I’ve noticed that more and more manifestos are being published these days. We have an ‘evangelical manifesto‘, an ‘emergent manifesto‘, a ‘new Christian manifesto‘ and I’m sure I could multiply examples (heck, one of the blogs I link to is called ‘Jesus Manifesto‘).
Now, by definition, a ‘manifesto’ is ‘a public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions, especially of a political nature’ but I think our recent love of manifestos goes beyond the dictionary definition of the word. Indeed, in contemporary discourse, I believe that this term carries ‘radical’ or ‘counter-cultural’ connotations, largely because of the work we must commonly associate with the notion of manifestos — The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels.
Thus, by publishing this range of manifestos, I believe that the various authors are might be appealing to these connotations, in order to brand themselves as radicals, or counter-cultural, or cutting-edge, or whatever. This, of course, is just another way of pro/claiming an higher status than others. To be radical is, primarily, to be more radical than others. To be counter-cultural is, primarily, to be more cool than others. To be cutting-edge is, primarily, to be more advanced than others. It’s a move made in comparison to others — it’s a power-play.
Furthermore, this use of language is often both a symptom and a cause of the drift from living genuinely different lives, to claiming ‘radical’ language while continuing to live lives that are little different than others. Hence, the use of ‘radical’ language becomes of means of claiming higher status, while not actually changing one’s own life.
It’s a sweet deal, no?
Unfortunately, even those who are genuinely attempting to integrate what they say with how they live, still often fall into this brand-status trap, by continuing to use language that has been so thoroughly co-opted. It is not necessary to call ourselves ‘radicals’, it is not necessary to call our publications ‘manifestos’ and yet we continue to use this language and by doing so — whether we intend to our not — we engage in an act of self-branding that carries repercussions related to our own status and, particularly, how others perceive our status.
It’s a sticky situation, eh?