role of citizenship in the context of the educational theories of the structuralist thinker Louis Althusser and the post-structuralist ideas of Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. At its core it will ask if Citizenship can really re-engage young people and change the political culture, or whether the institutional barriers that Althusser and Deleuze identified prevent such a possibility. It will do this by exploring the relationship of the subject to the school system and wider society through a series of antagonisms, nodes of contradiction which offer either the danger of fundamentally undermining the course or giving it an even greater degree of effectiveness.

What it means to be a citizen, or whether such a thing could even be taught, is hotly debated (e.g. Osler and Starkey 2003, Furedi 2005). Whilst elements of citizenship teaching have existed in the curriculum and different subjects for some time, the idea of a separate course in Citizenship only really gained traction after the New Labour government took power in 1997. The White Paper Excellence in Schools (DfEE, 1997)called “to strengthen education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools”. The White Paper itself was the culmination of thirty years work by the Politics Association alongside other educators and politicians who saw a value in a course which specifically promoted civic participation (Crick 2002:488-493).

Sir Bernard Crick was nominated to lead the enquiry and provide recommendations to the government on the possibility of Citizenship as a subject. His report (published 1998) emphasised the “teaching of democracy” as a remedy to the “worrying levels of apathy, ignorance and cynicism about public life” (DfEE & QCA, 1998:8) Seeing a worrying deficiency in the political sphere concerning participation, most importantly by young people, Crick looked to old ideas of civic republicanism and political literacy (Hayward and Jerome 2009:2) to galvanise new generations into political life. As such, the new subject was intended to revive an ailing representative democracy through promoting an active “citizen democracy”. As a confirmation of the concerns of the Crick report, the 2001 general election saw a dramatic collapse in the popular vote, to the lowest level since 1918, with only three in five eligible people voting. Jack Straw rather complacently argued that the low vote was the result of “a politics of contentment” (BBC News, 2001). In fact the deeper concern was that it reflected a wider trend of political disengagement which if left unchecked would erode the legitimacy of the liberal democratic system.

Citizenship became a statutory requirement in UK schools in August 2002. The National Curriculum, initially sparse on the requirements for teaching the new course, eventually expanded its remit and clarified its content (DfE 2007). Whilst establishing cause and effect would be almost impossible, it is interesting to note that within a year of Citizenship being established Britain saw huge school walk outs against the war in Iraq, the biggest in over 30 years. Was this a new generation taking the ideas of active citizenship to heart? 

For some, the key test is whether young people re-engage in politics not through protests but through the ballot box, since a representative democracy begins to lose credibility when the electoral turnout remains stubbornly low (Weir 2008). Interestingly, whilst voting participation amongst young people actually dropped in 2005, down to 39% compared to 37% in 2001 (Electoral Commission 2005), it went up again in 2010 to around 44% (IPSOS 2010) However, the annual Audit of Political Engagement registered a small drop in the number of young people who were interested in politics or certain to vote (Hansard 2012:23-25). Overall interest in parliamentary politics remains stubbornly low in the last decade, despite Citizenship education. Does this reflect a wider exhaustion of politics, or even a post political age? 

Since the benefits of the course have yet to be seen in terms of overall civic engagement, the questions remains if Citizenship is capable of altering the trend of disengagement. Today, Citizenship as it currently stands exists in an ambiguous place within the education system. Its ambiguity is caused by its relationship to the wider society which it is designed to alter (Crick’s “change in the political culture”). Because what society is or should be is contested, citizenship emerges as something of a kampfplatz for competing notions of what being a citizen means and what it means to be active as a social and political agent. The subject could just as easily be taught as a key component of the Conservative Big Society agenda of charitable ‘good deeds’ (Rose 2012) as it could be taught from Freire’s perspective, as cultivating a sense of conscientização (critical) consciousness (1996:17). Therefore, the precarious existence of Citizenship is precisely because of the antagonism at the heart of competing models of the education system, is it designed to inculcate, through implicit rendering of the norms and values of society more generally, a participatory loyalty to the status quo or promote free thinking active political subjects, wherever that might lead?

To further elucidate these issues, we will examine the ideas of two radical theorists as applied to education. Whilst they both share a common heritage as Spinozaists, Louis Althusser and Giles Deleuze developed radically different ideas concerning society and human existence more generally. Nevertheless, we can apply their concepts to educational paradigms to analyse the antagonism within the heart of the subjects position vis a vis society and explore potential future directions for the subject. In terms of reflective learning it will also allow for an evaluation of whether the key contentions of Althusser and Deleuze are a useful tool for establishing an accurate relationship between student (as social being), curriculum, school and society.

Althusser’s structuralist theories of Marxism were influential in educational theory in the 1970s (Gibson 1984:50-60), and retained some credibility within the academy even after Althusserianism had waned as an intellectual paradigm for left wing intellectuals. His theory that the subject is created (to use Freud’s phrase interpellated) through ideology, and that ideology is primarily inculcated in the schooling system, was particularly attractive to radical educationalists who were critical of the content and method of teaching in schools. As a structuralist he acknowledged that education had a much greater degree of autonomy from economics than many orthodox Marxists had done previously (Gibson 1984:54), but nevertheless argued that schools constituted the core component of the ideological state apparatus (Althusser 1972:259-60). Such an apparatus promotes a “massive inculcation of the ideology of the ruling class” (Althusser 1971:148) into wider society. In his 1971 essay on Ideology he explained that;

“…education drums into [students], whether it uses new or old methods, a certain amount of ‘know-how’ wrapped in the ruling ideology (French, arithmetic, natural history, the sciences, literature) or simply the ruling ideology in its pure state (ethics, civic instruction, philosophy)”. (1971:155)

Moreover, “the school… teaches ‘know-how’, but in forms which ensure subjection to the ruling ideology or the mastery of its ‘practice’.”  An example of the ideological nature of the school system might be the recent changes to the Teaching Standards guidelines which require teachers to not undermine “fundamental British values, including democracy [and] the rule of law…” (DfE 2012) implicitly limiting the possibility of a critical appraisal – what Friere would call “problem-posing education” (1996:85) – of those values including whether the state is democratic or on whose behalf the law is implemented. In Althusser’s model, a schools fear of conscientização stems from its position within the ideological apparatus; the school’s role is to perpetuate bourgeois ideology, not to challenge it, as such critical thinking can only be allowed within certain parameters.

Althusser saw education as a structure, working alongside others, such as politics, and economics. The structure of education or politics interacts with other structures, producing a system of tension (Gibson 1984:55-56), eventually one structure over-determines the others, an event is not the result of one cause but several, overlapping ones. Within this arrangement subjects exist only as adjuncts to the structure, they have no causal will of their own, the ideological apparatus constitutes subjects – in this case the teacher’s demand to turn-around-face-the-front forms the student as a subject of the ideological power relation. This insight raises question over the capacity for Citizenship to act as a bearer of ideological subjectification – ‘write a letter to the Prime Minister’, ‘petition the council’, all these requests potentially act as reinforcers of a particular ideological arrangment. If participation in mainstream politics is declining (possibly because the ideology is dominant but exhausted) than simply reaffirming its necessity is not an intellectually serious approach to reversing the trend.

Whilst an analysis of structures and their interrelationship can be useful in an educational setting, Althusser’s has his limits, primarily around the question of subjectivity. For Althusser, because pupils are merely the bearers of ideological structures (e.g. femininity/masculinity or Britishness) they lack any coherent subjective agency of their own. His position was criticised for being “over-simplified” and “one sided”, (Barcan 1993: 154) because students “are relegated to static role-bearers, carriers of predefined meanings, agents of gegemonic ideologies inscribed in their psyche like irremovable scars” (Giroux 2001:83). Such an approach would render critical pedagogy useless, and makes teaching a thankless, hopeless task – which is why the approach should not be adopted wholesale.

However, if Althusser is right about schools as instruments of ruling class ideology, then one would expect Citizenship, like other subjects, to reflect the needs and desires of ruling elites at any one time, as well as the general bourgeois consciousness in wider society. Crick’s adamant defence of parliamentary democracy and limitation of civic activism within the parameters of centre left paradigms would possibly demonstrate such a perspective. The repeated calls to emphasise the teaching of a distinct “Britishness” in the course would reflect another. Although the School is represented “as a neutral environment purged of ideology” (Althusser 1971:157), the ideology works at the most general level, with -for instance – Citizenship taking liberal democracy for granted as the only political form of governance possible. This narrowing of possibilities was certainly Crick’s intention dating back from In Defence of Politics, and would reflect the interests of the politicians who pioneered Citizenship teaching in schools. Whether the subject could provide an emancipatory challenge to the perceived limitations of parliamentary democracy is therefore in question.

Within a post-structuralist framework, whilst Deleuzean philosophies are radically different they also point to a similar antagonism within the school system, and therefore into how Citizenship would be taught. The Deleuzean critique of standard educational models and practices examines the segmentation and differentiation of the multitude, in this case, the thousands of students going through the education system. Deleuze’s world is not one of structures, but of flows of desire, or assemblages and machines of capture and release. The flow of young students through society into adulthood is captured by the school machine, they are assembled (as pupils in a school) then disassembled (streamed, assessed, differentiated) in the process of becoming through education. For Deleuze differénce is an ontological root, to attempt to homogenise too strongly is to act against reality. However the school system, in order to function, must attempt to capture these flows of desire and transform heterogeneity into a degree of homogeneity. School is a regime of multiple systems of signifiers, including “objective assessment, competence, risk, standardization [and] efficiency” (Roy 2003:11). Importantly, Deleuze offers a way of overcoming the banking-deficit model of education (Friere 1996:53), by not focussing on a Freudian lack, but instead on the formative subjectivity of desire (Ringrose 2011:600).

From Deleuze’s perspective children are naturally nomadic, spontaneous and deterritorialised – meaning that they often defy attempts to control and restrain, they struggle against boundaries and conformity. Their flows of desire are orientated towards knowledge gained through play and peer interaction, through being embedded in the life world. Deleuze and his co-author Felix Guattari sought a politics and social theory which was rhizomatic (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:3-13), spreading out like interlinked roots, not arborescent forms of knowledge and organising which are binary, rigid and mechanical (ibid 1987:18). It sees separation and clear disciplinary boundaries between subjects. Citizenship can lend itself to rhizomatic activities and thinking, to seeing interconnections and points of reference, to engage critical thinking – or it can replicate the binary thought of mainstream society (immigration bad, Britishness good; riots bad, police good, etc). A further tension arises between the desire to turn young students into self activating political agents and the role of the school in acting as a thoroughly Oedipal “micro fascism” (1987:236), for instance by enforcing petty restrictions on uniform and behaviour. Deleuze’s concern over this is shared by Freire who also refers to the school internalising paternal authority (1996:136) and why this must inevitably alienate students.

The assembling and reassembling of citizenship and its component parts and the struggle to territorialise citizenship to ideologies indicate that citizenship is also part of this flow, that it could be used as an instrument of capture. For instance, Deleuze talks about majoritarian perspectives acting as an oppressive break on minoritarian viewpoint, it can be the case that students suffer because “differences have been subsumed by a largely inflexible education system that operates with liberal majoritarian assumptions” (Roy 2003:8). A citizenship that promoted conformist views of Britishness would be anathema to a critical reading of what being a citizen means, since it precludes the possibility that citizenship could also be the result of struggles by a currently excluded minority in the present day.

Applying this to the teaching of Citizenship directly, we can see how the school can be both/either a brake on, or a catalyst for the subject. If the classroom is thought of as a “public space” then it opens up the possibility of the lesson “not as a place of seminiation, but as an agora, a meeting place, with exchanges going on all the time…” (McMahon 1996:7), such a space would be facilitated by the teacher, even guided, but not directed. For Deleuze (as for Freire) the best kind of lesson is one which allows the flows of ideas and beliefs to come from the pupils themselves, one in which the power relations that controlled and constrained the students through regimes of discipline were undermined. However, whether a loss of all authority by the teacher would render a “public space” possible in practice remains a debated question. But conceiving of the classroom in this way and emphasising the importance of citizenship in the wider world (the flows and communications beyond the school gates) could also be the greatest strength of Citizenship. Done well it is one of the subjects most relevant to the lives of the students. A study by Hulleman and Harackiewicz (2009) found that lower performing school students scored higher results if they were able to connect their lessons to their everyday lives. Providing context and meaning for the lessons, which Freire refers to it as “an individuals contextual reality” (1962:85) benefits the students by allowing for connections beyond the bubble of academia and the school.

This has implications for the way that Citizenship is taught. For example, Citizenship lessons which concentrated on card sorts where arguments for and against a controversial subject are presented (for instance lowering the voting age to 16) potentially close down creative thinking and merely seek to inculcate in students coordinates of debate which are already agreed and rehearsed. Whilst this can have some value, on its own the task could only communicate a rather sterilised discussions which are always-already limited.

Deleuze goes even further in rejecting not only objectivity but even subjectivity, arguing for a philosophy of education rooted in the singularity of the encounter (Gregoriou 2004:247-248).  This correlates to the points made by Bang (2004:14) who argues that the new citizen has little interest in previous forms of ideological politics, but is more interested in the ‘micropolitics of becoming’, what he calls “everyday makers”, not interested in the big ideas but in “being ordinarily engaged in the construction of networks and locales for the political governance of the social.” However, citizenship teaching demands not only a respect for difference but also an attempt to integrate them with narrative of universalist values, otherwise the promise of a shared collectivity is dissolved utterly. By reducing Citizenship to the moment of encounter or only the political governance of the social means to consciously downplay the possibility of involvement in the political structures at the level of actual political decision making. It threatens to reduce citizenship to lobbying of those in power or ignores the question of power altogether, preferring to work around it through charity work. 

Arguably, if Citizenship does not have a fidelity to the political event, not simply within Crick’s view as negotiated compromise but the more radical conception of action designed to shift the co-ordinates and flows of distribution, then the major problem is that it remains trapped within the antagonism of depoliticised school. An example is when the campaigning project of active citizenship is limited to charity work where it would only be fulfilling the most non-controversial and non-emancipatory aspect of social interaction. Charity does not empower the people who raise the money nor the people who benefit from it. A more radical approach to social problems, one embedded in problem centred education which seeks to contextualise the dominant ideological constraints in order to challenge them may be needed.

Conclusion

We have now examined the contested position of Citizenship and how this relates to the debate around its goals. In many ways the subject offers a unique position within the school system. Unlike many subjects which offer an all too direct relationship between education and work – something which Deleuze argues threatens to produce only “worker-schoolkids or bureaucratic students” (Deleuze 1995: 175) – Citizenship offers a chance to for their highest forms of self actualisation through education in the political relations of society in order to change them. As such it could be incredibly empowering. So how can citizenship go forward under these conditions? Whilst we can reject the one-sided view of Althusser concerning the all-pervasive nature of ideology we can take from him a cautious approach, to question the content and intent behind aspects of the subject as it is taught. Likewise Deleuze’s notion of the school as an instrument of capture enforcing majoritarian perspectives is worth considering, in order to reinforce the need for alternative perspectives and points of view. The Deleuzean school as a place for debate and discussion, as one which identifies and equips students to confront entrenched flows of power and ideology has a certain appeal, one which demands a more radical approach to being a citizen today.

The ultimate question of the success or not of Citizenship as a subject relies precisely on its claim to be able to motivate activity outside of the school environment. In that sense it is a unique subject which potentially deterritorialises the school environment and creates flows of movement outside of the school gates into workplaces, communities and the political sphere. It could open a space in which students can critically engage with politics and political issues, but this is only possible if it retains the potential to act against dominant ideologies. This is not to privilege teachers with a position of ideological education over students, but to affirm the importance of using pedagogy to allow for a critical citizenship approach. In fact, any notion of an active citizenship has to be complementary with critical thinking, indeed it should be integrated into the course otherwise it trains only passive participants of the flows and structures of power.

Without a criticism of power relations and a pedagogy of conscientização it is possible that Citizenship would only reinforce powerlessness, because an unchallenged ruling elite is arguably less sensitive to the protests and claims of the wider population. As such, the limitations of Citizenship education are not simply a question of how well it is taught or whether it gets enough space on the timetable, neither is it even necessarily a matter of the content of the course. The failure to translate good Citizenship students into active participants of political and civil society lies in the failure of the wider political-civic landscape in Britain. Declining voting patterns and memberships of political parties cannot be arrested or reversed in schools. Indeed the role to which Crick and early Citizenship advocates ascribed to the course (to re-engage young people) must be seen in a wider social context – apathy around voting is the consequence of a general disengagement from politics, an alienation caused by a system that many deem to be unrepresentative. 

From this perspective the student protests or 2011 summer riots was not caused by a failure of civic engagement but by the failure of the establishment to provide for the needs of young people (politicians reneging on promises regarding EMA and tuition fees, long term youth unemployment, etc). The worryingly low levels of faith in the political system and processes that young people have (e.g. Henn and Foard, 2012) is not the result of inadequate teaching of Citizenship, but that hopes have been dashed by the actual practice of politicians. Henn and Foard found that 81% of young people did not trust politicians, and an overwhelming 75% said that there was no opportunity to change the current political system. As such, the lack of civic engagement cannot be solved in the classroom because it does not start in the class room, it starts with a post-ideological zeitgeist in which the mainstream establishment is seen as remote, elitist, opportunist and unreformable. 

Not limiting active Citizenship to system reinforcing tokenism or appeals to increase the voter turnout but creating informed, critical minded young people is the future not only of the subject specifically but of education more generally. In order to fulfil Crick’s ideals for the subject it may be necessary to go beyond his own notion of politics towards one which explores the antagonisms between the aspirations of young people and the mainstream polity in order to really engage future generations.

Bibliography

Althusser, Louis, (1971)Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly Review Press, London

Barcan Alan, (1993) Sociological Theory and Educational Reality, New South Wales University Press. Australia

Bang, Henryik, (2004) Everyday Makers and Expert Citizens: Building Political not Social Capital, Australian National University, mimeo.

BBC News website, 2001, Turnout ‘at 80-year low’ (accessed 12 October 2012 from bbc.co.uk/news)

Crick, Bernard, (1962) In defence of politics, University of Chicago Press, 

Crick, Bernard (DfEE & QCA) (1998) , Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools, (accessed 10 October 2012 at http://www.teachingcitizenship.org.uk/dnloads/crickreport1998.pdf)

Crick, Bernard, (2002), Education for Citizenship: The Citizenship Order
Parliamentary Affairs, volume 55 issue 3

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix (1987), A Thousand Plateaus, Continuum Books, University of Minnesota

Deleuze Gilles, (1995) Honoris Causa: “This is also extremely funny”, in E Weber (ed) Points… Interviews 1974-1994, P Kamuf et al (trans) Standford University Press

Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) (1997) Excellence in Schools (White Paper). London: HMSO

Department of Education (2007), Diversity and Citizenship in the Curriculum: Research Review (accessed 25 October 2012 from education.gov.uk)

Department of Education (2012), Teacher’s Standards May 2012, (accessed 12 October 2012 from education.gov.uk)

Electoral Commission (2005), Election 2005 Turnout: How many, who and why?, (accessed 12 October 2012 from http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk)

Furedi, F. (2005). Citizens can’t be made in class. The Daily Telegraph, 3rd February

Friere, Paulo, (1996) The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Penguin Books 

Gibson, Rex, (1984), Structuralism and Education, Hodder and Stoughton, Great Britain

Giroux, Henry, (2001), Theory and Resistance in Education: Towards a Pedagogy for the Opposition Revised and Expanded Edition , Greenwood Publishing Group

Hansard Society (2012) Audit of Political Engagement 9 The 2012 Report: Part One ( Accessed at 10 October 2012 from hansardsociety.org.uk/files/folders/3344/download.aspx)

Henn, Matt and Foard, Nick, (2012), Young People, Political Participation and Trust in Britain, Parliamentary Affairs, volume 65 issue 1

Hulleman, Chris and Harackiewicz, Judith, (2009), Promoting Interest and Performance in High School Science Classes Science, 4 December

IPSOS, (2010), How Britain voted in 2010, (Accessed at 16 October 2012 from http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/poll.aspx?oItemId=2613&view=wide)

Jerome, Lee and Hayward, Jeremy, (2009), Crick and Teacher Education, online at http://www.citized.info/pdf/external/Microsoft Word – Crick JH LJ.pdf

Osler, Audrey and Starkey H, 2003, Learning for Cosmopolitan Citizenship: theoretical debates and young people’s experiences, Educational Review, Vol. 55, No. 3 

Ringrose, Jessica, (2011) Beyond Discourse? Using Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis to explore affective assemblages, heterosexually striated space, and lines of flight online and at school, Educational Philosophy and Theory,Vol. 43, No. 6

Rose, Neil, (2012), Citizenship is integral to the Big Society , Guardian, 18 January

Roy, Kastuv, (2003), Teachers in nomadic space, Peter Lang publishing, New York.

Weir, Stuart, (2008), What is Britishness? Citizenship, Values and Identity, [accessed 15 October 2012 from www.opendemocracy.net)

Mark Twain – In defence of terror

“THERE were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

The US right have no clue…

The US right have lost their collective wits. Their political compass is all out of whack. Some of them actually believe that the Democrats are communists. They have gone so far off the deep end that they can’t tell the difference between liberalism and Leninism.

It’s a sign of the hollowing out of bourgeois democracy, of the destruction of meaning in modern political discussions.

Better to be a traitor to your country…

“Do you believe in patriotism? What an odd question to ask revolutionists!… The majority of our workers are foreigners… internationalism becomes the logical patriotism of a heterogeneous population…

The train on which I write rushes by factories where murder instruments are made for gold. I would be ashamed to be patriotic of such a country. In the black smoke belched from their chimneys, I see the ghostly faces of dead workers–our poor, deluded slain brothers. I re-affirm my faith, ‘It is better to be a traitor to your country than a traitor to your class!'”

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, 1916

The Death of Disco (1998) – a post modern masterpiece

The Death of Disco is a 1998 movie staring Chloë Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale and Robert Sean Leonard among others as a group of young, white professionals in New York dealing with 20 something adulthood to the backdrop of a shifting cultural mood, namely the death of disco as a popular form of music.

Much has been made about the anachronistic costumes in the movie. Filmed in the late 1990s, the cast all wear 90s clothing, despite the movie being set in the late 70s/early 80s. Comments have been made about how the costume designers “couldn’t be bothered” or maybe it was a low budget movie so they simply couldn’t afford more period accurate clothes?

But what it the costumes are accurate? What if actually the revolutionary cultural situation of the film is as a post-modern reading on the perennial existential angst of humanity? That our concerns over the death of culture or the ending of various zeitgeists have an almost gravitational impact on society, slowing time down, collapsing our social relations the closer we get to the event horizon? The late 70s the late 90s the late 2010s, whatever period we are in cultural anxiety persists. If this is true then the consequence for art is clear – have the late 70s be the late 90s (the actual end of history?). If young people worrying about the end times is the level of analysis then chronology is meaningless. Anachronism is the new black.

Revolutions and civil wars

Occasionally you see socialists accommodating to pacifist tendencies in the working class by implying that a revolution is probably just like a really big demo, or maybe a general strike, and then the government collapses and then the working class forms a new government. They question of force sometimes is referred to only in the fact that there might be some clashes with the police perhaps.

In the Syrian revolution some people got squeamish when it turned into a civil war, preferring the mass pro-democracy protests at the start and then becoming all shy and moderate about it when Assad sent in the security forces to start killing people.

Trotsky makes the comment during the Russian civil war after 1917 that; “The international proletariat put before itself as its problem the conquest of power. Independently of whether civil war, “generally,” belongs to the inevitable attributes of revolution, “generally,” this fact remains unquestioned – that the advance of the proletariat, at any rate in Russia, Germany, and parts of former Austro-Hungary, took the form of an intense civil war not only on internal but also on external fronts. If the waging of war is not the strong side of the proletariat, while the workers’ International is suited only for peaceful epochs, then we may as well erect a cross over the revolution and over socialism; for the waging of war is a fairly strong side of the capitalist State, which without a war will not admit the workers to supremacy.” 

The fact if you cannot point to a revolution that does not turn into some kind of civil war – the same is true of the English Revolution between 1642–1651 of course. Ultimately in any significant social struggle between the classes the question of force decides. But the question of politics is also decisive. In any struggle for political power, the insurgent forces have to be able to articulate a programme that encompasses the needs of the broadest masses and offers incentives and gains for why people should support the revolution. Likewise the forces of the status quo fight to win in the field of politics, to convince the people that the way things are should ultimately be preserved, while usually offering wild concessions that they later ignore and tear up.

Anyone who says there is a completely peaceful road to socialism is either wilfully naive about the levels of violence that the capitalist class will inflict to stay in power, or they hugely over estimate the democratic sensibilities of those who currently run society, as if they would give up everything because they lost an election?

But revolutionaries know that winning political hegemony is crucial to winning power. The more you can win over the working class and popular progressive forces then the more the revolution itself will be a relatively bloodless affair. But the greater the forces of reaction, the forces of bourgeois order… the more difficult the road ahead.

Alexandra Kollontai: when it comes to women’s rights, class matters

What is the aim of the feminists? Their aim is to achieve the same power, the same rights within capitalist society as those possessed now by their husbands, fathers and brothers. What is the aim of the women workers? Their aim is to abolish all privileges deriving from birth or wealth. For the women worker it is a matter of indifference who is the ‘master’ a man or woman. Together with the whole of her class, she can ease her position as a worker.

Feminists demand equal rights always and everywhere. Women workers reply: we demand rights for every citizen, man and woman but we are not prepared to forget that we are not only workers and citizens, but also mothers! And as mothers, as women who give birth to the future, we demand special concern for ourselves and our children, special protection from the state and society.

The feminists are striving to acquire political rights. However, here too our paths separate. For bourgeois women political rights are simply a means allowing them to make their way more conveniently and more securely in a world founded on the exploitation of the working people. For women workers, political rights are a step along the rocky and difficult path that leads to the desired kingdom of labour.

The paths pursued by women workers and bourgeois suffragettes have long since separated. There is too great a difference between the objectives that life has put before them. There is too great a contradiction between the interests of the women worker and the lady proprietress, between the servant and her mistress. There are not and cannot be any points of contact, conciliation or convergence between them.
— Alexandra Kollontai: Women’s Day published in Pravda one week before the first ever celebration in Russia of the Day of International Solidarity among the Female Proletariat on 23 February (8 March), 1913.

Who steals the common from off the goose

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine

The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back

The capitalist class and revolution

In 1879 Carlo Cafiero did a summary of Capital and Marx’s ideas for Italian readers. In the conclusion he wrote a brilliant and evocative account of the nature of revolution and why the capitalist class invokes it but then pulls back and turns on the very workers it whipped up for its cause. Worth reading and thinking on.

——

The disease is sweeping. It’s been a long time that the workers of the civilized world have known it; certainly not all, but a great number, and these are already preparing the means of action to destroy it.

They have considered these:

I. That the first source of every human oppression and exploitation is private property;

II. That the emancipation of workers (human emancipation) will not be founded upon a new class rule, but upon the end of all class privileges and monopolies and upon the equality of rights and duties;

III. That the cause of labor, the cause of humanity, does not have borders;

IV. That the emancipation of workers must be done at the hands of the workers themselves.

And so a mighty voice has shouted: “Workers of the world, unite! No more rights without duties, no more duties without rights! Revolution!”

But the revolution demanded by the workers is not a revolution of pretext, it is not the practical method of a moment to reach a given aim. Even the bourgeoisie, like so many others, demanded the revolution one day; but only to supplant the nobility, and to substitute for the feudal system of serfdom that more refined and cruel system of wage-work. And they call this progress and civility! In fact every day we help the ridiculous show of the bourgeoisie, who go babbling the word revolution, with the sole aim of being able to jump up onto the maypole tree, and to grab power. The workers’ revolution is the revolution for the revolution.

The word “Revolution”, taken in its largest and truest sense, means turning, transformation, change. As such, revolution is the soul of all infinite mass. In fact, all in nature changes, but nothing is created and nothing is destroyed, as chemistry shows us. Mass, remaining always in the same quantity, can change form in infinite ways. When mass loses its old form and acquires a new one, it passes from the old life, in which it dies, to the new life, in which it is born. When our spinner, using a familiar example for us, transformed the 10 kilos of cotton into 10 kilos of thread, what else came about if not the death of 10 kilos of mass in the form of cotton, and at their birth in the form of thread? And when the weaver transforms the thread into cloth, what else will come about if not the matter passing from a life of string unto a life of cloth, as it has passed already before from a life of cotton unto a life of thread? Mass, therefore, passing from one turn of life to another, lives ever-changing, transforming, revolutionizing.

Now, if revolution is the law of nature, which is all, it must necessarily also be the law of humanity, which is a part of nature. But you have a few men upon the Earth who do not think this is so, or, rather, who close their eyes so as not to see and their ears so as not to hear.

“Yes, it is true,” I hear shouting from a bourgeois, “the natural law, the revolution that you claim, is the absolute regulator of human relations. The fault of all the oppressions, of all the exploitations, of all the tears and all of the massacres they are caused by, one must justly attribute to this inexorable law that imposes revolution upon us, that is, continuous transformation, the struggle for existence, the absorption of the weaker made stronger, the sacrifice of the less perfect types for the development of the more perfect types. If hundreds of workers are burned up for the wellbeing of only one bourgeois, that happens without the slightest fault of this, that is indeed sad and dreary, but only by the decree of natural law, of revolution.”

If one speaks in such a way, the workers ask nothing better, who wish for transformation, the struggle for existence, revolution, under the same natural law, the ones indeed preparing themselves to be stronger, to sacrifice all monstrous and parasitic plants for the complete and flourishing development of the most beautiful human tree, whole and perfect, which it must be, in all of the wholeness of its human character.

But the bourgeoisie are too fearful and pious to be able to appeal to the natural law of revolution. They have been able to invoke it in a moment of drunkenness; but, afterwards back to their normal selves, their accounts done, and having found that their doings were nice and pleasing, they gave themselves to shouting until they couldn’t anymore: “Order, religion, family, property, conservation!” It is so that, after having arrived at conquering, with massacre, fire and robbery, the role of the dominators and exploiters of the human race, they believe that they can stop the course of revolution; without realizing, in their stupidity, that they can do nothing else, with their efforts, than to make horrible troubles for humanity, and as a consequence for themselves, with the sudden explosions of the revolutionary force they madly repress.

The revolution, the material obstacles that oppose it shot down, and left free in its path, will by itself be enough to create the most perfect balance, order, peace, and the most complete happiness between people, because people, in their free development, will not proceed in the manner of wild animals but in the manner of human beings, eminently reasonable and civil, who understand that no person can be truly free and happy if they are not within the common liberty and happiness of all of humanity. No more rights without duties, no more duties without right. Therefore no more struggle for existence between people, but struggle for existence of all people with nature, by appropriating from the great sum of natural forces for the benefit of all of humanity.

The disease known, it is easy to know the remedy: revolution for the revolution.

But how will the workers be able to restore the course of the revolution?

This is not the place for a revolutionary program, already elaborated and published long ago elsewhere in other books; I confine myself to conclude, replying with the words taken from the lips of a worker and placed in epigraph to this volume: “The worker has made everything; and the worker can destroy everything, because he can rebuild everything