This book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control---relegating millions to a permanent second-class status---even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.
Taking Emerson as his starting point, Cornel West’s basic task in this ambitious enterprise is to chart the emergence, development, decline, and recent resurgence of American pragmatism. John Dewey is the central figure in West’s pantheon of pragmatists, but he treats as well such varied mid-century representatives of the tradition as Sidney Hook, C. Wright Mills, W. E. B. Du Bois, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Lionel Trilling. West’s "genealogy" is, ultimately, a very personal work, for it is imbued throughout with the (...) author’s conviction that a thorough reexamination of American pragmatism may help inspire and instruct contemporary efforts to remake and reform American society and culture. "West... may well be the pre-eminent African American intellectual of our generation."—The Nation "_The American Evasion of Philosophy_ is a highly intelligent and provocative book. Cornel West gives us illuminating readings of the political thought of Emerson and James; provides a penetrating critical assessment of Dewey, his central figure; and offers a brilliant interpretation—appreciative yet far from uncritical—of the contemporary philosopher and neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty.... What shines through, throughout the work, is West's firm commitment to a radical vision of a philosophic discourse as inextricably linked to cultural criticism and political engagement."—Paul S. Boyer, professor emeritus of history, University of Wisconsin–Madison. Wisconsin Project on American Writers Frank Lentricchia, General Editor. (shrink)
Recent critics have called attention to the alienation of contemporary academics from broad currents of intellectual activity in public culture. The general complaint is that intellectuals are finding a professional home in institutions of higher learning, insulated from the concerns and interests of a wider reading audience. The demands of professional expertise do not encourage academics to work as public intellectuals or to take up social, literary, or political matters in imaginative and perspicuous ways. More problematic is the relative absence (...) of religion in the writings of those who aspire to work as public intellectuals. This essay reviews recent attempts by William Dean, Cornel West, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Stephen Carter, and Robin Lovin to remedy the problem of academic alienation and to address the place of religion in American life. (shrink)
White on White/Black on Black is a unique contribution to the philosophy of race. The text explores how 14 philosophers, 7 white and 7 black, philosophically understand the dynamics of the process of racialization.
How does philosophy relate to the Afro-American experience? This question arises primarily because of an antipathy to the ahistorical character of contemporary philosophy and the paucity of illuminating diachronic studies of the Afro-American experience. I will try to show that certain philosophical techniques, derived from a particular conception of philosophy, can contribute to our understanding of the Afro-American experience. For lack of a better name, I shall call the application of these techniques to this experience, Afro-American philosophy. I will examine (...) historical sources of these techniques and explore the way in which they underscore the feasibility of an Afro-American philosophy. Finally, I will attempt to show what results such a philosophy should yield. (shrink)
In the last few years of the twentieth century, there is emerging a significant shift in the sensibilities and outlooks of critics and artists. In fact, I would go so far as to claim that a new kind of cultural worker is in the making, associated with a new politics of difference. These new forms of intellectual consciousness advance new conceptions of the vocation of critic and artist, attempting to undermine the prevailing disciplinary divisions of labor in the academy, museum, (...) mass media, and gallery networks while preserving modes of critique within the ubiquitous commodification of culture in the global village. (shrink)
In this paper, I will try to show the ways in which Nietzsche prefigures the crucial moves made recently in postmodern" American philosophy. I will confine my remarks to two of Nietzsche's texts: Twilight of the Idols and The Will To Power. The postmodern American philosophers I will examine are W.V. Quine, Nelson Goodman, Wilfred Sellars, Thomas Kuhn and Richard Rorty. The three moves I shall portray are: the move toward anti-realism or conventionalism in ontology; the move toward the demythologization (...) of the Myth of the Given or anti-foundationalism in epistemology; and the move toward the detranscendentalization of the subject or the dismissal of the mind as a sphere of inquiry. I then shall claim that Nietzsche believed such moves lead to a paralyzing nihilism and ironic skepticism unless they are supplemented with a new world view, a new "countermovement" to overcome such nihilism and skepticism. Lastly, I will suggest that postmodern American philosophy has not provided such a "countermovement," settling instead for either updated versions of scientism (Quine and Sellars), an aristocratic resurrection of pluralistic stylism (Goodman), a glib ideology of professionalism (Kuhn), or a nostalgic appeal to enlightened conversation (Rorty). Such weak candidates for a "countermovement" seem to indicate the extent to which postmodern American philosophy—similar to much of postmodern thought in the West—constitutes a dead, impotent rhetoric of a declining and decaying civilization. (shrink)
Friedrich Schleiermacher is the father of modern philosophical hermeneutics. His Copernican Revolution in hermeneutics shifted the focus from understanding texts to the process of understanding itself. In this essay, I shall argue that Schleiermacher's valiant attempt to provide an acceptable hermeneutical theory to overcome the distance between speakers and listeners, readers and authors is unsuccessful owing to his acceptance of The Myth of the Given. The Myth of the Given is a philosophical doctrine held most notably by Cartesian and Kantian (...) thinkers. Its rests upon a particular view of langauge and the relation of language to consciousness and awareness. I will try to show that The Myth of the Given is untenable by sketching three contemporary attacks on it-those of Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Lastly, I will suggest implications these attacks have for the future of philosophy and theology. (shrink)
Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature strikes a deathblow to modern European philosophy by telling a story about the emergence, development and decline of its primary props: the correspondence theory of truth, the notion of privileged representations and the idea of a self-reflective transcendental subject. Rorty's fascinating tale—his-story—is regulated by three fundamental shifts which he delineates in detail and promotes in principle: the move toward anti-realism or conventionalism in ontology, the move toward the demythologizing of the Myth of (...) the Given or anti-foundationalism in epistemology, and the move toward detranscendentalizing the subject or dismissing the mind as a sphere of inquiry. (shrink)
On November 18, 1994, academic, activist, and philosopher Cornel West addressed the National Alliance of Black School Educators at a conference in the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Dr. West’s speech, captured in this video recording, focuses on the experience of African Americans in America, a culture that, according to West, is steeped in the “pernicious and vicious” influence of white supremacy. West argues that 1994 is one of the “more frightening and terrifying moments” in the history of (...) the United States, and he laments the election of Newt Gingrich as well as the leadership positions of such figures as Strom Thurmond and Orrin Hatch. He urges the audience to adopt an approach to democratizing American politics by not only resisting white supremacy but also male supremacy, heterosexual supremacy, and any other attitude that dehumanizes other people. West also deplores the decline of “non-market values” such as kindness, community, and love, contending that “market culture” leads to “market morality,” in which every part of human life is commodified. (shrink)
What I want to argue is that when we talk about contemporary crisis in culture, the one way of beginning to come to terms with this is having to historicize and pluralize and contextualize the postmodernism debate. How does that relate to the vocation of the intellectual, given the challenge of the technical intelligentsia, given the challenge of the middlebrow journalist? What kind of role and function can the humanistic intellectual have in advanced capitalist society, given his or her placement (...) within the academic’s life of the professional managerial class of this particular society? (shrink)
The antihistoricist climate of postmodern thought makes a reassessment of Lukács refreshing. Despite his incurable nostalgia for the highbrow achievements of classical bourgeois culture, Lukács remains the most provocative and profound Marxist thinker of this century. His major texts display the richness of the dialectical tradition, a tradition which emerged in figural biblical interpretation, was definitively articulated by Hegel and deepened by Kierkegaard and Marx.
The increasing interest in Hegel among legal scholars can be attributed to three recent developments. First, there is a slow but sure historicist turn in legal studies that is unsettling legal formalists and positivists. This turn—initiated by legal realists decades ago and deepened by the Critical Legal Studies movement in our own time—radically calls into question objectivist claims about procedure, due process, and the liberal view of law. Second, there are a growing number of serious reexaminations of the basic assumptions (...) and fundamental presuppositions of dominant forms of liberalism not only among critics but also by many prominent liberal thinkers themselves. These reexaminations take the form of immanent critiques of liberalism as well as creative revisions of liberalism. Third, a new emerging subject matter has seized the imagination of some legal theorists: the complex cultures of liberal societies (including the subcultures of the liberal legal academy). For the first time in American legal studies, the crucial roles of race and especially gender are receiving wide attention as legitimate spheres of legal inquiry into what constitutes the ways of life that circumscribe the operations of power in the legal systems of liberal societies. (shrink)
The immeasurable impact of Pascal is rarely appreciated or understood by contemporary thinkers. On the one hand, Pascal is lauded by literary critics for his writing style while his philosophical contributions are overlooked. On the other hand, Pascal is trivialized by analytic philosophers who view his wager argument as but a poor instance of decision theory. Nicholas Reseller's book is distinctive in that it takes Pascal seriously as a philosopher in light of past and present theological modes of argumentation. As (...) a distinguished historian of pragmatic philosophy, Rescher understands Pascal to be the great innovator of the major philosophical trends of our day: the theological use of practical reason, the diversity of modes of rationality, and the focus on praxis in contemporary hermeneutics. (shrink)
Fredric Jameson is the most challenging American Marxist hermeneutical thinker on the present scene. His ingenious interpretations (prior to accessible translations) of major figures of the Frankfurt School, Russian formalism, French structuralism and poststructuralism as well as of Georg Lukàcs, Jean-Paul Sartre, Louis Althusser, Max Weber and Louis Marin are significant contributions to the intellectual history of twentieth century Marxist and European thought. Jameson's treatments of the development of the novel, the Surrealist movement, of Continental writers such as Honoré de (...) Balzac, Marcel Proust, Alessandro Manzoni, and Robbe Grillet, and of American writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Kenneth Burke and Ursula LeGuin, constitute powerful political readings. Furthermore, his adamantly anti-philosophical form of Marxist hermeneutics puts forward an American Aufhebung of poststructuralism which merits close scrutiny. (shrink)
Despite the proliferation of fine works on Marx, Dupré's learned text deserves attention. This is so because it provides a superb critical exposition of the complex development of Marx's social vision and theory as well as a provocative organicist critique of cultural disintegration in the modern West. In his close readings of Marx's works—from the doctoral dissertation to the third volume of Capital—Dupré displays an intellectual patience, historical sensitivity, and philosophical acumen rarely found in scholarly treatments of Marx. By refusing (...) to succumb to either uncritical presentation or tendentious dismissal, he provides one of the most reliable, succinct, and engaging interpretations we have of Marx's own writings. (shrink)
This book's basic aim is "to clarify the relationship between revolutionary practice and moral reasoning" (p. 2). This aim primarily involves presenting a complex argument to show that revolution cannot be justified in the usual sense of what it means to justify an act precisely because the ordinary moral courts of appeal are called into question by revolutionaries. This is so because, for Gunnemann, revolution is, fundamentally, a rejection of an existing understanding of the problem of evil and an attempt (...) to put forward a new solution to the problem of evil. Following the pioneering work of Thomas Kuhn in philosophy of science, Gunnemann holds that ordinary moral courts of appeal are rejected by revolutionaries because such courts of appeal "imply residual confidence in the existing theodicy and the revolutionary loses his case merely by submitting to such a process" (p. 43). Hence, revolution is better understood as an apocalyptic event or as a religious conversion than as a moral act. For Gunnemann, conflicting paradigm solutions to the problem of evil—defined by Max Weber as the incongruity between destiny and merit—are at the heart of the moral meaning of revolution. (shrink)
Taking Parenting Public makes a compelling case that parenting has become dangerously undervalued in America today. It calls for a new investment—both personal and public—into the work of raising children and argues that we are all "stockholders" in the next generation. With a foreword by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West, Taking Parenting Public crosses boundaries to bring together thinkers from diverse fields spanning the political spectrum. It features contributions from distinguished experts in economics, political science, public policy, child development, (...) public health, history, and the media. While recent books have focused on working mothers or absent fathers, Taking Parenting Public is the first volume to take a comprehensive look at the common struggles of parents. These essays go beyond the usual chest-beating about busy parents torn between work and family demands to suggest bold solutions. Instead of the typical call for "parent replacement"—more child care, more after school programs and more mentors—the contributors offer fresh strategies for "parent replenishment," ways to put mothers and fathers back into the lives of their children not only as economic providers, but also as emotional and moral providers. (shrink)
Taking Parenting Public makes a compelling case that parenting has become dangerously undervalued in America today. It calls for a new investment—both personal and public—into the work of raising children and argues that we are all 'stockholders' in the next generation. With a foreword by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West, Taking Parenting Public crosses boundaries to bring together thinkers from diverse fields spanning the political spectrum. It features contributions from distinguished experts in economics, political science, public policy, child development, (...) public health, history, and the media. While recent books have focused on working mothers or absent fathers, Taking Parenting Public is the first volume to take a comprehensive look at the common struggles of parents. These essays go beyond the usual chest-beating about busy parents torn between work and family demands to suggest bold solutions. Instead of the typical call for 'parent replacement'—more child care, more after school programs and more mentors—the contributors offer fresh strategies for 'parent replenishment,' ways to put mothers and fathers back into the lives of their children not only as economic providers, but also as emotional and moral providers. (shrink)
Recent flashpoints in Black-Jewish relations--Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March, the violence in Crown Heights, Leonard Jeffries' polemical speeches, the O.J. Simpson verdict, and the contentious responses to these events--suggest just how wide the gap has become in the fragile coalition that was formed during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Instead of critical dialogue and respectful exchange, we have witnessed battles that too often consist of vulgar name-calling and self-righteous finger-pointing. Absent from these exchanges are two vitally important and (...) potentially healing elements: Comprehension of the actual history between Blacks and Jews, and level-headed discussion of the many issues that currently divide the two groups. In Struggles in the Promised Land, editors Jack Salzman and Cornel West bring together twenty-one illuminating essays that fill precisely this absence. As Salzman makes clear in his introduction, the purpose of this collection is not to offer quick fixes to the present crisis but to provide a clarifying historical framework from which lasting solutions may emerge. Where historical knowledge is lacking, rhetoric comes rushing in, and Salzman asserts that the true history of Black-Jewish relations remains largely untold. To communicate that history, the essays gathered here move from the common demonization of Blacks and Jews in the Middle Ages; to an accurate assessment of Jewish involvement of the slave trade; to the confluence of Black migration from the South and Jewish immigration from Europe into Northern cities between 1880 and 1935; to the meaningful alliance forged during the Civil Rights movement and the conflicts over Black Power and the struggle in the Middle East that effectively ended that alliance. The essays also provide reasoned discussion of such volatile issues as affirmative action, Zionism, Blacks and Jews in the American Left, educational relations between the two groups, and the real and perceived roles Hollywood has play in the current tensions. The book concludes with personal pieces by Patricia Williams, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Michael Walzer, and Cornel West, who argues that the need to promote Black-Jewish alliances is, above all, a "moral endeavor that exemplifies ways in which the most hated group in European history and the most hated group in U.S. history can coalesce in the name of precious democratic ideals." At a time when accusations come more readily than careful consideration, Struggles in the Promised Land offers a much-needed voice of reason and historical understanding. Distinguished by the caliber of its contributors, the inclusiveness of its focus, and the thoughtfulness of its writing, Salzman and West's book lays the groundwork for future discussions and will be essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary American culture and race relations. (shrink)