Deliberation in Context: Reexamining the Confrontation between the Discourse Ethics and Neo-Aristotelianism

Ryan Holston’s “Deliberation in Context: Reexamining the Confrontation between the Discourse Ethics and Neo-Aristotelianism” appears in Telos 181 (Winter 2017). Read the full article at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our online store. Individual subscriptions to Telos are now available in both print and online formats.

Deliberative democrats continue to emphasize universal justification as the key criterion for establishing political legitimacy within pluralistic democracies. However, this essay argues that their refusal to acknowledge the limits to mutual appeal posed by the scale of the ethical life (Sittlichkeit) is utopian. Moreover, the cost of such utopianism is the failure to acknowledge the vital role of a sensus communis for meaningful deliberation. Drawing on the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer, this essay aims to combat the abstraction that has characterized much of the recent debate over deliberation.

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Rousseau and the Tragic Desire for Unity

In “A Tragic Desire: Rousseau and the Modern Democratic Project,” Alice Ormiston brings to the fore a figure often neglected in contemporary political theory and that, as the title foreshadows, is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. First, Ormiston—animated by the task of the intellectual historian—traces to Rousseau the discovery of a fundamental clash at the heart of the modern subject, which is that between nature and abstract reason. Such tension, Ormiston claims, has influenced, or is present in, subsequent thinkers like Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Rousseau identifies the clash between nature and reason, and eyeing man’s primitive condition with nostalgia and viewing his modern condition with contempt, he is seeking to resolve such contention in his works.

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Mourning, Solidarity and “Transversal Grief”: How Judith Butler Misreads Paris

Traveling in Paris, Judith Butler published a “letter” dated November 14, in English on the Verso blog and in French in Libération, the day after the ISIS attacks, entitled “Mourning becomes the Law.” The short text treats two phenomena and argues for a connection between them: the process of mourning the victims of the attacks and the expansion of counter-terrorist practices by the state. Butler’s thesis is that the shared grieving of the dead served exclusively as a vehicle to justify amplified police powers: in this sense, mourning becomes the law, or at least law enforcement. A close look at her claims, however, shows significant deficiencies in the account of mourning and an important misreading of the Parisian response.

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The Development of the International Community, Human Personality, and the Question of Universal History in the Thought of Luigi Sturzo

Luigi Sturzo (1871–1959) was an Italian priest, social reformer and the founder in 1919 of the Popular Party that later became the Christian Democratic Party, and social theorist who wrote extensively about history during the last century. Regarding history, Sturzo’s great contribution is his account of the formation and development of the “International Community” as one of the concrete forms of human society subject to its general laws. Sturzo locates the roots of this concept in the Christian revelation of human equality before God and the subsequent religious duty to love one’s neighbor in a manner that transcends the traditional boundaries of the ancient world. Thus the social values of the pre-Christian world are inverted, and human personality assumes the mantle previously held by the social and ethnic bonds of that era.

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The Failure of the Body Politic

In her exploration of Wittgenstein’s elusive and scattered commentary on community, Chantal Bax notes the absence of an explicit understanding of community in the philosopher’s work. Though Wittgenstein often invokes communal concepts, he rarely provides any details regarding the exact nature of a proper community, or the maintenance and governance a just society requires. Bax highlights the one place where Wittgenstein succumbs to the “unfortunate metaphor” of the body politic: he suggests the Jews, marginalized by European society, resemble a “‘kind of disease, anomaly,'” a “‘swelling'” which can “‘only be considered to be a proper part of the body when the whole feeling for the body is changed'” (105). Bax reads this as a tragic and empathetic lament: Wittgenstein doubts the possibility of a renewed, welcoming society that nonetheless adheres to this same vocabulary of the political body. And it is this prophetic doubt that intensifies the crisis of community that reiterates the necessity of Wittgenstein’s rethinking of life together.

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Community After Capitalism

When Karl Marx described the commodity, he invoked the language of faith. For him, the commodity remained “a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.”[1] Marx, a dedicated secular economist, hesitated to pinpoint the exact power of the commodity. He could not fully understand it without recourse to a mythology he abhorred, one that far predated his radical recasting of accepted historical narratives. Here religion colors economics: the logic of exchange resembles a curious mysticism.

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