New French Thought: Political Philosophy

New French Thought: Political Philosophy

Mark Lilla Editor
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    New French Thought: Political Philosophy
    Book Description:

    The past fifteen years in France have seen a remarkable flourishing of new work in political philosophy. This anthology brings into English for the first time essays by some of the best young French political thinkers writing today, including Marcel Gauchet, Pierre Manent, Luc Ferry, and Alain Renaut. The central theme of these essays is liberal democracy: its nature, its development, its problems, its fundamental legitimacy. Although these themes are familiar to American and British readers, the French approach to them--which is profoundly historical and rooted in the tradition of continental philosophy--is quite different from our customary one.

    Included in this collection is a series of reconsiderations of French critics of liberal society (Lévi-Strauss, Foucault, Bourdieu) and of classical European liberals (Kant, Constant, Tocqueville). The continuing controversies over the nature of the modern era and the place of religion within it play a central role throughout the collection. The book includes a debate on the foundations of human rights and on the nature of a liberal political order. The concluding section presents some of the new sociological writing on modern individualism, its pleasures and its discontents. An introduction by Mark Lilla provides the historical background to the revival of French political thought about liberalism, and offers an analysis of what American and English readers might learn from it.

    Originally published in 1994.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6385-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Legitimacy of the Liberal Age
    (pp. 3-34)

    For much of this century a chasm has separated political philosophy in the English-speaking world from that of Continental Europe. As is well known, it did not develop overnight. Its origins can be traced back to the early nineteenth century when distinctly national styles of philosophical reflection first arose in Europe in the wake of the French Revolution. As late as the seventeenth century, European thinkers shared a common language, Latin, which allowed them to communicate directly with their modern contemporaries and indirectly with thinkers of the Middle Ages and antiquity. By the eighteenth century Latin began to fall out...

  5. Part One: Les Adieux

    • CHAPTER 1 Lévi-Strauss
      (pp. 38-53)

      Ethnology is a modern discipline whose very object may be identified as cultural difference. Within ethnology, the adoption of an approach to the universal-relative opposition is inevitable—but it may not be a simple matter. To illustrate the difficulties inherent in any undertaking in this area, I shall start with the work of the most influential of the French ethnologists, Claude Lévi-Strauss.

      First of all, let us note that in his most general and most programmatic pronouncements, such as his inaugural lesson at the Collège de France, Lévi-Strauss affirms the universalist vocation of the ethnologist. In this connection he recalls...

    • CHAPTER 2 Foucault
      (pp. 54-62)

      In several of our writings we have discussed what we have called theantijuridismof intellectual endeavors like that of Michel Foucault.¹ In a recent essay Gilles Deleuze denounces the “insults” of those who, not having forgiven Foucault for proclaiming the “death of man,” now claim “that he offends the rights of man.”² (Without naming names, Deleuze attacks those who “in opposition to Foucault … invoke a universal and eternal awareness of human rights,” an idea that is “feeble or cursory, and [is] even unaware of those elements that might support it (such as the changes that have taken place...

    • CHAPTER 3 Bourdieu
      (pp. 63-70)

      Pierre Bourdieu’s position within French thought might best be defined as a novel attempt to combine three schools of thought: sociology, the Marxist critique of domination and theory of ideologies, and Gaston Bachelard's epistemology. Bourdieu’s originality lies in his intent to confront sociological theory with empirical reality without losing the sharp distinction between science and ideology. This project is what originally set his work apart from that of Louis Althusser and his students.

      In an article that seemed to target Althusser, Bourdieu clearly showed how “the claim to dominate empirical knowledge and the sciences producing it leads, in this variant...

  6. Part Two: Reconsiderations

    • CHAPTER 4 Kant and Fichte
      (pp. 74-81)

      There are three ways of understanding the so-called end of philosophy. each of which is rooted in a way that philosophy understands itself. The first comes directly from the Hegelian conception of philosophy and correspondingly. from the history of philosophy. When philosophy is conceived as a system of knowledge, its history has the appearance of a progressive systematization of thought, with each thinker since Greek antiquity thus making his contribution to the edifice of philosophy, up to the final closure in which the truth appears as the totality of one-sided moments that have been surpassed. This notion is well known....

    • CHAPTER 5 Constant
      (pp. 82-90)

      One of the most characteristic aspects of recent intellectual life in France is its disdain for the political works of the great French romantics. While the rich production of Restoration authors has hardly been ignored, it has generally been treated as historical documentation of the intellectual climate of the time. The political thought of a Chateaubriand or a Constant has thus been reduced to expressions of public opinion, or at best viewed as the faint echo of their more worthy literary accomplishments. In a recent edition of Benjamin Constant’s major political writings, Marcel Gauchet could thus rightly lament that, compared...

    • CHAPTER 6 Tocqueville
      (pp. 91-112)

      In the pages that follow, I will not consider Tocqueville’s thought in and for itself but rather for its present application. What is democracy today? What has it become, and what must be said about it henceforth in relation to what Tocqueville taught us? His great work on America, which I will specifically examine, continues to be an incomparably wise and living source, always surprisingly relevant upon examination. In it, Tocqueville placed his finger on what he calls the “equality of conditions,” one of the sources of the irrepressible dynamic of contemporary societies. But beyond its deceptive simplicity, the profound...

  7. Part Three: What Is Modernity?

    • CHAPTER 7 Primitive Religion and the Origins of the State
      (pp. 116-122)

      Meaning:what men throughout millennia professed to owe to the gods, what societies nearly always believed they owed to something “beyond” for their workings. This term represents both the most elementary form of, and most general reason for, religious belief. In what follows, I will argue that the key to understanding the state should be sought in the deepest roots of the religious act. To understand why men have always felt a need to beindebted, why societies have relied upon something alien to themselves to justify their existence, is to comprehend why the state became possible at a certain...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Modern State
      (pp. 123-133)

      When speaking of the modern state we speak of themodernstate, presupposing its distinctiveness. Since the end of the seventeenth century there has been the growing conviction that a group of economic, social, intellectual, and political developments in Europe is changing the setting or regime of human life. But these developments are not thought to have their cause in human reason and will, that is, in human nature. Instead they have been subsumed under other terms: first commerce and enlightenment, then civilization, and finally history. It would seem that European man improved his condition without trying to, or even...

    • CHAPTER 9 Ancient, Modern, and Contemporary
      (pp. 134-144)

      Past worlds enter ours, serving as mirrors in which we see ourselves reflected, and through their mediation we arrive at our own identity. For our world, which has become a thoroughly historical world, is the medium in which the clash of different cultures and past epochs is internalized and appears to us as a conflict of values. Today we gain access to ourselves through others who are doubtless what we once were yet remain autonomous of what we think we now are. Even when we refer to the still-recent past that we call the “birth of the modern,” we consider...

  8. Part Four: What Are Human Rights?

    • CHAPTER 10 How to Think about Rights
      (pp. 148-154)

      The recent return to the ide a of rights is historically paradoxical. Marxist analysis, continuing in the vein ofOn the Jewish Question, has traditionally portrayed human rights as those of the self-interested person isolated from the collectivity—in short, as the rights of particular interests in bourgeois society and not as a universal model. While still significant, Marxism has been so undermined recently that Marx’s supposedly “demystifying” readings no longer preclude other understandings of human rights. Rather, the paradox is to be found in the establishment ofman as suchas a value: in defending man as such against...

    • CHAPTER 11 Rights and Natural Law
      (pp. 155-163)

      What led French thought to drift away from natural law? Attempting to answer such a question leads one to confront the enigma of natural right, about which both ancient and modern thinkers had their theories.Natural lawandnatural rightare not simple expressions, nor do they mean the same thing. The idea of natural law implies the existence of an immutable justice inscribed in the universe. In their relations men must conform to this standard of justice, independently of positive laws and prior to or along with civil conventions. The law of nature presupposes an order in the world,...

    • CHAPTER 12 Rights and Modern Law
      (pp. 164-174)

      The modern idea of human rights is taken for granted today. but this idea is the outcome of a tremendous shift in the understanding of rights that people once had. This shift raises a number of questions. How is it that the most solemn proclamation of modern human rights, in France in 1789, was so soon followed by terrible abuses of human will, which have been repeated in worse forms since? How could the securing of these rights be forgotten in practice so soon after their exaltation in theory? At the heart of this paradox, as with other paradoxes, there...

  9. Part Five: The Liberal Political Order

    • CHAPTER 13 The Contest for Command
      (pp. 178-185)

      The significance of the present liberal revival, whatever its extent or duration, goes beyond the political and economic measures it now inspires. Today liberalism provides the terms and sets the tone in which Europeans and Americans express the problems of their societies. In continental Europe, at least, this situation is new. For two centuries, in fact, liberalism in Europe had a continuously precarious political and ideological existence, caught between the Ancien Régime it claimed to succeed and the revolutionary or socialist radicalism that contested this succession.

      Liberalism was born as critique, a critique of political and religious powers under the...

    • CHAPTER 14 On Legitimacy and Political Deliberation
      (pp. 186-200)

      Liberal theories of justice try to answer the question: How can we establish a political and social order based on the will of individuals? From its inception, modern democratic thought has been confronted by the same problem because, like literalism, it is based on the principles of individualism. This is so regardless of the differences between the liberal and the democratic points of view. Both arrive at an identical conclusion: in the political sphere, it is unanimity that provides the principles of legitimacy. Most democratic theories, however, are concerned not only with legitimacy, but also with efficiency. Thus they must...

    • CHAPTER 15 Modernization and Consensus
      (pp. 201-208)

      To make a broadened concept of modernization possible today, we must return to one of the great philosophers of modernity, Max Weber. The central theme of Weber’s theory of society is modernization as rationalization. This rationalization, according to Weber, takes place through systems of socially organized activities: essentially, the modern economy and modern bureaucracy. These systems or spheres are, as it were, the loci of the practical agent’s material incorporation of the rationality that is elaborated theoretically in modern science and individualist ethics. Weber spoke of spheres of “rational activities relative to an end” that are progressively extended to the...

  10. Part Six: The New Individualism

    • CHAPTER 16 May ’68, or the Rise of Transpolitical Individualism
      (pp. 212-219)

      This article does not offer a conventional analysis of May ’68. The May revolution has usually been seen as a multidimensional crisis that shook the disparate worlds of students and workers and profoundly altered the structures of French politics and trade unionism. Instead, I want to examine the “spirit of May”: that original ensemble of attitudes and actions so characteristic of the times, which was to be found wherever there were young people.

      This spirit can only truly be understood in the context of the rise of modern individualism. The “spirit of May” was an example of a larger development...

    • CHAPTER 17 The End of Alienation?
      (pp. 220-225)

      Why discuss a notion whose time so clearly seems to have passed? After all, the concept of “alienation” no longer enjoys much favor among intellectuals, and philosophy has already pronounced it dead. As we all know, the demise of this idea owes a great deal to the decline of Marxism and the triumph of liberal principles: Marxism appears to have carried the concept of alienation to its grave. But while Marxism and alienation are historically linked, one must be careful to distinguish between them. In fact, this idea is now most likely to appear outside any explicit reference to Marxist...

    • CHAPTER 18 The Rebirth of Voluntary Servitude
      (pp. 226-232)

      The modern era has accorded tremendous value to work. As the vehicle for self-fulfillment and personal growth, work has quickly become the focus of individual freedom, as its impure origins in physical subjugation and subsistence needs have been forgotten. At one time it was believed that humanity would finally be released from its hard labor through mastery of the physical world. These enthusiastic visions belong to another age. Modern society now accords a wholly positive value to work, transforming it from a means to an end in itself.

      The reasons for this phenomenon, as well as the modern attitude favoring...

  11. Notes on the Authors
    (pp. 233-234)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 235-239)