The New Pluralism: William Connolly and the Contemporary Global Condition

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William Connolly, one of the best-known and most important political theorists writing today, is a principal architect of the “new pluralism.” In this volume, leading thinkers in contemporary political theory and international relations provide a comprehensive investigation of the new pluralism, Connolly’s contributions to it, and its influence on the fields of political theory and international relations. Together they trace the evolution of Connolly’s ideas, illuminating his challenges to the “old,” conventional pluralist theory that dominated American and British political science and sociology in the second half of the twentieth century.

The contributors show how Connolly has continually revised his ideas about pluralism to take into account radical changes in global politics, incorporate new theories of cognition, and reflect on the centrality of religion in political conflict. They engage his arguments for an agonistic democracy in which all fundamentalisms become the objects of politicization, so that differences are not just tolerated but are productive of debate and the creative source of a politics of becoming. They also explore the implications of his work, often challenging his views to widen the reach of even his most recently developed theories. Connolly’s new pluralism will provoke all citizens who refuse to subordinate their thinking to the regimes in which they reside, to religious authorities tied to the state, or to corporate interests tied to either. The New Pluralism concludes with an interview with Connolly in which he reflects on the evolution of his ideas and expands on his current work.

Contributors: Roland Bleiker, Wendy Brown, David Campbell, William Connolly, James Der Derian, Thomas L. Dumm, Kathy E. Ferguson, Bonnie Honig, George Kateb, Morton Schoolman Michael J. Shapiro, Stephen K. White

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This is an engaging collection of essays that provides an accessible introduction to William Connolly’s oeuvre, but its strength lies in the varied approaches the authors explore in responding to and problematizing aspects of his thought. It is highly recommended for graduate students and those academics interested in exploring Connolly’s ideas for the first time or critically reengaging them.” - Rosemary E. Shinko, International Studies Review

The New Pluralism. . .offers an unparalleled overview of this influential thinker.” - James Proctor, The Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“The 11 essays demonstrate great appreciation for Connolly’s work, as well as the mode in which he reflected on contemporary politics. . . . Recommended.” - M. Coulter, Choice

“A most welcome book. Due to his impressive and highly innovative string of writings, William Connolly has emerged as a leading, perhaps the leading, political theorist in the United States today. In our globalizing and multicultural world where cultures, ethnicities, and creeds are increasingly pushed together, his defense of a new and deep pluralism acquires an urgent timeliness. The contributors to the volume ably reveal both the wide range and the intense subtlety of Connolly’s work.”—Fred Dallmayr, Packey J. Dee Professor of Political Science and Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822342700
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 1,382,010
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

David Campbell is Professor of Cultural and Political Geography at Durham University. He is the author of National Deconstruction: Violence, Identity, and Justice in Bosnia and Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity.

Morton Schoolman is Professor of Political Science at the State University of New York, Albany. He is the author of Reason and Horror: Critical Theory, Democracy, and Aesthetic Individuality and the editor of the series Modernity and Political Thought.

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Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4270-0

Chapter One


Morton Schoolman

That generous and warm feeling for living Nature which flooded my heart with such bliss, so that I saw the world around me as a Paradise, has now become an unbearable torment, a sort of demon that persecutes me wherever I go ... There is not one moment which does not consume you and yours, and not one moment when you yourself are not inevitably destructive; the most harmless walk costs the lives of poor, minute creatures; one step of your foot annihilates their painstaking constructions, and stamps a small world into its ignominious grave. My heart is worn out by this consuming power latent in the whole of Nature which has formed nothing that will not destroy its neighbor and itself ... I see nothing but an eternally devouring monster. -GOETHE, The Sorrows of the Young Werther

GOETHE'S THOUGHT OF AN INELIMINABLE violence plaguing life, a violence intrinsic to the human condition, haunts political theory after the Second World War. It invites reflection on the possibility that genocide may be the raison d'être of violence organized by states which, as dupes of generic human drives, act to destroy the "other" as they organize those drives to serve systemic ends. Following this reflection is unavoidably another. Perhaps all "ordinary" and everyday constructions and punishments of difference as otherness also may be driven by what is human, all too human. Political theorists drawn to this pessimism by the horror of holocaust could be drawn to theoretical schools under the spell of such thought as Goethe's and prone to the despair that it would induce. Thus was I drawn to the work of Max Horkheimer and of Theodor Adorno, whose Dialectic of Enlightenment seemed to support Goethe's claim.

Seeking antidotes to the disease of reason diagnosed in this great work, I have found several, though they do not abound. Two in particular offer relief, in different ways, from the violence toward difference that Horkheimer and Adorno relentlessly track through their dark, genealogical history of reason. Both antidotes recognize violence that is not less embedded in modernity and not less ubiquitous than the violence that Goethe fears. Yet because neither antidote agrees with his premise that violence is the nature of human and nonhuman being, they both avoid the impotency attached to a trajectory of endless violence that is, according to Horkheimer and Adorno, aided and abetted by global capital without opposition. One antidote, an approach to the problem of violence toward difference that is thoroughly historical and political, is the politics and vision of a democracy of "agonistic respect" theorized by William Connolly. Agonistic respect promises an end to violence, though Connolly makes no such claim explicitly. A second approach to the problem of violence toward difference is developed in my own work, in which I turn to aesthetic theory to conceptualize a form of democratic individuality resistant to pressures to convert difference to otherness. Having been influenced by George Kateb, my approach to violence perhaps is less political than Connolly's, indebted as it is to an ensemble of different democratic workings whose formative impact on the private sphere has been conceptualized in Kateb's The Inner Ocean: Individualism and Democratic Culture, a work whose contributions to my efforts I have gratefully recorded.

As my engagement with this problem has been influenced by both theorists, I want to inquire now into Connolly's attack on the "second problem of evil," his apt formulation of what I refer to as the problem of violence toward difference. My inquiry can mark no more than a beginning, as few of Connolly's writings fail to bear on this problem. Nevertheless, by considering three works appearing over somewhat more than two decades, The Terms of Political Discourse, Identity\Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox, and The Ethos of Pluralization, we can arrive at an understanding of Connolly's distinctive approach to the problem of violence toward difference and of his thought of how democracy can erect barriers to this evil. Of the three works considered, I will devote special attention to the earliest, The Terms of Political Discourse. While it is not less well known than the others, its relationship to Connolly's subsequent work is often underappreciated.

As I proceed, I want to illuminate what I believe will be one of Connolly's most important, intensely disputed contributions to modern political theory. At the center of his concept of agonistic respect lie, I will propose, two normative commitments difficult to reconcile. An ethical commitment running throughout his work, the abolition of violence toward difference, is the value for which agonistic respect appears largely to have been conceived. At the same time, we find a normative commitment of another kind, an "allegiance" to the liberal democratic subject, which Connolly esteems for its modern achievements but also knows to be responsible for the violence to which he is opposed. To honor both commitments, Connolly does not discard but revises the liberal agent. These two tasks require theoretical approaches that resist the alliance he must forge among them. "Contestation," the approach that Connolly develops continuously throughout his work, seems to have been brought into a delicate balance with his later attention to genealogy and deconstruction. For the latter two approaches that he adopts to attack the subject's violence toward difference also threaten his qualified allegiance to the liberal agent for which the first approach provides justification. Through his concept of agonistic respect and the twin normative commitments that it entails, Connolly crystallizes a dilemma in various forms confronting radical liberal democratic theorists. To act in good faith and rid themselves of the violence toward difference perpetrated by its agent, must political theorists reject the subject who is liberalism's founding condition and so retire liberalism as well? Or, to pose Connolly's dilemma in a different form for political theorists who already have parted with modern liberalism and its subject, can the achievements of liberalism be preserved once its subject is discarded? Connolly's work answers both questions.

In the argument that follows, I hope that precious connections will emerge between cultivating a sensibility to violence toward difference, a liberal democratic ethos, and a pluralist form of thinking from which both are inseparable. As I hope to show, Connolly's pluralism is a model of how these connections are formed and become the measure of a pluralist mind, which surmounts Goethe's despair.


Pluralism and pluralist theory have been at the forefront of Connolly's critical attentions since his first book in 1967, Political Science and Ideology, which just two years later was followed by a collection of essays entitled The Bias of Pluralism. Both works remain important for their close critical examination of the ideological dimensions of political science, specifically the methodological assumptions and practices of its logical empiricism, intensely debated during the first three decades of political science after the Second World War. They remain equally noteworthy for his effort to politicize political science by pushing it to expand its concept of what counts as politics. So little in mainstream political science has changed since then that neither work has aged.

Despite the continuing relevance of these early works, the appropriate place to launch a discussion about Connolly's pluralist theory, the pluralistic character of his political thought, and indeed the pluralism of his thinking generally, is with The Terms of Political Discourse, an influential and award-winning book that remains in print more than thirty years after its publication in 1974. Importantly, it introduces the concept at the nucleus of Connolly's work in every successor publication. "Contestation"-or its original formulations, "contestability" and "essentially contested concepts"-is the concept through which Connolly develops pluralist theory. It is also the distinguishing feature of his thinking, his quality of mind. If we find a model of pluralist theory in Connolly's work, it is because contestation first models how to think pluralistically. Hence my distinction and the pertinence of the relation between pluralist theory and a pluralist mind.

Language and the Concept

The Terms of Political Discourse was written in the wake of developments in linguistic philosophy that had begun to influence political theorists. Connolly's approach to language bore very little of the trademark rationalism that later would complicate some linguistically informed political thought, such as Habermas's theory of communicative action. Connolly's interest lay, for example, not in universal properties attributed to language and linguistic performance but in culturally configured linguistic meaning, the ways that meaning comes to fill out our concepts and is shaped by the politics that constitute the rules governing conceptual application.

Further developing an argument made by the philosopher W. B. Gallie, Connolly argues that conceptual meaning inhabits "several dimensions," is expressed as a "broad range of criteria," and exhibits "multiple tendencies" and "heterogeneous elements." In a word, for Connolly the meanings embodied in our language are "plural." Connolly adopts a precise term to describe conceptual meaning. Concepts, all concepts, are formed as "clusters" of other concepts, which is to say that concepts are "relational." No concept can be clarified without reference to other concepts, other meanings, of which it is composed. Cluster concepts group concepts in ways that define our actions and practices. "Politics," to cite one of Connolly's examples, can refer to

1 Policies backed by the legally binding authority of government.

2 Actions that involve a decision or choice among viable options ...

3 The sort of considerations or motives participants invoke in selecting one available option over others ...

4 The extent to which decision outcomes affect the interests, wishes, or values of particular segments of the population ...

5 The extent to which the outcomes of decisions are intended or at least known by the decision makers ...

6 The number of people affected by the decision outcome and the length of time for which they are affected ...

7 The extent to which traditions and consensual expectations of a people acknowledge the matter at hand to be one in which a public voice is legitimately involved ...

8 The extent to which a policy or act becomes an issue as groups with different views about it range themselves on opposing sides to influence outcomes.

Certainly this concept of politics is complex owing to the collection of concepts of which it is composed, though as these criteria are hardly exhaustive of how the meaning of politics is defined in the modern western world Connolly's point is that politics is more complex still. Moreover, he further complicates such concepts by showing how each is rooted in more basic ideas belonging to culture and society. Along with the concepts that it groups, every concept of politics would also suppose some concept of agency, for instance, and of responsibility. And as the meanings of the concepts grouped in the cluster are also composites of yet other concepts, the meaning of politics is open. Complexity and openness, Connolly explains, are two of three essential characteristics of concepts that concern him, since they imply that for every dominant meaning and application of a concept, multiple-including radical-perspectives also are available to us. Even before taking up the third and decisive feature of concepts, we see that for Connolly concepts are wonderfully complex, composed as they are of internally related multiple layers and multiple channels of meaning traveling the length of a language formed by the breadths and depths of a culture and, as we shall see, its politics.

Complexity and openness convey the richness of the concepts at our disposal. As everything we say must be more meaningful than we know and intend, we must ask why the concepts that we use appear to us to mean less than their myriad dimensions and internal connections allow. Over the course of his works Connolly offers a series of answers to this question. For the moment we are interested in the one he proposes in The Terms of Political Discourse, the "appraisive" feature of concepts, the value we attach to the state of affairs that our concepts describe. "Concepts are typically appraisive," he explains, "in that to call something a 'work of art' or a 'democracy' is both to describe it, and to ascribe a value to it or express a commitment with respect to it." While complexity and openness partially account for the interpretive possibilities that concepts possess, the appraisive feature of language explains why we use concepts in certain ways rather than others. More to the point and most importantly for Connolly's argument, how each of us values what concepts describe explains why we often employ concepts differently.

Complexity, openness, and the values we attach to what concepts refer to enable us to take our different meanings from concepts and apply them differently, to disagree about what concepts mean and how they ought to be applied, and to turn our disagreements into serious disputes about just such matters. In Connolly's words, to introduce the basic idea that he adopts from Gallie and develops in future works, when concepts are complex, open, and appraisive they can become "essentially contested." As such, they can precipitate interminable conflict over their meaning and application. Contestation governs the terms of political discourse because they are structured in all the ways noted and hence conflict-ridden to their cores. To analyze the discourse of politics, now paraphrasing Connolly's argument and to get ahead of myself somewhat, is to engage the politics of discourse.

The Concept and the Norm

Why contests over the application of concepts arise, and why the discourse of politics is inescapably political, has to do with the work performed by value, the appraisive aspect of concepts. When states of affairs, institutions, behavior, beliefs, and practices are described conceptually, Connolly argues, they are being characterized "from one or more possible points of view," from the vantage points of "certain interests, purposes, or standards," from "moral" or, more generally, "normative" points of view. An intrinsic part of the skeletal structure of concepts is the normative commitments and rationales of those who use them, which influence how the concepts will be used. What does it mean to say that normative considerations influence how concepts are used? It means there is a formative connection between the criteria that make up a concept and the normative points of view from which the concept is used. Our normative perspectives help to shape the criteria that we fold into our concepts and consequently the meaning of that to which our concepts are applied. As Connolly explains, if we were to "subtract" or "exorcise" the evaluative point from our concepts, we would lose our underlying reasons for describing things as we do, we could not determine if concepts correspond to situations that are new and unforeseen, and our concepts would fall into disuse. In effect, if we were deprived of the normative reasons for "grouping" criteria together we could neither conceptualize nor make judgments.


Excerpted from THE NEW PLURALISM Copyright © 2008 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Pluralism "Old" and "New" Morton Schoolman Schoolman, Morton David Campbell Campbell, David 1

A Pluralist Mind: Agonistic Respect and the Problem of Violence Toward Difference Morton Schoolman Schoolman, Morton 17

Connolly's Voice Thomas L. Dumm Dumm, Thomas L. 62

The Time of Rights: Emergency Thoughts in an Emergency Setting Bonnie Honig Honig, Bonnie 85

Visualizing Post-National Democracy Roland Bleiker Bleiker, Roland 121

Uncertain Constellations: Dignity, Equality, Respect, and ...? Stephen K. White White, Stephen K.

Prohibition and Transgression George Kateb Kateb, George 167

Radicalizing Democratic Theory: Social Space in Connolly, Deleuze, and Ranciere Michael J. Shapiro Shapiro, Michael J. 197

Theorizing Dyslexia With Connolly and Haraway Kathy E. Ferguson Ferguson, Kathy E. 221

Sovereignty and the Return of the Repressed Wendy Brown Brown, Wendy 250

Becoming Connolly: Critique, Crossing Over, and Concepts James Der Derian Der Derian, James 273

Identity, Difference, and the Global: William Connolly's International Theory David Campbell Campbell, David 289

An Interview With William Connolly Morton Schoolman Schoolman, Morton David Campbell Campbell, David 305

Bibliography 337

About the Contributors 349

Index 353

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