Western social theory has carried itself over the past half century as a faithful yet feckless behemoth, lumbering about from crisis to crisis, as its inherited traditions break like waves upon the water and we stare out upon the unholy fl otsam that remains of those too briefl y invincible truths that once steered a sure and steady path through the modern age. Seemingly in the brief whisper of nightfall, four centuries of a triumphalist modernity perished beneath the crushing weight of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and the Hungarian Uprising. Reason, that inspired-yet now bastard-child of the Enlightenment, had failed to make good on its twin promises of a benign supremacy and a sublime deliverance. As a consequence, we have been witness to a great unwinding, which has unleashed a torrent of selfcongratulatory lamentations for the travesty of modernity and for the fi nite limits of human reason. Loosened from the homogenizing and universalizing grip of modernity, a wave of countero ensives has been launched in celebration of diff érance, the particular, “the Other,” and the Individual. The resulting critiques of modernity and of reason take many forms. Most fundamentally, however, there is a thoroughgoing disenchantment with those totalizing representations of societies and nations as comprehensive systems-such as Hegel’s Absolute Spirit-which became a central leitmotif of western social theory in the modern age. Modernity had forsaken its essence via such fanciful artifi ce, sacrifi cing its original, invigorating spirit of spontaneity and freedom for the soulless precision of an inexorable social landscape made visible via heroic theoretical models. Hence we fi nd the modern Scylla and Charybdis of freedom and necessity ever echoing
within the crooked interstices that fuel and give form to contemporary critiques of modernity and human reason across western social theory. It is the sound and fury of such critiques that now pushes us to brave the waters of the Strait of Messina and to render these vexing antipodes into suitable objects for the inquisitor’s gaze.