I recently sent off, for the second time, an attempt to get my first article into an academic journal- the first time, I got back a very polite email containing the quite wonderful 'thanks-but-no-thanks' line, "some of the ideas are very interesting, but need more development", which I perhaps a little uncharitably read as 'if you thought these claims you are making through more thoroughly, you would see that they are clearly wrong'. Having decided which other journal to send the piece off to, I made a series of changes, which hopefully exhibit the required development without falling into the trap of thereby showing my arguments to be manifestly bad. One of the changes was to specify at least to some degree the kinds of policy implications that the piece, if correct, might have. As befits a closet Habermasian, and perhaps also a blogger, the crucial thing I urge is a greater engagement on the part of (anglo-american) political theorists with public political debate:
[o]ne of the consequences of [holding the view I'd been arguing against] by [liberal political theorists] is that they have tended not to get invovled in first-order ethical and political debates, since their view insulates them, through its adherence to a thin theory of the good, from such disagreements. The consequence of this insulation has been to deprive liberalism of the opportunity to articulate a set of ethical principles I believe in many cases to be very powerful. Exactly what arguments about the worthiness of particular forms of conduct liberals might make now, when, despite a concurrent enormous theoretical interest i liberalism, for the past thirty five years they have been reluctant to do so, is unclear. Perhaps the time of Millian liberalism has passed; perhaps not. Unless liberals engage in first-order ethical and political argument, it will be difficult to tell. this and this for an account of roughly why I think something like this. What interests me more now is the relationship between my academic espousal of the idea that presentation of arguments in and suitable for the public realm is a crucial part of political theory, and my practice, both in academia and in the public realm. The public realm first. I've tried to think a little bit about the norms which govern discourse in the public realm before: from a primarily philosophical perspective, here, while, here and here, slightly more practically and even polemically. I've even written a little about the norms of discourse in the blogosphere and once expressed the resolutely Habermasian hope that it might be some kind of an approximation of the ideal speech situation. Finally, the importance of the kinds of ideas expressed in the idea of norms governing the engagement in public political discourse has been a staple of my criticism of various political tendencies: see here, for example, or this.
Yet. Yet. Although I have not quite totally disappeared, I think I probably have been posting less than I once did. More than, I am becoming increasingly disillusioned with the possibilities of the blogosphere. Indeed, in an email exchange with someone about being uninterested in voting in a set of weblog awards, I wrote this:
[b]etter to say that I am no longer interested in the blogosphere - or whatever hideous neologism it refers to itself as now - as a whole at all really. It's unmanageably large: anyone who reads enough blogs to know what's going on the whole thing a) has far too much time on their hands, b) far too much patience with i) idiots and ii) terrible writing, and c) an inflated opinion of their own knowledge about many subjects, I think. Right-wing people exist. This is unfortunate. My voting in an online poll asking my opinions about things I have a) no particularly strong opinion on and b) no knowledge on which to base a opinion, strong or otherwise, is not going to make either of these facts untrue.
Now, to hope for too much of things is a fault, as is, at least for one of my political and moral persuasion, impatience with the views of others. Still, even with these caveats, a deflation of expectations nonetheless clearly has occurred. I wonder what to make of this apparent inconsistency between my commitment to public political argument, and my increasing disenchantment with what one might have hoped would be one of its more promising forums. More than this, there is a deeper inconsistency, even an irony. The arguments I rely on in the prospective article to try to force a re-engagement with public political argument by (academic) political theorists do not really themselves engage any obvious strand in public political argument, nor are obviously suitable for use in that kind of debate. Further, the research project I am now pursuing is both more abstract of itself, and of significantly less practical importance. I have also resisted, quite strongly at times, the idea that my work ought not to have these characteristics.
Perhaps this is a particularly circuitous way of repeating an already given farewell. Perhaps, rather, it is the expression of a disappointment at a lack of political issues on which I feel I have something worthwhile to write. Perhaps it is something else entirely, the expression of a realisation that an ideal speech situation is not to be found in such a socially marginal arena, or an acknowledgement that, having gone back to academia, it really is rather more attractive than the outside world. Whatever this is, I simply thought that the confusion, the tension, was worth noting.