The Permanence of the Political: A Democratic Critique of the Radical Impulse to Transcend Politics

Princeton University Press
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Why have radical political theorists, whose thinking inspired mass movements for democracy, been so suspicious of political plurality? According to Joseph Schwartz, their doubts were involved with an effort to transcend politics. Mistakenly equating all social difference with the harmful way in which particular interests dominated marketplace societies, radical thinkers sought a comprehensive set of "true human interests" that would completely abolish political strife. In extensive analyses of Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, Lenin, and Arendt, Schwartz seeks to mediate the radical critique of democratic capitalist societies with the concern for pluralism evidenced in both liberal and postmodern thought. He thus escapes the authoritarian potential of the radical position, while appropriating its more democratic implications.

In Schwartz's view, a reconstructed radical democratic theory of politics must sustain liberalism's defense of individual rights and social pluralism, while redressing the liberal failure to question structural inequalities. In proposing such a theory, he criticizes communitarianism for its premodern longing for a monolithic, virtuous society, and challenges the "politics of difference" for its failure to question the undemocratic terrain of power on which "difference" is constructed. In conclusion, he maintains that an equitable distribution of power and resources among social groups necessitates not the transcendence of politics but its democratic expansion.

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About the author

Joseph M. Schwartz is Associate Professor of Political Science at Temple University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Nov 13, 1995
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9781400821778
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Political
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Joseph M. Schwartz
2011 David Easton Award, presented for the best book by the Foundations of Political Theory section of APSA:

"The Future of Democratic Equality

, by Joseph Schwartz, takes on three tasks, and accomplishes all brilliantly. Any one of these tasks well fulfilled would have been a laudable achievement. First, Schwartz argues for the centrality of the question of equality to democratic politics. Second, he critically analyzes and explains the shocking rise in inequality in the United States over the last three decades. This he does with conceptual clarity, rich interdisciplinary analysis, and a thorough examination of hard socioeconomic data. Third, he assails the near absence of concern for this soaring inequality among contemporary political theorists, and offers a cogent, and stinging, explanation that takes to task the discipline’s preoccupation with difference and identity severed from the pragmatics of democratic equality. The Future of Democratic Equality is a courageous and disciplined effort to tackle a hugely important political problem and intellectual puzzle. It well embodies the spirit of the Easton Book Award by providing well-grounded normative theory targeted to an urgent matter of contemporary concern. It is a must read for anyone who cares about democracy." - Respectfully submitted by Leslie Paul Thiele, University of Florida (chair) and Cary J. Nederman, Texas A&M University

Why has contemporary radical political theory remained virtually silent about the stunning rise in inequality in the United States over the past thirty years? Schwartz contends that since the 1980s, most radical theorists shifted their focus away from interrogating social inequality to criticizing the liberal and radical tradition for being inattentive to the role of difference and identity within social life. This critique brought more awareness of the relative autonomy of gender, racial, and sexual oppression. But, as Schwartz argues, it also led many theorists to forget that if difference is institutionalized on a terrain of radical economic inequality, unjust inequalities in social and political power will inevitably persist.

Schwartz cautions against a new radical theoretical orthodoxy: that "universal" norms such as equality and solidarity are inherently repressive and homogenizing, whereas particular norms and identities are truly emancipatory. Reducing inequality among Americans, as well as globally, will take a high level of social solidarity--a level far from today's fragmented politics. In focusing the left's attention on the need to reconstruct a governing model that speaks to the aspirations of the majority, Schwartz provocatively applies this vision to such real world political issues as welfare reform, race relations, childcare, and the democratic regulation of the global economy.

Joseph M. Schwartz
2011 David Easton Award, presented for the best book by the Foundations of Political Theory section of APSA:

"The Future of Democratic Equality

, by Joseph Schwartz, takes on three tasks, and accomplishes all brilliantly. Any one of these tasks well fulfilled would have been a laudable achievement. First, Schwartz argues for the centrality of the question of equality to democratic politics. Second, he critically analyzes and explains the shocking rise in inequality in the United States over the last three decades. This he does with conceptual clarity, rich interdisciplinary analysis, and a thorough examination of hard socioeconomic data. Third, he assails the near absence of concern for this soaring inequality among contemporary political theorists, and offers a cogent, and stinging, explanation that takes to task the discipline’s preoccupation with difference and identity severed from the pragmatics of democratic equality. The Future of Democratic Equality is a courageous and disciplined effort to tackle a hugely important political problem and intellectual puzzle. It well embodies the spirit of the Easton Book Award by providing well-grounded normative theory targeted to an urgent matter of contemporary concern. It is a must read for anyone who cares about democracy." - Respectfully submitted by Leslie Paul Thiele, University of Florida (chair) and Cary J. Nederman, Texas A&M University

Why has contemporary radical political theory remained virtually silent about the stunning rise in inequality in the United States over the past thirty years? Schwartz contends that since the 1980s, most radical theorists shifted their focus away from interrogating social inequality to criticizing the liberal and radical tradition for being inattentive to the role of difference and identity within social life. This critique brought more awareness of the relative autonomy of gender, racial, and sexual oppression. But, as Schwartz argues, it also led many theorists to forget that if difference is institutionalized on a terrain of radical economic inequality, unjust inequalities in social and political power will inevitably persist.

Schwartz cautions against a new radical theoretical orthodoxy: that "universal" norms such as equality and solidarity are inherently repressive and homogenizing, whereas particular norms and identities are truly emancipatory. Reducing inequality among Americans, as well as globally, will take a high level of social solidarity--a level far from today's fragmented politics. In focusing the left's attention on the need to reconstruct a governing model that speaks to the aspirations of the majority, Schwartz provocatively applies this vision to such real world political issues as welfare reform, race relations, childcare, and the democratic regulation of the global economy.

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