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European Journal of Political Theory

http://ept.sagepub.com Politics and Vision: The Sequel


Ronald Beiner European Journal of Political Theory 2006; 5; 483 DOI: 10.1177/1474885106067288 The online version of this article can be found at: http://ept.sagepub.com

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review article

Politics and Vision


The Sequel
Ronald Beiner
University of Toronto, Canada

EJPT
European Journal of Political Theory
SAGE Publications Ltd, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi issn 1474-8851, 5(4) 483493 [DOI: 10.1177/1474885106067288]

Sheldon S. Wolin Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, expanded edition, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. Sheldon Wolin is an icon among scholars of the history of political thought. In 1960, at a time when large segments of the political science profession were ready to jettison political theory altogether, in favour of a rigorously value-free social science, Wolin published Politics and Vision in order to prove that political theory continued to be an academic discipline of great intellectual potency. (In the preface to the original edition, Wolin wrote that even if those who were dismissive of the tradition of political philosophy continued to jettison it, his book would, he hoped, at least succeed in making clear what it is we shall have discarded [p. xxiii].) Wolin offered a stunningly ambitious set of commentaries on major landmarks in the history of political thought: Plato; Hellenistic, Roman, and early Christian political thought; Luther; Calvin; Machiavelli; Hobbes; and modern liberalism. But the book was not just an exercise in intellectual history; it ended with a contemporary social critique that was no less intellectually ambitious namely, a powerful indictment of how various forces in modern society (social inequality and hierarchy, bureaucracy, technology, consumerism, the managerial mentality, the reduction of politics to administration) had conspired to undermine and subvert our experience of the political realm. Political theory was once again shown to be relevant; the near-corpse of political theory was suddenly bursting with new life. For political theorists, Politics and Vision defines the gold standard in politically engaged intellectual history, to the point where today (as I know from having participated in a recent political theory search in my own department), the absolute highest praise a referee can bestow on someone considered to be a rising star is to describe the candidate as a young Sheldon Wolin. Oddly, this classic work remained out of print for many years, which did a real disservice to students of the discipline. Now Wolin has done something really extraordinary (probably unprecedented for such a book), which is to republish, in 2004, an expanded edition of the book with seven new chapters once again, comprising both historical exegesis and contemporary critique. To resume and expand an earlier work is hardly that unusual, but to do so on the basis of no less than 44 years of further reflection and rethinking certainly is! (Perhaps the book remained out of print for so long because Wolin always hoped to do what he has done in this new edition: bring it up to date with new reflections on the theory and practice of later decades.) Contact address: Ronald Beiner, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, 100 St. George St., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 3G3. Email: rbeiner@chass.utoronto.ca

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In his new preface, Wolin writes that he has left the original text of the book unrevised in order to render more easily visible the evolution in the authors own understandings and political commitments (p. xv). And indeed the fundamental theoretical perspective has shifted radically.1 Consider the unforgettable concluding passage of the original edition, with its ringing affirmation of the essential importance of citizenship:
Totalitarianism has shown that societies react sharply to the disintegration wrought by the fetishism of groupism. . . . The specialized roles assigned the individual, or adopted by him, are not a full substitute for citizenship because citizenship provides what the other roles cannot, namely an integrative experience which brings together the multiple roleactivities of the contemporary person and demands that the separate roles be surveyed from a more general point of view. . . . Efforts [must] be made to restore the political art as that art which strives for an integrative form of direction, one that is broader than that supplied by any group or organization. . . . Political theory must once again be viewed as that form of knowledge which deals with what is general and integrative to men, a life of common involvements. The urgency of these tasks is obvious, for human existence is not going to be decided at the lesser level of small associations: it is the political order that is making fateful decisions about mans survival in an age haunted by the possibility of unlimited destruction. (p. 389)

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In the expanded edition, by contrast, Wolin highlights the fact that [t]he new chapters are centered . . . on power as the defining political fact of the past one hundred and fifty years (p. xix), where an important part of what power means is the capacity of states to shatter possibilities of peoples freedom to assert themselves as citizens. Let me confess openly that the long passage I just quoted from the original text is one I found inspiring when I first read it, and still find inspiring when I read it today. So when I reflect on how far Wolin has travelled in these four-plus decades away from the civic hopes that the passage expresses, this poses for me, and I presume for other long-time admirers of Wolin a deep difficulty and even perplexity. The Wolin of 1960 articulated a positive vision of civic life its promise and possibilities as well as its perils. Forty-four years on, the new version of the book, on the other hand, describes only a scene of destruction. Already in the new preface, we are told that the United States is no longer a liberal democracy; instead, it is a quasi-totalitarian regime (p. xvi), a monster of totalizing power. Given the literary peculiarity of a book the two halves of which have been written in, in effect, two quite distinct political-historical epochs, I will henceforth refer to the 2004 portion of the book as PV-II. One of the key purposes of PV-II is to come to terms with the rise of postmodernism within political theory. Among the most salient effects of postmodernism-influenced political theory has been a displacement of Marx and a corresponding rise in Nietzsches stock (that is to say, a Gallic, postmodernized Nietzsche). Hence the first two substantive chapters of PV-II are devoted to Marx and Nietzsche, with the aim of contesting the postmodern reception of these two great thinkers. Wolins engagement with Marx and Nietzsche involves adjudicating among three crucial terms: politics, economics, and culture. Strictly speaking, neither Marx nor Nietzsche is a theorist of the political per se, for Marx privileges political economy over politics whereas Nietzsche is committed to subordinating politics to culture. However, this certainly does not mean that Wolins stance towards Marx and towards Nietzsche is symmetrical. For the preoccupation with political economy gives one crucial insights into why the political (i.e. the democratic empowerment of the demos) is systematically frustrated,

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Beiner: Politics and Vision: The Sequel


while Nietzsches preoccupation with culture obscures this. In that sense, Wolins purpose in these two chapters is fundamentally to challenge the misguided culturalism of postmodernist thought (expressed in the very fact that postmodern thinkers prefer Nietzsche to Marx). Wolin pursues two themes in his treatment of Marx one largely critical, the other more sympathetic. In line with the intention to focus on power as the defining political fact of the past one hundred and fifty years, Wolin traces Marxs complicity in the dynamics of modern power (p. xx). This is the first, more critical, theme. First, Wolin discusses Marx as an heir to the BaconHobbes tradition of striving for a society with a virtually unlimited potential for harnessing the forces of nature (p. 408; cf. p. 439). Then Wolin delineates the Marxian theme of an aspired-to power of theory i.e. Marxs desire to compensate for the weakness of the preferred revolutionary class, the German proletariat, by assigning a Promethean role . . . to theory (p. 415). This is followed by other important references to aspects of Marxs thought where the lure of centralized power disfigures his social vision: the 1844 Manuscripts marks the moment when Western theory embraces power without any accompanying inhibitions . . . the thematic of power is consistently pursued as Marx advances from one power-source to another (p. 417). Wolin presents Marx as gripped by the materialized power that human beings themselves create and organize, and as determined to tap the power potential of the new productive forces (p. 423). Finally, in an illuminating discussion of Marxs account of French political upheavals, Wolin highlights Marxs endorsement of centralized power in his response to the defeat of the French workers in June 1848 and the plebiscitary dictatorship imposed by Louis Napoleon in 1851 (p. 444).2 In all these discussions, Wolin zeroes in on Marxs respect for and desire to preserve the advantages of the capitalist system of power: Marx never tired of insisting that . . . the power-system of capitalism should not be destroyed but inherited (p. 438). Wolins sympathy for Marx comes out in the second theme, which is a complex discussion of Marxs relationship to the political. Was Marx, as many critics have charged, anti-political? Wolin concedes some truth to criticisms of Marx to that effect (p. 425),3 but basically Wolin wants us to appreciate the respects in which, precisely in his preoccupation with political economy, Marx remains true to the political in the proper sense. The political is defined by Wolin as valued commonalities (peace, justice, security, culture, education) the stuff of vision to be shared, promoted, tended, and defended by those who are members (p. 425). In this sense of the political, Marx stands among its most ardent defenders (p. 425). Wolin writes that Marx aimed to reveal the economy as the site of an expanded political, and that Marxs appeal from the political to the social represents . . . a protest against the narrowing of the political associated with liberal citizenship (p. 426). Above all, Marx is a champion of the political because all previous conceptions of the political were corrupted by their class bias, and in the absence of [social] equality no true generality [hence no realization of the political in the true sense] could prevail (p. 427).4 The revealing section in which Wolin pursues analogies between Marx and Locke (pp. 42730) suggests that the sense in which Marx is indeed anti-political is a sense in which Wolin is anti-political as well: the only way for human beings to retain the political without this being fatally corrupted is to do so without the mediation of a state which subjects them and alienates power from them (p. 429).5 In this context, Wolin offers the startling thesis that it is Lockes statism that betrays any viable ideal of self-government:

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Had [Locke] been truly concerned for citizens to retain substantial powers of self-government, and had he truly valued political participation, [he would have ensured that citizens] retain[ed] the political skills acquired in the pre-contractual condition (p. 429). This is a startling suggestion because it asserts that human beings are more political in a state of nature than they are when subject to the authority of a state. The idea here is that as the state waxes, the political necessarily wanes: the individual is diminished by becoming less political [while] the state becomes more powerful (p. 430).6 This in turn casts the state as the political counterpart to the capitalist who alienates power from workers: it is an entailment of Lockean contract theory by virtue of its establishment of state authority that the citizen, like the worker, is steadily impoverished, losing more of self-government and civic skills while the state, like capital, becomes ever more powerful as the custodian of alienated power (p. 430). The flip side of this argument would seem to be, once again, that one must look for (or conjure into imaginative existence) a way of being political that does not involve the politicalness of states, and this again serves to redeem Marx as a champion of the political. (That is, if one were really serious about restoring the unalienated possession of the political, one would do what Marx ultimately desires: abolish the state.7) A fundamental tension between the two themes seems obvious: if Marx is a theorist of modern power following in the line of Bacon and Hobbes, he cannot be (or can be only intermittently or inconsistently) a theorist of the political in Wolins sense. Marx wants ultimately to abolish the state in favour of a system of collective cooperation that is spontaneously social rather than coercively political; but in the meantime, the instruments of state coercion offer much appeal. Marx as quoted by Wolin refers to the state centralization that modern society requires, while he claims to want to avoid bureaucracy as the merely low and brutal form of such state centralization (p. 444, quoting from Marxs Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon). Wolin highlights Marxs ambivalent theoretical response to the Paris Commune of 1871, and makes the important point that the Commune qua embodiment of the politics of decentralization challenged Marxs commitment to centralized power and forced him to confront the question of whether [participatory democracy] could be reconciled with the future requirements of a scientifically oriented and technologically advanced economy (p. 446). From Wolins point of view, Marx failed this challenge. Marx gave the impression of welcom[ing] the Communes decentralized political structure, but in fact the democratic political economy exemplified by the Commune was not a model Marx could accept, for it presented a counter-example to Marxs own conception of political economy (pp. 447, 446). The tension playing itself out here is nothing less than the tension between Marxs embrace of modern power and his affirmation of the political, with the latter eventually succumbing to the former.8 The clear lesson of Wolins interesting reading of Marx is that, even for radical critics of capitalist civilization, those who live by the imperatives of modern power will fall by those same imperatives. One could encapsulate Wolins interpretation of Marx by saying that it is a narrative of the lost opportunity of Marx as a genuine theorist of the political an opportunity squandered because Marx participates in a tradition bewitched by the dynamics of modern power. In turning to Nietzsche, Wolin encounters a thinker whose worship of power is not offset by any remotely democratic counter-tendency. One can ask why Nietzsche figures so prominently in PV-II. The answer, it seems clear, is that Wolin wants to examine how

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a thinker as politically regressive as Nietzsche could appear so attractive to left-wing-type postmodernists,9 and then to remind the latter of all the cruel, unsavoury aspects of Nietzsches thought that they have managed to overlook. Recent decades in philosophy and political theory have been kind to Nietzsche, and Wolin is genuinely shocked that this is the case (he calls it Nietzscheolatry p. 457).10 From Wolins viewpoint, even Hannah Arendt was far too generous to Nietzsche (p. 704, n. 8), never mind the French Nietzschephiles who spawned postmodernism. Wolin is determined to bring back the old Nietzsche of bermenschen, steel-willed ruling elites, and philosopher-kings ready to sacrifice whole multitudes in the interests of culture (pp. 457, 458). Unlike the new Nietzsche of the postmodernists, the old Nietzsche is firmly committed to hierarchy, elitism, and the dominance of the strong. Wolins Nietzsche is a thoroughly unattractive figure; Wolin certainly does not pull any punches. Nietzsche, while he often defended Jews against the barbarism of German antiSemites, was himself capable of some unspeakable anti-Semitic rants (p. 455, p. 705, n. 14, pp. 71112, n. 118, p. 713, n. 155). Wolin accepts Nietzsches description of himself as anti-political, for the political is necessarily concerned with commonalities, and anything that is shared across society is disdained by Nietzsche as pertaining to the leveling function of the herd, as opposed to those higher individuals who give themselves laws (pp. 4601; cf. p. 463). Therefore, being anti-political does not mean being indifferent to democracy, but rather being aggressively anti-democratic. Nietzsche replicates the demos-phobia of Plato (p. 482; cf. p. 488), but Nietzsches anti-rationalism gives a far harder edge to this rejection of democracy. Although Nietzsche intended his writings for cultural-intellectual elites rather than for the demos, he wants to unnerve the Many and to bait them, thereby raising the stakes for the elite (p. 478). That is, Nietzsches rhetoric of insulting and belittling the masses was his method for the recruitment of a new elite (p. 477). Nietzsche has no problem affirming evil, provided it promotes more creative and revitalizing human possibilities (Rome was founded, after all, upon fratricide p. 462). Nietzsches politics are in themselves a politics of destructiveness a cult of destruction (pp. 460, 470), however much contemporary intellectuals are able to draw more sophisticated concerns out of his writings. While Marxs sin was to rhapsodize the power-system of capitalism, Nietzsches sin was to rhapsodize cruelty, exploitation, and even slavery. One cannot reach out for the superhuman without simultaneously embracing what is inhuman. Wolins reading of Nietzsche is less interesting than his reading of Marx, for the obvious reason that he is less intellectually engaged by Nietzsches revolutionary rightwing political vision than by Marxs revolutionary left-wing vision. Wolin has little interest in that dimension of Nietzsches thought that is genuinely philosophical; instead, he is preoccupied with Nietzsches overheated cultural polemicizing, and with how the latter contributes to totalitarian ways of thinking. But this is not to say that uncritical postmodernist followers of Nietzsche do not need to be reminded of the very aspects of Nietzsches thought that Wolin refuses to let them forget. Wolin makes clever use of his critique of Nietzsche in challenging the project of antitheory pursued by postmodernists (pp. 4813). Nietzsche is their hero because he went further than any previous thinker in puncturing the presumptions of rationalism namely, the aspiration to articulate an objective or disinterested truth. Nietzsche focused all attention on the drama of his own self in order to debunk a tradition in which depersonalization was postulated as a pre-condition of the vocation of truth-seeker (p. 483). But what

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Nietzsches followers fail to grasp is that this theoretical subversion of theory by antitheory is also a form of intellectual hubris; in fact, Nietzsches debunking of western rationalism is even more hubristic than the theories advanced by the most hubristic theorists within the rationalist tradition (pp. 482, 483). The debunkers of western theory must themselves be debunked, and tracing their anti-theoretical enterprise back to Nietzsche is instructive because it allows one to see that dismantling theory, deconstructing the entire enterprise of Western culture, is a project as grandly presumptuous and totalizing as any of the canonical constructions ridiculed by Nietzsches postmodern heirs (p. 483). PV-I takes its account of the history of liberalism in chapter 9 only as far as Bentham and J.S. Mill (along with a few references to Herbert Spencer), and PV-II remedies this in chapters 1415 with a critical account of 20th-century liberalism. It is tempting to say that the overall purpose of PV-II is to review leading representatives of the left, right, and centre over the last 150 years, and to show that none of them offers a sound foundation for the political. (The same critical analysis is applied to postmodernism as well.) Liberalism is the centre, and Wolin is and here the continuity with PV-I is indeed very strong no more impressed with liberalisms provision for the political than he is with liberalisms two revolutionary rivals. In Wolins estimation, the one who comes closest to providing for the political is Dewey, who, unlike Marx, Nietzsche, or even Rawls, was a genuine democrat.11 Wolin credits Popper with what he calls gestures towards establishing the superiority of the political and justifying its intervention to remedy social evils (p. 500). But in general, Wolin has limited sympathy for Poppers liberalism because it is too incrementalist, too scientistic, and too focused on technocratic administration (the policy state, p. 500). There is also an implied criticism of Popper for failing to support more robust state intervention in the economy for egalitarian purposes, although this criticism is somewhat in tension with Wolins own anti-statist tendencies.12 What Popper stands for is not an actively anti-democratic politics but, rather, a technocratic liberalism (p. 502) that privileges the expertise of social-scientific administrators over the democratic engagement of ordinary citizens. Rawls does not fare much better in PV-II. He, too, is criticized for failing to give sufficient primacy to problems of democratic empowerment. Wolins critique of Rawls is not focused on technocratic aspects of his liberalism (although that is discussed to some extent see p. 531), but rather on the attenuated character of Rawlss commitment to democratic participation and democratic equality. Rawlss welfarist liberalism, like Deweys, probably has as its intended political goal a kind of liberal socialism. But as Wolin correctly points out, Rawlss Difference Principle is too elastic in the range of policies it is able to justify: it is difficult to think of a policy favoring the wealthy and powerful that cannot be justified by some benefit to the less advantaged. That is precisely what trickle-down economics claims (p. 725, n. 27). Wolin is concerned to trace Rawlss philosophical doctrines to a specific historical and political context namely, the crisis of the welfare state and the crisis of liberalism as a public philosophy in the United States and to show that Rawlss restatement of liberal principles leaves intact liberalisms basic deference to capitalism. What is at stake in Rawlss liberalism is the question of whether liberalism can restore its democratic credentials (p. 526), and Wolin leaves no doubt that, in his judgment, Rawlsian principles fail that decisive test.13 As already mentioned, the only one in PV-II who is thought to have a halfway adequate appreciation of the political is John Dewey. The latter is in a way that Popper and Rawls

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are not alive to the question of what makes for meaningful citizenship, in the face of multiple forces in modern society that are actively anti-civic. But even Dewey succumbs to an overly technocratic and scientistic conception of the political. Dewey is a far more committed democrat, but he is also an even more enthusiastic proponent of science than Popper (p. 503). The challenge for Dewey was to combine democracy as a life-form and culture with the very different culture of modern science (pp. 5045). What mediates between democracy and science is education, and thus concern with education constitutes the heart of Deweys democratism (p. 506):
In Deweys educational philosophy modern democracy, for the first time, engaged modern power. Either the enormous power of modern industry, technology, and science must be democratized and its benefits distributed more equally or that power would be uncontrolled and its benefits confined mostly to the few. (pp. 5067)

Deweys project is really the social appropriation of science (which, as Wolin helpfully points out, can be seen as parallel to Marxs project of the social appropriation of economic life pp. 510, 51415). This is pretty far removed from what motivates Wolins theorizing. In contrast to Deweys basic optimism about science and democracy, Wolin sees science, technology, capitalism, and state as a complex of totalizing powers, and it is impossible to imagine that democracy could be a match for them (p. 518). Nonetheless, it is clear that Wolin identifies quite strongly with certain aspects of Deweys work. Indeed, in a section on The Philosopher as Political Theorist (pp. 5034), Wolin makes clear that, for him, Dewey is a model of what it is to practice political theory that is, a distinctive intellectual discipline for which the history of political thought is still a living tradition, and that:
attempt[s] to theorize the political by addressing the concerns of politics rather than of philosophers and using civic rather than professional forms of discourse . . . [I]ssues are addressed because of their public importance rather than their relevance to the ongoing controversies in the private world of philosophers.

With respect to the content of his theorizing, Dewey, like Wolin, is more of a democrat than a liberal because he embraces participatory citizenship as an obligatory normative ideal i.e. the necessity for the participation of every mature human being in formation of the values that regulate the living of men together (p. 511).14 Another significant affinity between them which is not spelled out in the discussion of Dewey but which comes fully to light in the final chapters of Politics and Vision is what Wolin refers to as Deweys animus against the state (p. 719, n. 75).15 In connection with the last point, it is important to note that Wolin is especially sympathetic to the localist vision of community that Dewey draws from Jefferson (and that either of them might have drawn from Tocqueville p. 720, nn. 96 and 100). But if participatory democracy is to have its privileged location in groups or associations, not governmental jurisdictions (p. 514), what keeps this from turning into what Wolin, in the conclusion to PV-I (p. 389), called in a sharp phrase the fetish of groupism? (In insisting upon an idea of citizenship more encompassing than a merely groupist one, the author of PV-I was asserting a much more state-centered conception of the political than he subsequently adopted.) The author of PV-I and the author of PV-II are both theorists of the political, but in the four or more intervening decades, what it means for Wolin to be a theorist of the political has undergone significant change. (And remember that these are decades the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s marked by historical events of such enormous momentousness that

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to speak merely of four intervening decades sounds like an absurd understatement of the political and cultural distance travelled.) In the final section of the book (chapters 1617), Wolin moves from power to Superpower (or what he earlier labelled the mega-state p. 732, n. 9), which is his sketch of the contemporary American regime. Wolin says that his intention is to attempt to bring to bear upon contemporary politics what [he has] learned from studying and teaching about the history of political theory (p. xv). Superpower or inverted totalitarianism is the postmodern contribution to the Aristotelian taxonomy of possible constitutional forms (p. 594).16 Totalitarianism in its postmodern guise takes the form of:
a superpower of highly concentrated power that does not force its population to lockstep; it [thrives] instead on widely shared fears of certain disorders. . . . It [drowns] out or marginalize[s] opposition rather than hunt[s] it down, pacif[ies] public space by fostering communication monopolies rather than by unleashing storm troopers. Its leaders . . . dominate society, not to fulfill a mythic mission, but simply to make money and control power. (pp. 45960; cf. pp. 57980, 591ff.)

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If what defines totalitarianism is its unstoppable transgressive, boundary-defiant dynamic, then much of what we assume to be part of life in the contemporary liberal West is itself totalitarian or quasi-totalitarian for instance, globalization, which is a project[ion of] political power over conventional boundaries (p. 493).17 Wolin rejects Nietzsches doctrine of will to power, but will to power is as ubiquitous in Wolins vision of things as it is in Nietzsches. In Wolins view, postmodernists are not critics but unwitting allies of the established anti-democratic order. Their emphasis on endless movement provides ideological support for the rhythms of contemporary capitalism (pp. 5667), and their dissolution of the citizenry into multicultural groups (p. 568 an echo of PV-Is critique of groupism)18 confirms a situation where the political is stranded without a viable carrier. They offer postures of revolt rather than the real thing (p. 567). These are forceful criticisms; yet in some respects, Wolins debate with postmodernism brings to the surface tensions and inconsistencies in his own position. Postmodernists are theorists of decentered power (p. 566), but Wolin is ambivalent about whether he wants a central state power strong enough to enforce social-economic justice, or whether he regards such state power as necessarily corrupting. The issue here is whether civic life ought to have a center, and, on this question, Wolins own thought tilts in a more postmodernist direction than he realizes. What Wolin offers in PV-II is a sour and joyless vision of the contemporary political world. There is little here to give hope or even to console. (It is Marxs description of exploited and degraded humanity without Marxs promise of a saving apocalypse.) Democracy has been smashed. Citizenship as currently organized is a joke. Political accountability is a sham. Elections are a mere ritual (like coronations in the context of monarchy).19 The dominant powers, whether centralized or dispersed, are hegemonic enforcing submission rather than permitting space for genuine civic agency. The media are all sell-outs to the dominant powers.20 The themes of manufactured consent and penal discipline loom as large in Wolins account of liberal democracy as they do in Foucaults, but in Wolin there is even less suggestion than there is in Foucault of the pleasures at least of resisting. Wolin is very critical of what he sees as Hannah Arendts elitism, but at least Arendt associated politics with a notion of public happiness that gave her political philo-

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sophy a crucial element of jouissance that is nowhere to be found in Wolin. Overall, Wolins voice in these new chapters approximates the tone of defeat one gets in Adorno. We live in a political epoch that is grim, grim, grim. Every aspect of modern life, from science to technology to public administration to culture to the structure of economic life, is not in any way empowering but rather radically disempowering. There are elites and there is a demos, and the purpose of the former is to oppress and disempower the latter. Even the defeats of totalitarianism of the last 60 years are eclipsed by the rise of a more insidious quasitotalitarian regime. It is reasonable to ask whether citizens of 21st-century liberal societies would actually recognize their political condition in this universally bleak and bitter depiction. There are traces of the old Wolin in PV-II, such as when he writes that democracy, if it is anything, . . . is about the public life of citizens, about ordinary human beings venturing out to take part in deliberations over shared concerns (p. 520), or when he writes that Being a citizen involves doing the best one can to take part in common tasks, the deliberations that define them, and the responsibilities that follow (p. 604). But such passages are swamped by the new Wolins unrelieved pessimism about institutionalized (or institutionalizable) democracy. Wolins phrase fugitive democracy (pp. 6016) nicely captures the defining characteristics of democracy as he now conceives it: episodic, under siege, and incapable of being stably institutionalized. It is true that the final sentence of PV-I was not exactly an optimistic one, conjuring up the possibility of nuclear annihilation; but it was written by someone who still believed in the possibility and indeed human urgency of democratic citizenship. In the conclusion to PV-II, a slender but crucial thread of hope is removed: civic conscience, rather than civic consciousness, is the most we can hope for (p. 604). That is to say, citizenship as a sustained, institutionalized collective possibility is an unrealistic aspiration. Do political theorists have an obligation to offer a positive vision positive enough, at least, to bolster civic energy and to urge potential citizens against despair? Is there a theoretical obligation not to offer a vision of things that is overwhelmingly depressing? Do we have an obligation not to let the history of political philosophy reach its conclusion in a political philosophy of despair? Do we have an obligation as civic theorists to be hopeful?21

Notes
1. This is acknowledged most explicitly on p. 605: the nature of the contemporary state has rendered obsolete the terms that were invoked in the conclusion to Part One, namely community and authority. 2. The discussion of Louis Napoleon in the Marx chapter anticipates the suggestion offered later in the book that contemporary American democracy amounts to a continuous managed plebiscite (p. 554). 3. Cf. for instance, p. 432 (politics is replaced by management of the economy); p. 438 (Instead of monarchs and parliaments . . . managers); p. 439 (A political economy without politics, the disappearance of politics); p. 441 (a political without politics); p. 454 (the economy provided the substance of the political, . . . [politics] would be reduced to a minor role). 4. Cf. p. xix: Marx . . . attempted to revive the dormant ideal of a politically active demos. 5. Cf. the discussion of the Paris Commune. Wolin cites Engelss enthusiastic embrace of the politics of the Paris Commune (p. 702, n. 196). While Wolin would obviously reject

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European Journal of Political Theory 5(4)


Engelss characterization of the Commune as a dictatorship of the proletariat (it was not a dictatorship, nor was it particularly proletarian), it is clear that the Paris Commune is for Wolin, no less, an exemplary manifestation of the political. The more one encounters these anti-statist, pro-decentralist views in Wolin (see especially the celebration of democratic localism on pp. 6034), the more puzzled one is by the notably unsympathetic account in Wolins recent book-length treatment of Tocqueville (2001) Tocqueville between Two Worlds. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Cf. p. 411: unlike Hegels civil servants, Marxs administration would no longer be encumbered by the state. Particularity, in the form of private property and class interests, would have been eradicated and, along with them, the rationale for a state. The fact that Marx, the champion of the Wolinian political, ultimately succumbs to Marx, the devotee of modern power, is very well captured in the debate between Marx and Bakunin: see Politics and Vision, pp. 4501. Although he does not spell this out explicitly, it seems likely that Wolin sees Bakunins anarchism as giving him a greater insight into the perils of relying on centralized state machinery. Ibid. p. 456: Nietzsche is the uncrowned sovereign theorist in the unacknowledged canon of postmodernists. Cf. p. 481: Nietzsche is iconized, undercriticized, and overauthoritative within postmodern thought. Cf. p. 496: in contrast to Popper and Rawls, Dewey was more of a democrat than a liberal. Cf. what Wolin says on p. 510 about Dewey on the one hand wanting more ambitious social planning on the part of FDRs regime, and on the other hand wanting to knock the state off its pedestal. Wolin poses to Dewey the very good question, If the state is to be downgraded, by what instrumentality is the stranglehold of capitalism to be broken[?] (pp. 51011), and it is hard not to suspect that Wolin himself struggles with the same question. Wolin also presents a forceful critique of Political Liberalism (pp. 53850), but this is one of many interesting discussions in the book that I do not have the space to pursue. Let me just mention that after reading the conclusion to PV-I quoted near the start of this essay, one might expect Wolin to be sympathetic to Rawlss idea that members of a liberal society should embrace a political conception of themselves that defines a more encompassing identity as a citizen i.e. more encompassing than their non-public identities (p. 544). Yet Wolin seems bitterly critical of this notion. Here the contrast with Rawls is stark: see especially the critique of Rawls on p. 535; cf. p. 549. On p. 510, Wolin puts the point more delicately: Dewey did not dismiss the state but sought to reconceive it, grudgingly and less majestically. Although Wolin is not very clear about when the era of modern power ends and that of postmodern power/Superpower commences, the argument in chapters 16 and 17 often rests on the suggestion that various attributes of the George W. Bush Administration constitute a change of regime in the Aristotelian sense. This surely exaggerates the historical importance of one particular cohort of rulers, the effect of which is to confuse regime in the sense of the policies and political norms of one particular presidency, and regime in the sense of structural features of a constitutional order per se. Cf. p. 563: postmodern power is agile, restless, contemptuous of national boundaries. Cf. the hard-hitting discussion on p. 586 of the centrifugals and their ideologies. Centrifugalism . . . implies that citizenship, as the core notion of democratic membership, is a residual category . . . rather than a positive, unifying force enabling society to cohere. Also, p. 584: postmodernist ideas of continual center-less flux reflect

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Beiner: Politics and Vision: The Sequel


[an] understanding of democracy . . . less centered on political citizenship. But on p. 604, he acknowledges some affinity between postmodern centrifugalism and his own preferred politics of democratic localism. 19. Ibid. p. 404; cf. p. 430. 20. Ibid. p. 594. 21. For complementary reflections on Wolins later political thought, see my review of Aryeh Botwinick and William E. Connolly (eds) Democracy and Vision: Sheldon Wolin and the Vicissitudes of the Political, (2004) Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society 24(1): 602.

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