Pierre Bourdieu on the Left Hand and the Right Hand of the Government

The late French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is making the case for distinguishing between the left hand and the right hand of the state. He delineates the continuous retreat of the French and European governments from the welfare state and the public sector (characterized as the left hand), and their continuous expansion in the aid of corporations and financial institutions (right hand).

I provide some quotes from the interview:

“In the survey we are conducting on social suffering, we encounter many people who, like that head-teacher, are caught in the contradictions of the social world, which are experienced in the form of personal dramas. I could also cite the project leader, responsible for co-ordinating all the work on a ‘difficult estate’ in a small town in northern France. He is faced with contradictions which are the extreme case of those currently experienced by all those who are called ‘social workers’: family counsellors, youth leaders, rank-and-file magistrates, and also, increasingly, secondary and primary teachers. They constitute what I call the left hand of the state, the set of agents of the so-called spending ministries which are the trace, within the state, of the social struggles of the past. They are opposed to the right hand of the state, the technocrats of the Ministry of Finance, the public and private banks and the ministerial cabinets. A number of social struggles that we are now seeing (and will see) express the revolt of the minor state nobility against the senior state nobility.
What strikes me is the silence of the politicians. They are terribly short of ideals that can mobilize people. This is probably because the professionalization of politics and the conditions required of those who want to make a career in the parties increasingly exclude inspired personalities. And probably also because the definition of political activity has changed with the arrival of a political class that has learned in its schools (of political science) that, to appear serious, or simply to avoid appearing old-fashioned or archaic, it is better to talk of management than self-management, and that they must, at any rate, take on the appearances (that is to say the language) of economic rationality.
Locked in the narrow, short-term economism of the IMF worldview which is also causing havoc, and will continue to do so, in North-South relations, all these half-wise economists fail, of course, to take account of the real costs, in the short and more especially the long term, of the material and psychological wretchedness which is the only certain outcome of their economically legitimate Realpolitik: delinquency, crime, alcoholism, road accidents, etc. Here too, the right hand, obsessed by the question of financial equilibrium, knows nothing of the problems of the left hand, confronted with the often very costly social consequences of ‘budgetary restrictions’.
The intellectual world is now the site of a struggle aimed at producing and imposing ‘new intellectuals’ and therefore a new definition of the intellectual and the intellectual’s political role, a new definition of philosophy and the philosopher, henceforward engaged in the vague debates of a political philosophy without technical content, a social science reduced to journalistic commentary for election nights, and uncritical glossing of unscientific opinion polls. Plato had a wonderful word for all these people: doxosophers. These ‘technicians of opinion who think themselves wise’ (I’m translating the triple meaning of the word) pose the problems of politics in the very same terms in which they are posed by businessmen, politicians and political journalists (in other words the very people who can afford to commission surveys. . . ).
The sociologist is opposed to the doxosopher, like the philosopher, in that she questions the things that are self-evident, in particular those that present themselves in the form of questions, her own as much as other people’s. This profoundly shocks the doxosopher, who sees a political bias in the refusal to grant the profoundly political submission implied in the unconscious acceptance of commonplaces, in Aristotle’s sense – notions or theses with which people argue, hut over which they do not argue.”

This is pretty much the dilemma our country finds itself in: the emptiness of public political debate, the cutbacks in the welfare state (in the classical Social Democratic, or American liberal sense), the increase in poverty and hunger, the collapse of the middle class (and the left hand of the state), the expansion of private multinational corporations and major financial institutions, on top of that a militarized state engaged in three major wars operating in four countries with military bases all across the world, and the never ending “wisdom” of those doxosophers, who attempt everything to defend a system that no longer is sustainable.

Quote from Bourdieu, Pierre, Gisèle Sapiro, Priscilla Parkhurst. Ferguson, Richard W. Nice, and Loïc J. D. Wacquant. Sociology Is a Martial Art: Political Writings by Pierre Bourdieu. New York: New, 2010. Print.
Access online article Droit, R.P., and T. Ferenczi. “The Left Hand and the Right Hand of the State.” Variant. 1992. Web. 26 Apr. 2011. http://www.variant.org.uk/32texts/bourdieu32.html.

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