TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Telos 143 (Summer 2008): 40th Anniversary Issue

With this issue, Telos marks forty years as an independent journal of critical thought. Founded amidst the events of 1968, Telos has remained true to its origins, maintaining a tradition of independent thinking, while also evolving through the change of four decades. What began as an effort to think philosophically about the political questions of the day continues with the same agenda: our reflections on various thinkers—to take examples from this issue: Alasdair MacIntyre, Walter Benjamin, Gillian Rose, or G. K. Chesterton—are not driven by antiquarianism or academic intellectual history. Rather, we have culled through philosophical traditions, modern and ancient, in order to address the changing character of society and the protean cultural expressions that have emerged from it. This constant redefinition of the critical project informs the teleology, a constant orientation toward the North Star of emancipation, as we navigate the shifting currents of circumstance.

The journal’s initial investigation of the phenomenological tradition represented an effort to insert continental philosophy into the overwhelmingly quantitative and positivist terrains of American social science. That methodological critique of the established disciplines (it was 1968, after all) quickly turned however into a political critique: not only of the “establishment” but, with increasing emphasis, of the New Left, as it ossified into multiple but equally noxious forms of dogmatic thinking and mutilated lives. So it was that the phenomenological critique of scientism led to a recovery of the tradition of the democratic and, as we gradually came to recognize, anti-communist Left. During the 1970s and 1980s, this trajectory continued through readings of the Frankfurt School, and Telos became the primary venue for the introduction of Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin, and others, in the United States, long before their radicalism was recuperated into the normalizing scholarship of university presses. Yet just as Adorno had faced hostility from the student movement in Germany, the New Left similarly did its best to attack this journal for wandering into the forbidden realms of non-orthodox thinking. This is not to say that Telos blindly adulated Adorno. On the contrary, careful reconstructions led to similarly careful dismantlings, excavating the unreformed Marxism that still pervaded Critical Theory, its own protestations notwithstanding. The journal began to explore the potential compatibility between the Frankfurt School and our own older legacy of phenomenology: experience, intersubjectivity, and the life-world. Some of this played out through debates around second-generation Critical Theory, especially the work of Jürgen Habermas, which led to heated debates and divisions. This also mapped onto the political disputes of the period, particularly the debate over the limits of détente with Communism or, more precisely, over the NATO program to place medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe to counter the Soviet threat. Like today, public opinion was divided over the estimation of the external threat. Liberals downplayed the Soviets and argued for demilitarization, while others, including many around this journal, understood the telos of emancipation to demand a more muscular response to danger. That policy led directly to the world-historical turn of 1989.

While the captains of ideology were still popping champagne bottles to toast the end of history, Telos turned to the undercurrents that would soon spoil the party. The journal’s engagement with the political theory of the German jurist Carl Schmitt had elicited controversial responses: less because of his dubious politics in the Nazi era than because of the perspicacity of his critique of liberalism. Just at the moment when liberal democracy prided itself on its imminent universal realization, why bother with one of its severest critics? Yet Schmitt was also a keen diagnostician of the fissures within democracy. If one enemy, the Soviet empire, had disappeared, it was not long before another appeared, as if polarized enmity were itself a precondition for politics. The 1990s were just a bridge between two eras of historical combat. Moreover, Schmitt’s critique of premature claims of universalism, pointing to a recognition (which Arendt would have endorsed) of the ineradicable plurality of political communities, indicated a recovery of the priority of particularity: this is the point, characteristic of Telos, where Schmitt and Adorno intersect. Particularity, however, is tradition, which in turn is inextricably tied to religion. Our turn toward questions of religion and, especially, the ongoing discussion with the British school of Radical Orthodoxy, was (like the turn to Schmitt) viewed skeptically in the liberal academy. For the institutionalized Enlightenment in universities, any validation of religion was an affront to secularism, just as considerations of enmity sinned against the promise of perpetual peace. The vacuity of that promise became apparent on 9/11, which definitively ended the end of history. Enmity and tradition, indeed enmity and religion, converged.

Telos had flourished thanks to the indefatigable perseverance of its founder and long-term editor, Paul Piccone, who set the agenda of a philosophical thinking of the contemporary condition. In this issue we honor that agenda by continuing the philosophical project itself: hence, the rich array of essays collected here bears witness to the vitality of the journal. We are concurrently releasing an important new book publication, Confronting the Crisis: Writings of Paul Piccone, which collects essays that trace the trajectory of his thinking and the evolution of the journal. It is an indispensable companion to Telos, documenting its history with choice selections, while also providing an insightful narrative to political and intellectual history since 1968.

In addition, we are also marking our anniversary by putting the journal online. As many readers know, we have been operating a website for the past few years, with active debates on current issues in our blog space. We are now placing current issues as well as the back archive of the journal online: after an initial trial period, full access will be available only to individuals associated with subscribing institutions. Our anniversary present to our readers is this greatly enhanced web presence at http://journal.telospress.com. Needless to say, we will continue to produce the classic, hard-copy Telos for years to come, as long as there is demand to warrant it. And right now, demand is growing.

This issue presents a dialectical tale of two cities, human and divine, community and communion. The philosophical project and its religious companion resonate with 1968 in terms of aspirations and failures: the search for the good life in the polis side by side with a redemptive aspiration to overcome a degraded world through the pursuit of new, post-material values. The proximity of rejuvenated political community and religious traditions might be read, wrongly, only in terms of a reactionary fundamentalism and traditionalist politics, except that it is equally reminiscent of Benedict XVI’s rationalist insistence on the compatibility of faith and philosophy: enlightened religion.

In the special section on “Philosophy and Community,” four articles explore how philosophy can theorize community. Is the sheer impact of such rationalization inimical to the organic lineages that keep social groups together? Thaddeus Kozinski begins this debate through an examination of Alasdair MacIntyre’s critique of liberalism. He convincingly demonstrates how MacIntyre’s alternative to liberal individualism, a Thomist traditionalism, cannot be proven superior (or inferior) to a pragmatic liberalism. Tradition and rationality find themselves in an irresolvable stalemate. Is there an alternative relation to the past that could provide a greater rationality? Yet rational consistency may be more an ideological projection than a compelling description of social forms, if, as Aniruddha Chowdhury argues, life is tied up more with incoherence and ruins than with wholeness and integration. He traces this problem in Benjamin’s Arcades Project with regard to memory, which is the single dimension in which past members of a community remain present, but they do so only in a shattered condition. Chowdhury describes Benjamin’s rejection of restorationist readings of his mystical “now-time,” leading him to describe an alternative “destructive historiography,” which “presents the present as an impossible spacing of ruins of time itself.” This is surely more than a revisionist historiography of anti-triumphalism, indicating instead the value of incompleteness, which leaves the future open and therefore allows room for the other as well as the opportunity to pursue the ever-redefined telos.

Vincent Lloyd explores the (Hegelian) phenomenology of love in Gillian Rose’s philosophical memoir, Love’s Work. The reading of the Arthurian utopia of Camelot stages a conflict between love and law in Launcelot’s betrayal, which bears comparison to Antigone. Here, the tragedy is unavoidable, which renders Arthur, the King, sad: philosophy is fundamentally the study of this sadness, which is to say, the indelible flaw of community. Meanwhile, Ralph Shain works through Hegel, Bourdieu, and especially Charles Taylor to interrogate the constitutive role of recognition in community. While the desire for recognition is satisfied, formally, by obedience to the law and, especially, to property law, this only leads to the reciprocal recognition as “persons” or “persons who are property owners.” This bond, however, is far too abstract to be operative: it has none of Rose’s love nor MacIntyre’s tradition with which to counteract the secular alienation that undermines the very possibility of community.

The special section on Christianity groups together three distinct pieces, all concerned with the viability of Christianity as tradition. James Schall reflects on Chesterton on the centenary of the publication of Orthodoxy; Aryeh Botwinick reads Paul within the Rabbinic tradition and with regard to the immanent dialectics of monotheism; and Mary-Jane Rubenstein reports and analyzes the tensions within contemporary Anglicanism regarding gay clergy, the role of women, and the dynamic between Africa and the developed world.

In the Notes section, Zoltán Balázs comments on post-1968 temporality, a transformed sense of time marked by the disappearance of past and future. The modernist destruction of tradition generates the “no future” despair, a step forward in the bad progress of secularization. Kenneth Marcus, in contrast, turns to the venue of summer pastimes, the baseball stadium, and its recent redesign: by analyzing changes in the space of athletic performance, he identifies important social and cultural changes, as working-class tradition is recycled into a higher-end consumer good for a new public.

Finally, Klaus Berghahn provides a detailed review essay of Russell Jacoby’s seminal treatment of the resistance to utopia. Anti-utopianism gained renewed currency after 1989, but now, after post-history, utopia may recover some of its erstwhile standing, if not as a blueprint than as an iconoclastic corrective to administered societies. François Debrix presents Jean-Claude Paye’s Global War on Liberty, concerned with the contemporary erosion of freedom through the expansion of police powers. A fundamental transformation of law is under way; Debrix highlights Paye’s meticulous account of the process. That this process in some ways began in Europe and before 9/11 indicates that we are facing a profound and disturbing metamorphosis of politics everywhere.

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