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SystemThe Shaping of Modern Knowledge$
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Clifford Siskin

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035316

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035316.001.0001

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Blaming the System—Instituting the Political

Blaming the System—Instituting the Political

(p.149) 5 Blaming the System—Instituting the Political

Clifford Siskin

The MIT Press

This chapter pursues the effects of that proliferation by identifying the social incarnations of system—the ways that system re-formed society itself. It situates system as a form that mediated modernity, and shows how that mediation gave rise to the concept and practice of systematizing, its sister phenomenon of “instituting,” and the phenomenon of blaming “The System.” System became an object to blame as the traveling of system into other forms produced a new formal effect—a sense of expansive but attenuated authority: something that works both too well—“you can’t beat The System”—and not well enough—it always seems to “break down.” This chapter tracks that notion of blame in the novel, especially in Godwin’s Caleb Williams and Anna Barbauld’s editorial efforts, and links it to what I call “the logic of liberalism.” In that logic, what Smith called the “simple system of natural liberty,” came to be known, simply, as “the system.” In blaming it, we configure “things as they are” as needing change, as capable of being changed, as providing the means of effecting that change, and, crucially as always failing enough to maintain an ongoing need for change. As demonstrated by Macaulay’s speech on the Reform Bill, Liberalism’s object will always be in need of reform because those reforms will always fall short. Liberalism always needs system as an object to blame.

Keywords:   Mediation, Systematize, Institution, Blaming The System, William Godwin, Anna Barbauld, Caleb Williams, Novel, Liberalism, Thomas Macaulay

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