UPDATE: The full version of the review is now downloadable from SSRN here.
Having finally finished reading Simon Critchley's Infinitely Demanding, I am in a somewhat better position to opine than in my previous post on this topic, and have put my two bits in the form of a short review (forthcoming in the journal Law, Culture & the Humanities). Here are the first two paragraphs, which more or less contain my bottom line:
For the past fifteen years, Simon Critchley has been one of the foremost explicators of contemporary Continental philosophy for the English-speaking audience. During the same period, he has been developing his own philosophical positions on ethics, politics and art in a series of books and articles that both draw on and re-work these Continental sources. In his new book, Infinitely Demanding, he condenses this body of work into a succinct programmatic summa of his own ethical-political philosophy, one whose practical-political aim is a defense of a revised concept of political anarchism.
If, as I will suggest below, his analysis provokes some questions that leave the ultimate success of his project in doubt, that does not diminish the value of this ambitious book, which raises all of the right questions at our current philosophico-historical juncture, questions that Anglo-American moral and political philosophy has for the most part swept under the rug. Above all, Critchley should be applauded for recognizing that the problem of political motivation – the impetus to act politically as opposed to other motives for and forms of action – is not simply an empirical question of individual or group interest, but also a philosophical problem, perhaps the most pressing political-philosophical problem of our time. The disenchanting powers of modernity have provided fodder for philosophical reflection at least since the Romantic era. If these powers have now undermined our most basic sense of ourselves as zoon politikon – and there is plenty of evidence that they have, from voter-turnout statistics to the denatured, scientistic “policy analysis” that today substitutes for political reflection and deliberation – then it is high time for political philosophy to address the possibility of a cure as well as diagnosing the disease. Critchley recognizes this situation and calls it by name, and his book deserves attention and response for this reason alone.