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)
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)
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)
Jurgen Habermas is unquestionably one of the foremost philosophers writing today. His notions of communicative action and rationality have exerted a profound influence within philosophy and the social sciences. This volume examines the historical and intellectual contexts out of which Habermas' work emerged, and offers an overview of his main ideas, including those in his most recent publication. Amongst the topics discussed are his relationship to the Frankfurt School of critical theory and Marx, his unique contributions to the philosophy of (...) the social sciences, the concept of 'communicative ethics', and the critique of post-modernism. New readers and non-specialists will find this the most convenient, accessible guide to Habermas currently available. Advanced students will find a conspectus of recent developments in the interpretation of Habermas. (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”.
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.
In this article I explore the character and importance of a democratic ethos. Ferrara develops such a concept around the idea of ‘openness’ as part of his broader ideal of seeking to foster exemplary expansions of political identity with the goal of better accommodating the ‘hyperpluralism’ polities face today. I argue that ‘openness’ has several drawbacks that hinder its possible functioning in such a role, contending rather that ‘presumptive generosity’ is to be preferred. The latter can contribute more effectively than (...) the former to enhancing Ferrara’s notion of exemplarity. (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)
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)
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)
A plausible scenario for the future of electronic mass media news goes something like this. On the one hand, there will be the nightly television news, some of it brought to us by public entities and some by private, increasingly concentrated, corporate entities. On the other hand, there will be continually streaming sources of news available over the internet; and each of us will be able to construct, in effect, a tailor-made, continually revisable package of news. What I want to (...) do in this paper is reflect on the normative ideals in terms of which we ought to assess developments along these two paths. I will be assuming, along with the conference organizers, that these ideals must draw upon our notion of democratic dialogue. But what exactly is our notion of democratic dialogue? And how exactly should we bring it to bear on the two media paths?In dialogue there are obviously two roles, speaking and listening. And yet democratic theory has generally been marked by, as one astute observer puts it, “a theoretical neglect of listening.” We have thought about democratic dialogue largely in terms of assumptions about public spaces in which there are fair chances to speak. What I would like to argue is that such a model of dialogue is perfectly adequate to generate the normative resources for assessing the first media path, television news. Our ethical concepts and intuitions are in pretty good order here, even if the practical task of correcting undemocratic trends is an immensely difficult one.But such is not the case with the second media path, along which increasingly we will see individuals continually, interactively constructing portraits of what they want to see and hear about the world. In this realm speaker-oriented assumptions about dialogue are of limited use. Here we need to think in a more sustained fashion about the character and motivation of active, exploratory, attentive listening. Only insofar as we are rich listeners will we construct for ourselves complex and challenging portraits of the world – portraits worthy of truly democratic citizens. But, as I have noted, we are in some deficit when it comes to unpacking the qualities of listening. (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)