Modern Social Imaginaries

Modern Social Imaginaries

Public Planet Books

More about this series

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: Published: December 2003

Author: Charles Taylor

Politics > Political Theory, Sociology > Social Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

One of the most influential philosophers in the English-speaking world, Charles Taylor is internationally renowned for his contributions to political and moral theory, particularly to debates about identity formation, multiculturalism, secularism, and modernity. In Modern Social Imaginaries, Taylor continues his recent reflections on the theme of multiple modernities. To account for the differences among modernities, Taylor sets out his idea of the social imaginary, a broad understanding of the way a given people imagine their collective social life.

Retelling the history of Western modernity, Taylor traces the development of a distinct social imaginary. Animated by the idea of a moral order based on the mutual benefit of equal participants, the Western social imaginary is characterized by three key cultural forms—the economy, the public sphere, and self-governance. Taylor’s account of these cultural formations provides a fresh perspective on how to read the specifics of Western modernity: how we came to imagine society primarily as an economy for exchanging goods and services to promote mutual prosperity, how we began to imagine the public sphere as a metaphorical place for deliberation and discussion among strangers on issues of mutual concern, and how we invented the idea of a self-governing people capable of secular “founding” acts without recourse to transcendent principles. Accessible in length and style, Modern Social Imaginaries offers a clear and concise framework for understanding the structure of modern life in the West and the different forms modernity has taken around the world.


“Few contemporary thinkers can match the diversity, quantity, and quality of work produced by Charles Taylor. . . . [A] concise and rewarding book.” — Mark Redhead , Perspectives on Politics

“I can’t remember a philosopher I’ve enjoyed as much since my Rorty marathon earlier this year.” — Extended Phenotype Blog

Modern Social Imaginaries is subtle, complex, and thought-provoking. It is a valuable contribution to the literature on a wide range of concerns within political philosophy and beyond.” — Sarah Marshall, Contemporary Political Theory

“Perhaps the most attractive feature of his new book is that it continues Taylor’s pragmatist explanation of why facets of American culture cannot be as stark and clear-cut as demagogues and cultural conservatives insist they should be. Readers who know Taylor’s work will be interested in what this new work reveals about how Taylor balances or reconciles his Catholic faith with the outlook provided by pragmatism.” — John Rothfork , Rocky Mountain Review

"[T]his book reaffirms Charles Taylor’s status as Canada’s version of Richard Rorty. This is not only because he is a public intellectual with a gift for being able to discuss matters as diverse as multiculturalism, Aristotle and God, but because he mines the Nietzschean strains of European political thought — here represented in the image of society as a single horizontal plane, and a long excurses on secular time — and argues for their basic affinities with the principles of North American liberalism and pragmatism".
— Stephen Crocker , Canadian Journal of Sociology

"As always with Taylor, the writing is marked by erudition, elegance, and generosity of spirit. The book, while hardly mentioning Islam or other traditions, may be seen as a quietly understated thesis congruent with Samuel Huntington's more pointed reflections on 'the clash of civilizations.'" — First Things

"By casting new light on Western modernity, Taylor reveals it to be one conception among many and not the center from which all other modernities are defined. With his characteristic clear prose and clear thinking, Taylor presents a compelling view of the modern social imaginary."
Seminary Co-op

"Charles Taylor's new book continues his project of erudite investigations into the origins of the modern sense of self. . . . The author's breadth of learning and humanistic disposition constitute a rare fusion of qualities in the current climate of intellectual warfare. . . ." — Mark Heffernan , Montreal Book Review

"Few have been brave enough to confront the issue of Western modernity at such a general level as Taylor, or if they have, few have managed to be so succinct and explicit about it. I believe this book provides a valuable conceptual clarification of what is distinctive about Western modernity; at the very least, it will spark some valuable reflection on this much discussed yet much misunderstood topic." — David Thunder , Review of Politics

"In this brief book for the general reader, Taylor shows that modern liberal societies in fact depend on the communal imagination. Since religion has little public role in these societies, Modern Social Imaginaries shows how secularity provides a system of meaning for modern man." — Ray Conlogue, Literary Review of Canada

"Taylor's Modern Social Imaginaries is rich in ideas and histories . . . . This book is worth reading for those concerned with ethics, politics, and modernity and rises to the top of Taylor's more recent work." — Jeffery L. Nicholas , Review of Metaphysics

"Taylor's prose is wonderfully clear and direct. It leaps across centuries of change and controversy with considerable grace. And it avoids the portentous huffing and puffing about imminent collapse that so often mars philosophical analysis of modernity and its prospects. Reading the book is like engaging in a conversation with a wonderfully intelligent and articulate friend, if one is lucky enough to have such a friend. It breathes a kind of serene confidence that one can approach even the broadest questions about what makes us tick in the calmest and most reasonable manner." — Bernard Yack , Ethics

"The purpose of this short, pleasingly crunchy essay is to see how our modern social imaginary developed, via such changes as the taming of the nobility; the promotion of economic order; the Great Disembedding (the disappearance of the sense of belonging granted by early religious societies); and a new vision of moral and political order that does not depend on transcendent foundations. There is still room for God, however, Taylor thinks. Which is nice." — Steven Poole , The Guardian

"The richness of Taylor's historical recounting of modernity does an enviable job of the first task, and though there is scarcely enough room for the second task, he takes care to be 'off on the right foot' with it. This seems a welcome change from the naturalizing tendency in philosophy of the last several decades, and perhaps marks the beginning of a trend from which most disciplines of the Western intellectual world could profit. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche complained of philosophers' 'lack of historical sense': at least in Charles Taylor's case, he must withdraw the charge."
— George Williamson , Metapsychology Online Reviews

“Charles Taylor presents a fundamental challenge to neoliberal apologists for the new world order—but not only to them. Anyone who wishes, as I do, to defend transcultural political ideals, notions of development, or the like, will have to face his formidable array of hermeneutically inspired reflections on Western modernity’s defining cultural formations. His particular take on the ‘social imaginary’ makes the strongest case there is for the idea of ‘multiple modernities.’” — Thomas McCarthy, Northwestern University


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Charles Taylor is Board of Trustees Professor of Law and Philosophy at Northwestern University, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Philosophy at McGill University, and former Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford University. He is the author of many books and articles, including Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited; Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity; The Ethics of Authenticity; Hegel; and the essay “The Politics of Recognition,” which appeared in Multiculturalism (edited by Amy Gutmann).

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1 The Modern Moral Order 3

2 What Is a "Social Imaginary"? 23

3 the Specter of idealism 31

4 The Great Disembedding 49

5 The Economy as Objectified Reality 69

6 The Public Sphere 83

7 Public and Private 101

8 The Sovereign People 109

9 An All-Pervasive Order 143

10 The Direct-Access Society 155

11 Agency and Objectification 163

12 Modes of Narration 175

13 The Meaning of Secularity 185

14 Provincializing Europe 195

Notes 197
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3293-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3255-8
Publicity material