Sunday, January 22, 2012

Alan Thomas reviews Charles Taylor

At "Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews", Alan Thomas reviews "Dilemmas and Connections: Selected Essays" (Harvard University Press, 2011) by Charles Taylor:

Review: "Dilemmas and Connections: Selected Essays"

"Taylor (....) shows how there are tensions internal to our modern conception of political legitimacy that make contestation of any given political identity inevitable. Since legitimate authority is an expression of "we, the people", there is an inherent pressure to democratic inclusion. However, various functional requirements threaten to make this inclusion a homogenizing process in a way that threatens particular identifications. Unable to accommodate hierarchies of different groups, owing to its constitutive egalitarianism of status, the modern democratic state works essentially by a forced inclusion. This leads, at its limit, to ethnic cleansing in cases where, as Michael Mann puts it, "demos" is identified with "ethnos". Drawing on the work of Anderson, Calhoun, Gellner and Liah Greenfeld, Taylor argues convincingly that no explanation of nationalism can be wholly state focused: a deeper account needs to examine the underlying changes in our collective social imaginaries that make it possible for a society to conceive of itself as a society of equals, acting freely in secular time, where each citizen stands in a direct and unmediated relationship to the state. If the modern conception of political legitimacy requires collective deliberation on the part of all, then any denial of expression to a minority group is bound to generate a nationalistic counter-pressure."

See my previous post on Charles Taylor's book here (with links to some of his essays).

Alan Thomas is Professor of Philosophy at Tilburg University. He is the author of "Thomas Nagel" (Acumen Press, 2009).

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