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80 Reviews

REVIEWS
A paradigm too far?

Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts, translated by Joel
Anderson, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1995. xxi + 215 pp., £39.95 hb., 0 7456 1160 5.

Axel Honneth, The Fragmented World of the Social: Essays in Social and Political Philosophy, edited by
Charles W. Wright, State University of New York Press, Albany NY, 1995. xxv + 343 pp., £25.25 hb.,
£15.95pb., 07914 2299 2 hb, 0 7914 2300 pb.

It is a cliche of modernity that where once there was
continuity in the relations between generations, crisis
now reigns. The experience of the Frankfurt School is
no exception. Returning to Germany after the Second
World War, it had not long established itself in the
Federal Republic when the first such conflict broke
out. Adorno may have mourned Habermas’s early excommunication by Horkheimer (for grant-threatening
radicalism), but his own work soon ceded its influence
to Habermas’s, as the main indigenous alternative to
its increasingly unworldly negativism. By the time he
came to relocate his mentors as anti-Enlightenment
figures in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity
(1985) – suspending them between Nietzsche and
Heidegger – Habermas’ s writings had de facto become
definitive of Critical Theory itself.

Axel Honneth’s Struggle for Recognition (the article
is a redundant invention of the translator) enters this
terrain of Oedipal tensions, continuity by negation,
and hopes for renewal, fraught with expectation.

Touted as the harbinger of a new ‘post-linguistic’

paradigm for Critical Theory – to each generation a
paradigm? – it promises Critical Theory a future without having to give up its Habermasian present. Yet for
all the homage – ‘six years of cooperation’ – the threat
of secession lingers.

Honneth’s previous work, Critique of Power (1985;
English translation 1991), was notable for its positioning of Foucault’s writings within the problematic of
the Frankfurt School, in opposition to Adorno’s alleged
‘repression of the social’ and alongside Habermas’ s
work, as an alternative ‘rediscovery of the social’. Its
critique of Foucault was, at one level, broadly Habermasian: Foucault fails to give normative considerations
anything but a legitimating historical function, thereby
undermining the political import of his analysis of
power. (Or, to put it the other way around: in so far as
there is a political side to Foucault’s work, it is a

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‘crypto-normativism’, unable to redeem its own presuppositions.) However, for all its orthodoxy,
Honneth’s treatment of Foucault was both more
detailed than Habermas’ s own rather cursory one, and
much more sympathetic to his motivation in focusing
on power as a constitutive dimension of the social. For
power is, crucially, something that Habermas’ s
abstractly universal and overly consensual notion of
communicative action categorically excludes, treating
it only as an external, distorting influence upon
discourse.

Critique of Power sought to reconstruct Foucault’ s
approach by exchanging the purely strategic concept of
discipline for a morally invested conception of ~ocial
struggle. In this way, Honneth hoped to blend Foucault
with Habermas so as to extend the sphere of communicative action to include the negative dimension of
struggle. Foucault was to help fill the political gap in
Critical Theory opened up by Habermas’s critique of
Marx, in which the baby of social struggle had been
thrown out with the bathwater of instrumental reason.

Struggle for Recognition pursues this programme,
with one important – indeed, dramatic – change.

Resources for the extension, concretization and politicization of the Habermasian problematic are no longer
to be sought in Foucault, however radically reconstructed, but rather in the very place in which
Habermas found his ‘original insight’ into communicative reason, nearly thirty years ago in ‘Labour and
Interaction’ (1968): Hegel’s Jena Realphilosophie
(1803-06). Honneth has turned his back on the French,
to sup from his national source; but he still wants to
go off in his own direction. Thus, whereas Habermas
moved from the early Hegel’s distinction between the
‘communicative’ logic of interaction and the ‘instrumental’ logic of labour, upwards, to a transcendental
deduction of the normative presuppositions of communication in general (seeking an ethics in universal

pragmatics), Honneth heads downstream, in search of
the normative forms which regulate actual social interactions, in so far as they involve experiences of
recognition (seeking a politics in moral experience).

Hegel replaces Foucault in the genealogy of
Honneth’s project. Yet Foucault inflects Hegel, to the
extent that it is the conflicted character of recognition
in Hegel that Honneth picks up on, rather than the
movement towards reconciliation, the justification of
which was the motor of Hegel’s development. Honneth
takes recognition out of the systematic context of
Hegel’s thought, insulating it from his epistemological
concerns, to concentrate on its role in the process of
the formation of ‘human identity’. He thus places it in
direct relation to all those debates currently taking
place under the confusingly interchangeable banners
of the ‘politics of identity’ and the ‘politics of difference’, in a way that parallels Charles Taylor’s influential essay of 1992, ‘The Politics of Recognition’ the year Honneth’s book was published in Germany.

Clearly, recognition is an idea whose time has come.

But what exactly does Honneth do with it?

First and foremost, he reconstructs its conceptual
history in Hegel and Mead. Second, he takes over the
early Hegel’ s identification of struggles for
recognition as the dynamic of historical development
(although this thesis is not discursively redeemed).

Finally, and frustratingly briefly, he attempts a
retheorization of three main forms of recognition,
taken from Hegel – love, rights and solidarity mirroring three distinct forms of disrespect, as the
basis for what he calls ‘a formal conception of ethical
life’. In this way, Honneth hopes to negotiate the
increasingly vexed problem of liberalism’s
relationship to substantive conceptions of the good.

In all of this, Honneth remains much closer to
Hegel’s text than did Habermas, whilst nonetheless
claiming a greater concreteness for his approach, with

regard to its sensitivity to the moral structure of everyday experiences of social conflict. This is taken to be
Mead’s contribution: to have ‘naturalistically transformed’ Hegel’ s concept of recognition in the direction
of an ’empirically grounded’ or ’empirically oriented’

phenomenology – the equivocation is significant consistent with the terms of ‘postmetaphysical’

thinking. Mead’s weakness is seen to be his failure to
distinguish sufficiently between substantial universalizations of social norms and the expansion of individual
freedom made possible by the formal universalism of
modern law; his failure to distinguish ‘solidarity’ from
‘rights’. As a result, his recognition-based account of
individualization concentrates too heavily on the
growth of personal autonomy at the expense of a proper
consideration of the conditions for self-realization.

In fact, this is a complaint levelled against all the
post-Hegelian thinkers in whose writings Honneth
detects the ‘traces of a tradition’ (Marx, Sorel and
Sartre): neglect of the uni versalistic content of the
sphere of modern law. It is the potential for the universal recognition of identity-claims that Honneth finds
in law which makes it, for him, the privileged medium
for their ‘expansion’. Law is the key mediating sphere,
holding together the network of intersubjective conditions for personal integrity (love) and the communitygenerating values of solidarity. Social conflict is taken
to be the consequence of ‘the violation of.the implicit
rules of mutual recognition’ , in which particular claims
to identity are refused. Conflict progresses through the
expansion of recognition-relations as different groups
are forced to generalize their claims into legal concepts
in order to introduce them into the field of ‘societal
confrontations’. This process both restructures the
claims (by subjecting them to the constraints of
mutuality inherent in the legal form of recognition)
and transforms the content of the law.

Thus, despite the focus on recognition (as opposed
to communication), the presupposition of a harmonious
normativity still underlies Honneth’s analysis: the
harmonious normativity of mutuality within the law.

Struggles for recognition are its (secret) agents; the
form of ‘modern’ law, its (invisible) political hand.

One begins to wonder whether the Hegelian
presumption of reconciliation has been rejected after
all, rather than merely displaced from the concrete
universality of the Hegelian state onto the ‘form’ of
modern law. This raises fundamental questions about
Honneths’s use of the concept of recognition; not least,
about the validity of his attempt to separate its social
dimension (conferring a certain status upon individuals
or groups) from epistemological questions about what

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it is which is known about the other, and how this
affects the ontological dimension of recognitionrelations as constitutive of the sociality of the self.

For Honneth, the objects of legal recognition are
‘identity-claims’, not social forms of subjectivity as
such; presumably, because the latter must be the results
of recognition (although Honneth shows little sensitivity to the paradoxically performative character of
demands for recognition). Consequently, the contrary
of recognition appears as ‘disrespect’ (failure to
acknowledge the autonomy of the claimant), rather
than ‘misrecognition’, as one might suppose. Oddly,
Honneth gives no account of misrecognition at all.

There is no sign of the way in which processes of
recognition are mediated by cultural forms. Nor, surprisingly, is there any discussion of desire (He gel’ s
‘return from otherness’): the very thing which, for
Hegel, makes recognition a struggle in the first place;
and which, for his more tragic French psychoanalytical
heirs, condemns all forms of subjectivity to a variety
of forms of misrecognition. The form of disrespect
cited by Honneth as the contrary of love, for example,
is ‘violation of the body’, which is both too narrow
and undialectical a category to grasp what is at issue.

Psychoanalytic theory is deployed – specifically,
Winnicott’s version of object-relations theory – but its
in sights into phantasy and misrecognition are restricted
to the personal domain of love relations.

The achievements of this domain are, however, central to Honneth’ s position. For it is here that the psychic
basis for an empirical approximation to the ideal subject
of modern law must be forged: that core individual
whose further individualization through socialization
is the topic of Mead’s writings. (Mead’s work is, of
course, far more of a social psychology than a
phenomenology of any sort, let alone a phenomenology
of spirit. Social interactionism is notoriously weak at
grasping the objectivity of social forms.) This core
individual is the basic unit of Honneth’s analysis.

Normative ‘advance’ is judged relative to the scope of
his or her developing self-relations. Politics appears as
the establishment of the social conditions for the
development of self-relations. A Kantian individualism
thus persists, despite the constitutive role of
recognition-relations, protected by the transcendentalism of Honneth’ s method from the full ontological
consequences of recognition itself. And, once again, it
is legal relations that are crucial. For it is only by
mediating recognition-relations through the form of
mutuality specific to law – formal universality – that
Honneth is able to shield the identity of social subjects
from the ontological consequences of misrecognition.

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The problem is that Honneth takes legal recognition
at face value. He abstracts from the existence of the
state, with its ‘class- [and, we might add, gender- and
race-] specific implementation’ of the law; not to
mention the specificity of state forms in different social
formations. Yet he insists that we continue to view the
law as a universalistic medium of recognition between
actual, socially specific subjects. Furthermore, he
assumes such mediation to be both possible and desirable. Yet might there not be injuries of recognition, as
well as of its denial, as Wendy Brown has powerfully
argued in her States of Injury: Power and Freedom in
Late Modernity (Princeton University Press, 1995)?

Might the law not equally well be seen as constituting
social identities through exclusion, than as expanding
recognition-relations through generalization? Indeed,
is politics itself not more radically thought in terms of
the constitution of the social, rather than the
establishment of conditions to meet existing identityclaims? One need not be a communitarian to think so.

This is Honneth’s domain of solidarity and it is here
that the problematic formalism of his analysis is most
apparent. Wanting it both ways (liberal and communitarian), but reluctant to transform the terms of either,
he ends up undermining his own starting point. For to
reduce ethical life to ‘the intersubjective conditions
that serve as necessary preconditions for individual
self-realization’, as Honneth does, is to discard .the.

central insight contained in the concept of recognition:

namely, that the basic categories of social ontology are
themselves ethical categories, from the start.

Ultimately, Honneth can neither hide the ethical presuppositions of his analysis behind its formalism, nor
maintain the concretion to which it aspires, in the face
of such formalism. Somewhere along the line between
Hegel and Habermas, Honneth has lost his way.

That things might have been different can be seen
in some of the essays Honneth wrote between 1979
and 1992, collected as The Fragmented World of the
Social. Divided into three parts – on Frankfurt Critical
Theory, French social thought, and recent moral and
political philosophy – these essays offer a fascinating
glimpse into the background of Honneth’s two main
works. ‘Provisional problem-formulations and theoretical stocktakings’, their disjunctive but overlapping
concerns weave a complex series of experimental paths
back and forth between Habermas and a variety of
other thinkers in search of what, in the Introduction,
Honneth calls ‘an alternative formulation of
Habermas’s original idea’. The section on French
social theory is made up of a set of philosophicopolitical profiles, on Levi-Strauss, Merleau-Ponty,

Sartre, Castoriadis and Bourdieu. While interesting in
themselves, these do not add much to our understanding of Honneth’s trajectory. Elsewhere, however,
are three essays which throw a rather different light
upon Honneth’s thought. All three concern that everyday experience of moral conflict which Honneth now
hopes to grasp with the concept of recognition, viewed
from the standpoint of a reworking of Marx’ s concept
of labour.

The earliest and longest of them, ‘Work and Instrumental Action’ (1980), lays down the terms through
which ‘a critical concept of work’ might be developed
in opposition to Habermas’ s Arendtian insistence on
separating out the logic of interaction from all forms
of instrumentality, as an alternative normative basis
for social theory. The next, ‘Moral Consciousness and
Class Domination’ (1981), attempts to uncover the
field of ongoing moral-practical conflicts within contemporary capitalism that remains hidden from
Habermas’s communicative ethic, with its emphasis
on publicly articulated, generalizable validity-claims.

Finally, in ‘Domination and Moral Struggle’ (1989),
interestingly placed at the front of the book, Honneth
provides a short overview of the philosophical heritage
of Marxism, in which his own ‘paradigm of
recognition’ appears as the successor to Marx’ s
‘paradigm of labour’, by virtue of the continuing
connection it offers between social analysis and the
theory of emancipation, in a transformed theory of
action. Critically reworked, Marx’s account of

alienated labour becomes a region within a general
theory of social relations of ‘damaged recognition’.

There is clearly a strategic dimension to this; as
there is to the use of the phrase ‘damaged recognition’,
evocative of the ‘damaged life’ in the subtitle of
Adorno’s Minima Moralia. However, the argumentative content of the first two of these essays is
sufficient to raise the question of the disappearance of
this line of thought from Honneth’ s work and to make
one wonder whether it could not have been profitably
pursued. For it points to a fundamental lacuna within
Struggle for Recognition: namely, a theoretical account
of the relationship between recognition and interests.

Honneth notes there, in passing, that ‘not all forms of
resistance have their roots in injury to moral claims’;
that the theory of recognition should not try to
‘replace’ an interest-based model of conflict, but ‘only
extend’ and ‘possibly correct’ it. But this throws the
systematic logic of Honneth’ s project into doubt. How
many paradigms must we embrace simultaneously to
balance the books here? And for how long can we
keep on talking about paradigms in this way?

Struggle for Recognition is an ambitious and
rewarding book, at the intersection of a number of
important debates. And if it is ultimately unable to
bear the burden of expectation generated by its
supporters, in the long run that may be no bad thing.

Sometimes the demands of recognition can- be just too
great.

Peter Os borne

National socialism: a liberal
defence
David Miller, On Nationality, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995. viii + 210pp., £19.99 hb., 0 19 828047 5.

Since the Second World War, nationalism has generally
been treated with suspicion by political philosophers
of a socialist or liberal persuasion. National sentiments
have been regarded as at best a deluded romantic
attachment to outmoded traditions that merely bolstered
the status quo; at worst as fuelling racism and jingoism.

Either way, nationalism is viewed as a conservative or
even reactionary force, which detracts from people’s
sense of solidarity with humanity at large.

David Miller’s book belongs to a growing literature
that seeks to revise this negative judgement. He argues
that a certain sort of nationalism supplements liberalism in a number of crucial respects, and is likely to be

necessary for any viable socialist project in the foreseeable future. ‘National Socialism: A Liberal Defence’

offers a suitably provocative alternative title for
Miller’s book, then, hinting at the sort of objections
and prejUdices he has to overcome in mounting his
argument, as well as the ambivalence it is likely to
generate in the reader. It is a sign of the achievement
and originality of his study that he almost pulls it off.

Miller singles out three key related features of the
conception of nationality he seeks to defend: it forms a
part of our personal identity; it possesses ethical value;
and it provides a basis for claims for national selfdetermination. Chapters 2-4 discuss each in turn. The

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first is both the most contentious and the most
significant, providing the necessary starting point for
much of what follows. Miller acknowledges that
national identities are often invented and depend on a
large element of myth, but regards this feature as an
advantage. He sees modern nationality as very much a
political construct that is largely distinct from ethnic
identities and, unlike them, capable of being adapted
to encompass a wide variety of groups holding diverse
views of the good.

Miller’s discussion of the second element is in many
respects the most philosophically original part of the
book. He distinguishes the difference between ethical
universalism and ethical particularism on the one hand,
from the contrast between impartiality and partiality in
ethical reasoning on the other. The first distinction has
to do with the structure of ethical thought. In an
analogous manner to Michael Walzer and Bernard
Williams, Miller juxtaposes ‘thin’ universal moral
concepts, such as basic human rights, to ‘thick’ moral
concepts, such as treachery, gratitude or courage, which
have a more local and contextual application and are
subject to a degree of variation. He contends that,
whilst the former generate perfect obligations, they are
of a relatively minimal kind. The latter, by contrast,
provide a source of special obligations vital to any
well-developed system of welfare provision or
redistributive taxation. The second distinction has to
do with how far ethical demands may constrain an
individual’s pursuit of his or her own projects. Miller
believes this tension will be reduced to the degree that
our identity has the sort of collective dimension suggested by his account of nationality.

Jindrich Marco, Warsaw – centre of the Old Town, March 1947

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Finally, national self-determination derives from the
view that national identities are largely political, at
least partly constructed, and produce relatively strong
mutual ties. Personal and collective autonomy are in
this way closely related. More important, Miller
contends that democratic deliberation presupposes that
we feel part of a demos. The search for collectively
binding decisions, in which we accept the majority
vote whilst paying some respect to minority opinion,
would not make sense unless people felt bound together in certain important ways so as to form a
political community. Miller maintains that nationality
offers the main, if not the only, source of this collective
identification.

Miller attempts to ward off a number of predictable
lines of criticism. Against Conservative traditionalists,
he argues (in Chapter 5) that nationalism cannot be
plausibly interpreted as in some sense natural or Godgiven and unchangeable. As noted above, he concedes
its often mythical and invented character. This view in
turn allows him to counter certain liberal characterizations of nationalism as tribal and primitive. Instead,
he presents it as the public political culture of a modern
democratic state – a position that certainly coincides
with the aspirations of the liberal nationalists of
nineteenth-century Europe. As such, he believes it
proves compatible with a certain degree of ethnic,
religious and value pluralism. Consequently, .he
equally rejects the view of what he calls ‘radical’

multiculturalists, who argue that separate representation, and a high degree of devolved political power
and special rights, are necessary to protect individual
and group identities. They regard the privileging of a
national
identity
as
oppressive, since it will
usually only reflect the
interests and self-image
of hegemonic groups.

Miller responds that, to
the extent that minority
groups are concerned to
engage with, and seek
concessions from, both
each other and any
dominant majority, they
must at some level feel
that they belong to a
single political community and possess a common public culture. Quite
legitimately, they will not
take that culture as a

given, but seek to shape it to reflect, or at least be
compatible with, their concerns. The best way to
achieve this result, in his opinion, is to avoid as far as
possible schemes likely to fragment the public sphere
and detract from the search for inclusive, common
policies.

Miller argues that a nationalist political culture is
necessarily ‘thicker’ than either a Habermasian ‘constitutional patriotism’ or a Rawlsian ‘overlapping
consensus’ on political principles. Such principles are
too indeterminate, too much in need of interpretation
and balancing, to offer sufficient guides to policy. A
people has to exist possessing the legitimate authority
and desire to develop collective social and political
institutions capable of determining who owes what to
whom in much more specific ways. Such peoples do
not form spontaneously or through voluntary association. Not only is it implausible to characterize states
in this manner; such associations would also be highly
unstable and open to all sorts of collective action problems as a result of the possibilities for defection and
free-riding. Instead, they must in some degree be communities of fate: a belief encouraged by nationality.

Libertarians, of course, will see no need for anything beyond the minimum. Miller says little in reply,
except to voice the familiar communitarian doubts
about the coherence and sustainability of an atomistic
society of self-interested and disencumbered choosers.

There are other more socialistic liberals, however, who
thicken the universal requirements of justice way
beyond the minimum. For them, nation-states are either
merely pragmatically useful devices for the effective
organization of welfare and democracy, or subordinate
units of an emerging international social and political
system, such as the European Union. Miller rejects
both these suggestions. Even more than market
exchanges, extensive schemes for social and other sorts
of security, involving more than mere humanitarian
aid, depend on forms of reciprocity and trust which
exceed the strict dictates of justice. Cosmopolitans
make the mistake of taking these attitudes for granted.

However, they are only likely to arise in situations
where people feel linked by special ties and responsibilities to each other. For analogous reasons to democracy, social justice assumes a national community.

Whilst largely normative in character, Miller’s case
for nationalism invokes empirical evidence of a
historical and socio-psychological nature at a number
of crucial points. Although such a mixture is inevitable
when tackling this kind of topic, it is often unclear
whether he is merely saying that nationality does
provide the social and moral cement which the uni-

versalist and individualist theories of egalitarian
liberals and libertarians trade on; or whether his claim
is that only nationality can – and hence should attempt to do so. Indeed, he has a tendency to imply
that if people do not feel obliged to do more than what
common human decency demands when dealing with
non-compatriots, then we must assume that they cannot
and so ought not to do so. This reasoning is clearly
false. In fact, all three of these contentions are empirically and substantively disputable.

With regard to the first, Miller dismisses H.G.

Wells’s remark that ‘Our true nationality is mankind’

as an empty liberal platitude. Yet people’s response to
the plight of remote strangers via events such as Live
Aid should not be discounted. Nor, Miller’s mildly
Euro-sceptical remarks notwithstanding, should we
dismiss the international idealism that lies behind
initiatives such as the European Union or the United
Nations. Moreover, if one is looking for cases of reciprocity that transcend mere mutual advantage, such as
donating blood, picking up hitchhikers, or giving
directions to strangers, then none of these seems to
require that the beneficiaries belong to our community,
merely that we are community-minded – an attitude
fostered through local experiences but capable of being
extended beyond them.

The second doubt is correct to the extent that a
scheme for international justice that w.ent· beyond
humanitarian aid would certainly be highly costly for
the wealthiest nations in the short term, and as such
might well prove unacceptable to their populations and
possibly not viable. How feasible and even beneficial
a global distribution might be in the long term is a
different matter.

So far as the third point is concerned, Miller’s view
appears to be grounded in some form of pluralism
linked to a defence of individual and collective
autonomy. Promoting a ‘thick’ universalism risks becoming paternalistic or imperialistic. Yet once people
are allowed to govern themselves, wide variations in
social provision and political organization are likely
to appear which cannot be legitimately reduced to a
single model. Thus, Miller regards the chief weakness
of the pragmatic defence of nation-states as local
providers of universal services to be that it justifies
‘benevolent’ imperialism in those cases where the local
state proves inadequate – a position most liberals are
reluctant to adopt.

Miller traces this reluctance to a tension between
liberalism’s commitment to individual rights on the
one hand, and collective autonomy on the other. I fail
to see this difficulty. Most liberals see collective

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autonomy and individual rights as intimately connected: both pragmatically and substantively it is hard
to conceive of one without the other. Hence, with the
exception of extreme cases of hardship or oppression,
when, as Miller also concedes, humanitarian considerations call for direct intervention, benevolent
imperialism is unwarranted as a means of better
meeting individual rights. It is likely to prove selfdefeating for much the same reasons that liberals
standardly caution against paternalistic interference
with individuals: namely that rights are justified by,
and largely protected through, the autonomous action
of individuals, both personally and collectively. However, extensive aid and the attempt to promote international political institutions which help poorer
peoples to resist the economic and military might of
the major powers are entirely justified.

Building an international public arena that allows
for a variety of national cultures seems no more incoherent and inherently anti-pluralist than a national
political community that encompasses a number of
ethnic, religious and other groups. Indeed, the reasons
for subsuming national politics within an international
political system exactly parallel those that motivate
Miller’s caveats about radical multiculturalism namely, that it leads to more inclusive decisions. There

are practical problems, of course, but these are
potentially superable. Miller may well be right to doubt
(in Chapter 6) whether the forces of globalization are
as all-pervasive as some of their enthusiasts claim,
such that the nation-state is about to wither away.

However, they have gone sufficiently far to make a
wide degree of international decision-making in
economic, social and defence matters increasingly
desirable. Since intergovernmental decision-making
largely entrenches the interests of the hegemonic
powers, the only opportunity for poorer nations to be
heard is through political fora that go beyond the
nation-state so as to modify national self-interest. I
doubt that socialism in any country could be achieved
through autarchy or isolationism, but for poor nations
it will only come through an international politics.

Miller correctly insists that political and economic
co-operation require a higher degree of social capital
and shared culture than a ‘thin’ universalism can offer.

But he has not shown that a ‘thick’ universalism is
either undesirable or unattainable if the appropriate
international institutions exist to promote it. That
would still allow for a ‘thin’ national and regional
politics, but nationalism would have given way to
internationalism as the source of our common ideals
and public culture.

Richard Bellamy

Last philosophy
Peter Dews, The Limits of Disenchantment: Essays on Contemporary European Philosophy, Verso, London
and New York, 1995. xi + 300pp., £39.95 hb., £13.95 pb., 1 85984 927 X hb., 1 85984 022 1 pb.

The diverse essays that make up this book are drawn
together mainly by a negative claim: that currently
popular ‘deflationary’ conceptions of philosophical
inquiry – most notably Rorty’s neo-pragmatism, the
post-structuralisms of Derrida and Foucault, and
Habermasian critical theory – are either untenable or
crippling. But a positive and far-reaching thesis
emerges from the negative one. For the predicament
which gives rise to deflationary philosophy, Dews
argues, calls for ‘metaphysical’ inquiry of a kind originally practised by the non-Hegelian German Idealists
and continued today primarily in the hermeneutic and
psychoanalytical traditions.

The predicament in question concerns the fate of
meaning in a disenchanted world. Before disenchantment, the human world was believed to be continuous
and potentially in harmony with the cosmic order. On

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this conception, to know oneself, to understand one’s
own meaning and purpose, is to find one’s place in
the objective order of being. Such self-knowledge
could be achieved, at least in part, by philosophical
contemplation. But once the objective order of being
appears void of intrinsic significance, the objective
ground of the self’s existential orientation vanishes.

How, then, can the self be reassured that it inhabits a
realm of meaning at all? Is it the business of
philosophy to answer this question?

It is widely believed that if there is a realm of
meaning, it exists only in a conditioned or contextrelative sense. On this contextualist view, significance
is confined to specific cultural schemata and
contingently occurring forms of life. But while
acknowledging local meaning-occurrences, contextualism is committed to the meaninglessness of their

global ontological backdrop. Dews is critical of this
position, as exemplified in the work of Rorty and
Foucault, on the following counts: first, because it
truth
of global
dogmatically assumes the
meaninglessness; second, because it fails to account
even for local meaning; and third, because it cannot
make sense of its own reflective practice. But Dews’s
main concern is that the ‘naturalization’ of global
meaninglessness – its hypostatization into an unchallengeable, eternal truth – keeps the very question
of existential reassurance off the philosophical agenda.

Rorty’s avowed historicism is in bad faith, Dews
argues, because it does not take seriously the possibility
that studying the philosophical tradition might really
illuminate our basic existential and cogmtIve
predicament. Dews suggests that, rather than registering
an authentic historical awareness, the contextualist
short-circuiting of the ontologically orienting function
of philosophical reflection is symptomatic of a
profoundly impoverished approach to the history of
philosophy.

For all its differences with contextualism, deconstruction likewise suffers from a self-imploding
refusal of ontological thought and a merely gestural
respect for philosophy’s past. In a devastating critique
of the main essays of Margins of Philosophy, Dews
shows how Derrida’s loosely targeted suspicion of
ontology leads him to wayward interpretations of
Austin’s theory of speech-acts, the hermeneutic
conception of metaphor, and Heidegger’s notion of
proximity. More important, by equating the selfpresent with the ‘proximate, and the transparent with
the pre-reflexive, Derrida –

at least in his de-

constructive phase – rules out the possibility of a world
whose structure ‘can be neither definitively shattered
nor entirely objectified’. If, as hermeneutics suggests,
we can make sense of such a world, deconstruction’s
suspicion of ontology suddenly seems unmotivated.

Furthermore, Dews informs us, this is a conclusion
reached two centuries ago by the German Idealists. In
a critical rejoinder to Rodolphe Gasche’s work on
Derrida, Dews argues that the fundamental problematic
which drives deconstruction, even the most distinctive
Derridean strategies for tackling it, are vividly anticipated by Jacobi, Fichte, and especially Schelling. Since
Schelling’s Idealism both foreshadows deconstruction
and points beyond it, Dews notes, the epochal claims
made on behalf of deconstructive practice – that it
heralds the transition to a ‘postmodernity’ of the
unprecedented and the unthought – are less than
compelling.

Schelling is also commended as a corrective to
Habermas’s thought. Like Kant, Habermas responds to
the predicament of disenchantment on the one hand by
ceding to science a norm-free conception of nature,
and on the other by insisting upon the unconditional
validity of just principles of human interaction. Yet
Habermas’s project is unlike Kant’s in at least two
respects. First, Habermas feels compelled to account
for our heightened sense of the moral inappropriateness of an objectifying, instrumental attitude to the
non-human world. Second, he strives to locate the
source of moral meaning in structures of linguistic
intersubjectivity, rather than the self-reflecting subject.

As Dews argues, however, these two tasks are difficult
to reconcile. Indeed, it may even be that the
intersubjectivist orientation of Habermas’s theory
makes it less capable of dealing with the normativity of
nature than the ‘subject-centred’ practice of philosophy
begun by Kant. For it was just by reflecting upon the
structure of subject-relatedness that the German
Idealists evolved a non-objectified conception of
nature. And it is just such a conception that seems to be
needed now for seeing our relation to nature aright.

But Habermas’s ‘paradigm shift’ to intersubjectivity
risks losing more than the possibility of imagining a
rational but non-instrumental orientation to nature: it
rules out the prospect of any context-transcending
disclosure of significance. The best-known manifestation of this exclusion is Habermas’ s distinction
between the moral and the ethical. For Habermas, the
moral point of view has its roots in formal, universal
structures of language-use, structures supposed to hold
independently of the semantic resources of any particular language. The substantive ethical beliefs that
compose a self-identity, on the other hand, are relative
to specific languages and traditions. On this model,
therefore, the ‘transcendent’ moment of morality coincides with its abstraction from local disclosures of
significance, not from an expansion of them. However,
in line with contemporary hermeneutic and communitarian thinkers, Dews suggests that only an expanded,
substantive conception of morality – rather than a contracted, formal one – does justice to the fund of
solidarity required for social life. In his three essays
on psychoanalysis, Dews considers how the capacity
for solidarity with others has its roots in the psychosexual history of the subject. For Dews, the great virtue
of psychoanalytic theory, especially its Lacanian
variant, arises from an ambition it shares with
Schellingian metaphysics: to layout the structures of
subjectivity as such. Lacan is applauded for bucking
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thought by taking seriously – perhaps even discovering? – the context-transcendent truth of what it
is to be a subject.

This last point raises the issue of the status of ‘metaphysical’ thinking itself. Metaphysics is commonly
defined as the a priori science of being in general, as
the set of necessary, apodeictic and eternal truths which
provides the foundations for all knowledge. Metaphysics is here conceived as ‘first philosophy’. By
contrast, the kind of philosophy practised by Schelling
and the German Idealists – and by contemporary ‘revisionist’ metaphysicians like Dieter Henrich, Michael
Theunissen and Herbert Schnadelbach – can be
described as ‘last philosophy’. Metaphysics as last
philosophy does not seek out the common objective
ground of given knowledge practices. Rather it looks
beyond them, to realms of significance that resist objectification and disenchantment. Not all the formulations
Dews invokes for this conception of metaphysics are
consistent: for Schnadelbach, metaphysical questions
‘are primarily concerned with significance rather than
truth’, whereas for Henrich, metaphysical interpretations of life certainly do aspire to truth, albeit in a

revisionary sense of ‘integrating conflicting tendencies’.

Nor is it clear how metaphysical interpretations are
validated; nor whether the different manifestations of
‘last philosophy’ are validated in the same way. How
are we to decide between conflicting general interpretations? If metaphysical questions are concerned with
truth, can they be given equally good but incompatible
answers? Perhaps such issues arise most pressingly in
relation to psychoanalysis. Dews concludes by suggesting that it has been left to psychoanalysis to take
up the metaphysical task of asking ‘who we are, and
what we ultimately desire’. But the condition ascribed
to us is surely parochial: psychoanalysis illuminates
the truth of a ‘we’ which has already in part been
shaped by it. If so, the problem arises of reconciling
acknowledgements of cultural contingency with the
comprehensive, context-transcending ambition of metaphysical inquiry. Dews may leave epistemological
questions concerning the tension between particularity
and universality unanswered. But he impresses on the
reader undoubtedly more important insights concerning
the ontological significance of this tension.

Nick Smith

Coming of age
Norberto Bobbio, The Age of Rights, translated by Allan Cameron, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1996. xix +
168pp., £45.00 hb., £12.95 pb., 0 7456 13845 hb., 0 7456 15953 pb.

This is a collection of essays, most of them originally
given as lectures, organized into three parts for publication. The first deals generally with human rights,
the second with the significance of the French
Revolution, and the third contains two pieces on
capital punishment. The nature of the material makes
for overlap – considerable in the case of the two essays
on the French Revolution – and it is not always easy
to retain a sense of an overall purpose to the volume.

Nevertheless, there are recognizable recurrent themes.

They can be summarized in the following way.

The currency of human rights is modern and, rather
than reflecting some absolute moral principle of shared
humanity, should be understood as historically specific
and underwritten by legal, political guarantees. The
French Revolution is a decisive historical moment in
this context and should be seen as representing a
broader shift in the way in which the relationship
between individual and state is understood. The shift
is from an organic model, in which the exercise of
power takes priority over the assertion of individual

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freedom, to an individualist one in which political
association is founded upon the freely given consent
of individual citizens. The change is progressive and,
to that extent, the coming of our age of rights is an
ascent into political maturity. Rights are indissolubly
linked with democracy and peace as the mutual
guarantors of further progress. More and different
kinds of rights are being claimed at the same time as
the basic rights are accorded to more people and
protected within an ever more explicit international
order. There is every reason to be optimistic about the
future of humanity. Yet that does not absolve the philosopher, or anyone else, from the responsibility of
playing their part in ensuring that what has been
gained is not lost, and that what can still be won is
indeed secured.

All of this is urged with great assurance, intelligence, clarity of vision, and lucidity of argument. It
will have some appeal to both philosophers interested
in the language of rights, and those who wish to see
the more political case for rights spelled out. It would

also be hard to fault the generous and compassionate
humanist outlook animating the writing. Nevertheless,
the essays operate at a certain level of generality,
perhaps demanded by the circumstances of their original delivery, which makes for a lack of precision and
unambiguous commitment at crucial points. The two
pieces on the death penalty are models of judicious,
even-handed summary. Any student of the topic would
find in them an invaluable guide to the main arguments
for both the abolition and the retention of capital
punishment. Yet the arguments Bobbio marshals for
his own strongly expressed view that abolition alone
betokens a humane future are gestural and schematic.

Again, there are good reasons to endorse the view
that the shift from an organic to an individualist
construal of the polity is to be commended. But that is
only half the story, and perhaps not even that much.

Many would bemoan the loss of community, identity
and belonging which modern individualism has
entailed, without being committed to a politically
reactionary organicism. Equally, there are many
sympathetic to the Aristotelian ideal of a polity which
realizes the common good who would not wish to
deny the ideals of universal equality and personal
liberty. There are, perhaps most pertinently, those who
commend the political achievements of modernity, but
who worry about the pervasive and promiscuous use
of ‘rights’. Pace Bobbio, the ever more extensive
employment of rights to express, defend and promote
particular interests is seen as a devaluation of their
overall worth, and as contributing to a contestational,
agonistic form of politics.

One way of moderating the use to which rights are
put is to be clearer about their moral foundations.

Bobbio’s objections to the ‘illusion’ of an ‘absolute
principle’ underwriting the various human rights are
familiar. However, to an Anglo-Saxon philosophical
audience at least, they would not be seen as decisive.

As his ‘Preface to the English edition’ rightly observes,
‘the distinction between a “moral” and a “legal” right’

is an unfamiliar one to the French, Italians and
Germans. It is also true that there is all the difference
between claiming that something should be a positive
right, and asserting one’s legally recognized right.

Nevertheless, it does not follow from this that ‘rights’

can only be understood as a recent historical innovation without any objective moral basis in some
shared humanity. It is hard to reconcile Bobbio’s
conviction that the death penalty is deeply abhorrent
with a refusal to concede that a right to life does rest
on firm, ahistorical grounds. Bobbio writes eloquently
on the importance of what Kant called ‘prophetic

history’, the history that should and can be made,
rather than the speculative history that might occur.

His optimism about our future is infectious and
engaging. Yet pessimism – or at least caution – of the
intellect is also to be commended. We do now live in
an age of rights and there is much to commend in our
age. Much of it may be traced to the achievements
which have found expression in the charters and
declarations of rights. But it does not follow that we
have come of age only through securing our rights, or
that it is by means of rights that we will grow further.

David Archard

Revolt into style
Peter Staff, Logics of Failed Revolt: French Theory
After May ’68, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA,
1995. x + 268pp., £30.00 hb., £10.95 pb., 0 8047 2445
8 hb., 0 8047 2446 6 pb.

In November-December 1995 much of France was
brought to a standstill by strikes as public-sector
workers attempted to defend their pension and socialsecurity rights in the face of a government policy of
austerity. There was unrest in the universities. It
rapidly became apparent that this was not ~ repetition
of the events of May 1968. For the public-sector
workers, it was a matter of protecting fragile rights (or
privileges, as some in the private sector complained)~
for the students, discontent with their material conditions and anxieties about their future prospects were
the dominant emotions. Realism, rather than the
imagination, was in the streets, if not in power. The
utopianism of May now seems to belong to a very
distant past, but it continues to fascinate. More specifically, it is the failure of the revolt that fascinates.

Many explanations for the collapse of the May
movement have been advanced: recuperation by the
state, betrayal by the Communist Party, lack of true
revolutionary discipline… Many conclude that the
revolutionary model, or even political radicalism, has
been exhausted. When, with typical rhetorical selfindulgence, ‘new philosopher’ Bernard-Henri Levy
described himself as the bastard child of an unholy
union between fascism and Stalinism, he relied on a
model that had already become a commonplace.

Kristeva, for one, has argued that traditional Marxism
is capitalism’s specular double. The choice between
socialism and barbarism has, it would appear, been
invalidated.

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Starr’s goal is to trace the logics of failed revolt, or
the commonplace explanations for the failure of revolutionary action. He attempts to bridge the gap between
studies of specific theorists and the work of historians
and sociologists. The underlying socio-historical model
is not unfamiliar, and Starr relies heavily – and quite
openly – on the work of Debray, Touraine, Morin,
Ory and Sirinelli in his account of the gradual integration of the would-be revolutionary intellectual into
state apparatuses.

The corpus of texts and theorists is even more
familiar: Lacan, Barthes, Kristeva, Derrida, Cixous and
L’Ange, an exercise in quasi-mystical nostalgia by
lambet and Lardreau (1976), former Maoists turned
new philosophers. L’Ange is certainly a good, if minor,
example of the Lacanian-inspired mythologies of the
post-May years, and a reminder of how a murderous
Cultural Revolution in China could be transformed by
the imagination into a festival of the oppressed.

Whether it is representative of anything more than its
authors’ involvement with the micropolitics of a trend
within French Maoism is open to dispute (the Gauche
proietarienne and ‘French
Maoism’ were not synonymous). And the supposedly
representative nature of Starr’ s
corpus is perhaps the most
problematic aspect of a study
that has both the virtues and
the vices of so many essays in
post-structuralism. It displays,
that is, the virtues of erudition,
close reading and sophistication, but is vitiated by its
reliance on a pantheon of
authors constructed by AngloAmerican scholarship rather
than French politics.

The concentration on a
literary-philosophical corpus
poses problems that are not
really addressed. As Starr
notes, it would have been possible to use a different
corpus; that he does not do so is perhaps indicative of
the hold a certain body of literary and philosophical
theory continue to have on the Anglo-American
imagination. Barthes was no enthusiast for May ’68.

Derrida’s political radicalism is of very recent vintage,
and usually takes the honourable form of a principled
defence of human rights (as well as the more dubious
form of apologias for Heidegger and De Man).

Althusser is an unlikely candidate for inclusion in this

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corpus, and the chapter Starr devotes to him sits uneasily with the rest of the book. To discuss Althusser’s
stress on the need for theoretical rectitude solely in
terms of Lacan’s vatic pronouncements on the
psychotic nature of any attempt at rigour may be legitimate in purely Lacanian terms. But that legitimacy
needs to be established by more than the statement
that Lacan’s work must be read as setting the stage for
a rethinking of the political in non-binary terms. A
sceptical ‘why?’ is surely in order, as is the suggestion
that Althusser’s undoubted attempts at rigour probably
owe more to Canguilhem’s ‘philosophy of concepts’

than to Lacan.

Starr is at his best when he moves away from the
overt concerns of his selected theorists and argues that
the dominant logic of the post-May period has been
one of ‘neither/norlbut’. It is no longer a question of
‘socialism or barbarism’, but of ‘neither Stalinism nor
totalitarianism’, and of the search for a third way or
term. The third way proves in many cases to be what
Foucault called ‘a relentless theorization of writing’,
and an aestheticization of the political – a celebration

of the avant-gardes that exist, marginally but not unhappily, on the fringes of modern society. Writing
becomes a vehicle for a compensatory utopianism: the
revolution will be poetic, or it shall not be. Starr traces
instances of the logic of ‘neither/norlbut’ in the work
of Barthes, Kristeva, Cixous and others, and notes in
passing that this tripartite structure originates in
Sartre’s work of the early Cold War period. Could it
be that Sartre is a better guide to the logics of failed
revolt than Lacan?

One of the fears of the post-May period, and of the
new philosophers in particular, was that revolution
would trigger a process of repetition, producing a new
authoritarianism, or, to adopt the terminology of
Lacan’s mythologies, the remergence of the Master.

In perhaps the most fascinating sections of his study,
Starr demonstrates that a process of repetition is indeed
at work in an unexpected quarter. Cixous’ s celebration
of the explosive hysteric whose subversive activity
spreads through contagion is, it emerges, strongly
reminiscent of the polemical imagery of nineteenthcentury anarchism, as is L ‘Ange’ s mobilization of an
absolutist image of power. Not for the first time, revolt
has been turned into style.

David Macey

Two steps
forward
Red-Green Study Group, What on Earth is to be
Done?, Red-Green Study Group, Manchester, 1995. x
+ 69 pp., £3.50 pb., 0 9525784 0 9.

This pamphlet, which has much of the character of a
manifesto, although it disclaims that status, is the result
of a dialogue among a group of reds and greens. The
personal notes on the participants indicate that some
come from a background of activity in distinctly red
organizations, others in distinctly green ones. Whether
the dialogue was a lively one I don’t know, but its
product is a wide area of agreement and a surprisingly
small residual area of dispute. But perhaps it is not so
surprising after all; these are greens who recognize
that the enemy is capitalism, not science or technology,
and reds who recognize that the developed countries
must accept a lower level of material consumption in
the interests of worldwide justice and a sustainable
economy. Even the division between anthropocentrism
and ecocentrism in ethics, which is mentioned as a
persistent disagreement to be resolved by a bit of both,
is not a clear red/green divide. There are greens who
justify environmental concern in terms of the human
future, and there are reds (I am one) who accept the
existence of non-anthropocentric values.

The Red-Green Study Group is agreed in its
analysis of the problem: the subordination of human
and environmental needs to the market; the power of
multinational capital and the nation-state; the consequent impoverishment of the southern hemisphere; the
exploitation of workers, and the oppression of women

and minorities; the irresponsible use of resources and
the pollution and destructive use of the earth. There is
both class politics and movement politics here, as well
as environmental politics.

It is also agreed that the solution must include a
thoroughgoing democratization of both the state and
the economy; a shift of power away from the nationstate towards local communities on the one hand and
global internationalism on the other; and a shift of
emphasis from the formal economy, through reduction
of working hours, towards the informal sector and the
household economy.

Although the issue of whether it is desirable to set
up a Green Socialist Party is one that still divides the
Study Group, the text inevitably gives rise to the idea
of doing so, and so to the question of whether we
should join such a party if and when it emerges. Since
the diagnosis and prescriptions outlined above can
hardly be faulted, the answer ‘Yes’ suggests itself.

But here I come to some reservations about the document. A party needs a strategy for realizing its aims,
and a strategy needs to be guided by a theory about
what is possible – what constraints exist on the reproduction and transformation of existing societies. The
strength of classical Marxism is that it has such a
theory, and one that is both falsifiable and unfalsified.

This text lacks any such theory. It speaks of three
kinds of ‘political strategy’: (1) anti-capitalist and antiproductivist struggles linking producers, consumers
and communities at local, regional, national and global
levels; (2) the thoroughgoing expansion of the scope
and depth of democracy in both state and civil society;
(3) the continued creation and extension of noncapitalist economic, social and cultural forms.

The first of these is a short-term strategy – for
working under capitalist conditions, not for transforming them. The second is not a strategy at all, but
an aim that presupposes the conquest of the capitalist
state. The third could occur in a small way as the
former and in a big way as the latter, but cannot simply
start small and grow big; it requires a revolutionary
break in the middle. But this seems to be ruled out:

Traditional political struggle has focused on seizing
the power of the state. However, no past attempts,
either through revolution or the ballot box, have
brought about the hoped for liberation. Our starting
point is that this traditional approach has failed; it
was wrong in theory and ineffective in practice. By
contrast, our emphasis is on the transformation of
society from the bottom up. (p. 52)

‘Transforming society from the bottom up’ could mean
revolution, but in this context it clearly doesn’t. So it
can only mean the accumulation of personal and volun-

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tary group action – something which has been tried
even more than seizing the state, with even less
success. The dilution of the term ‘politics’ to include
cultivating our allotments and democratically organizing our cycling clubs, or at best going on strike,
obscures the inability of these excellent activities to
transform society, or even to diminish the power of
the multinationals and the nation-state to despoil and
spoil the earth. Admittedly this activity from below
that remains from below is to be supplemented by
‘enabling from above, through the democratization of
state and other institutions’. But unless this means
revolution, it can only mean appealing to well-disposed
reformist governments to facilitate these marginal
acti vities.

Doubtless the capture of the state can only be
projected at the far end of a long march through other
kinds of struggle; yet we can’t wish the state away. If
green socialists are to find a real alternative to official
green or social-democratic electoralism, it is necessary
to open a new dialogue: between red-greens and
socialists who are committed to revolution from below
– the Trotskyist and council communist traditions, for
instance – socialists who are quite aware of the fact
that previous seizures of state power have not led to
liberation, and who have theories as to why that is so.

I hope that such a dialogue can be conducted in as
comradely a spirit as the dialogue that gave rise to this
project seems to have been.

The pamphlet is clearly written, without wasted
words or rhetorical flourishes, and deserves to be
widely read by greens and socialists with a view to
such broadening of the dialogue.

Andrew Collier

Genealogy and
generosity
John Llewelyn, Emmanuel Levinas: The Genealogy of
Ethics, Routledge, London and New York, 1995. xii +
243 pp., £37.50 hb., £12.99 pb., 0 415 10729 6 hb., 0
415 10730 X pb.

Llewelyn presents his latest book as an incitement to
the prospective reader of Levinas, and thus as a sort of
‘introduction’ for the uninitiated; but it is not an easy
read. It presupposes a more than passing acquaintance
with Heidegger, for example, and a tolerance for a
demanding style of philosophizing that involves much
etymology and erudite word play. I suspect that the

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effort required will be most rewarded in the case of
those already familiar with Levinas’s work.

The intended sense of the word ‘genealogy’ in the
title is plural. In one sense the genealogy of ethics
refers to ‘the order in which [Levinas’ s] thinking
develops historically from one publication to another’ ,
and the first of the three parts of the book traces, more
or less chronologically, the evolution of Levinas’ s
early work, notably On Evasion (1935), Existence and
Existents (1947), and Time and the Other (1947).

Llewelyn affords these little-known texts an unusual
importance because he believes that ‘a grasp of what
Levinas is arguing in the magna opera is facilitated by
a grasp of the framework outlined in the early
opuscula.’ In the second part, which mostly deals with
Totality and Infinity (1961), and the third, which
concentrates, somewhat obliquely, on Otherwise than
Being (1974), Llewelyn makes good this claim.

‘It is as though’, he says, ‘a plot unfolds from the
earliest of Levinas’ s writings to the most recent.’ This
plot is sometimes explicit, as in the announcing of the
subject-matter of Time and the Other in the earlier
Existence and Existents. More interestingly, however,
Llewelyn extrapolates a less obvious and more contentious genealogy, for example by weaving
connections between the subject’s relation to being in
On Evasion, the phenomenological descriptions of
fatigue and lassitude and the idea of the ‘there is’ in
Existence and Existents, and enjoyment and neeEl in
Totality and Infinity. In this way he accomplishes a
careful and often illuminating overview of the Levinasian oeuvre, read both forwards and backwards.

Throughout his career Levinas drew upon a
vocabulary deriving, as Llewelyn puts it, from gender,
sexuality and family relationships. In Llewelyn’s book
the word ‘genealogy’ is then ’employed most determinately of the stage of Levinas’ s teaching for the
exposition of which he invokes the nomenclature of
the family tree’. With regard to the overt sexual
politics of Levinas’ s texts, these familial and gendered
themes appear to be embarrassingly reactionary, and,
perhaps for this reason, have often not been given the
attention they deserve. Llewelyn, in contrast, makes
these themes central, and in simultaneously sidestepping the accusations of feminist critiques his interpretation is hugely generous. At bottom, the
arguments rely on distancing the terms (‘the feminine’,
‘paternity’, and so on) from any residual biological
reference, thus making all discussions marked with the
trace of gender curiously gender-neutral. As a creative
philosophical rewriting of Levinas, this is singular and
provocative. It does not, however, rebut any but the
weakest of feminist analyses, and the question remains
as to why an apologia is still deemed more appropriate

than thoroughgoing critique. The absence, in both text
and bibliography, of the critical voice of Luce Irigaray
is nothing short of wilful neglect.

The reason for this lies perhaps in the fact that
Llewelyn’s rewriting of this particular genealogy of
the family tree is connected to the most general sense
of genealogy at work in the book: that which refers to
the way in which Levinas’ s philosophy is related to
the dominant history of philosophical thinking.

Although ‘maternity’ explicitly appears as a theme
only in Levinas’s later work (notably Otherwise than
Being), Llewelyn constructs it as the dominant trope,
so that in this revised family genealogy the ‘phallogocentric idea of the father’ is laid to rest and the figure
of the mother, ‘of substitution or bearing par
excellence’, takes centre-stage. Levinas’ s genealogy
of ethics may then be seen as an alternative ‘genealogy
of man’, which resists philosophy’s virile will to power
with ‘the Other’s indeclinable request’: an alternative
in which the model of responsibility and response is
maternity.

It can still be objected that the tropes of ‘the
feminine’ and ‘maternity’ in a philosophical text
cannot be so easily divorced from what these words
mean, and how they operate, in the world of men and
women. How, for example, does one think abortion
when pre-natal maternity symbolizes, in whatever way,
the apogee of ethical responsibility? These misgivings,
however, do not preclude an appreciation of the book.

Llewelyn is more interested in creative reconstruction
than in straight commentary or critique, and, especially
when the various sense of the word ‘genealogy’ are
conjugated, he effects a truly impressive and
distinctively original reading of Levinas.

Stena Sandford

Reapproaching
Rorty
Norman Geras, Solidarity in the Conversation of
Humankind: The Ungroundable Liberalism of Richard
Rorty, Verso, London and New York, 1995. 151 pp.,
£34.95 hb., £9.95 pb., 0 86091 453 4 hb., 0 86091 659
6 pb.

David L. Hall, Richard Rorty: Prophet and Poet of the
New Pragmatism, SUNY Press, Albany NY, 1994. xii
+ 290 pp., $49.50 hb., $16.95 pb., 07914 1771 9 hb.,
o 7914 1772 7 pb.

How do you argue with a neo-pragmatist, when central
to his neo-pragmatism is the eschewing of all ‘representationalist’ recourse to notions of argumentative
rightness? These two studies treat this question very
differently, provide quite different answers, and for
quite different reasons represent the richest resources
among the book-length treatments of Rorty’s work.

Geras has written the best book on Rorty to date.

Rather than a straightforward appraisal or critique, it
is a pointed and polemical four-part essay about the
politics of philosophical anti-foundationalism and antiuniversalism, in which Rorty figures as a kind of
imaginary conversational partner. The result is a strong
challenge indeed: Geras’ s compelling critique of
Rorty’s central suppositions on human nature,
language, truth and liberal politics is always thoughtful,
and often devastating.

Can philosophers evoke ideals of human solidarity
while rejecting all talk of universal ethical norms, or
truth, or human nature? Geras thinks not, and wants to
defend such talk against
Rorty’s rejection (particularly in Contingency,
Irony, and Solidarity) of
the very idea of universalism. He also wants to
show how Rorty’s antirealism, his ironizing of
truth, issues in a sort of
intellectual defencelessness
in the face of political injustice. Indeed, argues
Geras, if there is no truth as separable from the
contingencies of social
practice or language games
– then there is no injustice.

Rorty, liberal as much as

Radical Philosophy 80 (NovlOec

1996)

47

ironist, IS thus torn between good old-fashioned
humanistic sentiments and a neo-pragmatist
epistemology with which such sentiments are in
constant, nagging tension.

In denying the possibility of knowing either the
Way The W orId Is, or what it is that human beings
may have in common, Rorty’s statements about the
goal of solidarity become slippery and selfcontradictory. In fact, says Geras, it is only by retracting
what he has actively propounded that Rorty can escape
a squeeze on his affinities. Underpinning Rorty’s
‘liberal ironism’ is a shifting hybrid of exactly the
ideas of a common humanity he spends most of his
time trying to dispose of. He smuggles back what he
needs from the rubble of his own attempted demolition
of Enlightenment political principles. And in the
process his story gets tangled: he simply can’t have
the foundationless liberalism he wants.

Whether pointing out that five conflicting statements
by Rorty on human nature are culled from the same
page of the same book, or citing personal account after
personal account to demonstrate, contra Rorty’ s ethical
parochialism, that it was universalistic and humanistic
concerns which motivated those who sheltered Jews
fleeing the Holocaust, Geras’ s study is motored by a
familiar but well-articulated sense of leftist moral unease about Rorty: can he really mean what he says?

As it happens, it seems he often doesn’t.

Geras is especially troubled by Rorty’s view that
personhood, and thus morality, can extend only as far
as those deemed to be ‘one of us’ in some contingent,
ethnocentric sense – rightly thinking that this spells
doom for most meaningful rhetoric of human emancipation. Not that Rorty is a tyrant. Rather, he emerges
from the book as a well-meaning, fuzzy liberal whose
ideas (on the sentence-bound nature of truth, on the
meaning of human rights, or on the ingredients of
political solidarity) are deeply riven by conflicting
intellectual commitments. Rorty, one suspects, would
readily admit as much. Given his own view that
knowledge is a matter of acquiring habits of action for
coping with reality, rather than getting reality right in
any way, such incongruities matter less than the overall
persuasiveness of his case. Geras would still need a
deal of persuading.

Hall’s book, meanwhile, offers a more synoptic, if
unsystematic, approach to the whole of Rorty’ s oeuvre.

Here is a sort of Rortyan reading of Rorty: a creative,
non-rigorous recontextualization of the main elements
of his thinking among alternative metaphors and
narratives, seeking not to refute or to affirm, but rather
to illuminate.

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Hall hops back and forth, as he admits, between
‘exuberant praise and testy complaint’, settling on
various themes in Rorty’s thought: his nominalist
historicism, his use of irony, his situation in the
American pragmatist tradition, or his ‘methodophobic’

fear of conventional philosophical habits of argument.

Mostly this strategy works pretty well. Hall’s themeby-theme approach, and his canny juxtapositions (with,
for example, Marx, Heidegger, or classical Chinese
thought) provide useful background to Rorty’s work,
and highlight important, novel strengths and inconsistencies.

Though it is not his declared aim, Hall probably
provides the best general introduction to Rorty’s work
currently available: Rorty’s main ideas are neatly set
in helpful context. There are extensive footnotes, and
an amusing, if glib, epitextual ‘Guide For Those Still
Perplexed’. Hall’s style can be cramped by his painstaking avoidance of anything resembling a deductive
argument (neither pro- nor anti-Rorty does the ‘boot’

ever really get ‘put in’), but then neither on Rorty’s
terms nor his own is this lack of dialectic much cause
for concern. And the book works, on those same terms,
as a thought-provoking counter-narrative to Rorty’s
version of philosophical events – occasionally indulgent, but always worth reading for anyone wanting a
handle on the Rortyan enterprise.

Gideon Calder

Stylistic
pretensions
Ted Sadler, Nietzsche: Truth and Redemption. Critique
of the Postmodernist Nietzsche, The Athlone Press,
London and Atlantic Highlands NJ, 1995. xii + 262
pp., £42.00 hb., 0 485 11471 2.

Peter Berkowitz, Nietzsche and the Ethics of an
Immoralist, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA
and London, 1995. xiv + 313 pp., £27.95 hb., 0 674
624424.

In these commentaries, the fashionable postmodernist
Nietzsche – whose ‘perspectivism’ has been dressed
up as democratic pluralism, and pressed into the
service of the postmodernist war against ‘logocentric’

and ‘phallocentric’ discourses – is stripped of his
stylistic pretensions. Emphasizing the absolutely
fundamental position which truth occupies in his
thought, Sadler and Berkowitz show that Nietzschean
perspectivism, far from sanctioning an anti-dogmatic
relativism, is itself grounded in a dogmatic claim to
truth: the fundamental truth about existence.

Sadler defines Nietzsche’ s sense of genuine
philosophical truth as a ‘stance of existential truthfulness’ towards that ‘primordial reality’ which he
variously terms ‘the primal One’, ‘the Dionysian’,
‘life’, ‘becoming’, and ‘will to power’. Drawing on
Schopenhauer’s distinction between intellect and
intuition, Sadler explains how Nietzsche’s absolute
truth, or truth about the Absolute, cannot be conceptualized; unlike theoretical or discursive truth,
Nietzsche’s intuitively apprehended truth is wholly
resistant to linguistic determinations. It is, argues
Sadler, precisely this ineffability of Nietzsche’s fundamental truth that places it beyond perspectival intellectual truth – perspectival because of the necessarily
anthropomorphic and hence inadequate relation
between intellect and object – and guarantees its
esoteric sanctity.

Guided by ethical concerns, Berkowitz sees
Nietzsche’s dogmatic appeal to a ‘fundamental truth
about human ex~ellence’ as an implicit refutation of
his purportedly radical perspectivism, and further
undermines the alleged anti-metaphysical (e)quality of
Nietzsche’s texts by showing that the paradox which
bedevils his ‘ethics of creativity’ (and, for that matter,
the postmodernist opposition between ‘free-play’ and
‘closure’) is that which bedevilled the metaphysical
tradition: freedom and necessity. At the very foundation
of Nietzsche’s thought, Berkowitz discerns a ‘contest
of extremes’ between ‘his fundamental assumption that
morality is an artifact of the human will and his
unyielding conviction that there is a binding rank order
of desires, types of human being, and forms of life’.

This antagonism between the necessity for mastery and
the ineluctable mastery of necessity is seen to constitute
the fundamental flaw in Nietzsche’s creative ethics,
and to reflect ‘the distinctive clash between ancient and
modern in his thought’. This ‘clash’ is overstated,
however, and whilst Berkowitz’s inquiry into
Nietzsche’s ancient notions of metaphysics and human
excellence is remarkably fruitful, his interrogation of
Nietzsche’s modern ideas about knowledge, freedom
and mastery is horribly misconceived.

Relating Nietzsche’s paramount concern with
human excellence, and consequent subordination of art

to moral and philosophical considerations, back to
Plato and Aristotle, Berkowitz proceeds to ground the
central thesis of Part I of his book on Nietzsche’s and
Aristotle’s shared belief that poetry is more philosophical than history. Under the general heading
‘Nietzsche’s Histories’, Berkowitz identifies the
histories narrated in The Birth of Tragedy, On the
Genealogy of Morals and The Antichrist with the
‘monumental histories’ of the ‘genuine historian’,
whose specific task, as set out by Nietzsche in his
early essay ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History
for Life’, Berkowitz portrays as ‘the fashion[ing of]
artworks, in the light of true metaphysical knowledge
and accurate understanding of true or real human
needs, out of raw materials drawn from history to
provide an education in human excellence.’ This
inspired identification enables Berkowitz to establish a
unity of genre and authorial intention beneath a surface
texture of structural, topical and stylistic diversity.

In Part 11, in an otherwise trenchant critique of the
‘vengeful’ Zarathustra, a morally indignant Berkowitz
explores the ‘dire consequence’ for moral and political
life of Zarathustra’ s extreme demands for total freedom
and absolute self-mastery. Blind to the profoundly
mystical nature of Zarathustra’s ethics of selfperfection, Berkowitz is misled into condemning the
latter as ‘utopian individualism’, ‘radical egoism’,
‘monumental hubris’ and ‘absolute barbarism’; while
his failure to comprehend Zarathustra’s differentiation
(informed by a Schopenhauerian metaphysics of the
will) between self and ego, deed and doer, leads to a
damning and incomprehensible indictment of
Zarathustra’s ‘pale criminal’ parable as ‘avid praise of
theft and murder for sport, and eagerness for mass
hysteria and destruction’.

A corrective to this travesty can be found in
Sadler’s brilliantly incisive work, which unites the
strains of ancient and modern in Nietzsche’ s thought
by locating him firmly within the metaphysical
tradition (understood as the search for ‘a more fundamental truth than theoretical truth’). In depicting the
urge to philosophical truthfulness as the drive towards
a ‘higher world’ of truth and justice, as a ‘divine’

ascent to the universal by way of ‘the individual’, and
in positing this ideal as the philosophical truth to which
the ‘metaphysician’ aspires, Sadler succeeds not only
in re-establishing the fundamental link between
Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and establishing a new
one between Nietzsche and Heidegger, but in severing
once and for all the link between Nietzsche and his
postmodernist pretender.

Francesca Cauchi

R a die a I Ph it 0 sop h y

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49

Scott Meikle, Aristotle’s
Economic Thought,

Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994.

viii + 216pp., £25.00 hb., 0 19
815002 4.

with Aristotle’s attitude to demand,

Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An

money and exchange, and demonstrates

Ethico-aesthetic Paradigm,

that the inhabitants of the main peasant

translated by Paul Bains and
Julian Pefanis, Power
Publications, Sydney, 1995.

135pp., £8.99 pb., 0 909952 25 6.

economy of Greece strove to be selfsufficient. The result was an absence
of unattached labour looking to earn

The title of this book might suggest an
obscure or specialist topic. What Scott
Meikle has given us, however, is not
only a piece of good classical
scholarship, but a fascinating study in
the history of ideas and a profound
reflection on the role of the economy
in shaping contemporary society.

The six pages which Aristotle
devoted to economics in the
Nicomachaen Ethics and the Politics
formed the basis of medieval thinking
on the matter, and of present-day
Catholic social teaching, as well as
being a strong influence on Islamic
economic doctrine. And many modern
schools of economic thought, from
Marxism to levonian utility theory,
have claimed descent from Aristotle.

That so many diverse traditions have
seen their values reflected in him
argues for a chaotic state of
interpretation. But Meikle carefully
indicates how Aristotle formulates the
distinction between exchange-value
and use-value – a problem which lies
at the centre of all economic theory.

Of course, Aristotle is less good at
explaining the commensurability of
products, and thus does not possess a
‘theory of value’ as such. This is
because,
unlike
neo-classical
economics, which connects use-value
with exchange-value via the concept of
utility, Aristotle assigns them to the
different categories of quality and
quantity, considering them as having
different ends which require different
courses of human action. Antiquity was
predominantly governed by a system
of use-value and not the marketorientated exchange-value which has
given rise to the discipline of economics in modern societies.

Thus, notwithstanding the title of
his book, Meikle argues that the Greeks
did not have an economy of the kind
that would have made it possible for
them to engage in economic thinking.

He details all this in chapters dealing

50

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

money, and hence no developed system
of investment opportunities of the kind
that lies at the centre of modern
economic activity.

Some of the

discussion

about

whether ancient society really had an
economics might seem rather abstruse
and semantic, and Meikle meticulously
dissects

the

arguments

of

such

protagonists as Finley and Schumpeter.

His conclusion is that the subject of
Aristotle’s research is the metaphysics
of exchange-value – what kind of a
property it is and to what order of being
it belongs. Its upshot is that the pursuit
of exchange-value must be subject to
the overriding end for human beings
which is explicated in politics and
ethics. For exchange-value does not
really deal with ends and Aristotle’s
enquiries must therefore ultimately be
ethical and metaphysical, rather than
economic.

Consequently,
this
study of
Aristotle’s economic thought (or,
rather, the lack of it) contains an
implicit critique of the whole basis of
modern society which only surfaces in
its closing pages. In some respects it is
similar to the critique of instrumental
reason offered by the Frankfurt School,
or to MacIntyre’ s account of the
aporias of liberal social ethics. For
what are we to make of a society in
which activities with their own intrinsic
ends increasingly have the end of a
different activity – the pursuit of
exchange-value – imposed on them?

This involves compromising, or even
destroying, the real end of such
activities. The endless (in both senses)
pursuit of exchange-value becomes
universally dominant. This is a large
theme, but Meikle has given us a truly
original insight into its origins and
made good his surprising claim that the
analysis of exchange-value is the main
problem of modern social philosophy.

8 0 (N 0 v / 0 e c

David McLellan

19 9 6)

A synopsis of the concerns of Felix
Guattari in the decade between the
publication of A Thousand Plateaus and
What is Philosophy?, Chaosmosis
combines the terminology of the former
with the aesthetic and ‘ecosophic’ drive
of the closing chapters of the latter.

Deterritorialization, Transmonadism (or
Nomadology), the Abstract Machine are
reactivated here in order to help introduce
Guattari’s new paradigm: ‘virtual
ecology’. However, as already indicated
in his 1985 collaboration with Antonio
Negri, the ‘new spaces of liberty’ with
which Guattari is concerned may be as
much mental and corporeal as
environmental.

These new spaces are ‘chaosmotic’

in so far as their elaboration entails a
plunge into the chaos of the
unconscious, the body and the world.

Consequent

upon

this

plunge

is

emergent, assembled chaos: comppsed
chaos, or chaosmosis (as in much of
Guattari’s late work, the debt to the work
of Prigogine and Stengers is evident).

However, if chaosmosis is the
assemblage of chaos, that assemblage is
neither foreseen nor preconceived;
neither ordered by Platonic imprint nor
structured by Leibnizian harmonics. The
movement of chaosmosis is not from
elementary to composite – from ‘base
matter’ to organic body. Instead,
chaosmosis is the practice of
‘ontological heterogeneity’, the effect of
which is further to complexify, rather
than to simplify (or envelop), the
complex.

The two opening chapters subject a
familiar cast of purveyors of ontological
homogeneity to withering scrutiny. In
particular, the ‘ossifying’ models created
by Heidegger for philosophy and by
Lacan for psychoanalysis must be
dismantled. The ‘molecular’ dismantling
conducted by Guattari leaves a
destratified plane (or smooth space) for
the remaining chapters to remodel.

‘Schizoanalytic metamodelisation’ is
the reworking (and dislodging) of
ossified and molar conceptions of being,
thinking and political practice. The
acknowledgement that ‘beneath the
diversity of beings, no univocal
ontological plinth is given’ (whether that
plinth be Capital, Being or the Signifier),
gives rise to the question: ‘how, and
under what conditions can be best
brought about the pragmatics of
incorporeal events that will recompose
a world and reinstall processual
complexity?’

The final chapters attempt to sketch
an answer to this question. In order to
illustrate how an institution or discipline
can put chaosmosis into practice,
Guattari describes some of the
experiments at the La Borde Clinic
(where he continued to work until his
death), which, by treating psychosis not
as a structural object but as a machinic
interface, sought to plunge the psychotherapeutic set-up into a ‘fractal’,
deterritorialized space. Such practice is
aesthetic, Guattari argues, because it
entails ‘the creation and composition of
mutant percepts and effects’; it is ethical

us in the direction of solution. However,
existing

postmodern

handicapped

by

theories

their

The alternative offered in Chapter 4
is a ‘postmodern metaphysics’ which

relativism,

combines a modified form of White-

dissolution of the subject, and rejection
of grand narratives – are unable to
provide an effective orientation for
action. A new kind of ‘postmodern
grand narrative’ is therefore proposed.

The first two chapters provide the
background: first, a readable (though
rather uncritical) survey of contemporary cultural and social trends as
depicted by postmodernism; and then
an overview of its philosophical roots
from Vico, through Nietzsche and
Heidegger, to the post-structuralists.

head’s process philosophy with an

There is little attempt at critical
appraisal; the aim is rather to set out
in
the
postmodernists’

position
readiness for a confrontation with their
opponents, who include not only
supporters of the Cartesianism rejected
by Vico but also Hegelians and
Marxists who represent an opposing
tradition within the anti-Cartesian

epistemology that asserts the possibility
of

judging

between

competing

knowledge claims, but denies that
knowledge has absolute foundations.

This, Gare argues, enables us to
interpret and systematize the insights
of such

‘postmodern sciences’

as

special and general relativity, quantum
theory and thermodynamics, as well as
developments in biology and ecology,
while avoiding the criticisms of
metaphysics made by Nietzsche,
Heidegger and the post-structuralists.

Clearly Gare is right to suppose that an
ecologically adequate philosophy must
be able to account for contemporary
scientific developments; what is less
clear, however, is that his own offering
is uniquely suited to the task.

In the final chapter Gare returns to

camp.

That confrontation is staged in

the

concrete

consideration

of

Chapter 3, where environmental issues,

environmental problems and solutions.

scarcely mentioned until now, take

He breaks with postmodernism, first in

in so far as it can be considered ‘the
paradigm for every possible form of
resistance’ .

Deleuze and Guattari’ s What is

centre-stage. Gare sets out to assess the

arguing

merits

challenge the existing system and

Philosophy? ended, like Chaosmosis,
with a vision of philosophy part-plunged
into chaos – a space named the ‘No of
philosophy’, inhabited by a ‘shadow’

designated ‘the people to come’. It is to
this population, an always virtual,
protean species, shuttling between chaos
and world – a liminal people – that
Chaosmosis dedicates
aesthetic manifesto.

its

ethico-

Garin V. Dowd

Arran E. Gare, Postmodernism
and the Environmental CriSiS,
Routledge, London and New York,
1994. vii + 192 pp., £35.00 hb.,
£11.99 pb., 0415 124786 hb., 0
415 12479 4 pb.

Postmodernism, Gare believes, could
potentially help to explain the causes
of environmental problems and point

of

post-structuralism

and

that

effective

to

Marxism, in relation to the mainstream

overcome

(Cartesian) culture, by considering the

problems requires the construction of a

ability (or inability) of each theory to

new grand narrative (albeit of a new

respond to the environmental crisis.

and non-oppressive kind); and second

There

is

including

of interest

much
a

somewhat

here,

ambiguous

global

action

in arguing that an

environmental

‘environmental

nationalism’ should form an important

critique of environmental economics, an

part of the content of that narrative.

assessment of recent and historical

The defence of nationalism involves

trends

environmentalist

within

some of the book’s most interesting

the

arguments, but once again they are

connections between post-structuralism

offered at too general a level to sustain

and deep ecology. Broadness of scope,

Gare’s conclusions, and counterarguments

however, is bought at the expense of

are dismissed with undue haste. I am also

detailed argument; the conclusions are

sceptical about Gare’s view of the extent

under-argued and questions I wanted

to which his practical proposals depend

answered were left unaddressed. In the

upon his process philosophy.

Marxism,

and

a

survey

of

end Gare’ s view is that none of the

Gare’s book provides a useful

competing approaches is adequate; what

introduction to postmodernism and

is needed is ‘an alternative philosophy

some thought-provoking contributions

which transcends the limitations of all

to environmental politics. However, it

the philosophies considered so far while
at the same time providing an

is unlikely to convince readers who are

appreciation of their achievements .. .’ A

postmodernism to combine the two.

sizeable undertaking.

not already persuaded by some form of

Jonathan Hughes

Radical Philosophy 80 (NovlOec

1996)

51

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