The Specter of Babel
A Reconstruction of Political Judgment
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Presents a new way of thinking about fundamental political concepts such as freedom, justice, and the common good.
In an age of rising groupthink, reactionary populism, social conformity, and democratic deficit, political judgment in modern society has reached a state of crisis. In The Specter of Babel, Michael J. Thompson offers a critical reconstruction of the concept of political judgment that can help resuscitate critical citizenship and democratic life. At the center of the book are two arguments. The first is that modern practical and political philosophy has made a postmetaphysical turn that is unable to guard against the effects of social power on consciousness and the deliberative powers of citizens. The second is that an alternative path toward a critical social ontology can provide a framework for a new theory of ethics and politics. This critical social ontology looks at human sociality not as mere intersubjectivity or communication, but rather as constituted by the shapes that our social-relational structures take as well as the kinds of purposes and ends toward which our social lives are organized. Only by calling these into question, Thompson boldly argues, can we once again attempt to revitalize social critique and democratic politics.
Michael J. Thompson is Professor of Political Theory at William Paterson University. His many books include The Politics of Inequality: A Political History of the Idea of Economic Inequality in America and The Domestication of Critical Theory.
"The Specter of Babel is a remarkable achievement … is a deeply stimulating and much needed book. It continues Thompson's fearless assault on the shibboleths of neo-Idealism and the decayed state of contemporary Political Philosophy and Critical Theory." — New Political Science
"The Specter of Babel is a formidable challenge to anyone intent on downplaying the continued urgency of either the European enlightenment or the type of critical theory set on continuing its unfinished project." — Contemporary Political Theory
"…Thompson's critical social ontology is the specter that surrounds us like class consciousness theories were at the beginning of the past century. The main claim of the book is a lesson about how theory can be dangerous again. After all, no Marxist or Critical Theorist has attempted to answer this specific sort of normative task since Lukács and Adorno. In doing so, Thompson seeks to systematize the vertigo of our falling civilization. But as someone once said: 'where the danger lies, also grows the saving power'. This powerful and rebel book is more aware of this than any other." — Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
"Critical social theorists in a variety of disciplines—including sociology, political science, philosophy, and cultural studies—will be challenged and fortified by engaging Thompson's fine book." — Dan Krier, coeditor of Capital in the Mirror: Critical Social Theory and the Aesthetic Dimension