….These developments call for sustained political thinking. The categories of traditional political thought seem no longer adequate for addressing the specific challenges of the 21st century. We must ask then: what now? What are the possibilities and requirements of political thought for this century?
In this essay I discuss neoliberalism from the perspective of the “political realism” associated with contemporary philosophers such as Bernard Williams, Hans Sluga, and Raymond Geuss. My goal is threefold: first, I want to draw upon the work of Geuss in particular to delineate a serious problem with neoliberalism that is easily overlooked in analyses of neoliberalism that focus on questions of equality, justice, and institutional design. Second, I hope to demonstrate that Geuss’ work in this area manifests a commitment to perfectionism that may surprise students of his work that focus on his attack upon moralism and his criticisms of politics as “applied ethics.” Finally, I suggest that Geuss’ own work needs to be supplemented here, and that the work of Stanley Cavell, a figure who may appear quite uncongenial to Geuss, is a good place to start.
Donald Trump’s presidency represents a form of politics that is new but not altogether unprecedented. Not new is the plutocratic nature of Trump’s regime since plutocracy is a historically recurrent form of political rule; but Trump’s plutocracy is unfolding in a new technological and moral environment; it hints at an unsettling new form of plutocratic rule whose contours are, however, perhaps not as yet fully set and certainly not yet fully discernible.
We are in the midst of an unprecedented ecological crisis. It is far bigger and wider than the most famous and pressing aspect of it, which is the climate crisis. We face an unprecedented biodiversity crisis, there are crises of desertification, and soil disruption, there is a crisis of plastic pollution, especially in the oceans. These are symptoms of a profound, underlying malady. We are way beyond the limits of growth. It’s not a question of some adjustment or reform to set us back on track. We are an order of magnitude out. This is the stuff of revolutions – or collapse.
We live in a world of borders. Territorial, political, juridical, and economic borders of all kinds quite literally define every aspect of social life in the twenty first century. Despite the celebration of globalization and the increasing necessity of global mobility, there are more types of borders today than ever before in history. The more kinds of borders there are the more kinds of migrants there are—and vice versa. Borders and migrants must be viewed as socially constitutive.
Experts and amateurs alike continue to ask, not only what the West can learn from the East, but more specifically what the capitalist, industrialist, technology-driven, materialist, profit-seeking, competitive, unequal, and individualistic West can learn from the East. In answer to this quest, Confucian China is presented as promising harmony in place of competition, community in place of individualism, intuition in place of science, meaning in place of meaninglessness, lightness in place of our burdened lives.
Ordinary people often seek to invest themselves with “glory” (aka “honor” or “dignity”) in one of two ways in today’s world. Either they associate themselves with “tradition” — in China, dubbed “national essence” (guocui 國粹), and frequently reduced to the slogan “China as the oldest continuous civilization” — embracing one sort of conservative cultural nationalism. Or they associate themselves with the “motherland,” quite a different, if related form of patriotic identification. Unfortunately, in today’s discourse, “tradition” and “national essence” talk invariably accommodate or even celebrate authoritarian systems, since Western civilization is equated with “democratic ideals” and “human rights.” Today’s PRC, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, has played this anachronistic association between “tradition” (singular and invented) and authoritarian government, under the “guidance” of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), to the hilt.