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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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.”

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Christopher Lasch on Liberalism and Civic Virtue

Christopher Lasch’s “Liberalism and Civic Virtue,” from Telos 88 (Summer 1991), seeks to gain a better understanding of the internal contradictions of liberalism in one of its most optimistic moments. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western economic and political liberalism stood as the last-remaining major ideology of the twentieth century. Amidst the euphoric optimism surrounding the “end of history,” Lasch looks at the challenges that liberalism, with no major competitors on the world stage, poses to itself rather than those posed to it from the outside; for it might just be that liberalism itself is decaying like other major twentieth-century ideologies, though this process is merely delayed.

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Reading Schmitt contra Schmitt

In “On the Political: Schmitt contra Schmitt,” Benjamin Arditi is occupied with the task of revitalizing Carl Schmitt, to open or retrace various interpretative paths that allow us to use Schmitt in trajectories that he did not envisage or did not pursue. Arditi takes his reader by the hand into an exploration of a series of issues arising from Schmitt’s theory: disputes regarding the bellicose nature of the political, the identification of politics in the political, the charge of formalism, and the normative dimension of order.

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Castoriadis on the Crisis of Western Societies

With the publication of “The Crisis of Western Societies” (1982), Cornelius Castoriadis returns to an early theme in his work by proposing that over the previous twenty years Western societies had begun to enter a new phase, one that could be considered to be a situation of crisis. In his earlier political thought—associated with Socialisme ou Barbarie—Castoriadis identified signs of a transition into this new phase, marked by a widespread bureaucratization of political decision-making that emerged alongside a general turn toward the privatization of social life. At the time of his revisitation of this theme, Castoriadis’s work had undergone what would be the first of two ontological turns: a turn that involved a radical rethinking of historicity, which understood the historical dimension of society as a socially contingent mode of creation that is central to the constitution of the world of a given society. This article reflects an articulation of his previous theme of crisis with regard to this broader rethinking of historicity throughout the 1970s, which extended political analysis into more foundational issues of social institution and cultural expression.

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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.

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