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43 Reviews


Reconstructing Structural
Ted Benton, The Rise and Fall of Structural Marxism;
Althusser and his Influence, Macmillan, London, 1984,
259pp lI8.00 hc, 1.6.95 pb
Benton’s book has many facets: it is an introductory
text, a re-evaluation and reconstruction of Structural
Marxism, an argument for theoretical progress lying
through the synthesis of Structural Marxism with domains such as the ecological, biological and psychological. Of immediate political relevance is its claim
that theorisation of socialist strategy requires a recognition by the Marxist tradition of non class-based
emancipatory social movements. AU these strands are
brought together in the major objective of the book – a
critical defence of Structural Marxism.

Rise and Fall is divided into three thematic parts.

The first centres on questions of epistemology as they
surface in Structural Marxism: the science-ideology distinction, the epistemological break, the concept of a
problematic, Marxism and philosophy. It deals with
problems in the Althusserian theorisation of structure,
it also outlines the basic concepts of Marx and the
specificity of his method. The concept of relative autonomy has a central organising role in the second part.

Here the sociological complexity or anti-reductionism
of the Structural Marxist method is elaborated, both as
a means of understanding the social formation, and as a
tool of socialist strategy in relation to the state, the
Marxist party and alliances. The third part of the book
answers criticisms of the Marxist tradition from sociologists, post-structuralists and Marxist-Humanists.

Although Althusser held the status of an official
philosopher in the French Communist Party, his Marxism, Benton shows, was inspired by influences outside
the canon of Marxist orthodoxy, for example, the formative structuralist influences of Lacan and LeviStrauss, as well as Bachelard’s writings on science.

Nevertheless, the fact that the human subject has no
theoretical role within Structural Marxism, and certain
parallels with natural sciences, encouraged the charge
of Stalinism against Althusser, both from MarxistHumanist and post-struct~ralist quarters. (As with the
natural sciences, objects of structuralist study are seen
not as externalisations of individual subjectivity, but
rather as being existentially a … tonomous from human
agency, but this doesn’t make structuralism a Stalinist
‘Diamat’.) However, as Benton makes clear, the complex
causality posited by Structural Marxism is a far cry
from the monocausal and ineluctable laws of Stalinist


The charge of Stalinism, together with the current
state of disarray amongst Althusserians, provides
Benton with one of the two major reasons for writing
Rise and Fall; namely to defend Structural Marxism
against post-structuralist and other critics (the other
reason being the need for an introductory text in the
area). One way in which .8enton accomplishes this defence is by laying bare Structural Marxism’S sociological
complexi ty. This completely appears as the obverse side
of the process of displacement,· as decentr ing, of human
agency by the Althusserian paradigm. The stratagem of
decentring, an anti-reificatory device, denies that the
individual agent is onto logically prior to social. structures, events and processes. This refutation of the
‘social substantiality’ of the individual subject is the
basis of Althusser’s anti-humanism.

Sociological complexity
The decentring of the subject and social totalities,
Benton indicates, is fundamental to Althusser’s theoretical project. In fact, the location of the human subject
as the basic agency of historical change (‘humanism’)
and other aspects of ‘centredness’ are taken as a critical focus not only by Structural Marxism but by the
generation of Lacan and Levi-Strauss, and later, the

There was a tendency towards centredness or reification in the pre-Althusserian versions of Historical
Materialism, and it was in the direction of these targets that Althusser concentrated his critical armoury.

Habits of Marxist thought included notions of selfpresent or self-conscious agency, a ‘metaphysics’ of
essences and expressive totalities, a logocentric perception of the structure of reality, historical teleology,
subjects and social relations seen as sociaUy discrete.

The Althusserian ‘revolution’ in Marxist thought introduced or explicated a range of concepts whose methodological premise was the decentredness of structures
and individual subjects. The new conception of social
reality. included: totalities of structural relations
(‘structures-in-dominance’) irreducible to their constituent elements; transformation of structures as a consequence of the ‘ruptural unity’ of diverse influences;
decentred individual subjects through whom, and behind
whose backs structures ‘act’; the mediation of social
relations within each’ other (‘overdetermination’); the
(anti-Iogocentric) distinction between the order of derivation of conceptual categories and the order of
determination of their real objects.

This critical array was used to address certain
Marxist theoretical tendencies, in particular, the
Hegelian-Marxist position as found, for example, in
Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness. This tendency, Benton notes, used a critique of capitalism central to which was the idea of commodity fetishism. This
critical model was used as a panacea for explanatory
difficulties: Marxists tended to see every problem as in
essence an expression of capitalist production relations.

Consequently, Benton argues, Hegelian Marxists tended
to ignore the complexity of social relations, their irreducibility to monocausal tendencies.

Althusser rejected the idea of the social totality
as an expressive totality, arguing instead for the view
that constituent relations of causally unified structures
are relatively autonomous. ‘Relative autonomy’ receives
an early formulation in Althusser’s work in terms of
the concept of overdetermination. Thus aspects of the
‘economic’, the political, etc., never exist in the pure
form but only as mediated by ambient structure, and
are hence sociologically complex.

In Structural Marxism the character of social relations cannot be identified in a historicist (a priori)
way, that is, as having a fixed nature. Whilst the conditions of their unity as systemic totalities are formally
guaranteed by the modes of production through which
they are constituted, the mechanisms which actually
maintain this unity in existence can only be specified
by investigation of the particularities which give a
structural totality its uniqueness, that is, its precise
form of overdetermination. One important consequence
of this, Benton observes, is that each systemic totality
(for example, types of intellectual or state-bureaucratic milieux, political, etc., ‘instances’ of a mode)
has its own dynamic and rhythm of development. This
enables Structural Marxism to develop its notion of
contradiction through the idea of uneven development
of social formations. This complexity had already been
recognised in the work of Lenin and Mao. Following
their insights, Structural Marxism theorised the process
of transformation or breakdown of social formations as
the condensation of diverse contradictions into a ruptural unity dispensing with the (teleological) idea of
the centrality of revolutionary organisation – pace
Lukacs or Gramsci. As a condensation, the contradictions act ‘in resonance’, so to speak, producing a more
‘violent’ effect than the sum of their individual
effects, and cause a qualitative change in the social
system. Following Althusser, Benton suggests that this
kind of model of structural systems may be applicable
to understanding structures and their breakdown in
physics and biology, as well as in society.

Throughout the text of Rise and Fall, Benton
illustrates the power and range of the Structural Marxist method in its application of complexity/relative
autonomy to different aspects of social reality. The
significance of relative autonomy as an explanatory
tool is apparent from the following textual examples.

Conjunctures: the history of a social formation is
not just that of the development of forces and relations of production; it can also be periodised in terms
of ideological and political moments or conjunctures,
that is ‘to say, the configuration and balance of forces
at a particular time. The nature of a conjuncture,
according to Structural Marxism, is determined finally
not by a sole, ‘pure’ capitalist mode, but by various
articulated modes within whose articulation capitalism
is dominant. The behaviour of minor social groups such
as social categories or intermediate classes will ultimately be determined by the nature of relations of
domination-subordination in any given articulation of
modes. Hence conjunctures are not reducible to determination by capitalism or ‘the economic’.

Political and ideological representation: traditionally, Marxists have tended to reduce political and ideo-

logical behaviour to economic class interests. Benton
points out that the political and ideological means of
representation (of economic class interests) are themselves capable of constituting and defining interests.

Interests which might in an important way be constituted at this level, it is suggested, are, for example,
those of women, ethnk minorities or homosexuals whose struggles do not relate directly to class struggles. Class alliances would also be constituted at this
level, transcending economic differences of interest,
e.g. popular or anti-fascist ‘fronts’, socialist alliances.

(See below).

State and class: the relationship between class
and state power requires an a~preciation of the differentiation of functions between ~tate agencies and pa~t­
icular fractions of the capitalist class. There is no
simple one-to-one relationship between the economic
and political dimensions of class. The fraction of the
ruling class in charge of the state apparatuses may be
different from the politically hegemonic fraction, which
may differ again from the economically dominant fraction. The work of Poulantzas, it is argued, shows that
the function of the ‘class in charge’ is not reducible to
representing the interests of the economically dominant
class, but is the specifically political-ideological hegemonic task of unifying the social formation under the
dominance of the ‘power bloc’ (dominant classes). This
hegemony also demonstrates the autonomy and specificity of the ‘superstructures’ in the way that juridicopolitical structures have a detotalising effect on class
allegiance by constituting class members as juridical
individuals – citizens.

Social class membership: although in m~ny cases where to draw the line is a matter of debate – there is
an obvious economic determinant of class membership,
as with direct producers or owners of capital, there is
also an expanding area where political and ideological
factors may be decisive. For example, white collar
workers in the public sector are 85% unionised, whilst
for the private sector the figure is about 15%. Public
spending cuts is a crucial differentiating factor. Benton
notes the contribution of Erik Olin Wright in this area
of Structural Marxism.

The family, patriarchy and the reproduction of
labour power: the family represents an insuperable difficulty for those wishing to see the reproduction of
labour power in purely economistic terms, as Benton
suggests. The gendering of occupations, for example,
has specific familial ‘determinations, based on family
structure, roles and distribution of power. Benton goes
further than this, however, in arguing that the family’s
role in the reproduction of labour power presents a
problem for Marx’s theory of value. Whether, as Benton
suggests, the family itself produces value separate from
that expended in its reproduction (wages) is arguable,

but the consequence of arguing for that position is, in
effect, to argue against the specificity of the family
and to ‘reduce’ it to the economic instance of the
Structural Marxist model. An alternative which would
maintain its relative autonomy would be to see the
family as mediating the production of value rather than
being the productive agency itself. The problem here
may stem from conflating the conceptual categories
proper to two (or more) paradigms; an economic theory
and sociological perspectives.

Benton argues, despite the consequences of his
position above, that the role of the fami~y in the constitution of gendered subjectivity cannot be dissolved
economistically. On the other hand, he notes that some
writers, Juliet Mitchell, for example, have gone so far
as to give patriarchal theory (via oedipalism) a complete autonomy, insofar as the dominance of the father
loses all .historical specificity, and it becomes difficult
to see how it can avoid the status of a universal condition. In discussing the historical specificity of forms of
patriarchy, reference to urban planning and other
demographic factors through which family structure is
constituted might have been of use – the factors behind
the development of nuclear, from extended, families,
for instance.

Socialist strategy: in the chapter ‘Class, State and
Politics’, Benton argues (following Althusser and
Poulantzas) that a socialist strategy for power must
involve the elaboration of a broad oppositional hegemony, and that this would entail the construction of an
ideology/subjectivity whose symbolic resources took
more corporate forms than class ideologies. Laclau’s
work in this area, it is noted, suggests that such corporate symbology tends to be generated in the cultural
‘space’ created by conflict between oppositional groups
and the power bloc, rather than being inscribed within
the sphere of class discourse. Benton envisages a
socialist alliance as encompassing not only intermediate
strata, but also groups/movements constituted at the
political level. Hence it would involve the political
binding of, for example, movements based on race, gender, ecology, nuclear disarmament, youth etc., as well
as those of class.

The strategy for power is premised on the hegemonic encroachment of a Gramscian ‘war of position’

and Poulantzas’s later view of state institutions as a
‘condensate’ of the existing balance of class forces.

Unfortunately, the latter idea renders the ‘method of
complexity’ problematic; the autonomy required by the
state for the performance of crucial functions is lost
(see State and class, above). Benton acknowledges this
‘Leninist’ criticism.

Nevertheless, what is radically new, and what
socialists have igno:-ed, claims Benton, is the constitution of new forms of potentially oppositional non-class
subjectivity, such as those described above. The Structural Marxist perspective recognises the plurality of
social movements as a characteristic of the current
phase of capitalism (a pluralism which in its aesthetic
tendencies has acquired the label ‘post-modernism’).

Problems with a theory of structure
The attention given to sociological complexity by
Structural Marxism has attracted a charge of ’empiricism’ or ‘pluralism’ (lack of an order of causal determination). Althusser attempts to deal with this by
pointing out that, although there is no adequate theorisation of the structure of social totalities, the fundamental assumption must be that the linking of social
relations is asymmetrical. For example, the economic,
rather than the poHtical or ideological instances, is
determinant overall.

In attempting a theory of structure, according to
Benton, Althusser moves from the pluralistic conception
of causality, which gives cogency to the work just


cited, to a Spinozist-inspired notion of causes being
immanent in their effects, which seems to reintroduce
the difficulties encountered in the commodity fetishism
approach. The problem is to specify the autonomous,
contingent character of the elements of a structure
whilst at the same time establishing the nature of their
unity. Benton argues that the theoretical sources of
Althusser’s Marxism deny him the possibility of constructing a theory of causal structure either because
he rejects realism (which he conflates with empiricism)

A Conference on
Realism in the Human Sciences
will be held in Glasgow, September 26th28th 1986.

For further details, write to: Steve Sharples,
Dpt. of Architecture,
University of
Strathclyde, Glasgow.

or because his critique of Hegelian-Marxism suggests
that to make an a priori specification of the conditions
of unity of the social formation, as a theory of structure requires, would be a form of essentialism. This
latter critique is debatable, for it seems that the project of doing just this is a non-essentialist way is, for
instance, attempted by Lukacs in his later work ( where a realist transformation of the HegelianMarxist formulation is proposed. In the end, it seems,
Althusser’s stratagem of decentring structures crucially
deprives him of a causal organising principle.

This difficulty is intensified by the fact that for
Althusser, as for the post-structuralists, realism does
not present itself as an alternative to centredness, but
rather counts as an example of it. By contrast, Benton
suggests that it is within a realist epistemology that
structures can be elucidated as causal mechanisms.

In his theory of science, Althusser’s decentred
approach produces the unsatisfactory conclusion that
sciences are historically determined and their truth historically relative. This conventionalist tendency is also
evident in Althusser’s extreme anti-empiricism which
leads him to eschew also the empirical. The raw material of science, according to him, does not include the
real object, but rather a parallel world of ‘objects of
knowledge’. This leads to a problem of correspondence
between the two worlds, a type of problem he generally solves by a conventionalist stratagem.

It is important, however, cautions Benton, to view
Althusser’s tendency in this direction against the overall tenor of his theoretical practice; the drift of its
central ideas. He goes on to suggest that a key role is
played by concepts such as the science-ideology distinction, a notion of ideology as a ‘web of error’, the
epistemological break, specificity of scientific discourse, the distinction (made to avoid logocentrism)
between the order in which objects are produced in
theory and their real mode of determination, and so on.

Benton concludes from this that, although
Althusser claims to have abandoned meta-theoretical
criteria of cognition, the main thrust of his work relies
on the validity of just such epistemological standards.

Hence, it is argued, the cognitive privileging of scientific discourse receives implicit theoretical support in
the work of Althusser. This, we are told, distinguishes
the latter’s work from the conventionalism of the
post-structuralists. Here, the abandonment of epistemology is a decisive element of method. For example, in
the work of Foucault on institutions, which are (somehow) constituted discursively, each discourse generates
its own ‘regime of truth’. For Hindess and Hirst, theory
plays a pragmatic role – the explication and justification of pre-existing political objectives and practices.

. Another indicator of epistemological anxiety within Althusser’s writings is his ‘objectivism’. There is an
insistence, notes Benton, on fitting theoretical developments within all-embracing cognitive maps. Hence, the
Newtonian revolution is seen as a qualitative break in
the history of the sciences, whereas the advent of
wave mechanics, for example, represents mere quantitative progress within the framework of classical mechanics. This objectivism, like so many aspects of
Althusser’s work, exists in tension with an alternative
viewpoint. Benton observes that in a relatively submerged,
Althusser argues for the mutual autonomy of problematics in different subject matters; he assigns each has
its own logic and methods of proof. This, we are told,
is indicative of a shift towards theoretical relativism,
incommensurability and conventionalism. A major problem with such a cognitive pluralism, Benton suggests, is
that the internality of logics to problematics renders
cross-disciplinary work impossible.

However, even if this were not the case, the very
nature of the problematic, as a cognitive structure,
would seem to present obstacles to commensuration of
this sort. In fact the interdependent nature of the conceptual elements of the problematic means that it has
the characteristic of determining that some problems
can be posed and some cannot, that is, some issues do
not get ‘problema tized’ • Further, a specific problem
can only be thought within the problematic: as Benton
himself says, ‘the concepts and problems which make up
a theoretical structure are not identifiable independently of their location within the whole’ (p. 25).

It may be that Benton’s earlier remarks on the
way that commensuration takes place could provide a
way out of this epistemological thicket. In discussing
the epistemological break in Marx, he notes that comparison takes place between a theoretical ideology and
a new scientific formulation rather than between (say)
two bona fide scientific theories. Comparison exposes
the ‘web of error’ that constitutes the theoretical
ideology. A similar account of commensuration in scientific practice is evident in the work of Lakatos, for
whom new paradigms can emerge with the degeneration
of a research programme, that is, when with respect to
certain anomalies, its application has descended to the
status of ad hoc explanation. A description of theoretical development in some ways parallel to this is given
by Popper, who suggests that a problem, the source of
new theoretical work, is the (rational) link between old
and new theory.

The character of Althusser’s problematic tends to
suggest that theoretical development takes the form of
a cognitive pluralism. The fact of one theory being historically ‘displaced’ by another would be a matter of
convention rather that epistemological judgement. However, quite other implications are evident if we turn to
his work on Marx’s break with humanism. From this it
seems to be theoretical, that is, scientific, ideologies
that are displaced rather than sciences, and hence an
epistemological distinction is being made. Consequently,
within the Althusserian paradigm theory production
could entail both cognitive pluralism and the assertion
of epistemological standards, providing that theories
refer to differing real objects, as appears to be the

case in Part I of Reading Capital.

Benton, on the other hand, Seems to have a qualified sympathy for the earlier, objectivist Althusser,
with his universalising theoretical tendencies, and at
times distances himself from the concept ‘problematic’,
using the less structured notion ‘paradigm’ instead. He
takes the view that ‘a good deal’ of new theory ‘better
characterises what is already known through alternative forms’. This suggests a more cumulative conception
of scientific development, in which closer approximations to full knowledge are gained through widening
theoretical frameworks. In line with this he believes
that one of the tasks of Historical Materialism is to
elaborate the conditions of possibility of an underlying
unity of the sciences. An adequate body of Marxist
theory would require the guiding perception that the
constitution of individual subjects depends on biological
and natural, as well as social structures.

Reply-to critics of (Structural) Marxism
Benton offers a critical defence of Structural Marxism
against the objections raised by post-structuralists, the
Left historian, E. P. Thompson, and neo-Weberian

Now, whilst aspects of Althusser’s work clearly
have a functionalist orientation, Benton argues that
this is not a necessary condition of theorising structures in terms of systemic properties. Such a systems
teleology can be avoided if we separate the historical
genesis of structures from the issue of what it is that
currently produces and reproduces their stability. By
this decentring stratagem we can substitute empirical
investigation of the determinants of structural instability for quite justifiably criticised talk about the ‘needs
of capitalism’ and the ‘nature of the working class’,
which sees the present through a historicist reading of
what has happened in previous epochs.


The Althusserian reification of the role of structures in terms of a response to ‘systemic demands’,
however, is no adequate alternative. It makes it difficult to explain the existence of contradictory tendencies within structures. The ideological state apparatuses, for example, just function to reproduce the social

Within the perspective of Structural Marxism,
then, the exorcism of agency has resulted in its return
at the systemic level. The exorcism produces a passive
subjectivity constituted by structural imperatives and
with only an illusory content which confers on individual subjects a sense of self-present or ‘centred’

agency. Such beliefs have real effects, but the beings
who think them remain un theorised, or rather, displaced
altogether from structural analysis.

Benton believes that the consequent lack of mediation between structure and agency can be remedied
within the framework of Structural Marxism. A move in
this direction would require that the traditional Marxist conception ‘ideology-as-illusion’ be (a) supplemented
and (b) its role in the constitution of subjectivity questioned.

The view of ideology as false consciousness or
illusion does not, Benton notes, allow for the real cognitive content of people’s everyday beliefs and hence
for the validity of their critical and oppositional activities. Here, he is in agreement with Thompson on the
failure of Althusserianism to accommodate the corresponden.ce between everyday ideologies and the ‘practical requirements of struggle’. Ideology construed in
this sense, he argues, would be consonant with the
Althusserian paradigm that it fits the ‘web of error’

account of ideology that Althusser gives in his theory
of science.

The view of ideologies as consisting of halftruths, truths, myth, sentimental attachments and loyal35

ties, woven into a whole fabric, bricolage-style, is a
useful one, suggests Benton, if we are to understand
workers’ actions in struggle. The idea appears in
Gramsci’s concept of ‘hegemony’. Here, cognitive and
affective elements of people’s beliefs are interrelated
and consequently their values may be continuously reaffirmed (or rejected) through practical experience of
their efficacy.

Benton counterposes this view of ideology to the
neo-Weberians’ separation of ‘ultimate’ values from the
factual content of beliefs. For the latter, values may
exist in a kind of platonic isolation, guiding action, but
not being transformed by it. At the same time, they
criticise the utilitarian concept of action found in
Marxism as being an implausible imputation of ultimate
values to members of the working class. Benton rejects
the (utilitarian) means-ends dichotomy which predicates
ultimate goals in the consciousness of workers, in
favour of a Gramscian-like conception of what motivates class struggles: the day-to-day issues faced by the
working class. Hence, there is no need, as Lockwood,
Hindess and Hirst have objected, for Marxists to read
off, in some metaphysical sense, the interests of the
working class from their position in the production process (implying pure theoreticism or economistic reductionism) because these can also be detected in the discursive practices associated with the ideological and
political activities workers involve themselves in.

Turning to the problem of what it is that limits
workers’ oppositional activities, Benton suggests that
the role of ideology, in the traditional Marxist sense,
has been much exaggerated. A clearer picture will
emerge through the consideration of the processes
through which individual subjects come to internalise
aspects of social relations as part of their psychic
structure. In this area useful insights are seen to be
offered by, for example, Marcuse and Reich into the
‘organisation of desire’, and the way this assists the
process of cognitive distortion produced by capitalism,

by providing a ‘moral and motivational dynamics of subordination’.

Benton considers that the idea of internalisation
of structural properties, providing unconscious determinations of human activity, is generally useful for
structuralist theory. That is to say that without resort
to ‘humanism’ it goes some way to closing the gap between agency and structure, produced by the notion of
ideological interpellation of the subject; the subject
remains deci!ntred insofar as he/she is constituted
through internalised structural relations.

Notwithstanding some methodological reservations
about the reception of Structural Marxism in Benton’s
Rise and Fall, its (reconstructed) Althusserian project
appears substantially vindicated. Benton’s book does
not present a narrow, sectarian structuralism, but
rather a structuralism in the classical synthesising
tradition of social theory. This approach recognises the
validity of theoretical domains outside previous definitions of the purlieu of Structural Marxism and the possibility of their incorporation within the latter.

The book lucidly covers a wide range of debates
whose positions are meticulously rehearsed and scrupulously presented. The tightly interwoven presentation
of the arguments this entails renders the process of
breaking the text into separate themes difficult.

However, Benton’s fundamental purpose throughout
is to demonstrate how Althusser’s elaboration of the
structural (systemic) totality and its cognitive form,
the problematic, provided the Left with a means of
recognising and assailing the detotalised reductionist
and empiricist forms of discourse which have enervated
Marxist theory. The appearance of Rise and Fall is
apposite in offering a critical defence of Althusser’s
project in a conjuncture where the view that it is possible to pursue the rational in the real is palpably
under siege.

Howard Feather

Criticism and Crisis
John Fekete (ed.), The Structural Allegory: Reconstructive Encounters with the New French Thought,
Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984, 269pp,
1.29.50 hb, 1.9.95 pb
After construction, deconstruction; after deconstruction, reconstruction. In the wake of structuralism and
poststructuralism, ostensibly movements with different
objectives, comes a reconstructively-minded reassessment: what if they are both part of a longer-term process – the ‘structural allegory’? Poststructuralism then
becomes the second stage of the structural allegory,
the differences and objectives of the two stages are
played down, and the reconstructive critic can proceed
to investigate their shared set of ‘metatheoretical
parameters’ and ‘common method of formalization’.

The editor of this collection sees it as being
marked by ‘a cautious transformist impulse and a strategic ecumenicism’. In case this suggests (as it does) an
uncritical pluralism of the type that Anglo-Saxon students of literary studies are only too familiar with, he


argues that it can have a radical quality: ‘a multiparadigm, anti-foundationalist program can best redeem
Saussure’s call to study the “life of signs” as if to that
study is attached a meliorist project to denaturalise,
problematise, and revalue the signs of life with practical emancipatory intent.’ Presumably this would constitute a third, and in some unexplained way more acceptable, stage of the structural allegory.

The collection that follows is an odd blend of
criticism which is reconstructive and postmodernist
(positions by no means as easily reconcilable as Fekete
seems to believe), in which the most common feature
would appear to be a strategic postmarxism: ‘Although
Marx’s work and traditions are in the background of all
these essays, their arguments invite not only a revision
of received notions about the intellectual value of
Marxism but a general reflection on models and their
ramifications as well.’ Dialectics is not much in favour
in this text and is effectively consigned to an older
tradition of paradigm bound explanatory systems. In our
brave new, multiparadigm, postsemiotic world, this

looks rather quaint.

What this adds up to is a critique of semiotics in
both its structuralist and poststructuralist manifestations. The position adopted by the contributors varies
quite considerably. Castoriadis offers a theory of the
‘radical imaginary’ in which society (and its artefacts)
is seen to be beyond systematisation: ‘society is neither
an ensemble, nor a system or hierarchy of ensembles
(or structures); it is a magma and magma of magmas’

(‘magma’ here representing an indeterminate totality).

The thrust of the argument appears to be against any
notion of teleology – ‘social significations ••• do not
denote anything’ – and in its commitment to existence
as a state of becoming rather than being it comes close
to a Derridean anti-Iogocentrism. Both Marxism and
structuralism qualify as teleological under such a reading, and hence lay themselves open to attack by a
critic concerned to explode ‘the myth of being as
determinacy’ •
Baudrillard is similarly concerned to undermine
structuralism and Marxism, but in a much more radical
way. Here the approach is apocalyptic: ‘the only strategy is catastropic ••• things have to be pushed to the
limit, where everything is naturally inverted and collapses.’ Once we have turned Stalinism on its head in
this manner (even radicals can find the notion of inevitability useful on occasion it seems), we reach ‘the
end of the bound sign’ and move into the millenarian
‘reign of the emancipated sign ••• in which all classes
eventually acquire the power to participate’. Yet
again, as with Derrida and Castoriadis, we can note a
certain rejection of the social in favour of a radical
individualism, in which we are all producers and all
free to adapt the market to our wildest consumerist
desires, ‘to a proliferation of signs according to

How this utopian-sounding procedure (if Adam
Smith crossed with Derrida is your idea of utopia)
would work in the real, non-radical-individualistic
wor Id of societies and politics, is anything but clear.

As is so often the case in French post modernist
thought, when you look for these kind of specifics you
are met with a gnomic utterance: ‘there is no longer
such a thing as ideology; there are only simulacra’;
later we are informed that ‘simulacra surpass history’

(always a useful property). Trying to follow up this
chain of reasoning is like chasing a phantom – it is
always one step ahead of you, leaving a tantalisingly
cryptic trace of its passing: ‘the cool universe of digitality absorbs the worlds of metaphor and of metonymy,
and the principle of simulation thus triumphs over both
the reality principle an~ the pleasure principle’. Faced
by a ‘universe of indeterminacy’ the radical-individualist critic can only take refuge in nihilism: ‘all that is

left is theoretical violence. Speculation to the death.’

The poststructuralist project, which retains a certain
sense of optimism in both Castoriadis and Derrida (if an
optimism without any real foundation) turns sour in
Baudrillard. ‘Speculation to the death’ is as pessimistic
a view of the hermeneutical enterprise as can be

After these apocalyptic visions, the other contributions seem rather tame. They are certainly more obviously ‘academic’ (in the Anglo-Saxon sense of the
term) although just as concerned to challenge structuralist and Marxist hegemonies. The policy seems to
be not so much ecumenically-minded as cocktailminded: Foucault and Parsons from Arthur Kroker;
Wittgenstein, Levi-Strauss, and Gadamer from Gyorgy
Markus; Derrida, Foucault and Descartes from Robert
0‘ Amico; just about every French post-Enlightenment
intellectual you are likely to think of from Andrew
Wernick, whose work drives relentlessly towards the
kind of magisterial overview the editor of this collection manifestly wants:

In effect, in the Nietzschean finale of a disintegrating positivism, modern reconciliationism, whether Cartesian or Hegelian, has discovered not only that its credalist conception
of faith was mirrored in the false ontology of
an exteriorized Absolute, but that its very
notion of a coherent consciousness had all
along been profoundly undialectical. The way
toward a higher reconciliationism lies in dropping the strained doctrinalist mode, Marxist
or otherwise, so as to grasp this new, and in
Nietzsche’s sense Buddhized, dispositif of
faith and reason, attitude and cognition, that
French rationalism, through its structuralist
dislocation, has now encountered.

Confronted by reconcilationists such as Wernick,
the ideological implications of anti-foundationalism
become particularly apparent. ‘Buddhized dispositifs’

announce a final severance with that messy world of
political practice where theories never quite reach
their objectives. The radical-individualist response to
the problem is to question the whole notion of objective; to see it as authoritarian, syncretist, logocentrist,
the product of a false consciousness that is too much
of this world: too foundationalized. In a realm of
‘higher reconciliationism’ we bracket these mundane
considerations and proclaim ourselves free: free to
demand endlessly proliferating significations, in their
own turn set free from authoritarian (signified) foundations; free to become radical, apolitical, a-responsible
indi viduals.

At least one voice in this collection is willing to
challenge such notions. In ‘Derrida and the Cupidity of
the Text’, Charles Levin tries to map out a tradition
for Derrida’s anti-foundationalism in empIriCIsm.

Derrida becomes in effect the most radical of empiricists, whose concept of ‘trace’ is ‘quite obviously a
spiritual descendant of the positivist sense-impression’

resurrects the empiricist critique of language
and naive realism in terms of a similar
ambiguous conception of the given as a pure
atomic state, a kind of abstracted immediacy
wor’king in tandem with a doctrinal deferment
of the sensual whole. It was, in a sense, the
empiricists who first argued that the play of
similarity and contiguity was in principle perpetual in order to rule out referentiality.

Only now, in Derrida, this associationism has
been revised in differential terms, and the
play takes place on paper.

Ultimately for Levin ‘Derridean deconstructionism is
another gambit in the old philosophical game of defer-


ring the danger of the world’.

It could be argued that this is the sin of most
writers in this volume. Anti-foundationalism, whether
nihilistic or chiliastic in tone, amounts to an abdication
of critical responsibility. For ‘denaturalize’, ‘problematize’ and ‘revalue’ read ‘mystify’. In the act of becoming a violent theoretician or Buddhized dispositif,
the critic abandons the world, and all those within it
who have failed to reach his level of ‘higher reconciliationism’. Neatly barricaded in by a ferocious array of
‘isms’ and ‘isations’, of gnomic utterances’ that chase
tails that are never quite there (or may never have
existed in the first place) the critic sits detached, denaturalizing and. problematizing to his solipsistic heart’s
content. Having identified a ‘crisis of knowledge’ he
withdraws. Never mind changing the world: defer it;
end of the problem.

But is there a ‘crisis of knowledge’ as we are so
glibly assured? We have become so inured to catchphrases like this in post modernist writings that we
might be failing to appreciate their ideological significance. There is less a crisis of knowledge in the world
than a crisis of relating theory to practice, and empiri-

cism, radical or otherwise, offers no solutions here. It
becomes necessary to reveal the unacceptable face of
anti-foundationalism: its commitment to an individualism which ignores the world of action and militates
against the possibility of social change. Beneath all the
talk of freedom and anti-authoritarianism lurks an
intellectual elitism of a very traditional, and very sinister, kind.

Perhaps this is what is being reconstructed in this
volume? There is certainly nothing in Fekete’s ‘strategic ecumenicism’ that would point the way forward to
a more successful conjunction of theory and practice in
the un-Buddhized, and probably un-Buddhizable, world
out there that most of us still inhabit. For all their
flaws, paradigm-bound systems of explanation have a
lot to be said for them compared to the self-regarding
posturing of their post modernist and reconstructive critics. When, like Marxism, they also hold out the possibility of change, they can seem like pretty good
advertisements for foundationalism too.

Stuart Sim

Matters of Life and
John Harris, The Value of Life, London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1985, 281pp, 115.95 hb, 1.7.95 pb
Several years ago students were taught that philosophy
had no practical role, that its problems were pseudoproblems, and that philosophers offered descriptions of
discourses or attended to abstruse logical puzzles. With
the exception of a few Marxists who saw a political
content in philosophy, this was the established view in
Britain. Linguistic and analytic philosophy was rightly
judged unimportant and the expression ‘merely philosophical’ denoted irrelevance. Today there is a resurgence of ‘practical philosophy’ which is endorsed by
the profession’s own establishment and, following the
American lead, medical ethics is fast becoming an intrinsic aspect of philosophical intervention. In the next
few years several universities will have courses in medical ethics and a generation of philosophy postgraduates will find their way into hospital wards. There
is, however, a danger that in the guise of practical
philosophy all the outworn dichotomies, distinctions,
cliches, and irrelevant, trivial, and far-fetched examples will be targeted on health-care workers. If this
were to happen then the medical profession’s interest
in philosophy would be short-lived. The alternatives are
clear. Medical ethics can be presented as an abstract
discipline which, despite a proliferation of medical
examples, will be of little help in solving the real
dilemmas of contemporary health care. On the other
hand, philosophy can be truly integrated into medical
research and practice by shedding some of its elitism
and concern with purity. If the latter is to be accomplished, philosophers of medicine will have to engage in
serious debate with physicians, which means not irritating them with science-fiction yarns of body-swops and


brain transplants, and acknowledging that there has
been some progress in the neuro-physiological sciences
since Locke.

John Harris’s book is addressed to the dilemmas of
contemporary health-care workers. It sets out to challenge the basic assumptions which underpin arguments
atJout euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, research on
human embryos, surrogate motherhood, sexual morality,
abortion, distribution of health resources, and criteria
for diagnosing death. It is an enjoyable book to read.

Avoiding the excesses of both medical and philosophical
jargon, Harris develops, with relentless logic, some
extremely controversial views about life and death
issues. There is no sympathy here for that quaint belief
that philosophy should be dispassionate and impartial.

Medical ethics, he argues, cannot be limited to the
understanding of problems; it must contribute to their

Harris’s approach to the problems of contemporary
heal th care is through his concept of a person. This
also provides him with criteria for the evaluation of
human life. A person, he argues, is ‘any being capable
of valuing its own existence’ (p. 18). Insofar as one has
the capacity to do so, then whatever value one places
on one’s life must be fully respected. For Harris a
vq.lued life should neither be involuntarily terminated
nor should a life that is not valued be prolonged. Says

To frustrate the wish to die will on this view
be as bad as frustrating the wish to live, for
in each case we would be negating the value
that the individuals themselves put on their

(p. 17)

Readers will have to judge for themselves whether

Harris is ultimately successful with his defence of
euthanasia and whether satisfactory criteria can be
formulated to indicate the certainty of a patient’s
self-evaluation. To what extent, for example, are the
values we bestow on our own lives actually mediated
by the, values others bestow on it? There may be an
answer to this question, but it should not have to be
presented to over-worked nursing staff on a casualty
ward. Yet these are the kind of problems that are to
occur if morally-relevant criteria supplant clinical criteria in the determination of treatment options. If, for
exa:mple, the scope of medical responsibility is limited
to Harris’s criteria for personhood, then the practical
implications deserve to be clearly articulated. Quite
obviously, embryos, fetuses and cadavers are incapable
of valuing themselves: so, on Harris’s terms, fetuses
can be aborted and embryos and cadavers can be utilised for experimental purposes. The problem emerges
with borderline cases where life is obviously present
but the ability to value it is hard to detect. In this
category are acute depressive states, advanced dementia, anencephalics, persistent vegetative states, and
even Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers and
academics who are unable to value anything. With the
pressing need for h”ealth-service cutbacks to pay for
defence-related priorities, this might be the wrong climate in which to provide (however unwittingly) criteria
for the witholding of life-sustaining therapy.

Harris’s position is a very radical one. It will be
more readily accepted by philosophers than physicians.

It places individual decision at the centre of arguments
concerning health care, which is a very important
counter to the excessive paternalism of medicine in the
UK. But linking the boundaries of ethical responsibility
to criteria for personal identity raises fundamental
problems concerning the kind of contribution philosophy
can make to medical practice. Harris argues that it is
mistaken to think that a definition of death will solve
problems relating to the management of patients in
persistent vegetative states. The questions are solved,
he says, by asking ‘when does life cease to matter morally?’ (p. 8). This is the point when the patient is no
longer a person, having lost the capacity to value life.

Now this point may be prior to the onset of death as
recognised by either traditional cardiorespiratory cri-

teria or by criteria for brainstem death. Thus, it was
argued during the controversy over Karen Quinlan that
the life that she did not value should not be prolonged.

But this was a legal and ethical matter which was distinct from the factual question as to whether she was
alive or dead. In a moral sense she may have been dead
or ‘as good as dead’, but clinically she was alive: when
her ventilator was switched off she continued to
breathe spontaneously, grap, yawn, manifest sleep-wake
cycles, pulsate, urinate, and show other vital signs for
several years. According to criteria for personal identity she would have been as dead as a decapitated
corpse and fit for burial. Despite centuries of philosophical scholarship the problem of personal identity
and the value of life remains unsolved. This was why
the President’s Commission in 1981 (1) rejected criteria
based on loss of personal identity and as yet no medical authority in the world has any intention of employing it. Decisions to withdraw treatment, remove ventilators, and authorise organ removal for transplantation
or exper iment, should be made on the basis of a concept of death which is philosophically well-grounded
and from which objective criteria and clinically sound
tests can be derived. Maybe one day it will be possible
to employ objective tests for personal identity and
self-evaluation, but for the present the opinion of one
neurologist holds: ‘it is easier to test pupils than
sentience. ‘

Problems arising out of attempts to define death
are raised in Harris’s final chapter, ‘Death is Abolished’. This title rebukes those who seek a definition of
death (2). Harris correctly notes that all definitions
require a condition of irreversibility, but then he goes
on to cite a hypothetical example whereby at some
point prior to death, patients could be frozen in a
state of suspended animation to be revived in the
future when, hopefully, medicine will have developed
the techniques to restore them to full h~alth. Says
Harr is: ‘So long as freezing or other methods of suspending animation are a possibility no definition of
death or even of loss of personality in terms of the
permanence or irreversibility of such a condition will
be adequate’ (p. 255). In these circumstances the essential question is not whether the patient is alive or dead
but whether he or she has a reservation for the
freezer. Given the limitations on resources, the residual ethical problem would be related to the allocation
of places. Of course, one can imagine the discovery of
a far-off frozen planet and economical transport to
ship everyone to it at some point before natural death.

That is the attractiveness of philosophy; anything is
possible as long as it is not self-contradictory. Now
science-fiction examples are an excellent way of introducing philosophical problems; they stimulate the
imagination. But they have a dubious value in the contemporary neurological debate on the end-points of
human life. And meanwhile, back in the twentieth century, there is a combination of scientific, ethical, legal,
and political reasons for a definition of death as an
irreversible event. Scientific accuracy demands a distinction between the living and the non-living; there is
an ethical imperative to know when a potential organ
donor is no longer going to need his or her organs; lawyers need to know when to put the will into operation;
law enforcement agencies need to know whether the
victim has been killed or seriously injured, and politicians may need to know whether the patient can still
register a vote.

When Harris rejects definitions of death and does
not accept their relevance to decisions affecting the
management of persistent vegetative states he implicitly excludes a number of pressing factual and ethical
problems from consideration. If no important distinction
exists between vegetative states and brainstem death

and a distraught relative strangles a patient in a persistent vegetative state, then is a charge of wilful
murder to be made or should it be mismanagement of a
corpse? These problems go back to the 1960s when the
construct ‘brain death’ first appeared in neurological
literature. At the time there was considerable terminological confusion. There were references to cerebral
death, neocortical death, irreversible coma, and brain
death, with little understanding of the underlying concepts of death. Nowadays the position is much clearer.

Brainstem death has been clearly defined and, when
adequately tested, the criteria have proved correct.

There have been numerous studies of patients meeting
criteria for brainstem death and then ventilated to
asystole. There have been no reversals. At present the
same degree of certainty is lacking in predictions of
irreversibility in persistent vegetative states. But a
recent claim that a fatal outcome can be predicted in
87% of patients in hypoxic-ischemic coma deserves
serious attention from philosophers of science, neurologists, and ethicists (3). These factual investigations
are becoming increasingly important in medical ethics.

This is why I have criticised Harris’s employment of

science fiction in this context. If moral philosophers
are not to become as irrelevant to medicine as the
brain transplant and body swop brigade have been to
psychiatry, then a greater appreciation of recent
neuro-physiological data will be required. This is the
challenge which is presented in Harris’s powerful and
stimulating book. Apart from my reservation with his
discussion of death, the issues he raises are of crucial
importance to everyone concerned with health care. By
writing so provocatively Harris will have done a great
service if he can stimulate further discussion on
matters too often taken for granted.

David Lamb


President’S Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine
and Biomedical and Behavioural Research, Defining Death, Washington,

See C. Pass is, The ABC of Brainstem Death, London, BMJ, 1983; D.

Lamb, Death. Brain Death and Ethics, London, Crooin Helm, 19″.

See D. E. Levy, J. J. Caronna, B. H. Singer et al. ‘Predicting the Outcome from Hyposix-ischemic Coma’, Journal of the American Medical
Association. 198′, 2’3, 1420-1426.

Beyond Liberal Pluralism
flmost thirty years ago, Dahl published A Preface to
Democratic Theory. That book stood as an encapSUlation of the pluralist political theory of the 1950s in
which, despite an acknowledgement of the imperfections of capitalist democracy, the Western countries
(and particularly the USA) were basicaUy endorsed as a
notable historic embodiment of the free and equal
society. This book, by contrast, is critical of corporate
capitalism and stands as an important (if implicit) selfcriticism of the pluralist tradition.

This is because Dahl now sees the economic power
of large private enterprises as a serious obstacle to the
achievement of full political equality in the state at
large. Moreover, if democracy is genuinely to be embraced in a society of free individuals, Dahl argues,
economic enterprises themselves must become open
democracies. Along with other pluralist writers, Dahl is
thus much more aware than he was of structural inequality in capitalist society, and of the substantive
rather than formal imperatives which the movement for
democracy generates. This shift of emphasis, however
expressed, would represent a major statement of contemporary political thought. All the more remarkable,
then, that Dahl has effortlessly compressed a great
deal of conceptual argument and empirical reference
into a text of 160 elegant, engaged and readable pages.

Dahl begins by examining TocqueviUe’s fears that
the inevitable growth of equality poses a threat to liberty, especially economic liberty. Further, there is the
paradox that the majority in an egalitarian democracy
can crush the interests of minorities and can choose
indeed to extinguish democracy itself. DaM argues
against these fears on two fronts. Conceptually, primary political rights are part of the very fabric of
democracy, and not (as Tocqueville and other liberals
aver) something prior to it. Consequently, to infringe

fundamental rights is antidemocratic, and to vote democratically to end democracy is not a paradox, it is
simply to undercut the meaning of self-determination.

The self-determination of members of any association
whose collective decisions are binding: that in short is
Dahl’s working definition of democracy.

The other prong of his attack is to take Tocqueville’s empirical vision bead on. Historically, it is not
the materialism and complacency of egalitarian democracies which have heralded authoritarian regimes. On
the contrary, the latter have flourished where inequality is evident and democratic culture fragile. He knows,
however, that the defensible ideal of democracy has
been used to legitimate capitalist inequality. The
assumption that equality has grown inexorably is as
problematic as the idea that liberty and equality are
necessarily at odds with each other. These considerations are especially important when we consider that
Tocqueville’s arguments took as their relevant domain
of application a republic of small farmers. Since then
the growth of giant corporations has transformed the
meaning of economic liberty and rights to property.

Dahl argues that there is little basis in Locke, Mill or
even Nozick for the massive concentration of wealth in
contemporary capitalism being seen as in some way an
entitlement attendant on economic liberty.

DaM thus moves from philosophical to sociological
considerations with ease and to effect. Overall, he
~evelops an analogy between democratic citizenship in
the state and self-government in the economic enterprise, arguing that exactly parallel justifications for
democratic self-determination can be given. Radical
shifts, in the actual patterns of ownership and control
are therefore necessary in the interests of logical and
moral consistency. There probably never could be complete equality of wealth or power, he thinks – he ack-

nowledges the imperfections of economic democracy and there is necessarily some tension between market
constraints and the social co-ordination of resources
and standards, both of which are seen as important
components of the total picture. Dahl holds that the
democratic strengths of his proposal differentiate it
from available alternatives in corporate capitalism and
bureaucratic socialism. Over time, he also expects it to
be at least as efficient, but the main gain is the
gradual development of a vibrant and intelligent democratic culture. The exact type of ownership of the cooperative enterprises envisaged is certainly conceded
to be a problem, and Dahl thinks that the right to
resources and benefits by virtue of membership of the
association is preferable to individual ownership of
parts of the whole, or to state property which is parcelled out.

The book spans a number of debates. It is framed
within the lineage of classical political theory, whilst
clearly forming part of the progressive climate of philosophical opinion on the issues of rights, freedom, and
equality. It represents an important critical turn in
pluralist political analysis, whilst managing to connect
with arguments about the role of the market in ‘feasible socialism’. In fact, Dahl prefers (‘cavalierly’) to
evade assigning his model to a place in the capitalismor-socialism spectrum, but his references to co-operative experiments in Spain and Yugoslavia of necessity
raise the issue. Since the book resonates with the possibility of a ‘third way’, and since this is clearly a popular theme these days, Dahl can be criticised for not

pursuing the question, especially since he also falls
silent on the exact arrangements for the production
and control of ‘social’ goods.

Another point Marxists would probably make is
that the interesting and sustained analogy between
economic and political processes, whilst undoubtedly an
advance on earlier brands of pluralism, is conducted in
terms of domination and self-determination. This has
the effect of skirting round the point that capitalist
inequality is based on economic exploitation and not
the absence of democracy as such.

As for the more philosophical discussions, some
will want to retain the apparent paradoxes of democracy in spite of Dahl’s claim that no dilemmas exist.

This is because he offers as a definition the substantive moral argument that self-determination is an inalienable human good, and this is what democracy at
root is about. We can agree with this, whilst seeing a
role for a more procedural definition in which there
are indeed some real tensions between personal freedom, social justice and democratic processes.

These points are not really criticisms of the book
as such, since it is not a treatise but a compact preface. But they do emerge naturally out of the shape of
Dahl’s arguments and ought to be addressed by him
somewhere. Yet there is no doubt that he has written a
provocative and interesting book, operating in that increasingly open area of debate between critical pluralism and the ‘decentralizing’ socialist trend.

Gregor McLennan

Talking Dirty
Murray S. Davis, Smut: Erotic Reality/Obscene
Ideology, Chicago and London: University of Chicago
Press, 1985, 313pp, 1.10.50 pb
‘Those who go to bed together for sex shift from vertical to horizontal interaction, a form of interaction that
occurs in very few other activities (sunbathing is perhaps the most common).’

The quotation from Murray S. Davis’s book sums up
much that is challenging and intriguing about this work.

There is a characteristic play of wit (sometimes at the
expense of strict truth), an interesting juxtaposition of
examples drawn from everyday experience, an attention
to the significance of mundane events, and uniting
them all, a Goffmanesque interest in charting the shifting modes of consciousness, the layered nature of reality. But in place of the subtle distinctions of roles and
mis en scene so characteristic of Goffman’s muted
dramas of everyday life, Davis attempts to anatomise
the techniques we deploy in the move from everyday
reality to erotic reality, and the effects of that second
reality in organising our social life. He qualifies Goffman’s assertion that the body is a peg on which we
hang a person’s self, and argues that in erotic reality,
‘the body becomes an “icon” that gives life to the self
as much as a “peg” that takes life from it.’ The book,
then, is simultaneously about the meaning we attribute

to sex, and the meaning sex gives to our lives: ‘Sex, in
short, is a reality-generating activity.’

Davis’s declared aim is to develop an analysis of
the erotic which synthesises the phenomenology of
Alfred Schutz and the existentialism of Sartre. To do
this he breaks with the most characteristic form of
sexual theorising this century, the cataloguing and
classification of acts and responses to produce a
‘scientific’ discourse on erotic life. Davis offers instead
what he calls a non-scientific – though he stresses not
unscientific – tradition of sexual knowledge. He grounds
his work on the diverse experiences of sex, as described in pornography, novels, poetry, philosophy, journalism, philosophy and the Bible, as well as by the high
priests of the ‘sexual tradition’. The results of this
apparently haphazard rag bag of quotes and speculations are genuinely refreshing. The early chapters on
the drift into ‘erotic· reality’ are dazzling in their
detail and ingenuity, clothing the dry bones of sociological theory with mind-grabbing examples. Similarly
the descriptions of the ‘Smut structures’ that shape our
sexual consciousness are fascinating and important. I
like in particular his dissection of what he puts forward as the three major traditions of sexual moralism,
the Jehovanist, the Gnostic and the Naturalist, which
underline the complexity and dense interconnections of
forms of moral regulation and ideologies: ‘Unlike
Jehovanists, both Gnostics and Naturalists like sex. But

Gnostics:ooadmire it because it is evil, because it undermines a morality they believe to be false, whereas
Naturalists accept it because it is harmless.’ It is a
nice intellectual game to locate our sexual luminaries
on this grid of interpretation. Davis places Sade,
Huysmans, Wilde and Bataille on the Gnostic scale,
Havelock Ellis, Kinsey and modern pornographers on the

Jerry Falwell, Mary Whitehouse and
Margaret Thatcher are Jehovanist clearly. But where
would we find radical feminists, Foucault or ourselves?

More importantly for this discussion, where should we
place Davis himself?

of the sexual status quo have recognised this, and the
debates within feminism, the gay and lesbian communities and parts of the left about appropriate and inappropriate forms of behaviour testify to the real ethical and political problems that inevitably result from a
rejection of sexual essentialism. Davis critically undermines his project by failing even to recognise the problem. It follows that the book ultimately contributes
little to an ultimate solution.

Jeffrey Weeks

Male Sexuality
Andy Metcalf and Martin Humphries, The Sexuality of
Men, London: Pluto Press, 1985, 256pp, l4.50 pb
If there is a ‘men’s movement’ in Britain today, which

His declared position is a plague on all their
houses. In particular he finds them all wanting because
they all want to close the gap between ordinary life
and the erotic, to bring the sexual under the control of
social norms. The Jehovanists identify sex with procreation, the Gnostics with power, and the Naturalists
·with pleasure. In each case, there is a search for ‘pure’

sex. But sex, Davis suggests, must be dirty to be challenging, must have an edge, a flavour, which makes
transgression possible. He quotes the American pornographer Mado Vassi, who welcomed the rise of gay
militancy in the early 1970s but lamented its challenge
to the stigma of homosexuality: ‘For myself, I still have
a sweet tooth for certain kinds of depravity.’

So, it seems, does Davis. In the end he appears to
argue that there is a subversive truth in sex; it is the
wedge, he writes, ‘that forces apart the components of
the cosmos long enough for human inspection’. Davis,
on inspection, turns out to be a closet Gnostic. This is
not any sin in itself. Where would we be without our
Genets or Deleuzes? The problem is that the book
seems to promise something else. In its vehement rejection of what Davis regards (wrongly I think) as Freud’s
‘instinct theory’, in his endorsement of social construction theorists such as Gagnon and Simon, in his quoting
of Foucault, Davis appears to be working towards an
interestingly different challenge to sexual essentialism.

Yet, transparently, sexuality cannot simultaneously be
a osocial construct, a historical invention and ‘one of
the few activities through which humanity can become
conscious of the incompatibility of cosmic principles’.

Sexuali ty re-emerges here as an autonomous domain, as
a different reality from which we can tear apart the
assumptions of the everyday reality which envelopes us.

This, I believe, is fundamentally misguided. If there are
many sexualities (as there are), then sexuality cannot
in itself provide a platform for critique. Many critics

may be doubted, the authors and editors of this book
have fair claim to represent it. At least seven of the
nine have published with Achilles Heel, the anti-sexist
men’s magazine, or have served on its editorial collective. Several have been active in gay politics and at
least four have children of their own. Individually they
are artists, lecturers, social workers, and therapists;
jointly they are writers and “activists. All appear united
through theoretical practice in a commitment to understand and reconstruct male sexuality in the 1980s,
beginning with themselves.


Much of this can be learned from the contributors’ page and from the table of contents, where
each author’s name is attached to his chapter. Thereafter a kind of collective responsibility seems to take
over, for the names do not reappear and, with but a
few exceptions, the text reads like a monograph. A
firm editorial hand is no doubt to be thanked for this
happy achievement. Each chapter is written personally
and clearly, using minimal jargon. The prose is often
moving, occasionally even beautiful, which suggests its
origin in hard-won personal struggles. These virtues
culminate in the final chapter, ‘Fear and Intimacy’, by
Vic Seidler. Outside feminist literature I cannot recall
reading a more authentic synthe~is of scholarship, political analysis, and personal experience.

Unlike some anti-sexist men, however, the authors
do not present themselves as feminists manguees.

Hair-shirts are not worn and breast-beating does not
take place on these pages. Penal attonement for phallic
masculinity would be frankly exhibitionist, a contradiction in terms, and the authors recognize this implicitly
in their arguments. Andy Moye, for instance, understands how pornography ‘works’ better than most
women do. While affirming feminist critiques, he shows
how ‘phallic desire is a matter of alienated work’ and
suggests, by analyzing the soft-porn market, that
poorer, lower-class men are sold phallic power as compensation for their lack of social status. (The converse
occurs in male gerontocracies, where social status,
economic success, and military strength compensate for
the loss of phallic power.) Similarly, Jeff Hearn sees
the sexual behaviour of male workers as ‘both showing
solidarity and alienation’, even in ‘the use of sexuality
as a talking point’; Martin Humphries finds gay machismo both liberating in its subversion of heterosexism
and dangerous – dangerous because of its vulnerability


to commercial forces that would promote it as the only
permissible gay image. This emphasis on the complexity
of male sexuality, on its multiple determinations, and
on the need to understand and address it at many
levels of social reality is present in all the essays.

Some feminists will be impatient with the authors as
dissemblers and hypocrites. But it needs to be recognized that a reflective and self-critical masculinity
may have as much of importance to contribute to the
analysis of subjects such as pornography and violence
as a feminist consciousness does. And, although the
editors do not say so, the book is addressed primarily
to men.

One essay stands out not only for its originality
but for the discussion it is likely to promote. In ‘Desire
and Pregnancy’, Peter Bradbury confronts the ways
men think and feel about pregnant women. Whether a
man sees pregnancy as the final possession of a woman,
or as her punishment for promiscuity, or, most commonly, as a pathological condition, he may cease to desire
her. Pregnancy also may pose a threat to men because
of its creativity and exclusivity. A woman creates
within herself; a man cannot. She becomes more interesting to herself and to other women when pregnant;
the private pa~ts of her body that a man feels to be
his own erotic domain (where ‘our sperm is invested’)
now become a matter of public concern. Again the
result may be loss of desire, and often a reaffirmation
of the man’s sexuality with another woman. Bradbury
both cites and criticizes feminist interpreters of men’s
response to pregnancy. In the end he is forgiving: the
materialist account of male sexuality based on the will
to power must become sufficiently histor ical to take
account of infantile rejection and its memory, reactivated by the pregnant partner. ‘We withdraw from
her in case we are once again rejected.’ But the
‘drama’ of pregnancy also holds out the silent promise
that men may ‘create a role other than the one we
have taken so far. We are capable ••• of becoming
caretakers to this drama, of helping it along.’

Whatever men and women may conclude about this
analysis, and others equally perceptive in the book,
there can be no impugning the authors’ motives. Autobiography, as women, have found, may be a medium of
consciousness-raising. The Sexuality of Men contains
the life-scripts of newly conscious men, reworked and
reinterpreted as commentaries on the lives of their
fellows in Thatcher’S Britain. They deserve to be
heard, for they speak to us of a future in which we
can all share.

Jim Moore

Taking It All In
Martin Jay, Marxism MtJ Totality: the Adventures of a
Concept from Lukfi:cs to Habermas, Oxford: Polity
Press, .576pp, 1.2.5 hb
Martin Jay staked out his relationship to ‘Western
Marxism’ in 1973 with his well-received historical work
The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt
School and the Institute of Social Research (19231950). Here he extends that relationship to encompass
the whole of the intellectual terrain designated by that
term. This is a large, complex, contradictory book that
chronicles what Jay calls ‘the adventures of a concept

from Lukacs to Habermas’ (although there is in fact a
post-structuralist epilogue). There is a tension in this
book between the purely exegetical, at which Jay
excels, and the theoretical explanation at which he is
less happy. The notion of ‘totality’, the structuring
principle of the work, is so often shifted in the process
of explanation and description that the question of its
manifestation in Western Marxism remains still open at
the conclusion of the book.

Martin Jay points out in his first sentence that
‘there are no easy ways to map the rugged and shifting
terrain of the intellectual territory known as Western
Marxism’, and then points out that even the borders
and extent of the territory are hotly disputed. Jay
more or less suggests that it is the centrality of the
notion of ‘totality’ that defines Western Marxism, ‘it is
to the concept of totality that we can look for a compass to help us traverse the vast and uncharted intellectual territory that is Western Marxism.’ This argument is never more strongly put than this and indeed a
certain conceptual vagueness about totality allows the
disparate parts of the work to hold together. Jay explicitly says that the adventure{s) of the concept he
describes ‘will to a certain degree be one I have
created’ (p. 17), whatever that means in terms of
scholarship. Rather, he argues, than being a simple
Rekonstruktion his text will be more of a Nachkonstruktion in which the rhetorical re-enactment will be
shaped by his own concerns and experiences. Where
this is not merely banal it poses rather acute questions
about his representations of thinkers and their historico-political role. Constantly calling on different
theorists to sustain his points, Jay exhibits an unease
with the enormity of his self-appointed task which is
reinforced by the somewhat arbitrary transitions of the
work’s development.

Beginning with Lukcks’s History and Class Consciousness, as the key moment in the development of
Western Marxism into an ossified orthodoxy, Jay chronicles a shifting history of attempts to create a totalising vision of Marxism that encompassed both the breakdown of revolutionary certainty and its causes, economic and political. To begin with Lukacs, to whom the
notion of totality was central and specific, is natural
enough, but from Lukacs to Merleau-Ponty and Sartre
via Gramsci, Adorno and others is a rather complex
route during which the compass seems to change almost
as often as the direction. Although Jay begins with a
chapter on the ‘discourse of totality before Western
t1arxism’, he gets no nearer a working definition of
totality than a series of interlinked ideas from the
many users of the concept and a recognition of the
normative and descriptibve uses of the term. From
Lukacs’s well-known expressive view of totality, with
all of its conservative, romantic overtones, to the
steely mechanism of Althusser’s rejection of that
humanism seems like a void which not even history can
accommodate. Indeed Althusser argued in For Marx
that there were only two competing holisms, Marx’s
and Hegel’s. He then argued that ‘All these totalities
have in common is (1) a word; (2) a certain vague conception of the unity of things; (3) some theoretical
enemies. On the other hand, in their essence they are
almost unrelated.’ Oddly enough, Jay quotes this passage himself without any sense of irony at all. For the
nub of tMe book’s problem is that the notion of totality
always remains undeveloped. Instead mere notions of
totalising thought, of a general tendency towards holism (which is in any case always present in Marxism),
constitute the compass which leads us all over Europe
and from problematic to problematic. The description
of individual bodies of thought is always well done and
the over arching sense of history, and of intellectual
development, is stimulating, and occasionally provoca-


tive. But the tendency towards a history of ideas, of a
teleological working out of the spirit of totality in
variable permutations, is omnipresent. Reaching modernity, Jay is much more interesting and when he
counterposes Habermas’s Herculean attempts to reconcile a holistic Marxism with Foucault’s seemingly irrationalist, microscopic analysis of power, the argument
comes alive. Jay ends by~ttempting to outline the
need for, and the possibility f, a rational enterprise of
totalising thought in modern ty, and stoically concludes
that ‘to give up the search is to resign ourselves to a
des~iny against which ever thing that makes us human
should compel us to resist’.

Richard Osborne

A Question of Rights
R. G. Frey (ed.), Utility and Rights, Oxford: Basil
Blackwell, 1985, 245pp, l19.50 hb
There are many philosophical questions about rights
that one might wish to raise. For example, quite apart
from the question of whether there are any rights at
all (we might call the belief that there are none ‘rights
scepticism’), we might inquire what the claim that
there are rights come to. What analysis should we give
to the phrase ‘the (or ‘a’) right to x’? We should sharply distinguish between rights scepticism and rights
reductionism. The former position denies that there are
any rights; the latter admits that there are rights, but
asserts that they are wholly explicable in terms of
some other concepts and ideas, for example in terms of
duties. A second example of a philosophical question
about rights is this: even if there are some rights, how
– amidst the babble of claim and counter-claim about
having a right to this or that – are we to decide just
which rights there are? The first sort of question about
rights we might dub ‘analytic’; the second ‘epistemic’.

A third sort of question we might call ‘explanatory’. It is the question that, amongst others, is addressed by a theory of rights. If we do have rights, what
accounts for or explains the fact that we do have
them? It is here that various theories typically make
their appearance: natural rights theories, contract
theories, and utilitarianism. The three sorts of questions I have distinguished are obviously linked. For instance, one’s theory of rights is going to have obvious
implications for the answer to the epistemic question.

All the same, the three questions can be distinguished.

As its title indicates, the papers in Utility and
Rights are preoccupied within the area carved out by
the thir.d sort qf question. Indeed, most are concerned
with the quest~on of the adequacy of the utilitarian
account of rights. There does, after all, seem to be a
prima facie difficulty in the idea that rights can be
explained by expediency: there seem to be so many instances in which it is or would be expedient to ignore
or override rights. Frey’s introductory essay, and the
essays by Frey, J. L.Mackie, H. J. McCloskey, and
Charles Fried all lend credence to the thought that
rights and utilitarianism cannot cohabit (although it
may still be an open question which of the two should
be sent out of bed). R. M. Hare, around whose book
Moral Thinking. several of the above mentioned papers
revolve, and James Griffin do their best to demonstrate
that a suitably sophisticated form of utilitarianism and

rights can make good partners.

Although utilitarianism comes in for the bulk of
the discussion, other explanatory theories of rights are
dealt with. The paper by L. W. Sumner argues against
natural rights theories of rights (and in passim offers
the best account of what makes a theory a natural
rights theory that I am aware of). Jan Narveson offers
a defence of the contractarian theory, a theory which,
in spite of Narveson’s desire to do so, I found difficult
to distinguish from that of John Rawls. Joseph Raz’s
‘Right-Based Moralities’ treats Mackie’s suggestion
that of the three moral notions, ‘value’, ‘duty’, and
‘rights’, the last is, or can be construed as being,
fundamental, the former two being explicable in terms
of it. Raz’s paper unexpectedly combines the denial of
this contention with the rejection of ‘moral individualism’. Finally, the papers by Alan Ryan and Rolf
Sartorius deal with issues about property rights and
their basis, with questions about the role of utility
never far in the background.

In spite of some very sophisticated recent
attempts to square utilitarianism with rights (one of
which is the book by Hare I mentioned above), the
overwhelming impression of these papers, and of the
philosophical literature more generally, is that the
attempt is bound to fail. As Sumner makes clear for
the case of natural rights theories, and as much of the
literature on Rawls’s contract theory of justice tends
to show, we really do not possess any acceptable alternative explanatory account or theory of rights. Three
reactions are possible, none of which has much to be
said in its favour. First, we might simply say that we
have not looked hard enough, or in the right places, for
such a theory. It is, quite simply, yet to be found.

Second, we might conclude that the possession of rights
in general, and even perhaps specific rights possession,
is simply a brute and inexplicable fact about us (and
creatures like us?). Third, we might be dr~ven to
embrace some form of either rights scepticism or rights
reductionism. I leave it to the reader to decide which
reaction is the least implausible.

David-Hillel Ruben



George Steiner, Antigones, Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1985, 316pp, 1..15.00 hb
‘No century has been more attentive than ours to the
theoretical and descriptive study of myths.’ Thus
George Steiner during his tour of civilization’s myriad
and most notable Antigones. As Steiner points out, the
question of the persistence of myth and the ‘restricted
economy’ of Western (neo-Hellenistic) myth ‘underlie
major aspects of the Marxist theory of history and of
culture. It is explicit in Freudian psychoanalysis, in the
Jungian argume.nt on archetypes, in the structural
anthropology of Levi-Strauss’. The first aim of Steiner’s
treatment of the innumerable metamorphoses of the
tragedy of Antigone might be simply stated. It is to
increase the degree of our astonishment at this strange
and central facet not only of our whole culture but
especially of the intellectual and artistic course of the
twentieth century: the amazing vitality and fecundity
of a handful of myths and archetypes inherited from
our Greek forebears.

The first part of this study is a detailed account
of the impact of Sophocles’s Antigone on the thought
and writing of Hegel, Holderlin, Goethe and Kierkegaard; the second surveys the permutations that the
legend of Antigone has undergone from antiquity to the
present. But it is the third chapter that addresses the
core problem: the hermeneutical question of how it is
that communication between the different ages of history is possible at all. In the course of his discussion
Steiner shows how the elements of Sophocles’s tragedy
encapsulate, or at least suggest, the nerve centres, or
‘deep structures’ involved in historical struggles ever

Steiner has consistently denigrated political activism of all kinds. His own stance is of someone who has
seen too much, and meditated upon too much, to allow
himself the naivety of practical, political commitment.

Understandably enough, he irks many on the Left. But
in another, semantic rather than political, sense he has
remained consistently radical: he addresses all of the
most general and far-reaching questions current in
intellectual debates; he penetrates to the root of complex and often obfuscated issues and he is unflinching
in his treatment of the vast amounts of evidence he
commands. Not everyone is going to find all of the
arguments and analyses contained in this book compelling. Not everyone interested in his themes is going to
be convinced by the way in which he has formulated
the problems. But there are very few people working in
the areas touched on by this book (from cultural history to the study of drama, from psychoanalysis to the
evolution of Marxism, from politics to poetics) who will
not profit enormously from engaging with it.

Lloyd Spencer

Bill Brugger (ed.), Chinese Marxism in Flux 1978-84:

essays on epistemology, ideology and political economy,
London: Croom Helm, 1985, 218pp, 1..17.95 hb
I found this book hard work to read. It is certainly not
an accessible overview of recent theoretical developments in China for someone, like myself, whose nonspecialist interest in Chinese Marxism rather waned
with the passing of Mao but who now feels a need to
get up to date. Instead, we have here a series of highly
concentrated, specialist, thematic essays which make
few concessions to the uninitiated. There is much good
rigorous argument but also an element of wilful obscurity. The worst offender is the essay on epistemology by
Dutton and Healy, with its self-indulgent, mainly

Althusserian, jargon. ‘Conjunctures’, ‘problematics’ and
other kindred monstrosities passed before my glazed
eyes – China seemed a long way off in this slow boat.

The book as a whole addresses itself to the complexities of Maoism after Mao, which the contributors
see as both a ‘pragmatic’ reaction against and a vulgar
continuation of the work of the founder. The result, as
Bill Brugger puts it in his introduction, is ‘an official
ideology which is more sterile than that which it superseded and just as, if not more, incoherent’ (p. 1). In the
drive to modernise, it flirts with the economic liberalism of the West but rejects those currents of Marxism
which claim to be the spiritual heirs of political liberalism – a potentially disastrous combination. The hope,
expressed in Brugger’s chapter on underdeveloped
socialism, is that, as Bloch would put it, the warm
stream of critical and anticipatory Marxism will emerge
more forcefully; that, in particular, a goal-oriented
revolutionary project will overcome the myopic determinism that characterises much of contemporary
Chinese Marxism. This involves the recognition, as
Brugger points out,~ that ‘any thinking about a telos
does involve a degree of utopian thinking’ (p. 118).””1′

couldn’t agree more.

Vincent Geoghegan
Terry Eagleton, The Function of Criticism: from the
Spectator to post-structuralism, London: Verso, 1984,
133pp, 1..3.95 pb
In this short work Eagleton offers a Marxist account of
the development of criticism from its inception in the
ear ly eighteenth century in the journals conducted by
Addison and Steele to the present day. Central to his
analysis is Habermas’s concept of the ‘bourgeois public
sphere’ which in Britain, he argues, first came into being in order to cement the cultural unity of the aristocratic/bourgeois ruling block. During the nineteenth
century this- sphere, threatened by rising class tensions,
was reconstituted under the aegis of the Victorian
‘sage’ figure who sought to remove culture from the
terrain of the ‘political’. From the late nineteenth century onwards it has increasingly disintegrated under the
twin pressures of the growing commodification of literature on the one hand and the growth of the Academy
on the other.

Eagleton has little to say about matters internal
to criticism (changes in canons of taste, for example)
and is essentially more concerned with the organisation of public opinion than with criticism as such. In
many respects, for all his gestures to a class analysis,
he remains a Leavisite under the skin inasmuch as one
of his central concerns relates to the steady disintegration of the intimate relationship between the critic
and her audience from the early eighteenth century
onwards. Thus, one is confronted with the odd .paradox
that the Golden Age of the bourgeois public sphere
appears in a per iod pr ior to industrialisation and the
emergence of the bourgeoisie as a major political and
social force.

The best sections of the book are those that deal
with the history of the ‘public sphere’ during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; there is also an interesting analysis of the attempts made by Leavis to resurrect the public sphere within the university context.

These are relatively free from the passages of ‘instant
history’ which mar his argument and which have somewhat ludicrous overtones, e.g. ‘Buffeted between a late
bourgeois system which exposed it as increasingly anachronistic, and the forces of political opposition, literary humanism could find less and less toe-hold between
monopoly capitalism on the one hand and the student
movement on the other.’


The later chapters dealing with contemporary
events are generally much weaker. Clearly, Eagleton’s
experience of the student movement and of the new
‘scientific’ criticism of the 1960s and 1970s has alienated him from the liberal humanist tradition with its
exclusive concentration on the literary text. At the
same time, he recognises that the new scientific criticism (structuralism, deconstruction) is itself exclusively
a product of the Academy and lacks the wider political
significance which, he claims, all great criticism should
possess. It is not surprising, especially given his own
background, that Eagleton’s way out of this impasse
lies in. an excessive and largely uncritical adulation of
Raymond Williams. Thus, he offers a detailed comparison between the careers of Williams and Wordsworth
which is embarrassing given the evident difference in
intellectual stature between the two figures. To anyone
not caught up in the pieties of the Cambridge leftLeavisite tradition the claims made for Williams as a
major intellectual figure are far from evident.

For Eagleton, Williams’s disregard for discipline
boundaries seems to offer the possibility of the restoration of a version of the nineteenth-century ‘sage’ figure, concerned with the whole range of culture and its
political implications, and the resurrection of a ‘public
sphere’ reflecting working class rather than middle
class cultural values. However, having been rightly critical of the similar attempt to restore a ‘public sphere’

made by Leavis, he never convincingly demonstrates
that such a project is any longer viable.

_… >

Mike Hickox

Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, The Ego Ideal: a psychoanalytic essay on the malady of the ideal (translated by
Paul Barrows; introduction by Christopher Lasch),
London: Free Association Books, 1985, xiv + 271pp,
l18.50 hb, l7.50 pb
The ego ideal is not the most stable concept in the
Freudian corpus. It first appears in On Narcissism: an
introduction )1914), where it is described as a projec-:tion of the lost narcissism of early childhood, a period
during which the child is in effect its own ideal. It is
of major importance in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921) in which Freud analyses group
structures in terms of identification with collective
ideals and leader figures, but by 1923 it has become
synonymous with the superego (The Ego and The Id).

Chasseguet-Smirgel chronicles these shifting usages in
a detailed appendix. A survey of psychoanalytic literature further demonstrates that, whilst Freud absorbs
the ego ideal into the superego, it has never in fact
disappeared from the analytic tradition and it has been
used in a wide variety of ways by Freud’s successors.

The Ego Ideal originated in a paper presented in
1973 and was originally published in French in 1975. In
many ways it anticipates the later developments of
Creativity and Perversion (London, 1985). The author
proposes a distinction between the superego and the
ego ideal, seeing the former as the heir to the Oedipus
complex and the latter as a substitute for primary narcissism and its image of perfection. The gulf separating
the ego from its ideal is then described as generating a
nostalgia for a lost utopia, as giving rise to a ‘malady
of the ideal’. Variants on the way in which the individual seeks to abolish the rift between the lost ideal and
the ego are sought in areas as diverse as perversion
(idealisation of instincts or an incestuous wish for
fusion with the mother), artistic creativity (a desire to
recapture a lost unity), religion and the workings of
political and social groups.

Despite the author’s clinical and theoretical in46

sights, it is in the latter area that her analysis is at its
weakest. In a sense, this is simply a reflection of one
of the more embarrassing aspects of the psychoanalytic
tradition, namely the attempt to find an overlap between individual and social psychic structures without
taking into account either politics or economics.

Matters are made worse here by the adoption of a positively bizarre concept of ideology as promising a
fusion of ego and ego ideal and as being in some way
equivalent to perversion. It is surely not enough to
move without transition or qualification from clinical
remarks about analytic training groups to discussion of
‘the sports meetings of young people in totalitarian
countries’. References to the way in which homosexuals
(sic) organise themselves and claim public approval in
order to present their perversion (sic) as an alternative
way of life and the caricatural reduction of feminism
to the SCUM Manifesto betray an underlying tendency
towards a prescriptive notion of developmental normality which does little to further one’s confidence in

David Macey
Philip Green, Retrieving Democracy. In Search of Civic
Equality, London: Methuen, 1985, 278pp, l18 hb
Green has a fairly conventional sense of the inadequacies of ‘pseudodemocracy’, the combination of liberal capitalist economic management and representative
democratic institutions. The conception of social equality for which he argues is, however, purportedly different from previous notions of market socialism, democratic socialism, or economic democracy. This conception is built around three proposals: a ‘modal income’

for all, or minimum wage increasing with age and
‘attuned to a fully-fledged rather than a minimalist
notion of human need’ (p. 8), a ‘democratic division of
labour’ designed to fulfil human capacities rather than
to maximise commodity production, and equal access to
the means of production, or the limitation of ownership
of productive industry as a means of preventing the
concentration of economic power and unequal amounts
of political power. Green’s central concern here is with
the democratisation of the division of labour, and he
rightly criticises much previous socialist theory for
failing to give this topic sufficient attention. Unequal
ownership of wealth is not itself the issue; we are
given a ‘fair exchange’ when we allow an actor or
sports star to grow wealthy, but we do not expect
them to be able to wield a disproportionate amount of
political power.

The function of the division of labour in generating both better human beings and superior citizens is to
mix both mental and manual labour in such a way as to
prevent a deep cleavage arising between them. This
would, for Green, entail a much more balanced mixture
of work and education in order to extend the opportunity of alternate employments, as well as more rotation
within the workplace, and the division of complex tasks
between greater numbers of workers. ‘Dirty work’ could
be fulfilled by a public service for all, as well as given
to criminals in place of incarceration. Some kinds of
industry might require nationalisation in order to effect
public ownership, though Green’s general preference is
for municipalisation and co-operation in management.

Poli tical control would be broadened through an extension of participation and representation to presently
‘non-political’ spheres, and by rules for rotation and
the limitation of tenure in office. Some short-term
legislative proposals are included here, but the book is
primarily a restatement of the central goals of the
socialist tradition in a readable and undogmatic form,
from the perspective of the broad American left and


under the particular influence of Paul Goodman.

Gregory Claeys
Ferdinand D. Schoeman (ed.), Philosophical Dimensions
of Privacy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1984, 426pp, 1,25 hb, 1,8.50 pb
This anthology comprises l seventeen essays by almost
entirely American academics, judges, lawyers and university administrators. Some discussion of dimensions of
the right to privacy in American law is present (and is
not irrelevant to European discussions), but the focus is
upon the moral significance of privacy. The editor’s
introduction offers some definitions of privacy in terms
of rights, the degree of control an individual has over
themself, and the state or cdndition of access to an
individual. Robert Murphy’s ‘Social Distance and the
Veil’ analyses the privacy debate in light of a comparative, anthropological approach to social distance
(whereby privacy is also construed as important to
traditional, pre-individualist societies). This view is
largely supported by Alan Westin’s ‘The Origin of
Modern Claims to Privacy’, which also broadly traces
two competing tendencies towards greater surveillance
and more privacy in the West. This is followed by three
detailed analyses of the development and significance
of legislation on aspects of privacy, where the relationship between respect for privacy and respect for
individual dignity generally is stressed and American
debates since the late 19th century traced. Charles
Freid’s ‘Privacy’ leads off the more strictly philosophical essays with a discussion of the relationship between the sense of self engendered by privacy and types
of values in social relations. Stanley Benn’s examination of the components of respect for others succeeds
this, while two essays by Robert Gerstein emphasise
those contexts where an individual’s ability to come to
terms with their own conscience is at issue, and discuss
the necessary basis of intimacy in privacy. Judith
Thompson’s ‘The Right to Privacy’ denies that debates
on privacy are reducible to one interest or value.

James Rachel further emphasises the importance of
privacy to human relationships generally, while Jeffrey
Reiman focuses on the need for privacy to provide
coherence for the individual self. Richard Wasserstrom
treats the problem of refusing to reveal information as
a question related to the propriety of deception issue.

Richard Posner’s ‘An Economic Theory of Privacy’

examines provocatively the interests covered in
‘private interests’ as well as the relation of the latter
to economic efficiency. A useful summary of the issues
by Schoeman closes the volume. This book builds upon
the NOMOS collection on privacy, but is more usefully
read complementarily with the essays in S. Benn and G.

Gaus’s recent Public and Private in Social Life, a more
thorough, historical and political book which incorporates. a wider range of critical perspectives. The present
work barely acknowledges many of the socio-economic
and political (the public) issues in this debate, such as
the whole question of the relationship of citizenship to
privacy. But the individual essays are nonetheless of a
high quality; particularly stimulating are Westin’s comparative analyses (see also his Privacy in Western
History, 1967), Benn’s insightful introduction to the
subject, and Ruth Garison’s survey of the legal dimensions.

Gregory Claeys

Radical Science Collective, Issues in Radical Science,
Free Association Books, London, 1985, 1,5.50 pb

A continuing debate in social theory concerns those
who perceive capitalism as the ‘producer’ of the modern world and those who see industrialism as the key
factor. This collection of essays purports to provide a
fairly thorough treatment of many areas of controversy: the ethical problem of the means-ends connexion
for the individual scientist, the role of scientific
research in a commodity system, and the ideological
reflexion of emergent attitudes towards technology and
technique. As an arena for provocative discussion, the
collection is encouragingly attractive.

Several articles deal with the complex relationship
between scientific inquiry and capitalist initiatives.

Edward Yoxen’s ‘Licensing Reproductive Technologies?’

suggests that state licensing of novel reproductive
technologies tends to institutionalise the problems that
they present. Bruno Vitale focuses on scientists themselves, portraying them as ‘hustlers’ for military funding who design innovations in response to military problems. On the international level, Vincent Mosco convincingly contends that Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ policies
are less addressed to battles in outer space than about
intensifying the requisite surveillance for waging earth
wars. With more substantive support for their strictures, all three authors could have strengthened an intriguing critical theme.

L. J. Jordanova’s discussion of the German silent
film Metropolis, and David Dickson’s ‘Radical Science
and the Modernist Dilemma’, both highlight the ambivalence of people toward the power of machines. Linking the debate about the cultural role of modern technology with the broader context of current controversies over ‘modernist’ movements, it is suggested that a
possible practical theme to tease out from these images
of modernity is of technology as a ‘source of fulfilment’, embracing both aesthetic experience and collecti ve social action.

Our understanding of science and technoJogy will
be considerably enhanced when we can
the codes which convey, in historically specific ways,
something of the power and control that knowledge of
nature offers. As Jonathan Ree says during his critique
of Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism, one must be
responsive to modernity as a process, rather than as a
strange ‘house which isn’t guaranteed to stay up for
ever’. Issues in Radical Science offers a welcome
attempt, sometimes erratic but often adventurous, to
get to grips with the dialectic of pursuits of knowledge
and the practice of power. Here is a rich and rewarding site for future inquiries.

Graham McCann

J. R. Jennings, Georges Sorel: The Character and
Development of His Thought, Basingstoke: Macmillan/St
Antony’s, 1985, 209pp, 1,25.00 hb
This introductory study is a useful addition to the
growing quantity of recent literature on that fascinating figure Georges Sorel. Jermings captures the volatility of this exotic individual’s intellectual and political
life. Like a person trying on hats in a shop Sorel assesses the suitability of the various ‘osophies’, ‘ologies’

and ‘isms’ on offer at the end of the nineteenth and
beginning of the twentieth century, momentarily
attracted to one well-fitting number only to discard it
in favour of some new creation which has caught his
eye. He had an omniverous appetite for the theories
and movements of his day: sympathising at various
times with both Marxism and syndicalism, though
associating also with a number of recherche currents on
the far right (these latter associations, as Jennings
rightly says, have been the subject of much contro47

versy); he dipped freely into such contemporary philosophers of science as Bernard, Reuleaux, Poincare and
Bergson (he had himself a scientific training) and libe~­
ally larded his works with the latest developments In
the philosophy of religion, economics, sociology, etc.,
etc. As Jennings points out, some things do stick, the
picture is not one of total flux, but one has great sympathy with the remark he quotes of H. R. Kedward:

‘Sorel ought to have been condemned to write his own
biography: it is too much to ask of anyone else.’

In his explanation of why this should be so
Jennings stresses Sorel’s highly distinctive methodology
which he called diremption. Diremption, according to
Jennings, involved ‘a process in which the investigator
advanced by means of taking a partial, almost arbitrary
view of the subject under consideration.

approached it from all sides, inventing mechanisms,
ways of perceiving things, that would be able to break
the subject-matter into various parts. ••• Explanations
would overlap, they would at times contradict each
other and there would almost necessarily be lacunae.’

This ingenious explanation has some merit though one
feels that Jennings is giving the old so and so too much
of the benefit of the doubt. Much more biographical
information than the rather meagre amounts contained
in the book would help to give a fuller account of this
wayward thinker. Jennings also does not really explore
the elements of irrationalism and anti-rationalism in
this methodology, elements which might help explain
the attraction Sorel held for some fascists.

Jennings does provide a good guide to Sorel’~ own
investigations into those areas of human expenence
usually neglected and often rejected by the Marxist
tradition – myth, utopia and religion. Although writing
in the heyday of the Second International, Sorel
escaped the crippling hyper ‘realism’ so chara~teristic
of that period. He is sensitive to the creative and
motivational roots of individual and group behaviour
and the consequent survival of the miraculous, the
magical and the fabulous in this age of ‘science’. He is
also aware that a political movement avoids these
dimensions at its peril. In short – read Jennings but
then read Sorel.

Vincent Geoghegan
Richard J. Bernstein (ed.), Habermas and Modernity,
Oxford: Polity Press, 1985, 242pp, l19.50 hb, l6.95 pb
As Habermas himself remarks, in the concluding essay
‘Questions and Counterquestions’, in this book he is not
only among his critics but also among friends. The contributors to this volume are distinguished academics, all
of whom have contributed to the strong interest in
Habermas’s work among Anglo-American social theorists. They include- Anthony Giddens, Martin Jay, Tom
McCarthy, Richard Rorty, Albrecht Wellmer and Joel
Whitebrook. All the essays appeared originally in the
journal Praxis International and they fully warrant reissue in book form. There are three important contributions from Habermas himself and the critical essays isolate with great precision the vital problem areas within
Habermas’s encyclopaedic theoretical and research project. After Habermas’s own works and McCarthy’s
authoritative study (also in paperback from Polity), this
is the best place to begin an acquaintance with Habermas. Even for those thoroughly familiar with the area
this is a useful and challenging collection.

Lloyd Spencer

William Ralph Shroeder, Sartre and his Predecessors:


the self and the other, London: Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1984, 326p, l23.00 hb
Schroeder here attef11pts to relate Sartre’s theory of
interpersonal relations to the three H~ – Husserl, H7gel
and Heidegger. Together they constitute the vanous
European alternatives to the ‘monadic view of the self’

which is said to derive from the basic components of
the Cartesian world-view. In this respect Schroeder
seems to offer a useful perspective on Sartre; but,
regrettably, he fails to situate his discussion wit~in any
historical or biographical context. The result is that
Sartre’s frame of tho,ught is insufficiently explained.

As an example, in Schroeder’s account of Hegel
there is virtually no mention of the rebirth of Hegelianism in Paris during the ’30s and ’40s. Consequently,
Schroeder’s orthodox inte~pretation of Hegel tends to
misfire. To his credit, Schroeder does provide a good
critical commentary on Husserl’s view of the constitution of Others, although this too suffers because it is
not accompanied by an account of the popularity of
phenomenology as a philosophical movement. As a critic
of Sartre, Schroeder tends to reproduce fairly wellrehearsed arguments, drawn-out in a reduction of
Sartre’s thought into a series of just ten claims. There
is nothing new in the interpretation and the prolonged
and laborious discussion, it seems to me, tends to perpetuate the pervasive judgment of Sartre’s work as
outrageous and facile.

Noel Davison

Martha S. Vogeler, Frederic Harrison: the vocations of
a positivist, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984, xviii +
493pp, l27.50 hb
As a young man, Frederic Harrison visited Comte in
Paris; thereafter he worked with admirable persistence
to keep Comte’s calling alive in England and, in his
own constantly active life, to represent publicly the
rationalist individual. Attracting early attention with a
review of the liberal Anglicans’ Essays and Reviews
(1860), from which he drew out non-Christian logical
implications, he continued to prescribe as an independent mind and independent means permitted, into the
1920s, a living ’eminent Victorian’ long outside his
time. Martha Vogeler’s biography is vastly detailed and
thorough, exhibiting a gently wry enjoyment of a .sensibility that others might find distinctively limited. Positivism, as philosophy, has a very small place in all of
this, but this is a rich source for the late nineteenthcentury culture of rationalist individualism.

Roger Smith

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