Introduction: Reconstituting Criticism Today

  • Shane O’Neill


The contributions to this volume locate themselves within the contemporary crisis of philosophically grounded social criticism. At the close of the millennium we find an increasingly pessimistic mood taking hold among philosophers and political theorists who pursue their intellectual projects with the critical intentions of stimulating and supporting a progressive political agenda. Theoretical self-confidence was a notable characteristic of the socialist vision that had inspired progressive social critics for several generations. The key to an emancipated future, or a just order, was to transform the structure of political economy so as to eliminate the destructive and degrading effects of capitalist markets on human relations. But, in the wake of the collapse of state socialism, and with the emergence of a new global order where the logic of the market reigns virtually unopposed, this theoretical self-confidence has all but evaporated. As Nancy Fraser has recently remarked, one of the constitutive features of the ‘postsocialist’ condition in which we now find ourselves is ‘the absence of any credible progressive vision of an alternative to the present order’.1


Social Criticism Deliberative Democracy Reflective Equilibrium Rational Consensus Democratic Form 
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  1. 1.
    N. Fraser, Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the Postsocialist Condition (London: Routledge, 1997) p. 1.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Representative examples from these perspectives might include: M. Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defence of Pluralism and Equality (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983); A. Rich, Of Woman Born (London: The Women’s Press, 1977); J.-F. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    J. Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976); E. Laclau and C. Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (London: Verso, 1985); I. M. Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    This kind of criticism has recently taken Hegelian and Nietzschean forms: C. Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); W. E. Connolly, Identity\Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Witness the debates surrounding the recent work on pluralism in political theory: J. Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993); W. Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995); J. Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy (Cambridge: Polity, 1996).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    J. Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 1987); T. McCarthy, Ideals and Illusions: On Reconstruction and Deconstruction in Contemporary Critical Theory (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991); N. Geras, Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind: The Ungroundable Liberalism of Richard Rorty (London: Verso, 1995).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The term ‘reflective equilibrium’ was first introduced in J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972) pp. 20–1.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    For introductions to the political content of these ideas: R. Beardsworth, Derrida and the Political (London: Routledge, 1996); J. Simons, Foucault and the Political (London: Routledge, 1995).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    For a critical assessment of psychoanalysis: S. Frosch, The Politics of Psychoanalysis: An Introduction to Freudian and Post-Freudian Theory (Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1987). On the influence of structuralism on Marxism: T. Benton, The Rise and Fall of Structuralist Marxism (Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1984).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    A useful survey of these debates is S. Mulhall and A. Swift, Liberals and Communitarians, Second Edition (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1996).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    M. Lessnoff, Social Contract (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1986).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    K. Baynes, The Normative Grounds of Social Criticism: Kant, Rawls, Habermas (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992).Google Scholar

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© Shane O’Neill 1999

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  • Shane O’Neill

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