September 11, 2009


Quico says: Today, chavismo made a great leap forward in answering that age old question - is it possible for someone who isn't dead yet to roll in his grave?

Witness the brain-twisting communiqué in page 7 of today's Ultimas Noticias (unfortunately, not available online) which defends the new Framework Law on Education with reference to that old Caracas Chronicles favorite, Jurgen Habermas's theory of communicative action.

In the communiqué, the Education Ministry cites an appallingly reactionary rant it attributes to Cardinal Urosa Sabino to slam those who oppose the new Education Law as two-faced, lying, cheating oligarchs determined to keep the poor down. After citing Habermas's theory of the ideal speech situation, MinPoPoEdu goes through a series of documents nobody in the opposition recognizes on its way to condemning all who disagree with LOE as reactionaries.

In effect, the communiqué flatly refuses to engage the opposition's actual arguments against the LOE, tearing down instead a fantasy strawman argument whose authorship the cardinal has strenuously denied...and all that, in the name of ideal speech!

Lets take a minute here to take the full measure of the obsenity involved in this.

Habermas, for those of you who may be a bit rusty on this sort of thing, made his name with a theory of the social and communicative preconditions for democratic decision-making. Championing the idea that the tenor of the society-wide debate that leads up to a public policy decision is the truest test of that decisions democratic credentials, Habermas argued that it's how we talk about our common decisions that makes those decisions democratic.

In the "ideal speech situation" - the near-platonic ideal we are meant to strive for - citizens come together as equals to engage one another's views in good faith, attempting to act collaboratively to build a common understanding on the subject up for debate.

For Habermas, rationality is communicative and iterative: it is that which ensues when you put forward a view, I accept it as having been put forward in good faith and, in turn, I put forward my objections to it in good faith. That gives you the chance you consider my objections, also in good faith, and seek to modify your original position in light of them. We keep doing that, working together for as long as it takes to craft a shared understanding of the issue that we started with.

For Habermas, political decisions are democratic to the extent that the debate that leads to them approaches that ideal vision. From this point of view, no decision is perfectly democratic, but some decision-making processes are certainly more democratic than others.

The Education Ministry, somehow, sets out to champion communicative rationality by refusing, as a matter of principle, to engage any of the arguments its opponents actually put forward and militantly refusing to accord the opposition even the right to decide which views are its own.

Surely, a new record is being set here for argumntative chicanery. The same communiqué that echoes Habermas's rejection of "communicative pathologies" like gossip, unfounded allegations, clichés and empty adjectives launches into a gossip-based storm of unfounded allegations, stripping bare the store of clichés in calling Urosa Sabino's "opinions" a system of "the most rancid and exclusionist classism" before descending into pure paranoia by refuting an anonymous pamphlet circulating online as the one true voice representing the opposition's rejection of LOE.

Chavismo's refusal to engage the actual arguments of those who oppose it is already legendary. But trotting out Habermas in defense of that refusal...that's just beyond. Just beyond...