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The Seductive Force of ‘Noumenal Power’: A New Path (or Impasse) for Critical Theory?

Susen, S. (2018). The Seductive Force of ‘Noumenal Power’: A New Path (or Impasse) for Critical Theory?. Journal of Political Power, 11(1), pp. 4-45. doi: 10.1080/2158379X.2017.1362734


The main purpose of this paper is to examine Rainer Forst’s account of ‘noumenal power’. Forst’s proposal for a revised ‘critical theory of power’ is firmly embedded in his philosophical understanding of ‘the right to justification’. Whereas the latter has been extensively discussed in the secondary literature, the former has – with the exception of various exchanges that have taken place between Forst and his critics at academic conferences – received little attention. This paper is an attempt to fill this gap in the literature. Given the increasing influence of Forst’s scholarly writings on paradigmatic developments in contemporary critical theory, it is imperative to scrutinize the key assumptions underlying his conception of ‘noumenal power’ and to assess its usefulness for overcoming the shortcomings of alternative explanatory frameworks. In order to accomplish this, the analysis is divided into four parts. The first part provides some introductory definitional reflections on the concept of power. The second part focuses on several dichotomous meanings attached to the concept of power – notably, ‘soft power’ vs. ‘hard power’, ‘power to’ vs. ‘power over’, and ‘power for’ vs. ‘power against’. The third part elucidates the principal features of Forst’s interpretation of ‘noumenal power’, in addition to drawing attention to his typological distinction between ‘power’, ‘rule’, ‘domination’, and ‘violence’. The final part offers an assessment of Forst’s account of ‘noumenal power’, arguing that, although it succeeds in avoiding the drawbacks of rival approaches, it suffers from significant limitations. The paper concludes by giving a synopsis of the vital insights that can be obtained from the preceding inquiry.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in 'Journal of Political Power' on 22 August 2017, available online:
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
Text - Accepted Version
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