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79 Reviews

REVIEWS
Wakey wakey
John Gray, Enlightenment’s Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age, Routledge, London
and New York, 1995. x + 203 pp., £19.99 hb., 0 415 12475 1.

Why should the collapse of the Berlin Wall have
come to stand as the symbol of the revolutions which
swept away historical Communism at the close of the
1980s? Those searching for resonant images of the
triumph of liberal capitalism over its principal antagonist were spoilt for choice. So why this one above all
others? In large part because the fall of the Berlin
Wall has come to symbolize reunijication as such of the nation, the continent, the globe. It stands not
only for the defeat of historical Communism, but also
for the world-historical victory of liberal capitalism.

A world torn in two had been made whole again.

Despite his sometime allegiance to the New Right
prospectus, and his consistent defence of capitalism
(in a variety of guises) against socialism, John Gray
had dropped in upon the triumphal celebrations of
neo-liberalism’s ‘victory’, only to declare – in his role
as party-pooper-in-chief to the New Right – that the
end of historical Communism heralded, not the final
victory of liberal democracy, but the beginning of the
end for the ‘Western Idea’. It sounded the death knell,
not the dinner gong, for those other progeny of
Enlightenment: liberalism in general (at least as we
have known it), and neo-liberal capitalism in
particular. The shared ‘Western’ lineage of ‘American
liberalism’ and ‘Marxism’ was precisely evinced, or
so Gray claimed, by their Cold War struggle to the
death: both fought for a world (,universalism’) and
promised the earth (‘utopianism’).

It would appear now that Gray’s lamentations were
a tad closer to the mark than Fukuyama’s prognosis
of an ‘end of history’, projecting the ‘universalization
of Western liberal democracy as the final form of
human government’. ‘History’ (as ‘slaughterhouse’)
has declined Fukuyama’s offer of a spectral existence
on the hinterlands of the post-historical world, and
avenged itself in a recently ‘liberated’ Europe. Moreover, it was not only the former Soviet bloc and Yugoslavia that were soon being ravaged by ethnic conflict
but also the (sometime) leader of the ‘Free World’:

the USA, from the LA riots to the OJ trial. Things
were not working out as well as had been hoped. Gray

concludes that the prospects for the post -Communist
world are bleak: not the ‘end of history’, but its
resumption ‘on decidedly traditional lines’. Furthermore, Gray argues that the neo-liberal order itself was
already in decline, even at the moment of ‘triumph’,
as economic power shifted inexorably from the North
Atlantic to the Pacific Rim. This development also
refutes the Fukuyama thesis. Japan and the East Asian
Tigers have embraced capitalism, but they have repudiated the possessive individualism – and, in many
cases, the commitment to individual rights – characteristic of its (recently) less successful ‘Western’

incarnations. Capitalism may have been victorious in
’89, then, but the Western idea was already in a
terminal state.

Now, of course, there is nothing remarkable about
Gray’s announcement of Enlightenment’s wake – or
his insistence that the bonfire of the vani.ties would
eventually consume ‘American liberalism’ as well from the perspective of recent academic political
theory. In the last decade or so the penning of obituaries to the long Ages of Reason has blossomed into
a cottage industry, prominent exponents of the genre
including Alasdair MacIntyre and Richard Rorty. But
Gray’s perception of academic philosophers is that
they inhabit a realm utterly remote from historical
experience and political reality. Those in search of
bearings in the noumenal realm of the Red Bricks are
here directed to Goodwin and Pettit’s Companion to
Contemporary Political Philosophy. This work omits
all discussion of nationalism – on the grounds that it
has no defence in ‘principled thought’ – and also of
theism and fascism – on the grounds that their impact
on the contemporary world has been a ‘marginal one’

(something that will come as news to Salman
Rushdie, not to mention immigrant populations
throughout Europe and beyond).

Nor do recent communitarian critics of NeoKantianism escape Gray’s censure. For him the vision
of an ideal community animating communitarianism
is itself a child of the Enlightenment ‘in one of its
most primitive forms’: ‘[i]n our world – the only one

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we know – the shadow cast by community is enmity,
and the boundaries of communities must often be
settled by war.’ Having affirmed the universality of
particularity, the communitarians repressed it by
imaging away its inescapable, but darker, aspects.

In a more detailed engagement with the works of
MacIntyre and Rorty, Gray condemns the former for
fleeing the desolation of modernity for irretrievably
lost premodern traditions; and the latter for embracing
‘American liberalism’, and failing to see that the
twilight of Enlightenment demands revision of the
liberal civil and political dispensation. In Enlightenment’s wake, Gray reaches for neither Nietzsche nor
Aristotle, Trotsky nor St Benedict, but for Leviathan,
and the works of those rare liberal thinkers who have
resisted the enchantments of Neo-Kantian, and
kindred, universalisms (notably, Isaiah Berlin and
Joseph Raz).

Neither Moscow nor Washington, but – what?

Liberal capitalism for those who like (or live) that
sort of thing, and then in a reconstructed form which
has burnt its bridges with the catastrophic neoconservatism ‘that in its rationalistic utopianism and
its hubristic doctrine of global convergence on a universal civilisation resembles nothing more closely
than the most primitive forms of classical Marxism’.

Nor is Gray a friend of global capitalism in its current
incarnation; given his erstwhile political affiliations,
his condemnation of it is bracing: ‘throughout the
world the market institutions through which the
natural world is exploited … are ever more chaotic,
and elude any form of accountability and control. The
legacy of the Enlightenment project … is a world
ruled by calculation and wilfulness which is humanly
unintelligible and destructively purposeless.’

Gray further argues that, although a form of liberal
capitalism may be our destiny, it is not the world’s: it
is only one of many possible forms of life which can
accommodate human flourishing (and only one of
many possible forms of capitalism). Diverse and incommensurable values, and their corresponding forms
of life, are here to stay, and so, inevitably, are wars
and rumours of war. Moreover, the rise of ‘multiculturalism’ has imported these perennial sources of
conflict into the national arena. American liberalism
is thus not only denied the prospect of a world but is
even losing the battle for the homogeneous (liberal)
state.

Against the New Right, Gray maintains that the
free market, far from being the universal panacea, is
itself responsible for many of the world’s ills. In
particular, he is concerned with the devastation of an

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environment treated by the free trader vulgaris as a
mere provider of exploitable resources. Unrestrained
market capitalism has decimated rainforests, cities and
communities alike. Gray’s conclusion is a radical one:

not simply the restraint of free-market capitalism, but
the abandonment of economic growth, thus disarming
capitalism of one of its most deadly Cold War
weapons: its ability indefinitely to deliver the ‘goods’.

He also castigates the New Right for its abandonment
of those discarded by a market no longer prepared to
recognize them even as exploitable resources; and for
a rampant populism which has elevated consumer
preferences to the status of moral absolutes beyond
which no appeal to independent values is permissible
or possible.

Gray urges the abandonment of a liberal discourse
of rights. He claims that there are no principles of
justice around which all citizens can rally within the
political sphere, regardless of whether or not they are
committed to (comprehensive) liberal conceptions of
the good without the political sphere. The best to be
hoped for is a modus vivendi secured by an ‘agonistic’ version of liberalism, which has abandoned NeoKantianism and all of its (divisive) works for the
security of a Hobbesian peace. The allegiance to individual rights (and a fortiori to minority rights),
Gray argues, is not only unable to resolve, but
actually exacerbates, potentially explosive social
tensions. An absolutist commitment to transcultural
rights tends to the obliteration of cultural diversity
and precludes the possibility of processes of ‘bargaining’. This point is illustrated with particular reference
to the abortion debate. So long as this issue is understood in terms of rights – the ‘right to choose’ versus
‘the right to live’ – it can admit of ‘no compromise
solutions, only judgements which yield unconditional
victory for one side and complete defeat for the
other’. This, Gray maintains, helps to explain why
the issue has been so divisive in the United States as
compared with countries in which it has been
addressed as a political – rather than a constitutional
– Issue.

There is much to be said for Gray’s diagnosis of
post-Communist times. He corrects an error committed by all sides during the protracted debate over
the Fukuyama thesis: the victory of capitalism is not
equivalent to the victory of liberal capitalism. The
myopic surrender to this equation is symptomatic of
enchantment with the mythologies of the Berlin Wall
(either historical Communism or ‘American liberalism’), and of its fall (not historical Communism,
therefore ‘American liberalism’). There is every

reason to anticipate the defeat of the Western Idea at
the hands of an ‘eastern’ one (i.e. the species of nonliberal capitalism to be found around the Pacific Rim).

However, Gray’s own position is problematic.

Certainly there are good pragmatic reasons for
pursuing a modus vivendi so long as we are condemned to ‘history’: better to settle for an armed
truce than to resume the quest for the Kingdom of
Ends, or the commencement of ‘truly human history’,
where such projects risk descent into a war of all
against all. But such pragmatic justifications are consistent with a commitment to some version of the
Enlightenment project. Gray’s point, however, is not
only that history will be with us for a long time, but
that it is an inescapable – i.e. an untranscendable, if
not irrepressible – aspect of our condition. The appeal
here is to Isaiah Berlin, rather than Hobbes: our
values are necessarily plural and non-compossible
and there is therefore no such thing as the good society. To take an example close to Gray’s heart, tradition-bound societies may provide a sense of
security and community denied in liberal ones.

Tradition and autonomy are both valuable things, or
so Gray claims, and hence both liberal and nonliberal societies provide possible contexts for (different forms of) human flourishing. However, the goods
of tradition and autonomy are non-compossible, and
the choice between them is consequently a tragic one.

Two points occur here. First, value-pluralism excludes relativism by definition – it presupposes a distinction between the valuable and
the valueless. Gray makes this distinction by
appealing to a notion – or a family of notions of ‘human flourishing’. The problem is that we
need to decide what counts as an instance of
human flourishing, and what does not; and it is
unclear how we might do this without appealing to the kind of philosophical anthropology
that underpinned a number of versions of the
‘Enlightenment project’.

Gray might accuse those who venture such
criticisms of ‘universalism’ and ‘utopianism’.

However – and secondly – his attack on such
‘hubris’ is eased by a tendency to caricature
the Enlightenment project. One can be committed to a form of universalism without either
envisioning a cosmopolitan world order or denying value-pluralism. One simply can hold
that some values have universal validity and
provide a basis for a critique of existing cultural and social practices (as Gray clearly
does). Similarly, someone can have a good idea

of what needs changing and why, without assuming
that there is such a thing as the perfect society. Valuepluralism does not rule out ‘utopianism’, if this means
either any vision of a good society or an account of
the necessary characteristics of any good society.

Further difficulties emerge when we consider
Gray’s assault on the morality of right. He argues
that rights discourse undermines any modus vivendi
by precluding the possibility of bargaining and
compromise. But compromise over incommensurables
would appear to be a conceptual impossibility. Is it
supposed that the decision to permit abortion up to,
say, 28 weeks represents a compromise between those
who would prohibit it after 14 weeks and those who
would permit it up to 42 weeks? Or consider the
Salman Rushdie affair. What compromise was
possible here? Removing half of the offending
passages? Or perhaps a bargain of the form ‘we’ll
leave off Rushdie if you build us two mosques’?

Furthermore, the relevant understandings of, and the
commitment to, bargaining and compromise are themselves expressive of values specific to definite forms
of life: in particular, liberal-capitalist ones.

There are also problems with Gray’s critique of
neo-liberal capitalism. Having declared that the global market is ‘humanly unintelligible and destructively purposeless’, he proceeds to claim that
‘nothing advanced here is meant to cast doubt on the

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centrality and indispensability of market institutions
in economic life.’ Market institutions are to be
‘harnessed … to serve human needs’. The trouble is
that in our world – the only one we know – the
shadow cast by market institutions is environmental
devastation, congenital unresponsiveness to human
needs, the destruction of communities, and so forth.

Of course, Gray could reply that there is no alternative to market capitalism. Yet this is irrelevant to the
question of whether his variation on an old theme capitalism with a human face – is persuasive. In
particular, Gray looks forward to capitalism without
expansion: to smooth non-accumulation. This leaves
him vulnerable to precisely the damaging charge he
has levelled against market socialism: that it is an
impossible chimera. One is reminded of the scene in
Modern Times in which Chaplin has an automatic

feeding machine strapped to his head, which continues to gorge him – at an alarming rate, and with
revolting food – until it finally short-circuits.

Capitalism is rather like that.

While Gray’s own position is flawed, and although
his specific policy prescriptions are often neither congenial nor persuasive, there is much to be gained from
reading this book. Gray’s work is always engaged,
exhibits great breadth and erudition, and contains
highly entertaining polemic. It is worth noting that all
this intellectual labour has apparently taken Gray over a period of a decade or so – all the way from
(quaJified) support for Thatcherism to (qualified)
support for Blairism. Given the scale of the problems
he identifies, this puts me in mind of a herbal
treatment for cancer that I once stumbled upon: an
infusion of watercress, to be taken daily.

Marcus Roberts

Questions and answers?

Michael Redclift and Ted Benton, eds, Social Theory and the Global Environment, Routledge, London and
New York, 1994. vii + 271 pp., £40.00 hb., £12.99 pb., 0415 11169 2 hb., 0415 11170 6 pb.

Luke Martell, Ecology and Society: An Introduction, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1994. vi + 232 pp., £39.50 hb.,
£11.95 pb., 0 7456 1022 6 hb., 0 7456 1023 4 pb.

Discussion of environmental change has tended to be
dominated by the physical sciences. However, the science-driven approach has not adequately comprehended the anthropogenic causes of ecological harms,
or the social contexts of their impact, or, indeed, the
social factors involved in the very construction of
environmental knowledge. There is therefore good
reason to think that the environmental debate stands
to benefit from social-scientific insights, while the
social sciences themselves have much to learn from
the attempt to meet this challenge. This is amply demonstrated in the volume edited by Michael Redclift
and Ted Benton, first fruit of the ESRC’s Global
Environmental Change research programme. The volume is of interest both for demonstrating what is new
and promising in a range of research areas, and also
for providing a sense of how the baseline of traditional social science is having to shift to readmit those
questions against which, in its formative phase, it
defined itself.

Prevailing approaches in social and political theory
have tended to emphasize the distinctiveness of humans in relation to the order of nature, and so there
are some deep-seated assumptions to be overcome. A
key question identified by the editors in their Intro-

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ducti on is how to open up to investigation the
relationship between humans and the rest of nature,
without admitting biological determinism. Other questionable assumptions include those bound up with the
commitment to whole societies and nation-states as
the basic units of analysis. Ecological processes do
not respect national boundaries, and, as Leslie Sklair
and others show, they have to be understood in relation to global sociology. Social processes also have
to be understood in relation to the global economy,
and Michael Jacobs provides an illuminating discussion of how meeting the environmental challenge entails surmounting the limits of neoclassical
economics. It is also useful to recognize those cultural resources for change to be found at subnational
levels and elsewhere than in conventional political
institutions. In this regard, Steven Yearley’s investigation of the claims made on behalf of ‘new social
movements’, and Cecile J ackson’ s use of gender
analysis to assess the claims of ecofeminism, help
broaden the picture. At a more fundamental level still,
some argue, it is necessary to reconsider the very categories of space and time, which can no longer be
seen as empty forms of appearance, but are constitutive of social and ecological processes. The spatial

dimension has for some time been a focus for environ~entally sensitive geographers, and the question
of plural temporalities is examined here by Barbara
Adam.

A unifying theme of the volume is that discourses
of the environment are social products, and must be
understood as such. At the most obvious level, the
dominant environmental discourses still reflect richworld agendas and interests. ‘Environmental crisis’ is
one construction of a wider set of global political,
economic, moral and cultural crises. Inevitably, therefore, questions have to be asked about the sociology
of environmental policy and the status of scientific
knowledge itself. Studies in the sociology of science
constitute an important strand of this volume. Where
conventional scientists have a tendency to see all
problems as amenable to solutions, if only public
ignorance and irrationality can be overcome, sociological approaches tend to emphasize how scientific
knowledge itself reflects social and cultural factors
which render it parochial in important respects.

Brian Wynne’s chapter takes this line of critique a
stage further, to question the deeper epistemological
commitments on which scientific knowledge is built,
and to suggest that there is a ‘deeper sense in which
scientific knowledge tacitly reflects and reproduces
normative models of social relations, cultural and
moral identities, as if these are natural. However, his
illustrations arguably do not demonstrate as much as
he thinks. The fact, for instance, that scientific understanding of the after-effects of Chernobyl was
defective because based on knowledge acquired in the
context of different concerns (fall-out of nuclear
weapons rather than from a power station), illustrates
how scientific knowledge does not develop in a social vacuum. But it could still be construed as evidence of a contingent limitation on scientific
knowledge, rather than of an essentially defective
epistemology, or of ‘contradictory knowledges’ in any
profound sense. At any rate, there is nothing very
unconventional about the knowledge he invokes to
explain the error. This point is worth making because
of the risks involved in overstating the case for social
constructionism.

Indeed, this is a theme picked up by Ted Benton.

Well aware of how alternatives to constructionism are
prone to naturalistic reductionism, and of how this
afflicts a good deal of ‘Green’ thinking – including
that of both neo-Malthusians and ‘following-nature’

utopians – he nevertheless argues that there is an
important place for non-reductionist naturalism. He
illustrates how the role of sociology is not limited to

‘purely social’ phenomena with an interesting critical
discussion of Hirsch’s claim to have identified social
limits to growth more pressing than natural limits.

Benton affirms with Hirsch that nature does not
function as an absolute outer limit to growth, since
any natural limit is socially mediated and will affect
some (invariably poorer) people harder and sooner
than others~ but Benton’s point is that these limits are
precisely social and natural. It is the task of a contemporary social theory of the environment to
theorize this, which is why, in Benton’ s view, a realist
approach is called for. Only this, he believes, will
allow social science both to reveal the constructedness
of environmental discourses and to theorize the
embeddedness of the social in the natural.

Not surprisingly, then, the status of the social
sciences, and their relation to the natural sciences,
remains a central preoccupation, and this is given a
new impetus by ecological concerns. That is why
there has to be a good deal of theoretical selfreflection when trying to deal with social and environmental concerns in tandem, and why a number of the
contributions are written at a fairly high level of
abstraction. So, while these chapters illustrate the
complexity of the range of theoretical issues involved
in comprehending global environmental – and social
– change, readers still new to the literature may
welcome help in seeing the wood for the “trees. For
this, Luke Martell’ s book is to be recommended.

Martell provides a fine introduction to Green ideas,
which will be particularly useful to non-specialists
and students of sociology and related disciplines. He
covers a range of areas: Green critiques of industrialism~ normative conceptions of the sustainable society~ Green philosophy~ new social movements, the
implications of ecology for political theory~ ways of
conceptualizing relations between society and nature~
and he concludes with some observations about the
future of environmentalism. The basic thrust of his
argument is that the radical claims for Green thinking
deserve to be taken seriously, but that Greens need to
recognize the problems attendant on them, and also
to heed some of the resources for solutions that may
yet be found within the sociological tradition. So,
whilst sympathetic to radical Green claims, the book
is salutary in applying sociological rigour to some of
the more exorbitant ones.

Martell also takes a stand on certain central issues,
developing a position based on four key arguments.

One of these is a defence, with Benton, of a realist
approach in sociology. Another argument concerns
the basis for moral standing in normative theory~

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Martell argues against both anthropocentric and ecocentric ethics that the criterion of moral considerability must be sentience. This would have
significant implications regarding the status of
animals, in particular, and could be in tension with
concern for the environment more narrowly understood, because, as he says, it does not encompass all
the environment as of intrinsic value. A third argument is that solutions to ecological problems are unlikely to come either from capitalism or from the
decentralization advocated by many Greens. Fourth,
he argues that traditional political theory is revolutionized, but cannot be supplanted, by Green political
thought. The element of distinctiveness in the latter
comes from two key ideas: that of natural limits and
that of the intrinsic value of non-human beings.

How well these four arguments sit with one
another is likely to be a matter of contention. Moreover, some might think Martell overstates the radical
potential of Green thought and others that he under-

states it. Certainly, this book raises a number of
questions. For instance, if all sentient beings are in
some sense to become part of the polity, this would
surely require a pretty dramatic redesigning of basic
institutions. Moreover, if we are to place our faith in
global state relations, what assurance is there that they
will develop even modestly ecological policies? And
then again, if there is, as Martell claims, something
to be learned from the more radical Green ideas, how
are these to filter up and take effect? Through existing institutions? Or are more innovative suggestions
needed?

Clearly, there are many as yet unanswered
questions – both theoretical and practical – to be dealt
with by those occupied with the project of integrating
social and ecological concerns. What is heartening,
from the evidence of these books, is how that project
is taking on the definition and vigour needed to come
up with some answers.

Tim Hayward

Low anxiety
Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, Macmillan, London, 1995. viii + 578
pp., £20.00 hb., £10.00 pb., 0 333 64813 7 hb., 0 333 63952 9 pb.

The author of The Western Canon does not refer to
the hero of Ulysses by his surname, as is the universal custom. Instead, he calls Joyce’s character by
an infrequent and conspicuously overaffectionate
nickname, ‘Poldy’. Harold Bloom’s desperate avoidance of his own name indicates that he sees it as a
potent force. Had he dared use it, he seems to hint,
the reader’s attention would have had no choice but
to stray helplessly away from poor Leopold and be
riveted (wrongly, wrongly) on Harold.

Aside from offering one of the few flashes of
amusement in a long and rather tedious volume, this
is a sign that Harold Bloom is thinking less about the
books under discussion than about himself and his
preoccupations. Which is a pity, as the books under
discussion are all wonderful, and one would have
wished that Bloom had some wonderful things to say
about them. Most of the time, all he has to say about
them is that they are wonderful, and that others do
not acknowledge this sufficiently.

The first line of Bloom’s chapter on Milton calls
him ‘the major poet at present most deeply resented
by feminist literary critics’. In the chapter on Samuel
Johnson, Bloom waits until the third line before

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accusing contemporary critics of ‘sinking our educational institutions’. Resentfully, Bloom sees himself
as challenging ‘the School of Resentment, who wish
to overthrow the Canon in order to advance their
supposed (and nonexistent) programs for social
change’. British readers may be tempted to believe
that there is some reality behind this scenario. In fact
it is largely tilting at windmills. It is true that
‘programs for social change’ are not the true or
central beneficiaries of the literary studies vogue for
‘politics’, a term that has become dangerous inflated.

It is not true, however, that threats to the canon exist
where Bloom’s resentment spies them, which is to
say everywhere. Do not believe him when he says he
finds himself ‘surrounded by professors of hip-hop’.

He dismisses feminist criticism as ‘quilt making’ and
as leading a ‘crusade against male human beings’.

Clearly Bloom doesn’t read feminist criticism and
doesn’t feel he has to.

When Bloom does remember the texts themselves,
his tone of hushed if polemical reverence ensures that
nothing will be said that is meaningful enough to be
worth disputing. For example: ‘We all sense that
Kafka’s desperation is primarily spiritual.’ The Wife

of Bath, we are told, has ‘endless zest and vitality’.

Aesthetic value, which Bloom wants to defend and
which could indeed use some defending, will have to
await another defender. For Bloom it is embodied in
a string of thoughtless cliches that seem to scroll forth
out of some computerized thesaurus. The greatest
writers, he tells us, have ‘strangeness’, and sometimes
‘scandalous originality’.

The inanity of all this is not unfamiliar. It demonstrates that for Bloom, as for many others, the aesthetic
is first and foremost a substitute theology. It answers
the desire for an object that can be revered absolutely
and unconditionally. By definition, one cannot know
such an object, and the true believer does not really
want to know it. For knowledge would be profanation.

Those who try to know fail, and in their failure they
offer moral lessons against critical arrogance and in
favour of proper self-abasement. Of canonical writers
like Shakespeare and Cervantes, Bloom asserts that
‘you cannot get ahead of them, because they are always
there before you.’ All that is indisputable here is how
badly the believer wants to believe in something that
would be ‘always there before you’. Thus he demonstrates humility, but also a sort of arrogance-by-proxy.

For he gets to pick the spots where others, too, must
bow.

This ‘umble tribute to the aesthetic is manifestly
not intended for Bloom’s fellow academics, who
would surely have held him to a higher standard of
difficulty. Despite his expressions of high anxiety,
academic critics have never been as much interested
in adding to or subtracting from the canon – let alone
overthrowing it – as in reading it differently, and they
have thus proved equally indifferent to Bloom’s wildly
skewed polemic and to his insipid readings. The book
is written, rather, for a mass-market, non-academic
audience. To judge from the mainstream reviews, the
publicity, and (though less so) the sales, it has
achieved one. In this context, of course, a fuzzy-

minded, unquestioning reverence for aesthetic masterpieces is likely to get a much warmer reception. Nothing could reach deeper into the viscera of American
anti-intellectualism than the imperative to stop analysing and simply appreciate. The last thing a middlebrow public of cultural status-seekers will forgive is
the critique of culture, for critique interferes directly
with its desire for (in Guillory’s words) culture as ‘a
means to individual self-improvement’. Such a public
is the perfect target for Bloom’s imitation of American Know-Nothingism. Hence the unctuous,
unfiappable confidence of his voice, so strangely lacking in legitimate anxiety.

In this and other respects The Western Canon is a
very American book. A mind that chooses, among all
the possible ways of discussing the greatest authors,
to ask who is ‘better’ or ‘stronger’ than whom, and
indeed makes the question of competition central to
literature – that speaks of ‘Whitman’s victory over
Tennyson’, for example – is clearly the prisoner of a
national mythology. Bloom himself brags that
America is culturally superior because of its nihilism.

‘We dominate the Age of Chaos because we have
always been chaotic.’

Nietzschean nihilism is one theme that organizes a
certain number of Bloom’s wandering appreciations.

Bloom prefers characters who are nihilists: Chaucer’s
Pardoner, Milton’s Satan, Moliere’s Alceste, Shakespeare’s Falstaff, Macbeth and Iago. ‘The West’s
greatest writers are subversive of all values, both ours
and their own.’ Nietzsche is also enlisted in an
argument against philosophy itself: ‘We must remind
ourselves that Shakespeare, who scarcely relies upon
philosophy, is more central to Western culture than
are Plato and Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, Heidegger
and Wittgenstein.’ Annoyed by philosophy’s prestige
in literary studies, Bloom fights it on its own ground,
the ground of universality: ‘These are matters
available to every human consciousness in every age,
regardless of gender, race, social class, ideology.’

Philosophers will perhaps be easier on this universalizing than literary critics. But they are less
likely to tolerate Bloom’s habit of blithe selfcontradiction. On the one hand, Bloom asserts that
poetry makes nothing happen. On the other, he tells
us that ‘Shakespeare and his few peers … invented
all of us.’ Which is it: the aesthetic as pure because
ineffectual? Or the aesthetic as that which effectually
makes us what we are? One might have hoped that a
book devoted to the Western canon would do a bit
better with so basic a question.

Bruce Robbins

Radical Philosophy

79 (SeptlOct

1996)

47

A funny thing happened on the
way to the good society
Steven Lukes, The Curious Enlightenment of Professor Caritat: A Comedy of Ideas, Verso, London and New
York, 1995. 261 pp., £14.95 hb., 1 85984 948 2.

I

I
I

./

il

d
I

Lukes’s The Curious Enlightenment is a satirical
novel and a literary exploration of debates in contemporary political philosophy. It can hardly be called
a mere jeu d’ esprit, though it is certainly cleverly
done. Lukes is thoroughly familiar with the main
current philosophical visions of the good society, and
he displays an accomplished wit in caricaturing their
various pretensions. But Lukes also intends to write a
cautionary tale. He wants us to recognize the limits
of theory, and the real dangers of seeking to realize a
single ideal of the polity. Again, the serious, if unoriginal, point is well made. The problem with this
book is that it is not clear that its fictional form does
really help us to be clearer about what is at stake in
modern political philosophy. A fictional form can
distract where it aspires to illumination.

The plot is simple enough. Professor Nicholas
Caritat, a distinguished scholar of the Enlightenment
resident in Militaria, is dispatched by the resistance
movement, the Visible Hand, to visit and report on
various other neighbouring societies with a view to
recommending the best possible state. He duly visits
Utilitaria, Communitaria and Libertaria. En route to
the last he falls asleep and dreams of Proletaria
(wherein Karl and Fred can be found spending their
day hunting, fishing, rearing cattle and engaging in
post-prandial criticism). At the close, he departs from
the border town of Minerva, and, accompanied by an
owl, seeks the mythical territory of Egalitaria.

It will be evident that Lukes’s style has a very high
‘geddit?’ quotient, and there is sometimes an
oppressive sense of an academic author exchanging
knowing winks with his academic readership. (The
winks sometimes give way to rather heavy-handed digs
in the ribs.) It should also be obvious how Lukes’s
names signal his intended targets. Militaria is, yes, a
military regime. Utilitaria, naturally, is a society
governed solely according to the utilitarian prescription to maximize overall welfare. Communitaria is a
society formed in accord with communitarian ideas.

Libertaria is a libertarian society. And as for Egalitaria
and Proletaria – do try to keep up!

Lukes artfully ducks the issue of whether
Proletaria could exist (is what can be dreamed of
possible or merely fantastic?), and whether Egalitaria

48

Ra die a I Ph iI 0 sop h y

79 (S e p t /0 c t 1 9 9 6 )

is yet to be constructed or lies beyond any and all
frontiers. Concerning the rest, it is simple and undoubtedly also good fun, for instance, to ridicule the
idea that all decisions of policy could turn on the
calculation of harms and benefits. (Utilitaria is
literally calculator-ruled.) But easy targets are not real
targets. And regarded closer it is not even entirely
clear what Lukes is aiming at. If his targets are
societies formed in the image of particular moral and
political theories, it is easy for the utilitarian or libertarian to say that, in so far as any crude caricature
travesties more than it illuminates its subject, the
target is missed. If his target is the view that the good
society can be formed in the image of anyone
principle, such as the utilitarian maxim, to the exclusion of all others, a thousand political philosophers
will chorus in reply, ‘But of course. The problem,
however, is to devise a plausible and defensible
account of what precise plurality of principles should
govern political life.’ If his target is the optimistic
rationalism of the theorist who seeks to make society
in the image of any preferred set of ideals, he has
nothing new to say that was not said by the authors
Professor Caritat enthusiastically quotes. (The book’s
best dialogue, on the scope for human improvement,
is borrowed and acknowledged to be borrowed from
Condorcet and Joseph de Maistre.) If his target is any
kind of political theory at all, then he does his own
subject a disservice. He cannot, at the end of the day,
intend us all only to tend our gardens.

There is a further problem. Facts serve Lukes’s
satire better than fiction. The publisher’s press release
tells us that the description of Militaria is based
directly on Lukes’s visit to Argentina. The description
of the intolerance of Communitaria towards an opera,
which it is claimed ridicules some of that society’S
religions, is a thinly veiled portrayal of the Rushdie
affair. The idiocies of an unrestrained free market and
of the privatization of all services, which Libertaria
exemplifies, found all too obvious expression in
Thatcher’s Britain. It is not just that the facts speak
louder than fiction. They do so with a richness, depth,
subtlety and resonance that no fiction, however well
constructed, can possess. Above all, they have a
persuasiveness which the imaginative construction

lacks. If political theory is both to convince us and
to move us to act, it must be rooted in what we can
see to be the nature of the present world and ourselves.

Equally, Lukes’s fiction does not always do justice
to the facts. Feminism finds no place in his narrative
of imagined societies, other than through one character in Communitaria. She is made both to articulate
a narrow-minded feminist dogmatism, and to represent the worst excesses of a politically correct
policing of behaviour. Such ‘satire’ is overdone and
somewhat mean-spirited.

So what are we to conclude? We do not share
Caritat’s political naivety. His ‘enlightenment’ is a
belated recognition of what any serious student of the
political can already acknowledge. We are not the
defenders of the ‘ideal’ polities Lukes lampoons. (Or,
if we are, we will fail to recognize as much in consequence of the lampooning.) So in what direction does
Lukes intend his reader to travel? Does he mean us to
await the flight of the owl of Minerva? Or should
Egalitaria be found (or rather founded) now? Or do
we just dream at night of Karl and Fred in Proletaria
to be disillusioned on the cold morn? Or is it back to
the garden?

Lukes’s work is, it must be repeated, charming and
refreshing. It is good to be made to see political philosophy in a new light. And Lukes’ s ability to gloss
the major ideas of our time, and to set them in comic
relief, is an enviable one. Yet the ideas in question
are important and endure. The essential task of measuring them against reality – existing and possible remains. To that extent, a comedy of ideas in which
the comedy trumps the ideas leaves us amused, but
not necessarily any the wiser.

David Archard

Anything goes
Paul Feyerabend, Killing Time: The Autobiography of
Paul Feyerabend, University of Chicago Press,
Chicago and London, 1995. 192 pp., £18.25 hb., 0
226 24531 4.

Like so many supposedly typical products of the
1960s, Paul Feyerabend’ s Against Method did not
actually appear until halfway through the next decade.

Subtitled Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of
Knowledge, the book sought to show that the only
defensible principle of scientific method is ‘anything
goes’. This message was regarded by the scientific
establishment as considerably more shocking than a

glimpse of stocking, and Feyerabend soon found
himself identified in Nature as ‘currently the worst
enemy of science’. The heart of his offence was a
brilliant, meticulously researched depiction of Galileo
as a scientific mountebank, deploying propaganda,
sleights of hand, fictitious experiments and experiences, tricks, jokes and non sequiturs in the face of
the superior theoretical and empirical resources of the
orthodoxy of his time. The moral Feyerabend drew
was that the progress of science precisely depends on
ignoring all the rules of rational method preached by

barren and illiterate’ logicians. It was a doctrine that
blew the minds of a generation of students. It also
blew Feyerabend into the ranks of those whom he
called ‘the Big Fakes of the World’, the megastar
traffickers in ideas, and kept him there until his death
early last year.

There were, however, doubts about Feyerabend’s
‘anarchism’ almost from the start. For one thing,
being so boundlessly accommodating seemed to some
to risk drying up the springs of action from which a
genuine radicalism would need to draw. This is the
sense most memorably formulated by John Krige, a
former student of Feyerabend’ s, in the remark that
‘anything goes’ means in practice ‘everything stays’.

It is also true that, as the autobiography completed
shortly before Feyerabend’s death makes clear, his
sympathies with actual radical movements of the
1960s were quite limited. As a faculty member at
Berkeley he refused to cooperate with student strikes
and, indeed, ‘cut fewer lectures’ during them ‘than
either before or since’. This was, ironically, a time
when he was beginning to realize that ‘with a little
cutting at the edges I could be everywhere’, and so
was about to embark on an extraordinary career as a

R a die a I P h if 0 sop h y

79 (S e p t / 0 c t

1 9 9 6)

49

professor holding tenure simultaneously at four
universities in three continents. The autobiography
deals graphically, and at breakneck speed, with the
somewhat unlikely route by which he arrived at this
situation.

The route leads from a Viennese lower-middleclass childhood and youth to a war service which
yielded three bullet wounds and the Iron Cross, postwar studies in physics at the University of Vienna, a
first academic appointment at Bristol, and thence to
Berkeley and beyond. Feyerabend tells us that his war
injuries left him impotent and crippled, though these
circumstances seem to have done nothing to hinder
the stream of love affairs which enlivens his narrative.

It is further enlivened by shrewd and entertaining
accounts of his encounters with many of the leading
philosophers and scientists of the period, from Bohr
and Carnap to Hayek, Lakatos and Popper. Beneath
all this surface glitter a deeper pattern gradually
emerges, one that gives an overall shape to the book.

It is the pattern of a Bildungsroman, a record of
moral and spiritual development, the acquisition of
wisdom through a series of seemingly random
adventures. In one aspect the process is simply the
construction of a character, a coherent and stable set
of dispositions, in place of the extreme lightness of
being that marked the earlier Feyerabend. In another
it is the breaking down of the high protective walls
that shut him off from other people, including his
parents and first three wives. Although many factors
contributed to this, what seems to have been decisive
was the influence of a remarkable human being,
Feyerabend’s fourth wife, the physicist Grazia
Borrini. It was through their relationship that he ‘at
long last’ learned ‘what it means to love somebody’,
and changed ‘from an icy egotist into a friend, a
companion, a husband’. The book concludes with the
wish that what will survive of him is not any intellectual achievement, but just that late-flowering love.

Though the thought is not new, its expression here is
moving and appropriate, rooted as it is in the hardwon authority of all the preceding struggles and of
the courage with which Feyerabend faced the end he
by then knew to be imminent.

Respect for this final aspiration need not preclude
returning to the question of whether the outcome of
Paul Feyerabend’s life and work really is that ‘everything stays’. At least part of the answer lies in recalling that science is, among other things, a world of
social practices and institutions. Whether or not the
outward appearances stay, its inhabitants must now in
some measure move in a different world, once it has

50

Radical Philosophy

79 (SeptlOct

1996)

been irradiated by all that mocking intelligence and
wit. It is surely not irrelevant to add that readers of
this marvellous book can hardly fail to take from it
some gravitational shift or permanent colouring of
vision into their own reflections on experience.

Joseph McCarney

Mandel as
alternative
Ernest Mandel, Long Waves of Capitalist Development: A Marxist Interpretation, Verso, London and
New York, 1980 revised 1995. viii + 174 pp., £14.95
pb., 1 85984 037 X pb.

Ernest Mandel, Trotsky as Alternative, translated by
Gus Fagan, Verso, London and New York, 1995. vi +
186 pp., £39.95 hb., £13.95 pb., 1 85984 995 4 hb., 1
85984 085 X pb.

Ernest Mandel (1923-1995) died in July last year. In
the view of many, he was the outstanding Marxist of
his generation. His ability to combine an active
political role with a stream of scholarly books was
astonishing. Mandel was a man of unfailing courtesy,
whose political opponents would have to confess that
he was a scrupulously fair polemicist. He was an
inspiring speaker – famous for his unfailing optimism.

Ernest Mandel was a teenager when the Nazis
occupied Belgium; nonetheless he was arrested for
his underground political work, and escaped, only to
be arrested again. After the war he quickly became
the dominant intellectual force in the leadership of the
Fourth International. This brought him exclusion
orders, not only from Eastern Europe, but from France,
Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Australia and the USA.

Nonetheless, his outstanding erudition, his integrity,
and his generous socialist vision earned him respectful
obituaries in leading bourgeois papers across Europe.

In the battle of ideas the importance of original
Marxist scholarship cannot be underestimated. In this
respect Mandel’s first big book, Marxist Economic
Theory, and his subsequent works demonstrated that
Marxism in general, and Trotskyism in particular, is
a living tradition of thought, not merely an exegesis
of sacred texts. Marxist Economic Theory was manifestly the product of a long study of historical and
economic facts and an original presentation of the
theory. Even more impressive was his magnum opus,
Late Capitalism (1975). When a new translation of
Capital was prepared for Penguin, there could have

been no doubt that Ernest Mandel was the best
available presenter of it.

One of Mandel’s distinctive contributions was his
rediscovery of ‘long waves’ in capitalist development.

This led to his being invited to give the Alfred
Marshall Lectures for 1978 on the subject at the
University of Cambridge. The first of the books under
review is a revised and updated ~dition of those
lectures. The theory starts from the empirical
perception that between the long-term tendencies
predicted by Marx (e.g., concentration and centralization of capital) and the ordinary business cycle (up
to ten years long, say) there are observable waves of
accelerated and retarded development, which seem to
last about twenty-five years for each phase. Several
features distinguish Mandel’ s views from those of
long-cycle theorists such as Kondratieff and
Schumpeter. Strikingly, while he believes the downturn in activity can be explained endogenously, he
holds that the upturn must be accounted for
exogenously – for example, by war. In this context he
articulates waves of class struggle (themselves by no
means mechanically determined) with those of the
economy. With regard to the ‘postwar boom’, Mandel
holds that this was consistent with a perspective of
long-term decline because it was in large part fuelled
by a growing mountain of debt. He finishes the book
by asserting that there will be no ‘soft landing’ from
the current depressed state, and that the ordinary business cycle will go along with higher unemployment
and much lower rates of growth than those of the
‘postwar boom’.

The other book, Trotsky as Alternative, is
translated from the German (of 1992); it originated in
a commission from the publishing house of the PDS.

Here Mandel demonstrates his thorough know ledge
of Trotsky’s life and work (to which it would, indeed,
make a fine introduction) in a series of twelve essays.

Mandel combines a fierce loyalty to ‘the most important strategist of the socialist movement’ this century
with a judicious marking of his weaknesses. The first
chapter gives a convenient summary of Trotsky’s
contribution to Marxism. Amongst the later ones,
there are very interesting studies of Trotsky’s struggle
against the Soviet bureaucracy; his alternative economic strategy for Soviet development; his changing
views on class organization; his analysis of Fascism;
and his sensitive responses to national problems.

One intriguing question arises from the title:

alternative to what? The answer given by Mandel is
that Trotsky’s legacy is the only alternative to the
‘bankruptcy of Stalinism and Social Democracy’. But

any consistent socialism counts as an alternative to
present-day social democracy. Trotsky’s historical
importance lay rather in his relentless critique of the
hegemonic Stalinist perversion of Marxism, and of
the Soviet Thermidor. In Europe today virtually no
one supports Stalinism any more; so it might be
thought that Trotsky, in spite of losing his life in the
struggle, has posthumously won. Stalinism is dead;
yet, if that is so, is not its alternative also redundant
in so far as it was structured around its oppositional
role? The more so because in the end Trotskyism did
not overthrow Stalinism; Stalinism imploded under
the weight of its own contradictions. We are left with
a vacuum.

Socialism today needs re-creating; but in a new
context, with an updated agenda, to be sure. Nonetheless, we would be well advised to incorporate in it
the best insights of previous thought and the lessons
of past experience. To the inescapable legacy of
Trotsky must be added the legacy of Ernest Mandel.

Chris Arthur

Policing
essentialism
Naomi Schor and Elizabeth Weed, eds, The Essential
Difference, Indiana University Press, Bloomington
and Indianapolis, 1994. xix + 196 pp., £27.50 hb.,
£11.99 pb., 0 253 35092 1 hb., 0 253 35093 X pb.

In their introduction, N aomi Schor and Elizabeth Weed
characterize the 1980s as a decade in which feminism
was policed by the ‘shock troops of anti-essentialism’

(p. vii). Their collection attempts to reassess the
essentialism controversy in the light of such policing.

As several of the contributors (Schor, Grosz, de
Lauretis) point out, this debate straddles several interconnected issues. One is naturalism and its most common variant, biologism. Here the dispute is between
those for whom the body is thought of as some kind of
ground uniting women, and social constructionists who
insist not only on the social construction of gender but
also of sex. As Gayatri Spivak remarks, ‘If one thinks
of the body as such there is no possible outline of the
body as such’ (p. 177). On this count some form of
social constructionism seems to have won the day.

Another strand is the debate between ‘equality’ and
‘difference’ feminists, often conducted with reference
to the work of De Beauvoir and Irigaray. The dangers
of assuming ‘sameness’ between women and men, and
therefore reinforcing the hegemonic position of mas-

Radical Philosophy

79 (SeptlOct

1996)

51

culinity, are contrasted with the perils of insisting on
a ‘difference’ which can only reinforce a hierarchical
opposition between them. This dispute is independent
of whether the ‘difference’ is articulated by attention
to the female body.

A third zone of contention is the supposed
polarization between feminism and deconstruction.

Feminism seems to lack political grounding if
feminists cannot speak as ‘women’, a move which is
seen as falling prey to the metaphysics of presence,
assuming an extra-discursive grounding of the
category. Without such an assumption ‘woman’ as a
category has an anchoring only within a language,
which both places it in an oppositional role to that of
‘man’ and, moreover, refuses it a set of defining
characteristics, as its meaning is endlessly deferred.

Finally, there is the question of universalism.

Critiques, for example by black feminists, of the universalizing tendencies of white feminist thought have
drawn attention to the differences between women, and
to the impossibility of articulating a homogeneous
‘women’s’ experience as a basis for feminist solidarity.

Most of the contributors try to get beyond the
essentialist/anti-essentialist opposition in whichever
form they attend to it. So Naomi Schor claims that
‘since othering and saming conspire in the oppression
of women, the workings of both processes need to be
exposed.’ We need articulations of equality not based
on the logic of the same, and an account of difference which is not ‘attributed to othering’ (p. 49; a
point also made by Grosz). Spivak undermines the
polarization between deconstruction and feminism by
pointing out ‘that the critique of essence a la deconstruction proceeds in terms of the unavoidable
usefulness of something that is very dangerous’

(p. 156). Teresa De Lauretis claims that the terms
‘essentialism and anti-essentialism … no longer serve
… to formulate our questions’ (p. 11). For her the
work of the Milan Women’s Bookstore is articulating
‘a genealogy of women … that is at once discovered
invented and constructed through feminist practices’

(p. 13). This is a process of ’empowering and
dynamic identification rather than static and divisive
identity’ (p. xiv) – a point reiterated in the piece by
Luce Irigaray and by Grosz and Schor in their discussions of her. Here is an attention to difference
which does not appear to invoke biologism or any
other version of the metaphysics of presence.

A recurrent theme of the volume is that it is not
possible to be for or against essentialism per se; it
depends on the context in which essentializing claims
are made. Several contributors (Schor and Weed,

52

Ra die a I Ph

if 0

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79 (S e pt I 0 c t 1996)

Grosz, Rabine) make reference to the ‘strategic
essentialism’ first mooted by Spivak. There are
different ways in which this reference can be read. A
strategic essentialism can suggest an essentialism
adopted merely for the purposes of political expediency (running with a gene for homosexuality for legal
purposes, to establish it as a natural category).

There are, however, underdeveloped remarks in
some of these papers which suggest a different reading (Schor, pp. xviii and 45; Rooney, p. 174; Spivak,
p. 175). This alternative is anchored in challenges
mounted to universalism, on the basis of (alternative)
identities, from specific subject-positions; and their
force requires attention to just such specificity, rather
than a collapse into ‘endless multiplicity’ (p. 175). To
make the latter move is to miss both the political and
intellectual force of the challenge. But the specificity
to which attention is drawn varies with context. What
I am foregrounding in asserting my SUbject-position
as a woman varies, even for a single individual. Moreover, one context can endow that category with a
content which simply dissolves in another. In
opposing the universal ‘human’, we need the identification ‘woman’. But when tempted into characterizing
our common experiences ‘as women’, we need to
confront the subject-position of ‘black woman’. On
this reading, strategic essentialism is a contextual
essentialism required to mount our challenge, but in
the use of which we must be vigilant.

The impact of this volume is not only to take the
sting out of the tail of charges of essentialism; it also
obliges us to recognize that we need an alternative
terminology in which to articulate our debates.

Kathleen Lennon

Born free
Jean-Luc Nancy, The Experience of Freedom,
translated by Bridget McDonald, Foreword by Peter
Fenves, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1993.

xxxi + 210 pp., £25.00 hb., £9.95 pb., 0 8047 2175 0
hb., 0 8047 2190 4 pb.

Jean-Luc Nancy, The Birth to Presence, translated by
Brian Holmes and others, Stanford University Press,
Stanford, 1993. x + 423 pp., £30.00 hb., £10.95 pb.,
o 8047 2060 6 hb., 0 8047 2189 0 pb.

‘Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.’

With this declaration, Rousseau articulates both the
common demand for moral and political freedoms,
and the traditional association of freedom with the
essence of human being. Yet this philosophical idea

of a unitary ‘freedom’ – called for and promised by
those plural freedoms – remains as unclear as ever,
preserved only by its apparent self-evidence and the
conviction that without it we would tolerate the
intolerable. In The Experience of Freedom, however,
Jean-Luc Nancy proposes abandoning it altogether, in
order to escape the foundationalist ontology of subjectivity which treats freedom as the essence of the
individual subject. He suggests we understand it
instead as ‘a condition or space in which alone something like a “subject” can eventually come to be born’.

Nancy’s text is primarily an engagement with
Heidegger. Employing the concept of ‘singularity’ to
articulate the ‘each time’ of each birth to existence
(which is both the time of birth and the birth of time),
and calling on Heidegger’s concepts of ‘mineness’

and ‘being-in-common’ to characterize singular existence as always already in relation, Nancy suggests
that it is freedom that gives this relation by withdrawing being. The relation can only happen in ‘the
withdrawal of the continuity of the being of existence, without which there would be no singularity
but only being’s immanence to itself’. And what we
share is this withdrawal of being which opens existence as existence.

The withdrawal of being is not an operation but a
liberation: the liberation of existence for a world. This
is ‘thinking’ – not a property of the existent, but the
disclosive structure of existence given by freedom.

Thinking is existence delivered to the generosity of
the ‘there is’ of a world, and it is, therefore, ‘the act
of an in-actuality’ which cannot appear to itself, but
which presents itself in experience as the experience
of freedom. Starting from Kant’s description of
freedom as a fact exhibited in action, and therefore
presented in experience (but not as an object of
knowing), Nancy elaborates an idea of freedom as
‘the transcendental of experience, the transcendental
that is experience’. This is not the experience of
existence (as classical empiricism would have to

suggest), for the experience we have is existence.

‘The experience of freedom is therefore the experience that freedom is experience.’ And this experience
is always the experience of thinking.

Philosophy cannot therefore produce, construct,
guarantee or defend freedom; rather, it is the very
‘folding, in discourse’, of freedom. And from the
point of view of ‘action’, thought is pushed to its
limit by ‘the unsparing material powerlessness of all
discourse’. Nancy proposes an idea of ‘a proper
“positivity” of evil’, in which evil is not the perversion of a particular entity – the deficiency or negation
of an essential good – but a positive possibility of
existence; freedom’s incomprehensible self-hatred, inscribed in the existent ‘as its innermost possibility of
refusing existence’. This displayed itself, at its
extreme, in the Nazi concentration camps. But a
decision for evil is made wherever existence is prevented from existing; wherever existence is reduced
to identification with an Idea.

If thought is powerless against such evil, this is
also where Nancy’s proposal might offer hope, of a
sort. For his anti-essentialism means that equality, for
example, cannot consist in ‘a commensurability of
subjects’, or justice involve ‘a just mean’. Both
assume a common measure of autonomous subjectivities, against which we could unceasingly challenge
the validity of all such established or prevailing
measures ‘in the name of the incommensurable’, and
understand ‘autonomy’ as existence’ s self-legislation
of its own existence with the imperative ‘Be free!’,
or ‘be what you are, that is, freedom, and for this,
free yourselves from an essence and/or concept of
freedom.’ However, Nancy distinguishes his programme from that of the ‘revolutionary politics’ this
would imply, and therefore from the inevitable disillusionment which he believes accompanies holding
freedom and justice as regulative ideals. For him,
freedom is not the end but the beginning: ‘No one
begins to be free, but freedom is the beginning and
endlessly remains the beginning.’

In his The Birth to Presence – a collection of essays
and fragments, most of which explore the themes of
The Experience of Freedom, and complement that text
whilst, perhaps, demonstrating Nancy to be the rare
thinker more adept and at his most powerful in longer
works than in short pieces – he talks of thinking as a
matter neither of ‘genre’ nor ‘style’, but simply of ‘a
question of knowing, in a voice, in a tone, in a writing,
whether a thought is being born, or dying’. Nancy’s is
undoubtedly a thought being born. Now the question is
where it is going.

Jane Chamberlain

R a die a I P h if 0 sop h y

79 (S e p t /0 c t 1 9 9 6)

53

Ronald E. Santoni, Bad Faith,

none of the plays or novels is taken into

Hilary Putnam, Pragmatism:

Good Faith, and Authenticity in

consideration here, even though The

An Open Question

Sartre’s Early Philosophy

Age of Reason, for instance, contains

Blackwell, Oxford and Cambridge

Temple University Press,

some of Sartre’s most penetrating

MA, 1995. 106 pp., £30.00 hb.,

Philadelphia, 1995. xxxix + 245 pp.,

analyses of bad faith. Bad faith is

£9.95 pb., 0 631 19342 1 hb., 0

$49.95 hb., $22.95 pb., 1 56639

central to the works of this period.

631 19343 X pb.

319 1 hb., 1 566393205 pb.

Every reader of Being and Nothingness
vividly remembers its emblematic

This rather slender volume contains

Having trained in the analytic tradition,

figures: the waiter who attempts to be a

the text of three lectures delivered

Santoni

approaches

waiter in the same way that a chestnut

by Putnam in Rome in 1992 which

Sartre with a certain suspicion. Sartre is

tree is a chestnut tree; the homosexual;

have previously been available only

not noted for his conceptual or termino-

the frigid woman; and the coquette.

in Italian. They are supplemented by

logical exactitude or consistency, and it

Some readers (but not apparently

some biographical notes, together

would be difficult to reduce his phe-

Santoni) may even begin to wonder

with a bibliography of Putnam’s

nomenology to a set of propositions. Al-

whether authenticity might not be

writings to date, suggesting that the

though disentangling the syntax is

defined as an attribute of male hetero-

book is intended as much as an in-

surely part of the pleasure of reading

sexuals who do not work in cafes. And

troduction to Putnam’s work as to

Sartre, there are always moments when

although Santoni concentrates on the

pragmatism itself.

a little analytic rigour would be wel-

moral aspects of Sartre, he does not

come.

bring out their political implications, as

Putnam observes that he is not con-

reflected in the experience of young

cerned with pragmatism simply as a

understandably

Santoni succeeds in resolving a

In

his

introductory

remarks

the

Frenchmen who deserted because they

historical movement, but as a way

distinction between lying and being in

could not say of the Algerian conflicts:

of thinking which is of lasting im-

bad faith – sometimes glossed as lying

‘This is my war and I assume its conse-

portance. Indeed, the ‘open ques-

to oneself. The liar is in possession of

quences.’ This is a very academic Sartre.

tion’ of the title is whether a third

the truth; the ontological unity of

Bad Faith, Good Faith obviously

way can be found between meta-

consciousness implies that bad faith can-

draws on a long period of serious

physical realism, on the one hand,

not sustain the duality of deceiver and

engagement with Sartre, but it some-

and modish forms of anti-realism (or

deceived. Yet whilst the introduction of

times begins to sound more like a dia-

postmodernism),

a certain definitional clarity is helpful,

logue with other American interpreters

Putnam presents the pragmatist ap-

Santoni’s repeated observation that

than an encounter with Sartre himself.

proach as an alternative that can do

Sartre’s theses are riddled with equivo-

The book is in part the story of a

justice to the ‘interpenetration’ of

cal applications of an idiomatic – even

conversion. His initial terminological

fact, value, theory and interpretation

eccentric – meaning of ‘to be what one

doubts aside, Santoni argues the case

without falling into a corrosive epis-

is’ to the ‘ordinary-language use of the

for the continued relevance of Sartre,

temological and moral scepticism.

term’, tends to sound merely petulant in

especially in the ethical realm. He

The first lecture is dedicated to

the face of the torrent of Sartre’s words,

concludes that good faith may be des-

redressing widespread misconcep-

particularly as ‘ordinary language’ is

cribed as the human being’s project of

tions about the work of William

equated with US English (as defined by

accepting its abandonment to freedom.

James.

James’s account of truth is misun-

number of problems,

notably

Putnam

on

the

contends

other.

that

Webster’s) with alarmingly unthinking

The way out of the hell of being is to

ease. More alarming still is Santoni’ s

live with, and take responsibility for,

derstood or distorted when inter-

failure to raise the problems posed by

our unjustifiable freedom. The ethics

preted, as it was by Russell, as the

reading Sartre mainly in translation,

of freedom developed in the Note-

theory that ‘a belief is true when the

even though it is well known that

books, meanwhile, suggests a Kantian-

effects are good’. Putnam contends

Sartre’s various translators have done lit-

existential

that

that James’s theory is best seen a.s a

tle to clarify his language.

provides guidance for free action in

way of overcoming the emptiness, or

The corpus examined by Santoni is

concrete situations. Few Sartreans

lack of criteriological relevance, of

clearly defined and stretches from the

would disagree, but most would doubt

the notion of truth as correspond-

1936 essay on the transcendence of the

that

ordinary-

ence to reality. He points out that if

ego to the Notebooks for an Ethics,

language debates is a necessary stage

such ‘correspondence’ is supposed

written in 1947-48 but not published

in reaching such a conclusion.

to be wholly independent of the way

a

detour

Radical Philosophy

79 (SeptlOct

imperative

through

David Macey

until 1983 (1992 in translation). Sadly,

54

moral

1996)

in which we confirm the assertions

we make, then both this notion and

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak,

our supposed grasp of it remain oc-

lectual achievement in terms of her

The Spivak Reader

political commitment and theoretical

cult. In excavating the connection

Edited by Donna Landry and

engagements, they fail to subject her

between

truth

and

confirmation,

Gerald Maclean, Routledge,

complex positionality to closer scru-

James sought to develop an account

London and New York, 1996. 320

tiny. The fact that Spivak’s corpus has

of truth that is relevant to our actual

pp., £40.00 hb., £14.99 pb., 0 415

occasioned the publication of a Reader

practices of enquiry. Putnam shows

910005 hb., 0415 01001 3 pb.

by the Western academy, for instance,

that the pragmatist emphasis on

exposes the extent to which she is a

fallibilism, on the fact that there are

This book provides a purchase on the

beneficiary of the very (neo-colonial)

no metaphysical guarantees for even

range of Spivak’s theoretical pro-

structures she criticizes. Whereas the

our most firmly held beliefs, is bal-

gramme. Included are essays from In

crucial tension between speaking fori

anced by a profound anti-scepticism.

Other Worlds, Outside in the Teaching

as ‘the third world woman’ continues

It is only in confrontation with a

Machine, Imaginary Maps (her col-

to provide a productive site of contes-

common reality that we can test the

laborative

tation for Spivak, it is glossed over in

corrigibility of our beliefs.

Devi), two recent interviews, and a

In his second lecture Putnam seeks

work

with

Mahasweta

the editors’ introduction.

comprehensive bibliography.

This refusal to engage critically

to identify a pragmatist strain in the

Drawing on the work of figures as

with Spivak is further evinced by the

work of the later Wittgenstein, whilst

diverse as Derrida, Samir Amin and

selection of texts. Instead of present-

challenging the notion that Wittgen-

Ranajit Guha, Spivak mounts a sus-

ing Spivak as a figure with a clear

fairly

stein should be understood as an ‘end

tained and powerful critique of the

theoretical agenda – however hetero-

of philosophy’ philosopher. This takes

continued exploitation and erasure of

geneous – the impression is conveyed

him in the surprising direction of

the ‘subaltern’ woman under contem-

that her work finally refuses to cohere.

Wittgenstein’s relation to Kant and

porary transnational capitalism. In an

While this is partly due to the com-

Kant’s conception of the primacy of

interview with the editors, Spivak

plexity of her frame of reference, and

practical reason. Putnam continually

clarifies her controversial claim – in

the need to reflect this in the Anglo-

emphasizes the moral, as well as the

an essay not included here – that the

American tradition of the Reader,

epistemological, importance of the

sexed subaltern subject cannot speak.

attention could have been paid to

pragmatist way of thinking, and in

Against the charge that she continues

Spivak’s more sustained inquiries. Her

Wittgenstein’s later writings he dis-

to silence the disenfranchised, Spivak

concern with the relation between

covers a ‘moral purpose’ in his advo-

asserts that ‘every moment that is no-

Marx and Derrida on the question of

cacy of a certain kind of empathetic

ticed as a case of [pure] subalternity is

the international division of labour, for

undermined’ .

example, offers much critical mileage

understanding of other forms of life.

The final lecture addresses the

While this volume to some extent

contemporary debate over pragma-

marks Spivak’s recognition as a high

tism. Throughout the book Putnam

theorist, her real strength lies in her

(particularly since the publication of
Specters of Marx).

While this is a fine introductory

is concerned to show that the prag-

ability to marshal the distinct theoreti-

anthology, offering an

‘exemplary

matist way of thinking is not ad-

cal methodologies of Marxism, femi-

series of places to start reading Spivak’,

equately represented by the thought

nism and deconstruction in a critique

with the exception of two interviews

of Richard Rorty. Putnam points out

of global capitalism. It is this focus

and a critical introduction, it has little

that J ames’ s emphasis on holism and

which The Spivak Reader lacks. While

to offer post-colonial critics that is new.

the ‘plasticity’ of truth is matched

the editors celebrate Spivak’s intel-

Stephen Morton

by the insistence that we share and
perceive a common world. The so-

Scandinavian Journal of Development Alternatives

lution to the problem of the ‘loss of

Stockholm, Sweden

the world’ is to be found neither in
scepticism nor in metaphysics, but
in the pragmatist conception of enquiry as a democratic and cooperative human endeavour, in which
doubt requires justification as much
as belief.

Jason Gaiger

A journal with an interdisciplinary focus in the social sciences. It is both
theoretical and practical and seeks to confront and deal with every aspect of
human development, covering al/ the socio-economic systems of the world.

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J.Oavid Singer: From Promised Land to Garrison State: The Israeli Search for Security
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