He wants social change. So he looks at society today and asks what the dominant ideology is. His answer? Liberalism. He sees liberalism as having "ideological hegemony".
He then sets out what he hopes is an effective "counter-ideology" to liberalism.
A vulgarised liberalism?
Schwarzmantel believes that liberalism as a philosophy is based on a vision of a society of fully self-determining individuals. In its vulgarised, ideological form, however, it presents itself in terms of individual choice and the free market.
I'd accept much of this. Notice, though, that Schwarzmantel emphasises here a free market, right-liberalism as the reigning ideology. This makes it sound as if left-liberalism is, at best, the junior partner in the making of modern society.
Nor is it such as surprise that a philosophy which emphasises individual self-determination should then make individual choice one of its ideological planks. This doesn't seem like a corruption of the original vision to me, but a kind of logical fulfilment.
Here's Schwarzmantel himself:
... it is liberalism which is the dominant ideology (p.1)
... the dominance of liberalism as ideology has been purchased at the expense of its theoretical sophistication and intellectual depth ... (p.3)
... What passes for liberalism is a rather crude ideology of individual choice, individual rights and an uncritical view of what one author calls 'market-driven politics' (Leys, 2001) ...
... liberalism as a critical ideology has in its vulgarised 'ideological' form lost that critical edge, and abandoned its vision of a society of fully self-determining individuals ... (p.4)
Narrowing of politics?
One thing that concerns Schwarzmantel is that liberal ideology has succeeded in discouraging a commitment to the public sphere.
Liberalism (I claim) has won out as an ideology, an ideology which sees fulfilment above all as lying in the private sphere. As Benjamin Constant noted in his famous lecture on the liberty of the ancients and moderns, 'our freedom must consist of peaceful enjoyment and private independence' ... the dominance of contemporary liberalism as ideology has given liberalism a strong push towards attitudes valorising the private sphere, primarily that of consumption, and maintaining a detached, even cynical, attitude to public spheres of political activity. (p.5)
I think he's right. This is a problem not only for neo-Gramscian Marxists seeking new mass political movements, but also for traditionalists seeking to organise opposition to modernist politics.
He also believes that people have lost interest in politics because liberalism itself has swallowed up the opposition in the act of becoming hegemonic:
Traditional conservatism is not a strong contender ... the same is true of statist socialism in the period following the collapse of the USSR ... So what then is left, as ideological planks on which parties in liberal-democratic systems base their appeal?
The answer is various versions of liberalism ... Liberalism ... has absorbed the critique of other historically influential ideologies, at times taking on board a dose of social democracy to reduce the harshness of classic liberalism of the Manchester school. By the same token, those ideologies critical of liberalism, like conservatism, have entered on liberal terrain by abandoning or downplaying their own distinctive traditions ...
Other formerly more critical ideologies have adapted themselves to this vulgarised liberalism, which has been able to present itself as an ideology of freedom, choice, diversity, and thus capture if not public enthusiasm then at least acceptance as 'the only game in town'.
This then gives rise to a very impoverished spectrum of ideological and political debate ... this reduces the interest and attraction of politics and the public sphere. (pp. 5-7)
Although I don't agree on all particulars here, it's a better analysis than we usually get from the left. There's a recognition that mainstream conservatism has effectively given up a principled opposition to liberalism (and has become part of the liberal orthodoxy); there's a recognition too that traditional conservatism is one of the possible principled alternatives to liberalism (if it were more prominent).
There's a lot more of interest in Schwarzmantel's article, but I'll leave this for a future post.