Sociology as a Skin Trade: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology

By John O'Neill | Go to book overview

8: Between Montaigne and Machiavelli

Merleau-Ponty's political experience is inseparable from the philosophical reflections in which he sought to express the irreducible ambiguity of thought becoming action and the blindness of action unclarified by critical thought. His meditations are identical with political action because they responded to the political situation of his time. Our politics has failed to acquire a voice of its own in which the call to freedom and intersubjectivity eschews the sterile alternatives of anticommunism and anticapitalism. History it seems has played upon politics the same trick that politics hoped to play upon history. The Right and the Left have failed either to stabilize or to put an end to history. Rather, each has acquired a history which includes the other. Capitalism has its future in socialism, but not by any inevitable path. Socialism, however, has its past in capitalism and is more likely to resemble capitalism than to differ from it, if all that lies between them is a vocabulary of freedom lacking an infrastructure of intersubjectivity. Thus neither the Left nor the Right possesses the truth though neither is false, except as each attempts to stand outside of the other, thereby separating itself from its own history and its anchorage in a common political tradition.

Merleau-Ponty would certainly have merited all the anger, if not the awe, of his political friends and opponents had he simply found a position of political scepticism from which to expose the contradictions of the Right and the Left.1 He knew well enough that in

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1
Georg Lukács touches the issue most closely in his criticisms of the inadequacy of Merleau-Ponty's existentialist concept of opinion and its dialectical relation to objective social and historical processes. Lukács conclusion is that Merleau-Ponty's

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