The Entire Archives of Radical Philosophy Go Online: Read Essays by Michel Foucault, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler & More (1972–2022)

On a seem­ing­ly dai­ly basis, we see attacks against the intel­lec­tu­al cul­ture of the aca­d­e­m­ic human­i­ties, which, since the 1960s, have opened up spaces for left­ists to devel­op crit­i­cal the­o­ries of all kinds. Attacks from sup­pos­ed­ly lib­er­al pro­fes­sors and cen­trist op-ed colum­nists, from well-fund­ed con­ser­v­a­tive think tanks and white suprema­cists on col­lege cam­pus tours. All rail against the evils of fem­i­nism, post-mod­ernism, and some­thing called “neo-Marx­ism” with out­sized agi­ta­tion.

For stu­dents and pro­fes­sors, the onslaughts are exhaust­ing, and not only because they have very real, often dan­ger­ous, con­se­quences, but because they all attack the same straw men (or “straw peo­ple”) and refuse to engage with aca­d­e­m­ic thought on its own terms. Rarely, in the exas­per­at­ing pro­lif­er­a­tion of cranky, cher­ry-picked anti-acad­e­mia op-eds do we encounter peo­ple actu­al­ly read­ing and grap­pling with the ideas of their sup­posed ide­o­log­i­cal neme­ses.

Were non-aca­d­e­m­ic crit­ics to take aca­d­e­m­ic work seri­ous­ly, they might notice that debates over “polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness,” “thought polic­ing,” “iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics,” etc. have been going on for thir­ty years now, and among left intel­lec­tu­als them­selves. Con­trary to what many seem to think, crit­i­cism of lib­er­al ide­ol­o­gy has not been banned in the acad­e­my. It is absolute­ly the case that the human­i­ties have become increas­ing­ly hos­tile to irre­spon­si­ble opin­ions that dehu­man­ize peo­ple, like emer­gency room doc­tors become hos­tile to drunk dri­ving. But it does not fol­low there­fore that one can­not dis­agree with the estab­lish­ment, as though the Uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem were still behold­en to the Vat­i­can.

Under­stand­ing this requires work many peo­ple are unwill­ing to do, either because they’re busy and dis­tract­ed or, per­haps more often, because they have oth­er, bad faith agen­das. Should one decide to sur­vey the philo­soph­i­cal debates on the left, how­ev­er, an excel­lent place to start would be Rad­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy, which describes itself as a “UK-based jour­nal of social­ist and fem­i­nist phi­los­o­phy.” Found­ed in 1972, in response to “the wide­ly-felt dis­con­tent with the steril­i­ty of aca­d­e­m­ic phi­los­o­phy at the time,” the jour­nal was itself an act of protest against the cul­ture of acad­e­mia.

Rad­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy has pub­lished essays and inter­views with near­ly all of the big names in aca­d­e­m­ic phi­los­o­phy on the left—from Marx­ists, to post-struc­tural­ists, to post-colo­nial­ists, to phe­nom­e­nol­o­gists, to crit­i­cal the­o­rists, to Laca­ni­ans, to queer the­o­rists, to rad­i­cal the­olo­gians, to the prag­ma­tist Richard Rorty, who made argu­ments for nation­al pride and made sev­er­al cri­tiques of crit­i­cal the­o­ry as an illib­er­al enter­prise. The full range of rad­i­cal crit­i­cal the­o­ry over the past 45 years appears here, as well as con­trar­i­an respons­es from philoso­phers on the left.

Rorty was hard­ly the only one in the journal’s pages to cri­tique cer­tain promi­nent trends. Soci­ol­o­gists Pierre Bour­dieu and Loic Wac­quant launched a 2001 protest against what they called “a strange Newspeak,” or “NewLib­er­al­S­peak” that includ­ed words like “glob­al­iza­tion,” “gov­er­nance,” “employ­a­bil­i­ty,” “under­class,” “com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism,” “mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism” and “their so-called post­mod­ern cousins.” Bour­dieu and Wac­quant argued that this dis­course obscures “the terms ‘cap­i­tal­ism,’ ‘class,’ ‘exploita­tion,’ ‘dom­i­na­tion,’ and ‘inequal­i­ty,’” as part of a “neolib­er­al rev­o­lu­tion,” that intends to “remake the world by sweep­ing away the social and eco­nom­ic con­quests of a cen­tu­ry of social strug­gles.”

One can also find in the pages of Rad­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy philoso­pher Alain Badiou’s 2005 cri­tique of “demo­c­ra­t­ic mate­ri­al­ism,” which he iden­ti­fies as a “post­mod­ernism” that “rec­og­nizes the objec­tive exis­tence of bod­ies alone. Who would ever speak today, oth­er than to con­form to a cer­tain rhetoric? Of the sep­a­ra­bil­i­ty of our immor­tal soul?” Badiou iden­ti­fies the ide­al of max­i­mum tol­er­ance as one that also, para­dox­i­cal­ly, “guides us, irre­sistibly” to war. But he refus­es to counter demo­c­ra­t­ic materialism’s max­im that “there are only bod­ies and lan­guages” with what he calls “its for­mal oppo­site… ‘aris­to­crat­ic ide­al­ism.’” Instead, he adds the sup­ple­men­tary phrase, “except that there are truths.”

Badiou’s polemic includes an oblique swipe at Stal­in­ism, a cri­tique Michel Fou­cault makes in more depth in a 1975 inter­view, in which he approv­ing­ly cites phe­nom­e­nol­o­gist Merleau-Ponty’s “argu­ment against the Com­mu­nism of the time… that it has destroyed the dialec­tic of indi­vid­ual and history—and hence the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a human­is­tic soci­ety and indi­vid­ual free­dom.” Fou­cault made a case for this “dialec­ti­cal rela­tion­ship” as that “in which the free and open human project con­sists.” In an inter­view two years lat­er, he talks of pris­ons as insti­tu­tions “no less per­fect than school or bar­racks or hos­pi­tal” for repress­ing and trans­form­ing indi­vid­u­als.

Foucault’s polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy inspired fem­i­nist and queer the­o­rist Judith But­ler, whose argu­ments inspired many of today’s gen­der the­o­rists, and who is deeply con­cerned with ques­tions of ethics, moral­i­ty, and social respon­si­bil­i­ty. Her Adorno Prize Lec­ture, pub­lished in a 2012 issue, took up Theodor Adorno’s chal­lenge of how it is pos­si­ble to live a good life in bad cir­cum­stances (under fas­cism, for example)—a clas­si­cal polit­i­cal ques­tion that she engages through the work of Orlan­do Pat­ter­son, Han­nah Arendt, Lud­wig Wittgen­stein, and Hegel. Her lec­ture ends with a dis­cus­sion of the eth­i­cal duty to active­ly resist and protest an intol­er­a­ble sta­tus quo.

You can now read for free all of these essays and hun­dreds more at the Rad­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy archive, either on the site itself or in down­load­able PDFs. The jour­nal, run by an ‘Edi­to­r­i­al Col­lec­tive,” still appears three times a year. The most recent issue fea­tures an essay by Lars T. Lih on the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion through the lens of Thomas Hobbes, a detailed his­tor­i­cal account by Nathan Brown of the term “post­mod­ern,” and its inap­plic­a­bil­i­ty to the present moment, and an essay by Jami­la M.H. Mas­cat on the prob­lem of Hegelian abstrac­tion.

If noth­ing else, these essays and many oth­ers should upend facile notions of left­ist aca­d­e­m­ic phi­los­o­phy as dom­i­nat­ed by “post­mod­ern” denials of truth, moral­i­ty, free­dom, and Enlight­en­ment thought, as doc­tri­naire Stal­in­ism, or lit­tle more than thought polic­ing through dog­mat­ic polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. For every argu­ment in the pages of Rad­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy that might con­firm cer­tain read­ers’ bias­es, there are dozens more that will chal­lenge their assump­tions, bear­ing out Foucault’s obser­va­tion that “phi­los­o­phy can­not be an end­less scruti­ny of its own propo­si­tions.”

Enter the Rad­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy archive here.

Note: This post was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished on our site in March, 2018.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Intro­duc­ing Ergo, the New Open Phi­los­o­phy Jour­nal

His­to­ry of Mod­ern Phi­los­o­phy: A Free Online Course 

On the Pow­er of Teach­ing Phi­los­o­phy in Pris­ons

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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