As he elaborates the idea of weak ontology and the broad criteria behind it, White shows how these are already at work in the thought of contemporary writers of seemingly very different perspectives: George Kateb, Judith Butler, Charles ...
Postmodernism has evoked great controversy and it continues to do so today, as it disseminates into general discourse. Some see its principles, such as its fundamental resistance to metanarratives, as frighteningly disruptive, while a growing number are reaping the benefits of its innovative perspective. In Political Theory and Postmodernism, Stephen K. White outlines a path through the postmodern problematic by distinguishing two distinct ways of thinking about the meaning of responsibility, one prevalent in modern and the other in postmodern perspectives. (...) Using this as a guide, White explores the work of Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and Habermas, as well as 'difference' feminists, with the goal of showing how postmodernism can inform contemporary ethical-political reflection. In his concluding chapter, White examines how this revisioned postmodern perspective might bear on our thinking about justice. (shrink)
Habermas's paradigm of communicative action is usually taken to be pretty much dominated by consensus, "Yes-saying." What if this were a radically one-sided perception? We take up this unorthodox position by arguing that "no-saying" in this paradigm is typically overlooked and underemphasized. To demonstrate this, we consider how negativity is figured at the most basic onto-ethical level in communicative action, as well as expressed in civil disobedience, a phenomenon to which Habermas assigns the remarkable role of "touchstone" (Prufstein) of constitutional (...) democracy. Once the importance of no-saying is drawn out, the paradigm looks distinctly less hostile to dissensus and agonism in democratic life. (shrink)
In this paper I take issue with Rainer Forst's claim that his account of the demand for justification that is at the core of the idea of justice provides our political thinking with a final “fundamentum inconcussum”.
This essay responds to the characterization Ted Miller offers (in his December 2008 essay in Political Theory) of the kind of nonfoundationalism I have referred to as "weak ontology," and that Gianni Vattimo frequently calls "weak thought." Miller argues that such a position embodies, first, a philosophy of history in which strong ontologies (e.g., religion) are assessed categorically as passé, and, second, are associated essentially with violence. I show that while these characterizations may be appropriate for Vattimo's thought, they are (...) not for weak ontology as I understand it. Finally, I suggest that the former might more usefully be categorized as "antifoundationalism" and the latter as "nonfoundationalism.". (shrink)
Is the critique of modern, liberal subjectivity warranted, and, if so, how do we proceed in its aftermath? This article clarifies the ways in which such a critique is valid, as well as the ways in which it both misses its mark and gives us little in the way of resources for thinking further about subjectivity. I argue that thinking in the aftermath must articulate a weak ontological portrait of subjectivity that vivifies the value of both political generosity and equal (...) respect. (shrink)
Is the critique of modern, liberal subjectivity warranted, and, if so, how do we proceed in its aftermath? This article clarifies the ways in which such a critique is valid, as well as the ways in which it both misses its mark and gives us little in the way of resources for thinking further about subjectivity. I argue that thinking in the aftermath must articulate a weak ontological portrait of subjectivity that vivifies the value of both political generosity (emphasized by (...) critics like William Connolly) and equal respect (as emphasized by the defenders of liberalism like Charles Larmore). (shrink)
Agonism emerged three decades ago as an assault on the overemphasis in political theory on justice and consensus. It has now become the norm. But its character and relation to core values of democracy are not as unproblematic today as is often thought, an issue that becomes more pressing as contemporary politics increasingly seem locked into notions of unrelenting conflict between “friends” and “enemies.” This essay traces alternative ontological roots and ethical implications of agonism, distinguishing between “imperializing” and “tempered” modes. (...) The former, exemplified in the popular Schmitt-Mouffe formulation, is shown to be fundamentally flawed in its failure to conceive politics in a fashion that does not allow the dynamic of friend–enemy to imperially trump appeals to democratic norms. In a world of insurgent white nationalism in democratic polities, this is no small fault. “Tempered” agonists, such as William Connolly and Bonnie Honig, offer ontologies where democratic norms can gain traction. Despite the admirable qualities of these alternatives, their formulations are nevertheless not fully persuasive. The difficulty lies in their underarticulated accounts of equality. I suggest an alternative formulation of agonism that embraces a central role for the idea of the moral equality of voice, a value that resides in the seam between notions of difference, resistance, and conflict emphasized by agonists, on the one hand, and the idea of fairness emphasized by notions of democratic justice, on the other. (shrink)
Rather than think about citizenship in minimal terms, I argue for a more aspirational “bearing” of the public self, one appropriate for the challenges of globalizing, late-modern political life. For left democratic theory this is hardly an abstract issue, given how successful groups like the Tea Party have been in articulating a right-leaning aspirational portrait. What might a counter-portrait look like that was comparably scripted for the middle classes in affluent liberal democracies? An answer is not immediately clear, given that (...) left democratic theory’s attention has been traditionally focused on an overly simple, two-entity social ontology: elites and demos. The question I consider is what script might be articulated for middle segments of society in relation to how they should bear themselves toward less advantaged segments of society? This does not replace thinking about the demos, but rather supplements it with reflection on the complex alignments of contemporary political life. (shrink)
This essay develops the idea that Analytic and Continental orientations to political theory are best comprehended not as mortal enemies, but rather as alternative lenses that, together, allow us to better perceive a broader range of significant aspects of political life than is possible by adhering to only one of these approaches. This claim is fleshed out by an analysis of the communicative action paradigm developed by Jürgen Habermas. If this paradigm is revised somewhat in order to make it less (...) dominated by the ideal of consensuality, it can then be taken to be quite attractive in the way it perceptively deploys these two lenses. (shrink)
How should inquiry into ethical-political life come to terms with “depth experience”? I mean by this extraordinary experience that breaks into the familiar frames of meaning and reasoning that undergird everyday life, bringing some sort of transformation of commitments or identity. I speculate broadly about such experience, expanding the focus beyond theistic experiences, such as being “born-again.” When one does this, depth experience need not be thought, as it often is, anathema to political theory. I show rather that it can (...) be cultivated so as to animate an admirable “bearing” on the part of citizens of affluent, late-modernsocieties. (shrink)
Edmund Burke: Modernity, Politics, and Aesthetics examines the philosophy of Burke in view of its contribution to our understanding of modernity. Stephen K. White argues that Burke shows us how modernity engenders an implicit forgetfulness of human finitude. White illustrates this theme by showing how Burke's political thought, his judgment of the "modern system of morality and policy," and its taste for a "false sublime" are structured by his aesthetics.