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NONTHEMATIC / Vol. 50, No. 1 (Spring 1983)

Arien Mack, Editor

In his last published work, the late sociologist Alvin Gouldner argued that, broadly speaking, there were two general neo-Marxist traditions which were "true" to the writings of Marx. Scientific Marxism and Critical Marxism have equally compelling justification to speak as the heirs of Marx. The attempt to discover within Scientific Marxist theoretical orientations a viable socialist praxis in the most adaptive of capitalist societies is more likely than not destined to fail. Therefore what concerns us is the tradition of Critical Marxism and those related non-Marxist socialist variants which can be used as the framework for an ongoing critique of capitalist democracy. Within the confines of this skeptical left-wing sector of the American intellegentsia, one can discern several distinct traditions of social thought and political praxis. Two will concern us here. One strain, derived from Critical Marxism, we will call Cultural Marxism. The other strain is a mixture of numerous socialist theories, one of which is Marxism. We will call this Democratic Socialism.

History is simultaneously useful and damaging. This duplicity suggested the title of a youthful, basic work by Friedrich Nietzsche. He starts his argument by noting the qualitative difference between animals and man-both "natural beings." Animal behavior is placidly repetitive and mechanical, set in motion only by natural instincts and thus without reflection or history. The animal "has only nature, while man has nature and history. But what history? According to Nietzsche, an excess of history prevents the making of history. Historical action is practicable only when it is not held up by a paralyzing excess of "historical sense." Hence, paradoxically, there is in historical action an initial ahistorical moment—even an antihistorical one—of which only someone deeply rooted in history is capable. In this sense, therefore, history is important as the collective memory of the past, critical awareness of the present, and operative premise for the future.

Our practical problem is clear: the privileged classes seem unwilling to sacrifice their social and economic advantages in the interest of greater justice. They seem to think about justice according to the natural bias of their own position, and support policies to advance their special interests. In this light the oppressed classes seem warranted in making the practical assumption that established political authority will not initiate laws and policies to bring about substantive gains for justice. Whether nonideal theory can strengthen the desire for justice among the privileged classes to limit their pursuit of other ends is the main question to be addressed by nonideal theory as a whole. Rawls's postulate that persons are capable of having a sense of justice, and his theory of rational choice, provide the basis for practical efforts to do so, and therefore nonideal theory must be constructed toward this end. At the same time it must be constructed to convince the oppressed classes that social change can be brought about by established authority. Thus nonideal theory is itself a mode of social practice.

Hans Jonas's book The Principle of Responsibility is a reaction to what could be described as the abandonment of any belief in a transcendent dimension, in a realm of the unknown, the mysterious, the holy, and the divine; and to the apocalyptic eschatological mood that permeates the Western world. Much of what was previously considered positive in the West—progress, natural science, technology, democracy, and the market economy-is now in doubt, and the beliefs in these institutions are disintegrating.

All speech is political. That social realities are created through symbolic and especially linguistic interaction is a commonplace conception. Given this growing awareness, it is surprising to discover how little conscious use sociologists have made of theories of rhetoric as justification for their new, more sophisticated research practice, because rhetoric is precisely the study of the persuasive use of language. The purpose of this essay, therefore, is to propose critical rhetoric as a mode of self-understanding for social scientists.

All modern ideologies of progress share the utopian presupposition that freedom is possible only as a function of emancipation from necessity. While the ideology of "free enterprise" rests its case upon an ongoing revolution of progress, Marxist socialism views class struggle as a dialectical self-positing that releases the suppressed technical powers of production. Both are variations within a common unexamined belief that all future human possibilities depend upon an emancipation from the limitations of nature

In 1942 refugees from Vichy France organized, as an adjunct to the New School for Social Research, a free French university, the Ecole Libre des Hautes Etudes. Unlike other divisions of The New School, the Ecole Libre understood itself as an instrument of French domestic politics. Its faculty members continued to view themselves as French. New York was but a temporary refuge where they could continue their scholarship as well as work toward the overthrow of the Vichy government. Reflecting these commitments, immediately following the war virtually the entire faculty returned to France. Despite this preoccupation with French politics, the faculty of the Ecole Libre actively participated in the intellectual life of the New School, and believed that their responsibility as social scientists was to create a rational and empirically verifiable defense for a democratic society.

When she died in 1975, Hannah Arendt was one of the most respected political thinkers of her time. It is therefore surprising that her work has exercised so little influence on the practice of her contemporaries in the "mainstream" of political science. It is my belief that much more is involved in this fact than historical accident. For the gap that separates her work from what has come to be the practice of political science in America is a function of a deep difference in methods and goals, rooted in turn in Arendt's understanding of the plight of politics in contemporary civilization. My purpose in this essay is simply to expound the procedures of political explanation as Arendt understands them and to measure that understanding against the mainstream.


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