Critical Humanism and the Politics of Difference

Critical Humanism and the Politics of Difference

JEFF NOONAN
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt805pq
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  • Book Info
    Critical Humanism and the Politics of Difference
    Book Description:

    Noonan shows that at the core of postmodern philosophy, with its claim that culture creates humans, is a concern to dethrone the modern understanding of human beings as subjects, as builders of their world and free when those world-building activities are the outcome of free choices. He explains that because the postmodern conception of human being does not capture what is universal in all humans it is incapable of critically responding to the forcible subordination of different cultures to European "humanity." When oppressed groups explain why they struggle against oppression, they invoke just that idea of human being as subjectivity that postmodern philosophy claims is the basis of oppression. Noonan argues that the voices of cultural differences, when they struggle against the forces of hatred and exclusion, do not ground themselves just in the particular value of their culture but in the universal value of human freedom and self-determination.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7123-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: The Fear of Difference
    (pp. 3-8)

    In a recent column, noted Toronto playwright Sky Gilbert laments the failure of political correctness to check the spread of racist, sexist, and homophobic ideas. In fact, Gilbert contends that the superficial focus of political correctness on the diction of public utterance has made matters worse. Although public discourse may be free of sexist, racist, and homophobic terms, the social practices that structure sexism, racism, and homophobia have been left untouched. The fact that people are more hesitant to utter racial epithets in public, for example, encourages the belief that racism has been defeated, when in fact it has merely...

  5. PART ONE THE POSTMODERN CRITIQUE
    • 1 The Emergence of Difference
      (pp. 11-23)

      Before we can understand the self-confuting logic of the radical politics of difference, we must understand the critique of metaphysical philosophy from which it proceeds. That task demands that we first come to an understanding of the meaning of the key terms “identity” and “difference” in the significations that they are given by post-modern criticism. To do so, we must ask ourselves why identity and difference became a problem when they did, how postmodern criticism understands the relationship between the metaphysical problem of identity and difference and the writing of history and social theory, and what the general political implications...

    • 2 The Dynamics of Difference
      (pp. 24-40)

      The previous chapter introduced us to the critique of identity thinking that is central to postmodern criticism. This critique, however, is only preparatory to the elaboration of new modes of criticism and practice central to the positive project of the politics of difference. The goal of that politics is not simply to expose the exclusionary logic of identity thinking but to create a space in which new modes of thinking and acting, modes rooted in the logic of difference, may unfold. This new mode of thinking centres on a different way of relating to what the exclusionary hierarchies of metaphysical...

    • 3 The Twilight of Subjecthood
      (pp. 41-56)

      The following chapter will be concerned with the most radical element of the philosophy, or critique of philosophy, practised by Lyotard, Foucault, and Derrida. The radicality of this postmodern critique lies not in its identification of different logics inherent in different social practices, nor in its supposition that history cannot be understood according to an essential dynamic, nor even in the claim that needs and capacities are thoroughly cultural and mutable. The radicality proper to its critique lies in its open rejection of the idea that humanity may be defined as essentially subject, as distinguished by its capacity to determine...

    • 4 Postmodern Freedom
      (pp. 57-78)

      If it is the case that the totalitarian disasters of the modern period can be traced back to the idea of mastery inherent in the modernist concept of subjecthood, then postmodern politics, if it is to live up to its self-given radical mandate, must be scrupulous in avoiding a reinstantiation of modernist values in its politics. If postmodern thought were to simply reinterpret the values of self-determination and self-creation, then it would merely be a renovation of modern theory, and not the first light of the new dawn that we have seen it proclaim itself to be. The general stakes...

  6. PART TWO THE CONTRADICTIONS OF THE POSTMODERN POLITICS OF DIFFERENCE
    • 5 Realizing Postmodern Politics
      (pp. 81-91)

      The ramifications of the radical politics of difference are all-pervasive. The self-assertion and clash of social, cultural, and national differences in large part define the stakes of political struggle today. In the Western world, marginalised groups continue to struggle against exclusion and often legitimate their struggles by appeal to the validity of their cultural differences. Their struggles have been central to the changing cultural landscape of the last thirty years. The consequences of difference-based conflict, however, are not unambiguously positive. In the Middle East, Palestinians and Israelis battle over space for the security of their national differences. In the Balkans,...

    • 6 Is Radical Pluralism a Coherent Idea?
      (pp. 92-105)

      Stated positively and not as a critique of modernity, the politics of difference is a series of efforts to create the conditions for the unfettered elaboration of social, cultural, ethnic, and gender differences. Honi Fern Haber calls the practical politics of difference “radical pluralism,” a term I will adopt for the remainder of this chapter. She argues that radical pluralism is “engendered by the poststructuralist law of difference” and is “a rich resource for developing alternatives to the concepts of subjectivity, identity, resistance, and domination. Because it insists on the recognition of difference, it displaces the hierarchical oppositions that characterize...

    • 7 The Universal Voice of the Other
      (pp. 106-124)

      In the previous chapter we observed the paradoxical outcome of radical pluralist thought. The harder one pushes the radical elements – either differences as absolutely singular or the deconstruction of the identities that define differences – the more one advances conditions opposed to the existence of social differences. Rather than strengthening the position of those on the margins, then, radical pluralism either undermines the unity the margins themselves assert or accepts a belief in absolute differences that encourages the degeneration of struggles into conflicts between oppressed groups. In both cases the politics of differences draws political attention away from the...

    • 8 The Return of the Repressed
      (pp. 125-158)

      In part 1, through a close reading of the work of Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard, I disclosed the philosophical groundwork for a radical politics of difference. That groundwork is defined by four core principles: that human being is not defined by any essence; that the modern understanding of the human essence, subjecthood as self-determination, is the metaphysical ground of the exclusion and oppression of nonconforming others, that there is, in the words of Gayatri Spivak, “an affinity between the subject of imperialism and the subject of humanism”;¹ that to “free” those excluded and oppressed others from their exclusion and oppression...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 159-162)

      This text has explained the core philosophical concepts upon which the radical politics of difference is based and has traced the self-confuting logic of that politics back to its deconstruction of the idea that human beings are defined by an essential capacity for self-determination. This self-confuting logic is confirmed by the fact that the only way the politics of difference can be understood as a criticism of the relationship between the dominant powers of the globe and oppressed minorities is if it is read as actually presupposing this conception of subjecthood. In fact, we have seen that this concept is...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 163-176)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-184)
  9. Index
    (pp. 185-190)