The Popularization of Social Criticism

Email Correspondence with John Milbank (Aug 16, 2010)

Cullen-Meyer: I recently read your interview in the publication ‘God is Dead’ and I Don’t Feel So Good Myelf. I was especially impressed with your idea that atheism and sex are the new (or is it old?) opium of the people. I think there is a lot of truth to that. However, I think that social criticism is also somewhat of a bourgeois phenomenon. It seems that “anti-capitalist” is currently a popular lifestyle choice – an identity business elites are more than willing to commodify and market. It seems that movies, music, books, bumper stickers, etc. with anti-capitalist themes are consummed more than ever before.

To slightly tweek a line of your own in the given interview, it could read as such: “Knowing that they can read and blog about Marx and his contemporary epigones when they get home from work, workers may overlook the fact that they have lost the lunch hour when they could have caught up with public affairs over a sandwich in the local library”.

I think this also exemplifies the striving of a romantic self. Virtual identities are created on the web by blogging, tweeting, facebooking about what social ills disturb one’s self. Indeed, it appears that the culture industry has raised social grievances to become a spectacle that is marketable.

Do you think there might be some truth to the claim that social criticism is oftentimes an opiate of the people?

Milbank: Yes I do indeed. All that you say Matt is profoundly true. The supposedly ‘natural’ romantic self is ironically now virtual. And definitely being ‘left’ is now a lifestyle choice. Long ago, in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West, herself on the left, pointed out that leftwing people usually dress at leftwing gatherings as if they wanted to lose……………..She argued that they are generally in love with opposition and not with justice. If you don’t know this book I recommend it (especially the last bit).

Being culturally ‘left’ is now more or less to belong to the establishment. I have great difficulty to point this out to many of my students. Only the brightest grasp the kind of points that you are making.

Many thanks,


[for a previous post on this topic, look here]


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