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  • The Ivory Tower and the Marble Citadel: Essays on Political Philosophy in Our Modern Era of Interacting Cultures by Thomas A. Metzger
  • Robert J. Morris (bio)
Thomas A. Metzger. The Ivory Tower and the Marble Citadel: Essays on Political Philosophy in Our Modern Era of Interacting Cultures. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2012. xxiii, 795 pp. Hardcover $75.00, isbn: 978-962-996-488-7.

Thomas Metzger’s new book is the sequel to his 2005 A Cloud across the Pacific.1 Like the first volume, this book is of such complexity as to defy reduction to a single statement of what it is about. Students of the first volume and the discussions surrounding it2 will easily segue into the second. Those who are not familiar with his work might want to read the final, autobiographical chapter first (pp. 759–774). He states his thesis, subject, claims, and purpose in three typical parts as follows:

[T]he scope of this essay collection … is mainly concerned with establishing the need to uncover and critically compare the culturally inherited premises of political philosophies in China and in the West in order to optimize the struggle to realize political progress, the goal of a world governed by political rationality.

(p. 159)

Reexamining the direction of philosophy is necessary to deal with the problem of normative continuity or discontinuity with a cultural tradition, because the way people debate this never-ending problem of cultural revision has always been and clearly will always be to debate philosophical questions about the nature of human life as a whole, not just factual questions about one’s own group.

(p. 264)

[T]his book … defin[es] philosophy … as a linguistically unavoidable aspect of political life positing that the legitimization of government is derived from the most enlightened understanding of a sensorially unobservable and thus metaphysical object, the nature or condition of human life in general or as a whole.

(p. 348) [End Page 629]

Metzger assumes as crucial the inherited “shared orientations” and “civilizational values” of humanity—the polity’s “sense of indisputable principle” (pp. 191, 631, 720)—as discoverable through philosophical methodology (pp. 292–294). He makes frequent reference to the “great oneness” 大同 of Chinese philosophy to suggest the need for a “convergence” of the world’s philosophies, or at least those of East and West, which are now divided and often antagonistic. He offers this comparison: “[N]o major Chinese ideology in late imperial or modern times has led to that corrosive skepticism about these values that currently is afflicting American life” (p. 294).

As in the earlier book, he frames his discussion in terms of the Great Modern Western Epistemological Revolution (GMWER), for which he provides several lists of key figures (pp. 242, 306, 331, 511, 543, 771), who are the mainstream founders of white male Euro-American political philosophy (p. 553).3 His central paradigm is “neo-Hegelianism,” which posits the embeddedness of history within culture via language or semantics (e.g., pp. 43, 57, 68, 73, 90, 145). He combines this with the “Burkean position,” the extreme social conservatism of Edmund Burke’s reaction to the French Revolution (pp. 155, 219 n. 162, 710)—a “conservative respect for existing traditions.” Metzger’s purpose in this new volume is to “rephrase” the Western context of his “philosophical empiricism” (pp. 14, 381). He approaches this through “empirical knowledge about linguistic practice” (p. 12) to inform political philosophy—semantics to enlighten metaphysics (p. xxii). This is a methodology common to the law—my profession4—but in different ways, as I will show. He treats such Tillichian “ultimate concerns” as freedom, equality, democracy, rights, religion, reason, culture, progress, evidence, and knowledge through exploration of what it means to live in the paideia (παιδεία)—the processes of socialization, discourses, education, and propaganda, “imbibed since childhood” and thus taken for granted as true (pp. 161, 403, 648), because they “seemingly appear in the consciousness of ego as patterns common to all of ‘us’—i.e., all of humanity” (p. 361) and shape the norms of the polity and culture in which we live (p. 7). With regard to these, textual study must seek to uncover new...


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