Lots of people blame the way things have been going lately on 'false consciousness'. We are, they say, trapped in a conceptual scheme which distorts the way things really are. All our ways of talking, acting and hoping are infected by these concepts. We cannot expect things to get any better until we rid ourselves of them and adopt a new form of intellectual life, one which helps to encourage the emergence of new forms of social life. On this view, we are just not with it if our highest social hopes are, for example, that Somozas and Castros will be replaced by Allendes, that larger numbers of people will lead longer, more leisured lives, and that we shall eventually get solar power and nuclear disarmament. For we are still thinking in a 'liberal' or 'hegemonic' or 'scientistic' or 'technocratic' or 'rationalistic' way. This way of thinking is, we are told, 'bankrupt'. What we should be hoping for is that, in our capacity as the vanguard of human thought, we shall be able to break out of the vocabularies which we have inherited from the 19th century, and thus 'unmask' what is being done by people whose highest hopes are still those of John Stuart Mill.
LRB 16 June 1983 | PDF Download