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61 Editorial

Since the late ’80s, all those with sympathies on the Left have
had to reconsider their position. In the editorial of the last RP,
Greg Elliott, from a knowledge of the recent history of Western
Marxism, considered the changed situation of marxist philosophy over the twenty years of RP’s existence. He expressed
opposition to two temptations offered by the present moment:

‘purblind fundamentalism’ to recover the classic marxist views;
and the empty radicalism of philosophical fashion. As another
collective member and editor for the issue you have in your
hands, I can hardly fail to take up that preoccupation over the
present situation for the philosophy of the Left, and to point out
how this issue pursues it.

It is sobering to survey the shifting ground of the Left’s
discourse during the two decades of RP’s existence. So many of
the terms we could at one time regard pretty much as ours, to
deploy and develop as we wished, have fallen to the world-wide
movement to the Right. ‘Radical’, which we took as our own
title back in 1972, has been co-opted for acerbic attacks on the
complacent structures of Western welfare-capitalism. ‘People’s’

or ‘popular’ democracy is heard of no more; most often ‘democracy’ is instead thoughtlessly identified with free-market capitalism. ‘National liberation’ has lost its association with the struggle for socialism against the domination of Western capitalism:

indeed ‘nationalism’ (ever ambivalent – as Jonathan Ree’s article in RP60 reminds us) has resurfaced in an uneasy alliance with
the extension of the capitalist market. Even ‘revolution’, no
longer a world-wide historical movement towards socialism,
now appears primarily to refer to the joyous or furious outbursts
that have unseated centralised communism.

So the Left has now to advance its case in a very uncomfortable space indeed. Some of the expressions we are left with, we
feel half embarrassed about: ‘party’, ‘state’, ‘class’. On others,
we experience a persistent difficulty in thinking coherently:

‘religion’, ‘morality’, ‘justice’, ‘reason’. But the mixture of
intellectual skills and political commitments that join forces in
RP has always made it a good place for a debate to carve out the
Left’s intellectual space. Thus it is that, over the last two years,
RP has debated Nietzsche, humanism and values – the last at a
full conference in November 1990. What of reason, whose
supposed links to truth and reality once made it the proudest term
in the firmament of Western thought? As a magazine of philosophy, RP has, in a sense, never ceased to debate with reason and
about reason. Yet, challenged at its very roots by post-modernism in various forms, reason must require our most persistent
attention. This issue illustrates the many directions that attention
has to take.

Exhibit A to support that claim is the debate below on the
legitimacy of the Gulf War. It comes from RP’s autumn 1991
conference on nations, war and violence. Mike Rustin and Greg
Elliott assess the meaning and validity of the theory of the Just
War, which was a constant, if unstated, point of reference to
legitimise the massive US/UN attack on Iraq.

The Left was confused in the face of the War, the first major
international conflict since the collapse of Soviet communism as
a world power. The fact that war was to be waged on a one-time
covert ally of the West, a regime already known for its brutality
and now guilty of an unprovoked extension of its oppressive
apparatus, made it impossible to mount a straightforward opposition to the reappearance of armed imperialist intervention.

Perhaps, for once, the West was actually doing the right thing for
Radical Philosophy 61, Summer 1992

sound reasons! Elliott’ sand Rustin’ s essays consider the key to
such legitimacy as could be claimed for the War. They conclude
with a measured opposition to it, grounded in the fusion of
values with the analysis of the realities of contemporary states.

Despite all the challenges of the present conjuncture, reason can
still function, it seems, as an oppositional force against the
rhetoric of power.

As Exhibit B, I offer Rudi Visker’s commentary on
Habermas’s attempts to sustain against all-comers a non-relativist link between rational dialogue, meaning and truth (or ‘validity’). Visker’s aim is to broaden the modem rationalist project as
Habermas has refined it, in the face of what, for Visker, is
Habermas’s own exclusiveness. Habermas over-reaches himself
in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, when he charges
those who explore the inner world of meaning with letting go
altogether of reason’s hold on truth. Better to show how meaning
can be related to validity without either one being reduced to the

In Visker’s view, to avoid swallowing up meaning in the
rules of validity, Habermas needs precisely the kind of ‘framework relativism’ explored by those he attacks. In particular,
Heidegger and Foucault – both roundly condemned by
Habermas – suggest an ethic that has a proper and valuable place
in a rational dialogue which could be universal without being
universalist. Their ‘ethic of truth … is not the experience of a
possible common identity (universality from above), but the
experience of my own identity … that can throw a bridge between us (lateral universality)’.

As Exhibit C, I can point you to our continuing debate over
realism: the claim that human knowledge is related to an autonomous real world. Some years ago, the appearance of Critical
Realism, a fusion of Anglo-Saxon philosophy of science and
Habermasian ideas of human emancipation through rationality,
changed the ground of debate on the Left. It gave renewed force
to the belief in a rational basis for critique of contemporary

In this issue of RP, Wal Suchting attacks Critical Realism in
a meticulous exposition of its founding terms. First, he criticises
an unexplained conception of the ‘powers’ of real things, as
advanced in Realism to resolve the long-standing problem of
securing scientific induction. Beyond that, he opposes Critical
Realism’s attempt to replace the Althusserian account of science
with a foundationalist metaphilosophy. For Suchting, far from
correcting a supposed idealism in Althusser, this strategy drives
Realism back towards the old idealism: the subject of knowledge
‘reflecting’ its object. Finally, Suchting finds nothing but obscurity in Realism’s distinctions between natural and social sciences’ and the consequent claims about the latter’s emancipatory
status. The entire analysis of stipulating correct methodologies
for social analysis is, for Suchting, misconceived.

The Collective was sorry recently to lose the assistance of John
Fauvel, who had taken over from me as secretary in 1983 and
who felt it was time to switch from the many demands of RP and
concentrate on his other activities. He had been a hard-working
and agreeable colleague with a wry and original view of matters,
whom we had relied on for the best part of a decade.

Noel Parker

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