Post-modernism, the Return to Ethics, and the Crisis of Socialist Values

Chamsy Ojeili


Abstract: Socialist orthodoxy has been eclipsed as a transformatory project for the establishment of the good life. Here, ethics and politics slid beneath statist administrative goals, or socialists simply adopted liberal values. However, liberalism has not achieved complete hegemony, and is open to a number of objections – its individualism, its partial conception of freedom, the obvious failures of the market, and the exclusions of liberal democracy. On the other hand, communitarian particularism is also found wanting. Neither does postmodernism provide a solution to the current crisis of values, and it does not simply replace socialism as an ethical horizon for those committed to emancipatory values. I argue that some of the problems of these paradigms can be overcome by alternatives from within the libertarian tradition. In particular, propounding an “ethics of emancipation” – equal freedom for all, achieved through solidaristic revolutionising of macro social structures – libertarians have sought the establishment of a political community within which a solution to the current tensions between equality and freedom and community and individual might be found.


“Socialism, in both its ends and means is a struggle to realise freedom.” [1]


“[V]alue …, equality and justice are not ‘concepts’ which can be founded or constructed … in and through theory. They are political ideas/significations having to do with the institution of society as it might be and as we would will it to be; and this institution is anchored in no natural, logical or transcendental order.” [2]



Just as some critics have read post-modernism as the end of politics, so “post-modernist ethics” has been seen in some quarters as a contradiction in terms.[3] Influential commentators have viewed post-modernism as involving the “demise of the ethical” or a “life without principles”.[4] The attack on the universalist aspirations of the Enlightenment, the incredulity towards teleological meta-narratives, the often radical anti-humanism,[5] and the apparent advocacy of indeterminacy displayed by post-modernists all seem to undermine any straightforward conception of the good and just society and perhaps, as a number of leftist critics have insisted, even drags us towards nihilism. For instance, Haber has questioned post-modernism’s ability to make moral judgements in the absence of stable social standards,[6] and Harvey has contended that the post-modern involves a triumph of aesthetics over ethics.[7] Such concerns have been lent weight by Derrida’s admission that deconstruction may be “opposed to politics, or … at best apolitical” and by the post-modernist fascination with Nietzsche.[8]

Nietzsche was, of course, no nihilist, but, for some critics, the post-modernist adoption of Neitzschean individualism effectively excludes the possibility of community and even spells the “death of politics”.[9] This charge has been levelled against Foucault, a self-consciously Nietzschean thinker who jettisons universal ethics, questions rationality and humanism, problematises the evaluation of different modes of life, and champions a politics of subjectivity that looks to otherness and situated transgressions against modern power-knowledge relations.[10]

Post-modernism has apparently eliminated any belief in the possibility of a non-ambivalent ethical code.[11] As Bauman says, “The postmodern mind does not expect anymore to find the all-embracing, total and ultimate formula of life without ambiguity, risk, danger and error, and is deeply suspicious of any voice that promises otherwise.”[12] Post-modernism has questioned all naturalism, foundations, universals, authority, the idea of an autonomous subject of ethics and politics, and the notion of a future transparent political order.[13] This and post-modernism’s reluctance to specify an “ought” and to rank modes of existence has meant an emphasis (like that found in Lyotard) on multiplicity, plurality, and on the incommensurability of discourses.[14] For critics, the “strongly felt moral ambiguity”[15] of post-modernism threatens the “death of justice”.[16] For instance, if one is whole-heartedly committed to multiplicity without discrimination, then plurality itself, unprotected by any principle of evaluation and constraint, will surely be submerged by totalitarian discourses.  

Despite these concerns, however, there has been a definite revival within post-modern debates of interest in ethics,[17] and there is something of a contemporary obsession with the ethical – signalled in the obsession with “the Other” and with difference and in the explosion of ethics committees and debate about risk and safety. Against the charges of nihilism, most post-modernists hold to a minimum ethico-political “programme” that demands: firstly, that one avoid telling people what they want or what they ought to want; and, secondly, that alternative practices be allowed to flower.[18] Moreover, against the fear that “anything goes” means “anything stays”, post-modernists like Lyotard modify their pluralism (his “multiplicity of justices”) with something like a “justice of multiplicity”.[19] It would appear, then, that post-modernists are not at all wild-eyed nihilists looking to a philosophy of the super-person to legitimate their thirst for power and destruction in a war of all against all. These are frequently solidly social democratic thinkers who are, like Derrida, predictably in favour of such unimpeachable campaigns as nuclear disarmament.[20] They share a commitment to pluralism and, often, an implicit or sometimes overt adherence to the open political forms of liberal democracy.[21] 

Not only has post-modernism’s anti-foundationalism not issued in nihilism, but, as Keenan  has argued, perhaps it is only in the absence of the old illusory ethical grounds that we can find real responsibility: “It is when we do not know exactly what we should do, when the effects and conditions of our actions can no longer be calculated, and when we have nowhere else to turn, not even back onto our ‘self’, that we encounter something like responsibility.”[22] Here, post-modernity is first and foremost “modernity without illusions”.[23] Derrida, Laclau, and Bauman have assessed the situation in a rather similar way to Keenan. Bauman, for example, argues that “the demise of the power-assisted universals and absolutes has made the responsibilities of the actor more profound, and, indeed, more consequential than before”. Post-modernity is, therefore, for Bauman, “the moral person’s bane and chance at the same time”, where in a world with no god one must “stand up straight and confront Chaos”.[24] 

Some elements of post-modernist thought, I believe, are compatible with attempts to rethink and reassert emancipatory values in the contemporary period. In particular, post-modernism addresses the theoretical and practical inadequacies of socialist orthodoxy (social democracy and Leninism). Socialist orthodoxy had seen the demise of any significant political and ethical thought. Questions about the general ordering of society and the evaluation of competing claims disappeared beneath scientific pretensions and bureaucratic administrative goals. Social democracy and Leninism thus retreated from the Marxian insight into the historicity and sociality of human ideas and values. Instead, they invested the party, through its scientific comprehension of necessity, with the authority to judge what might and what might not serve the emancipation of humanity from nature and from exploitation. The character of the regimes established on the basis of these conceptions was interpreted by liberals and some post-modernists to mean that radical social transformation today connotes not human liberation but rather the erasure of humanity’s diverse desires, needs, and abilities in the name of some illusory natural equality and/or a dream of spontaneous and frictionless solidarity. Freedom in the orthodox socialist lexicon, it is often said, is a property of society and means conformity with one’s “higher self”, as against the “bourgeois” liberties of the individual.[25] Post-modernism rallies against socialist orthodoxy’s authoritarian claims to knowledge of the goals of history and of people’s true interests. It rejects final closure, the illusions of scientific foundations for values, and is forthrightly suspicious of the utopian ideas of organic community and perfect harmony.  

And yet, in spite of its advance on the vanguardism, scientism, and elitism of socialist orthodoxy, post-modernist political and ethical thought is beset by a number of major failings. The emphasis on contingency and difference threatens to issue in a particularism that is just as morally problematic as the abstract and context-independent universalism that post-modernists oppose. Rejecting that one might transcend the limits of ideology and power, does not post-modernism also corrode the possibilities of solidarity outside of a particular tradition and the hope for wider emancipatory struggle and transformation? Furthermore, avoiding clearly specifying its political commitments outside of what Benhabib calls a “superliberalism”,[26] post-modernism simply relies on the good sense of its audience. It also implies an individualism somewhat out of sorts in a post-humanist discourse. Most vitally, post-modernists appeal to the aspirations of pluralism, tolerance, openness, and concern for the other, without addressing the necessity of a solidaristic project of structural transformation. This seems to rather naively by-pass the structural impediments to justice, to the construction of a political space in which ethical debate and evaluation might really be facilitated.[27] Thus, although what are now viewed as post-modern strictures against foundationalism and the dream of societal closure must be embraced by those seeking a new emancipatory discourse, I reject any assumption that post-modernism unproblematically replaces socialism as a superior ethical horizon for progressive thought. In fact, the return to ethics of post-modernism is, as Badiou puts it, “one symptom of a universe ruled by a distinctive combination of resignation in the face of necessity together with a purely negative, if not destructive will”.[28] This necessity, this block on transformatory possibilities, Badiou identifies as the dull compulsion of the economic. 

This article considers the crisis of socialist values – which, in reality, is a part of the more general epochal crisis of values – and examines ways of thinking beyond this crisis. I begin with the apparent victory of liberalism over socialist orthodoxy, a victory signalled both by the “death of socialism” and by the post-modernist return to liberalism. To a degree, as Fukuyama asserts, a “remarkable consensus” has indeed emerged around the validity of liberal ideals.[29] And yet, all is not well with liberalism. The hesitation before a whole-hearted commitment to all aspects of liberal commonsense is expressed in the emergence of communitarianism. Arguing that both liberalism and communitarianism are seriously flawed, I survey some of the terrain of debate around issues of ethics and politics. I contend that an alternative to socialist orthodoxy, liberalism, communitarianism, and post-modernism exists within the libertarian tradition – in particular, amongst those who have argued for a post-capitalist social order in which people are active members of a political community. Such a social order, it is argued, can only be established through a collective project aimed at transforming the structures that at present render those admirable and still widely held goals – liberty, equality, and fraternity – impossible. The content of this ethics of emancipation[30] amounts roughly to equal freedom for all, achieved through solidaristic revolutionising of macro social structures. This stance rejects both the liberal idea of the unencumbered self and is unsympathetic to communitarian particularism. At the same time, it necessarily jettisons political and ethical foundations based on appeals to Nature or History, and the idea of societal perfection and closure. I argue that the focus on autonomy, by prioritising the establishment of a truly political community, promises a solid platform for truly ethical deliberation, beyond what Badiou calls the “humanitarian prattle” and “stodgy conservatism” of the return to ethics, and it allows for a movement beyond those apparently irreconcilable tensions between equality and freedom, and community and individual.

“A remarkable consensus”? – Victorious Liberalism and its Discontents

Docherty  has asserted that “all revolutionary and leftist movements live haunted by the shadow of the camps”.[31] And, indeed, emancipatory values and the radical conception of the good life are in severe disrepute in light of the career of “really existing socialism”. The tragic consequences of communist rule have often been explained by the fact that communism is wholly without an ethical vision. Thus, Lenin could declare that Marxism contained “not a grain of ethics from beginning to end”.[32] This Marxian rejection of political guidance by ethical values is based on arguments about morality’s apparent epiphenomenality and the alleged scientificity of historical materialism.[33] Normative discourse is viewed as ideological and thus as transitory. Communism is not after all an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself but rather a growing reality that will eventually alter society’s self-understanding.[34] Unburdened by ethical considerations, communists appear to subordinate means to ends. Prior to the truly human ethic of a post-revolutionary society, one must operate according to the “point of view of expediency”, and one should subordinate morality to the “consolidation and completion of communism”.[35] Thus, for Trotsky, because the communists sought to increase the power of humans over nature and to abolish the power of humans over humans, measures towards this could be deemed “permissible and obligatory”[36]: “That is permissible, we answer, which really leads to the liberation of mankind [sic]”.[37] Such moral relativism and the numerous Jesuitical and amoralist moments within the larger tradition of socialist orthodoxy have prompted the equation of emancipatory thought with nihilism or pragmatic expediency, as the party, privileged interpreter of the direction of history, subordinates all ideals and principles to the necessities of progress.  

The communist emphases on expediency, on the laws of history, and on the omniscient party, have been tied to an often strident anti-individualism. Expecting spontaneous harmony, “really existing socialism” proved a nightmare for the individual. In this light, the idea of “socialist emancipation” is likely to elicit only scorn today.[38] In response to communist barbarism, that other half of socialist orthodoxy, social democracy, distanced itself both from Bolshevism’s Jesuitical pragmatism and from Marxian anti-individualism.[39] Thus, while Kautsky accepted the Marxian historicisation of morality, he refused to reject moral ideals and he defended equality, rights, and liberal-democracy as necessary means towards socialism.[40] Eventually, Kautsky’s ethical stance became indistinguishable from bourgeois liberalism, and, on the whole, social democracy merged more and more with the liberal order.  

With the collapse of “really existing socialism”, and with social democracy’s passage towards bourgeois democracy, it is often suggested that liberalism is the political theory of modernity,[41] that, as Bellamy argues, “we are all liberals now”.[42] One powerful expression of such commonsense is the extent to which post-modernism’s ethical and political commitments are congruent with those of liberalism. As Beilharz has asserted, post-modernism “seems to signify among other things a rediscovery of liberalism and the sense of limits to what we can both know and do.”[43] At the centre of contemporary commonsense are such liberal tenets as the concern for the liberty and privacy of the autonomous individual, the faith in the possibility of improving human life, the assumption of the moral unity of humanity, and a certain egalitarianism (at least insofar as opportunity is concerned). Liberalism, as Eccleshall  argues, has come to mean a general frame of mind as much as a specific political ideology.[44] Accordingly, the liberal, the man or woman who displays open-mindedness, tolerance, and generosity, is frequently viewed as “anyone who is perfectly sensible”.[45] The contemporary ubiquity of such liberal commonsense is, for many, a sure signal of the eclipse of emancipatory possibilities.  

It is, though, necessary to separate, in at least a preliminary manner, the different moments so often conflated with one another under the rubric of liberalism. Almond, for example, divides liberalism into: (1) ethical ideals of freedom, toleration, and justice; (2) intellectual ideals of rationalism and universalism; (3) political ideals of individualism and thus advocacy of limitation on government; (4) social ideals of pluralism and toleration of difference; and (5) economic ideals of laissez faire.[46] Obviously, there is significant scope for argument and division within the category “liberalism”, a category that is able to encompass, for instance, both John Rawls and Robert Nozick.[47] At various times, Leftists have criticised each of the facets of liberalism – the notions of equality and rights, laissez faire economic ideals, the facade that liberal political pluralism provides for what is, in reality, the dictatorship of capital, and the imprecise and morally unacceptable individualism of liberal philosophical and moral premises. Any proper assessment of the prospects for emancipatory values requires first an attempt to survey each of these elements of liberalism.  

Liberalism is frequently viewed as somehow synonymous with individualism. Liberalism appears to be guided by concern for the unique person and his or her right to choose options and ends.[48] Mill, for instance, insisted that, “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign”, that “The only part of the conduct of anyone for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others”.[49] The liberal emphasis on individuality and “true character” is tied to a conception of the person as autonomous chooser, and this inclines the liberal away from the specification by anyone else but the person him/herself as to what a good life may mean[50]: a valuable life must be led “from the inside”.[51] Thus, liberals are often said to prioritise the right over the good. Giving up on the task of providing the one true conception of the good life, liberalism, argues Poole, has restricted itself to clarifying the principles of justice on which such individualism and pluralism may rest.[52] Liberals have frequently insisted on a theory of justice that is non-teleological and non-consequentialist, that is deontological. Such theories of justice are most famously articulated in Kant’s “categorical imperative” and, more recently, by John Rawls with his idea of the “veil of ignorance” as a justification for an originating social contract. 

The reluctance to specify the good and the insistence on the character and choice of the individual mean that liberals have frequently emphasised liberty above all else.[53] This liberty is commonly of a negative kind. Negative liberty is conceived of as free action, independent of compulsion insofar as it does not harm others.[54] For example, according to Hayek, freedom is a “state in which a man is not subject to coercion by the arbitrary will of another or others”.[55] Historically, however, liberalism has also been much concerned with equality. Within liberalism, such equality has never been of an absolute order, such as that attributed to “barracks socialism”. Instead, it has varied from a commitment to basic political equality (embodied in the phrase “one person, one vote”), to legal equality of persons before the law, to a potentially stronger egalitarian commitment in terms of outcome rather than simply procedure.[56] 

Liberals have often sought to enshrine such equality and such freedoms by recourse to the notion of rights, and, as Jacobs  notes, today the requirements of justice are most commonly expressed in terms of these rights.[57] Emerging in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the appeal to “natural rights” gained ground swiftly.[58] The late eighteenth century saw American and French revolutionaries appealing to such rights to justify rebellion and then enshrining them in the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of the Rights of Man respectively.[59] Liberals have often touted such rights as important trumps against the arbitrary imposition of power and as guarantees of political and legal equality.[60] 

Economic liberalism (laissez faire) also seeks to defend its preferred societal arrangement on the basis of the freedom and right to exercise choice and pursue individual gain.[61] These conceptions, however, are inextricably linked to claims advanced on behalf of the ideal of a free market. Whereas the broad socialist tradition has looked suspiciously at the market – “Freedom is but an empty phantom if one class of men can starve another with impunity”[62] – liberals have frequently linked capitalist buying and selling with both individual freedom and societal progress.[63] Seeing market exchange as the only way to freely and equally coordinate a complex industrial society, such liberals interpret Leftist anti-capitalism as indicative of a hostility to individuation itself, as illegitimately assuming the possibility of complete knowledge, and as coercive.[64] After all, says Nozick, “The socialist society would have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults”.[65] Some liberals, like Hayek, will not accept that the market can be coercive – coercion results only from intentional acts.[66] Other liberals, like Gray, acknowledge shortcomings,[67] though only so far. Yes, says Gray, private property enhances the autonomy of its possessors first and foremost, but it also generates a freedom that extends further than its immediate holders. In terms of autonomy (the most important of values), the worst-off in a system of private property, insists Gray, are still better off than the bulk of those subject to collectivist rule: “the vagabond is freer than the conscript solider.”[68]  

For liberals, the communist utopia is more than just economically unviable. In terms of individual rights and freedoms, its consequences are extremely deleterious. Plato’s utopia in which “Nothing remains personal” and “All are cast in the same mold”, and Rousseau’s notions of a “general will” and the “reign of virtue”, are viewed by liberals as prefiguring communist utopianism.[69] Walicki, for instance, charges that Marx treats individuals as mere instruments of history.[70] Marx applied freedom to the whole species and opposed it to the irrationality of chance – an opposition embodied, above all, in his hostility to the market. Similarly, Femia  views Marxism as led in the direction of totalitarianism through its rejection of the ontological and moral primacy of the individual, its delineation of a human essence, its attempt to extrapolate rational choices from this essence, and its resistance to the “cacophony of pluralism”.[71] In the liberal reading of socialism, the moral “tyranny of the majority” threatens to efface dissent and eccentricity, and this majority will prove far less tolerant than a consistent system of law.[72] 

Today, as I have said, liberal values and the liberal critique of socialist orthodoxy have achieved hegemony. Nevertheless, for all of liberalism’s apparently enlightened modesty and its current philosophical and political dominance, there are numerous signs of dissatisfaction. There is significant discontent with liberal individualism, a great deal of scepticism regarding the liberal-democratic political system, a growing suspicion towards the near hysterical claims once made for free markets, and pessimism and melancholia in response to the conflict and meaninglessness of life in (post)modern societies. In more recent years, many of these concerns have been voiced and solutions sought by “communitarian” theorists.  

Communitarianism has frequently and justifiably been seen as backward-looking. Its philosophical fathers are thinkers such as Aristotle, Hume, and Hegel. And communitarians look back to antiquity or early American town meetings as rich in those essential societal goods long since absent from modern societies.[73] This has frequently been combined with complaints about the decay of contemporary society and the decline of community feeling into isolation, individualism, and normlessness.[74] As Phillips  notes, “The longing for community is today widespread, and a return to community is often seen as a solution for the ills of modern society: relationships that are transitory, impersonal, and segmented; the loss of feelings of attachment and belonging; the absence of meaning and unity in our lives; the sharp dichotomy between public and private life; the isolation and alienation of the individual.”[75] For instance, Taylor speaks of a “loss of meaning, fragmentation, [and] the loss of substance in our human environment and our affiliations”, and MacIntyre contends that the modern human being “is a citizen of nowhere, an internal exile where he lives”.[76]  

Insisting, like post-modernism, on the contextuality of knowledge and normativity, communitarianism has, again like post-modernism, asserted the inescapability of “difference”, though this difference is unambiguously portrayed as a property of the community.[77] One therefore finds within the communitarian tradition a sharp critique of universalist ethics, a rejection of the view of the individual as “abstractable” from his or her context, and a prioritising of the community’s good over any “purely rational” commitment to individual rights. Both a society’s conception of the good and personal identity are to be derived from community.[78] For Taylor and Etzioni, the values that liberals hold dear – freedom, integrity, rationality, civility – have social preconditions: there is no such entity as the “unencumbered self”.[79] Given this, there cannot be a priority of the right over the good.[80] As Mouffe says, “it is only through our participation in a community which defines the good in a certain way that we can acquire a sense of the right and a conception of justice.”[81] In fact, communitarians have very appositely pointed out that the liberal order is not at all neutral to conceptions of the good: in liberalism, choice itself is the highest good.[82] Thus, for communitarians, the real problem with the liberal good is that it is not good enough.[83]

Rejecting both universalist claims and pretensions to neutrality, communitarians seek to promote the “politics of the common good”. Communitarians treat communal values as “authoritative horizons” which “set goals for us”.[84] Given that societies are to be just “in their own way”, the important question thus becomes, “Which social arrangements are just given who we are?”.[85] For MacIntyre, for example, this has meant an attempt to develop a moral theory centred on virtue, involving an attachment to three crucial concepts: (1) a social “practice”; (2) a tradition of norms, conventions, and standards of excellence; and (3) a recognition of narrative as the way one makes sense of one’s life.[86] What is vital here is a community’s way of life and those goods that derive from this way of life.[87]

Having exploded the ideas of liberal neutrality, the abstract individual, and the elevation of the right over the good, communitarianism remains deeply flawed as a framework of values. First, and most importantly, as Fotopoulos points out, there is no question in communitarianism of structural transformation: “the socio-economic framework is ruled out of the communitarian problematic”.[88] Second, as mentioned, communitarians are basically conservative. Their romantic lament for past ways of life and their contempt for current arrangements are combined with an inward-looking particularism and localism that would predispose any communitarian society to any number of dominations and exclusions.[89] Relatedly, communitarians undervalue individual autonomy in favour of the roles allotted by the society in question, the “goods internal to a practice”.[90] Such a tendency threatens to issue in a static, conformist society. The relativism of communitarianism apparently disarms evaluations of communities and their practices as wicked, unjust, or ideological.[91] Communitarianism, then, may negate those very important features of contemporary social life, such as concern for individual distinctiveness and the aspiration towards ever more embracing visions of the good life, where justice would have a critical as well as a mirroring function.[92] 

On the other hand, even if the strong communitarian position is indefensible, liberalism has not won the day. That is, the communitarian evaluation of liberalism remains telling. The relentlessly individualist thrust of late-capitalist social formations has elicited a community-oriented reaction that appears ever more politically inescapable. Liberalism remains overly focussed on the individual as chooser, with little attention to the content and limits of such choosing; that is, the positive conception of freedom continues to haunt us, even in the midst of neo-liberal hegemony. In this vein, Beiner rightly notes that the endless praise of pluralism and difference are all very well, but that liberal-democratic reality hardly matches such pious hopes.[93] Beiner maintains that beneath the rhetoric of robust individualism and choice one discovers an increasing sameness “of tastes, of cliched perceptions of the world, of the glum ennui with which one reconciles oneself to the monolithic routines of our world.”[94] Furthermore, communitarians are undoubtedly correct to attack the notion that political goods cannot be determined and assessed by abstract reasoning: they are right to emphasise deliberation within a specific context.[95] Finally, liberal-democratic regimes, conflating principles with outcomes, have hardly lived up to liberal promises and have shown themselves as far from neutral.  

Where does this leave us insofar as questions of value go, with respect to problems of justice, ethical deliberation, and human flourishing? It seems beyond doubt that communitarianism, like Leninism, threatens to eliminate politics. The equation of value exclusively with collective life (embodied either in the organic community or in the party-state) means an end not only to politics but also to the ethical deliberation that a democratic community might foster. No better answer is provided by much of the liberal tradition, which, by attaching value to the freedom of an abstracted choice, also negates the political and ethical dimensions of social life. At its worst, in economic liberalism, there is no politics and no ethics whatsoever; there are only the economic collisions of monads in the market, watched over by the “neutral” presence of the minimal state. 

I have argued that the orthodox socialist dream of a scientific-only approach to the valuable has withered. Moreover, both liberalism and communitarianism have run into difficulties. And despite its critique of socialist authoritarianism and of liberalism, post-modernism has found itself unable to finally surpass these paradigms. With these failures in mind, I shall now examine the possibilities for a reassertion of emancipatory values. Within the broad libertarian tradition, one can discern an ethics of emancipation,[96] which accents the establishment of political community embodying freedom and equality, and which can avoid justifying itself by reference to foundations in History and Nature.  

“A superior level of moral culture” – The Question of Morality and Emancipatory Thought

Socialist orthodoxy equated historical materialism with hard science and, on these terms, merged morality with necessity.[97] The apparent culmination of such moves in Bolshevism’s authoritarian pragmatism means that the broader emancipatory tradition as a whole has often been viewed as bereft of an ethical dimension. Within Marxism as a whole, morality has frequently been viewed as “ideological nonsense” and “obsolete verbal rubbish”, to be superseded with the new society. Meanwhile, a number of anarchists have sought to develop a specifically anarchist ethics. For instance, arguing that morality can be studied through scientific observation of the animal world,[98] Kropotkin contended that “the very ideas of bad and good, and man’s abstractions concerning ‘the supreme good’ have been borrowed from Nature. They are reflections in the mind of man of what he saw in animal life and in the course of his social life, and due to it these impressions were developed into general conceptions of right and wrong.”[99] The fundamental principles of ethics are therefore natural attributes. These attributes have been perverted into crime by exploitation and servitude, religion and authority. Though seldom willing to move as far down this path as Kropotkin, such naturalistic appeals to rights and justice are a common feature of the anarchist tradition.[100] 

The naturalism of many anarchist conceptions is perhaps understandable. It neatly reverses the naturalistic thrust that posited the hierarchical order of the ancien regime as given by laws outside and above human beings. While both anarchists and Marxists have committed themselves explicitly to the view that humans are radically a product of social and historical circumstances (rather than of Reason, Nature, or God), the appeal to naturalism has been irresistible as a rhetorical device and as a point at which argument about human good can be anchored. In this way, communists have often attempted to guarantee harmony beyond the social relations that human beings are able to establish.  

Anarchism’s tendency to forget the social and historical grounds of human good in the face of the appeal of naturalism, means a weakening of the political and ethical dimensions in their theory and practice. Similar consequences flow from the Marxian tendency to dismiss politics and morality as epiphenomenal, allowing them to slide beneath the inexorable laws of History and claims to scientific knowledge of the direction of progress. This failing is evident in the Marxian analysis of justice. Many Marxists have sought to dismiss the category of the “just” because socialism is to be conceived as a real movement and not as an ideal. Wood, for example, makes the historicist point that standards of justice can only be applied meaningfully to the modes of production in which they arise.[101] Thus, wage slavery may very well be an evil but it can hardly be said to be unjust.[102] Against this interpretation, a number of thinkers have emphasised that capitalism violates its own principles and that Marx is concerned with distributional issues and thus with justice.[103] In this vein, Kymlicka rejects the notion of justice as simply a remedial virtue and he accents the importance of the treatment of people as equals, as ends rather than means, and on the all-round development of individuals.[104] This emphasis seem, to me, persuasive. The question of social ordering is always a social and historical matter; the answers to such questions cannot be given in absolute terms. Against the scientistic strand in Marxism, such questions of value and justice are inescapable for human society and can certainly not be eliminated by a determinism based on human nature or assumptions about the direction of History.  

An exemplar of the dilemmas confronting the emancipatory thought in this sphere is the question of rights. While Leninism has tended to dismiss such rights as bourgeois, empty, and individualistic, social democrats have frequently drifted to positions less and less distinguishable from a context-insensitive, rationalist, liberal universalism. Clearly, something more is required. In a re-consideration of Marx’s On the Jewish Question, Bernstein  attempts to re-link the idea of rights to the revolutionary tradition.[105] Bernstein acknowledges that rights can function as a mode of domination, but he reminds us that rights can also be a source of progressive social change, and, most importantly, he argues that rights presuppose – whether this is acknowledged or not – community. The right to have rights, that is, flows from recognition of the person or group as part of and as participant in a social collectivity. Thus, Bernstein  maintains that one need not see rights as natural or abstract but precisely as bestowed by community, and, furthermore, that “Rights are the intersection of conflict and community that is democratic politics.”[106]

Certainly, the discourse of rights an be a resource for those opposed to the established order, and the positive and negative freedoms they enshrine an be of great consequence in people’s lives. In this vein, as Kymlicka, Lukes, and Lefort emphasise, rights do express respect for people as ends in themselves; in any society, versions of the good will vary and benefits and burdens will need to be distributed[107]; minorities will always need to be protected; and we also always need to consider future generations. However, it should be remembered that, in the end, rights guarantee nothing, and, more often than not, the notion of rights is tied to the view of the person as victim and to a passive conception of citizenship.[108] The overcoming of the division between state and society on which such rights are based is the aim of the inclusive democracy project. This is to emphasise the primacy of politics and the importance of political community. As Fotopoulos points out, only paedeia  – not rights discourse – can protect and extend effectively democracy and respect for persons: “Of course, institutional arrangements create only the preconditions for freedom. In the last instance, individual and collective autonomy depends on the internalisation of democratic values by each citizen”.[109]  

At times, those within both the Marxian and anarchist traditions have objected to the positing of ethical universals outside of history and society. They are also well founded in rejecting the frequent liberal conflation of abstract principles and historical application: as Soper points out, it is not only Marxism that has been unable to get a handle on the problem of “dirty hands”.[110] However, despite such moments, the impossiblity of value outside society and history has been forgotten by thinkers from both traditions in their attempts to provide guarantees for their political orientation. Thus, socialist values come to be posited no longer as matters of politics, but rather as neutral, extra-social facts to be discovered in History or in humanity’s natural being. Against such illusions, it must be recognised that emancipatory thought does imply a moral theory. Despite their “moral constipation” or “disguised moralism”, often a signal of their hope to scientifically separate fact and value, the inescapability of moral and political choice for those committed to radical social transformation must be acknowledged.[111] For instance, rebelling against the twin evils of capital and the state, Marx championed the values of freedom, community, and solidarity, and he criticised bourgeois egoism and utilitarianism.[112] The objection to capitalist social ordering is not, of course, the blandly scientistic assertion that capitalism is an inefficient or ineffective mode of production and that communism is a matter of historical necessity. Such a reading dispenses with the vital insight about the social and historical constitution of moral truth and replaces it with potentially coercive claims regarding the laws of history and the party/intellectual as scientific interpreter of these laws and as the bearers of progress. The morality that is rejected by those committed to emancipatory politics is, as in Bakunin[113] and Kropotkin,[114] the morality of the state and of the bourgeoisie, in contrast to a “true morality”, the “humanisation of society”, the “superior level of moral culture” that an inclusive democracy would bring.  

A number of thinkers, however, have been critical about both anarchist naturalism and Marxian appeals to History. Murray Bookchin, for instance, has sought to distance anarchism from what he sees as the “ethological and ecological nonsense” of the classical anarchists’ discussions of instinctual morality.[115] For Bookchin, such argumentation comes all too close to sociobiological positions, completely overlooking the “distinctly human ability to form, develop, subvert, and overthrow …[institutions] according to their interests and will”.[116] However, Bookchin’s dialectical naturalism repeats these errors, justifying its values by recourse to unfounded and unnecessary notions of social evolution.[117]

Castoriadis is more interesting here, rejecting all claims that rules and institutions could have an extra-social and supra-historical foundation.[118] For Castoriadis, naturalistic and scientistic arguments that answer in advance all questions of value are features of the “heteronomous” or alienated society.[119] Instead, Castoriadis argued that Being is “chaos” and “abyss”, and he emphasised the importance of the arbitrary, the conventional, and the instituted: “value …, equality and justice are not ‘concepts’ which can be founded and constructed … in and through theory.[120] They are political ideas/significations having to do with the institution of society as it might be and as we would will it to be; and this institution is anchored in no natural, logical or transcendental order”. Castoriadis believed that each society posited an axia or Proto-value from which ideas of justice arose.[121] This being the case, and with the assertion of judgement’s ultimate groundlessness, Castoriadis argued for a justice that was equivalent to the idea of an “autonomous” society. Such a society would be self-instituting in the sense of explicitly giving itself its own laws and institutions, aware that these were subject to transformation or replacement by the collectivity itself: “A just society is not a society that has adopted once and for all, just laws. A just society is a society in which the question of justice remains constantly open”.[122] It was, contended Castoriadis, only in such a space that one could properly speak of ethics; for instance, because all problems are solved in advance of their advent, he argued that there could be no such thing as a Christian ethics.[123] In contrast, in an autonomous society, “we make the laws, we know it, and thus we are responsible for our laws and have to ask ourselves every time, ‘Why this law rather than another one?’”.[124] Castoriadis  thus highlighted “the collective, reflective and lucid activity that arises starting from the moment the question of the de jure validity of institutions is raised. Are our laws just? Is our constitution just? Is it good? But good in relation to what? Just in relation to what?”[125] These are real questions that cannot be foreclosed by appeals to guarantees outside of history and society. In the struggle for transformed autonomous institutions, “We have to create the good, under imperfectly known and uncertain conditions. The project of autonomy is end and guide, it does not resolve for us effectively actual situations”.[126] 

The most important point to note here is the priority of politics: “politics stands over and above ethics”.[127] Politics was, for Castoriadis, “the most architectonic of the sciences that concern the human being”.[128] Castoriadis viewed the recent turn to ethics as a signal of the crisis of values in the West and as a individualist and privatised response, where the trivial was elevated over the decisive (that is, politics). To reiterate: “True politics is nothing other than the activity that, starting from an interrogation about the decisive form and content of these institutions, gives itself as its objective the realisation of those institutions that are deemed to be the best and, notably, the realisation of those institutions that favour and allow for human autonomy”.[129] Without such social and individual autonomy, formal safeguards are fatally limited. That is, a system of thought that focuses on ethics without considering the social structural/political determinations of open ethical evaluation and debate is of little worth. 

“A struggle to realise freedom” – Individuality and Community in Emancipatory Thought

Libertarians have denied that the bourgeois order is able to achieve the goals of the democratic revolution – liberty, equality, fraternity. Presented as the very zenith of historical progress, freedom, and equality, capitalism, radical thinkers – following Marx – have pointed out, has arisen and continues to be based on real unfreedoms and inequalities. Thus, Cole concluded that the wage system itself “makes active citizenship impossible for the majority”,[130] and Bookchin complains of the reduction within capitalism of the social to the economic.[131] Only a radically transformed social order can realise those democratic goals. The values that libertarians have promoted as the basis upon which a good society might be established can perhaps best be summarised as an ethics of emancipation.[132] Above all, this ethics of emancipation valorises the equal freedom entailed by a truly political order, one that embodies popular sovereignty. Within this broad ethics of emancipation, though, one frequently discovers two diametrically-opposed thrusts: one in the direction of individual self-realisation and individuation; the other oriented towards the freedoms of democratic community and the reliance of the individual on the social. I shall examine this tension below.  

Marxists following Marx have, of course, emphasised the “violence of things” underlying the capitalist order, they have rejected the freedoms of bourgeois society as illusory, as a property of competitive, possessive individualism, and they have viewed bourgeois community in state, in nation, or in money as the general interest, as inadequate.[133]  Against all this, they have posited the possibilities of communist freedom. But what is the content of such freedom? For Tucker, for instance, freedom in the Marxian lexicon means the liberation of human creativity.[134] On the other hand, Brenkert interprets freedom in Marx as self-development within rational and harmonious relations to others.[135] Here, freedom is social, collective, and positive – as against thin and individualist negative freedom. In this second reading, we see the influence of Marx’s notion of species-being, which would replace individual life with an association he called a commonwealth, commune, or gemeinwesen.[136] This would mean, it is clear, an ethical revolution, “the most radical rupture with traditional ideas”.[137]

Those left-Marxians within the broadly Bordigist tradition have accented this anti-individualism, asserted that the individual is but a marionette of social forces, and have looked forward to the reestablishment of community – sometimes even against democracy. As Jean Barrot has argued, “Democracy served to harmonise the divergent interests in the framework of the bourgeois state. Now, communism knows no state, it destroys it; and nor does it know opposing social groups. It thus automatically dispenses with every mechanism of mediation which would decide what it would be fitting to do. To want communism and democracy is a contradiction. Since it is the end of politics and the unification of humanity it installs no power above society in order to make it stable and harmonious”.[138] Relatedly, in communist primitivism, what matters for communism “is the reappropriation of gemeinwesen …, which can only be done after the unification of the species, and this unification can only be conceived by grasping the aspiration, desire, passion, and will for community expressed through the ages”.[139] And non-orthodox left communists and anarchists like Morris[140], Pankhurst[141], Kropotkin, Berkman, Reclus, Malatesta, and Pannekoek[142] accented the community aspect of the future socialist order’s values – the “large all-embracing fraternity”, the “great productive community”, the “community of aspirations”, etc.  

A predominant value accented by community-focussed libertarian thinkers has been the equality to be embodied by the future order. Libertarians have criticised the liberal-democratic order as unable to bring equality – political, social, economic – as capitalism entails an irreversibly unequal distribution of power. The equality promoted by libertarians has not been a “barracks communist” equality, which would see an absolute equality of all members of society. It is rather of the order of the slogan “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”. As Castoriadis points out, “True equality takes account of the ‘natural’ inequality of individuals, and so allows us to go beyond it in and by way of proportionality.”[143] Such equality, which Berkman designated “true equality”, implies the equal ability of members of the anarchist society to satisfy their tastes and needs: “True anarchist equality implies freedom, not quantity”,[144] or, as Dolgoff would have it, “the equal right to be different”.[145] For Castoriadis, this equality was an essential value for  post-capitalist social organisation.[146] Equal rights are important, but they mean nothing without an equality of conditions that allows for their effective exercise.[147] Castoriadis  thus emphasised not passive rights but rather equality in activity, participation, and responsibility.[148] Quarrelling with the axia proposed by Marx in his comments on the lower phase of communism, where people are best judged as workers, Castoriadis advocated immediate and absolute equality of incomes for people within the autonomous society.[149] This was deemed necessary both because of the manifold inadequacies of all arguments for inequality and because such equality would take us beyond economic considerations and motivations, destroying the economic Proto-value by which society is currently regulated.[150] (It should be noted that, in this respect, Castoriadis lagged behind the late nineteenth century positions of the anarcho-communists who argued the need for an immediate end to exchange value.[151]) Once again, Castoriadis rejected that emancipatory values could be defended by recourse to naturalism or laws of history. As human beings are not born free/unfree or equal/unequal, “the meaning of these terms could never be definitely defined, and … the contribution which theory can make to this task is always radically limited and essentially negative”.[152] 

What, overall, are we to make of the Left emphasis on community? How, for example, does the goal of liberty square with the solidaristic and equalitarian urges? Does this tendency mean that the distinctive sense of individuality with which contemporary humans are endowed will disappear, so that people will effectively live like ants, directed towards common goals, unreflective, bereft of the complexities of modern subjectivity? Brenkert is certainly correct that to emphasise the community and reject competitive individualism is not necessarily to reduce human beings to dumb automatons or unaware animals.[153] However, there is without a doubt an element of this latter accent in some emancipatory thought – for instance, in the Bordigist and primitivist arguments for a tight, unified community, for the end of opposing social groups, for the unification of humanity, and in their scepticism about democracy. Such sentiments threaten individual freedom and the achievement of a more adequate political and ethical dimension for emancipatory thought. Of particular concern here is the naturalism often implied in this sort of position. It erases the insight into the sociality of collective life and history, and expects a spontaneous accord that is simply not realistic. Further, it is incoherent. If humans were indeed naturally anarchistic, then how can the existence of state, private property, and bourgeois morality be explained?[154] And, most importantly, viewing discord as unnatural is unnecessary. Kate Soper has most appositely argued that eliminating all tensions and conflicts from human relations would drain the meaning and interest from life.[155] For Soper, “It is not, perhaps, the elimination of all tension that we ultimately desire, but the provision of means to experience it constructively.”[156] 

The reverse of this emphasis on community and equality has been a moment within the broad emancipatory tradition that emphasises freedom as a property of the individual, viewing communism as individuation and self-realisation. While it must be stressed that this approach appeals to individuation in opposition to capitalism’s competitive atomism, it must also be recognised that this moment may still bend the stick too far in one direction. If the community-focussed emphasis threatens to negate politics and ethical concerns in favour of the coercive harmony of the organic community, so the reverse emphasis, at its most extreme, risks an evacuation of politics for the a-social pursuit by egoistic individuals of their own well-being.  

Notably, anarchists have often been charged with this failing by Marxian thinkers.[157] Anarchism does include those suspicious of the demands of association, those who fear the tyranny of the majority and who emphasise instead the uniqueness and liberty of the individual. Here, the freedom of the creative individual, unhindered by the limitations of sociality, is essential. This second strand shows clearly the influence of liberal ideas. It is also, in its bohemian and nihilistic incarnation, a child to the malevolent trio of De Sade, Stirner, Nietzsche, that is, those who reject coercive community mores and who recoil from herdish, conformist pressures. The free individual must create his or her own guiding set of values, exploring the hitherto untapped and perhaps darker aspects of him or herself through an art which chaffs against the standards of beauty and taste of the ordinary mortal. Given that freedom cannot endure limitations and that all idols have been driven from the world and the mind, for these revolutionaries, “all is permitted”.[158] This emphasis on individual sovereignty is clear in Godwin and Stirner,[159] but also in Goldman’s suspicion of collective life, in her elevation of the role of heroic individuals in history, and in the work of situationist Raoul Vaneigem.[160]

This accent within non-orthodox socialism has been much criticised. For instance, Murray Bookchin has contrasted “social” with “lifestyle” anarchism, rejecting the elevation the self-rule of the individual in the latter to the highest goal of anarchist thinking.[161] One might consider, here, the consequences, in the case of Emma Goldman, of the substitution of collective revolutionary change for boheme and for an intellectualist contempt for the masses. Goldman turned more and more to purely self-expressive activity and increasingly appealed to intellectuals and middle class audiences, who felt amused and flattered by her individualism and exotic iconoclasm.[162] This egoistic and personalistic turn ignores the essential social anarchist aspiration to freedom, the commitment to an end to domination in society, the comprehension of the social premises of the individualist urge itself, and the necessity of moving beyond a purely negative conception of liberty to a thicker, positive conception of freedom.[163] Perhaps, as Bookchin has rather trenchantly asserted, the recent individualist and neo-situationist concern with subjectivity, expression, and desire is all too much like middle class narcissism and the self-centred therapeutics of New Age culture. Perhaps also, as Barrot has said, the kind of revolutionary life advocated by Vaneigem cannot be lived.[164] Further, total freedom for any one individual necessarily means diminished freedom for others. As La Banquise argue, “Repression and sublimation prevent people from sliding into a refusal of otherness”.[165] For socialists, freedom must be an ineradicably social as well as an individual matter. The whole thrust of libertarian politics is towards a collective project that reconstructs those freedom-limiting structures of economy, power, and ideology.[166] It seems unlikely that such ambitions could be achieved by those motivated solely by a Sadean ambition to seek satisfaction of their own improperly understood desires.  

On this question, Castoriadis is again useful – accenting autonomy as a property of the collective and of each individual within society, and rejecting the opposition between community and humanity, between the “inner man [sic] and the public man [sic]”.[167] Castoriadis ridiculed abstract individualism: “We are not ‘individuals’, freely floating above society and history, who are capable of deciding sovereignly and in the absolute about what we shall do, about how we shall do it, and about the meaning our doing will have once it is done … Above all, qua individuals, we choose neither the questions to which we will have to respond nor the terms in which they will be posed, nor, especially, the ultimate meaning of our response, once given”.[168] Rejecting the contemporary tendency to posit others as limitations on our freedom, Castoriadis argued that others were in fact premises of liberty, “possibilities of action”, and “sources of facilitation”.[169] Freedom is the most vital object of politics, and this freedom – always a process and never an achieved state – is equated with the “effective, humanly feasible, lucid and reflective positing of the rules of individual and collective activity”.[170] An autonomous society – one without alienation – explicitly  and democratically creates and recreates the institutions of its own world, formulating and reformulating its own rules, rather than simply accepting them as given from above and outside. The resulting institutions, Castoriadis hoped, would facilitate high levels of responsibility and activity among all people in respect of all questions about society.[171]

Castoriadis’ notion of social transformation holds to the goals of integrated human communities, the unification of people’s lives and culture, and the collective domination of people over their own lives.[172] He was also committed to the free deployment of the person’s creative forces. Just as Castoriadis enthused over the capacity of human collectivities for immense works of creativity and responsibility,[173] so he insisted on the radical creativity of the individual and the importance of individual freedom. Congruent with the notion of social autonomy, Castoriadis posited the autonomous individual as, most essentially, one who legislates for and thus regulates him or herself.[174] Turning to psychoanalysis, he designated this autonomy as the emergence of a more balanced and productive relationship between the ego and the unconscious. For Castoriadis, these goals were not guaranteed by anything outside of the collective activity of people towards such goals, and he insisted that individual autonomy could only arise “under heavily instituted conditions … through the instauration of a regime that is genuinely … democratic”.[175] Such an outcome could not be solved in theory but only by a re-awakening of politics. Only in the clash of opinions – dependent on a restructured social formation – not determined in advance by naturalistic or religious postulates, could a true ethics emerge.[176] This, I believe, is the highpoint of libertarian thinking about ethics and politics.  


I have argued that socialist orthodoxy has been eclipsed as a programme for the good life. On the one hand, it devolves into a project of pragmatic expediency bereft of a political and ethical dimension, where statist administration submerges both individual freedom and democratic decision-making. On the other hand, as social democracy the orthodox tradition coalesces into a variety of more or less straightforward liberalism. Liberalism tends to overstate the conception of humans as choosers, under-theorising and under-valuing the necessity of political community and the social dimension of individuality and the necessity of a positive conception of freedom. The communitarian critique, however, too readily diminishes the freedoms of the individual, subordinating people entirely to the horizons of community life and reducing politics to something like a “general will”.  

Possessed of both liberal and communitarian features, post-modernism has been skeptical about the idea of a unitary human essence. It has jettisoned the notion of humans as unencumbered choosers, and it has underscored the constructedness of all our values. In so doing, post-modernism signals a renewed interest in ethics, in questions of responsibility, evaluation, and difference, within contemporary social thinking. Post-modernism offers a valuable critique of the tendency of socialist orthodoxy to bury the socialist insight as to the sociality and historicity of values. Nevertheless, advancing as it does on orthodox socialism, post-modernism’s radical constructivism and its horror at the disasters of confident and unreflective modernity can issue in an ironic hesitancy, indicated in particular by an uncritical emphasis on pluralism and incommensurability that threatens to forever suspend evaluation.[177] One signal of this is the cautious and depoliticised obsession with Otherness and the subject as victim of the return to ethics.[178] Further, post-modernism all too often withdraws from universals and emancipation towards particularist – either individualist or community-based – answers to questions of justice and the content of the valuable life. In contrast, those seeking a radical, inclusive democracy must remain engaged and universalist in orientation.  

A number of libertarians have not hesitated in committing themselves, most importantly, to the emancipation of humanity without exception.[179] In fact, politics and ethics seem unthinkable without such universalistic aspirations. Post-modernists themselves have often had to submit to this truth, smuggling into their analyses universally-binding ethico-political principles and attempting to theorise the potential linkages between progressive political struggles. However, such linkages do not amount to a coherent anti-systemic movement that addresses the power of state and capital. In contrast, the universalist commitments of the ethics of emancipation held to by many libertarians accents both freedom and equality, and the establishment of a true political community, against the dominations and distortions of state and capital. Against the contemporary obsession with ethics, which is so often sloganistic, depoliticised, defensive, privatised, and trivial, we should, with Castoriadis, accent politics as primary and as the condition of proper ethical engagement. I have argued that, in line with Castoriadis’ strictures, such a political community and the aspiration to truly ethical and political deliberation, can only be attained when socialists free themselves from belief in the possibility of extra social guarantees “other than the free play of passions and needs”,[180] and from the expectation of an end to tensions and dilemmas around questions of social ordering. On these terms, libertarian goals are not – contra liberal strictures – the negation of aspirations for freedom and democracy but are rather a collective pressing of these aspirations to the very far limits of popular sovereignty. It is for this reason that the stubborn durability of these goals may, against all expectations, be an auspicious sign for libertarian utopianism.



[1] Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy (London: New Left Books, 1970), p. 126.

[2] Cornelius Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrinth (Sussex: Harvester, 1984), p. 329.

[3] Nicholas Rengger, Political Theory, Modernity and Postmodernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), p. 180.

[4] Zygmunt Bauman, Postmodern Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), p. 2; James Good and Irving Velody, “Introduction” in James Good and Irving Velody (eds), The Politics of Postmodernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 6.

[5] Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self: Gender, Community and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics (Cambridge: Polity, 1992), pp. 3-2.

[6] Honi Haber, Beyond Postmodern Politics: Lyotard, Rorty, Foucault (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 17.

[7] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1989), p. 116.

[8] In John McGowan,  Postmodernism and its Critics (London: Cornell University, 1991), p. 110.

[9] Haber, Beyond Postmodern Politics, p. 3; McGowan, Postmodernism and its Critics, p. 144.

[10] James Bernauer and Mahon, M, “The Ethics of Michel Foucault” in Gary Gutting (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 141-7,152-5; Haber, Beyond Postmodern Politics, p. 114.

[11] Rengger, Political Theory, Modernity and Postmodernity, p. 181.

[12] Bauman, Postmodern Ethics, p. 245.

[13] J Collins and B Mayblin, Derrida for Beginners (Cambridge: Icon, 1996), p. 149; Benhabib, Situating the Self , p. 3; Chantal Mouffe, “Democratic Community and Political Community” in Chantal Mouffe (ed.), Dimensions of Radical Democracy: Pluralism, Citizenship, Community (Verso: London, 1992), p. 1.

[14] Haber, Beyond Postmodern, p. 48; Barry Smart, “The Politics of Difference and the Problem of Justice” in Chris Rojek and Brian Turner (eds), The Politics of Jean-Francois Lyotard: Justice and Political Theory (London: Routledge, 1998), p. 52.

[15] Bauman, Postmodern Ethics, p. 245.

[16] Smart, “The Politics of Difference and the Problem of Justice”, pp. 57-8.

[17] David Rasmussen, “Introduction” in David Rassmussen (ed.), Universalism vs Communitarianism: Contemporary Debates in Ethics (Cambridge: MIT, 1990), p. 1.

[18] Tim May, The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University, 1994), p. 130.

[19] Smart, “The Politics of Difference and the Problem of Justice”, p. 59; Honi Haber, Beyond Postmodern Politics, p. 29.

[20] Collins and Mayblin, Derrida for Beginners, p. 151.

[21] McGowan, Postmodernism and its Critics, p. 28.

[22] Thomas Keenan, Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics (California: Stanford University Press, 1997), pp. 1-2.

[23] Bauman, Postmodern Ethics, p. 3.

[24] Zygmunt Bauman, Life in Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Morality (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 6, 8, 17.

[25] Joseph Femia, Marxism and Democracy (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), p. 38.

 Zygmunt Bauman, Socialism: The Active Utopia (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1976), p. 54.

[26] Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self, p. 16.

[27] McGowan, Postmodernism and its Critics, p. 120; Benhabib, Situating the Self, p. 16; Madan Sarup, Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996), p. 62.

[28] Alain Badiou, Ethics (London: Verso, 2000), p. 30.

[29] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992).

[30] George Brenkert, Marx’s Ethics of Freedom (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983).

[31] Thomas Docherty, After Theory: Postmodernism/Postmarxism (London: Routledge, 1990), p. 243.

[32] Lenin (1894), “The Economic Content of Narodism” in Collected Works 1, p. 421 (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House), quoted in Steven Lukes, Marxism and Morality (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985), p. 21.

[33] In typical Second International style, Kautsky, for instance, argued that “It [science] can certainly arrive at prescribing an ought but this can arise only as a result of insight into what is necessary” [in Steven Lukes, Marxism and Morality (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985), p. 18].

[34] Andrew Levine, The General Will: Rousseau, Marx, Communism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). P. 147; Karl Marx, Grundrisse (London: Penguin, 1993), p. 236; Allen Buchanan, Marx and Justice: The Radical Critique of Liberalism  (Totowa: Rowman and Allenheld, 1982).

[35] Lenin in Meyer, Leninism (New York: Praeger, 1962), p. 87; Vladimir Lenin, Marx, Engels, Marxism. (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1947), p. 465.

[36] Baruch Knei Paz, The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky (Oxford: Clarendon, 1978), pp. 559-60.

[37] In Lukes, Marxism and Morality, p. 119. Trotsky thus differentiated his own ethical stance from Stalinism, as Stalinism was not about establishing real socialism [Knei Paz, The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky, p. 564].

[38] Femia, Marxism and Democracy, pp. 174-6.

[39] For instance, rejecting that economics alone would generate socialism, Bernstein insisted on an independent ethical case for the new society. Jaures similarly emphasised the role of values above all else, and British socialism was deeply marked by moralism. [Anthony Wright, Socialisms: Theories and Practices (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 26,49.]

[40] Karl Kautsky, Selected Political Writings (London: Macmillan, 1983), pp. 43, 109-112.

“Where the proletariat is without rights it is unlikely to succeed in developing mass organisations or … waging mass struggles”.

[41] John Gray, Liberalism (2nd ed.) (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1995), pp. 78,86.

[42] Richard Bellamy, Liberalism and Modern Society: An Historical Argument (Cambridge: Polity, 1992), p. 1.

[43] Peter Beilharz, Postmodern Socialism: Romanticism, City and State. (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1994), p. 39.

[44] Robert Eccleshall, “Liberalism” in Robert Eccleshall et al. (eds), Political Ideologies: An Introduction (London: Hutchinson, 1984), p. 38.

[45] Keynes in Eccleshall, “Liberalism”, p. 39.  

[46] Brenda Almond, Exploring Ethics: A Traveller’s Tale (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), p. 182.

[47] Amitai Etzioni, “Introduction” in Amitai Etzioni, (ed.), New Communitarian Thinking: Persons, Virtues, Institutions, and Communities (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), p. 2.

[48] Peter Murphy, “Socialism and Democracy” in Peter Beilharz et al, Between Totalitarianism and Postmodernity: A Thesis Eleven Reader (Cambridge: MIT, 1993), p. 15; Eccleshall, “Liberalism”, p. 63.

[49] Cited in Lesley Jacobs, An Introduction to Modern Political Philosophy: The Democratic Vision of Politics (New Jersey: Prentice Hill, 1997), p. 70; Almond, Exploring Ethics, p. 69.

[50] Tom Beauchamp, Philosophical Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (2nd ed.) (New York: McGraw Hill, 1991), p. 392; Ronald Beiner, What's the Matter with Liberalism? (Berkeley: University of California, 1992), p. 16; Jacobs, An Introduction to Modern Political Philosophy, p. 83.

[51] Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction (London: Clarendon, 1990), p. 204.

[52] Ross Poole, Morality and Modernity (New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 85.

[53] Murphy, “Socialism and Democracy”, p. 14.

[54] Brenkert, Marx’s Ethics of Freedom, p. 87.

[55] Barry Hindess, Politics and Class Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

[56] Almond, Exploring Ethics, p. 169.

[57] Jacobs, An Introduction to Modern Political Philosophy, p. 51.

[58] Jacobs, An Introduction to Modern Political Philosophy, p. 51.

[59] Jacobs, An Introduction to Modern Political Philosophy, p. 52; Beauchamp, Philosophical Ethics, p. 305.

[60] Beauchamp, Philosophical Ethics, p. 331; Jacobs, An Introduction to Modern Political Philosophy, p. 58.

[61] Thus, for Nozick, libertarian justice can be summed up thus: “From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen” [in Beauchamp, Philosophical Ethics, p. 350].

[62] Jacques Roux in Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (London: Harper Collins, 1992), p. 433.

[63] Hindess, Politics and Class Analysis, p. 123; Andrzej Walicki, Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom: The Rise and Fall of the Communist Utopia (California: University of Stanford, 1995), pp. 397, 504.

[64] Walicki, Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom, pp. 397,504; Hindess, Politics and Class Analysis, pp. 123,127; Gray, Liberalism, pp. 61,68.

[65] Novick in Johnathan Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 162.

[66] Raymond Plant, Equality, Markets and the State (London: Fabian Society, 1984), p. 3.

[67] For example, Gray [Liberalism, p. 9] admits that there still exists no adequate theory of initial acquisition.

[68] Gray, Liberalism, p. 66.

[69] Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, pp. 86,92-6; Albert Camus, The Rebel (New York: Knopf, 1971); Robert Nisbet, The Quest for Community (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953), pp. 140,181

[70] Walicki, Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom, pp. 16,42,539.

[71] Femia, Marxism and Democracy, pp. 10,44,117.

[72] George Woodcock in S Osofsky, Peter Kropotkin (Boston: Twayne, 1979), p. 69.

[73] Etzioni, “Introduction”, p. 27; Phillips, Looking Backwards, p. 5.

[74] Michael Walzer, “The Communitarian Critique of Liberalism” in Amatai Etzioni, (ed.), New Communitarian Thinking: Persons, Virtues, Institutions, and Communities (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), p. 56; Wolfe, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, p. 126; Henry Tam, Communitarianism: A New Agenda for Politics and Citizenship (New York: New York University press, 1998), p. 6.

[75] Phillips, Looking Backwards, p. 3.

[76] In Phillips, Looking Backwards, p. 4.

[77] Alessandro Ferrara, “Universalism: Procedural, Contextualist and Prudential” in David Rasmussen (ed.), Universalism vs. Communitarianism: Contemporary Debates in Ethics  (Cambridge: MIT, 1990), p. 11; Zygmunt Bauman, Postmodernity and its Discontents (Cambridge: Polity, 1997), p. 188.

[78] Raymond Plant, “Antinomies of Modernist Political Thought: Reasoning, Context and Community” in John Good and Irving Velody (eds), The Politics of Postmodernity  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 82.

[79] G Doppelt,  “Beyond Liberalism and Communitarianism: Towards a Critical Theory of Social Justice” in David Rasmussen, (ed.), Universalism vs. Communitarianism: Contemporary Debates in Ethics (Cambridge: MIT, 1990), pp. 40-1; Beiner, What's the Matter with Liberalism? pp. 17,27; Etzioni, “Introduction”, p. 16.

[80] Mouffe, “Democratic Community and Political Community”, p. 230; K Baynes, “The Liberalism/Communitarianism Controversy and Communicative Ethics” in David Rasmussen, (ed.), Universalism vs. Communitarianism: Contemporary Debates in Ethics (Cambridge: MIT, 1990), p. 63.

[81] Mouffe, “Rawls”, p. 222.

[82] Beiner, What's the Matter with Liberalism? P. 25.

[83] Beiner, What's the Matter with Liberalism? P. 36.

[84] Taylor in Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy, pp. 206,210.

[85] Walzer in Ferrara, “Universalism”, pp. 20,32.

[86] Ferrara, “Universalism”, p. 25; Poole, Morality and Modernity, p. 147.

[87] Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy, p. 207.

[88] Fotopoulos, Towards an Inclusive Democracy, p. 228.

[89] Phillips, Looking Backward, p. 176.

[90] Phillips, Looking Backward, p. 183.

[91] Ferrara, “Universalism”, p. 28. As Ferrara asks, could a Nazi society sensibly be considered just?

[92] Jacobs, An Introduction to Modern Political Philosophy, p. 69; Plant, “Antinomies of Modernist Political Thought”, p. 99; Etzioni, “Introduction”, p. 22; Mouffe, “Rawls”, p. 232.

[93] Beiner, What's the Matter with Liberalism? P. 23.

[94] Beiner, What's the Matter with Liberalism? P. 23.

[95] Plant, “Antinomies of Modernist Political Thought”, pp. 82,89. However, I do not believe that one need accept communitarianism’s pluralist particularism.

[96] Brenkert, Marx’s Ethics of Freedom.

[97] Wright, Socialisms. P. 5.

[98] Peter Kropotkin, n.d, Anarchist Morality,


Peter Kropotkin, 1924, Ethics: Origins and Development. Peter Kropotkin,. The Essential Kropotkin (New York: Liveright, 1975), p. 34.

[99] Kropotkin, Ethics.

[100] See Noam Chomsky, 1996. “Noam Chomsky on Anarchism”; and Alexander Berkman, What is Communist Anarchism? (New York: Dover, 1972), p. 191.

[101] Alan Wood, “Marx and Equality” in John Mepham and David Ruben (eds), Issues in Marxist Philosophy (Sussex: Harvester, 1981).

[102] Buchanan, Marx and Justice, p. 53.

[103] Buchanan, Marx and Justice, p. 71; Kymlicka, Contemporary political Philosophy, p. 63.

[104] Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community and Culture, pp. 100-7,113.

[105] Bernstein, J, “Right, Revolution and Community: Marx's ‘On the Jewish Question’” in Peter Osborne (ed.), Socialism and the Limits of Liberalism  (London: Verso, 1991), p. 92.

[106] Bernstein, Right, Revolution and Community, pp. 108,117.

[107] Lukes, Marxism and Morality, pp. 33,65.

[108] Takis Fotopoulos, Towards an Inclusive Democracy: The Crisis of the Growth Economy and the Need for a New Liberatory Project (London: Cassell, 1997).

[109] Fotopoulos, Towards an Inclusive Democracy, p. 233.

[110] Kate Soper, Troubled Pleasures: Writings on Politics, Gender and Hedonism (London: Verso, 1990), pp. 134,140.

[111] Robert Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels, Vol. 2 Classical Marxism, 1850-1895  (London: Macmillan, 1984), p. 179; Lukes, Marxism and Morality, p. 25; Leszek Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1990), p. 210.

[112] Brenkert, Marx’s Ethics of Freedom, pp. 5,9.

[113] Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, pp. 145,157.

[114] Kropotkin, Anarchist Morality.

[115] Murray Bookchin, 1992, “Deep Ecology, Anarchosyndicalism, and the Future of Anarchist Thought”

[116] Bookchin, “Deep Ecology, Anarchosyndicalism, and the Future of Anarchist Thought”.

[117] Fotopoulos, Towards an Inclusive Democracy.

[118] Cornelius Castoriadis, Political and Social Writings Vol. II 1955-60 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988b), p. 286.

[119] Cornelius Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrinth (Sussex: Harvester, 1984a), p. 282.

[120] Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrinth, pp. 282,328-9.

[121] Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrinth, p. 298.

[122] Cornelius Castoriadis, Political and Social Writings Vol. III 1961-70 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p. 329.

[123] Cornelius Castoriadis, “Anthropology, Philosophy, Politics” in Thesis Eleven, Vol. 49 (1997c), pp. 99-116.

[124] Cornelius Castoriadis, World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination (California: Stanford University, 1997b), p. 18.

[125] Castoriadis, “Anthropology, Philosophy, Politics”, p. 112.

[126] Cornelius Castoriadis, The Castoriadis Reader (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1997), p. 400.

[127] Castoriadis, World in Fragments, p. 111.

[128] Castoriadis, World in Fragments, p. 111.

[129] Castoriadis, World in Fragments, p. 111.

[130] G. D. H. Cole in David Caute, The Left in Europe Since 1789 (London: Weldenfeld and Nicolson, 1966), p. 80.

[131] Murray Bookchin, 1994. “What is Communalism? The Democratic Dimension of Anarchism”


[132] Brenkert, Marx’s Ethics of Freedom.

[133] Bertell Ollman, Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (2nd ed.). (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 210, 195; Marx, Grundrisse, pp. 223-4,157; Brenkert, Ethics of Freedom, p. 113.

[134] Robert Tucker, The Marxian Revolutionary Idea (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1969), p. 13.

[135] Brenkert, Ethics of Freedom, pp. 87-8.

[136] Marx, 1994:41,50; Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels, p. 212.

[137] Marx in Brenkert, Ethics of Freedom, p. 20.

[138] Barrot in ICG (Internationalist Communist Group) .n.d. “Communism Against Democracy”,

[139] Jacques Camatte, This World We Must Leave and Other Essays (New York: Autonomedia, 1995), p. 73.

[140] William Morris, Political Writings: Contributions to Justice and Commonweal 1883-1890 (Bristol: Theomanes Press, 1994), pp. 30-1.

[141] Sylvia Pankhurst, In Barbara Winslow (ed.), Sylvia Pankhurst: Sexual Politics and Political Activism (London: UCL Press, 1993), pp. 125,132.

[142] Anton Pannekoek,1912. Marxism and Darwinism. Archive/1912-Darwin

[143] Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrinth, p. 314.

[144] Berkman, What is Communist Anarchism?, p. 205.

[146] Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrinth, p. 329; Cornelius Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 132.

[147] Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, p. 139.

[148] Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, p. 142.

[149] Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrinth, p. 329.

[150] Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrinth, p. 329.

[151] In fact, Castoriadis’ commitment to absolute equality of incomes was necessitated by his refusal to link emancipation with a break from exchange value.

[152] Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrinth, p. 329.

[153] Brenkert, Marx’s Ethics of Freedom.

[154] David Pepper, Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice (London: Rouledge, 1993), p. 172.

[155] Soper, Troubled Pleasures, p. 132.

[156] Soper, Troubled Pleasures, p. 132.

[157] For instance, see Georgi Plekhanov, Anarchism and Socialism (Chicago: Charles H Kerr, 1912), pp. 39,125.

[158] Camus, The Rebel, p. 32.

[159] For Stirner [Max Stirner, The Ego and its Own (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 190], “Liberty of the people is not my liberty”: “of what concern to me is the common weal? The common weal as such is not my weal, but only the extremity of self-renunciation.” One should sacrifice nothing to those “spooks” of society or humanity but instead, maintained Stirner [George Woodcock, Anarchism (Middlesex: Pelican, 1962), p. 88], praising anti-social urges, “Take hold, and take what you require! With this the war of all against all is declared.”

[160] According to Vaneigem, “There is no other guide to the emancipation of all than the individual will to live.” [Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life (London: Aldgate Press, 1983), p. 235.]

[161] Bookchin, What is Communalism?”; Murray Bookchin, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm (Edinburgh: A K Press, 1995).

[162] Alice Wexler, Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life (London: Virago, 1984).

[163] Bookchin, “What is Communalism?”.

[164] Jean Barrot, What is Situationism? (California: Flatland, 1991), p. 24.

[165] La Banquise, For a World Without Morality, p. 13.

[166] Castoriadis, The Castoriadis Reader, pp. 83-4.

[167] Castoriadis, World in Fragments, p. 111.

[168] Castoriadis, World in Fragments, p. 111.

[169] Castoriadis, The Castoriadis Reader, p. 13.

[170] Castoriadis, The Castoriadis Reader, p. 337.

[171] Dick Howard and Diane Pacom,  “Autonomy – The Legacy of the Enlightenment: A Dialogue with Castoriadis” Thesis Eleven, 52 (1998), p. 92.

[172] Castoriadis, Political and Social Writings, Vol III, p. 48.

[173] Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, p. 124; The Castoriadis Reader, pp. 400-2.

[174] Castoriadis, The Castoriadis Reader, pp. 177-80.

[175] Castoriadis, World in Fragments, p. 122.

[176] Castoriadis, The Castoriadis Reader, p. 400.

[177] Christopher Norris, What’s Wrong With Postmodernism? (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990), p. 90.

[178] Badiou, Ethics.

[179] Slavoj Zizek, “Multiculturalism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism” in New Left Review, 225 (1997), pp. 28-51.

[180] La Banquise, For a World Without Morality, p. 13.