Is criticizing capitalism and campaigning for redistributive justice with an oppressor/oppressed narrative equivalent to endorsing the revival of ethnic cleansing, forced deportations to Gulags, political purges, and terror-starvations for the sake of a classless, communist society?
Is preserving one’s ethnicity and not wanting increasingly more tax money to be spent on social benefits for immigrants equivalent to wanting to expand the Third Reich by invading neighboring countries while “solving the Jewish Question” for the sake of a racially purified Aryan Volksgemeinschaft?
No sane person can answer yes to these questions, but still people utter the words ‘neo-Marxist’ and ‘neo-Nazi’ in debates about economic policy and immigration policy, respectively. By adding a little prefix, they feel justified to rhetorically inflate an often vague or minuscule ideological similarity in order to evoke a host of negative associations intended to pull the moral rug out from under their opponents’ feet.
But then there’s the other way around, too: intellectuals who call themselves ‘neo-Someists’ to pay tribute to or seek to revitalize some glorified ideological tradition—like when I sometimes call myself a ‘neo-Spinozist’. The aim here is to evoke positive associations and to honor a system of great ideas while shedding those that didn’t stand the test of scientific progress.
To see the differences, consider the following questions I like to ask before I assume other people’s ideological affiliation:
- What are their core beliefs?
- How would they label their ideology themselves?
- What motivations would they have to intentionally mislabel it?
- How deep is their knowledge about the concept behind the label?
- In the case of a ‘neo-‘ (re-)transformation, does it preserve the majority of ideas in the system?
- Does the label I would have used carry connotations whose rhetorical value outweighs the word’s cognitive utility?
You may read this as a memorandum on arguing in good faith.