Originary thinking is radical thinking, not just in the etymological sense of the word radical, but in comparison with the timid thought modes of the day.

Contemporary thought, whatever label it goes under (cultural criticism, political science, philosophy, even anthropology), is dominated by simplistic political oppositions; nearly all thought today can be immediately classified as either of the Left or of the Right, as liberal or conservative. This binarism is a symptom of sterility; it invites a dismissive plague on both your houses. It differs from the progressive Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, synthesis by its lack of a vertical dimension. Seen from without, binary oppositions lie flat; within each separate discourse, this symmetry is hidden in a sacrificial construction predicated on the ultimate expulsion of the adversary. 

But the paleoconservative who simply condemns the politicizing of contemporary thought exemplifies the most naive of all critical strategies, that of the laudator temporis acti: the golden age is past, the world is going to the dogs, you kids don’t realize… The ineluctable deritualization of human society has always engendered this kind of thinking. When I say, “all thought is political today, but in the good old days…” I merely evoke the archetype of the Fall of Man. If all thought has indeed become political, the solution to its dreariness is not to return to a bygone era when it wasn’t, but to forge ahead through the political to a higher, metapolitical, level.

This has been my overall view of neoconservatism. It has been my claim that its opposition to liberalism is not horizontal but dialectical, creating the Hegelian triad: laissez-faire liberalism -> modern liberalism => neoconservatism. But because this term, like the rarer kindred term neoliberal, is unavoidably politicized beyond the redeeming capacity of theoretical reflection, I will henceforth call GA not neoconservative but neopolitical. The advantage of this neologism is not merely euphemistic: at a time when the policies of the Clinton administration mimic those of the Right, there is in effect a neopolitical consensus within which the parties represent not so much nuances of doctrine as bridges to the more radical constituencies of Right and Left entrenched in different institutions, regions, and ethnic groups.

In the long term, the transcendence of liberalism cannot mean a return to the paleoconservative’s religious fundamentalism or even to the typical neoconservative’s Aristotelian essentialism. Originary thinking recognizes the paradoxical nature of social policy, the attempt to manipulate ourselves by creating incentives. Even the present state of our neopolitical self-consciousness is aware of this paradoxicality. When the liberal defines his beneficiary as a victim, he privileges this status and thereby inverts the sacrificial persecutor-victim relationship. But this inversion suffices to produce reciprocity only in the unambiguous case of victimization on the model of the Holocaust, not in the characteristic postmodern case where the victim‘s status results at least in part from his own acts. In contrast to the liberal who fails to take into account the transformation of the problem by its attempted solution, the neopolitician seeks to safeguard interactivity and prevent the static anticipation of rewards for victimage.

If the point of neopolitics is to replace the binary persecutor-victim model of human interaction favored by liberalism with one that insists on the agency of all the participants, then the ideal neopolitician should be more identified with the process of dialogue than with any specific position within it. This emphasis on interactivity explains why the unprincipled Clinton is a more successful neopolitician than the principled Dole. Neopolitics is about process rather than principles, just as in the scene of human origin, the reciprocal exchange of signs must precede the interpretation of these signs. Neopolitics makes the political marketplace more like the economic marketplace. This does not imply the abandonment of principle in the larger society. The extremes of either party incarnate opposing principles of various kinds whose compromise must ultimately be negotiated in the political center. But neopolitics emphasizes the central importance less of the final results of these negotiations than of their continuing to take place.

Neopolitics does not always compromise. Its insistence on agency within dialogue leads it to favor the application of moral absolutes when these absolutes are indeed generally accepted, in contrast to the liberal subordination of moral positions to the victimary model. Thus neopolitics prefers a penal system that directly punishes crime to one focused on attempting to prevent crime in the future (deterrence) or to making the criminal less likely to return to crime (rehabilitation). Treating criminals as moral agents rather than as amoral creatures subject only to stimuli and conditioning provides both more effective deterrence by strengthening the causal link between crime and punishment and a better chance of rehabilitation by contributing to the criminal’s self-respect.

But real neopolitical thought that takes into account the paradoxical nature of human interaction is rarely found in the political arena. Such thinking is less easily grasped and therefore less convincing than appeals to traditional ethical notions, which have the Burkean advantage of having stood the test of time. The neopolitical emphasis on the process of dialogue over its substance allows us to anticipate the perpetuation in the political arena of moralistic slogans at the expense of substantive debate. At the same time, we should also anticipate that the work of originary thinking in providing the ultimate justification for morality will slowly enter the general consciousness. When it will have done so, it might become appropriate to speak of the waning of the postmodern era, although one wonders what we could possibly put in its place.