10 the Subject of Freedom at the End of History: Socialism beyond Humanism

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. The postmodernist turn in theory left the status of humanism in some doubt. This chapter argues that a recuperation of a specifically socialist humanism is both possible and desirable, but only by overcoming the anthropocentrism of radical humanism. Renaissance and Enlightenment conceptions of the subject were rooted in an untenable dichotomy between the human and the animal, in ways that vitiated the idea and ideal of universal freedom. By conflating subjectivity as such with human subjectivity, humanism created a diremption in the world that placed the knower (human consciousness) on one side, and the merely known (objectified Nature) on the other. Marxism and socialist humanism reproduced this error in ways that have undermined the socialist vision of universal emancipation, misconstrued the nature of the subject, and overlooked the significance of human domination of other animals. The author advocates a new approach, what he calls metahumanism, to affirm a "two-sided" freedom in which the liberation of other animals from human oppression, and the emancipation of ourselves as animals--that is, the restoration of the sensual dimension of existence, free sexual expression, and valorization of the labor and love of the body--would become central features of a new movement for civil and cultural reform.

I

Introduction

My OBJECTIVE IN THIS SHORT ESSAY is to clarify the nature of the subject and its relationship to historical possibilities of freedom. My purpose in doing so is to help prepare the ground for a comprehensive new theory and practice of liberatory politics, what I have elsewhere called metahumanism. (1) Metahumanism is my term both for an emergent social movement--the world historical movement to establish a new form of civilization based on social equality, justice, and reconciliation with nature--and for the theory that seeks to ground that movement. In essence, metahumanism is simply the ethical ontology, and political practice, of universal freedom.

My project, in a sense, takes up where humanist critical theory left off 40 years ago, when Anchor Books published Socialist Humanism: An International Symposium (1965). Conceived and edited by Erich Fromm, the symposium included essays from practically every significant critical or socialist theorist in Europe and the United States, including Raya Dunayevskya, Herbert Marcuse, Lucien Goldmann, Bertrand Russell, Ernst Bloch, Galvano della Volpe, Bronislaw Baczko, Norman Thomas, and Mathilde Niel, among others. What bound this otherwise diverse set of contributors together was consensus on a single point: that socialism entailed humanism, and that humanism entailed socialism. The tenor of the collection was optimistic and forward-looking. As Fromm wrote in the book's introduction, the symposium was intended to demonstrate "that socialist Humanism is no longer the concern of a few dispersed intellectuals, but a movement to be found throughout the world, developing independently in different countries." (2)

As it turned out, however, the socialist humanist movement was already at its apogee, and it swiftly declined in the years that followed. The explosive growth of the New Left movement in the late 1960s, with its sudden spontaneous energy and critique of alienation, both concretized socialist humanist ideals and at the same time privileged practice over theory in a way that tended to militate against the kind of grand theoretical synthesis Fromm and others had hoped for. (3) With the collapse of the New Left in the 1970s, and the further weakening of working-class movements throughout the world over the next two decades, the Left as such went into retreat and socialism all but disappeared from political discourse. The Marxist theory of revolution was seen to be a dead letter issue, and Marx's conception of the historical subject was criticized for leaving out, among others, women, people of color, and gays and lesbians. …