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A second claim Taylor defends is that commitment to the liberal value of collective self-rule implies treating patriotically motivated public service as a non-instrumental good.
We should not, Taylor argues, regard collective association as nothing more than a means to satisfying private goals. Taylor advances a third claim, that is, he maintains that liberal toleration for diverse ways of life may require a perfectionist state that supports particularistic ways of life when they are threatened by decline. I offer a qualified defence of the first two claims, but suggest that the third is less compelling.
More specifically, Taylor argues that the political values we defend are those that enable us to secure the interests we have as the bearers of an identity possessing both individual and collective dimensions. In setting out the conditions that favour integrated and free identity formation we may thereby reach a clearer understanding of the political norms that we wish to endorse. Taylor as a theorist of identity 12 1.
Justification 51 3. Freedom 78 4. Cultural recognition, group survival and political fragmentation 5. To all the inhabitants of the many houses in which this thesis took form. I especially thank the Jacot-Guillarmod family and Ron and Priscilla Hall for the perennial generosity they have shown me.
David van Schoor and Dylan McGarry, your warmth and inspiring absurdity no less than your cooked meals and empty rooms have sustained me more than you may know. To my supervisor, Tony Fluxman: for patient guidance through foreign territory. To John Gillam, Atlas of student finance, and the staff of the Department of Political and International Studies: for saving me from further misadventure abroad. The financial assistance from the Rhodes University Postgraduate Scholarship towards this research is hereby acknowledged.
Opinions expressed and conclusions arrived at are those of the author and are not necessarily to be attributed to Rhodes University. White argues that political theory, and the social sciences more generally, have in recent years demonstrated a renewed interest in ontological issues.
Accompanying this development has been a shift away from ontological problems configured as the logical commitments attendant upon theorising activity to more practical critical reflections upon the make-up of the human subject that social science theory presupposes and the manner in which this subject negotiates concrete practices. Both approaches draw attention to basic existential realities, but differ about the conclusions that can be drawn from acknowledging them.
Strong ontologists attempt to establish a framework for moral and political principles rooted in apodictic truth-claims. Weak ontologists, by contrast, believe that deriving practical principles from ontological reflection is a contestable and historically dynamic interpretive process White, I focus throughout on the works that have helped establish his reputation as a political philosopher. His earliest publications appear in and he continues to publish into the present, the most significant recent work being A Secular Age For my selective choice of works I therefore hope to plead necessity, and the list I present here is nothing other than a body of writing that approximates what I consider a sort of canon of essays and books published in the decade between and although the essays selected for these works date as far back as and most commonly taken up in the expansive secondary literature on Taylor.
While I offer the briefest of side-glances at Hegel and Modern Society , rev. For all the unresolved difficulties that his work throws up, I believe Taylor succeeds in presenting a range of compelling arguments that show how deciding important philosophical questions concerning the nature of human identity and communal belonging might be of relevance to coming to a better understanding of the political conflicts and social malaises that haunt our Western modernity, while also offering valuable insights concerning how best we might forge ahead.
Advocacy issues are raised when attempting to resolve moral questions that inform normative discussions of social practices. Where a political orientation runs up against the norms endorsed by a particular community, political debate has to weigh the competing goods of each in reasoned discussion and there will be no simple or uncontroversial solutions. Where, however, an advocacy position defines a mode of practice that fails to accommodate some fundamental condition of human existence, it cannot but be rejected.
There will, of course, always be! Taylor believes that it is essential for political theory to define its ontological commitments because it is these that determine the fundamental units of analysis employed in conceptualising the essential principles of social life. Any discussion of social practices, as well as the nature of social goods, presupposes some sort of social ontology, and places one on one side or another of the longstanding dispute between atomists and holists.
Atomists hope to explain social action and social structures in relation to the properties of the individuals participating in these collective endeavours, and hope to understand public or common goods by decomposing them into individual goods Taylor, a. Taylor usually also associates atomism with the view that all goods, private and public, are those of an evaluating subject who is radically free, and that the inter-personal relationships, roles and commitments that such a view of goods allows for possess whatever value they do for us solely in accordance with their ability to facilitate the pursuit of our individual goods a, b, , a.
Holists, by contrast, perceive a certain reductionism in this atomistic outlook and are committed to the notion that society cannot be exhaustively understood by describing the properties of individuals and outlining the causal principles governing social intercourse between these conceptually isolated subjects Taylor, a.
These goods would not be what they are if they were not shared, and so they necessarily belong to a group. Holists usually, though not invariably, also differ from atomists in holding to some version of value realism which sets limits on our freedom of choice and conceive of social participation as an essential condition of the full realisation of our human potentialities, however unique these potentialities may be a, b, , a.
Likewise, the reverse relation is true, insofar as endorsing certain practices commits one to accepting an underlying ontology that makes sense of these normative recommendations. Such an ontological framework can be more or less articulate but it cannot possibly be absent Taylor, a: The correct relation between these two levels of argument is, Taylor believes, either ignored or confused in much contemporary political debate.
The fundamental problem here lies in the tendency of liberal thought to ignore ontological questions altogether, dismissing them as empty metaphysical speculations of little relevance to pragmatic political debates. Where there is an appreciation that such ontological issues are germane to debates at the advocacy level, there is nonetheless plenty of room for confusion. This confusion comes from the belief that there is a straightforward relationship between these two sets of issues, with critics almost invariably lumping atomists with individualists and holists with collectivists, whereas either commitment on the ontological level is combinable with either advocacy position Taylor, For this reason, the belief that a solid ontological argument can put issues arising at the advocacy level beyond dispute is mistaken Taylor, It is the mark of a good ontological thesis that it purports to structure the field of possibilities in a more perspicuous way.
But this does leave us with choices, which we need some normative, deliberative arguments to resolve…. As we shall see, for Taylor it is precisely the disjunction between these two levels of enquiry that leaves room for reasoned debate, and it is here that philosophical investigation and argumentation has the most to offer political theory.
Taylor places great value on such debate, hoping that through practical reason we can move toward a resolution of some of the more intractable dilemmas internal to Western modernity.
This I do only obliquely, and I make little attempt to challenge the sweeping historical generalisations that necessarily inhere in this ambitious project.
Taylor fears that procedural liberalism serves, even if unwittingly, to normatively endorse a model of political life that leads to the centralisation of political power, the exclusion of certain cultural groups from democratic debate, and the splintering or dissolution of politically effective and socially responsible coalitions within a political society.
In EA Taylor, developing a theme from Tocqueville, raises the concern that a form of uniquely modern despotism is now being realised in many modern Western societies. The despotic character of these societies resides rather in the fact that most important political procedures are guided by an impersonal and inflexible system of legal procedures, and all major decisions are made by the officials and specialists of a state bureaucracy which is largely impervious to the needs and aspirations of the citizenry Taylor, a: 10, The first of these, discussed in Chapter Four, is widespread citizen alienation from the mechanisms of self-rule in the climate of centralisation and bureaucratisation typical of societies where participation at many decentralised levels of government and in free civil society initiatives is not vigorously encouraged.
Where most import political decisions lie exclusively in the hands of a central government responsive, at best, to influential elitist lobbies and media interests, the average 6! The members of such a society, left with a negligibly small sphere of influence over their own affairs, become demotivated by a sense of impotence that inclines them to retreat into private life Taylor, a: ; a: A second failure of modern democracies — one that becomes increasingly threatening in contemporary conditions of pluralism — arises when the members of a minority or excluded cultural group within a political society believe that their shared interests have not been granted a fair hearing in the deliberative processes of the broader society.
As we shall see in Chapter Five, this sense of exclusion is often tied up with the ignored group failing to be considered an integral part of such a society. When denied recognition in this manner, such groups tend to grow disaffected and may, in extreme cases, attempt to secede from the national community. At the very least, this decline in social solidarity is likely to promote a thoroughly conflictual mode of politics where all outcomes are understood in a zero-sum fashion Taylor, a: ; b: In such conditions any productive form of conflict resolution is stymied because excluded or ignored groups are only likely to resign themselves to unfavourable political outcomes if they feel that they have been accommodated by, or at least respectfully incorporated in, democratic decision-making procedures Taylor, b.
A political society becomes fragmented when groups begin to practise a form of politics that mobilises support around narrow agendas that do not conform with a vision of the shared good of all in society. In such conditions it is extremely difficult to build majorities that can shape public policy on important issues a: , What Taylor refers to as soft despotism is the outcome of political fragmentation and the dissolution of ties between individuals and groups that feed it.
In a fragmented society there exists a vicious cycle where the mechanisms of citizen control over governmental decisions, as well as those promoting participation in free civil society initiatives, atrophy to the point of near total ineffectuality and, along with them, the confidence in success and unity of purpose that these initiatives require Taylor, With the dissolution of participatory democratic will-formation and the vehicles of association that facilitate it, what little collective political organisation survives the alienation and depoliticisation of the individual fractures into mutually estranged associative groups organised around local community, ethnic, religious, ideological or special interest identifications, with no underlying, society-wide identifications or allegiances that can transcend these group divisions Taylor, a: As Taylor explains,!
Because the more fragmented an electorate is in this sense, the more they transfer their political energies to promoting their partial groupings…and the less possible it is to mobilize democratic majorities around commonly understood programs and policies.
A sense grows that the electorate as a whole is defenceless against the leviathan state a: This is not an exclusively theoretical issue, but Taylor believes it can be most lucidly debated by engaging with the theoretical positions that may offer the most articulate formulations of the various advocacy positions in contestation.
Accordingly, in his attempt to expose the failures of democratic practice that give rise to bureaucratic centralisation, misrecognition of disadvantaged cultural groups and political fragmentation, Taylor repeatedly leads us back to the theoretical shortcomings attending some of the most influential articulations of contemporary liberal democratic practice. Nonetheless, within this more ontologically sensitive frame of reference, Taylor does offer many explicit interventions supporting the political theories advocated by thinkers like Michael Sandel and Alasdair MacIntyre that are generally viewed in the literature as communitarian stalwarts and criticising thinkers frequently expressly referred to by Taylor as liberals or procedural liberals like John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin and Robert Nozick, and there is some sense in situating him on what is conventionally considered the communitarian side of this divide Taylor, b: ; a; b; c; Paul, E.
This is especially true when discussing liberal theories of justice, and I draw out some of these important connections in Chapter Three. It is this more general, frequently inarticulate or pre-theoretical, grasp of social reality that these and other theorists reproduce, obfuscate or illuminate Taylor, b; ; c: While natural science purports to offer a neutral description of the objects it studies by formulating hypotheses and testing how they measure up to the facts, social science cannot hope to successfully imitate this procedure.
This is because the common-sense understanding that social theory extends does not relate to objects that exist in complete independence of our theorising activity concerning them Taylor, b: Instead, social theory usually extends, through articulation, our pre-theoretical grasp of the constitutive understandings and norms that inhere in the practices and institutions of society. In the process, social theory usually normatively reinforces or weakens these bodies and procedures by fortifying or undermining the credibility of the understandings that they ride on Taylor, b: For this reason there can be a more or less good fit between a practice and the theory informing it, with potentially detrimental consequences to the practice if the fit is poor and beneficial outcomes if it is good.
In this sense social theories, as opposed to natural science theories, may contribute to a transformation of their objects by revealing the coherence or the contradictions between the avowed purposes of a practice and the outcomes that eventuate from it, and it is precisely such connections that Taylor, as a political theorist, hopes to expose Taylor, b: 98, , As we shall see in Chapter One, Taylor believes that any cogent account of human behaviour must acknowledge that individual persons act in a purposive fashion that accords with how we interpret ourselves and our surroundings.
It is a feature of all persons, that is, that we act out of a certain self-understanding or identity. Moreover, because the terms in which 4 Taylor takes this pre-theoretical mode of understanding to be more fundamental to that which we have through explicit representations in that it is always present, whereas we only intermittently form representations of our experience, and because it functions as a background in relation to which our explicit formulations make sense Taylor, c: Taylor also holds that political institutions and practices are developed and sustained through co-ordinated action that is dependent on shared understandings forged in a dynamic interchange between persons.
Because these understandings help to further define our identities, woven into our self-understandings will be a minimally shared set of political commitments — a claim which I discuss further in Chapter Two. Accepting this timeless truth, for Taylor, entails accepting holism and abandoning atomism.
This project is worked out in large part through a sustained polemic against procedural liberalism; a creed which, Taylor believes, has at least three distinct elements.
I argue that the former claim is not a real problem for procedural liberals but that the latter does raise some concerns for our understanding of how social solidarity is to be promoted in pluralistic societies, to which procedural liberals may be insensitive.
This, for Taylor, is because procedural liberals understand the value of public service in instrumental terms, as a means to protecting our individual freedoms, whereas Taylor believes that it has an inherent value that can only be overlooked at the cost of disregarding the indispensability of collective self-rule as a guarantor of human freedom and dignity.
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