Over at anotherpanacea, there's a really fascinating and mature consideration of what AnPan calls "Critique in the Age of Hope." The basic concern underlying AnPan's essay, as I read it, is that the general ethos of good-will and hope that has accompanied President Obama into the White House might find its expression in an unwitting subordination, by the American citizenry, of the role of critique. (By "critique," AnPan means the basic Kantian exercise of public reason, of deliberation and debate concerning matters of shared/public interest.) That is, he worries that the dramatic-- and dramatically positive--change from the last administration's practices of suppression, secrecy, lies, and general mismanagement of the public good will lull us into believing that we shouldn't criticize the current administration. Or, rather, he worries that Obama's symbolic representation of (what AnPan calls) "post-factional politics" may convince us that we all really are on the same page, so we can put away our soapboxes and rest assured that we are being heard.
Solidly couched within the long and storied tradition of enlightened (and Enlightenment) "critique," AnPan's essay is a warning: Don't be bamboozled. All is not yet well. He offers his own specific criticisms of government-business-as-usual, including three very astute platforms (1. Restore the Middle Class, 2. Make War on War, and 3. Shrink the Penitentiary) that the Obama administration ought to adopt post haste. On those counts, I have no issue, as I wholeheartedly agree with AnPan's analysis. But the real crux of his post is centered on the following question, in his words:
So what is role of political theory in the age of hope? When progressive politicians gain power, what role does critique still have to play? What is to be done, if Obama’s already doing it?
AnPan's answer is, as might be expected, to insist that we be cognizant of the fact that Obama may not be "already doing it," and consequently to keep pressure on just the sorts of real, and really legitimate, ideological disagreements we have about how to best manage the public good. Interestingly, he references Foucault's (critical) definition of "critique" in the course of making his case, in which Foucault defines critique as that which teaches us "how not to be governed." I am very sympathetic with this appeal: the appeal to resist, as much as possible, the battery of practices and institutions that train us to be docile, passive, non-critical subjects and citizens. The fear, of course, is that criticisms of Obama--especially this early on in his Presidency-- may be taken as abrogations of allegiance to his administration. But that fear is a fear that was instilled in us and cultivated as a civic posture by the last administration, in which critique was synonymous with treason. That sort of comportment towards our civic responsibilities will be, in the words of the 80's band Chicago, a hard habit to break. It may be time for the reintroduction of serious philosophical inquiry, of the Socratic sort, into the public sphere.
As unlikely as this seems, it is a possibility. Remember that for the last eight years we saw an unrelenting assault on science, only to hear in the Inaugural Address that it was now time to "restore science to its proper place." Philosophy needs the same restoration. This is the Age of Hope, after all.