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32 Reviews


Marxism, Black Power, Black Revolutionaries

C.L.R. James, Notes on Dialectics, Spheres of
Existence and The Black Jacobins, Allison and Busby,
£4.95 each
The publication of these three books, which the publishers have added to the already available Beyond a
Boundary and The Future in the Present, makes available a range of essays, histories and philosophical
discourses which previously have been unavailable,
and coincides with the entry into his ninth decade
of Cyril Lionel Robert James. To many, James, a
West Indian born in Port of Spain in 1901, is a
legendary figure – the organiser, with George Pedmore,
of the Africa Bureau, meeting with Trotsky a year
before his death and discussing blacks’ need of
Marxism, organising share-croppers in Missouri, acting as a delegate to the founding congress of the
Fourth International, supporting Nkrumah as the
African Lenin; at other times, writing on cricket
for the Manchester Guardian, on art and culture for
New Society, writing and producing a play on the
life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, warning WaIter Rodney
of his imminent assassination; and playing cricket in
the West Indies, even once hitting 46 runs off the
bowling of Learie Constantine.

James has a deep and essentially practical involvement with Marxism, and writes upon it with a fervour
that makes much contemporary ‘Harxology’ seem, what
it often is, sterile. This is especially the case
with the Notes on Dialectics, which he sees as his
most important work. The Notes is unique as a philosophy book in its often strident rhetoric and its
empirical content. The dialectic in Hegel, Marx and
Lenin is studied as a basis for examining the history
of the workers’ movement, of socialism and of the
Internationals, and to provide two conclusions which
are as contentious now as they were when they were
voiced in the 1940s: firstly, that the Soviet Union
has become state capitalism, has come to resemble
other advanced capitalist societies; secondly, that
the Leninist conception of the vanguard party must be
rejected. This criticism of the vanguard party is in
the name of a spontaneity of the masses and of a
critique of bureaucracy. On page 339 of The Black
Jacobins he writes: ‘Once more the masses had shown
greater political understanding than their leaders’;
on page 224 of the Notes on Dialectics we read:

‘Destruction of the bureaucracy is an impregnable
basis for the unmistakable separation of the revolu28

tionary movement and socialism from stalinism and
totalitarianism’. The wonder is that James’ analysis
is founded upon a consideration of Hegel’s Logic; he
comes to Marxism through that most impregnable of
intellectual fortresses, and he comes to a humanist
and voluntarist position through his own rediscovery
of the early Harx. Even if many would disagree with
James’ conclusions, the Notes, although not a standard philosophical work, does make stimulating reading
and does help in our understanding of the problem of
the dialectic.

Spheres of Existence is a series of~ssays and of
short stories, ranging from a consideration of the
role of intellectuals, to a study of Black Power, to
an analysis of the cricketer Learie Constantine.

That is, they unite what are, in essence, James’

three ‘loves’ – Marxism, culture and cricket. These
three are not accidentally or frivolously linked: the
Marxism is essentially practical, considering in
‘Black Power’ the actual strategy adopted by Stokely
Carmichael; the concern with culture is often with
those cultures which have been devalued or ignored
by colonial powers, as in ‘The Discovery of Literature in Trinidad’; the work on cricket is both understanding and critical, as in ‘Learie Constantine’ ,
where not just his record is considered, but why he
came to England and why the West Indies for so long
lacked a black captain. Basically, then, Marxist
‘readings’ of racism, of literature and of cricket,
involving the rediscovery or hidden and submerged
aspects, the interpretation of silences.

The Black Jacobins presents a detailed history of
the San Domingo revolution and its leader Toussaint
L’Ouverture. In 1791, the slaves of San Domingo
revolted, San Domingo being France’s most important
overseas market, and the greatest single market for
the slave trade. The revolt lasted until 1803, and
in that time the slaves were victorious over local
whites, British and French expeditions, and Spanish
invasion. Toussaint was a unique figure for James,
created by, not creating a revolution. The lessons
of The Black Jacobins, and the book is thoroughly
didactic, are several: that revolution is possible;
that blacks as a whole (slaves and mulattoes in San
Domingo, and therefore Africans, coloureds and Asians
in South Africa), however severely subordinated and
oppressed, can develop their own political strategy
and this can be successful; that leadership and organisation are necessary but not sufficient conditions

for action.

These books by C.L.R. James are to be unconditionally welcomed and recommended, in that they consistently present a humanism, a role for what is now
called the ‘subject’, and a clarity of argument, all
of which are often lacking in contemporary Marxist
writing. As E.P. Thompson writes on the frontispiece
to The Future in the Present:

When one looks back … to those men who are

most far-sighted, who first began to tease out
the muddle of ideology in our times, who were
at the same time marxist with a hard theoretical
basis, and close students of society, humanists
with a tremendous response to and understanding
of human culture, Comrade James is one of the
first one thinks of.

John F. Bird

Defending Positivism

R. Keat, The Politics of Social Theory: Habermas,
Freud and the Critique of Positivism, Basil Blackwell,
1981, £4.95 pb, £12.50 hc
The Politics of Social Theory is concerned to deny
the kinds of connection between epistemology and
politics which members of the Frankfurt School have
sought to establish in their defence of Marxism
against the methodological strictures of formal
sociology. It argues that it is errors in the
analysis of positivism which led critical theorists
to reject the fact/value distinction and to adopt the
mistaken position that the criteria of validity for
a critical social theory are tied to the successful
realisation of the values that guide it, and that
the mistakes involved in this position are reflected
in inconsistencies within Habermas’s theory of
knowledge-constitutive interests, and are apparent
in his account of Freudian psychoanalysis as a model
for critical social theory. It defends the facti
value distinction on the basis of a Mannheimian
‘relationist’ or ‘perspectivist’ epistemology, and
attempts to forstall its relativistic consequences
by arguing for the possibility of an objective normative critique subject to its own standards of argumentation and rationality. It thereby opts for a
‘humanistic’ critical social theory which will
‘investigate and explain those features of nonsocialist societies which are significant from the
standpoint of socialist values’ (p.57).

The main problem with the book is its ahistorical
approach to textual interpretation. Its failure to
locate the work with which it is concerned in the
intellectual context of its production results in
serious interpretative errors which both undermine
its defence of the fact/value distinction and mar
its otherwise noteworthy treatment of Habermas. On
the one hand, the Frankfurt School critique of ‘positivism’ and the fact/value distinction is misunderstood, because it is severed from its origins in the
more general critique of neo-Kantianism; and an
epistemological position which has been thoroughly
criticised by critical theorists is presented as if
it were a new way out of an old dilemma, without
consideration of the fundamental objections which.

have been made against it. On the other hand,
Habermas’s theory of knowledge-constitutive interests
is misunderstood, because it is taken to represent
‘the most sophisticated and plausible development’

of the views of critical theorists, while it actually
represents a significant departure from Horkheimer
and Adorno’s ideas of critical theory; and the significance of criticising Habermas is consequently overestimated. However, while these fundamental problems
vitiate the general argument of the book, many of its

individual analyses retain a relative validity, and
its criticism and elaboration of Habermas’s idea of
an emancipatory science is a real contribution to the
development of the idea.

1 Value-freedom and the critique of positivism
The main failure of the critical theorists’ crltlque
of positivism is taken by Keat to be that it has
‘generally failed to understand the distinct nature
of various positivist doctrines, and the logical
relations between them’ (p.36). In rejecting certain
doctrines, for example that of a scientific politics,
it is seen to have been led to reject others, for
example that of value-freedom, the maintenance of
which, it is argued, is in fact quite compatible with
the rejection of the former. In support of this
argument, Keat identifies four distinct· positivist
doctrines, examines the historical and logical relations between them, and gives a brief textual demonstration of the fact that certain critical theorists
have not discriminated between them. However, while
this conceptual clarification of the variety of different philosophical positions which have been
labelled ‘positivist’ is competently executed and of
general interest, it is woefully inadequate to the
task which it is employed to carry out – namely, the
critique of critical theorists’ conception of the
epistemological structure of a critical social theory.

The reason for this is that, like many other
commentators on the Positivist Dispute in German
Sociology (from which the whole debate over ‘critical’

social science originated), Keat puts the evident,
and startling, lack of communication between the
participants down to a failure on the part of the
critical theorists to appreciate the details of their
opponents’ position, while it is actually the result
of the fact that the two groups meant radically different things by the term ‘positivism’. Accordingly,
he fails to understand the nature of the critical
theorists’ argument, and hence their philosophical
position, because he is unaware of the object of
their criticisms. As another commentator has
recently pointed out, for Habermas, as for Adorno,
‘positivism’ refers to methodologism.

. … any neo-Kantian kind of pure logic,
which grants validity to an autonomous method
and its objectifications, which is ‘positive’

in the general sense of suppressing the social
and historical preconditions of its own
possibili ty [1]
Such a ‘pure logic’ is taken to be objectionable
for epistemological reasons (which have political
consequences – the political argument against
‘positivism’ is about the social effectivity of forms

of misrepresentation; it does not proceed from political judgment to epistemology, but vice versa). It
is seen to dehistoricise both the subject and object
of knowledge, and consequently to replace the ‘objectivity of truth’ (Adorno) by a form of subjectivism [2]
In other words, the critical theorists’ argument
against ‘positivism’ is independent of their confusion of the distinct doctrines which Keat takes to
constitute ‘positivism’. It is based on an objectivist and historical conception of truth. Keat’s
defence of value-freedom is based on an epistemology
which denies this conception of truth, without arguing against it. Like Popper he fails to get to grips
with his opponents.

Keatdefines value-freedom thus:

First, the criteria of validity for scientific
theories are logically independent of the
acceptance or rejection of normative commitments
of a moral or political kind. Second, it is
not possible to establish such normative
positions solely by reference to scientific

He explains it in terms of Nagel’s distinction
between ‘characterising’ and ‘appraising’ valuejudgments. It is argued that the validity of claims
made by social scientists may be assessed quite
independently of the normative commitments involved
in the characterisation of their objects. To ensure
the universality, as well as merely the formal
validity, of such claims, it is further argued that,
‘for any concept that appears to express or presuppose a particular normative attitude it is always
possible to replace it by one that does not do this’

(p.42) .

So Keat rejects value-free reconstruction in favour
of a modified Weberianism which retains the idea of
value-freedom in a subjective form, as a theoretical
postulate, in the idea that a variety of differentvalued reconstructions are possible, such that conflict over values can be eliminated. On this view,
apparent disagreements about explanatory
adequacy may instead reflect divergent characterisations of the object of enquiry, and so
involve no direct incompatibility between

Value-freedom remains a postulate because no argument
is produc.ed to establ ish the possibil i ty of conceptreplacement of the kind required. We are merely
offered an assurance of personal satisfaction with
the results of previous attempts. Effectively, this
amounts to the assumption of a consensus, since it is
presumed that such replacements are possible – i.e.

that the structure of the real object under consideration is such that a variety of characterisations are
possible without that structure being misrepresented.

But this is precisely what is disputed by an objectivist conception of truth. It is not the possibility
of a plurality of representations of objects which is
in question but the claim that each representation is
equally valid as a rerresentation of the essential
structure of the object, is equally capable of revealing the determinations of the object.

Like the author of another recent ‘sociological’

attack on critical theory, Richard Kilminster, Keat
misapprehends the Frankfurt School’s attitude to
empirical evidence. They were concerned to defend
empirical science against romanticism, and accept the
/,ormal independence of the criteria of validity of
empirical claims from normative commitments. What
they do not accept is that the normative commitments
constitutive or ‘characteristic’ of social reality
are ‘givens’. They see them as results of a deeper
process of determination. What they r~ject is the
reduction of social science to the sum of its
’empirical’ claims. (As Horkheimer stressed, tradi30

tional theory is preserved within Critical Theory.)
The underestimation of critical theorists’ evaluation of empirical evidence is perhaps responsible for
Keat’s mistaken belief that Habermas is not a realist.

2 Knowledge-(!onstitotive interests
Keat argues that we should reject Habermas’s theory
of knowledge-constitutive interest~ in favour of an
‘objectivist, realist alternative’, and that only if
this is done will it be possible to achieve the aims
which Habermas sets out for a critical social theory
(p.87). In the light of the above discussion this
seems a strange idea, since ‘objectivism’ is precisely
what Keat’s own epistemology lacks. Ironically,
Keat’s argument relies upon reading Habermas as a
nominalist. The basis of this reading is the idea
that Habermas’s cognitive interests are ontologically

Habermas argues that the object-domains of
forms of knowledge, and their appropriate
criteria of validity, are constituted by
certain interests; and that the possible forms
of practical application of scientific knowledge
are determined by this interest-constitution.

Thus, scientific knowledge is not neutral
normatively, and its objects do not belong to
an independent reality.

(p.66, emphasis added)
From this, Keat argues that
the naturalistic basis of Habermas’s quasitranscendental pragmatism is inconsistent with
its human interest-constitutive conception of
nature as the object-domain of ~mpirical­
analytical science
that Habermas is forced to deny the possibility of a
hermeneutics of nature, which is in fact possible
(p.72); and that an emancipatory science cannot be,
as Habermas takes it to be, interest-constitutive
since it would intrude upon the object-domains of
empirical-analytic and hermeneutic science (p.87).

Despite Habermas’s own ambivalence about the
status of the theory of knowledge-constitutive
interests, I think it is clear that the form of
argument by which it is derived does not commit
Habermas to the assertion that ‘its objects do not
belong to an independent reality’. If this is so,
Keat’s objections dissolve, for Habermas is already
a realist; at least in so far as Keat is. Keat’s
idealist understanding of Habermas is the result of
his conflation of two quite distinct senses of the
expression ‘object of knowledge’: (i) the conceptually
constituted representation which is the ‘object of
knowledge’ in the s€~se that i t is what is thought,
that it constitutes thought; and (ii) the independent
aspect of reality which is represented in thought as
the ‘object of knowledge’ in the first sense. The
idea of an ‘object-domain’ mediates these two senses
of the ‘object of knowledge’ within the first sense.

It denotes a delimitation of an aspect of reality
which is independent of the individual cognitive
subject in terms of a particular set of concepts.

Such delimitation delimits a field of knowledge, an
aspect of reality. So, in a crucial sense, its objects do belong to an independent reality. This is
acknowledged by Keat later, when he says that ‘at
another level of analysis, there is a non-subjectdependent externality’ (p.74). But he insists that
this externality must be undifferentiated: ‘There is
no distinctiveness within that externality which
determines the appropriateness of the differing
categorial frameworks’ (p.84).

This is the old problem of Kant’s noumenal realm.

It arises here, as it does in Kant, because of the
ontological agnosticism of transcendental argumentation, by which the necessity of a particular categor-

ial framework to a particular activity or form of
experience is established. It arises because the
argument that a certain form of activity or experience presupposes certain categories or ‘interests’,
which are deduced as conditions of its possibility,
leaves the ontological status of these categories
indeterminate. This is the result of the fact that
the validity of the form of activity or experience
under consideration is not demonstrated but presupposed. This does not mean, as Keat takes it to,
that externality is unstructured, but only that its
structure cannot be established without an additional
argument in support of the epistemic status of the
form of activity or experience in question.

Habermas’s interest-constitution doctrine is thus not
a prescriptive theory about the necessary form of
valid scientific enquiry into particular objects though it may look like this. It deduces the possible
social function of existing forms of science [3].

Once we realise this, we can reply to Keat’s objections as follows: (i) ‘nature as object-domain’

and ‘nature as basis of Habermas’s pragmatism’ are
theoretically constituted at different levels of
analysis, and consequently do not conflict; (ii) a
‘scientific’, as opposed to a ‘speculative’ hermeneutics of nature is not possible, not because of the
nature of science, but because of the nature of
nature! (i.e. it would be ‘speculative’ for purely
empirical reasons); (iii) the interest-constitution
of an emancipatory science does not prohibit it from
sharing a real object with other sciences, it merely
determines the different way in which it treats that

3 Emancipation
The second half of The PoZitics of SociaZ Theory
deals with the relationship between theory and
practice in a critical social theory; specifically,
with the question of emancipation. Keat works
within Habermas’s neo-Fabian conception of emancipation as enlightenment to exploit the ambiguity of
his. idea of a ‘science of reflection’. This is the
most interesting and successful part of the book.

The section on theory-testing (pp.134-144) is particularly good. However, while numerous problems with
Habermas’s conception of the theory-practice relation
are revealed, there are a number of problems with
Keat’s treatment of these problems which reflect
inadequacies within his basic approach, and restrict
his critique to a purely negative role.

Firstly, the claim that Habermas ignores the
emotional or affective side of therapy, in favour of
a purely cognitive model, and that his account cannot
therefore deal with the ‘Woody AlIen Syndrome’ profound self-understanding but no change in behaviour (pp.152 and 208) – involves a misunderstanding
of the function of Habermas’s account of Freud within
his philosophy of science. On Habermas’s account
Woody AlIen would simply be a case of failed therapy.

He quotes Freud on just this point:

The pathological factor is not [the patient’s]
ignorance in itself, but the root of this
ignorance in his inner resistances … The
task of the treatment lies in combatting these
resistances, informing the patient of what he
does not know because he has repressed it is
only one of the necessary preliminaries to
the treatment [4].

Keat’s mistake is a common one. He neglects the
specificity of Habermas’s interest in Freud.

Habermas uses Freud as an epistemoZogicaZ model for
a ‘science of reflection’, not as a model of therapeutic practice.

Secondly, Keat’s discussion of therapy takes place
within a neo-Freudian problematic which is oblivious
to the social determinants of ‘psychic’ disorder.

This is the result of the restriction on theory
imposed by the doctrine of value-freedom. His
theoretical pluralism is matched here by a pluralism
of therapeutic goals, which both denies the possibility of their ‘scientific’ determination and
neglects the fact that certain goals may not be
attainable by ‘therapy’ at all [5].

Keat’s therapeutic pluralism commits the same
error for which it reprimands Habermas’s monism,
except in reverse. It infers the ZogicaZ independence of explanatory theory from therapeutic success
and theories of technique from the fact that in practice tmese three things exhibit a degree of independence. This is to conceive of the relation between
theory and practice as tightly as Habermas does, but
to argue from practice to theory rather than vice
versa. Both positions are equally undialectical.

This lack of dialectics is evident in Keat’s general
argument against any attempts to establish a theoretical link between particular kinds of theory and
particular forms of social practice.

Keat argues that ‘one is either an “observer”,
or an “agent”, and there is no way of bridging or
transcending the gap between these two perspectives’,
and that consequently ‘one cannot, as it were,
theorise in the mode of agency’ (p.207). But, surely.

‘one’ is aZways both an observer and an agent, and
one always theorises in a mode of agency. Observation (and there are many modes of observation) being
itself a mode of agency. The question is what are
the relations between various modes of observation
and other modes of agency? Whatever the inadequacies
of Habermas’s particular conception of a critical
science – and there are many – it at least continues
to pose this question, albeit in an abstract form.

The book ends with a discussion of the complexity
of normative issues aimed at exposing the ‘normative
naivity’ of a critical theory constructed in terms of
such stark contrasts as those between autonomy and
domination, freedom and necessity, and ·self-reflection and technical ~ationa1ity. The desire to
transcend the abstract categorial dichotomies of
Kantian philosophy is seen to have led to this new
set of abstract practical oppositions, inscribed
within an all-embracing system of thought which is
maintained in a precarious unity only through a conception of reason derived from idealist metaphysics
(pp.199-201). Here again, Kant’s objection is a
valid one but he has no contribution to make to the
solution of the problem he diagnoses, no suggestions
as to how to provide the concrete mediations, lacking
in Critical Theory, necessary to the conceptualization of actual situations. His double restriction of
the discussion, to psychotherapy and to moral discourse, eliminates both politics and social theory,
and so can be of no use to attempts to grasp the
mediations between them.

While it will be of interest to those concerned
with Habermas, psychotherapy, or the development of
a purely empirical sociology, The PoZitics of SociaZ
Theory has little social theory and no politics to
offer the expectant reader.

Peter Osborne



G. Rose, Hegel Contra Sociology, Athlone Press, 1981, p.32.

Cf. Adorno, Prisms, Garden City Press, 1967, p.42: ‘The thesis of the
primacy of being over consciousness includes the methodological imperative
to express the dynamic tendencies of reality in the formation and movement
of concepts instead of forming and veri fying concepts in accordance with
the demand that they have pragmatic and expedient features’ (from the essay,
‘The Sociology of Knowledge and its Consciousness’).

This is much clearer in the work of Habermas’ s collaborator, Apel. See
K.-O. Apel, ‘The A Priori of Communication and the Foundation of the
HlDI1ani ties’, Man and World, Vol. 5, No.l; especially the final section,
section IV. The meta-scientific standpoint of the theory of cognitive
interests is emphasised there.

Habermas, J., Knowledge and Human Interests, Heinemann, 1978, p.229.

For an account of neo-Freudianism in relation to the question of the social
determinants of psychic disorders, see Jacoby, R., Social Amnesia, Harvester
Press, 1975, Chapters 2 and 3. In this book Jacoby offers a stirring
defence of Adorno’ s position on psychoanalysis – a position notably
different from, and more sophisticated than, Habermas’ s.


Moving Forward

Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress,
London, Heinemann, November 1980, £8.50 hc
One of the most bi zarre 1 i terary events of. 1920 was
the appearance of J.B. Bury’s Idea of Progress, a
book which must have required some courage, not to
say rashness, to issue but which quickly established
itself as a classic. While Pound, Joyce, Eliot and
Yeats were prophecising death and decay, Bury with
equal passion celebrated the idea and necessity of
progress. His book remains to this moment a part of
the conventional wisdom – a part of the history of
the idea of progress – and its main thesis has been
reproduced in scores of subsequent studies [1]. Bury
worked in a strongly rationalist, free-thinking tradition, deeply indebted to Comte and Spencer (to whom
the book was dedicated) which took Christianity as
the final foe to be routed before the notion of progress-could emerge in the seventeenth century. The
classical and medieval worlds were flittingly depicted, and then summarily dismissed, as lacking any
real conception of human progress on earth. This
straightforward and enticing thesis was made on the
grounds, first, that the ancient and medieval philosophies had no awareness of a long historiographical
past within which progress could be discerned; second,
that they were victims of their own belief in a
theory of historical degeneration from a Golden Age;
and third, that they were generally committed to the
image o~ human history as endlessly and recurrently
cyclical, thus making any thought of linear advancement through the ages quite impossible. Thinkers who
might be considered exceptional were derided. It is
true, Bury pointed out, that Seneca and Roger Bacon
seemed to advance some notion of progress, but in
both cases a closer examination of their work as a
whole revealed this notion to be no more than a
sporadic observation, inevitable at a certain stage
of human reflection, which in no sense anticipated
the fully developed idea.

Nisbet’s latest book sets out to overturn that
conventional interpretation. Its title seems well
chosen: the author wants to supply a history which
Bury saw fit to deny. So Nisbet spends much time
trying to show that the Greeks and Romans did have a
distinct awareness of the past, did see a measured
progression in the arts and the sciences, and did
re~er to a future in which civilisation would have
advanced. To do this he relies almost wholly and
exclusively on secondary studies – especially those
of Teggart, Lovejoy, Finley and Edelstein [2]. My
main quarrel with this early part of the book is that
it is unnecessary. I cannot enjoy the way Nisbet
writes, nor the glib manner in which he summarises
material. Indeed, before considering the overall
effect of reading a book such as this from cover to
cover, it is worth asking whether it is reliable in
detail. Nisbet supplies no references, so it is
important to know whether he is to be trusted to
report findings accurately.

The very diversity and scope of topics makes this
rather difficult to assess. It is certainly not
without errors. It is disconcerting, for instance,
to read that Julian Huxley, grandson of T.H. Huxley,
was ‘no less confident of inevitable progress than
his forebear’ (p.3l2) when that author published a
well-known lecture to show that progress was not
inevitable [3]. Nisbet also errs in detecting the

idea of progressive development in Heraclitus (p.2l)
– Heraclitus not only stated explicitly that the
changes of things occur in a vast cycle of time, but
gave this cycle a precise numerical specificity. I
would also judge the opinion that ‘it was but a short
and natural step’ from Trotsky to Stalin (p.265) as
an error; but perhaps Professor Nisbet knows something every scholar of the Russian Revolution has
missed. Such mistakes as these seem quite rare, and
for the most part occur when Nisbet starts thinking
for himself. But there are also some deep misconceptions which a little more thought might have
corrected. Among these I would list the idea that
Plato and Aristotle held substantially similar views
of progress (p.32), that Marx was committed to a
simple unilinear perspective of historical advancement (p.260) and that Malthus clearly and unequivocally believed in the progress o~ mankind (p.220).

To this we should add some of the more blatant
omissions from the book: Diderot, Helv~tius, Cabanis,
Shaftesbury, Turnbull, I1olff, Regtif de la Bretonne
and Mercier spring to mind [4].

It may be more generous to see such errors, misreadings and omissions as part of Nisbet’s overall
strategy to inject the idea of progress with a religious and spiritual sense. He declares in conclusion
that ‘if there is one generalisation which can be
made confidently about the history of the idea of
progress, it is that throughout its history the idea
has been closely linked with, has depended upon,
religion or upon intellectual constructs derived from
religion’ (p.352). This is not a generalisation from
the facts, but an axiom which informs each interpretation of period and thinker. With an astonishing disregard for evidence to the contrary Nisbet summarises
the views of Rousseau and Saint-Simon and Comte and
Marx as being ‘as religious in essence as anything
we could possibly find in any of the declared religions or sects in history’ (p.266). The problem with
this is not that it is right or wrong but that it is
wholly trivial and uninformative. The same can be
said for Nisbet’s efforts to account for the ‘present
ills of society’. The growth of irrationalism and
scepticism, the decline in the status of intellectuals
and the debasement of literature, all of which monitor
a denial of the concept of progress, derive from a
lack of culture; ‘fundamental to that lack,’ Nisbet
writes, ‘is the disappearance of the sacred, always
at the heart of any genuine culture’ (p.354).

Of course, much of this intellectual stuff and
nonsense amounts to amusing caricatures which simply
interrupt the narrative. Nisbet gets quite enraged
with the thought that anyone might have been engaged
in unnecessary or uncritical striving for material
progress or in unprofitable adulation of secular
prophets. His prophets and progress point heavenwards
and beyond time. The secular is really the sacred
unbeknown to itself, the material only imagines
itself the here and now.

Bury’s notion of human progress was a theory which
involved both a synthesis of the past and a prophecy
of the ~uture; he based this on an interpretation of
history which gave due proportion to material and
ideological factors. For Nisbet, progress in substantive terms is reducible to a simple duality which
has persisted from the Greeks to the present time.

This he codifies into two closely allied though distinguishable propositions. First of all, progress is

a slow, gradual and cumulative improvement in knowledge, the kind of knowledge embodied in the arts and
the sciences. It is also something which centres on
mankind’s moral and spiritual condition on earth, on
man’s happiness, serenity and tranquility. The goal
of progress is the increase of knowledge and the
eventual achievement of moral values (the first naturally encourages the other). Both these aspects present problems for the historian – one needs to decide
how to assess happiness, or morals, how to gauge
increases in knowledge, whether to chart humankind’s
attempts to deal with the problems presented by his
material and social conditions. Many of the thinkers
cited in the book undoubtedly thought that there was
no need to demonstrate empirically the fact of universal progress. Universal progress has at many times
been given a status rouRhly equivalent to a geometrical proposition from Euclid or an injunction from the
Old Testament. But to accept such notions is to deny
that there is any historical problem associated with
following the idea of progress through time. To
spiritualise progress is to present it as a timeless
axiom or dogma whose alterations appear only as
changes of form or presentation or emphasis. It is a
short and easy step to take from this view to asserting that Rousseau’s ‘civil religion’, Saint-Simon’s
‘New Christianity’, Comte’s ‘religion of Humanity’,
and Narx’s ‘faith in the dialectic’ are equivalent
(0.266). One would have thought it a platitude to say
that ‘progress’ had different meanings to Plato, to
Lucretius, to Newton and to Boyle, but Nisbet
manages to collapse these differences under the

rubric of ‘The Persistance of Progress’.

It strikes me as a necessary precondition for
writing history to feel a tension between the past
and the future. Sceptics and disbelievers in progress such as Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Spengler
reflected this tension in a peculiar way: they were
fitted between a pessimism they were unable to shake
and an optimism they could not believe in. Those who
can believe in progress can never replace that pessimism with an inviolable respect for the past; to
treat the past as sacred is to jettison the opportunity to change it. To treat both the past and the
future as sacred, as Nisbet does, is to engage
neither in politics nor in history bl1t in theology.

At the end of History of the Idea of Progress the
author comes clean to link progress with providence.

A title reflecting Nisbet’s theological intentions
would, one feels, have done a little to redeem what
is after all a dishonest and inaccurate book not to
be trusted.




Most obviously, John Baillie, The Belief in Progress; F.M. Cornford, The
Unwritten Philosophy; R.e;. Collingwood, The Idea of History.

Frederick J. Teggart, Theory of History; Arthur o. Lovejoy, The Great Chain
of Being; M.I. Finley, The World of Odysseus; Ludwig Edelstein, The Idea of

Progress in ClassicaZ Antiquity.


Julian Huxley, A Re-definition of Progress, UNESCO lecture, 1948.

Nisbet also writes that ‘Freudianism has lost most of the status it enjoyed
a century ago’. In 1880, Freud was 24 and was still a student of medicine.

Such carelessness is rare but does display the problems of Nisbet’ s
untrustworthy approach.

Retrospect on the Radical Gay Movement
Gay Left Collective (ed.), Homosexuality: Power and
Politics, Allison and Busby, 1980, £3.95 pb
This collection of seventeen essays is edited by the
collective of gay men who produced the now defunct
Gay Left. Rather than reprinted articles it contains
a representative sample of the principal concerns of
that journal. The contributions, most of which are
published for the first time, come from two sources:

members of the collective and a much more disparate
group of external contributors, female as well as
male. The book emerges a decade after the exuberant
genesis of the radical gay movement in Britain and it
embodies a critical, often painful scrutiny of the
subsequent fate of that movement. It looks long and
hard at the theories, strategies and tactics which
emerged in the heady days of the late sixties and
early seventies and questions their adequacy both
then and now.

A major theme in the book is an attack on sexual
‘essentialism’, a position ascribed to, amongst
others, the Freudian radicals, which conceives of sex
as an overwhelming, elemental and identity-forming
force in individuals, a source of liberation if
correctly channelled, of repression if dammed up or
wrongly diverted. Using this perspective many gay
activists saw in the homosexual a specific embodiment
of the creative, life-enhancing forces of sexuality
against the sexually repressive, life-denying conditions of capitalist society. This perspective, it is
argued (drawing heavily and explicitly on Foucault)
fails to grasp that sex, far from being an actual
force which generates human identities, is no more

than an ‘ideological construct’, a historically
specific and limiting linkage of a whole range of
unrelated human functions. Such a perspective, even
in its radical form, remains firmly within the given:

for the category ‘homosexual’ when lived by individuals is still only a partial experience in which all
the possibilities of the human organism are not
developed and the campaign for a gay lifestyle is a
campaign for a still fragmented existence. As
Jeffrey Weeks puts it:

What we must affirm ultimately is not so much
the rights of the homosexual, but the pleasures
and joy in all their multiform ways of the whole
body. It is not just the end of the homosexual
or the heterosexual we must demand but the end
of the ideology of sexuality. We must dethrone
King Sex, and replace him with the possibilities
of pleasure and sensuousness which exist in the
human animal.


Another important theme is the relationship between
gayness and the theory and practice of marxism. A
number of the contributors relate personal experience
of the failure of left-wing groups to understand the
struggles of gay women and men: Margaret Jackson and
Pat Mahony, for example, recall the taunts of male
left-wingers that they had betrayed their socialism
by abandoning the class struggle for the bourgeois
individualism of lesbian feminism. The common theoretical shortcomings amongst marxists are highlighted:

firstly, an economistic perspective which simplistically relates homosexual oppression to the capitalist
mode of production and sees the abolition of the

former as flowing simply and directly from the abolition of the latter; secondly, and following on from
the previous point, a lack of comprehension of the
equation ‘the personal is the political’ and a consequent narrow and inadequate concept of the struggle
for socialism; finally, the ubiquitous sexual essentialism which posits homosexuality as a real, discrete
and enduring identity and homosexuals as a minority
group whose special interests need to be tolerated.

The specific problems facing lesbians is a
recurring theme in the work. Simon Watney chronicles
the growing resentment of the Women’s Group within
the Gay Liberation Front over the na£ve and sexist
lifestyle politics of many of the men, a resentment
which led to the group leaving GLF in 1972 and subsequently working in the women’s movement. Sue
Cartledge discusses the need for a lesbian feminist
morality, Susan Hemmings describes the vicious and
thoroughly unscrupulous way the press handle<l, or
rather created, the Maureen Colquhoun and other

'lesbian stories' in 1978; and a number of contributors refer to the difficulties experienced by lesbian
mothers ('Wanting to have bClbies and even stay at
home with them does not bring us societal approval.

It horrifies everyone.’ (p.163).

This is a most welcome book, not simply because of
the dearth of radical gay literature but also because
it is a work of genuine quality. It casts its net far
and wide. Derek Cohen and Richard Dyer on gay
culture, John Shiers and Amber Hollibaugh on personal
experiences of gay life, Allison Hennegan on lesbians
in literature, John Marshall on the Campaign for
Homosexual Equality (‘The Politics of Tea and
Sympathy’) etc, etc. The analysis is both committed
and consistently sophisticated. Above all, the search
for concepts that can grasp unfamiliar experience is
most impressive – theory as it should be, deriving
from and in turn informing practice.

Vincent Geoghegan

Materialism and Linguistics
M. Pecheux, Language, Semantics and Ideology,
Macmi II an , 1982
Haterialists have all too infrequently felt the need
to turn to the study of linguistics. Nor has any
satisfactory account been rendered of the constitutive
relation of linguistics to philosophies of language,
which in their turn have come to play so prominent a
role in theories of society. Certainly the last two
decades have seen a marked expansion of theories of
semiology, on the one hand, and of communication on
the other. What remains at issue, however, is the
historical and linguistic adequacy of these theories.

Neither the formal play of linguistic oppositions,
for instance between paradigm and syntagm or metaphor
and metonymy, nor the profusion of notions of ‘intersubjectivity’ and the consensual nature of meaning,
can claim to be free of serious philosophical objections. It is one of the merits of Language, Semantics
and Ideology to locate these difficulties historically. Admittedly it fails to provide more than a bare
outline of the historical and ideological conflicts
which produced the ‘sciences of language’, but then
Pecheux has a more grandiose goal. It is that of
proposing a materialist science of discourse as the
means of explaining and bridging the gap between the
formal study of linguistics and the ideologies of
linguistic and discursive processes.

Despite severe differences in their conceptual
terminology, differences which do not always reflect
in the favour of the more recent theory, the need to
provide a materialist account of linguistics was
effectively formulated by Valentin Volosinov in the
1920s [1]. It was precisely in Marxism and the
Philosophy of Language that the seminal work of
Ferdinand de Saussure [2] was placed in the context
of the antecedent conflicts of 19th century linguistic
studies. At the conclusion of a lengthy historical
survey, Volosinov relates Saussurian linguistics to an
‘abstract objectivist’ tendency in the 19th-century
studies of language. This tendency is seen as the
product of the success and dominance of studies in
Indo-European philology, whose purpose was pedagogic
and whose object was ‘dead, written, alien language’

and the ‘isolated, finished, monologic utterance
divorced from its verbal and actual context’ (p.73).


As against what he designated the ‘individualistic
subjectivist’ tendency, which had already returned to
Wilhelm von Humboldt in its opposition to the formalistic study of language, Volosinov stressed the
determinant fact of the verbal and extra-verbal context. In summary, Volosinov proposed that while
linguistics was properly a science in its own domain
(phonetics, grammar, lexicon), it was flawed by a
thorough-going inability to account for theOdialogic
and contextual-historical nature of specific utterances. More formally, the new Saussurian linguistics,
with its emphasis on the system of ‘langue’ as against
‘parole’, and its concern with the synchronic rather
than the diachronic aspect of linguistic study, was
void of any conception of the situational and historical constitution of semantics. In effect a residual
‘objectivism’ had ignored the ideological and socioeconomic factors that determine the meaning of any
given utterance.

Nearly half a century later, equipped with the
whole artifice of post-structural French philosophy
and the gruelling intricacies of nascent theories of
discourse, Language, Semantics and Ideology is
engaged in elaborating an essentially similar thesis.

That is not of course to deny the peculiarly ‘modern’

character of the conceptual terminology and theoretical interests which Pecheux, perhaps unfortunately,
evinces. Nonetheless he too, and equally laudably,
commences with a philosophical history of linguistics.

With great precision and a certain inelegance, a map
is sketched of two antithetical, though both idealistic and as such complementary, tendencies in
linguistic philosophy. On the one hand, metaphysical
realism is the correlate of linguistic formalism, and
on the other logical empiricism is the attendant philosophy of semantic subjectivism. The first tendency
is traced back to the Port Royal Grammar of 1664 and
reappears in the linguistic theories of Saussure,
Harris and Chomsky. The philosophic perpetrators of
the theory, aiming to achieve a universe of fixed and
unequivocal statements, are, amongst others, Husserl
and Frege. The subjectivist tendency in linguistics
is treated as of secondary import. Its goal is a
rhetoric of conviction, of intersubjectivity and
consensus, rather than a knowledge of certainty. Its
most egregious philosophical representative is the

later Wittgenstein.

As is arguably clear in terms
of Wittgenstein’s own development from the Tractatus
to the Investigations, ‘subjectivism’ can be seen as
the complement or cast off of a too rigid objectivism
in linguistics.

The conclusion to be drawn from this history of
linguistics is philosophically unsurprising:

‘linguistics was constituted as a science (in the
form of phonology, then morphology and then syntax)
… by a constant discussion of the question of meaning and of the best way to banish the question of
meaning from its domain’ (p.55). The critical contribution of Pecheux’s work and the substantive core of
Language~ Semantics and Ideology takes the form of
tracing the re-appearance of semantic and so also of
ideological dilemmas within linguistics and the philosophy of language. While the system of language may
be the same for all people, and so also constitutes
the properly scientific object of linguistics, it is
equally the basis of ideological discursive processes.

Only by means of one or other of the idealistic solutions outlined above is it possible to separate the
system or unity of linguistics from the historical
context of language usage, its insertion in discursive
processes. With considerable skill Pecheux examines
the re-emergence of semantic problems in linguistics
itself, as problems which most frequently adhere to
the definition of a system of language and a universal
logic of syntax. The formalist version of linguistics
is forced either to ignore semantics – reference being
made to an inherent and unfortunate indeterminacy or
vagueness of language – or to resort to a radically
subjective semantics outside linguistic study itself.

For Pecheux it is quite inadmissible to separate
system and history in such a fashion. Linguistics
will continue to be faced by insuperable semantic
difficulties precisely because the problem of meaning
and of discrepant domains of thought (discursive processes) re-emerge within language. They do so in the
form of the phenomenon of ‘syntactic embedding’ and of
the relations of implication and articulation. The
former term refers to the fact that the description
of ‘utterances’ will often necessitate reference to
previous independent constructions (the preconstructed
of discourse theory). While this reference may be
productive of meaning, it constitutes an ideological
discursive mechanism rather than a purely linguistic
operation – thus, for example, anaphoric and indexical
designation are evaluative terms. The notions of
implication and articulation refer more specifically
to the discrepant relationship of logic to linguistics. Linguistic relations of implication are frequently specific and it is only possible to generalise
these by means of a ‘continuism’ that is forced to
ignore the contingent or situational properties of
the utterance by means of ‘simulation’, by treating

them ideologically ‘as if’ they could be unproblematically generalised.

To the terms introduced above Pecheux adds an
extensive discussion of a materialist theory of discursive processes. This is not unequivocally enhanced by the immediate introduction of Althusserian
and Lacanian axioms, but the function it is to perform is reasonably clear. The materialist theory of
discursive processes requires a ‘non-subjective
theory of subjectivity’ and thence of meaning. In
brief, this takes the form of a theory of ‘interdiscourse’: the delineation of the relations between
discourses – their institutional and ideological
functions – as productive of the transparent meaning
of a particular discursive formation (e.g. Ethics,
Politics, Law) in its relations of ‘equivalence’

(e.g. of substitution, symmetry, paraphrase). This
external ‘interdiscursive’ set of relations also produces the ‘intradiscursive’: the relations of implication and articulation whereby a particular discourse
propounds its own meaning. Its internal syntagmatic
operations necessarily assume, but do not acknowledge,
their dependence upon ‘interdiscourse’. It remains to
add that in the last analysis ‘interdiscourse’ is an
aspect of the ideological formation or conjuncture
which, in its turn, is subordinated to the ‘reproduction/transformation’ of the relations of production.

At this point we are explicitly returned to the
Althusser of Lenin and Philosophy [3] and to intractable debates over the science/ideology distinction.

In conclusion, I believe that Language~ Semantics
and Ideology makes certain specific and valuable
advances towards a materialist theory of semantics.

It does so in many ways in spite of itself: in its
too brief and frequently contentious discussions of
the history of linguistics in its relation to the
philosophy of language, rather than in its flighty
and repetitive invocations of Marxist-Leninist axioms.

It must be granted then that it is an extremely
difficult and frequently aggravating work. It demands
a great effort of understanding. Although I would
hope to the contrary, I imagine that, for diverse
reasons, it is an effort that many analytically
inclined addressees will not be prepared to expend.

Peter Goodrich



Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, 1973, Seminar Press.

In 1960 G. Della Volpe (whose Critique of Taste was published in 1978 by
NLB) made a further contribution in this field. Pecheux adverts to neither,
though he does refer to a later work, Foucaul t’ s Archaeology of Knowledge
(Tavistock, 1972), from which high allusive text he has clearly drawn
aspects of his own conceptual apparatus.

Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, Fontana, 1974. See also
Timpanaro, On Materialism (NLB, 1975) for a useful and often more
sensitive survey along similar lines.

NLB, 1971.

A Radical Theory on Classical Political
Carole Pateman, The Problem of Political Obligation.

A Critical Analysis of Liberal Theories, Wiley,
Chichester, 1979
Practical philosophy, in the sense of a normatively
oriented treatment of the substantive issues of ethics
and politics, is undergoing today at least a modest
revival. Through long decades it seemed that its
subject is irretrievably lost in the great divide that
growingly separates the empirical-nomological sciences

of human behaviour (in politics mostly that of voting
behaviour) on the one hand, and the metaphilosophical
inquiries dealing the the ‘logic’ of various normand value-expressions on the other. For a time it
looked that the classical tradition can be upheld
only by those who – like Leo Strauss or Hannah
Arendt – have some deep misgivings about the whole
process of historical development subsumable under
the name of ‘modernity’.

If today this trend is in a sense reversed, this

is due not merely to a growing methodological selfawareness in the light of which the strict positivist
separation between facts and norms on the one hand,
and between conceptual frameworks and historically
constituted, changing social life practices on the
other appears to be untenable. It does not demand
much sociological ingenuity to see the connection
between the revival of ‘practical philosophy’ and the
shattering of the complacent belief in the unquestionable, ‘natural’ legitimacy of the institutions of
liberal democratic state that was the result of the
social movements of the late sixties and early

One of the greatest merits of Carole Pateman’s
book is that it consciously connects up anew the
attempt to resurrect the central methodological
thrust of the classical tradition with those social
experiences that ultimately make it actual. Because
it addresses itself to the practical social problems
that emerged during this period, the book succeeds in
re-joining the normative concerns of political philosophy, the analysis of the grounds and preconditions
of the applicability of concepts like ‘obligation’,
‘consent’, ‘authority’ etc. to the realm of political
activities, with the material, empirical issues and
data, provided by, and dealt with in social and
political sciences.

In this sense Pateman’s book is undoubtedly an outcome of the sixties: its issues – practical discrimination, differential obligation, feminism, civil
disobedience etc. – loom large in the work and
represent those focal cases against and upon which
the adequacy of various liberal theories of political
obligation is to be judged. She succeeded, however,
in writing not a political pamphlet, but – in the
opinion of this reviewer – a significant and lasting
contribution to political philosophy, because she
addressed herself not merely to the issues of this
period (some of which today may seem to be overshadowed by other ones), but to the issue underlying
all of them, which is with us to stay: do the institutions of the liberal state provide adequate mechanisms
for the possibility of democratic social and political
change? Does, that is, the liberal state actually
embody liberal ideals, and in general, can the concept
of self-assumed obligation, central to these ideals,
be given a practical expression within the context of
liberal democratic institutions? By re-examining the
whole tradition of modern political theory from
Hobbes to Rawls from the viewpoing of this question
Pateman arrives at an original and highly interesting
criticism of liberalism.

Certainly, both in its central problem and in its
historico-critical method of approaching it the book
itself stands within a definite tradition of radical
political theory – in the English literature it is
especially C.B. Macpherson’s The Political Theory of
Possessive Individualism that comes immediately to
mind. But, although the influence of Macpherson is
indubitable and duly acknowledged by Pateman, the
two books represent essentially different, and in
some respects independent lines of argumentation.

Against all its opposition to the vulgarised variants
of a reductive class-analysis, Macpherson’s central
concerns are sociological: he is interested first of
all in that set of socio-historical circumstances
(and their subsequent erosion in history) that made
the theories of ‘possessive individualism’ in a
given period adequate and effective legitimating
ideologies for the institution of liberal democratic
state. Pateman’s approach, on the other hand, is
essentially philosophical: she is interested first of
all not in questions of social effectivity, but
validity. She argues not the fact that liberal
theories are no more able to provide an effective
justification for the practice of liberal democratic
political institutions, but that they always made

and inevitably make a claim – that of a radical
social voluntarism – which through this practice
never could have been and can be realised.

Both Macpherson and Pateman stand in a double,
both critical and affirmative relation to the legacy
of classical liberalism. But while for Macpherson
this seems to mean first of all a commitment to the
liberal democratic forms of political organisation
(and hence his question: what social transformations,
primarily beyond the sphere of the politics, are
necessary to give these institutions a new lease of
life?), Pateman develops a fundamental critique of
these forms and institutions themselves – a critique,
however, from the standpoint of one of the central
ideas of classical theories, that of a conception of
social life as a voluntary scheme rationally created
and critically kept alive by the freely associating
among themselves individuals. In this way she
develops and defends a theory of participatory democracy as the only way to reconcile the idea of individual freedom and equality with the existence of
structured and legitimate political authority.

The fertility of this critique of liberalism is
partially demonstrated by its ability to throw new
light on its history. As a historian of political
ideas Pateman in many respects fortunately unites the
analytic approach characteristic to English historiography of philosophy, which takes the discursiveargumentative functions of philosophy in earnest,
with the ‘Continental’ refusal to treat philosophical
theories as a mere collection of timeless arguments
concerning a number of disparate questions and
emphasis on their character as global conceptual
answers to problems that grew out from and simultaneously helped to constitute, specific forms of social
life. By centring our attention on the historical
function of definite types of argumentation she is
able to show, on the one hand, the deep ambiguity of
the ‘classical ‘ tradition, embodied not o.nly. in the
now well-known confusion between, and concrescence of,
political voluntarism and abstract individualism, but
also in the ‘move’ from radical to hypothetical
voluntarism, from ‘contract’ to ‘consent’ which is
central – as she brilliantly demonstrates – to the
theories of both Hobbes and Locke. On the other
hand, she convincingly argues that through the threehundred-year-Iong history of liberal political
thought, in which it freed itself from the most untenable presupposition of an abstract individualism,
replacing theories of contract either by methodologically sophisticated variants of consent-theory
or by the ‘conceptual argument’, it also eliminated
the central, radical element of the ‘classical’

theories, the real commitment to the idea that free
and equal individuals can be legitimately bound only
by obligations that they themselves have rationally
and voluntarily created and assumed. The price paid
for a more ‘realistic’ understanding of the relationship between the individual and society was the
liquidation of the very problem of political obligation, the silent reification of the liberal state as
a natural feature and fixture of the modern world
that neither can, nor ought to be transcended.

Through this methodology Pateman succeeds in
connecting her historical-interpretative and ‘systematic’ argumentation. The basic conceptual distinctions which are crucial to the development of the idea
of a participatory democracy – between ought and
obligation, contract and consent, power and authority
etc. – emerge, and become clarified and substantiated
through an analytic discussion of classical or more
recent texts; they throw light on these texts and
simultaneously provide a basis for their criticism.

An intellectual past is made to speak to us in this
way as tradition, not because it is of timeless
validity, but because it historically contributed to
the constitution of these forms of social-political

life with which we are vexed – and not only theoretically – today.

In the present work Carole Pateman is not directly
concerned with questions about the practical conditions of realisability of participatory democracy
(she has dealt with this problem partially in her
earlier book, Participation and Democratic Theory).

However, she does not only present an argument for
the desirability of participatory democracy (as the
only political scheme within which the concept of
self-assumed obligation, this integral element of the
modern idea of free, rational and equal individuality,
can be practically realised). At the general, philosophical level she points out that the idea of a
social-political voluntarism (which is embodied and
realised in the projected practice of participatory
democracy) can in principle be divorced from the untenable conception of abstract individualism with
which it is often confused. The self-assumed
character of social-political obligations does not
imply the denial that they ‘depend upon, and arise
from, the complex web of intersubjective meanings
and constitutive rules of social life’ (p.28). In
wake of Pitkin Pateman underlines the fact that
individuals are both superior to and subject to their
obligations – they are enmeshed in a given background
of social practices with their rules and meanings, but
are not completely submerged in them, since they can
and do use them not only to act voluntarily according
to these rules, but also to judge self-reflectively
upon their appropriateness and validity and even, if
they deem it necessary, to break or transform them
according to the critical judgement of their own.

At this point she emphasises the necessity to differentiate between the various kinds of rules, and first
of all between the concept of ‘ought’ and ‘obligation’.

There are certain basic practices of mutual aid and
forebearance which individuals ought to perform,
because ‘it would be difficult to see, empirically,
how social life could exist’ without them (p.28).

But obligation cannot be reduced to these ‘oughts’,
not only since the realm of these two are not coextensive, but also because any obligation conceptually involves something more than the morally binding
or worthy character of the action concerned: a
‘public’ declaration of commitment to the given
course of the action, which creates a new relationship, and, if individuals are thought to be free,
they can be committed solely by their own words and
deeds. The practice of self-assumed obligation is
not that of a complete arbitrariness based on mere
individual caprice and whim: it is reconcilable with
a substantive political morality, and can provide a
secure foundation for political life.

It is, however, at this point that some questions
should be formulated about the ‘positive’ conception
of the work, even from a standpoint which, like that
of the present writer, is very close both to the
fundamental philosophical position and to the political commitment of its author. Just because the book
does not present a more concretely articulated discussion of participatory democracy, it is easier to
formulate these questions in relation to the relevant
treatment of that ideohistorical tradition to which
Carole Pateman refers at this point – to the interpretation of Rousseau.

Pateman regards Rousseau as the representative of
the other, non-liberal, but participatory theory of
democracy. I have no doubts that this interpretation
captures one, and perhaps the most essential aspect
of Rousseau’s political philosophy. Nevertheless,
the treatment of this latter in the book is rather
markedly one-sided, definitely in contrast with the
well-balanced discussion of those philosophical traditions to which the author has a critical attitude.

To begin with, even the starting point of this
interpretation: the ascription of a view to Rousseau,

according to which ‘citizens are bound by the political obligations and political authority they have
created for themselves … ‘ (p.154) would demand
further scrutiny. According to Du Contrat sociaZ
people are not – in the literal sense – the creators
of those laws which first make the association
possible: this is the task and the role of the godlike, charismatic figure of the ZegisZateur
Rousseau quite explicitly states that the people are
authors of these laws only in the sense of consent
(‘Rien de ce que nous vous proposons … , ne peut
passer en loi sans votre consentement’ – Du Contrat
SociaZ, II/VII). And since one finds the functional
equivalent of this role of the ‘law-giver’ in all the
social utopias of Rousseau (see e.g. the utopia of
Clarems in the NouveZZe Helofse) , it can hardly be
regarded as merely accidental and simply passed over.

In general, Carole Pateman finds two serious
deficiencies in Rousseau – his treatment of women and
his rejection of the right of dissent or resistance
(see pp.157-161), and regards these basically as inconsistencies and contradictions in the fundamental
tenets of his political theory. It is not difficult,
however, to multiply such (from the viewpoint of
any democratic theory) ‘objectionable’ features of
his political utopia. It will suffice here merely
to refer to the principal denial in his theory of any
political pluralism (suppression of all particular
associations within the state) – one of the necessary
conditions of the emergence of the ‘general will’

out of the process of participatory, collective
decision-making and voting. It is impossible to
discuss major questions of Rousseau-interpretation
in a review; but it seems to me that the author
misses the link in Rousseau which binds together
the project of a participatory democracy with proposals aiming at the complete economic and political
atomisation of every and each individual (more
exactly: of households, the male heads of which are
the sole citizens), and in view of whi~h ~any of the
disquieting features of his political utopia appear
not as regrettable lapses and inconsistencies, but
as organic components of his theory. Since this view
(certainly not shared by the author, who treats the
state as free association of associations), which in
general amounts to the liquidation of civil society
as a precondition of genuine democracy, still can
hardly be regarded as completely obsolete and without
influence, it is rather unfortunate that Pateman
misses the opportunity to discuss it in any way.

But the discussion of Rousseau raises not merely
some questions regarding the interpretation of texts.

It specifies a point made clearly earlier (e.g. in
the criticism of Rawls): it is insufficient to
characterize a truly democratic political association
in merely procedural terms, since it has substantive
preconditions, both economic and political-moral.

It is these latter that the author finds exemplified
in the Rousseauian concept of general will, providing
the theoretical basis for a political morality of
the common good. The most essential element of this
internal-inherent standard of right that safeguards
against the possible arbitrariness of the decisions
of Citizens, is the maxim according to which a
collective decision is a binding law only ‘if it
benefits or burdens all citizens equally’ (p.153).

Leaving aside for now the question of whether such an
interpretation correctly captures the meaning of the
expression ‘oblige ou favorise ~galement’ to which
reference is made (one should not forget that, according to Du Contrat social, a law can validly establish
privileges, but it cannot concretely, i.e. by name,
determine whom they should pertain to), there are
several substantive issues raised by the interpretation.

First, it is not quite clear what justificatory
basis can be provided for such a substantive prin37

ciple of political morality as an objective standard
of evaluation of the ‘formally correct’ decisions
of the citizenry (and therefore also that of the
right of disobedience). The only justification that
the book seems to offer is the distinction made
earlier between ‘ought’ and ‘obedience’. But, rather
self-evidently, at the very least the maxim proposed
by Pateman cannot be regarded as an ‘ought’ in her
sense, i.e. as a principle of actions that constitute
a necessary precondition for the possibility of the
empirical existence of a moral-social order as such.

And in fact while Pateman sometimes uses the expression ‘ought’ in this context (e.g. pp.160-l6l), she
does not follow, if I understand her correctly, this
line of argumentation. She argues that the principles
of political morality also ‘must be created and
agreed to by citizens themselves’. This, however,
would give them exactly the same status as the one
pertaining to concrete ‘obligations’ and ‘laws’ in
the sense of the ‘formally correct’ decisions taken
by the majority of citizens. It is then unclear how
they could serve as criteria limiting the validity of
these latter. Some of the problems connected with
Pateman’s theory of disobedience (which makes the
rightness of an act depend primarily on the character
of the intent) demonstrate that the question raised
does not merely have an abstract, philosophical

Secondly, I doubt whether the main maxim of a
substantive political morality as specified in the
book is in general realisable (and even whether it

is desirable – bUL I will nOL argue this stronger
point here). The demand that any valid law should
benefit or burden all citizens equally seems to
falter already upon the ele~entary fact that the
short- and long-term effects of laws are, as a rule,
different, while the citizenry consists of people of
different ages and therefore of different lifeexpectations. Even the seemingly most neutral regulations, like a mere change in the character of
metric system, in fact have quite different effects
(both in their positive and negative consequences)
upon young children and senior citizens.

That is the great dilemma whose constant reoccurrence characterizes the whole post-Hegelian
history of practical philosophy, that of the choice
between a universal, but formal proceduralism which
is unable to account for the (substantive) conditions
of its own applicability, and a substantivism which
– at least in modern conditions – cannot make good
its claim to universality. It remains unsolved in
Carole Pateman’s book as well. But the book proves,
through its excellent critical overview of the whole
tradition, from which this dilemma (or perhaps false
alternative) grew, that its solution remains actual
and vital for contemporary political thinking. By
bringing to light many new aspects of this process
and the practical and theoretical problem-situation
created by it, the book can perhaps contribute also
to a solution that is yet to come.

G. Markus

Freedom Without Effect
Hugo Meynell, Freud, Marx and MoraZs, Macmillan,
1981, £18 hc
People have ‘effective freedom’ to the extent that
they are attentive, intelligent and reasonable in
judging what is to be done, and capable of acting
accordingly. This view, or rather definition, has
been put forward and elaborated by the theologian
Bernard Lonergan in his book Insight – A Study of
Hwnan Happiness. Hugo ~1eynell’ s previous study was
an introduction to the work of this religioner; his
new book takes a broader and, presumably more marketable, sweep at the problem of ‘effective freedom’.

It might be fair to suggest that, whereas the first
dwelt on the factors affecting human judgement, this
book treats the second part of the equation – the
factors affecting our potential to action. The
condition of ‘effective freedom’ is taken to be
possible (it is stated, quite rightly, that it would
be pointless to deny this) and then treated as desirable. This seems to me also pointless to deny since
it amounts not to an argument, but to an opinion or
inclination. A good deal of the objections I would
levy to this book is that so much of it simply
rehearses old views or dresses up inoffensive and
dull opinions as arguments deriving from those views.

Meynell thinks that such things as states, religions, moral codes and customs are good in so far as
they promote ‘effective freedom’ and its concomitant
satisfactions. The book itself dwells mostly on the
nature and the limits of those satisfactions; this it
does by exposing the curtailments set by class,
heredity and upbringing as these (and only these)
act uporr human nature. What is a good human action
depends largely on what is a good human, and that in
turn, on what is human. To furnish an answer to this
question Meynell examines the work of Laing on schizo38

phrenia, Lorenz on humans’ animal nature, Marx on the
social factors which determine the human condition,
and of Freud and Jung on the individual developments
which do so. This is a very narrow and arguable
selection (more so since Meynell generally uses only
one or two writings by each thinker) which serves as
little more than a thesaurus of quotes on human
nature from which Meynell draws at will and without
compunction. There exists a real problem in trying
to reconcile, for example, Lorenz’s view that people
have an inherited predisposition to aggressiveness
which education must control and which cuts down our
reason and intelligence with Marx’s view that there
are no inherited predispositions to behaviour, and
that humans are malleable to an almost unlimited
extent by environment (these interpretations are
Heynell’s). But this problem is not tackled. Instead
piling quotation on quotation, opinion on opinion,
weakens each (to give a ‘weak’ interpretation of
each thinker) and dilutes the whole. Marx, Lorenz,
Freud and Laing are neither commensurable nor incommensurable; they are all parts of a rarified
solution to a poorly-constituted problem.

What might have been a total disaster is slightly
redeemed by Meynell’s interesting treatment of traditional objections to naturalistic accounts of morality
He suggests a notion of ‘loose entailment’ – a value
judgement loosely entails certain kinds of statement
of fact, when to affirm the first and deny all the
others is ‘either to contradict oneself or to talk
so eccentrically as to be unintelligible’ (p.162).

This notion and the use to which it is put deftly
deflects Moore’s and Hare’s objections to deducing
statements of value from statements of fact by seeing
the naturalistic fallacy, when it really is a fallacy,
as the assumption that this deduction involves a
relationship of strict entailment. Freud, Marx and

Morals would have been a great deal more coherent and
useful if it had centered this notion of loose entailment in the book as a means to link good human actions
with human happiness, rather than drawing us through

an eternity of flexuous opinions to reach it.

Mike Short land

Creativity Bugs Sociology
D. Layder, Structure~ Interaction and Social Theory,
Routledge and Kegan Paul, £9.50 hc




Creativity bugs sociology. It bugs it no end. Just
when a Durkheim has painstakingly devised a ‘scientific’ grid of social facts to explain human action,
or a Marx has forged a dialectical method to predict
it, along comes creativity to foul up the proprietary
elegance of the works. Much of the most puckish and
stimulating recent sociology (to wit: symbolic interactionism and ethno-methodology) has celebrated this
rogue factor. Red-faced positivists and wheezing old
functionalists who acted as if they had explained
everything and knew it all are tied to poles, twigs
and branches are gathered from all around, the rumour
of matches is sibilated between jubilant ethno’s and
dancing interactionists. There is much playful taunting, and exotic ribaldry, but the flame never goes up.

For in recognizing that the problem of order is common
to both camps, the ethno’s and interactionists realize
that they cannot discount orthodox versions of ‘structure’ without substituting an etiolated version of
their own making. For without some notion of structure anything can happen and the routine or commonsense realities that interest them so much would be
meaningless. Hence ‘indexicality’ – the necessity of
grounding accounts of interaction in a locatable
context. This may not be ‘structure’ in the positivist or functionalist sense of the term, but it is an
admission of limits, a tolerance of the proposition
that intentional action is constrained in the range
and scope of its performance. And to go this far
incites a backlash from the positivists and functionalists. Where do the rules which enable communication,
interpretation and thus indexicality come from? For
to suggest that no such rules exist is to deny that
a sociological analysis of order is possible. And if
this is what the ethno-methodologists and interactionists are saying, they confine their role to a critical
assay of ‘what is really wrong’ with every conceivable
account of ‘what is really going on’.

Derek Layder spends the first half of his book
enumerating how the confrontation has shaped-up. One
by one, theories of social psychology, symbolic interactionism, ethno-methodology, functionalism, structuralism and scientific rationalism are tested, sometimes
shredded, and occasionally dismissed. But only occasionally. Layder seems to have something good to say
about all of the theories that he examines. He likes
the commitment to structure in functionalist accounts,
seeing in them an awareness of the extra-individual
constraints that regularize individual actions. At
the same time, he compliments phenomenological accounts
for scrupulously insisting that human beings are preeminently sense-making and sense-testing. Action is
not mechanically determined by external structures;
neither is it entirely free and volitional. For
Layder, it must be conceptualized in a system of constraints which, while not making actions inevitable,
are nevertheless indispensable in accounting for
their routine, predictable nature. Creativity is
therefore seen as possible only within a closely

defined system of structural limits. Thus, for
example, Layder is free to write his book only in
congruence with the impositions associated with
language, class, knowledge and other structures of
the same order of complexity. These ‘contextual’

structures are prior and constraining to the individual
act of writing the book. The latter phenomenon has a
structural dimension of its own which cannot simply be
‘read off’ by referring to elements in the ‘contextual
structure’. Thus, it is related to the situation
specific or indexical features particular to the act
of writing. These features are collectivized in the
term ‘interaction structure’. The remainder of the
book is addressed to exploiting and developing this

In pursuit of this task, data is enlisted from
Layder’s doctoral thesis on the acting profession.

The concepts of ‘contextual structure’ and ‘interaction structure’ are illustrated by examinations of
the market capacity of actors and the authority relations that obtain between a director and his company.

Layder shows how individuals negotiate reality within
a structure of objectively ascertainable restraints
that is irreducible to the design or prac~ices of the
individuals themselves. All actors want to act; but
they cannot, except in a rhetorical sense, create their
roles or play them alone.

The individual/society duality is a stock-in-trade
of sociological discourse, and these arguments have all
been well rehearsed elsewhere. The distinction between
contextual and interaction structures is proclaimed as
a theoretical advance and yet, albeit under a different
name, it is virtually a clich~ of modern organization
study (see for example the writings of Michel Crozier,
Alvin Gouldner and Norbert Elias). Genuine theoretical
advance is still harder to decry in the conclusion.

Interactionist accounts of social existence are wrong
because they assign too much autonomy to action;
structuralist accounts are wrong because they present
action as mechanically determined and therefore strip
the human agent of creativity; projects that have
hitherto been made to amalgamate the two into some
form of equable synthesis (Bourdieu and Giddens) are
wrong oecause ‘ … the net effect of such a strategy
is to emasculate the concept of structure, and thus
to adopt an ontology of interaction and an epistemology geared exclusively to its explication’ (p.141).

Layder’s solution is to recognize that interaction
and structure refer to analytically distinct yet
functionally interdependent levels of social reality.

And to celebrate the ‘discovery’ by developing a
single epistemology capable of accommodating the
mutuality that exists between the two levels. Thus
the distinction between interaction and contextual
structures – a distinction which the author concedes
may be insupportable in practice, but which is an
indispensable heuristic device. There then follows
the following sentence: ‘I have argued that these
two sets of conditions are interdependent viz-a-viz
the generation of interaction but that contextual
condi tions “overdetermine” si tuationa l ly generated
conditions’ (p.141 – italics mine). The sentence

fatally alters the balance of the foregoing thesis.

For it can only mean that pre-constituted contextual
structures are the primary shaping forces in interaction, and any ‘mutuality’ refers to a nexus of
PTOSS unequal exchange.

The heart of the text does suggest a set of very
timely programmatics for sociological enquiry. These
are: (i) a consideration of how access to structure
can be accomplished without kowtowing to propositions
of an essentialist nature, or succumbing to the selfdefeating relativism of ‘members’ accounts; (ii)
exploring how theory might reproduce the structurating and structured characteristics of interaction
without transforming dynamic relations into a static
variant of orthodox functionalism. But Layder does
not adequately transcend the description of the
problem or, more prosaically, the naming of parts.

Nor is anything else possible. It is not in the
announcement of the project to relate structure and
interaction by a single epistemology that the book’s
failure lies, since this can generate interesting
and suggestive insights, but rather it is in the
implication that the categoric grid (the contextual/
interaction duality) can finally resolve it. The
unintended consequence of the text is to demonstrate
that concepts cannot exist prior to and independently
of their expression. For to say that they can is
merely to invite the construction of an antonym that


says that they can’t, and so on, ad nauseum. Each
of Layder’s contextual ‘overdetermining’ structures
– class, economy, law and language – can be attacked
in this way. Each line of attack ruins Layder’s
proposition that discrete contextual structures
exist that are prior, pre-existant or in some other
way in advance of the occasion of their use. For to
take his view leads to the absurdity that social
structures would continue to exist after all individuals had been wiped out. It may indeed be possible
to have a recursive interpretation of structures
which have disappeared, such as Nazism or the
British Empire; but our knowledge is necessarily
supplemented by that which exists now but which had
no existence then. It would not be possible to have
an understanding of structure if there were no
individuals, since interaction is the only mirror
that we have, to show us what is going on. Before
interaction there is nothing, and what is there when
it occurs is no longer there after it has gone.

Interaction is therefore the sole context for any
study of restraint or creativity. And the unpredictable shifts in integration and direction of development which it manifests over time constitute an
outstanding challenge for theory-making. It bugs
sociology. It bugs it no end.

Chris Rojek

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