David Lloyd & Paul Thomas, in Culture and the State (London: Routledge 1998)

Conclusion & Epilogue

Conclusion: The Future Imperfect
Throughout this book, we have argued that in Culture and Society, Raymond Williams accepts the terms of the culture and society couplet inasmuch as he sees himself as the heir and transmitter of the cultural tradition, believing this to be capable of a socialist inflection. [...] should be indicated here is that Williams’s predicament is a symptomatic not a personal one. In ways that Gramsci explored in detail, modern states lay claim to a “disinterested” transcendence of politics, while in practice operating through the articulation of these same interests. The tension that this contradiction creates can be relieved only by a dividing of the subject in general and not least of the intellectual critic of culture. This is to say that contradiction inheres not just between a traditionally-defined culture on the one hand and the dehumanizing effects of capitalism on the other; it also inheres within the intellectual, no matter how radical that intellectual may wish or claim to be.

Our more immediate concern with the argument and bearings of Culture and Society, however, is that its author’s self-positioning in that couplet leads him to overlook the fact that some of the very thinkers to whom he awards places of honor within the tradition themselves connected culture not so much to society as to the state. They had good reasons for doing so, which we have been concerned to uncover. If our account carries conviction, then culture does not, or does not just, designate a discursive formation in opposition to [146] society. Increasingly, culture became charged, rather, with representing the fundamental common identity of human beings. By virtue of its differentiation from the social and economc aspects of human lives, it could become an agency and the site of citizen-formation. Culture increasingy came to designate and to frame a set of institutions along the locus of society’s intersection with the state. These institutions occupy spaces of their own; for the very formulation of the space or spaces of culture demands its actualisation in pedagogical institutions whose funstion is to transform the individual of civil society into the citizen of the modern state. In Williams’s sense the axis here is programmatic: culture can oppose society only in theory, and at best with an anticipatory and ever-deferred utopianism, whereas in practice culture can and does serve the state quite directly.

How it can be so is more readily seen once the state is understood in Gramscian-Hegelian terms as the “ethical state”. What had to take place for the “ethical state” to emerge was a shift from a conception of representation based on communities of interest to one based upon an ethical, developmental narrative. [...] The idea of culture produces the consensual grounds for representative democracy and the liberal settlement by annulling individual differences and drawing or eliciting the formal or “representative” disposition in every person out of the real, particular conditions of that person’s life. The state came to be regarded as the collective representative of an abstract ethical quality - the danger implicit in Hegel, as Marx in the 1840s had recognised.


What is practically required to effect this ideal is the moral formation of the citizen by an increasingly specialised cultural, not technical, pedagogy that occupies a separate space in its own right - a space that is steadily delineated by the state for society. (pp.145-46.)


Our own arguments have tried, however, to counterpoint this intellectual and canonical history of culture and the state not only with a critique of its assumptions, but also with a study of the contestations that took place around the gradual institutionalization of its precepts. We have sought to demonstrate how the virtual self-evidence that underwrites the continuing if fragile influence of that cultural narrative was won only through the often violent suppression of alternatives. Disinterest and the social disengagement of the intellectual are rooted in violence and maintain their conditions of possibility through the alternating exercise of coercion and hegemony. Even when critique focuses on the practical investment of supposedly disinterested teaching and research in the armature of coercion - defense contracts, nuclear research, military and policing technologies - we must bear in mind no less the violence always implicit in the very foundations of the “liberal” institutions of intellectual life. This recognition of contradiction in no way contributes to the traditional politics of the alienated intellectual, a ruse directed at the disavowal of social power, but provides the conditions for a transformation of relations between intellectual workers and movements for social change. It offers possible grounds from which to rethink materialist solutions to the problem of the intellectuals [...] (p.147.)


Epilogue: Raymond Williams and George Orwell
Orwell is isolated from certain class background (seen by Williams as involving a “substance of communitY” and “inherent patterns [176] of feelings,”) Leavisite terms that toll like minute bells through his exposition). He is isolated from Marxism (seen, again vaguely, by Williams as part of this class background as well as informing the intelligentsia). And he is isolated from the intellectuals themselves, particularly as these have a place in the academy. From Williams’s point of view, Orwell has no place to stand. This is one of the reasons Williams provides such a good touchstone for the left’s reception of Orwell. These three refuges - the proletarian, the Marxist, the academic - triangulate Raymond Williams’s career, and Orwell either was isolated or isolated himself from all three. Because his socialism owes nothing to any of them, his example raises the question, to Williams and to us, of how much anybody’s socialism owes, or should owe, or must owe to these sources.

The other reason why Williams is such a good touchstone emerges when we consider that Orwell did in fact have a place to stand. It was called England (as opposed to Airstrip One), and there is a sense in which Orwell’s tendency to extol an idealized England of the none-too-distant past - a tendency that seems to many readers (including the present writers) to have a straightforwardly reactionary side - is particularly irritating to Williams. It cuts close to the bone. Orwell’s socialism, however we are to appraise it, manifestly owes something, and something significant, to the “culture and society” tradition that has proved so important to Williams. Yet Orwell never used “culture and society” speculation, as Williams did for a long time, in an attempt to bracket together class, Marxism, and the academy. He believed to the contrary that culture and society could be looked at, retrospectively to be sure, but unmediated by and unrefracted through these three categories, categories Williams could not afford to relinquish or to regard as extraneous.

Orwell touches a nerve. What he and his much-maligned exteriority represent, most pointedly to Williams but also by extension to other avatars of the left, could reasonably, and without undue drama, be construed as a threat. The threat is on the one hand that democratic socialism could be espoused, and could indeed be advanced with reference to the “culture and society” tradition cherished at one time by Williams, but without recourse to anything within Williams’s no less cherished triangle of class, Marxism, and the academy. Perhaps these props and struts are not really necessary after all. Perhaps what they are propping up is not democratic socialism at all, but merely each other. (pp.176-77.)


The key fact about the “culture and society” tradition in England, with which Raymond Williams has long associated himself, is that in its origins, and in its articulation, it had very little to do with the working class per se and still less with socialism. Latterly, socialism has helped to keep it alive, and may indeed have done more for “culture and society” than the tradition ever did for socialism. The “culture and society” movement had its early-nineteenth-century origins in a series of always horrified, generally literary responses to the onset of the Industrial Revolution. These responses were at once regressive, in their desire to keep in play various traditional and newly-threatened, cultural forms and organic values, and also exemplary in that a minority of literati were charged with the task of their preservation. Opinions varied about the exact extent, nature, and value of the artifacts to be preserved, and about the credentials of the keepers of the flame; but all the movement’s avatars were in basic agreement about the beleaguered, defensive character of its task, which was above all one of recuperation and preservation, against the grain of historical development. In this sense the lineage from Wordsworth and Coleridge, through Matthew Arnold and T. S. Eliot to F. R. Leavis, is clear enough. Leavis in particular may be taken to have encapsulated a crucial stage in the development of the movement in both its regressive and its elitist dimensions. The traditional relationship between “civilization” (the totality of social relations) and “culture” (the values on which “fine living” depended), he believed, had been strained to the point of rupture by “the advance of the machine.” Society to Leavis [181] was now threatened by “a breach in continuity,” the best defense against which is a certain kind of concern with language. [...] (pp.181-82.)

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