Telos 179 (Summer 2017): A New Regime?

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When the historian Ken Burns spoke at the Stanford University commencement last June, he delivered an exceptionally political address, including an attack on what he labeled the “Vichy Republicans.” Those Republican leaders who had not distanced themselves from candidate Trump, so Burns, were the equivalent of the Vichy French who collaborated with Hitler. That master metaphor, comparing 2016 to 1933, has continued into the new administration, with the anti-Trump camp labeling itself as “the resistance.” Despite Burns’s historiographical authority, one might question the validity of the underlying equation. No doubt the policies of the Trump administration are more conservative than those of Obama—hardly surprising—but the paradigms of the totalitarianism of the twentieth century are not necessarily the most adequate theoretical tools to analyze early twenty-first-century political phenomena. As emotionally satisfying as it may be for some to try to relive battles of earlier decades, Critical Theory ought to try to do better. We may very well be entering a different political era, a new regime, and not only in the United States. Can we describe it more effectively?

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Telos 178 (Spring 2017): Original Sin in Modernity

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“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” James Madison famously writes in Federalist No. 51. The defectiveness of the human will and the human intellect make government necessary, whether in John Calvin’s Sermon on the Galatians, which Madison echoes, in the locus classicus of this argument, Augustine’s City of God, or in book 9 of Plato’s Laws, which already describes humans’ innate capacity for evil as “a result of crimes long ago.” In modernity, Christian tropes like the Fall and original sin are used not only to justify political power, but also to temper utopian political goals. Reinhold Niebuhr emphasized the latter, for example, when he described the preference of the United States’ purportedly “Calvinist fathers” for relying upon checks and balances rather than the intelligence and goodwill of future American statesmen. Even the most familiar political analyses of original sin and the anthropology of Western Christianity contain this tension between justifying and limiting political power.

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Telos 177 (Winter 2016): Rethinking Nature in the Anthropocene

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While the term Anthropocene was used in the USSR already in the 1960s to refer to the late Quaternary era, it rose to prominence more recently when introduced by Eugene F. Stoermer and Paul J. Crutzen. As the very word indicates, this is an epoch when humanity has taken center stage in the sense that its activities now have a major, global, and lethal impact. The shadow of human-caused global destruction and mass death haunts this epoch, and indeed, humanity’s newly acquired capacity for devastation is one of the Anthropocene’s most marked traits. While mass extinctions are hardly new phenomena and while the specter of the extinction of humanity due to some sudden catastrophe was there even before human beings were aware of it in scientific terms, the actual capacity of humanity to extinguish itself along with a large swath of other species on the planet is new, and the stakes of human action are higher.

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Telos 173 (Winter 2015): Gillian Rose

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Gillian Rose (1947–1995) had an influence in excess of her literary output and treatment in secondary literature. Author of eight books, two articles, and four book reviews, she also had important, though perhaps hidden, effects on the UK academic scene through academic friendship, doctoral supervision, and interdisciplinary work. She inspired many students and colleagues, even where she does not appear in bibliographies or citations. She made major contributions to introducing the Frankfurt School to the UK; aided the Hegel renaissance in English-language scholarship; and was an early critic of post-structuralism and political theology. Several of the papers gathered here were first given at a conference at Durham University on January 9, 2015, to mark the twentieth year since Rose’s death. That conference and this special issue of Telos are premised on the view that Rose’s work still has much philosophical insight and inspiration to offer. The authors of these papers were students, colleagues, and/or friends of Rose, or studied her work as part of their doctoral research. The diversity of their fields reflects some of the range and interdisciplinarity of Rose’s own work: Hegel, social theory, Marxism, politics, race, recognition theory, education, and theology. We hope that this issue provokes a renewed interest in what Rose can still offer us today.

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Telos 172 (Fall 2015): Political Critiques of the Anthropocene

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Rapid climate change today is attributed to the profligate use of fossil fuels, and this consumption of hydrocarbon energy has worldwide, albeit uneven and discontinuous, cultural and economic patterns to it. Nonetheless, it is more than plausible to spin up the frameworks for a universal history of humanity based upon modern society’s increasing combustion of the planet’s biotic prehistory as fossil fuel energy. As the carbon of antediluvian plant matter is burned to light homes, run factories, and propel vehicles, the history of the present becomes materially universalized as the exhausted energy of the distant past released along with its soot, smog, and smoke.

Thus, noxious by-products of production and consumption ironically become the crown of commodified creation at the end of history, whose ultimate historical ends, as Fukuyama reaffirms, are tied to the “endless accumulation” of wealth. Little did he know, this outcome also would entail nonstop increases in greenhouse gases and rapid climate change; but, environmentalists, historians, sociologists, and technologists are more than willing now to seize upon this curious outcome for the crisis narratives of a universal history framed by the concept of “the Anthropocene.”

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Telos 171 (Summer 2015): Politics and Values: The Middle East and China

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Standard accounts of American politics invoke an oscillation between idealist and realist inclinations. The idealists appeal to principles, which they identify as fundamental to the American polity, especially those enshrined in the founding documents: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, transformed into a broad democratization agenda. Of course, revisionist critics have no difficulty in pointing out the failure of that agenda, i.e., the extent to which the empirical history of the country fell far short of realizing its ideals. Yet even that critique, smugly put forward to debunk naïve idealism, in some basic ways is itself indebted to the same idealism, insofar as the complaint of insufficient democratization also implies a call for more democracy, the very core of the idealist program. This is why neo-conservatives and their left-liberal adversaries always had more in common than met the eye (as was abundantly clear to traditional conservatives).

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