Thursday, February 7, 2019
Hesburgh Center C103
University of Notre Dame

The Unmasking Style in Social and Political Theory: A Critical Appraisal


Peter Baehr
Chair Professor of Social Theory
Fellow of the Center of Asian Pacific Studies
Lingnan University, Hong Kong

This talk examines a destructive, though common, form of social criticism, termed “unmasking.” Unmasking is not the same as scientific refutation or principled disagreement. When people unmask they claim to rip off a disguise, revealing the true beneath the feigned or imaginary. Two kinds of unmasking are prominent in western societies. The first, aimed at persons or groups, claims to expose enmity and hypocrisy. The second, aimed at ideas, claims to expose illusions and ideologies.

The talk describes the techniques of unmasking practiced by intellectuals and revolutionary social movements. It contrasts the peculiarities of unmasking in vernacular and academic contexts. And it discusses the contribution of social and political theory to unmasking. Baehr suggests that unmasking is a style of thought harmful both to political argument and to sociological theory that can and should be avoided.

Presented by the Department of Political Science with cosponsorship by the Keough School of Global Affairs, the College of Arts and Letters, the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies, and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.