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Fr. 392

September 15, 2013

Is it possible to apply Fredric Jameson’s revived “science-ideology” structure to the representation of democracy, society and beliefs in Rawls and Stout? Moreover, would there be any sense in doing so?

In the introduction to Late Marxism, Jameson briefly revives the science-ideology divide in writing:

“‘To be a Marxist’ necessarily includes the belief that Marxism is somehow a science: that is to say, an axiomatic, an organon, a body of distinctive knowledges and procedures (about which, were we to develop the argument, one would also want to say that it has a distinctive status as a discourse, which is not that of philosophy or of other kinds of writing). All science, however, projects not just ideology but a host of possible ideologies, and this is to be understood in a positive sense: ideology as the working theory of a specific practice, the latter’s ‘philosophy’ as it were, and the ensemble of values and visions that mobilize it and lend it an ethic and a politics (and an aesthetic as well). The various Marxisms – for there are many of them, and famously incompatible with one another – are just that: the local ideologies of Marxian science in history and in concrete historical situations, which set not merely their priorities but also their limits […] each one is situation-specific to the point of encompassing the class determinations and cultural and national horizons of its proponents” (p. 6).

In short, whereas science is practical or a praxis calling for a general application to a range of concrete situations, ideology is theoretical or an attempt to make sense of this general praxis in local situations and contexts. In other words, once a common body of knowledge and procedures is elaborated, individuals and groups set to work on tailoring this body to the sundry perspectives with which they identify.

To come back to the question motivating this inquiry: can democracy, society and beliefs in Rawls and Stout be mapped onto this divide? As a first, crude formulation, this would render the divide as follows: to be a democrat includes and implies the belief that democracy is a science with its own body of distinctive knowledges and procedures about which a number of local ideologies form at the level of the instantiation of institutions, policies, societies and individual convictions. Yet this first attempt remains at the level of the abstract, and it is necessary to dig deeper into the content of “democratic science and ideologies”.

Accordingly, what would be the content of such a science? A few properties, for which rigorous and extensive argumentation can be given, come to the fore: representative government, rights (speech, religion, thought, conscience, etc.), checks and balances in institutions, public deliberation, in addition to other candidate properties. More specifically, these properties constitute the body of a science insofar as they can be the object of sustained argument and presentation in their favor that does not, at the same time, specify the precise form that they are to take at the time of their implementation and instantiation in society. Moreover, this body of knowledge is clearly itself a form of praxis in that the working out of problems within democratic science shapes, directly or indirectly, the form of (democratic) society in the world.

That said, the precise form that democratic society takes on in each locale is left to the ideology particular to it. In view of each locale’s different theoretical priorities, each will give rise to different implementations of the scientific properties in question. For instance, on the matter of representation, different ideologies will respond differently to the following questions: “how can representation best be achieved in a society and equal voice be given to each?”; “does representation as such require that each voice itself be equal time or can voices be combined, as it were?”; “is it possible to represent accurately the views of another?”. The concrete manifestation of these inquiries can range from a direct democracy to the more standard representative democracy, with the various institutional structures at work in those societies opting for the latter. The other candidate properties given here could be subjected to the same sort of analysis as given above, all of which will result in the formation of a specific understanding and theorization of the core principles and categories at work in democratic science. As a final remark, it should be added that Jameson’s characterization and distinction of praxis and theory could well be supplemented as scientific praxis shows itself to have a strong theoretical component at the level of argument and elaboration and ideological theory a strong practical bent at the level of implementation and locality.

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