Where does Extreme Liberal Cynicism—so common in academic and popular culture—come from, and is it capable of solving the problems it identifies? A Critique of Liberal Cynicism: Peter Sloterdijk, Judith Butler, and Critical Liberalism identifies the motivations and resources within liberal cynicism and their potential for overcoming its pernicious extremes. Will Barnes describes Extreme Liberal Cynicism as a product of mourning, guilt, and the experience of powerlessness stemming from the trauma of holding liberal investments in a world in which these investments are vulnerable to ideological critique and seem to have failed. Extreme Liberal Cynicism seeks invulnerability through disavowing the efficacy of its constitutive ideals achieved via a reified hopelessness that eclipses trauma, guilt, and disempowerment leaving the cynic unhappy, alienated, hostile, obstinate, delusional, and desperate; thus, it is a failing self-defense mechanism. Barnes argues that although Extreme Liberal Cynicism is rationally unjustifiable and intrinsically harmful, it also contains the impetus for a reappropriation of its complex desires and losses. This adjustment could compel the extreme cynic to maintain a moderate critical liberal cynicism committed to critiquing and reinvigorating its constitutive ideals of freedom, equality, and justice, and thereby contribute positively to progressive politics.
Will Barnes teaches philosophy at New Mexico Highlands University.
Part 1: Two Cynicisms
Chapter 1: Liberal Cynicism, the Dangers, and the Promise
Chapter 2: Master Cynicism
Part 1: Conclusion
Part 2: Judith Butler & Extreme Liberal Cynicism
Chapter 3: Judith Butler & Liberalism
Chapter 4: Judith Butler and Liberal Cynicism
Part 2: Conclusion
Part 3: The Promise
Chapter 5: Cheekiness
Chapter 6: “Later” Butler and Overcoming Liberal Cynicism
Can we keep hope alive in the face of accelerating global disaster? Nietzsche warned that young idealists who could not endure irony’s ambivalent truths would soon flee into the comforting cynicism of self-centered fatalism and unethical realpolitik. In this timely and thoughtful book, Will Barnes fearlessly deconstructs some of the most popular political philosophers in the contemporary Continental tradition, showing how exaggerated distortions in their work conceal the theoretical and libidinal bases we need to motivate effective political action. Rediscovering and clarifying these crucial sources, A Critique of Liberal Cynicism helps renew the promise of an informed and engaged liberal philosophy ready to confront the growing challenges of our twenty-first-century reality.