Irrationalism and Marxism

Étienne Balibar

Note R. Dumain's blog entry written on 15 October 2006:

Though it now reflects to some extent an earlier time, and to a larger extent particularly French conditions, and most irritatingly, the connection to Althusser and Communist politics, this article is quite rich and profound, and its ideological analysis remains pertinent, especially now to (Anglo-)American ideological conditions. (Consider the limitations of the likes of Sam Harris, Dawkins, E. O. Wilson, Dennett, etc.) Much of Balibar's critique of rationalism is geared to the specifically French intellectual heritage (from Descartes on down), but it applies, with a few tweaks more generally, and quite pointedly, to the highly restricted intellectual discourse of the United States.

There is one passage, though, which is rather startling (though redolent of Marcuse—whom Balibar dismisses [along with the Frankfurt School] as an irrationalist—and reminiscent of András Gedö), to the effect that positivism is the main philosophical enemy, because it also the basis of its irrationalist nemesis. Positivism has been largely displaced by irrationalism in the United States (the article was written in the 1970s, with an eye to French conditions), but when one looks at the ideologues of the scientific community, one can see that its feeble defense of scientific rationality while yielding concessions to religion as long as it doesn't interfere with the scientific establishment (e.g. the American Association for the Advancement of Science), is predicated on narrow positivist (or its inverse, Popperian) grounds.

"It's the '70s, stupid!" [the root of all mysteries]

— R. Dumain


SOURCE: Balibar, Étienne. "Irrationalism and Marxism," translated by Patrick Camiller, New Left Review, I/107, January-February 1978, pp. 3-18. (Click on link for full text PDF file.)


The Vacillation of Ideology (Excerpt) by Étienne Balibar

Badiou and the Bankruptcy of Fashionable French Philosophy by R. Dumain

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

Philosophy and the Division of Labor: Selected Bibliography

Ideology Study Guide


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