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HUMANITIES 309 Ronald Beiner. Philosophy in a Time ofLost Spirit: Essays on Contemporary Theon) University of Toronto Press 1997· 254·$55.00, $24.95 For Ronald Beiner, intellectuals have an obligation to keep the space of intellectual life as rich and open as possible. The arguments and critical reviews offered in the subsequent nineteen essays attempt to achieve this. Beiner calls upon 'the great traditions of Western political philosophy' in order to reach a critical view ofthe presentsocial order. This aim frequently is best accomplished by also 'blasting away at liberal orthodoxy,' a practice Beiner engages in with success. It also determines his choice of authors in those essays which originally have been published as reviews. This is not to say that Beiner chooses easy targets - contemporary liberals such as Rawls or historical figures such as Mill. Rather, some of the more interesting essays are devoted to 'liberals' ambivalent about liberalism, such as Rorty, or even critical of it, such as Habermas. And his perhaps most provocative piece is a study of Foucault's ceuvre glossing Foucault's elusive anarchism as a form of hyperliberalism. In some instances (essays 13 and 15), the discussion proceeds under the auspices of Beiner's own very 'liberal,' i.e., open-minded approach to political philosophy: He shows, for example, that Lasch's critique of American liberal culture has great merits, pointing towards a less privatized practice of citizenship. But critical as the author is of writers whom he regards as complacent (or worse, as in the case of Foucault), all the major essays reveal a profound sense of fairness: any theoretical effort, even that of liberal theorists, has its merits, because it is a struggle to escape the stupefying reality of late twentieth-century practical liberalism and its suppression of real citizenship and participation. But in the end, Beiner's spirited discussion of a wide variety of political and social thinkers is sustained by the love he has for authors such as Arendt and Gadamer. Indeed, if one looks for the basis of his rejection of liberal retreats into the private domain and the progressivist dornestication ofpublic life, it can and may be found in his actualization of Arendt's defence of public life as the domain ofhumanization, or as Beiner says, 'her fundamental endeavour to vindicate an inters,ubjective experience of life.' I do not know of any political theorist in our day who is steeped as deeply in Arendt's thought as Beiner, who has made her opposition to J group-based political ideologies' the basis of his theorizing. This comes through quite strongly in the discussion of the differences between Strauss's and Arendt's recourse to the Greek classics and of the place of philosophy in modem life. Beiner is primarily drawn to philosophers from the European continent whom he describes as 'intellectual extremists,' thinkers such as Nietzsche and Marx who also contributed to Arendt's concern for the defence of 310 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 human dignity. Beiner regards these radical philosophers as having greatly enriched our intellectual world; but they should not be valued for the influence which they have had in social and cultural life. I do not understand this point. Marx and Nietzsche must be read by way of the impact and effects which they have had in history. Beiner may not be able to return 'spirit' and moral commitment to contemporary philosophy, if he makes a distinction (as he appears to do) between spirited philosophizing takmg place in a secluded private domain, and dry, responsible theorizing geared towards the actions of citizens. Nevertheless, the author does draw attention to the opaqueness of the relation between theory and practice in our day. And given that this book is very readable and erudite, it definitely helps us perceive the problem more clearly. (DIETER MISGELO) William Closson James. Locations of the Sacred: Essays on Religion, Literature, and Canadian Culture Wilfrid Laurier University Press. xviii, 270 . $39.95 This collection of essays is an important contribution to the small but growing body of work on religion and literature in Canada. William Closson James interprets religion very broadly as the sacred, numinous, or transcendent, 'liberating it from the binding...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 309-310
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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