The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

81 Reviews


Capital futures
István Mészáros, Beyond Capital, The Merlin Press, London, 1995. xxvi + 994 pp., £45.00 hb., £14.95 pb.,
0 85036 454 X hb., 0 85036 432 9 pb.

It is now a quarter of a century since István Mészáros
had his first big success in Britain with Marxʼs Theory
of Alienation. In the Preface to the third edition (1971)
he promised to complement that masterly work of
conceptual excavation with a study of actually existing capitalism and socialism. Other work intervened
(notably a study of Sartre), but finally the promise
is redeemed. Beyond Capital is the first substantial
restatement of the case against capital, and for socialism, since ʻthe fallʼ (indeed, for a good while longer),
and very welcome on that account. In the face of those
who preach ʻthe end of historyʼ, and the dogma that
ʻthere is no alternativeʼ, Mészáros remains intransigent. He subjects capital in all its manifestations to
merciless critique, exposing the crying contradictions
of its apologists and the vacuity of the nostrums of its
would-be ʻsavioursʼ. However, it is not just a matter of
forcefully restating known truths (such as the fact that
capitalism is still founded on an alienated, and alienating, power, consequent on the structural subordination
of labour to capital), but pushing the argument further,
to overcome the limitations of Marxʼs own work and
assess the significance of contemporary trends. Here
Mészáros has much to offer. Although deeply rooted in
the Marxist tradition, his thinking incorporates the new
determinants of development in the postwar period.

The title of the present volume must be understood in three senses. First it means ʻgoing beyond
capital as such and not merely beyond capitalismʼ
(this important idea I will take up later); second, it
means going beyond what Marx himself managed to
achieve; finally, it means going beyond the original
Marxian project, formulated when the full range of
capitalʼs powers of adaptation lay beyond the horizon
of its century.

This huge sprawling work has three main parts.

Part One analyses the nature of capital and debunks
the claims of its apologists (e.g. Hayek). Part Two
meditates on the legacy of the Russian Revolution,
notably theorizations formulated in its shadow: here
History and Class Consciousness is exemplary and we
are offered what is virtually a book-length critique of

Lukács. Mészáros brilliantly underscores the continuity in the latterʼs outlook right up to the late essay
on democratization; he also shows that to the end
Lukács stuck to the Stalinist shibboleths of ʻsocialism
in one countryʼ and ʻtheʼ party as the sole agent of
transformation. Mészáros explores Marxʼs theoretical
difficulties, highlighting epigraphically an important
unnoticed reservation expressed by Marx himself:

ʻwill revolution in Europe not be necessarily crushed
in this little corner of the world, since on a much larger
terrain the development of bourgeois society is still
in the ascendant?ʼ Today the world market predicted
by Marx is finally being established; for the first time
we now live in one world (as Mészáros says, talk of
a ʻThird Worldʼ is nonsense), with all the attendant
economic, ecological and ideological consequences.

Any coherent socialist project must encompass this
reality. Accordingly, the crucial question is this: under
what conditions can the process of capital-expansion
come to a close on a truly global scale, bringing with
it necessarily the end of crushed and perverted revolutions, opening thereby the new historic phase of an
irrepressible socialist offensive?ʼ
Part Three explores the present structural crisis of
the capitalist system in detail. Here Mészáros demonstrates the devastating effect of the ʻdecreasing rate of
utilisationʼ, including its bizarre manifestation in the
military-industrial complex. As he rightly points out,
much of the debate over ʻgrowthʼ ignores the relevance
of the fantastic wastefulness inherent in the capital
system. While the necessity of the socialist alternative is reasserted, the reasons for the collapse of the
USSR are not evaded. As Mészáros correctly says, ʻthe
tragedy of Soviet type post-capitalist societies was that
they followed the line of least resistance by positing
socialism without radically overcoming the material
presuppositions of the capital system.ʼ In contrast, ʻthe
radical negation of the capitalist state and the likewise negative “expropriation of the expropriators” was
always considered by Marx only the necessary first step
in the direction of the required social transformation.ʼ
He insisted that the hegemonic alternative to capitalʼs

Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)


social order can only be an inherently positive enterprise. This is why the socialist revolution could not
be conceived as a single act, no matter how radical in
intent, but only as an ongoing, consistently self-critical
social revolution, as a ʻpermanent revolutionʼ (Marx).

The object is to build an economy in the hands of
the ʻassociated producersʼ (self-management), who put
qualitative considerations above quantitative measures.

As for socialist strategy, Mészáros argues that, since
capital is itself an extra-parliamentary force, it would
be foolish to restrict radical politics to parliament. A
politics from below (ʻsocialist pluralismʼ) must generate
a global opposition to a global system.

As the title indicates, central to Beyond Capital
is the thesis that it is necessary to go not merely
beyond ʻcapitalismʼ but beyond ʻcapitalʼ itself. A lot
therefore hangs on the coherence of this distinction.

For example, it is used to characterize Soviet-type
regimes of production as ʻpost-capitalistʼ, yet still
under the sway of ʻcapitalʼ. This is outlined in a
fascinating chapter on ʻchanging forms of the rule
of capitalʼ. Mészárosʼs analysis of no-longer-existing
socialism is of more general importance; for it is clear
that the lessons are not specific to the extremities of
the Russian situation, but are germane to the theory
and practice of transition in general. It is crucial here
to recognize that ʻMarx was not concerned with demonstrating the deficiencies of “capitalist production” but
with the great historical task of extricating humankind
from the conditions under which the satisfaction of
human needs must be subordinated to the “production
of capital”.ʼ Capitalʼs metabolism, based on its domination of alienated labour, on the predominance of
exchange over use-value, and on a hierarchical division
of labour, is driven by the imperative of expansion. As
a system with its own logic and coherence it cannot be
changed without tackling this central metabolic order


Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)

and replacing it; tinkering with surface phenomena
(e.g. juridical arrangements) will not change such
fundamentals. Thus Mészáros argues that ʻthe real
target of emancipatory transformation is the complete
eradication of capital as a totalising mode of control
from the social reproductive metabolism itself, and
not simply the displacement of the capitalist as the
historically specific “personification of capital”.ʼ As he
put it in our interview with him in Radical Philosophy
(no. 62, p. 31):

You can overthrow the capitalist but the factory system remains, the division of labour remains, nothing
has changed in the metabolic functions of society.

Indeed … you find the need for reassigning those
forms of control to personalities, and thatʼs how the
bureaucracy comes into existence. The bureaucracy
is a function of this command structure under the
changed circumstances where in the absence of the
private capitalist you have to find an equivalent to
that control … very often the notion of bureaucracy
is pushed forward as a kind of mythical explanatory framework… [But] the bureaucracy itself needs
explanation… [It is said that] if you get rid of bureaucracy then everything will be all right. But you
donʼt get rid of bureaucracy unless you attack [its]
economic foundation…

It is indeed possible to smash the bourgeois state and
conquer political power. However, it is quite impossible
to ʻsmashʼ labourʼs inherent structural dependence on
capital. For that dependency is materially secured by
the established hierarchical division of labour. Without
the positive transcendence of capitalʼs metabolic
functioning, ʻlabour itself self-defeatingly continues
to reproduce the power of capital over against itselfʼ,
Mészáros concludes.

In one version the distinction between capital
and capitalism is already familiar to us; for it is a
commonplace that merchants and usurers employed
money as capital long before
capital seized hold of production and established the
modern system of industrial
capitalism. But it is novel
to argue that capital may
survive capitalism. (It should
be noted that on Mészárosʼs
account the USSR was not
ʻstate-capitalistʼ, as Tony
Cliff among others argues.)
So let us look first at his
definition of capitalism.

Mészáros argues that the
capitalist formation extends

over only that particular phase of capital production
in which (1) production for exchange is all pervasive;
(2) labour power itself is a commodity; (3) the drive
for profit is the fundamental regulator; (4) the vital
mechanism for the extraction of surplus-value – the
radical separation of the means of production from
the producers – assumes an inherently economic
form; (5) surplus value is privately appropriated by
the members of the capitalist class; and (6) following
its economic imperative of growth and expansion,
capital production tends towards a global integration. It follows from this definition, according to
Mészáros, that one cannot ʻspeak of capitalism in
post-revolutionary societies when out of these essential defining characteristics only one – number four
– remains, and even that in a radically altered form,
in that the extraction of surplus labour is regulated
politically and not economicallyʼ. Yet at the same
time Mészáros argues that capital maintains its rule
in such post-revolutionary societies. What, then, is
the definition of ʻcapitalʼ that would be congruent
with this survival?

According to Mészáros, the necessary conditions of
all conceivable forms of the capital relation – including
the post-capitalist forms – are: (1) the separation and
alienation of the objective conditions of the labour
process from labour itself; (2) the superimposition of
such alienated conditions over the workers as a separate power exercising command over labour; (3) the
personification of capital as ʻegotistic valueʼ pursuing
its own self-expansion – the bureaucrat is the postcapitalist equivalent of the private capitalist; (4) the
equivalent personification of labour whether as wagelabourer under capitalism or as the norm-fulfilling
ʻsocialist workerʼ under the post-capitalist system.

ʻCapital can change the form of its rule as long as
these four basic conditions – which are constitutive of
its “organic system” – are not radically supersededʼ,
Mészáros concludes. Additionally, he maintains that
since the inherited social division of labour and the
objective structure of production remained in the postcapitalist economies we have witnessed, capital in this
sense persisted.

Clearly there is considerable room for discussion
about such a definition of capital. But in one respect
– namely, that capital is inherently accumulation driven
– everyone would agree. Mészáros goes out of his way
to argue that this was still true of the USSR:

The imperative of accumulation driven expansion
can be satisfied under changed economic circumstances not only without the subjective ʻprofit
motiveʼ but even without the objective requirement

of profit, which happens to be an absolute necessity
only in the capitalist variety of the capital system.

… During several decades of Soviet economic
development high levels of capital accumulation
[were] secured by means of the politically controlled extraction of surplus labour, without remotely resembling the capitalist system in its necessary
orientation towards profit.

This seems odd to me; for I would have thought
that the accumulation-fetish was not rooted in ʻthe
metabolic orderʼ but in the hopes of the controllers,
who imposed external ʻtargetsʼ, terroristically driven.

Moreover, if Mészáros insists that the USSR as a
capital system was expansion orientated, how is that
compatible with the failure to innovate which led to
permanent stagnation? No matter how much political
authority, for external reasons of state, tried to coerce
or stimulate the producers, the economy responded
only sluggishly in quantitative terms, and innovation
became completely bogged down. This was politically
crucial; for the failure to ʻcatch upʼ with the West,
and the failure to achieve real growth in the Brezhnev
years, stripped the system of legitimacy, even in the
eyes of its beneficiaries, and brought about its implosion. Mészáros is clearly right to argue that socialist
revolution is not merely a matter of political power,
or of redistribution, but of changing the fundamental
social metabolism established by capital; it means
transforming the very structure of material production
and abolishing the hierarchical division of labour. He
is clearly right that post-capitalist social formations
failed to achieve this positive transcendence; and the
emergence of ʻthe bureaucracyʼ is explicable primarily
on that basis. His conceptualization of the problem in
terms of the survival of ʻcapitalʼ beyond ʻcapitalismʼ
is the most interesting analysis since that of Trotsky,
and deserves to be widely discussed.

For me Mészáros pays insufficient attention to the
value-form of capital and the positing of expansion
inherent in it. I therefore find incoherent the notion of
capital without profit. Certainly, if the factory system
in which capital materialized itself endures, then one
cannot speak of socialism; but, conversely, if the law
of value enforced through capitalist competition is no
longer operative, we have a clock without a spring. I
would argue that in the USSR capitalʼs metabolism
was disrupted without an alternative being established;
lacking organic coherence, the system could not survive once the exceptional conditions of revolutionary
mobilization, and of war, had passed.

Chris Arthur

Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)


Without consent
Keith Burgess-Jackson, Rape: A Philosophical Investigation, Dartmouth, Aldershot and Brookfield VT, 1996.

xi + 224 pp., £42.50 hb., 1 85521 485 7.

Sue Lees, Carnal Knowledge: Rape on Trial, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1996. xxvii + 292 pp., £20.00 hb.,
0 241 13629 6.

These two books form an admirably complementary
pair. Burgess-Jacksonʼs is a jurisprudential study of
what the crime of rape is, why it is a crime, the forms
it can take, and the defences that may be offered.

Leesʼs is a study of how, in practice, rape cases are
handled by the police and the judiciary, from their
initial reporting through to the conduct of any eventual trial. Both authors are feminists and both studies
provide good reasons to be dissatisfied with the way
in which the law does deal with rape. Both write
against the background of sustained public debate
about what should and should not be regarded as rape
at law. This debate has, in Britain, been prompted by
a number of celebrated recent cases – most notably,
the acquittal of the student Austen Donnellan and
the conviction of the solicitor Angus Diggle. It has
also been fuelled by claims, mainly made in the conservative press, that men are now being stigmatized
as rapists merely for misreading sexual cues in a
world where communication between the genders if
fraught with difficulties and ambiguities. However,
the debate has also heard contributions from feminists
worried about the overextension of the term ʻrapeʼ, the
representation of women as perpetual victims, and the
overdramatization of the offence if unaccompanied
by violence.

Both writers regard rape as a sexual crime. This
does not imply that it is in some sense a less serious
crime. Nor does it imply that rape occupies a place
on a continuum of behaviours which extends to consensual sexual interaction. Nor does it imply that
sexual pleasure is the sole end of the rapist. Nor does
it imply that a number of all too familiar stereotypical
assumptions about the sexual character of men and
women, and about the nature of heterosexual interaction between men and women, are true. It does mean
that rape is other than simple assault. It also requires
that the crime of rape be clearly distinguished from all
other kinds of sexual encounters, however unwanted,
regretted, unsatisfactory, or loveless some of these
may be. Evidently, the matter of consent is central
to the crime of rape. Rape is unconsented sex. What
distinguishes rape from sexual intercourse is lack of
consent. However, both books, in their different ways,


Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)

draw attention to serious problems that attend this
simple definition.

Burgess-Jackson in fact disputes the view that there
is a single understanding of rape. He argues that there
can be – and is – deep disagreement about what is
and is not rape, and suggestions that there are several
conceptions of rape. The conservative theory construes
rape as a trespass upon the property of the man, the
wrong done being to he who owns the woman violated.

The liberal theory regards rape as an unconsented
sexual battery, the wrong done being to the individual
woman whose own choices with regard to her body
are denied. The radical theory regards rape as but
one instance of the subordination of women by men,
the wrong done being to the gender as a whole whose
entitlement to equal respect and consideration is dishonoured. Burgess-Jackson claims not to endorse any
one of these three conceptions (though his sympathies
are clearly with the last). He does seek to show how
their application yields different conclusions as to
whether some act is one of rape, what makes rape
wrongful, and what may serve as a defence to the
charge of rape. Some of his analyses are exemplary.

The chapter on ʻMarital Rapeʼ, for instance, exposes
and rebuts, with admirable clarity and conciseness,
all of the various arguments that might be offered
to the conclusion that a husband cannot be guilty of
raping his wife.

A problem with Burgess-Jacksonʼs approach is that,
although he is surely right to display the differences
between the views of the conservative, liberal and
radical, it is not always clear on his account whether
these really do differ about what rape is, or only about
what makes it wrong. If rape is unconsented sex, then
it is possible to disagree about what is wrong with
unconsented sex for being unconsented. And this need
not be a trivial dispute. But it is not a dispute about
what rape is. We can have a single concept of rape
– unconsented sex – and various conceptions of rape.

These conceptions can be distinguished in two regards
– how they understand consent and its absence; and
what it is about the lack of consent which makes rape
morally problematic. The liberal may be wrong to
think that rape is only wrong for being the violation

of an individualʼs wishes; the radical may be right in
seeing each and every such violation as signifying
a more general oppression of women. Neither need
deny that some sexual act is one of rape only if it is

What counts as consent is a separate and further
matter of dispute between the liberal and radical. The
radicalʼs view (and Catharine MacKinnon is the most
notable protagonist) is that the liberal is prepared to
countenance as consensual what she views as compelled or passive acquiescence. Again there is no
reason to see this dispute as one over the concept of
rape. It is one about the concept of consent. The radical
is prepared to view ʻnormalʼ heterosexual intercourse
as perhaps no less non-consensual than a paradigmatic
instance of rape – because a woman, socialized into
the role of passive acceptance of the eroticized dominance that is heterosexuality in our society, cannot be
said ʻreallyʼ to consent to any sexual encounter with
a man. Burgess-Jackson, it must be said, invokes this
understanding without mentioning any of the serious
worries that have been expressed about it by many
feminist philosophers and jurisprudential theorists.

The problem Sue Lees reveals is that the current
system simply does not do justice to women and fails
to convict the rapists it should. Whilst the number of
reported rapes in England and Wales has trebled in the
last ten years, the conviction rate has fallen. It is ludicrous to suppose – whatever the press may say in the

wake of some publicized cases – that more than 4,500
women each year are mendacious, spiteful accusers.

Leesʼs monitoring of the British police and judicial
process at work provides some explanation of what is
going wrong. A dangerous combination of bad legal
practice and general, misogynistic attitudes is exposed.

When consent is the central issue at stake, and the
complainant is no more than a witness within an adversarial hearing which requires proof beyond reasonable
doubt and tolerates the admission of certain kinds of
evidence, the stage is set for a shameful display of
prejudicial attitudes and procedures which favour the
defendants at the cost of humiliating their accusers.

Despite all the supposed improvements in law and
rules of procedure, Leesʼs evidence is damning. Time
and again testimony regarding the behaviour, lifestyle,
clothing, character and past sexual conduct of women
is not only admitted, but seen as bearing directly on
the question of whether a rape occurred.

Many of Leesʼs recommendations for change are
to be welcomed: better training of the judiciary, more
stringent controls on the admission of sexual character
and sexual history evidence, an acceptance of some
forms of corroborative evidence, and – especially
in the light of cases of serial rapists who are being
acquitted time after time – a greater disposition to
admit evidence from several women of similar rapes.

However, other of her comments are less welcome.

That rules permit misogyny does not mean that the
rules are themselves misogynistic. Nor should rules be
devised to punish misogyny as such. If it is thought
proper to allow a womanʼs past behaviour some weight
in assessing the validity of her charge, it should at
least be permitted to count a manʼs past behaviour as
bearing on the present accusation. However, it is not
proper, as Lees suggests, to see his views on women
and sex as relevant. Least of all should any revealed
ʻsexismʼ ʻbe seen as evidence for his guiltʼ (p. 253).

Both books raise all the right empirical and normative questions about how we define, try, excuse and
punish the crime of rape. They do not settle matters.

At the end of the day this may be because, although
rape just is sex without consent, the law and its tribunals have proved deeply inadequate to the task of
understanding what non-consensual sex is. Whether
that is the fault of present practice, or is due to the
straightforward impossibility of legally regulating
sexual conduct, is unclear. But both authors afford an
admirable brief for either argument.

David Archard

Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)


Patchwork selves and others
Morwenna Griffiths, Feminisms and Self: The Web of Identity, Routledge, London and New York, 1995. x +
220 pp., £37.50 hb., £12.99 pb, 0 415 09820 3 hb., 0 415 09821 1 pb.

If a book can be heaped with praise for the scale of
its ambition, then this one deserves mountains of it.

It aspires to convince the reader of the incapacities of
the Anglo-Saxon tradition of philosophy in the fields
of ʻepistemology, ethics, mind and politicsʼ, while
simultaneously engaging us in a process of renewal
and reconstruction. The move we are enjoined to
make is from the ʻfalse universalisation inherent in
mainstream philosophy towards a situated abstractionʼ
(p. 70), particularly in discussions of personal identity
and the self.

Mainstream philosophy is ʻrepresentedʼ by Williams,
Parfit, Nagel and Dennett. Griffiths warns feminists not
to expect the work of these philosophers to illuminate
their concerns with the question of ʻwho or what I
amʼ. In the absence of a credible analysis of their
views, her warning amounts to advocating the view
of ʻknowledge by testimonyʼ in traditional terms. But
it can also be redescribed as ʻtrusting othersʼ judgementsʼ in a certain sort of feminist terminology. This
supports implicitly a dismissive attitude towards ʻmaleʼ
philosophers, disappointing in a book which is duly
self-conscious of its diverse audience.

In other contexts, trust, co-operation, love and
acceptance are indeed attractive notions from most
feminist perspectives and, in this book, form the
guiding pattern for a conceptual revision of the notion
of self-identity as self-creation. Several good arguments are offered for accepting these notions as political values. The most crucial one is that fear debilitates,
and therefore any commitment to increasing autonomy
for self-creation must recognize the need for ʻgenerous
patterns of cultural and political life, and the reduction
of fearʼ (p. 143). To this end, we are provided with an
absorbing description of how emotions and feelings are
socially and interpersonally constructed in a politically
structured environment, which opens the way for selfcreation via a ʻpolitics of the selfʼ.

This, for me, is where a problem emerges. If
politics is about creating public spaces where fearless
exchanges can occur between more or less autonomous selves, and these public spaces are constituted
by various languages of expression and communication, what exactly is the role of philosophy in this
political process? ʻMainstream/academic philosophyʼ
is frequently derided in this book, while the author
continues to identify herself as one of ʻus argumen-


Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)

tative philosophersʼ. In her terms, philosophy is simply
another language, and she inhabits the community of
philosophers just as she inhabits other communities.

In re-creating herself as a feminist philosopher, she is
involved in a politics informed by an understanding
of how judgements are validated by a new community
and get into circulation. Indeed, it is her view that one
is theorizing, in a sense, ʻsimply by publishingʼ.

Is one also doing philosophy simply by publishing?

Manifestly not. The mistake lies in identifying philosophy as another language, rather than as an activity
of unravelling the grammars of languages. It is the
politically structured character of their involvement
with these languages that marks the exclusionary/
inclusionary features of the philosophical activity of
male/female, white/black, Western/Eastern philosophers. It follows that the activity of philosophy cannot
be seriously undertaken if one fails to listen to those
who have been set up as the Other. Here the Other
is the ʻmaleʼ philosopher. Richard Rorty is criticized
for valorizing fear and cruelty in self-creation, when
the whole point of his work is to show how a liberal
ironist can fulfil his only clearly articulated desire
of preventing the actual and possible humiliation of
others. It may have been more appropriate to differ
with him about how the job of opening oneself to
the pain of others is accomplished, in particular by
questioning his commendation of the private–public
division. Ironically, his preference for literature rather
than philosophy in forging human solidarity is echoed
in Griffithsʼ own use of critical autobiography. Moreover, her commitment to vigilance about oppression is
not very different from Rortyʼs plea that ʻwe should
stay on the lookout for marginalized people.ʼ
Charles Taylorʼs communitarianism is likewise
found wanting for its insufficient attention to the political. While it is true that Taylor does not specifically
focus on feminist concerns, to extend this charge to
the accusation that his view is ʻnot about political
individualsʼ is intriguing. Once again insufficient argument leaves one dissatisfied. Paul Gilroy is quoted
with approval; however, the claim to ʻgo beyondʼ him
is made without warrant.

The merit of Griffithsʼ constructive arguments
is seriously threatened by her brief and ineffective
attempts to critique the position of others. Comparable
preceding accounts, such as Jonathan Gloverʼs on self-

creation and Elizabeth Potterʼs on moral identity, are
surprisingly omitted. A more sustained discussion of
the work of other feminists might have added to the
appeal of the book. Repetitive and insubstantial references to othersʼ work can often perplex the uninitiated.

A case in point is Pratibha Parmarʼs writing on Asian
women. We are told that the creation of authentic
works of art by black and migrant women asserts both
their unity and their difference, without any indication
of how this creative process works for these women.

Shortcomings apart, Griffithsʼ novel use of autobiographies to illustrate the problems and resolutions
to some of the paradoxes of self-identity is a refreshing
turn. Her overriding preference for ʻvariety, confusion, colour, hotchpotch … of patchwork selvesʼ has
undoubtedly left its mark on the production of this
book. It deviates from many norms; how successfully
is a debatable matter.

Meena Dhanda

Nietzsche’s French
Alan D. Schrift, Nietzscheʼs French Legacy: A Genealogy of Poststructuralism, Routledge, New York and
London, 1995. xvii + 198 pp., £40.00 hb., £12.95 pb.,
0 415 91146 X hb., 0 415 91147 8 pb.

In his Ecce Homo, Nietzsche referred to the French
as ʻcharming companyʼ, and he often regretted having
to write in German, rather than in a more playful and
fluid language like French. He was also conscious
of having been ʻborn posthumouslyʼ, predicting that
he would eventually find his true readers amongst
the philosophers of the future. As Schrift notes in
passing, Nietzscheʼs French incarnation was for a long
time a cultural-literary one, and it was sustained by a
variety of literary writers from Malraux and Camus to
Klossowski, Blanchot and Bataille; oddly, no mention
is made here of the Gide of Fruits of the Earth
(1897) and The Immoralist (1902). During the years
when French philosophy was dominated by alternative
imports such as the ʻthree Hʼsʼ (Hegel, Husserl and
Heidegger), Nietzsche remained a shadowy and even
suspect figure. It was, it is generally agreed, Deleuzeʼs
Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962) that turned him into
a French philosopher. Henceforth Nietzscheʼs future
appeared to be both French and solidly assured.

Schriftʼs concern is not with the rectitude of the
many interpretations of Nietzscheʼs work that have
been proposed in France. He is concerned, rather,
with what might be termed Nietzscheʼs use-value
within recent French philosophy, and with the way in
which Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze and Cixous have
made use of him in developing their own projects.

Neither Deleuzeʼs pioneering study, Derridaʼs Spurs,
nor Foucaultʼs essays on Nietzsche are dealt with
here. Schrift further restricts his field of enquiry by
ruling himself incompetent to deal with the philosophical projects of Bataille, Blanchot or Irigaray.

His modesty sounds genuine rather than feigned, and
the admission is refreshingly honest. More refreshing
still is Schriftʼs lucidity and clarity of expression. He
is no vulgarizer, but his readings of the more abstruse
pronouncements of Deleuze and Derrida in particular
are happily free of the clogged prose that obscures so
many accounts.

The primary use-value of Nietzsche for the
so-called ʻpoststructuralistʼ generation (Schriftʼs
delicate inverted commas are a timely reminder
that ʻFrench poststructuralismʼ is largely an AngloAmerican construct) is that he offers an alternative
both to the phenomenological privileging of subjectivity and to the anti-subjectivism of structuralism.

Nietzsche makes it possible, that is, to raise new
questions about individual agency without relapsing
into either voluntarism or scientism. The attraction
for those wishing to escape the codified confines of
academic philosophy was irresistible. As Foucault
once remarked, some things are more fun to think
about than others. And for a long time, Nietzsche
was certainly fun.

For Derrida, Nietzscheʼs rejection of the binary
logic of ʻgood or evilʼ opens up a new line of approach
that avoids a history of philosophy replicating binary
divisions and choices. At this level, Nietzsche is a talisman, a guarantee of otherness rather than an author
to be expounded in any detail. Similarly, for Deleuze,
Nietzsche often stands for symbolic deterritorialization; his aphorisms are always elsewhere, always
resistant to codification. In the case of Cixous, the
link seems more tenuous, and her proposal that giftgiving can provide the foundations for a feminine
libidinal economy, as opposed to a masculine economy
predicated on a desire to possess, appears to owe
more to Derridaʼs passing comments on Nietzsche
than to Nietzsche himself. Schriftʼs reading of Cixous
does, however, demonstrate just how widely Nietzsche
was disseminated in the 1970s, albeit in a sometimes
indirect manner.

Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)


Schrift does not always avoid the obvious danger
inherent in an essay like this, and at times tends to
ascribe a little too much influence to his subject. That
Deleuzeʼs notions of desire as a productive force and
of the perpetual nature of becoming are indebted to
the Nietzschean will to power is not in dispute. But
one would like to learn more about how Deleuzeʼs
Nietzscheanism relates to the Bergsonian rhizomes that
sprout throughout his work. With Foucault, matters
may be more complex still. Thus, the Nietzschean
genealogy of his theory of power as a network of
relations of force, rather than an object to be taken,
held or lost, may have been filtered through Canguilhemʼs work on vitalism, and Canguilhem himself often
claimed to be a Nietzschean. To disentangle that line
of descent would no doubt require a new book, and it
is to be hoped that Schrift will write it.

In his final chapter, Schrift argues that Nietzscheʼs
French future is over for the moment, and that he is
now little more than another figure in the history of
philosophy. For Descombes in his influential Modern
French Philosophy, for Ferry and Renault in their
French Philosophy of the Sixties, as for Lyotard, the

rallying cry ʻWe are not Nietzscheansʼ has become one
of the main slogans of a turn away from – and against
– poststructuralism. Kant appears once more to be the
only (or last) good German philosopher, as he was fifty
years ago. This is in part no doubt a banal generational
quarrel and a critique of a marginality that has become
an orthodoxy. More worryingly, it signals a rejection
of relativist perspectivism in the name of a return to
ʻRepublican valuesʼ and a ʻuniversalismʼ that is in
fact disturbingly Gallic in flavour. The new binary
choice appears to be: either Kant and the Republic,
or Nietzsche and barbarism.

Schrift is, however, optimistic about Nietzscheʼs
next French future, and suggests that the critique of
nationalisms and identity politics made in Human, Too
Human has considerable contemporary relevance. It
is hard to disagree. ʻSupposing truth to be a woman
– what?ʼ, asks Nietzsche. Sections of the French media
currently suppose a young Arab woman with a veil to
be a threat to the Republic. And supposing that she
has something to say about the truth of Republicanism
– what?

David Macey

Beyond the flesh
Chris Hables Gray, ed., The Cyborg Handbook, Routledge, New York and London, 1995. xx + 540 pp., £40.00
hb., £16.99 pb., 0 415 90848 5 hb., 0 415 90849 3 pb.

Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingston, eds, Posthuman Bodies, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and
Indianapolis, 1995. x + 275 pp., £27.50 hb., £13.50 pb., 0 253 32894 2 hb., 0 253 20970 6 pb.

There is growing interest in the human body as a
subject of investigation within philosophy. Although
primarily driven by the traditions of phenomenology
and poststructuralism, significant contributions have
been made by radical feminists and in the developing
queer literature.

The Cyborg Handbook, however, is really concerned
with the relationship between the body and new cybernetic and prosthetic technologies like virtual reality.

For the evolution of technology renders the possibility
of substituting physical operations and attributes, to
restore and enhance the functioning of the body. This
is achieved by assembling synthetic appliances and
modifying individual competencies through facilities
contrived to heighten human effectiveness. The technologized body is thus furnished with a redesigned
exterior made up of precisely modelled electronic
instruments, robotics and machinic devices. Not
surprisingly, there has been a considerable amount
of fascination with the philosophical significance of


Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)

cybernetic organisms, or cyborgs, which began with
Donna Harawayʼs powerful essay ʻA Manifesto for
Cyborgsʼ (1985). Since then, cyborgism has become a
central concept for many postmodern, ʻcyberfeministʼ
philosophers and cultural critics like Anne Balsamo,
Allucquere Rosanne Stone and Sadie Plant.

The Cyborg Handbook is a collection of articles
which attempt to define and explore these questions. It brings together the most important historical
and theoretical documents on cyborgs, particularly
with respect to their development in space, warfare,
medicine, politics, anthropology and the technological
imaginary. It suggests that there is not just one type
of cyborg but many different types, ranging from the
merely ʻrestorativeʼ (i.e. replacing lost functions/limbs)
through to the ʻenhancedʼ jet pilots of the Gulf War.

The editor argues that the distinction between humans
and machines is now almost imperceptible. Indeed, for
him, humanity is on the threshold of a new stage of
human-machine evolution; a stage which brings with it

not only cybernetic technologies but also vastly altered
linguistic capabilities and sense perceptions.

Posthuman Bodies, by contrast, is specifically concerned with how the body, in conjunction with various
reproductive and cinematic technologies, impacts upon
feminist and queer cultural politics and identities. The
book is an assortment of articles that relate to disparate
postmodern cultural confrontations with the rationality
of the technologized body. The argument of the editors
is that ʻthe posthuman condition is upon us, and that
nostalgia for a humanist philosophy of self and other,
human and alien, normal and queer is merely the
echo of a battle that has already taken placeʼ (p. vii).

Posthuman Bodies is an exhortation to employ a wide
range of corporeal forms that supplant both the human
and the humanities. Halberstam and Livingston suggest
that such an undertaking arises out of the knowledge
that the licence that these singular identities pretend
to advance is extortionate, since it makes valueless
much of what matters to them. The pieces included
draw on a variety of disciplines, including film and
literary studies, cultural studies of science and science
fiction, feminist and queer studies. Whilst there is no
posthuman manifesto on offer, the contributors do ally
themselves with a variety of hyphenated (post-, sub-,
inter-, trans-, etc.) methodological principles.

The body is now firmly on the agenda. But a
number of theoretical problems remain. First, there is
an underemphasis in both these volumes on defining
the modern body and its history. Second, there is no
attempt to define what a postmodern body might be: is
it a ʻbody without organsʼ (Deleuze and Guattari)? A
body without a self? A self without a body? Certainly,
the posthuman body seems to have the capacity to
become monstrously Other when, as White puts it in
Posthuman Bodies, ʻthe menagerie withinʼ is let loose
on celluloid, as in Inoshiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburayaʼs
Attack of the Mushroom People. Third, neither of these
books contributes significantly to the development of
a critical theory of technology, although The Cyborg
Handbook does at least highlight the fact that immanent cyborgization also presages alarming mutations
that may possibly transform human beings into mere
automatons. Posthuman dilemmas are multiplying
daily. Unfortunately, it is clear that our understanding
of the moral implications of technologized bodies is
not going to be enhanced by a postmodern philosophy
which is devoid of ethical foundations, let alone ethical

John Armitage

The measure of
some things
Cairns Craig, Out of History: Narrative Paradigms
in Scottish and British Culture, Polygon, Edinburgh,
1996. 240 pp., £11.95 pb., 0 7486 6082 8.

This is a thoughtful analysis of conflicting modern
cultural identities written from a Scottish perspective.

Craig lectures on English literature at Edinburgh University, and this collection, largely a reprint of essays
in Cencrastus and Radical Scotland from 1981 to the
early 1990s, is notable for its informed discussions
of a shelf-full of classic Scottish (and other) novels
and books.

It is a mark of the rapid movement of debate and
recovery of cultural self-confidence in Scotland that
the early essays already have a slightly dated feel to
them. Do we still need to be lectured on ʻparochialismʼ, for example, or told that ʻScottish culture has
cowered in the consciousness of its own inadequacyʼ
(p. 11)? The core of the book, however, is a fascinating
essay entitled ʻGeorge Orwell and the English Ideologyʼ which ranges widely over the themes of English
poetry, self-image, and their resonances in popular
politics in Britain. The cultural Right in England, from
T.S. Eliot to C.S. Sissons, is seen as employing a model
of tradition based on assumed continuities of language
and landscape. Its echoes in Edwin Muirʼs Scott and
Scotland (1936) give it a relevance to Scottish self-perceptions. The English Left from Orwell on, so Craig
argues, implicitly accepted this idea of continuity,
theorizing for example about the distinctive ʻpatienceʼ
and ʻfundamental decencyʼ of the common people. The
older ʻNew Leftʼ writers (Raymond Williams or E.P.

Thompson) thus popularized culture-specific English
ʻtraditionsʼ to counter both the rival traditionalism of
Eliot, and the crude and suspect ʻinternationalismʼ
flowing from the Soviet Union. In this way, following
Marxʼs foregrounding of the development of English
capitalism in the nineteenth century, they prioritized
English history in a kind of unwitting cultural imperialism. Even their critics in the New Left Review
prioritize England, Nairn in The Break-up of Britain
(1981) seeing Scottish popular culture as peculiarly
ʻdeformedʼ in comparison with Englandʼs.

More questionable is Craigʼs final essay, ʻPosting
Towards the Futureʼ. It is hardly a model of clarity.

Craig imperceptibly blends in exposition of othersʼ
views with his own argument, and deals in vague, illdefined contrasts. He begins by contrasting Marxism

Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)


(in its Soviet ʻHistmatʼ version) with a Nietzscheinspired ʻpostmodernismʼ, and ends by suggesting that
both overvalue a Western idea of history at the expense
of other perspectives. This last point, in so far as it tells
against Marxism, was made with considerably greater
clarity by John MacMurray in the 1930s.

In the section on ʻpostmodernismʼ, the abandonment of England as the yardstick of all historical
development becomes an excuse for an unwarranted
rejection of the rationality of historical analysis per se.

Thus we are told: ʻthough we may wish to fight for
the truthfulness of our discourse, in the last analysis
we have to accept that if one discourse succeeds in

and they will cease to be unacceptable prisons to their
tenants. The style is the meaningʼ (pp. 212–13). Never
mind fuel poverty, dampness or poor design then:

Protagoras lives.

As for the Scottish literary criticism, we might wish
at times that Craig took his own advice and validated
perspectives other than those of the political-cultural
activist. Moreover, admiration for the ʻliberation of
the voiceʼ in modern Scottish fiction and poetry is less
than convincing when accompanied by neglect of what
the ʻliberatedʼ voice actually says. All in all though,
Out of History represents a sustained and closely
argued effort, from a liberal standpoint, to nurture a
vital literary culture in Scotland.

Stephen Cowley

The last laugh
Adriana Cavarero, In Spite of Plato: A Feminist
Rewriting of Ancient Philosophy, translated by Serena
Anderlini-DʼOnofrio and Aine OʼHealy, Polity Press,
Cambridge, 1995. xxii + 136 pp., £39.50 hb., £11.95
pb., 0 7456 1259 8 hb., 0 7456 1572 4 pb.

replacing another it is only as a function of the “will
to power”, or as a shift in some deep-structure of our
social organization that we cannot control, not as a
function of its superior valueʼ (p. 212). Yet when a
newspaper owner replaces the ʻdiscourseʼ with a leftwing journalist like Paul Foot on the Daily Mirror
with ʻalternative discoursesʼ, this is surely not merely
an expression of the ʻwill to powerʼ outside of our
ʻcontrolʼ. It is better – more accurate – to speak of
something essential (e.g. the control of public space
by capital) occurring behind superficial appearances.

According to Craig, by contrast, ʻThe “postworld”
is a world in which it is impossible to distinguish
appearance from reality, because appearance is the
only realityʼ – an argument illustrated as follows: ʻbolt
art nouveau decorations on to modernist tower blocks


Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)

With few translations available, Italian feminist philosophy has received little attention in the Anglophone
world. This welcome addition helps redress that situation and also demonstrates the inadequacy of the still
popular classification of feminist philosophy into either
French or Anglo-American branches. For, whilst it is
true that the influence of Luce Irigaray pervades her
book, Cavarero is by no means an acolyte or imitator;
to think so would be to ignore the mutual exchange of
ideas that Irigaray has enjoyed with Italian feminists
over the years. Furthermore, the influence of Irigaray
nestles here amongst many others (Le Dœuff, Arendt,
Kristeva, Clément, Cixous, Daly, Lispector, and no
doubt several Italians whom I did not recognize),
making this work the very embodiment of feminist

Cavarero starts from the assumption that the mythic
figures of any given culture represent the ʻsymbolic
orderʼ which has shaped it, and that through these
figures a culture may recognize and understand itself.

What the mythic figures of ʻwestern cultureʼ reveal,
then, is a symbolic order in which ʻa male subject
claiming to be neutral/universal declares his central
position, disseminating a sense of the world cut to
his own clothʼ. This culture, so Cavarero argues, lacks
any female mythic figures not constructed according
to patriarchal codes, figures in whom a woman could

recognize herself as ʻa female subjectivity capable
of taking shape within her own symbolic orderʼ. To
accede to the demand of such a female or feminine
(the Italian does not differentiate) subjectivity, new
figures are needed; but, rather than creating them from
scratch, Cavareroʼs strategy is to steal. Each of the four
sections of the book is named after a female figure
ʻstolenʼ from Platoʼs dialogues and relocated within a
ʻfeminine symbolic orderʼ, which gives them new life
and us the possibility of new mythic identifications.

To that end, the book is probably written for the
woman reader, the active ʻfemale feministʼ reader
identified in Rosi Braidottiʼs useful foreword to the
English edition.

Lest this encourage the tendency to marginalize
feminist philosophy, it must at once be pointed out
that there is much in Cavareroʼs book which ought to
make the non-feminist mainstream of philosophy sit up
and take notice too. This is particularly evident in the
section which centres on the figure (in Platoʼs Theaetetus) of the Maidservant from Thrace who laughed
at Thales when, too busy gazing at the heavens, he
neglected to look at his feet and fell into a well. For
Plato the Maidservant illustrates the inability of simple
folk to appreciate the concerns of the genuine philosopher. Cavarero, by contrast, uses the womanʼs laughter
as the starting point for a rigorous and compelling
reading of the philosophical relationship between
Parmenides and Plato, a critique of their dualistic
distinction between being and appearance, and an
invigorating account of the way in which Platonic
philosophy was able to conceal the fact of sexual difference with the idealization and false universalization
of ʻManʼ. So, whilst it is true that sexual difference is
Cavareroʼs theme, such an intelligent and interesting
analysis of Plato ought to be of concern to more than
just ʻfeministʼ philosophers.

In the other sections, Cavarero has Penelope illustrate the interweaving of the intelligence and the
senses, and Diotimaʼs speech from the Symposium is
exposed as the mimetic device by which Plato ambiguously attempts to justify the exclusion of women from
philosophy. Demeterʼs refusal to generate life becomes
the inspiration for an understanding of motherhood
as choice and act rather than natural function, an
understanding in which the phenomenon of chosen
abortion is invoked to illustrate the power of ʻmaternal
subjectivityʼ to act outside of patriarchal control.

Of course there is much to take issue with in
Cavareroʼs thought. Recurrent references to the
ʻGreat Motherʼ and the unexplained assumption of
the ʻfeminine symbolic orderʼ, for example, will
understandably worry some readers. It would be easy
to say of Cavareroʼs work, as is sometimes said of

feminism more generally, that it is less successful in
its reconstructive, ʻpositiveʼ aspects than as a critical
discourse. But this would probably be to make an
overly rigid distinction. As the mocking laughter of
the Thracian maid gets louder and louder, pointing to
the sheer phenomenological implausibility of Platonic
idealism, the philosophical analysis simultaneously
picks apart the dualistic system on which it is based,
until the laughter and the philosophical voice of the
text merge. Much satisfaction is to be had from the
sisterly complicity, but Cavareroʼs fine readings of
Plato are accessible without it.

Stella Sandford

Turning ethical
Bill Martin, Humanism and its Aftermath: The Shared
Fate of Deconstruction and Politics, Humanities Press
International, Atlantic Highlands NJ, 1995. xvi + 199
pp., £29.95 hb., £9.95 pb., 0 391 03893 1 hb., 0 391
03894 X pb.

Much has been made of deconstructionʼs supposed
ʻethical turnʼ. But not enough, according to Bill Martin
– at least not in a practical sense. This book is a spirited, lucid, often highly polemical attempt to ʻthinkʼ
a deconstructive politics which can be engaged at
a practical level. Martinʼs main opponents in this
enterprise are those on the Left who would dismiss
Derridaʼs work as a politically irrelevant species of
idealist posturing and wordplay, and those in the
deconstructive camp who play straight into the hands
of this caricature by presuming that there is nothing
more to do than tinker with texts.

The book has three main parts. In the first, Martin
examines the relevance to deconstruction of traditionally Marxist preoccupations (class, history, the
concrete nature of social change). He criticizes existing
deconstructionist treatments of the political (namely,
conceptions of the ʻunavowableʼ or ʻinoperativeʼ community in Blanchot and Nancy), for their rejection of
the very idea of a political ʻprojectʼ, and their consequent ʻgloomy nihilismʼ. Deconstructive talk of ʻthe
otherʼ and ʻthe marginsʼ is rendered vacuous unless
supplemented by some sort of analysis of the workings
of capitalist imperialism. At the same time, Marxism
cannot begin to confront deconstructive themes, or
ʻthe possibility of justiceʼ, without shedding its more
crudely positivistic aspects. A concern for the other
is hard to ground in classical historical materialism. It needs something more: Martin seeks ʻa praxis
that strives toward the good within the open-ended

Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)


structure of the infiniteʼ (p. 42) – and suggests that it
lies in an interweaving of Marxist and deconstructive

Part 2 explores the trajectory of the humanist ideal
from Descartes, via Kant, down to Habermas and
Rorty. For Martin the promise of humanism has been
almost entirely hidden by its practice. There is a
tension between Cartesian, ʻcalculatingʼ, positivistic
humanists (for example, Hobbes, Mill and presentday utilitarians) and those, like Kant and Derrida,
for whom the key aspiration is the concern for the
other. (Marx, incidentally, moves between these two
strands.) Unsurprisingly, Martin has strong objections
to Habermasʼs depiction of Derrida as a ʻYoung Conservativeʼ, and suggests that Habermasʼs own emphasis on communication as the vehicle of emancipation
is both internally problematic and reductively Eurocentric: not the universalism he might think. Rorty,
too, comes in for extended criticism. Martin finds
that, for all his freewheeling anti-foundationalism and
prioritization of imagination and poetry over social
theory, Rorty deals in a domineering and chauvinistic instrumental rationality which seeks to assimilate
other cultures into that of the contemporary bourgeois
West, without any self-questioning of the violence
that this involves.

Finally, Martin looks at Derridaʼs treatment of the
language of humanism in The Other Heading. For
Derrida, as for Kant, thinking is condemned to struggle with metaphysics, and they are equally committed
to pursuing ʻthe infinite task set by the thinking of
justiceʼ, which ʻwill provide the kind of totalizing
ideal that is both necessary to and resistant to closureʼ
(p. 129). Martin rejects Alex Callinicosʼs ʻorthodox
Marxistʼ challenge to Derrida for presuming that he
takes no concrete political positions and is unaware of
the claims of materiality. In fact, Derrida poses questions about the nature of the humanist project which
point not in the direction of political detachment but,
on the contrary, towards a politically indispensable
rethinking of what he calls the ʻidea of Europeʼ and
thus the idea of humanism itself.

Martin pursues his arguments with great passion
and inventiveness. His marshalling of Derridaʼs texts
is impressive, if selective, and his quest to forge a link
between the ethical insights of deconstruction and a
sort of Kantian-Marxist political commitment is both
shrewdly conducted and highly readable. Whether it
works is another question. At one stage Habermas is
accused of giving up on the goal of a participatory
socialist society. Has Derrida ever had such a goal?

The humanistic continuum between Kant and Derrida
is vigorously asserted, but Martin never quite connects
it to a Marxist-deconstructionist political project. A


Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)

stated aim (in the back-cover blurb) is ʻto make sense
of the politics of deconstruction for those outside the
academyʼ. Iʼm not sure that Martin succeeds in this,
but his book is a worthy attempt.

Gideon Calder

Anxious times
Ulrich Beck, Ecological Politics in an Age of Risk,
translated by Amos Weisz, Polity Press, Cambridge,
1995. 216 pp., £39.50 hb., £12.95 pb., 0 7456 07632
hb., 0 7456 13772 pb.

Ulrich Beck, Ecological Enlightenment: Essays on
the Politics of the Risk Society, translated by Mark
A. Ritter, Humanities Press International, Atlantic
Highlands NJ, 1995. v + 159 pp., £29.95 hb., £12.95
pb., 0 391 03831 1 hb., 0 391 03832 X pb.

Although translated from different original German
titles, both English volumes contain much identical
material. The former is longer and contains a greater
amount of qualification and elaboration. Each appears
to have been written in an attempt to address at least
some of the diverse critical reactions prompted by
Beckʼs Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (1992;
reviewed by Caroline New, RP 66, Spring 1994). It
is frustrating that they read very much as collections
of essays rather than as sustained arguments. The
reader has to work hard to reconstruct the underlying
thread of Beckʼs argument, and is often forced to
ask how each isolated skirmish fits into some overall
framework of analysis. Criticism has come at him from
many directions, and he appears overly concerned to
address all his detractors at once. Nevertheless, it is
possible to recognize three major sources of underlying
controversy which may help to structure a reading of
his latest work.

Is our heightened sense of insecurity in ʻrisk
societyʼ the result of a greater consciousness of selfgenerated ecological risk? Or, contrariwise, is our
sense of heightened ecological risk the result of greater
social insecurity (as Mary Douglas suggests in her
commentary on Beck in Risk and Blame, 1994)? Beck
wants to go beyond the either/or; to accept that increasing risk consciousness is bound up with a deficit of
trust in authoritative institutions and the break-up
of ʻtraditionalʼ forms of social solidarity, while still
maintaining that society is increasingly confronted
with the very real threat of self-annihilation.

A second question might be posed as follows:

does nature still grow on trees, or is ʻnatureʼ the
social construction of our technological interventions

and/or our ideological representations? Many of Beckʼs
German reviewers felt he was too uncritical towards
claims about nature made by the environmental movement. The naturalistic fallacy of a pure nature, ʻout
thereʼ, underlies both romantic, deep-ecological theories of ʻequilibriumʼ and instrumentalist-technocratic
approaches to the ʻecological crisisʼ. Nevertheless,
Beckʼs rejection of a pure nature is tempered by a
distrust of knee-jerk social constructivism: ʻEcology is
guilty of forgetting about society, just as social science
and social theory are predicated on the forgetting of
ecologyʼ (Ecological Politics, p. 40). Beck argues
that it is through the growing contradictions within
technocratic modernity that the weaknesses of our
sense of ʻcoherenceʼ, both of natural and social order,
increasingly impinge upon our senses.

Finally, how can ecological politics hope to
reappropriate the same rational resources of modernity (science, technology and bureaucracy) which are
so central to the ecological crisis in the first place
(a criticism of Beck made by Zygmunt Bauman in
his book Postmodern Ethics)? Can ʻreflexivityʼ save
modernity from itself? Beck seeks to demonstrate the
force of modern technocracyʼs own contradictions in
undermining its rationality claims. The nuclear industryʼs own worst enemy is itself, and not the marginal
protesters at the gate. Reflexivity emerges from within.

Beckʼs revolution without a subject, ʻwhich the prevailing conditions have instigated against themselves with
the objectified power of the industrial momentumʼ,
seems to suggest that a deterministic technological
dynamic may undermine itself and set us free.

These three issues help mark out the territory ʻat
stakeʼ in the current debate over ʻriskʼ and ʻmodernityʼ.

No doubt they will remain hotly contested; not simply
because of disagreements with what Beck writes, but
over interpretations of what he means.

Matthew David and Iain Wilkinson

Radical democracy
William E. Connolly, The Ethos of Pluralization,
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1995.

243 pp., $49.95 hb., $19.95 pb., 0 8166 2668 5 hb., 0
8166 2669 3 pb.

The Cold War is over and democracy, we are told, has
won; the end of history has arrived and all that remains
is to drag the few remaining holdouts into the light of
reason. Yet the ʻvictoryʼ of pluralist democracy has left

us with a paradox. Acting in the name of unity – what
Michael Walzer might call ʻshared understandingʼ
– pluralism exacerbates disunity.

In his collection of essays, William Connolly
addresses the paradox in terms of the relationship
between fundamentalization and pluralization. Every
doctrine rests on some set of foundational assumptions. Fundamentalism is a political strategy to protect
those assumptions from interrogation. It defines its
critics as possessing all those defects which ʻGod,
nature, reason, nation or normalityʼ dictate must
be eradicated. There is a creative tension between
fundamentalization, which seeks to fortify and defend
boundaries, and pluralization, which challenges and
enlarges them. Every challenge risks adopting the
strategy of its counterpart and may become ʻfundamentalizedʼ itself. Connolly attempts to break
this cycle, using the techniques of genealogy and
deconstruction to expose the hidden contingency and
contestability of any set of ontological presuppositions
that claim absolute authority.

Though indebted to the ʻpostmodernistsʼ, Connolly
departs from them in his opinion that a viable alternative is available. The contestability of all foundational claims – he calls them ʻontopoliticalʼ rather
than ʻontologicalʼ, to avoid the implied singular logic
of the latter – opens a space of ambivalence in which
political action may occur. Here an ʻethic of critical
responsivenessʼ and an air of ʻagonistic respectʼ may
be cultivated. Such an ethos may be said to obtain
when an individual or group is aware of both the contingent nature of his/her/its identity and of the exclusions thereby imposed. This enables the individual
or group to respond to difference not with hostility,
but with respect for that which allows his/her/its own
identity to be consolidated. Such responsiveness is
anticipatory, critical and self-revisionary. It responds
to pluralization before the constituency in question is
consolidated into a positive identity. It asks whether
this emergent constituency will attempt to impose
its identity as predominant and punish those who
transgress it. According to Connolly, the task of ethics
is to disallow any single moral code to dominate the
field. It is self-revisionary in that those responding to
pluralizing movements must revise their own identities
to allow room for new ones.

At a time when the foundations of the ʻmodernityʼ of
Hegel and Marx are collapsing under their own weight,
Connollyʼs ʻpost-Nietzscheanʼ stance, prioritizing the
richness of life over identity, is most compelling. At
a time when we are told that democracy has won,
Connolly urges us to consider what exactly democracy
is and what it might mean to live democratically.

Chris Erickson

Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)


Buy the newest RP in printDownload the PDF