Paul McLaughlin, Radicalism: a Philosophical Study.

Author:Graham, Robert
Position:Book review

Paul McLaughlin, Radicalism: A Philosophical Study

Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2012, 214 pp; ISBN 978-0-230347-84-7.

In Radicalism: A Philosophical Study, Paul McLaughlin sets out to define radical political philosophy, to encourage mutual respect among radical political philosophers, and to defend a 'progressive and humanistic' political radicalism.

He describes his approach as 'traditional', not in the sense of conservative or hidebound, but in the sense of investigating what makes a political theory or ideology radical and what different radical political theories may have in common, such that they can be said to belong to an 'overall radical tradition'.

McLaughlin's writing and arguments are clear and precise, but a bit dry at times. In the first chapter, he explores the philosophical meaning of political radicalism, ultimately defining it 'in terms of a (i) fundamental orientation (towards fundamental objects) (ii) in the political domain (iii) of an argumentative nature'.

Chapter 2 is the longest and most interesting chapter, in which McLaughlin presents an admittedly 'highly selective' survey of modern, 'Western', i.e. European based, radical political philosophy. It's an eclectic mix, which in contrast to many other academic studies of political radicalism includes many anarchist and anarchistic thinkers who rarely benefit from the fair and erudite treatment that McLaughlin affords them here.

I was a bit disappointed by the section on Bakunin, which focuses on his argument regarding the religious basis of all authority. This focus results from McLaughlin's general method in this chapter, which is to use a single work of a particular author to analyse the particular political radicalism he or she espouses (in Bakunin's case, God and the State is the chosen text).

Although one of McLaughlin's goals is to determine what radical political theories have in common, the interrelationships between the ideas of the various authors discussed is not developed. While Bakunin's critique of the role of intellectuals in society is alluded to, it would have been useful to contrast it with Gramsci's notions of the organic versus traditional intellectual, the role of the...

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