* Book: Faith of the Faithless. Simon Critchley.
In an interview with the excellent STIR magazine, the author explains why an attention to faith is an essential attribute to social chance strategies.
Q: In The Faith of the Faithless you quote Gramsci as saying: “For socialism to overcome Christianity, it has to become a religion”. What does it mean for a political endeavour or project to become a religion? and why is it important for its success?
SC: It is important for its success because it can be that thing that touches people whose interests are not directly affected by the problems of a movement. It could touch them and motivate them to act in a certain way. By religion, I am thinking about what it means to bring human beings into association, into a common front.
Now, Gramsci as a figure has always interested me, more than Marx and more than many contemporary Marxists who still have their over-weaning belief in the socioeconomic. Not that the socioeconomic isn’t important, that would be ridiculous, but for politics we have to learn common fronts, or what Gramsci called the activity of hegemony, where people with divergent interests and commitments can come together into a common front, a historical bloc as Gramsci called it. If you exclude religion or religious people from that, you’re missing the point. In Gramsci’s day what he is talking about, for the most part, is that the Catholic Church is a retrograde reactionary force, but it’s a left Catholic tradition that can be activated; but more generally, to baiting people into a sort of commonality. It is the formation of some kind of structure that is poetic or religious in that broad sense. It requires an activity of political imagination.
In The Faith of the Faithless what I talk about is in relationship to what I call the supreme fiction, namely that we live in a world where the realm of politics is a realm of fiction. It’s a realm of what Hobbes called the artificial man and the artificial soul. But to expose those fictions as fictions — so the fiction of popular sovereignty, the idea that we the people actually govern things or that we don’t live in a plutocracy or an oligarchy — it doesn’t mean we go from fiction to fact but that there can be this other idea of which I call a supreme fiction, which we knew to be a fiction yet we still believe. That in many ways is a way of formulating what might be a kind of political, poetic, and religious project.
There are two elements: a kind of romanticism, and also a kind of pragmatism. The romanticism is the idea about the supreme fiction; the pragmatism is the idea that movements are formed not by exclusions or by the cultivation of vanguards but by a construction of an association that motivates people to join it. I think that’s one of the things that we can say Occupy did for a period of time — there is the open question of what is happening with that right now.”