Illogic Primer Quotes Clippings Books and Bibliography Paper Trails Links Film

Ruth Lessl Shively on Believing in Something

"Political Theory and the Postmodern Politics of Ambiguity" in Political Theory and Partisan Politics (SUNY Press: 2000), pp. 180-1.

I have argued that if the ambiguists mean to be subversive about anything, they need to be conservative about some things. They need to be steadfast supporters of the structures of openness and democracy: willing to say “no” to certain forms of contest; willing to set up clear limitations about acceptable behavior. To this, finally, I would add that if the ambiguists mean to stretch the boundaries of behavior — if they want to be revolutionary and disruptive in their skepticism and iconoclasm — they need first to be firm believers in something. Which is to say, again, they need to set clear limits about what they will and will not support, what they do and do not believe to be best. … In other words, a refusal to judge among ideas and activities is, in the end, an endorsement of the status quo. To embrace everything is to be unable to embrace a particular plan of action, for to embrace a particular plan of action is to reject all others, at least for that moment. Moreover, as observed in our discussion of openness, to embrace everything is to embrace self-contradiction: to hold to both one’s purposes and to that which defeats one’s purposes — to tolerance and intolerance, open-mindedness and close-mindedness, democracy and tyranny.

In the same manner, then, the ambiguists’ refusals to will something “definite and limited” undermines their revolutionary impulses. In their refusal to say what they will not celebrate and what they will not rebel against, they deny themselves (and everyone else in their political world) a particular plan or ground to work from. By refusing to deny incivility, the deny themselves a civil public space from which to speak. They cannot say “no” to the terrorist who would silence dissent. They cannot turn their backs on the bullying of the white supremacist. And, as such, in refusing to bar the tactics of the anti-democrat, the refuse to support the tactics of the democrat.

In short, then, to be a true ambiguist, there must be some limit to what is ambiguous. To fully support political contest, one must fully support some uncontested rules and reasons. To generally reject the silencing or exlusion of others, one must sometimes silence or exclude those who civility and democracy.