Power, attention and the tasks of critical theory
in Toleration, power and the right to justification
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Patchen Markell begins his response to Rainer Forst by expressing a concern about the narrowness of Forst’s commitment to the idea of human beings as ‘justifying, reason-giving beings’. Building on the intuition that a more capacious sense of critical theory’s modes of engagement with the world is called for, Markell chooses to focus on Forst’s conception of power. For Forst, power is not just a simple dyadic relation between one agent and another: there is also such a thing as an ‘order of power’, which is also an ‘order of justification’. This involves the patterning of relations among persons in a society by virtue of the acceptance of certain ‘narratives of justification’, sometimes including patterns of domination and subordination. As Forst acknowledges, one of the central tasks of critical theory is to identify, analyse and criticise such situations. But practices of justification themselves may be implicated in relations of domination, since ‘justification’ is an abstraction from the concrete social practices in which it takes place. Forst is aware that criticism of social relations can be foreclosed by people being socialised into a tacit belief in the justified character of those relations. However, he fails to acknowledge that, while the demand for justification is an important part of the critique of these phenomena, in many cases it must be accompanied or preceded by a struggle to reconfigure the space of appearance, to bring these phenomena to attention or to alter the terms of their public representation.

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