The Left and the Imperial Mode of Living



Ulrich Brand | Markus Wissen

The question of freedom is crucial for an emancipatory strategy and an emancipatory project. Andreas Novy (2018) emphasises that the imperial mode of living is not only related to material well-being; its appeal also lies in the fact that it enables, or at least promises, individual freedom rights and a "self-determined way of living within a society of competition" (ibid.: 54), i.e. the absence of paternalism and the promise of individuality and autonomy in their particular way of life. At the same time, the imperial mode of living breaks with the universal norm of equality based on human rights; it represents freedom tantamount to not touching one's way of life and sacrosanct consumption. This aspect has not been sufficiently elucidated in our work, which is more focused on social structures and the practices and routines of everyday life. The current rediscovery of Karl Polanyi in critical debates has to do with this challenge for the left: What does it mean to act and live responsibly in a society characterised by the systematic production of irresponsibility? (Brie, 2018) A relevant political question is: How can we maintain individuality without living at the expense of others? (Novy, 2018).

Our approach to the imperial mode of living has to be read as a contribution to progressive struggles and the search for substantial alternatives, as an analytical-political background for understanding why a fundamental emancipatory socio-ecological transformation is needed, and why, against the background of historical and current experiences, a deeper reflection on strategies is required.

We place ourselves in the tradition of revolutionary realpolitik (Rosa Luxemburg) and radical reformism (Joachim Hirsch), insisting that a counter-hegemonic project of radical transformation has to develop through concrete change and struggles that take place on different levels. We insist that, apart from explicit politicalcontradictory consciousness andeveryday life are inescapableand social struggles, the actions of human beings in points of view for radical transformation. Often, this leads to changes that are not very spectacular but acquire their relevance on a collective level, both socially and politically, as social movements or within existing organisations.

First and foremost, radical transformation does not come about through existing political and economic institutions but through different conflicts that actors fighting for emancipation fight and win against the defenders of the status quo.


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