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The Company of Critics

Social Criticism and Political Commitment in the Twentieth Century

By (author) Michael Walzer
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Peter Halban Publishers Ltd, London, United Kingdom
Published: 23rd Feb 1989
Dimensions: w 159mm h 240mm
Weight: 530g
ISBN-10: 1870015207
ISBN-13: 9781870015202
Barcode No: 9781870015202

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Kirkus US
In supple, jargon-free prose, Walzer elaborates the theoretical approaches of his recent Interpretation and Social Criticism (1987) and applies them to the lives and work of 11 of this century's major social critics. Each self-contained, perceptive evaluation illustrates appropriate facets of his argument. Walzer's fundamental concern is simple, but not simplistic: a critic's assumptions and outlook must be identified, he believes, for they locate his or her work along a scale ranging from detachment from society to an immersion so complete or particular that the critic becomes an apologist. The pitfalls at either end of the spectrum are radically similar. The detached critic operates from supposedly universal and transcendent values - moral absolutes, whether religious or ideological - and from a standpoint well outside the mainstream of society. In isolation, the critic rails ineffectively, tending to assume the arrogance of opposition per se. Choosing activism, the critic lacks sufficient popular support and understanding and succumbs to the arrogance of power: if possible, he or she will restructure society by force. The result is tyranny. At the other extreme, the critic too deeply engaged in society risks losing independent perspective. Affiliation with party, program, or movement demands a certain muting of voice in the name of unity, discipline, and effectiveness. As with the detached critic, the ultimate temptation is the exercise of political power in the service of a partial vision. To get a hearing, Walzer argues, to have a chance to be effective, the critic must be "connected" to society and sensitive to its operative values and aspirations. But not too connected, for to express those values and hopes, interpret its ideals, and contrast them with his or her perception of social reality, the critic must maintain some degree of distance and independence. In these penetrating discussions of representative 20th-century social critics, Walzer gauges the degrees of connectedness and detachment exceedingly well, with consistently fine distinctions. A commendable blend of theory and practice. (Kirkus Reviews)