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62 Editorial


Socialism has typically presented itself as a project of
human emancipation, based on a moral vision of the future,
and on a critical diagnosis of the present – informed both by
that vision of human possibilities, and by a theoretical grasp
of what stands in the way of their realisation. It has thus
seemed to involve at least two philosophical commitments
which have recently met with increasingly sceptical or
hostile responses.

First, its tendency to employ universalistic normative
concepts – such as those of social justice or human needs has been heavily criticised: on the one hand for ignoring the
significance of more specific forms of social or cultural
identity; and on the other for an anthropocentric privileging
of humans over nature, including other animal species.

Second, its endorsement of the necessity for a correct
theoretical understanding of present societies and their
future potentialities has been rejected by those sympathetic
to the various forms of cognitive relativism and anti-realism
represented by contemporary post-structuralist thought.

It is with various aspects of these critical responses to
the socialist project that most of the articles in this issue of
Radical Philosophy are concerned. In ‘Ecology and Human
Emancipation’, Tim Hayward addresses the question of
how Marxist theory is to be reconstructed in response to
ecologically grounded critiques of what he terms the
‘Promethean’ conception of human emancipation – as the
complete transcendence of nature-imposed necessities, and
hence the philosophical and practical devaluation of nature
characteristic of modernity. Hayward accepts that elements
of this Promethean aim are to be found in Marx’ s writings
and the subsequent Marxist tradition. But he argues that one
can and must detach these from a different conception of
human emancipation, also to be found in Marx, which
conceives of ‘human flourishing’ – of the realisation of
human powers and potentials – in a way that is compatible
with ecological sustainability, and indeed involves a more
positive relationship between humans and nature.

However, Hayward is critical of one particular way
of reconstructing Marxism with this same broad aim in
mind, namely that proposed by Ted Benton in ‘Humanism
= Speciesism?’, published in RP 50. Benton, in common
with a number of feminist and ecological philosophers, had
proposed a more naturalistic view of humans, one that
emphasised the continuities rather than the discontinuities
between humans and other animal species, and which thus
challenged more generally certain philosophically influen-

Radical Philosophy 62, Autumn 1992


tial ontological dualities. But for Hayward, Benton’s attempt then to ground human values in a broadly naturalistic
theory of needs fails to acknowledge the distinctiveness and
specificities of human culture, and the inherently contestable and contested character of political discourse about
human values – a concept which itself becomes problematic
once an unduly abstract conception of ‘man’ is rejected
from a culturalist standpoint.

Hayward nonetheless appears to share with Benton a
continued commitment to the project of socialist theory as
a critique of capitalism ‘from the standpoint of a future
possibility that would be preferable’. Whilst believing that
an adequate politics must be informed by ecological as well
as social theory, they do not seem to doubt the legitimacy of
regarding these as (at least potential) sciences, making
truth-claims to be understood in a realistic manner; nor the
possibility of a critical-rational discourse about values
which, even if not conducted within a framework of
straightforwardly universalistic concepts, is atleast in principle intelligible and open to all.

In RP 59 we published an article by Richard Rorty
(,Feminism and Pragmatism ‘) in which he argued, in effect,
that feminist theory and practice would do well to reject
both of these philosophical assumptions. Realism, and its
associated critique of ideological ‘misrepresentations’, are
to be replaced by the pragmatist ‘judgment’ of beliefs in
terms of their quasi-evolutionary survival-value; and feminists’ attempts to engage in a universalistic discourse of
values should be abandoned, and replaced by a form of
semantic/political separatism – one that has no need to
defend itself against charges of irrationalism or

In this issue we publish two critical responses to
Rorty’s article. In ‘How did the Dinosaurs Die out? How did
the Poets Survive?’, Catherine Wilson assesses the possible
benefits to feminism ofRorty’s pragmatism and his support
for separatism. She argues that feminists cannot afford to
dispense with a non-pragmatist understanding of why, for
example, women have so often’ failed’ to achieve what they
themselves would regard as satisfactory or fulfilling lives,
or of how they have been culturally constructed in mystifying and oppressive ways – including, in particular, that very
sense of women as alien or defective humans expressed in
the ‘horror of women’ which, in her view, operates as a
presupposition, rather than an object of critique, in Rorty’ s


Wilson also argues that Rorty’s use of quasi-evolutionary concepts in determining the ‘truth’ or ‘value’ of
beliefs has the unfortunate effect of blurring the different
roles of facts and values, of the natural and the normative reducing questions about the actual oppression of women to
whether, in the long run, the political movement for their
liberation will actually succeed. And she suggests that,
although there is something right about Rorty’ s view that
women need a separate space within which they can explore
and create their own moral vision, their own sense of what
success for them would consist in, the specific way in which
he contrasts separatism with universalism is counterproductive. For, whilst it frees women from having to ‘tell their
stories’ in terms of the prevailing universalistic discourse,
it also seems to rule out the possibility that men, despite
their self-interest, might nonetheless come to recognise the
realities and the iniquity of women’s situation.

In Wilson’s view, feminism cannot afford to do
without the critique of ideology; and if this itself requires
some form of (representationalist) realism, then feminists
cannot afford Rorty’ s pragmatism. A similar view is developed in the second response to Rorty we publish here, by
Tony Skillen, who compares Rorty’s pragmatism unfavourably with those ofDewey and Peirce. For Peirce at least
took seriously the realist notion of ‘the pursuit of truth’ , and
a form of reasoning which provides independent grounds
for practical conclusions, rather than simply being subordinated to them; and Dewey’ s ethics would, he suggests,
enable one to retain a form of universalistic humanism
within which feminism can be seen not only as a movement
for gender equality but also as enriching how such equality
is itself to be conceived. Further, Skillen maintains that
there is more to the oppression of women – and of others than the silencing of alternative voices through discursive
domination, whose effective critique in any case depends
upon a recognisably realist conception of truth: one which
is, contra Rorty, entirely consistent with the imagining of
alternative possibilities, and which is rightly concerned to
validate any claims about these.

This focus on the possibility of alternatives is also a
central theme in the interview with Istvan Meszaros we
publish here. Meszaros presents a characteristically uncompromising defence of a classically Marxist socialism, and is
scathing in his remarks about both post-modernists and
social democrats for accepting, in effect, that ‘there is no
alternative’ – an attitude that he applauds Sartre for so
consistently rejecting. After sketching out his relationship

with Lukacs, and the events leading to his own departure
from Hungary in 1956, he goes on to re-affirm his belief in
the possibility and necessity of socialism, which he
counterposes not just to capitalism, but to the power of
capital, whether in specifically capitalist or other – including bureaucratic – forms. And he maintains that it is only the
working class that can, and eventually will, act as the
collective agent of this socialist transformation, whilst also
emphasising that there can be no prospect of ‘socialism in
one country’ , and that Marxism has often failed to free itself
from its initially restricted, Euro-centric perspective.

But Meszaros acknowledges the difficulties in realising the kind of international class solidarity required by
this global vision of socialism, an issue which is implicitly
also addressed in the article by Ross Poole, ‘On National
Identity’. Responding to Jonathan Ree’s ‘Internationality’,
published in RP 60, Poole argues that, despite the thoroughly objectionable character of much that is associated
with nationalism, one can neither ignore nor straightforwardly reject the significance of the specific form of shared
identity involved in this phenomenon. Defending the concept of identity employed in a good deal of contemporary
cultural politics against Ree’ s scepticism, Poole argues that
individual or personal identities typically presuppose a
variety of social practices which themselves give rise to a
number of shared, and potentially conflicting, intersubjective
identities – including not only those of parent, worker,
consumer, etc., but also those of specific, albeit contestable,
nationalities. And, whilst national identities are, through
their relationships with the modem state, especially problematic, Poole insists that they are also to be seen as
important, and in some respects positive, resources for a
kind of moral and political discourse which cannot be
captured in the universalistic framework of Enlightenment
philosophers such as Habermas.

Finally, inaugerating a Commentary section that will
henceforth be a regular feature of the journal, Joseph
McCarney considers the intellectual background to Francis
Fukuyama’s The End ofHistory and the Last M an in the work
of Alexandre Kojeve and Leo Strauss. Fukuyama’s book,
McCarney argues, involves a project in the philosophy of
history ‘several degrees richer’ than the controversy it has
generated, and one that could be adapted in the services of
a quite different politics.

Russell Keat



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