Author Q&A with Peter Gabel

Routledge is pleased to share with you our author Q&A session with Peter Gabel, author of The Desire for Mutual Recognition: Social Movements and the Dissolution of the False Self

Peter Gabel is the former president of New College of California and was for over thirty years a professor at its public-interest law school. He is a founder of the critical legal studies movement and the Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law, and Politics. Editor-at-Large of the progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun, he is the author of numerous books and articles on law, politics, and social change. 

"True mutual recognition of each other’s full and vulnerable humanity, if we could begin to more fully realize it in the world, would begin to dissolve the false self that keeps us sealed off from one another and would allow us to move more decisively toward the moral redemption of the loving impulse that is already at the heart of our social existence." 

I was influenced by the social movements of the 1960s [ for workers’ rights, civil rights, the anti-war movement, and movements for women’s and gay liberation] and especially by the transcendent sense of social connection that characterized the rising period of these movements. These movements permitted us—millions of us actually—to become present to each other in a new way. In my life since then, I have thought about and written about how this capacity to become fully present to the other can dissolve the more superficial self of our conditioning, overcome our fear of the other that we have inherited from the world we were born into, and create the possibility for a more humane and loving social reality. That opening-up of the heart to the other person is actually what “moves” in a movement.

To understand the longing for mutual recognition that exists in every human being, no matter how much we feel compelled to deny that longing out of fear of humiliation, or “non-recognition” by the other. And also to understand how the collective denial of this very desire leads to such destructive distortions in the world we live in, such as hyper-nationalism, demonization of others, an endless cycle of wars, and other forms of human suffering.

The most common misconception that people have about human motivation and behavior is that the world can be explained by economic self-interest, as reflected in the mistaken slogan from Bill Clinton’s years, “It’s the economy stupid.” While of course people need to survive and seek material security for themselves and their families, there is a deeper motivation: the longing to live in an idealistic, meaningful and just world, a world based on love, generosity, and mutual understanding. My book shows both the possibility to live in a world based on love, generosity, and mutual understanding; and the reason why our culture has such difficulty making that realization. 

The best way is to go to my website,, and read the blogs I have wrriten, which apply the book’s theory to understanding the events of the day, such as how it could be that political leaders could be willing to traumatize young children through separations from their parents at the border. You can also follow me on Twitter (@PeterJGabel) and go to my author’s Facebook page (@PeterGabelAuthor), where you can see clips of me speaking about the book’s ideas.

  • The Desire for Mutual Recognition

    Social Movements and the Dissolution of the False Self, 1st Edition

    By Peter Gabel

    The Desire for Mutual Recognition is a work of accessible social theory that seeks to make visible the desire for authentic social connection, emanating from our social nature, that animates all human relationships. Using a social-phenomenological method that illuminates rather than explains social…

    Paperback – 2018-02-01

Peter Gabel