Call for Papers: The 2018 Telos Conference in New York

Constitutional Theory as Cultural Problem:
Global Perspectives
January 19–21, 2018
New York, NY

The International Center for Critical Theory and the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute will jointly host a conference entitled “Constitutional Theory as Cultural Problem: Global Perspectives,” to be held at New York University, New York, from January 19–21, 2018.

The challenges faced by the liberal democratic model in the 21st century have made constitutional theory into an urgent topic of global concern. Both the second Iraq War and the revolutions of the Arab Spring frustrated hopes of an easy trajectory toward liberal democratic constitutional orders. If there was the hope that liberation would mean the establishment of liberal democracy, the result has been that emancipation from tyranny does not naturally lead in a particular political direction. Such a conclusion presents fundamental problems for a constitutional theory that is built around a liberal democratic model.

Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

Looking beyond Capitalist Democracy

In “The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy,” from Telos 152 (Fall 2010), Adrian Pabst “charts the rise of capitalist democracy” in its conceptual and historical origin, and then in its empirical and contemporary manifestation, before presenting an alternative. This alternative seeks the re-emergence of an autonomous realm of “civil society” that is not subsumed by either the free market or the liberal democratic state. Pabst begins by sketching the collusion of capitalism and democracy and their subsequent fusing into modern “market-states.” Representative democracy, in the same way that free-market capitalism creates abstract, virtual value from local and material processes, “tends toward the formalization and abstraction of politics from the people it purports to represent.” The collusion, therefore, of democratic states with free-market capitalism has led to a third-way combination of “some of the worst elements of the left and the right.”

Continue reading →

Political Friendship and the Tension between Liberalism and Democracy

In his essay “Carl Schmitt on Friends, Enemies and the Political,” Andrew Norris inquires into the question that I have been interested in for quite some time: political friendship in Carl Schmitt’s political philosophy. Schmitt’s interpreters usually focus on the issue of enmity in his concept of the political, not least because Schmitt himself elaborates on the existential significance of political enmity much more extensively. From a conceptual point of view, however, political friendship should be viewed as at least equally relevant a part of Schmitt’s account of the political. The specific criterion of the political is famously the distinction “between friend and enemy,” not simply an indefatigable presence of political enmity. Norris should be lauded for his attempt to foreground a crucial, though still insufficiently explored, notion of a political (public) friend in Schmitt’s Concept of the Political.

Continue reading →

The 2016 Telos Conference: Roundtable on the Ethical State and Liberal Democracy

From the 2016 Telos Conference in New York, the following is a video of a roundtable discussion of the question “The Ethical State: Is Liberal Democracy the Only Game in Town?” Moderated by Adrian Pabst, the roundtable included Samuel Tadros, Russell Berman, Aryeh Botwinick, Greg Melleuish, Paul Gottfried, and Joseph Bendersky. We previously posted videos of the conference’s plenary session on “Ethical Solidarity in Political Difference,” a roundtable on the question “What is the Global Dimension of Ethical Life?” and the conference’s keynote presentation by Samuel Tadros on “Islamism and the Crisis of Modernity.”

Continue reading →

After the Deal: Resistance in Iran

“What appears to be a new Iran”: the ABC News host takes us inside Iran with these words, while the ABC News reporter in Iran is ready to match him with the following: “We needed a permit, but once we got it, the city opens up to all kinds of surprises.”[1] Meanwhile, the reporter spills the end of her report reassuring us that changes are on their way but not overnight, and a new Iran is embracing pop music, iPhones, Steven Jobs, and most importantly, nose jobs so that Iranians can look more Western. This overtly Orientalist narrative presents Iran as a new and young country, in contrast to an ancient, old, mystic, and mysterious Iran that has captured and mesmerized the Western unconscious for centuries. The reporter finishes her report by conditioning these changes on the nuclear deal that will facilitate all these sweeping shifts and alterations.

Not everybody shares this Orientalist narrative, but the promising economic market in the near future of Iran is what focuses many analysts’ ample attention. Richard Javad Heidarian, a specialist in geopolitical and political affairs, unveils another aspect of this ubiquitous hope: “And similar to the case of China, an Iran–West rapprochement holds the promise of unlocking one of the world’s most promising markets, with broad implications for the global economy.” Regardless of all these cost-benefit driven analyses, the deal generated two opposing queues of political observations, rotating around a simple “yes” or” no” response to the deal. John Bell, the director of the Middle East program at the Toledo International Peace Centre in Madrid, provides us with a snapshot of all the debates over the deal: “The debate over the Iran nuclear agreement has been vibrant and will continue all the way up to the American Congressional vote. Progressives have lined up with the deal, as has most of the world. However, there are many voices in the U.S., Israel, and the region lined up against it.”

Continue reading →