Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Towards a global space of democratic rights: on Benjamin, Gramsci, and Polanyi

Renate Holub


In this article, I approach Benjamin, Gramsci, and Polanyi as members of a particular generation in Europe. Since all three of them were born late in the 19th century, they could not but experience a range of world-historical events. These ranged from World War One, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, and failed attempts at socialist revolutions on the European continent to the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany, the expansion of European colonialism in the Middle East, the spectacular collapse of the transatlantic capitalist financial system in October of 1929, and the gradual assumption of shared geopolitical hegemony on the part of the United States and the Soviet Union. By the same token, Benjamin, Gramsci, and Polanyi, as European intellectuals, could not but develop their predominant conceptions of the world in the context of a particular space of intellectual systems [Idealism, Marxism, Utilitarianism, Positivism, Historicism, etc]. While all of these intellectual systems involved epistemological, ontological, and ethical standards, some of them participated in the separation of these three provinces of standards from each other, thereby promoting traditions of philosophic – methodological individualization or specialization of branches of knowledge while others tended to continue to methodologically combine these three provinces to various degrees. Benjamin, Gramsci, and Polanyi thus moved in an intellectual space in which there had emerged multiple contests about the relations between ideas and social practices, on one hand, individuals and collectives, on the other hand. All three theorists refused to consent to the political and intellectual appropriation and manipulation of knowledge at the expense of disempowered social strata. As they inquired into the production of spaces in which the conditions for dignified relations between human beings were no longer annulled by political violence, media manipulation, and cultural commodification, they developed the concept of democratic self-organization – in the area of aesthetics, culture, and society, respectively – in order to promote their ideas of democratic communities. In doing so, they had the capacity to think beyond the predominant temporal-spatial imaginations of the transatlantic worlds. No doubt, this accounts for the great interest in these three intellectuals on the part of critical social theorists from all global regions at the beginning of the 21st century.

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