Vanguards and Paternalism Reply

By Benjamin Franks

Paternalism has long been a contentious subject in moral and political philosophy. Analyses, however, have tended to be restricted to questions concerning the legitimacy of governmental, or quasi-governmental, paternalistic action. The debate, thus, is largely limited to a contest between two positions: that of modern liberalism, with its justifications of certain types of political paternalism, as against classical liberalism’s strident objections. The contribution of political philosophies from outside of the liberal tradition has largely been disregarded in the academic literature. Outside of academia, however, radical activists have raised the issue of paternalism, and it is often invoked in their critical assessments of ‘vanguard’ actions.

The vanguard is a particular group with claims to either superior knowledge or more fortunate location in the political terrain, and which can take strategic priority and win  battles for others (and often speaks on behalf of the client group). Such a view is associated with orthodox Marxism (henceforth referred to as Leninism), and has been widely condemned by past and current anarchists, indeed repudiation of strategies based on vanguards is considered as central to the ‘antirepresentationalism’ of anarchist and related new radical movements.This is exemplified in the oft-cited
remark of the Zapatistas’ pseudonymous spokesperson, subcomandante Marcos, that he ‘shit[s] on all the revolutionary vanguards of this planet’

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