Date: 21 Sep 2012

Precautionary and Proactionary as the New Right and the New Left of the Twenty-First Century Ideological Spectrum

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Abstract

Despite its specific origin in the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly after the revolution of 1789, the right–left divide of the ideological spectrum has proved remarkably resilient in anchoring public intellectual life for over two centuries. In this article, I argue that we are witnessing a 90° rotation of this ideological axis, resulting in a new set of poles, each of which combines elements of the old right–left divide. The ‘precautionary’ pole brings together the conservationist side of the right and the communitarian side of the left, whereas the ‘proactionary’ pole unites the libertarian side of the right and the technocratic side of the left. I prepare the ground for discussing these new alternatives with a consideration of the political theology of the old right–left divide, which ultimately turns on alternative visions of how the past determines the future. This ‘left’ basically holds that what is possible significantly exceeds what is probable, with liberals adopting an ‘antirealist’ and socialists a ‘realist’ stance towards the prospect of an optimal social order. Both the precautionary and proactionary poles of the new ideological spectrum are fixated on our attitude towards a future in which the ontological constitution of the polity (i.e. its ‘humanity’) is among the issue under contestation. In this emerging ideological conflict, more of which is transpiring in video than in print, the precautionaries are marked as more ‘risk-averse’ and the proactionaries more ‘risk-seeking’ than had been presumed to be the normal attitude in the modern welfare state.