ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Critique Caught in a Deadlock


In democratic politics, the practice of critique mediated through the act of dissent plays an important role in controlling and rectifying the political tendencies that seek to undermine democratic values. The role of informed critique becomes absolutely crucial for saving democracy from degenerating into despotism. In despotism, there is the need to immunise political dominance from everyday threats of dissent and resistance from the margin and opposition from the political rivals.

Paradoxically, a democratically formed government, but with authoritarian intentions, usually deals with dissent not with the force of sound arguments, but by using against the dissenting voices resources such as contempt, ridicule and insult, which are trivial in their essence. Thus, the dignity of the argument is compromised with debasement that is regularly used to neutralise dissent. This moral element is starkly absent in contemporary Indian politics.

Alongside, the authoritarian government and its supporters seek to silence the dissent through the use of coercive methods, such as entangling the dissenting person into legal litigation. Finally, and most importantly, such a government seeks to separate people both from each other through planting communal dissension and also from argument through the overuse of ideologically self-serving rhetoric. In contemporary India, do we have governments that work only for representation rather than transcendence?

Critique coming particularly from radical elements, arguably involves the promise of seeking transcendence in the embattled common life through powerful argument and effective action. Radical critique, in the ideal sense, suggests the need to move away from representation that defines the existence of identity politics on the one hand and the politics of the majority community on the other. Right-wing political parties, in the event of a counterclaim forwarded by their rivals, do assert that they have an authentic claim over the representation of members belonging to a particular religious group. At the root of communal division is the parochial, ideological claim of representing a particular socio-religious group that tends to survive and reproduce itself in the stock ideology.

Such narrow claims of representation based on stock ideology are the hurdles in achieving transcendence or normative shift in people’s settled consciousness.

The question that is much more important is: Does the argument from the radical achieve this transcendence or does it also remain stuck at the level of representation, rhetorically representing the interest of the identity groups?

The critique that is externally courageous against the authoritarian government, however, remains internally weak for the following reasons.

First, it fails to expand the social basis of the practice of critique so as to include those on whose behalf it claims to be active against the authoritative government. It makes the issue a specialised activity of a selective group of dissenters who claim to be politically correct.

Second, the radicals, at this level, tend to arrogate to themselves legislative authority to prescribe what is an adequate and inadequate degree of critique. Such radicals seem to use their requisite sense to suggest that launching the critique of tormenting forces worldwide from a particular standpoint is “so far so good” but not adequate. Thus, there is an element of temporality involved in this sense, which then tends to suggest that the critique is not yet complete as it leaves out from its gaze other tormenting forces. We often hear such grudges from the radicals who claim to represent the minorities and Dalits in India. It could be argued that the radical critique slides down from the transductal project of speaking for the universal to practically representing the identity groups. Their capacity to critique gets pragmatically confined to embattled groups, such as the Adivasis, Dalits and minorities. The validity of the critical practice of the radicals ironically depends on the reciprocal antagonism between the radical and the conservative forces. The critical energies of the radical thus enter a deadlock, with right-wing politics that works along the line of a block ideology. Since the communal ideology of the right-wing forces has to be continuously at work, the critique from the left has to be active, and it has been active since the origin of the stock ideology. But, the critical practice of the radical runs the risk of working only through the block or reified argument without any emancipatory opening. Critique acquires a therapeutic quality to rectify and purify the responses by freeing them from the deadlock. Critique, in such a sense, acquires a transcendental quality. Critique as reason has to be active at both ends, that is to say, embattled people have reasons to offer resistance at both levels.


Updated On : 20th Jun, 2020


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