Values, Virtues, and the Language of Morality

In “Values or Virtues, Nietzsche or Aristotle?” Jay Gupta outlines the way that value discourse stifles normative intention and the ethical imagination. The aim of the paper is to “suggest that the language of values disguises a deeper, normatively richer language of virtue, and . . . point[s] to the importance of recovering that language in the modern age, as well as the difficulties that must attend such a recovery.” Before exploring the merits of the article, I wish to offer a few clarificatory notes. Recently, there has been a conspicuous number of thinkers that have advocated a return to virtue ethics. Perhaps the most notable among these is Elizabeth Anscombe, who, with the paper “Modern Moral Philosophy,” uncovers the supposed banality of modern moral philosophy and points to the ways in which moral discourse has retained elements of the Christian ethical tradition.

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“Then and Now,” and Now

For many today, Claude Lefort is a thinker known mainly by association, someone whose work emerges where others are asked to situate their projects relative to his thinking of the political. He is a prominent, if not central, figure for the more post-structuralist thinkers of radical democracy. Lefort’s sense of democracy—as that form of society where the place of power is empty—is vital to those projects that would likewise tie democracy to the symbolic character of power, and to the distinct workings of politics and the political. Interestingly, while debate over the correct translation of le or la politique seems to almost always return to Lefort, it remains the case that for his own part Lefort was never much interested in post-structuralism. For him, the post-structural turn, itself bound up with the legacies of May 1968 and the new knowledge, obfuscated almost as much as it made clear.

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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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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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