Iris Young and I seem to inhabit different worlds.footnote1 In her world, there are no divisions between the social Left and the cultural Left. Proponents of cultural politics work cooperatively with proponents of social politics, linking claims for the recognition of difference with claims for the redistribution of wealth. Virtually no practitioners of identity politics are essentialist, moreover, let alone authoritarian or chauvinist. Claims for the recognition of difference are only rarely advanced, finally, as ends in themselves; nearly all are put forward as transitional socialist demands. According to Young, therefore, the divisions that inspired my article are artefacts of my ‘dichotomous framework,’ figments of my imagination.
In fact, of course, it was not I but ‘post-socialist’ political culture that has conjured up these divisions. I did not fantasize a match on Washington of a million black men in which not a single socio-economic demand was raised. Nor did I imagine the widespread gloating on the us social Left over the Social Text hoax, which was thought to discredit the ‘phoney leftism’ of cultural studies. What I did do was construct a framework for analyzing existing splits between class politics and identity politics, socialist or social-democratic politics and multiculturalist politics. My aim was to show that these splits rest on false antitheses. ‘Post-socialist’ ideology notwithstanding, we do not in reality face an either/or choice between social politics and cultural politics, redistribution and recognition. It is possible in principle to have both.
Recall the context my essay addressed: increased marketization and sharply rising inequality world-wide; the apparent delegitimation of socialist ideals; the growing salience of claims for the recognition of difference and the relative eclipse of claims for egalitarian redistribution: the decoupling of the cultural Left from the social Left; and the seeming absence of any credible vision of a comprehensive alternative to the present order. In my diagnosis, unlike that of Todd Gitlin and James Weinstein, and unlike that of Young, who is on this point their mirror opposite, the split in the Left is not between class struggles, on the one hand, and gender, ‘race’, and sex struggles, on the other. Rather, it cuts across those movement, each of which is internally divided between cultural currents and
Thus, far from dichotomizing culture and political economy, I diagnosed their current decoupling in ‘post-socialist’ ideology. Far from championing class politics against identity politics, I refuted the view that we must make an either/or choice between them. Far from manufacturing non-existent contradictions, I provided a framework for transcending political divisions that exist. Far from trashing movements against sexism, racism, and heterosexism, I distinguished affirmative from transformative currents within those movements in order to show how claims for redistribution and recognition could be integrated with one another in a comprehensive political project.
Young, however, systematically distorts my argument. In a discussion that is more tendentious than analytical, she conflates three different levels of analysis: the philosophical, the socio-theoretical, and the political.
On the philosophical level, my starting point was the current dissociation of two distinct paradigms of justice. One of these, the distributive paradigm, has supplied the chief approach for analyzing justice claims for at least 150 years; in the 1970s and 1980s especially, it was subject to intense and often brilliant philosophical elaboration. The other paradigm is, in contrast, much newer; centred on the normative concept of recognition, it is currently being developed by philosophers such as Axel Honneth and Charles Taylor, largely in response to the recognition politics of the 1980s and 1990s. Both paradigms are normatively powerful; each succeeds in identifying an important set of justice claims and in accounting for their moral force. Yet the two paradigms of justice do not communicate. They are mutually dissociated in moral philosophy today and need to be articulated with one another.
Contra Young, I did not invent these paradigms, nor did I contrive their dissociation. Still less did I advocate a theory of justice divided into ‘two mutually exclusive categories.’ On the contrary, I posed the philosophical question of how we should understand their relation to one another. One possibility is that one of the paradigms can be conceptually reduced to the other; but no one has managed to do this, and I doubt that in fact it can be done. Short of that, the most philosophically satisfying approach is to develop a more general overarching conception of justice that can encompass both distribution and recognition. This is the approach pursued in my nlr essay.footnote2