Mr. Love and Justice

9780300151794Gregor McLennan reviews Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith and Revolution, in The New Left Review:

Twenty-first century Eagleton at times resembles the Dionysian persona he presented in Holy Terror, published in 2005, as the very embodiment of the Lacanian Real—excessive, sulphurous, unstaunchable. Revelling in the further release from polite dialogue that his ‘theological turn’ appears to bestow, the author of Reason, Faith, and Revolution plays Hamlet (a favourite Realist) to the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of thin-blooded rationalism (‘Ditchkins’ for short). [1] Momentarily indulging their seeming fellow-feeling, Eagleton ruthlessly exposes the nastiness beneath, resolving on final damage. He first mauled The God Delusion in a review entitled ‘Lunging, Flailing, Mis-punching’, but you would rather avoid Eagleton’s haymakers than Dawkins’s fisticuffs. The recent writings overlap heavily, such that Trouble with Strangers might be thought only to aggregate themes from the two books mentioned, plus those from two better ones—the bristlingly insightful Sweet Violence (2003), and the satisfyingly armchaired Meaning of Life (2007). [2] But more than the compilation effect, it is the internal agonistics of Trouble with Strangers that makes it both thoroughly absorbing and uneven in every sense. Organized by core Lacanian notions, which it clinically deconstructs, and alternating considered assessment with blasts of non-negotiable ‘Christian’ declaration, Strangers yields an amalgam that seems destined—perhaps designed—not to set. For all his formidable assuredness, Eagleton’s reflections on the loops that bind metaphysics, ethics, religion and politics are still very much in process.

In process, but not exactly in progress. The ‘ethics of socialism’, specified in the preface as one of the two main sources and goals of the enquiry, occupies only a handful of cursory sentences, some of them questionable—is socialism really about ‘solidarity with failure’, for example? The intention may be there, but it cannot be developed until Eagleton’s particular version of post-secularism—he does not use this term—has been talked out. According to this, a certain kind of secularist Marxism has gone, leaving us with two completely gutless alternatives: liberal rationalism and culturalist postmodernism. This spells good news for global capitalism, which rapaciously both promotes and devours such untroubling sensibilities. Progressive politics must therefore be re-imagined in the shape of a truly redemptive radicalism, its prerequisite energy stemming chiefly from the Christian preparedness for loving collective and subjective transfiguration. In order to access this last hope and opportunity, we need to see, unflinchingly, that there is nothing essentially progressive or self-sufficient about human society; that just as recto stands to verso, so virtuous sociability surfaces a void of disappointment, lack and despair. Insofar as socialist thought remains in thrall to cerebral universalism, it cannot entertain so dire a predicament from which to re-build. So Eagleton explores instead the promise of distributing moral philosophies into the psychoanalytic categories of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real.