From Shanghai Modern to Shanghai Postmodern: A Cosmopolitan View of China’s Modernization

Ning Wang’s “From Shanghai Modern to Shanghai Postmodern: A Cosmopolitan View of China’s Modernization” appears in Telos 180 (Fall 2017), a special issue on Cosmopolitanism and China. 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.

To discuss the issue of cosmopolitanism in the Chinese context is, as in the Western context, no longer new to China’s humanities intellectuals, for this issue once did attract Chinese intellectuals in the 1920s when nationalism dominated Chinese academia and intellectual circles. Furthermore, it indeed had some parallel elements in ancient Chinese philosophy. It is therefore quite natural that cosmopolitanism was not so attractive when China, according to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, was not qualified enough to talk about cosmopolitanism as it was still poor and backward at the time. In the current era of globalization, along with the increasingly important role played by China and its leaders, more and more scholars have been paying considerable attention to this issue with regard to global culture and world literature.

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George Steiner on Original Sin, Hope, and Tragedy

At the beginning of his 1961 study The Death of Tragedy, George Steiner claimed that Christian “optimism” contributed to the demise of tragic drama in modernity. The ensuing chapters of The Death of Tragedy actually offer a more nuanced account, though, in which Steiner finds tragic potential in the doctrine of original sin. In subsequent essays, Steiner has doubled down on his claim that tragedy must be bleak. Indeed, he now holds up an ideal of hopeless “absolute tragedy.” In these later writings, Steiner has also continued to show interest in original sin, even claiming in a 2004 essay that original sin is the core of tragic art.

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Telos 178 (Spring 2017): Original Sin in Modernity

Telos 178 (Spring 2017) is now available for purchase in our store.

“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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Essential Reading: Carl Schmitt’s Land and Sea

Writing at the Claremont Review of Books, Aaron Zack reviews the new English translation of Carl Schmitt’s Land and Sea, now available from Telos Press. Purchase your copy in our online store and save 20% by using the coupon code BOOKS20.

Telos Press’s new edition of Carl Schmitt’s Land und Meer: Eine weltgeschichtliche Betrachtung (Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation) provides an essential guide for understanding sea power. . . . Schmitt provides an intriguing analysis of the link between the sea and the modern project’s culmination in creative, free-thinking individuals moving and acting within a liberal, global order . . .

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Comparative Understandings of the Human Political Actor: An Entryway into the Critique of Totalizing, Modernist Monopolies over Ethics and Politics

Consider the Aristotelian maxim that humankind “is by nature a political animal,” whose capacity for speech, unique “among the animals[,] . . . serves to reveal the advantageous and the harmful, and hence also the just and the unjust.” If one accepts this dictum (and, crucial to this article’s line of thinking, by no means must one necessarily adhere to Aristotle’s rationalist model of “man,” nor any other universalist account of humanness), then the ceaseless question remains: what specific sort(s) of speaking, morally reasoning animal might the human be read as constituting, from within the interpretive mindset of a particular historical and civilizational milieu? Of course, this question presupposes, in a manner that may well be at odds with the anthropological premises of a universalist modern political doctrine like human rights, that, rather than exhibiting a fixed, unitary essence, the human acts as a signifier; as such, this human signifier might potentially refer to myriad worldviews, and sources and assemblages of contextualizing meaning, across which the understanding of humanness can be differently constructed and construed.

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Evaluating Enlightenment: Progressive Critiques of Modernity in Rationalization and Ecology

The following paper was presented at the 2016 Telos Conference, held on January 16–17, 2016, in New York City. For additional details about this and upcoming conferences, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

What is modernity? First, a period “occasioned by a peculiarly ahistorical view of the world, which is flattened into an eternal present. The world we experience appears to exhaust all possible worlds.” Second, modernity is deeply rooted in the three Kantian principles of Enlightenment: “‘What can know?’ the question of knowledge; of the ‘What should I do?’ which is the question of ethics, and of the ‘What can I hope?'”

The Western modern project is dependent upon both Greek and Hebrew antiquity. In ancient Ionia, Thales of Miletus predicted a solar eclipse, Anaximander predicted the changing of the seasons, Theodorus invented the ruler, the carpenter’s square, and the level, and Hippocrates began accumulating medical knowledge through trial and error. These “pre-Socratic” Ionians were merchants and artisans; they worked with their hands, whereas the Athenians were engaged primarily in contemplation.

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