Lost in Rawlsland – George Yancey interviews Charles Mills

The critique by Mills is less of Rawls here than what Rawlsianism has become, or perhaps could only have become:

Rawls himself said in the opening pages of “A Theory of Justice” that we had to start with ideal theory because it was necessary for properly doing the really important thing: non-ideal theory, including the “pressing and urgent matter” of remedying injustice. But what was originally supposed to have been merely a tool has become an end in itself; the presumed antechamber to the real hall of debate is now its main site. Effectively, then, within the geography of the normative, ideal theory functions as a form of white flight. You don’t want to deal with the problems of race and the legacy of white supremacy, so, metaphorically, within the discourse of justice, you retreat from any spaces worryingly close to the inner cities and move instead to the safe and comfortable white spaces, the gated moral communities, of the segregated suburbs, from which they become normatively invisible….

Rather, mainstream political philosophy is seen as irrelevant to [e.g., forums on race and civil rights] because of the bizarre way it has developed since Rawls (a bizarreness not recognized as such by its practitioners because of the aforementioned norms of disciplinary socialization). Social justice theory should be reconnected with its real-world roots, the correction of injustices, which means that rectificatory justice in non-ideal societies should be the theoretical priority, not distributive justice in ideal societies. Political philosophy needs to exit Rawlsland — a fantasy world in the same extraterrestrial league as Wonderland, Oz and Middle-earth (if not as much fun) — and return to planet Earth.

via Lost in Rawlsland – NYTimes.com.

Henning Schmidgen’s Bruno Latour in Pieces

Translated by Gloria Custance, I was disappointed by this work, which I hoped would be the necessary background for providing links among Latour’s disparate works, from his PhD in philosophy of religion to laboratory life to his late AIME work. Originally published in German as Bruno Latour zur Einführung (2011), the books is at its best with Latour’s earliest writings, showing how in each of them there was a subterranean dialogue with a given thinker of power (Nietzsche, Spinoza, Foucault, Deleuze), but as it goes on, it can go through texts (We have never been ModernReassembling the SocialModes of Existence) with longer summaries of, say, a piece by Lyotard than anything in the actual texts. Indeed, it’s notable that one could read this “intellectual biography” and not even get stated the main thesis many of these texts (We have never been Modern is just jumbled, never mind the critique of the social in RtS), while going on about how Latour should have noted his phenomenological predecessors or Lyotard or someone else, or noting that MoE opens like Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism” (um, how?) etc. Then here it ends:

Latour provides no answers to these questions [it's not clear what they are from the proceeding paragraphs, so no matter, since I guess he hasn't answered them anyway]. He is too much the masked philosopher, the thinker on a stage. [Huh? Masked and on the stage?] His aim is not a representative sociological survey, a historical reconstruction, or a causal and explanatory account. Ultimately, his concern is not philosophy but to write books. Latour wants a new richness for descriptions–lively depictions of unfamiliar spaces, discourses, and realities. His concern is to dissuade us from anthropology [Huh? MoE is explicitly written in terms of “comparative anthropology”] as well as theology, away from the discipline of history as well as the history of science. The glad tidings he brings are that the openness of the event is perennial.

Nothing in the book discussed the “openness of the event” or how it’s presaged in this work to land at that ending. I thought the point of MoE is to think modes of diplomacy between these disciplines, not to dissuade “us” from them. In any event, too bad, since a book comparing the theses and arguments of Latour’s oeuvre along with its development (and perhaps also parsing out the relation of his devout Catholicism to any/all of this work, which is hinted at in spots in this book) would be a real help for those working through Latour.