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Radical Future Pasts

Radical Future Pasts: Untimely Political Theory

Romand Coles
Mark Reinhardt
George Shulman
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 542
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  • Book Info
    Radical Future Pasts
    Book Description:

    Written by both well-established and rising scholars, Radical Future Pasts seeks to open up new possibilities for theoretical inquiries and engagements with practical political struggles. Unlike conventional "state of the discipline" collections, this volume does not summarize the history of political theory. Rather than accept traditional ideas about the political past, the contributors reinterpret canonical and current texts to demonstrate fresh interpretations and narratives.

    Led by editors Romand Coles, Mark Reinhardt, and George Shulman, and inspired by the work of Peter Euben, the contributors both explore and exemplify the range and importance of political theory's different genres while concentrating on such themes as time and temporality, the politics of tragedy, and political movements and subjectivities. A groundbreaking volume featuring the best new scholarship in the field, this provocative book will be useful to scholars and students interested in political theory and its relationship to political practice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4554-9
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Radical Future Pasts? An Anti-introduction
    (pp. 1-36)
    Romand Coles, Mark Reinhardt and George Shulman

    “Political theory” names not a unified object or protagonist, but a practice of thinking and writing about politics that has been given different forms and purposes as practitioners redefine “theory,” “politics,” and “the political.” In introducing this book, we place a special emphasis on theory’s relationship to radical democratic struggle, broadly conceived—a relationship at least as old as Socrates’ and Plato’s critical interventions into Athenian politics and culture, and one in which contests over the shape of the future are inseparable from arguments about the past. By calling this volume “radical future pasts,” we are not claiming to foresee...

  5. I. Theorizing Temporalities

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 37-40)

      Time is not politically neutral or innocent. Temporal understandings, in other words, are implicit in all political language and constitutive of political life. But they are also typically naturalized, except in moments of crisis or significant political struggle. As tropes of before and after and presumptions about past and future bespeak unreflective views of time, political life formalizes unthought temporality in narratives; as conceptions of temporality cannot be separated from or articulated without (forms of) narration, so political life necessarily entails a narrative dimension. In turn, political theory (since its origins in tragic drama) can be said to invent, reject,...

    • 1 Untimeliness and Punctuality: Critical Theory in Dark Times
      (pp. 41-58)
      Wendy Brown

      This essay reflects on timeliness and untimeliness in critical political theory. It works outside the intellectual circuits through which both problems are conventionally routed—those offered by Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, and the Frankfurt School—in order to feature aspects of the relationship between political time and critique overshadowed by these traditions of thought. Foucault once defined critique as “the art of not being governed quite so much,”¹ and these reflections might be taken in the spirit of a refusal to be governed quite so much by critical theory’s traditional intellectual signposts. They accord, too, with Benjamin’s counsel to “wrest tradition...

    • 2 “When the Corn Was Ripe . . .”: Thucydides, Athens, Pericles, and the “Everlasting Possession”
      (pp. 59-80)
      Arlene W. Saxonhouse

      In 2006, J. Peter Euben wrote an essay sharply criticizing the tendency—captured most particularly by the writings and work of Victor Hansen—to make Thucydides “policy ready.” Instead, Euben finds in Thucydides’ text “a kind of textual agora” with its debates and speeches.¹ Here I try to capture the dialectic in Thucydides’ text that carries these aporetic practices that are part of democratic life to different conceptions of time as linear and repetitive. What emerge from the intratextual “deliberations” are not the policy proposals to be offered to secretaries of war or state, but reflections on how a sensitivity...

    • 3 Black Noise in White Time: Segregated Temporality and Mass Incarceration
      (pp. 81-112)
      P. J. Brendese

      In the epigraph for this essay, Simone Weil implies that loss is endemic to the nature of time. The tragedy of time’s passage is part of the finality of a mortal life: life is something we are literally “born to lose.” In times when we are awake to this fundamental feature of temporality, questions of what we should do with the lives we are fated to lose take on particular urgency. So it is for good reason that the intersection of time and loss has long been an occasion of contemplation. Peter Euben has argued that political theory begins with...

    • 4 The Moment Has Passed: Power after Arendt
      (pp. 113-144)
      Patchen Markell

      “America’s Tahrir Moment”: that’s the title of anAdbustersblog entry from early September 2011.Nobody Can Predict the Moment of Revolution: the title of a short documentary video about Occupy Wall Street produced by some of its participants. “Transforming Occupy Wall Street from a Moment to a Movement”: the headline of a widely circulated article urging the occupiers to organize themselves behind a series of specific progressive demands.¹ It’s not hard to understand the appeal of the language of the “moment” as a way of capturing the political rhythms of the past two years, whether in Sidi Bouzid, Oakland,...

  6. II. Theorizing Political Subjectivities

    • [part II Introduction]
      (pp. 145-148)

      As our introduction argues, political subjectivity has been one of the crucial elements in theorizing radical democracy since the 1960s. The conception of community advanced by Sheldon Wolin and John Schaar in the late 1960s was undone and enlarged by the emergence of social movements exposing its implicit “identity politics” and advancing an alternative that imagined community through worldwide affiliations based on the redemption of once demeaned racial and gendered identities. In turn, the idea of stable subject positions organized by marrying experience and identity was undone by theorists indebted to Foucault and Lacan, who depicted a subject whose inherent...

    • 5 The Virtual Patriot Syndrome: Tea Partyers and Others
      (pp. 149-178)
      Stephen K. White

      How should we understand the recent appearance on the American landscape of political movements of the white middle class, such as the Tea Party and the Minutemen? Some on the left have taken them to be simply examples of “Astroturf” democracy as opposed to real grassroots democracy—that is, as somehow essentially fake.¹ Others have warned, more ominously, that such movements can “rapidly morph into outright fascism.”² I find these characterizations to be unsatisfactory; such movements need to be analyzed more carefully in terms of their own self-understanding as well as in terms of how they fit within the current...

    • 6 Populism and the Rebellious Cultures of Democracy
      (pp. 179-216)
      Laura Grattan

      A quick snapshot of populist politics in twenty-first-century America reveals an off-beat cast: Christian fundamentalists, vigilante border patrollers, the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, broad-based community organizers, May Day immigration reform ralliers, grassroots ecopopulists, Occupy Wall Street, and more. Populism in the United States has always attracted this cacophony of voices and styles of expression. In the wake of the “conservative capture” of populism during the Nixon and Reagan eras, and given its increasing ubiquity as a mainstream buzzword of politicians and pundits, it is understandable that many democratic theorists and practitioners are eager to abandon populism...

    • 7 Distinguishing Racial Presence from Racial Justice: The Political Consequences of Thinking Aesthetically
      (pp. 217-248)
      Cristina Beltrán

      Making sense of race in America today requires a tolerance for paradox. Yes, advocates of racial justice and equality can point to visible, tangible progress, with enhanced opportunities in many areas of life for historically marginalized and underrepresented populations. Today’s public realm exhibits more racial and gender diversity than ever before, with a growing number of women, African Americans, and Latinos serving at the highest levels of government.¹

      But racism and xenophobia continue to shape America’s political landscape, from virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric, laws, and statutes to racially charged slurs depicting President Barack Obama as “foreign born,” a socialist, a secret...

    • 8 Race and the Democratic Aesthetic: Jefferson, Whitman, and Holiday on the Hopeful and the Horrific
      (pp. 249-282)
      Melvin L. Rogers

      America’s history is marked by a striking image—“black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.” Abel Meeropol—a Jewish American—first articulated this line in his 1937 published poem “Bitter Fruit” after viewing Lawrence Beitler’s graphic and horrific photo depicting the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith (figure 1). Although Meeropol eventually put the words to music, it was jazz singer Billie Holiday’s haunting rendition of the song, now titled “Strange Fruit,” first recorded in 1939 that made it a classic.¹ The shift frombittertostrangemarks an important transition in understanding the meaning of lynching in America,...

    • 9 In Praise of Disorder: The Untidy Terrain of Islamist Political Thought
      (pp. 283-316)
      Roxanne L. Euben

      In January 2011, an uprising in Tunisia forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben ‘Ali from office, inaugurating a wave of challenges to authoritarian rule from Morocco to Yemen. Deeply entrenched patterns of power and powerlessness were disrupted by a groundswell of demands for dignity, work, and participatory politics. Many of the established shibboleths of American foreign policy in the Middle East were outpaced by events, assumptions of a hardening cold war between Islam and the West temporarily suspended as images of Egyptians converging en masse on Tahrir (Arabic forliberation) Square carrying placards demanding “hurriya!” [freedom!] traveled the globe at lightning...

  7. III. Theorizing and Genre

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 317-320)

      The idea of “epic” political theory was, among other things, an attempt to identify how political theorists did and could engage the ways that human beings conceive and claim authority. That engagement necessarily involved an effort to authorize the theorists’ own words, to gain authority over a field of phenomena and over audiences. How do authors craft the distinctive sensibility and tone, the voice, by which they speak to—seduce, inspire, instruct, transform, confound, warn—audiences? Although Sheldon Wolin’s chapters inPolitics and Visionwere notably attentive to these issues, it is Euben’s work that most ambitiously used questions of...

    • 10 The Politics of Literature
      (pp. 321-332)
      J. Peter Euben

      Every so often some political theorists sponsor roundtables on the relations between literature and politics.¹ That they do so indicates a curiosity about such a relationship. That they do so cautiously or even defensively anticipates a professional hostility or indifference toward connecting the two subjects. Even those sympathetic to the literary interpretation of philosophical texts and the use of literature in political theory are wary that such an approach can only further isolate us from our colleagues. We are not political and empirical enough for political scientists and insufficiently normative and/or analytical enough for other political theorists. It is not...

    • 11 Circulating Authority: Plato, Politics, Political Theory
      (pp. 333-350)
      Jill Frank

      In her essay “What Is Authority?” Hannah Arendt offers a quasi-historical and not unambivalent account of the disappearance of religion, tradition, and authority in modernity. As her title suggests, of particular interest to her is the question of authority and its relation to politics. Arendt says that “authority . . . gave the world the permanence and durability which human beings need precisely because they are mortals.” For this reason, the loss of authority in modernity “is tantamount to the loss of the groundwork of the world.” At the same time, “the loss of worldly permanence and reliability . ....

    • 12 Staging Reception: Aristophanes in Absolutist France
      (pp. 351-374)
      Elizabeth Wingrove

      Aristophanes didn’t fare very well in the “quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns,” the late-seventeenth-century French literary controversy over poetic style and form that encompassed alternative (if often inchoate) visions of progress and enlightenment. Perhaps it was his penchant for “biting and shredding persons of the highest order with astonishing insolence,” as theologian and literary critic Adrien Baillet put it.¹ Or maybe it was his cheerful vulgarity, surely exemplary of the “vicious manners” attributed to antiquity by champion of the Moderns Charles Perrault, which guaranteed that his verse could be neither printed nor performed in early-modern France (or, in...

    • 13 Holding Up Mirrors in (and to) Political Theory
      (pp. 375-394)
      Susan McWilliams

      In 1909, Mark Twain published a short story titled simply “A Fable.” In the story, an artist paints a beautiful picture. He then installs a mirror opposite the picture, finding the painting’s reflection more enchanting than the original.

      After the picture is so arranged, the artist’s cat goes into the woods to tell all the animals about the lovely image that can be seen in the mirror. The woodland animals are very excited to hear about the picture, both because it is new and because they admire the cat, a “learned” creature who “could tell them so much which they...

  8. IV. Theorizing Tragedy

    • [Part IV Introduction]
      (pp. 395-398)

      It is fitting that this volume concludes with essays that at once exemplify, enlarge, and complicate the idea of the tragic in their efforts to conceive the radical pasts and futures of political theory. For Euben demonstrated the intimate and vexed bonds between tragedy and theory as emergent genres as well as the ongoing value of a tragic orientation in theorizing politics; he neither reified nor collapsed these terms but rather disturbed and contextualized them to register and encourage other modalities of voice and genre in our theoretical practices and political action. In turn, this section of essays credits how...

    • 14 Antigone’s Laments, Creon’s Grief: Mourning, Membership, and the Politics of Exception
      (pp. 399-434)
      Bonnie Honig

      Approaching Sophocles’Antigonein the context of fifth-century burial politics in Athens, I argue here that Antigone’s burial of her brother, Polynices, is a performance of elite objections to the classical city’s emergent democracy. Creon, on this reading, represents not sovereignty or the rule of law run amok or not just that, but also and more pointedly a different elite tactic: he conspires with the new democracy and adopts many of its causes as his own. He is one of “the newer breed of elites” about whom Mark Griffith says (though he does not speak of Creon), they “are willing...

    • 15 Pathologies of Freedom in Melville’s America
      (pp. 435-458)
      Jason Frank

      Herman Melville has not received as much attention from political theorists as some other major writers of the American Renaissance—Hawthorne, Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau. His work is left out of anthologies of American political thought, overlooked on syllabi, and very rarely engaged in professional research. Various explanations for this neglect come immediately to mind. Unlike the others, for example, Melville was never a political activist; he was not overtly engaged in the momentous political struggles of his time over slavery and white supremacy, industrialization and class conflict, western settlement and native displacement, national unity and sectional discord, self-governance and...

    • 16 Tragic Realism and Credible Democratic Hopes: Practical Means for an Ecological Future
      (pp. 459-488)
      Melissa A. Orlie

      Let me begin by stating what seems to me to be true. We are not effectively facing up to the ecological catastrophe unfolding before us. I take ecological catastrophe, properly understood, to include economic, social, and political ruin as well as so-called environmental destruction. It seems to me that too few of us are adequately comprehending how our most ordinary conduct is enmeshed with the entwined unfolding of capitalist political economy and ecological calamities. There are already plenty of alarming signs of a “metabolic rift” between humanity and nature.¹ Yet there has been little change in our ways of life...

    • 17 Steps toward an Ecology of Late Capitalism
      (pp. 489-512)
      William E. Connolly

      Neoliberalism, let us say, is a socioeconomic philosophy embedded to varying degrees in Euro-American life. In its media presentations, it expresses inordinate confidence in the unique, self-regulating power of markets as it links the freedom of the individual to markets. At a lower-decibel level and high degree of intensity, it solicits modes of state, corporate, church, and media discipline to organize nature, state policy, workers, consumers, families, schools, investors, and international organizations to maintain conditions for unfettered markets and to obscure or clean up financial collapses, ecomesses, and regional conflicts created by that collusion.

      Neoliberalism and laissez-faire capitalism are thus...

  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 513-516)
  10. Index
    (pp. 517-532)