ISSUE ONE: What Comes after

                                    The term "postmodernism" has
                           come to refer to the facile and even
                           nihilistic historicism and relativism
                           that many have embraced after losing
                           their Enlightenment faith in Reason.
                           Postmodernism, thus understood,
                           represents a merely reactive and
                           transitional stage of
                           post-Enlightenment Western culture.
                           To move beyond this stage, it is
                           necessary to rethink Enlightenment
                           conceptions of reason and knowledge
                           so that they are not merely rejected
                           and negated, but transformed in such
                           a way as to open new possibilities
                           for development that are continuous
   ISSUE                   with the past.
    ONE                              This site proposes such a
                           rethinking of the Enlightenment. The
                           thesis: Enlightenment conceptions of
                           reason and knowledge can be affirmed
                           in the post-Enlightenment period,
                           provided we understand them properly
                           in terms of the political and
                           cultural function they have served
                           for three hundred years -- namely, as
                           primary components of an emerging
                           liberal democratic civic culture in
                           the West. Thus, the project of
                           rethinking Enlightenment conceptions
                           of reason and knowledge becomes the
                           project of rethinking the cultural
                           foundations of Western liberal
                           democracy. What comes after
                           postmodernism, then? The answer
                           offered here: the postmodern
                           reconstruction of liberal democratic
             .             civic culture and civil society.

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                          ISSUE TWO: Western Culture         * See Samuel
                          and the Clash of                   P. Huntington,
                          Civilizations                      The Clash of
                                   Assume for a moment       and the
                          that the global order              Remaking of
                          emerging in the post-Cold War      World Order
                          era will eventually look           (New York:
                          something more like                Simon &
                          Huntington's* picture of it        Schuster,
                          than not. What sort of             1996)
                          cultural tasks would such a
                          global political and economic
                          order impose on the West?
                                   In a world order
                          shaped by the clash of
                          civilizations, one thing is
                          certain. The universalism of
                          Western Enlightenment culture
                          will be obsolete and
                          irrelevant. During the period
                          of the West's virtually
                          unchallenged ascendancy in
                          the world, it seemed that
                          mastery of the vocabulary of
                          modernist Western rationalism
                          and naturalism was one of the
                          necessary conditions for
                          economic and technological
                                    But that is no
                          longer the case. East Asian
                          and Islamic nations have
                          proven that thoroughly modern
                          strategies of economic and
                          technological progress can be
   ISSUE                  adapted to and supported by
    TWO                   non-Western cultural
                                   The question is, can
                          the West adapt to, come to
                          terms with, the full
                          realization of the cultural
                          particularism of the values
                          underlying its own social,
                          economic and political
                          institutions after centuries
                          of representing those values
                          to the world at large as
                          universally valid, as
                          grounded in the nature of
                                   The universalism and
                          essentialism of Enlightenment
                          culture systematically
                          discouraged reflection about
                          and active nuturance of civic
                          culture -- i.e., the
                          particularistic form of
                          culture required for the
                          support of liberal democracy.
                          This negligence is becoming
                          increasingly costly to and
                          dangerous for the West in the
                          post-Cold War world. The
                          cultural task imposed on the
                          West in the era of the clash
                          of civilizations, then, is to
                          rethink liberal moral ideals
                          as specifically
                          particularistic cultural
                          ideals, with the aim of
                          discovering new resources for
            .             their renewal.

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                           ISSUE THREE: The Postmodern
                           Reconstruction of Personal Life

                                    Full cultural citizenship,
                           full participation in a liberal
                           democratic civil society, requires
                           citizens to undergo a certain
                           difficult and often painful process
                           of individualization. Citizens must
                           learn to see both self and other as
                           free and equal individuals, as
                           individuals who stand apart from, or
                           who are not exhaustively described
                           by, the attributes they possess as
                           members of particularistic ethnic,
                           religious or class-based communities.
                                    To persuade citizens to
                           undergo this process of
                           individualization, special cultural
                           resources are needed. Among them are
                           moral ideals that define as
                           praiseworthy the participation in
                           this individualizing process.
                                    Two such moral ideals proper
                           to modernist liberal civic culture
                           are the ideals of authenticity and
                           autonomy. Authenticity -- roughly,
                           the mandate to become "who one really
                           is," and autonomy -- roughly, the
   ISSUE                   mandate to "be one's own person,"
   THREE                   have shaped personal life in the West
                           for over three hundred years. To the
                           extent that these moral ideals have
                           been effective, they have produced
                           citizens whose individualized
                           identities have made them capable of
                           full participation in civil society.
                                    However, the credibility of
                           these moral ideals is entirely
                           dependent upon notions of human
                           identity -- notions like "real self"
                           and "free will" influenced by
                           Enlightenment culture. To the extent
                           that Enlightenment conceptions of
                           reason and knowledge are called into
                           question, the moral ideals of
                           authenticity and autonomy lose their
                           persuasive power.
                                    A civil society cannot exist
                           without the cultural means necessary
                           to reproduce its members. If the
                           ideals of authenticity and autonomy
                           are no longer effective in producing
                           the kind of individualized identities
                           required for full cultural
                           citizenship, new ideals must replace
                           them. But what form will these new
                           moral ideals take? How will personal
                           life in the post-Enlightenment West
             .             be transformed by these new ideals?

by Thomas Bridges