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Whereas for Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and other philosophers of the Enlightenment, the autonomous subject was the central presumption of civil society, contemporary thinkers have in various ways disparaged or disputed the concept of the sovereign individual. Heartfield begins by surveying the evolution of the French deconstructionist school, from its early structuralist origins to its apotheosis in post-modernism.
While concentrating on Althusser and Foucault, he also discusses the feminist and post-colonialist writers who emerged from this tradition (notably Kristeva, Pateman and Said). He also assesses 'attempts to rescue the subject' by Rorty, Rawls, Castoriadis and Taylor, though he judges these to be of a limited and defensive character.
Heartfield's use of Engels' polemic against Duhring's 'force theory of history' to attack Foucault's notion of all-pervasive relations of power helps to expose this deeply pessimistic (and highly influential) thesis.
He also shows how Habermas' attempt to displace subjectivity with the ideal of 'inter-subjectivity' amounts to placing a premium on the constraint of subjectivity and prepares the way for communitarian and 'third way' theorists such as Beck and Giddens. As he puts it, their concept of risk is little more than a '... morbid version of Habermas' intersubjectivity'.... Read more ›