Philosophy and Civil Society
Inventing Postmodern Civic Culture

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          Because lack of peer review is one of the most frequent objections to scholarly self-publishing on the Web, it is an issue that must be addressed if Web sites like these are to find acceptance in the near future. One approach is represented by this page -- namely, making site reviews a prominent part of the site itself.
          Of course, for this approach to work, visitors must be willing to post serious critical reviews of the content and design of scholarly web sites. So, if you wish to advance the cause of scholarly publishing on the Web, please take a few moments to post your critical assessment of this site using the form below (at the very bottom of this page). To make your review completely anonymous, use the e-mail form below.

Reviews posted so far (my thanks to all):

Name: James O'Donnell
Professor of Classical Studies and Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing, University of Pennsylvania
[email protected]
Date: October 27, 1997

REVIEW:  I am very impressed by the way you have taken full advantage of the power of the new networked media to advance teaching and learning in innovative and powerful ways.  The content of your site lies just outside my own areas of expertise, but I found the essays well-structured and stimulating, and I found the presentation an useful and engaging way for me to approach what is in some ways an alien field. The way you have set up "web conferencing" tools to facilitate discussion of specific topics shows that you are very much current with the latest developments in ways to use the web.
          What I always find striking about such sites is the way they reinforce the most traditional values of our institutions.   We thrive on communication and interaction.  Ideally, that takes the form of two or ten animated people arguing vehemently and with mutual respect around a seminar table. But bringing people together in the same space at the same time is the most expensive and difficult thing we do in universities.  Now that the network allows us to leverage those few precious hours of face to face contact with continued interactive discussion on-line, my own experience has been, as I'm sure yours will be, that the face-to-face contact is enriched beyond measure, as academic discourse breaks the bounds of the three-contact-hours-per-week system and becomes increasingly part of the continuing life of the mind of both students and faculty.  You are to be congratulated on the way you have taken advantage of the technology, and on the maturity of vision underlying this scholarly activity. 

Name: Hugh Finnigan
[email protected]
Date: December 16, 1997

REVIEW:  Your site is a refreshing change from the non-intellucual mundane computer dribble published on the web.  I am by no means an expert in user interface design but your site is clearly laid out.  The thesis on the main page is a good idea to emphasise the purpose of the site.  I was interested in your views on post-enlightenment ideas.  It would be nice if the dicussion section had some participation. I think that it would add enormously to the potential of this site as being frequented by people.  Advertising or some other means of letting the public know your site exists might help.  Great Job!

Name: Gian Marco Rancati
Department of Sociology, University of Milan (It)
[email protected]
Date: February 27, 1998

REVIEW:  I am a graduate in sociology at University of Milan. I am involved at the moment in a study regarding civic culture in Milan. The aim is to investigate the new shapes that civic culture gets in post-modern urban society. Starting from R. Putnam studies on Italian society, we try to deepen the analysis, in order to discover which are the real chances of founding post modern social contract. I found your site very very interesting. I hope we will have the chance to get in contact with you.

Name: J. Bradley Davison
student at the University of Arizona
[email protected]
Date: February 28, 1998

REVIEW: I accessed your site while doing research for an undergraduate philosophy course I'm taking.(Specifically, looking for criticism on Rousseau and his notions of the noble savage, and civil society under the general will.) I was surprised, and a little dismayed, at what I saw as a relative dearth of online info about philosophy topics. Your site, however, stands out. I just wanted to let you know I was (and remain) impressed by the design and execution of your site. My only obejection is to your modesty: I found it difficult to find your name. Perhaps you should consider posting it with each article in the site. Also, though the format of the articles makes for easy screen reading, the single column makes for cumbersome printing.
        Other than those lacunae, ONE RADICALLY AWESOME SITE!

Name: Anonymous
Date: May 5, 1998

REVIEW: The site is clearly laid out; no problems there. The essays are of a high standard, but not so abstract or complex that they become difficult to understand. This is certainly an important area for contemporary society, and anything which stimulates debate and discussion is valuable. Students of politics, philosophy etc will no doubt find it very useful. I wish I had had access to it when I was an undergraduate! I agree with one of the previous comments about advertising the site, but hopefully news of its existence will spread naturally amongst interested parties. Very interesting-- keep it up!

Name: Dave Demyan
Logger/Resource Mgt. Consultant Okanogan, WA
[email protected]
Date: June 2, 1998

REVIEW:  While looking into politics I stumbled across your site. My first impression was, "More ivory tower rhetoric," followed by, "Hmm... haven't considered these concepts in a while. How does this fit into the social evolution of the rural community in which I reside?
      The quest for socially and economically viable ways to manage our resources in a way that provides for our needs while assuring their availability for succeeding generations has been my focus for many years. Better minds than mine are grappling with these problems with similar non-results. Your essays have broadened my perspectives. No, I haven't found a solution, but I have more tools available to chip away at the problem.
      Not a scholarly critique, but the benefit of sites, like yours, are to spread ideas beyond the classroom. The ripple effect will eventually have an impact on world society.
      Thanks for the stimulation.

Name: A. Cameron Siron
Illinois Department of Revenue
Date: November 4, 1999

REVIEW:  I greatly enjoyed the philosophical content of the site. It is very refreshing to see this level of discussion on the web. Your ideas and insight have reinvigorated my desires to participate in the democratic process at the grass roots level. Your essays address the very basic concepts that should tie us together, but instead have driven us into separate non-communicative groups.

Name: Anna van Gogh
Research in Physics/plasma resonance theory
Location: Ioannina,Greece
[email protected]
Date: December 21, 1999

REVIEWMy personal concern for what you call peer review is that it is encouraging "analytic cleansing" that prevents new ideas (perhaps only partially formed or perhaps even incomplete) from creeping into the literature. I feel that every scholar on Planet Earth could write about my own research theme in the mathematics of Nature: Human perception of Time, and every contribution would be needed for some level of learning, for some reading audience. So please view my remark as an expression of my gratitude. Your effort at Internet publishing is your own and is appreciated.
     My hope is that those who access your website, like me, are from outside your academic discipline and therefore have no desire to make a critical assessment of your material. I like to feel that you are saying what you want to say, your own style of expression, your own word choice, your own philosophical bias. I think that is important. I think that your right to self-publish on the Internet ranks right up there with freedom of self-expression and freedom of speech. But I know there is a built-in problem here in Greece. I hope it does not discourage you. But many who have interest in your material are not yet able to use the computer. The demands for the use of the English language are acceptable for the young. The older generation is overwhelmed.

Name: Iain J. Coleman
British Antarctic Survey, National Environment Research Council
Location: Cambridge, UK
[email protected]
Date: January 31, 2002

This review appears on my website, at

I've just stumbled across Tom Bridges' website. It's an extensive collection of essays on political philosophy, presenting a postmodern critique of liberalism. Some of it's unnecessarily obfuscatory (Nietzsche wrote postmodern philosophy in an engaging literary style, why can't anyone else?), but there is some good stuff there. I was particularly struck by this passage, from "Reconstructing Civic Culture":

     It doesn’t require much anthropological or historical insight today for us to realize that, if any type of economic and social organizational principles can be called "natural," then it would be the type of feudal organizational principles that modernist liberalism attacked as unnatural. Hierarchical structures grounded in local ethnic, class, and religious cultures in fact do represent the "natural order of things" in matters political -- i.e., these are the sort of political structures that we find most frequently and spontaneously occurring in human groups. On the other hand, it is the sort of political norms and institutions that modernist liberalism claimed to be in conformity with nature that, if any, are utterly unnatural in this sense. That is to say, such norms and institutions can find widespread acceptance and can flourish only rarely and under the most extraordinarily favorable economic and cultural conditions.
      It is this fact that the universalist political rhetoric of modernist liberalism was forced systematically to conceal. Classical republicanism understood all too well how rare and fragile was the flower of political liberty. Classical republicans, both ancient and modern, reflected incessantly about the cultural presuppositions of political liberty. They were almost obsessive in their awareness of the threats to liberty produced by class, ethnic and religious factionalism.

That seems to me an excellent summary of the difference between republicanism and liberalism, and indicates why the left has been split over the Afghanistan campaign, right down the liberal/republican fault line.

On the downside, Bridges doesn't seem to understand the relationship between science, technology and culture. He writes, in "Western Culture and the Clash of Civilizations":

     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 progress.
     But that is no longer the case. Some East Asian and Islamic nations have proven that thoroughly modern strategies of economic and technological progress can be adapted to and supported by non-Western cultural traditions.

Now, this is just wrong. Scientific and technological progress are dependent upon a culture of free speech and open enquiry, of capital investment in innovative projects, and of public funding of basic intellectual activity; hence, on a culture in which property rights and the rule of law are separated from the political system, and religious conviction is separated from civil administration. It's not just that non-Western countries do Western-derived science (in the same scientific community as Western scientists), it's that the mechanisms by which science works, and is turned into technology and economic/military power, are precisely the mechanisms of post-Enlightenment Western culture. The whole "clash of civilizations" is caused by the fact that the non-Western cultures have a choice between becoming like us, or perishing.

Still, Bridges' website is worth a visit. He even has a form for posting your review of his work on the site, which is awfully decent of him.






To add your review of this site, fill out the e-mail form below and send. (Using this e-mail form insures anonymity.) Or send your review directly to me via e-mail at [email protected].

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Page last edited: 01/31/02

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