Wednesday, December 07, 2005


I'm always a bit excited when the new edition of the Socialist Register hits the shelves. Unnaturally so, in fact. Still, the 2006 edition (I've just skimmed it) has its fair share of excellent essays. This year's edition is entitled 'Telling the Truth' and, as you might imagine, much of its contributors' collective fire is targetted at the continuing retreat of many left intellectuals into the murky depths of 'postmodernism'. There's a very fine essay by Terry Eagleton (God I love that man) at the end of the journal called 'On Telling the Truth' which I hope to re-read again properly some time soon. Perhaps I'll squeeze a blog post out of it.

Another essay which immediately caught my eye focuses on the systematic distortion of information by the institutions and processes of neo-liberalism today - 'The Cynical State', by Panitch and Leys. They devote a section of their essay to the continuing undermining of academic autonomy and the distortion, in particular, of the discipline of Political Science in this age of academic 'consultancy work', corporate funding and government report writing contracts. There is, they conclude, a general 'de-politicisation of political research' - a climate in which 'few social scientists are serious critics of public policy' since they nearly all appear to accept the neo-liberal premises and assumptions upon which these policies are founded. They accept these assumptions, of course, because they're all scrabbling for consultancy work with government agencies and for funding from research bodies like the ESRC whose criteria for dishing out the dosh are explicitly 'business oriented'. This essay, I have to say, rings very loud bells.

Telling government and business what they want to hear seems to be a sure-fire strategy for raking in the research funding in Political Science. What Panitch and Leys don't remark upon is the emergence of (highly lucrative) 'post-war reconstruction studies' and so on at universities. These courses seem, to me, to be thoroughly unreflective about their own political and philosophical foundations. They tend to accept the premises of 'humanitarian intervention' unflinchingly, swallow neo-liberal economics pretty much whole (how do you 'reconstruct' a 'war-torn' economy - why you privatise and de-regulate, of course) and don't seriously question the seriously questionable assertions of modern liberal theory when it comes to 'state-building'. Of course, if they did, then they might not be able to ignore, quite so easily, the fact of just how deeply implicated in the project of Imperialism these ways of thinking are.

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