Paul Goodman: Prefiguring the past
chapterposted on 17.01.2020, 09:40 by Ruth KinnaRuth Kinna, Paola Chiarella
Over forty-years since this death, Paul Goodman remains a controversial figure, his critical engagement with the countercultural and student politics of the 1960s provoking admiration and revulsion by turns. Goodman's ability to polarise opinion can be explained by the unorthodoxy of his political thought. He described himself as both conservative and anarchist but unlike George Orwell, who coined the epithet Tory Anarchist to express his politics, Goodman sidestepped discussion of synthesis, preferring to leave the relationship undefined. In Goodman's political writings Jefferson, Coleridge and Calvin happily rub shoulders with Kropotkin, Thoreau and Malatesta, but not obviously pulling in the same direction or exercising the same force. Goodman was also an unabashed utopian and his treatment of utopia is not only, therefore, an appropriate lens to examine his thought, it also helps to illuminate the distinctiveness of his anarchism. His utopianism anticipates the prefigurative politics of contemporary anarchist activism and it is not surprising that his admirers and critics alike acknowledge this relationship. Yet his utopianism is peculiar because Goodman abjures the blueprint he sketches and he offers countless practical proposals for social change whilst remaining profoundly pessimistic about its achievement, finding neither an agent capable of delivering social transformation, nor a route for imaginative escape.
- Social Sciences
- Politics and International Studies