Steve Fuller on the Future of Politics: Left & Right or Green & Black?

It has been a quite a while since I have posted something on here. I’ve been buried deep in other projects but hope to make more frequent forays if time allows.
I thought this recent article by Steve Fuller was worth mentioning. Right and Left are Fading – the Future is Black and Green, as it reflects a number of questions I have been concerned with for some time, particularly the role how we might conceive of a politics with an orientation to the future and how the question of a specifically Left politics relates to the relationship between ecology and technology.
When anyone talks about moving beyond Left and Right our suspicions should be raised, given that its usually an ideological rouse by the Right to drag the centre of debate ever further towards itself. Indeed, the eclipse of old Left/Right distinctions have frequently been celebrated since the end of the Cold War, most often as part of an argument lauding the strengthening of the liberal centre. This has arguable been the ideological sugar frosting used to present the massive rise of inequality during the same period, both in the ‘Western’ democratic metropoles and across the globe (see for example), as the flowering of democratic, or at least consumer freedom.

Fuller

That said there is always some kind of enjoyment in reading schematic accounts of long-term shifts in the axes of ideology like the one Fuller presents in this article. More importantly however this type of analysis can help to think again about where our own political orientation lies. In other words, disagreeing with how these ideological shifts are framed or being unable to chart our position within this new ideological cartography can allow for a productive return to fundamental questions. For example, whilst I found Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann’s most-read 2012 article ‘Climate Leviathan’ highly schematic it served as a useful prompt to examine some crucial questions around climate and the role of the state in Left political thought whilst also bringing me back to questions of hegemony that I had drifted from in the preceding years ( a conceptual cocktail that primed me to receive Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams recent #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics).

In his article Fuller argues that the axes of political division are shifting away from formations defined by Left and Right and gravitating towards a new meta-distinction between ‘Black’ and ‘Green’. He characterizes the latter as earth-hugging, communitarian environmentalists that seek to protect human future by sticking close to ‘nature’ (including supposedly natural ,social hierarchies), whereas the former are committed to the possibility of human and environmental transformation through social and technical progress with an eye to the possibilities for cosmic expansion of the human realm yet an emphasis on individual freedom. Hence, both ‘Black’ and ‘Green’ contain within them distinct elements of what were once identified with Right and Left positions as traditionally conceived; crudely speaking, ‘Black’ politics resonating with the Left’s traditional belief in the possibility and benefit of socio-technical progress and the Right’s emphasis on libertarian freedoms, whilst ‘Green’ politics resonates with the Left’s emphasis on the need for communitarian benefit to accompany any change and the Right’s belief in the security provided by traditional and ‘natural’ forms of order.

We could of course ask, given the cross pollination of the ‘Black’ and the ‘Green’ with different aspects of the Left and the Right, exactly which Left and which Right Fuller has in mind here. Indeed, following his account of the political traditions that ‘Green’ and ‘Black’ draw upon it would appear that the difference between the Left and the Right may be less stable, and the internal character of each less coherent, than his thesis presumes. In fact much of what he identifies as ‘Green’ and ‘Black’ simply points to existing tensions within Left and Right, that are better understood as ends of the political spectrum, or constellations of sometimes conflictual tendencies, rather than as solid ‘blocks’ or ‘wings’.

These qualifications shouldn’t mean that thinking through the implications of Fuller’s terms is a totally redundant exercise. Rather, it is worth considering whether the new ideological formations he characterizes as ‘Black’ and ‘Green’ might be useful in considering possible future orientations for Left, and indeed Right, political thought. Indeed, by foregrounding the fundamental relationship that any future political thought, whether Right or Left, must have to environmental concerns, technology and the question of the human place on the planet/in the cosmos (and by definition then the question of the human as such), Fuller pushes us toward some burning questions that stand outside the frame of much mainstream political discourse. It is tempting perhaps to even read the terms against each other with ‘Black’ and ‘Green’ naming tendencies within Left and Right rather than replacing them so that we might have a ‘Green’ Left and a ‘Green’ Right and a ‘Black’ Left and a ‘Black’ Right. Although this might lead down the path of an ultimately unproductive ideological hopscotch between the Left/Right and ‘Black’/’Green axes it is worth using Fuller’s provocation as a launch pad for further discussion.

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