Kinds of Left Practice
In the law school context, and more specifically in the U.S. law school context, because that’s the only place I have any idea of what might be possible, my sectarian thought is that there are two kinds of left practice to focus on. One is producing polemical but tightly reasoned analysis and alternatives that are clearly to the left of what American liberals are now willing to contemplate. The other is to help students resist and colleagues resist cooptation into the training machine of the American regime.
The first requires the analysis of the larger society’s political dynamics, which include things like the war but also like the incarceration rate for African Americans in the United States. It includes things like the fate of minimum-wage workers and illegals. Not just those things: absolutely every policy issue on which there is a division and as yet no well argued left position, or just one position where there should be several left positions.
At this level, the idea is to develop policy alternatives and classroom materials and teaching protocols that will reinforce the liberals, and also establish a presence on their flank to keep them honest. This is a classic left intelligentsia role, which we can play in the United States, and in a few other countries, just by virtue of the relative centrality of law schools in the policy apparatus of the regime.(Of course, there are many places where it’s not a meaningful option.)
We can play a second counter-hegemonic role, because we are situated not just within a policy generating apparatus, but also within a cadre training operation. The complexly oppressive American system, with its enormous power to draw people into it, is also based on the training of its elites. Law school is not a site for mass movements; law school is a training ground for the elites who manage and develop and produce the system that we are against. Law school is training for hierarchy; law school is a place where the Hessian mercenaries train to carry arms against the revolutionary forces. At the same time that it’s a source of policies, it’s a source of personnel.
It builds consciousness, a way of being that makes you a willing participant.
It makes you a bought-in person who is doing the work of the system and enjoying the rewards of rulership, administering disastrous policy for yourself as well as for other people. That is a psychological enterprise; it inculcates a way of being in relation to the state; a way of being in relation to power in general, and it’s taught in law school classrooms. Not today in the brutal Socratic mode of the 1960s but in a much more seductive, in fact, mind-numbing mode. The new, nicer mode is just as much a mode of recruitment, of intra-elite solidarity, as the old hazing mode was, and we can resist this one, too.
— Duncan Kennedy, Teaching from the Left in my Anecdotage