The Future of Critique

Effective critique has to be understood in terms of its hermeneutic capacity in order to intensify its impact in shaping the political orientation and social imagination of the people. Critique has both restorative and creative functions in so far as it does not dispel the object of critique in terms of its semantic expression and its truth claim. Critique that does not see its motivating role in taking a large number of people along with its truth claim loses its hermeneutic power. Arguably, critique as political practice, especially when undertaken by the so-called radicals and the left, tends to take place in a mode where its thrust is arrested. The problem with such critique is three-fold. 

First, this critique is driven by the radicals’ confidence that they possess a monopoly over the absolute truth. The targets of this critique are very clear, focused and direct, and its language, therefore, is also cognitively very sharp and seeks immediate division and polarisation between “us” and “them.” There is no scepticism involved in such a practice. Critique from the left and the radical circles seems to be in a great hurry to rush to the target through this binary of us and them. Since their language of critique slips into boredom, it refuses to attack those who are looking to traverse between their notion of truth and the others’ notions of truth. Such a critique acquires a sectarian orientation, and hence, is deeply contemptuous towards other forms of critique of the establishments. Since it denies the existence of another conception of truth, it almost seems to drag people behind this claimed truth. People normally refuse to be dragged and hence the radical critique finds only a few followers. 

Secondly, as a corollary of the first, such critique does not seek its intensification through moving away from the target both in terms of the language as well as dynamics of reason. Moving away from the target of critique does not mean avoiding a critique of the target, but instead, signifies the adoption of the soft rhythm of reasonability. But the sense of having a monopoly over truth claims does not motivate them enough to make a shift.  

Thirdly, given the above, self-critique or internal critique becomes not only urgent, but inescapable. Internal critique is, in fact, the precondition to arrive at the grand but consensual critique of the common evil or the problems that people face. This remains unacknowledged. Since the radical form of critique has been outward-looking, it has remained insulated from the people and has not considered giving up the ambition to become culturally authoritative. This is why we see the radicals circulating their critique among those who are already convinced about the radicalism of the critique. 

Intensifying critique of the common problem requires one to approach the source of the problem (patriarchy, an authoritarian regime, or hedonistic consumerism, for example) keeping in view the moral stamina of the common people who are expected to join one’s project of critiquing the source of oppression. Such an approach needs to have moral appeal and non-cognitive elements[1] in it. It is due to these two factors that M K Gandhi’s critique was so powerful. Moving away guarantees the mobilisation of people who then begin to associate with the critique as a participatory process. It makes them feel not only relevant, but also politically powerful. They internalise the power of a transformative critique. Dominant if not arrogant forms of critique often forget that every individual is a thinking being, and the element of critique as a cognitive faculty is internal to the consciousness of such a being. Intensifying critique means that one cannot critique a given reality on everybody’s behalf. That is to say, one has to acknowledge everyone’s critiquing capacity. This process can be designated as democratising the cognitive act of critique.

[1] In Gandhian thought, the concepts, due to their moral orientation, acquire a non-cognitive character. This in effect, tends to shape social relations around the idea of seva (service), sahanubhuti (compassion) and care; not struggle or contradiction. (Guru 2011)

The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect the collective view of the journal.

 

About Author

Back to Top