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Ruthless Critique or Selective Apologia?

The Postcolonial Left in Theory and Practice

Blair Taylor

Pages 649 - 661


The Left, both in the United States and globally, is sharply divided on questions regarding the universality or particularity of liberatory politics, the validity of critiques of religion, and the role of international solidarity. Concerns about false universality and the cynical manipulation of solidarity have translated into a generalized suspicion of these once basic left concepts. Increasingly, one set of ostensibly left commitments—anti-racism, anti-imperialism, and antimilitarism— are deployed against the values of universalism, free speech, and solidarity. Is this simply a matter of strategic differences, or does it reflect more fundamental theoretical and political disagreements that are reshaping the basic contours of left politics? This article explores this question through a Marxian analysis of left reactions to the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ attack, the subsequent PEN award boycott, and the decolonial politics of ‘Le Parti des indigènes de la République’ in the United States. It argues that this transformation in political culture mirrors a transformation within academia that was pioneered in the United States but is now transatlantic: the ascendance of a new constellation of critical intellectual traditions—postcolonialism, poststructuralism, Critical Whiteness Studies, and queer theory—that are highly critical of the Enlightenment, universalism, and secularism. It offers a political and theoretical critique of the assumptions undergirding contemporary postcolonial left argumentation, illustrating how they resonate with philosophical positions pioneered by the right.

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