A TALE OF TWO MODERNITIES: A LIBERAL ALTERNATIVE TO A LIBERAL MODERNITY FROM VICO TO HAVEL
Otruba, Alexander Peter
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The resurgence of the political theory of Marx, Lenin and even Communism itself is increasingly seen in left political theory as the only means of successfully mobilizing the "energy and rage" of the people against capitalism in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse. It also threatens to draw politics and political theory back into the dangerous territory of twentieth-century illusions. This dissertation--taking its cue from Jeffrey Isaac's 1995 article in DISSENT condemning the "strange silence of political theory" regarding the revolutions of 1989--looks to introduce the political thought of 1989 into contemporary left political theory. The work of Leszek Kolakowski, Adam Michnik, Vaclav Havel and Gyorgy Konrad are representative of a political theory that consciously works to avoid the ideological traps and illusions packaged within modernity's displacement of the authority of the natural world with the Cartesian promise to be able to both know, order, and modify that world. This dissertation places the east and central European dissident theorists of 1989 in conversation with Giambattista Vico--who in his oration On method in contemporary fields of study (1710) recognized the presence of this tension that would undergird modernity--and the Italian antifascist theorists Benedetto Croce, Piero Gobetti and Antonio Gramsci, whom he would later inspire. Through their similar confrontations with modern totalitarian states, both the Italian antifascist theorists and the theorists of 1989 identified within modernity a rupture between "truth", concrete reality, and humanity itself. A rupture that produced regimes and politics that promised humanity's emancipation from absolutism, while normalizing its subjugation in new and increasingly sophisticated ways. Their revised theoretical approach to modernity sets aside the ideological illusions of the twentieth-century in a compelling manner, and instead offer a principled foundation for the active preservation of democracy and human autonomy. Read collectively they represent more just a critique, but also a sophisticated set of political ideas that answer those who would otherwise approach them as naïve revolutionists or even defenders of the status quo.