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The task of critique in times of post-truth politics

  • Sebastian Schindler (a1)

Abstract

Post-truth politics poses a specific problem for critical theories. The problem is that the relativisation of facts – the claim that knowledge is merely a product of power, history, and perspective – is a core aspect of present-day ideological thinking. Critical theories have been unable to respond to this challenge, because their critique has been directed against the opposite claim, namely the naturalisation of facts. While acknowledging this problem, this article argues that post-truth discourse actually combines relativisation and naturalisation. It does not simply relativise truth, but also naturalises the belief in specific ‘facts’ – notably the belief that ‘conspiracies are behind it all’. Once we recognise the twin character of post-truth, we must reject the view of Bruno Latour and others who have made critique responsible for the crisis. Instead, it then becomes apparent that there are deep and disconcerting similarities between post-truth politics and the totalitarian and authoritarian ideologies of the twentieth century. The task of critique is to confront and counter this resurgent ideology, thereby providing direction and orientation in the struggle for emancipation.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.

Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email: sebastian.schindler@gsi.uni-muenchen.de

References

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1 Kurki, Milja, ‘The limitations of the critical edge: Reflections on critical and philosophical IR scholarship today’, Millennium, 40:1 (2011), pp. 129–46; Azmanova, Albena, ‘Crisis? Capitalism is doing very well: How is critical theory?’, Constellations, 21:3 (2014), pp. 351–65; Anderl, Felix and Wallmeier, Philip, ‘Modi der Kritik des internationalen Regierens: Ein Plädoyer für immanente Kritik’, Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen, 25:1 (2018), pp. 6589.

2 Fluck, Matthew, ‘Truth, values and the value of truth in critical International Relations theory’, Millennium, 39:2 (2010), pp. 259–78; Fluck, Matthew, ‘The best there is? Communication, objectivity and the future of critical International Relations theory’, European Journal of International Relations, 20:1 (2014), pp. 5679; Hamati-Ataya, Inanna, ‘Reflectivity, reflexivity, reflexivism: IR's “reflexive turn” – and beyond’, European Journal of International Relations, 19:4 (2013), pp. 669–94; Koddenbrock, Kai, ‘Strategies of critique in IR: From Foucault and Latour towards Marx’, European Journal of International Relations, 21:2 (2015), pp. 243–66; Bargués–Pedreny, Pol, ‘Connolly and the never-ending critiques of liberal peace: From the privilege of difference to vorarephilia’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 30:2 (2017), pp. 216–34; Lohne, Kjersti, ‘As the universal breaks’, New Perspectives, 26:3 (2018), pp. 135–42; Schmid, Davide, ‘The poverty of critical theory in International Relations: Habermas, Linklater and the failings of cosmopolitan critique’, European Journal of International Relations, 24:1 (2017), pp. 198220.

3 Geuss, Raymond, The Idea of a Critical Theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt School (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

4 This is very clear for instance in Smith, Steve, ‘Singing our world into existence: International Relations theory and September 11’, International Studies Quarterly, 48:3 (2004), pp. 499515.

5 Naturalisation is a term common to many critical theories, in particular of feminist and postcolonial varieties – it means seeing as natural ‘that which is [in reality] historically produced’. Seth, Sanja, ‘Postcolonial theory and the critique of International Relations’, Millennium, 40:1 (2011), p. 168. The corresponding term in Marxist theories is ‘reification’, a concept central also to constructivist theory. Wendt, Alexander, ‘Anarchy is what states make of it: The social construction of power politics’, International Organization, 46:2 (1992), p. 410. In contrast, a perspective that sees all knowledge as purely historical is commonly termed ‘relativist’ – hence my expression ‘relativisation’. Relativisation involves an exclusive reliance on ‘historicisation’, that is, in the words of Matthew Fluck, ‘one of the simplest but most effective strategies of reflexive IR […] which serves to denaturalise and contextualise’. Fluck, Matthew, ‘Theory, “truthers”, and transparency: Reflecting on knowledge in the twenty-first century’, Review of International Studies, 42 (2016), p. 55. My use of such terms as ‘merely’, ‘entirely’, or ‘purely’ is intended to express the excessive, ideological character of both naturalisation and relativisation.

6 Latour, Bruno, ‘Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern’, Critical Inquiry, 30 (winter 2004), pp. 225–48.

7 Cox, Robert, ‘Social forces, states and world orders: Beyond International Relations theory’, Millennium, 10:2 (1981), pp. 126–55.

8 Horkheimer, Max, ‘Traditional and critical theory’, in Critical Theory: Selected Essays, trans. O'Connell, Matthew J. et al. (New York: Continuum, 2002), pp. 188243.

9 Jahn, Beate, ‘One step forward, two steps back: Critical theory as the latest edition of liberal idealism’, Millennium, 27:3 (1998), pp. 616–17.

10 Rengger, Nicholas and Thirkell-White, Ben, ‘Still critical after all these years? The past, present and future of critical theory in International Relations’, Review of International Studies, 33:S1 (2007), pp. 324.

11 Similarly, Ashley used Habermas's distinction between three ‘knowledge-constitutive interests’ (Erkenntnisinteressen) to argue that a specific kind of critically minded research – research with an emancipatory interest – had hitherto played a subordinate role in IR theory. Unlike Cox, Ashley sought this emancipatory, critical research interest within rather than outside of the dominant realist theory, and discovered this critical spirit notably in aspects of the work of John Herz. Ashley, Richard, ‘Political realism and human interests’, International Studies Quarterly, 25:2 (1981), pp. 204–36.

12 Cox, ‘Social forces, states and world orders’, p. 128.

16 Ibid., p. 129.

21 In fact, Robert Cox is not known today in the IR discipline as a proponent of relativisation. Rather to the contrary, his take on critical theory has become associated with a version of critical theory that takes too much for granted. This point was already advanced by Nick Rengger in the so-called inter-paradigm debate. Rengger criticised Mark Hoffman's summary statement of Critical Theory (CT) as only one specific kind of such a theory (namely ‘Coxian Critical Theory’ – CCT), since important critical theorists such as Rorty and Foucault had a far more radical perspective on the question of historicity of knowledge in particular. This more radical perspective has, Rengger claimed, ‘the awkward corollary that all our conceptions may simply be historically contingent, that there is, in other words, nothing that is “universal to world order” because there is nothing that is universal at all’. Rengger, Nick, ‘Going critical? A response to Hoffman’, Millennium, 17:1 (1988), pp. 85–6; Hoffman, Mark, ‘Critical theory and the inter-paradigm debate’, Millennium, 16:2 (1987), pp. 231–49. However, while Rorty explicitly embraced the term ‘relativism’, Foucault's thought at least offers resources for a non-relativising form of critique as well. Through the engagement with our own history, Foucault's (and Nietzsche's) genealogies enable us to access a knowledge about ourselves that transcends, one could say, this very history. Saar, Martin, Genealogie als Kritik: Geschichte und Theorie des Subjekts nach Nietzsche und Foucault (Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2007).

22 Cox, ‘Social forces, states and world orders, p. 128.

24 As Hamati-Ataya puts it, critical theory according to Cox is ‘both inside and outside of itself, both subject and object of knowledge’. Hamati-Ataya, ‘Reflectivity, reflexivity, reflexivism’, p. 675.

25 Cox, ‘Social forces, states and world orders’, p. 135.

26 Rengger and Thirkell-White, ‘Still critical after all these years?’.

27 Hutchings, Kimberly, ‘Happy anniversary! Time and critique in International Relations theory’, Review of International Studies, 33:S1 (2007), pp. 7189. In the same issue, John Hobson adopts a perspective that is in many respects similar to that of Hutchings: Hobson, John, ‘Is critical theory always for the white West and for Western imperialism? Beyond Westphilian towards a post-racist critical IR’, Review of International Studies, 33:S1 (2007), pp. 91116. Here I will focus on Hutchings's reflections, because they enable me to develop a systematic argument about the impact of the naturalisation/relativisation binary on the development of critical thinking.

28 Hutchings, ‘Happy anniversary!’, p. 72.

29 Ibid., p. 89.

30 Ibid., p. 81.

32 Ibid., p. 83.

33 Ibid., p. 78.

34 Cox, ‘Social forces, states and world orders’, p. 128.

35 Derrida, Jacques, ‘Différance’, in Bass, Alan (ed.), Margins of Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 327; Derrida, Jacques, Writing and Difference (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), ch. 2.

36 Geras, Norman, ‘The view from everywhere’, Review of International Studies, 25:1 (1999), pp. 157–63.

37 Hutchings, ‘Happy anniversary!’, p. 88.

38 Ibid., pp. 89, 85.

39 Ibid., pp. 85–8.

40 In the words of Fluck, ‘the underlying assumption of much critical IR scholarship has been that the theoretical concern with and practical orientation towards objectivity is in some sense inherently opposed to non-instrumental political practice’. Indeed, ‘the very notion “object” has almost entirely negative connotations, having been seen as at best naïve but very often as complicit in social domination’. Fluck, ‘The best there is?’, pp. 63, 62. For notable examples of this phenomenon, see Aradau, Claudia and Huysmans, Jef, ‘Assembling credibility: Knowledge, method and critique in times of “post-truth”’, Security Dialogue, 50:1 (2019), pp. 44–6; Aradau, Claudia and Huysmans, Jef, ‘Critical methods in International Relations: The politics of techniques, devices and acts’, European Journal of International Relations, 20:3 (2014), pp. 596619. Aradau and Huysmans introduce an understanding of critical methods according to which the latter always serve to disrupt extant worlds and establish alternative ones; yet it remains unclear whether and in which sense one could say that the alternative world is more objective or closer to the truth than the extant one. However, the articulation of alternatives inevitably relates to our current knowledge. It cannot help but transcend the latter. This applies, for instance, to critical historical methods that, by means of engaging with past alternatives, allow us to ‘gain a more historically accurate sense of the present’. Devetak, Richard, ‘“The battle is all there is”: Philosophy and history in International Relations theory’, International Relations, 31:3 (2017), p. 274.

41 Hamati-Ataya, ‘Reflectivity, reflexivity, reflexivism’, p. 684; Koddenbrock, ‘Strategies of critique in IR’; Schmid, ‘The poverty of critical theory in International Relations’; Azmanova, ‘Crisis?’; Fluck, ‘The best there is?’; Bargues-Pedreny, ‘Connolly and the never-ending critiques of liberal peace’; Lohne, ‘As the universal breaks’.

42 Latour, ‘Why has critique run out of steam?’, p. 227, emphasis in original.

43 Ibid., emphasis in original.

44 Ibid., p. 228, emphasis in original.

45 Hochschild, Arlie Russel, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (New York: The New Press, 2016); Cramer, Katherine, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016).

46 For the case of France, see Eribon, Didier, Returning to Reims (London: Penguin Books, 2016). For the case of the UK, see Marshall, Hannah and Drieschova, Alena, ‘Post-truth politics in the UK's Brexit referendum’, New Perspectives, 26:3 (2018), pp. 96–9.

47 Alison Flood, ‘“Post-truth” named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries’, The Guardian (15 November 2016).

48 Quoted in ibid.

52 Andrew Marantz, ‘Is Trump trolling the White House press corps?’, The New Yorker (20 March 2017).

53 Latour, ‘Why has critique run out of steam?’, p. 230.

54 Sismondo, Sergio, ‘Post-truth?’, Social Studies of Science, 47:1 (2017), pp. 36; Fuller, Steve, ‘Is STS all talk and no walk?’, EASST Review, 36:1 (2017), pp. 21–2. For refutations of this assumption, see Crilley, Rhys and Chatterje-Doody, Precious, ‘Security studies in the age of “post-truth” politics: In defence of poststructuralism’, Critical Studies on Security, 7:2 (2019), pp. 166–70; Aaron Hanlon, ‘Postmodernism didn't cause Trump. It explains him’, The Washington Post (30 August 2018).

55 McIntyre, Lee, Post-Truth (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018), p. 150; Michelsen, Nicholas and Tallis, Benjamin, ‘Post-truth-telling in international relations’, New Perspectives, 26:3 (2018), pp. 89; Wight, Colin, ‘Post-truth, postmodernism and alternative facts’, New Perspectives, 26:3 (2018), pp. 25–7; Michelsen, Nicholas, ‘Publicism, truth-pluralism and the usefulness problem’, New Perspectives, 26:3 (2018), p. 125; Tallis, Benjamin, ‘Editorial: Living in post-truth: Power/ knowledge/ responsibility’, New Perspectives, 24:1 (2016), pp. 718.

56 Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism (San Diego: Harvest Books, 1979), p. 474. This is also a definitional feature of what Harry Frankfurt later termed ‘bullshit’. Frankfurt, Harry, On Bullshit (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).

57 Ibid., p. 471.

58 The popularity of this document is extensively discussed for instance by Boltanski, Luc, Mysteries and Conspiracies: Detective Stories, Spy Novels, and the Making of Modern Societies (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014).

59 Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land.

60 On immunisation as an aspect of conspiracy theories, see Pelkmans, Mathijs and Machold, Rhys, ‘Conspiracy theories and their truth trajectories’, Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, 59 (2011), p. 69.

61 Helmut König highlights this point in an in-depth reconstruction of the chapter ‘Elements of Antisemitism’, in Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. König, Helmut, Elemente des Antisemitismus: Kommentare und Interpretationen zu einem Kapitel der Dialektik der Aufklärung von Max Horkheimer und Theodor W. Adorno (Weilerswist: Velbrück, 2016).

62 Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 471.

63 Ibid., p. 470.

64 Ibid., p. 382.

65 Aupers, Stef, ‘“Trust no one”: Modernization, paranoia and conspiracy culture’, European Journal of Communication, 27:1 (2012), p. 30.

66 Pelkmans and Machold, ‘Conspiracy theories and their truth trajectories’, p. 68.

67 Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 470.

68 Fluck similarly reads conspiracy thinking as an expression of a peculiar form of modern subjectivity marked not least by ‘compulsion’. Fluck, ‘Theory, “truthers”, and transparency’, p. 73.

69 Horkheimer, Max and Adorno, Theodor W., Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, trans. Jephcott, Edmund (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002). For a discussion specifically of their account of antisemitism, see König, Elemente des Antisemitismus; see also Fluck, ‘Theory, “truthers”, and transparency’, pp. 68–9.

70 Löwenthal, Leo and Guterman, Norbert, Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator (Palo Alto: Pacific Books, 1970 [orig. pub. 1949]).

71 A student in a seminar I taught at the University of Würzburg used Löwenthal's categories of agitation to analyse Trump's tweets. It worked astonishingly well.

72 Fromm, Erich, Escape from Freedom (New York, NY: Avon Books, 1965 [orig. pub. 1941]), p. 276.

74 Also contemporary observers have described a society driven by a desire for ‘false clarity’ and by the ‘commodification of facts’ as a prerequisite for the spread of conspiracy thinking and post-truth politics. Fluck, ‘Theory, “truthers”, and transparency’, pp. 68–73; Luca Mavelli, ‘Neoliberalism as religion: Sacralization of the market and post-truth politics’, International Political Sociology, Online First (2019), p. 13.

75 Latour, ‘Why has critique run out of steam?’, pp. 228, 230.

76 Ibid., p. 230.

77 Adorno, Theodor W., ‘Beitrag zur Ideologienlehre’, Soziologische Schriften I (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1972), p. 465; Cooke, Maeve, ‘Resurrecting the rationality of ideology critique: Reflections on Laclau on ideology’, Constellations, 13:1 (2006), p. 4; Jaeggi, Rahel, ‘Rethinking ideology’, in de Bruin, B. and Zurn, C. F. (eds), New Waves in Political Philosophy (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), p. 63.

78 Cooke, ‘Resurrecting the rationality of ideology critique’, p. 4.

79 Ibid. See also Geuss (The Idea of a Critical Theory) on this point. Also Niklas Luhmann advanced a similar critique. Edelmann, Florian, ‘“I see something you don't see”: Niklas Luhmann's social theory between observation and meta-critique’, in Martill, Benjamin and Schindler, Sebastian (eds), Theory as Ideology in International Relations: The Politics of Knowledge (London: Routledge, forthcoming 2020). And long before these thinkers, Karl Mannheim realised that the pejorative connotation of the term led to a situation in which it was predominantly used as an allegation directed against one's adversaries. On this point, see Jahn, Beate, ‘Liberal internationalism: From ideology to empirical theory – and back again’, International Theory, 1:3 (2009), pp. 409–38; Benjamin Herborth, ‘Ideology as decontestation’, in Martill and Schindler (eds), Theory as Ideology in International Relations.

80 Lepold, Kristina, ‘An ideology critique of recognition: Judith Butler in the context of the contemporary debate on recognition’, Constellations, 25:3 (2018), pp. 474–84; Martill, Benjamin, ‘International ideologies: Paradigms of ideological analysis and world politics’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 22:3 (2017), pp. 236–55; Albena Azmanova, ‘The costs of the democratic turn in political theory’, in Martill and Schindler (eds), Theory as Ideology in International Relations; Jaeggi, ‘Rethinking ideology’.

81 On Marx, see Koddenbrock, ‘Strategies of critique in IR; Schmid, ‘The poverty of critical theory in International Relations’. On Adorno, see Jaeggi, ‘Rethinking ideology’; Fluck, ‘Truth, values and the value of truth in critical International Relations theory’; Fluck, ‘The best there is?’; Levine, Daniel J., Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). On Horkheimer, see Beate Jahn, ‘Brexit, Trump and the Responsibilities of Critical International Relations Theory’, paper presented at EISA Workshop Theory as Ideology, Cardiff, UK, 2017. On Fromm, see Azmanova, ‘Crisis?’; Ben Christian, ‘Die Flucht ins Postfaktische: Von der Selbst-Verleugnung zur Welt-Verleugnung’, Soziologie Magazin (2019). On Arendt, see Volk, Christian, ‘Towards a critical theory of the political: Hannah Arendt on power and critique’, Philosophy and Social Criticism, 42:6 (2016), pp. 549–75; Rösch, Felix, ‘Realism as social criticism: The thinking partnership of Hannah Arendt and Hans Morgenthau’, International Politics, 50:6 (2013), pp. 815–29; Hartmut Behr, ‘Theory vs. ideology: Validity criteria for knowledge claims and normative conditions of critique’, in Martill and Schindler (eds), Theory as Ideology in International Relations; Behr, Hartmut, ‘Conditions of critique and the non-irreversibility of politics’, Journal of International Political Theory, 13:1 (2017), pp. 122–40. For a combined discussion of how Fromm, Horkheimer, Adorno, as well as Simone Weil and Norbert Eilas, can illuminate the current predicament, see Linklater, Andrew, ‘Towards a sociology of global morals with an “emancipatory intent”’, Review of International Studies, 33:S1 (2007), pp. 135–50.

82 One interesting example of this can be found in Tim Aistrope and Roland Bleiker's otherwise intriguing treatment of conspiracy theories. Aistrope and Bleiker rightly challenge the orientalism inherent in the idea that only Arab Muslims have conspiracy theories; yet their own theoretical approach in the end leaves no means at all to distinguish between right and false conspiracy allegations, whether in Western or non-Western discourse. Aistrope, Tim and Bleiker, Roland, ‘Conspiracy and foreign policy’, Security Dialogue, 49:3 (2018), pp. 165–82.

83 Cox, ‘Social forces, states and world orders’, p. 128.

84 Adorno, ‘Beitrag zur Ideologienlehre’, p. 465.

85 Jaeggi, ‘Rethinking ideology’. See also Fluck, ‘Theory, “truthers”, and transparency’, who makes this point specifically for conspiracy theories.

86 It is therefore no surprise that, as Andrew Linklater has stressed, ‘Frankfurt School critical theory – and related perspectives in the interwar period – moved the psychological and emotional features of human existence to the forefront of sociological analysis.’ Linklater quotes specifically Adorno to the effect that ‘the critical study of society has a responsibility to “lend a voice to suffering”’, and adds that this is in fact ‘a condition of all truth’. Linklater, ‘Towards a sociology of global morals with an “emancipatory intent”’, pp. 142–3. Post-truth is, in this sense, the expression of suppressed suffering. The standard definition of post-truth (according to which emotions and ‘felt’ truth replace rational truth) captures this quite well – only that there is indeed a real and serious ‘felt truth’ to uncover. Note that Robin Celikates's account of ‘critique as social practice’ also moves in the direction indicated here. Celikates suggests returning to the early psychological roots of critical theory in order to analyse contemporary blockages of actors’ capacities for thinking critically. Post-truth represents precisely such a blockage. Celikates, Robin, Critique as Social Practice: Critical Theory and Social Self-Understanding (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).

87 There are doubtless important differences. I would, however, disagree with Ari-Elmeri Hyvönen's claim that the logical stringency of ideological thinking ‘often seems lacking in the case of post-truth politics’. Hyvönen, Ari-Elmeri, ‘Careless speech: Conceptualizing post-truth politics’, New Perspectives, 26:3 (2018), p. 41. The obsession with which ulterior interests are today suspected behind public events is a marker precisely of the logical stringency of excessive conspiracy thinking.

88 Patomäki, Heikki and Wight, Colin, ‘After post-positivism? The promises of critical realism’, International Studies Quarterly, 44:2 (2000), p. 215.

89 The insight into the continuous dynamic of subject-object relations is foundational of the thought of a number of prominent critical theorists – and arguably of critique itself. In the words of Fluck, who here paraphrases Adorno, ‘subject and object “mediate” each other; human reason is shaped by objective conditions but, at the same time, we cannot understand objective conditions other than as they are mediated through our current understanding’. Fluck, ‘The best there is?’, p. 67. This idea features for instance in Kant's critique of pure reason and specifically his core idea that all knowledge has two roots, intellectual categories and sensual experience. Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Pure Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). It also marks Wendt's account of the agent-structure problem and specifically the claim that agents and structures are ‘mutually constitutive yet ontologically distinct entities’. Wendt, Alexander, ‘The agent-structure problem in International Relations theory’, International Organization, 41:3 (1987), p. 360. It is at the heart of the critical-theoretical notion of dialectical thinking that provides insight into the ‘changes and continuities we author collectively and are simultaneously exposed to’. Heine, Christian and Teschke, Benno, ‘Sleeping Beauty and the dialectical awakening: On the potential of dialectic for International Relations’, Millennium, 25:2 (1996), p. 400. It means that, in research practice, we need to be continually aware of the choice between understanding the subjective and approaching the objective – between ‘getting close’ and ‘gaining distance’. Schindler, Sebastian and Wille, Tobias, ‘How can we criticize international practices?’, International Studies Quarterly, 63:4 (2019), pp. 1014–24. However, it is not the case that subject and object are necessarily in tension or contradiction. All that is required here is the acknowledgement that there is a continuous dynamic of contradiction and reconciliation. The challenge for us as beings capable of reflexive, critical thought is to come to terms time and again with establishing a relationship between us and the world, between subjective and objective. Our specific condition is that this task can be achieved only because we are not alone in the world but find ourselves confronted with a plurality of perspectives. It was Immanuel Kant who once exclaimed: ‘Yet how much and how correctly would we think if we did not think as it were in community with others … !’ Kant, Immanuel, ‘What does it mean to orient oneself in thinking’, in Kant, Religion and Rational Theology, ed. and trans. Wood, Allen and di Giovanni, George (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 118 (p. 16). The critique of ideology is one specific way of materialising the potential inherent in this condition.

90 Fluck, ‘The best there is?’, p. 67.

91 Fromm, Escape from Freedom. The stronger these pressures, the stronger the anxiety about one's status in society. The link between status anxiety and the spread of conspiracy thinking is explored by Hofstadter, Richard, The Paranoid Style and Other Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964), pp. 82–6. For more recent contributions that examine the more general link between market pressures and post-truth, see Hyvönen, Mats, ‘As a matter of fact: Journalism and scholarship in the post-truth era’, in Peters, Michael, Rider, Sharon, Hyvönen, Mats, and Besley, Tina (eds), Post-Truth, Fake News: Viral Modernity & Higher Education (Singapore: Springer, 2018), pp. 124–5; Mavelli, ‘Neoliberalism as religion’.

92 The words that he speaks for those who feel ‘unheard’ run like a refrain through Trump's speeches. Trump epitomises a mixture many people seem to identify with today, a mixture of reckless egoism with the posture of an innocent victim – a mixture that Arendt recognised in the two principal personalities that indicate the crisis of our time, criminal and saint. Arendt, Hannah, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), p. 180. The posture of victimisation is a core feature of earlier and contemporary forms of fascist ideology. Maik Fielitz and Holger Marcks, ‘Digital Fascism: Challenges for the Open Society in Times of Social Media’, Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies Working Paper Series (16 July 2019), pp. 5–8.

93 A society of unleashed competition is marked, despite an enormous amount of online communication, by feelings of fear, loneliness, and isolation. Bauman, Zygmunt, Strangers at Our Doors (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016). It is, in Azmanova's terms, one of ‘political economy of fear’. Azmanova, Albena, ‘Against the politics of fear: On deliberation, inclusion, and the political economy of trust’, Philosophy and Social Criticism, 37:4 (2011), pp. 401–12. Loneliness and isolation are sometimes mistaken for the solitude that we all need and require, but they are in reality highly worrisome products of a distinctly modern, Western, and capitalist condition. Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, pp. 476–8.

94 Fluck, ‘The best there is?’, p. 77; Fluck, Matthew, The Concept of Truth in International Relations Theory: Critical Thought Beyond Post-Positivism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), p. 230.

95 Latour, ‘Why has critique run out of steam?’, p. 230.

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The task of critique in times of post-truth politics

  • Sebastian Schindler (a1)

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