Radical theology as the essence of the mainstream

I was struck by a quotation from an essay by feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether mentioned in an article about a Catholic-connected conference in which she’ll be taking part:

“All racist, sexist, classist, and anthropocentric assumptions of the superiority of whites over blacks, males over females, managers over workers, humans over animals and plants must be culturally discarded.”

Lumping vegans and cannibals together goes rather far, but such a statement still looks like mindless boilerplate, a standard assemblage of words bolted into some discussion because it’s thought to add strength. If you leave out the plants the statement gets much closer to today’s intellectual mainstream, and if you leave out the animals it becomes so mainstream that no one in public life would reject it. After all, who would come out in favor of prejudice?

Even mindless boilerplate is helpful in understanding where the state of discussion is. What struck me about Professor Ruether’s comment isn’t the appeal to Plant Liberation, which I found rather charming, but the claim to oppose managerial domination. It’s quite obvious, after all, that the attempt absolutely to eradicate informal distinctions based on tradition, stereotypes and popular habits, an attempt that everyone significant today accepts as basic to public morality, necessarily requires the forcible imposition of formal distinctions backed by expertise and bureaucracy—in other words, absolute managerial rule.

As she says a couple of lines later,

“The pattern of male-female, racial and class inter-dependency itself has to be reconstructed socially, creating more equitable sharing in the work and the fruits of work.”

Who’s going to do the reconstruction and keep it pure when the radically non-egalitarian results of letting ordinary people do whatever they happen to do are so obvious? At bottom, she wants a comprehensive socialist or still better communist system, and the basic function of her kind of slush is to obfuscate the point so issues cannot be raised. It’s the way the left operates today, and it’s why the left has disappeared only in the sense that it has become, with regard to the most fundamental issues of our life together, the mainstream. Reconstruction of the most basic social relations by force of law in accordance with bogus claims of expertise, and their assimilation without remainder to bureaucracy, markets and arbitrary private taste, isn’t tyranny, it’s help, education and service, an expression of undeniable justice and basic decency and care. Or so we are told. It has the support of expertise, justice and all large managerial institutions, even the Republicans favor it, so who but an ignorant and malicious crank could be opposed?

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