The Significance of Shils

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Edward Shils was a widely recognized but misunderstood thinker. The original contexts of his thought are not well understood and greatly distorted by associating him with the concerns of Parsons. Shils provides a fully comparable alternative to the thought of Habermas and Foucault, with essentially similar roots: practice theory, the dissolution of Marxism in the twenties, and Carl Schmitt. Though Shils was indebted to the American sociological tradition, with respect to these issues his sources were outside it: in Hendrik de Man, T. S. Eliot, and Michael Polanyi. It is shown how Shils responded to Schmitt's argument about the inherent conflict between democracy and liberalism in terms of an account of civility and tradition, and how this argument results in a critique of Foucault, Habermas, and collectivistic liberalism.

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Sociological Theory, v. 17, issue 2, p. 125-145