Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology
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Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology

Robert E. Goodin, Philip Pettit, Robert E. Goodin, Philip Pettit

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eBook - ePub

Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology

Robert E. Goodin, Philip Pettit, Robert E. Goodin, Philip Pettit

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About This Book

The revised and updated edition of Goodin and Pettit's highly-acclaimed contemporary political philosophy anthology, bringing together the field's most important readings in a single volume

Unparalleled in the breadth and scope of its coverage, this newly-revised third edition traces the evolution of political philosophy as a contemporary practice, and raises important questions about the impact of current political events.

  • Fully updated to include 49 contemporary and classic selections from the most distinguished scholars in political philosophy
  • Offers expanded coverage of international affairs and political oppression
  • Includes essays which represent a diversity of political and ideological positions, and features interdisciplinary voices in politics, law, and economics
  • Edited by two of the field's most highly-respected scholars
  • The ideal collection of primary readings to accompany the Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, Second Edition (Wiley Blackwell, 2012) for coursework in political philosophy

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Doing Political Philosophy

Realism and Moralism in Political Theory

Bernard Williams

Two Models of Political Theory

I start with two rough models of political theory (or philosophy: the distinction is not important here) with respect to the relation of morality to political practice. One is an enactment model. The model is that political theory formulates principles, concepts, ideals, and values; and politics (so far as it does what the theory wants) seeks to express these in political action, through persuasion, the use of power, and so forth. This is not necessarily (although it is usually) a distinction between persons. Moreover, there is an intermediate activity which can be shared by both parties: this shapes particular conceptions of the principles and values in the light of the circumstances, and devises programmes that might express those conceptions.
The paradigm of a theory that implies the enactment model is Utilitarianism. Unless it takes its discredited Invisible Hand form (under which there is nothing for politics to do except to get out of the way and get other people out of the way), this also presents a very clear version of something always implicit in the enactment model, the panoptical view: the theory’s perspective on society is that of surveying it to see how it may be made better.
Contrast this with a structural model. Here theory lays down moral conditions of co‐existence under power, conditions in which power can be justly exercised. The paradigm of such a theory is Rawls’s. In A Theory of Justice (TJ) itself, the theory also implied a certain amount about the ends of political action, because of implications of applying the Difference Principle: though, interestingly, even there it was presented less in terms of a programme, and more in terms of a required structure. In Political Liberalism (PL) and the writings that led up to it, this aspect is less prominent.1 This is because Rawls wants to make a bigger gap than TJ allowed between two different conceptions: that of a society in which power is rightfully exercised (a well‐ordered society), and that of a society that meets liberals’ aspirations to social justice. (This distinction may imply various others: human/political/economic rights etc.)
Differences between these two models are of course important. But my concern here is with what they have in common, that they both represent the priority of the moral over the political. Under the enactment model, politics is (very roughly) the instrument of the moral; under the structural model, morality offers constraints (in TJ, very severe constraints) on what politics can rightfully do. In both cases, political theory is something like applied morality.
This is still true in Rawls’s more recent work. He indeed says that “in TJ a moral doctrine of justice, general in scope, is not distinguished from a strictly political theory of justice” (PL, xv), and he sets out to articulate a political conception. But he also says, revealingly, “such a conception is, of course, a moral conception” (PL, 11); it is one that is worked out for a special subject, the basic structure of society. Its further marks are that it is independent of a comprehensive doctrine, and that it marshals ideas implicit in the public culture of a democratic society. The supposedly political conception, then, is still a moral conception, one that is applied to a certain subject matter under certain constraints of content.
Rawls holds that the stability of a democratic pluralistic society is, or should be, sustained by the moral psychology of citizens living within an overlapping consensus (PL, 141). There must be a question whether this is an appropriate or plausible answer: it is a matter of history, or political sociology, or some other empirical inquiry. But in any case, Rawls is not merely giving an answer to the question of stability in terms of citizens’ morality; he is giving a moral answer. This comes out in his repeated claim (for example, PL, 147) that the conditions of pluralism under which liberalism is possible do not represent “a mere modus vivendi.” Rather, the basis of co‐existence, and the qualities elicited by these conditions, include the highest moral powers, above all a sense of fairness. Rawls contrasts “a mere modus vivendi” with the principled basis of his own pluralism, and he takes it to cover, not only a Hobbesian standoff of equal fear, but also equilibria based on perceptions of mutual advantage. That these options are grouped together implies a contrast between principle and interest, or morality and prudence, which signifies the continuation of a (Kantian) morality as the framework of the system.2
I shall call views that make the moral prior to the political, versions of “political moralism” (PM). PM does not immediately imply much about the style in which political actors should think, but in fact it does tend to have the consequence that they should think, not only in moral terms, but in the moral terms that belong to the political theory itself. It will be familiar how, in various ways, PM can seek to ground liberalism. I shall try to contrast with PM an approach which gives a greater autonomy to distinctively political thought. This can be called, in relation to a certain tradition, “political realism.” Associated with this will be a quite different approach to liberalism. (This is related to what the late Judith Shklar called “the liberalism of fear,” but I do not develop that aspect of it here.)3

The First Political Question

I identify the “first” political question in Hobbesian terms as the securing of order, protection, safety, trust, and the conditions of cooperation. It is “first” because solving it is the condition of solving, indeed posing, any others. It is not (unhappily) first in the sense that once solved, it never has to be solved again. This is particularly important because, a solution to the first question being required all the time, it is affected by historical circumstances; it is not a matter of arriving at a solution to the first question at the level of state‐of‐nature theory and then going on to the rest of the agenda. This is related to what might count as a “foundation” of liberalism.
It is a necessary condition of legitimacy (LEG) that the state solves the first question, but it does not follow that it is a sufficient condition. There are two different sorts of consideration here. Hobbes did, very roughly, think that the conditions for solving the first problem, at least in given historical circumstances, were so demanding that they were sufficient to determine the rest of the political arrangements. In this sense, he did think that the necessary condition of LEG was also the sufficient condition of it; someone who disagrees with this may merely be disagreeing with Hobbes on this point.
If one disagrees with Hobbes, and thinks that more than one set of political arrangements, even in given historical circumstances, may solve the first question, it does not strictly follow that the matter of which arrangements are selected makes a further contribution to the question of LEG, but it is entirely reasonable to think that this can make a contribution, and that some, but only some, of such arrangements are such that the state will be LEG.
Even Hobbes, of course, did not think that a LEG state could be identical with a reign of terror; the whole point was to save people from terror. It was essential to his construction, that is to say, that the state – the solution – should not become part of the problem. (Many, including Locke, have thought that Hobbes’s own solution does not pass this test.) This is an important idea: it is part of what is involved in a state’s meeting what I shall call the Basic Legitimation Demand (BLD).

The Basic Legitimation Demand

Meeting the BLD is what distinguishes a LEG from an ILLEG state. (I am not concerned with cases in which the society is so disordered that it is not clear whether there is a state.) Meeting the BLD can be equated with there being an “acceptable” solution to the first political question. I shall say some more about what counts as “acceptable.”
It is important, first, to distinguish between the idea of a state’s meeting the BLD, and its having further political virtues (e.g., its being a liberal state). I mean that these are two different ideas, and in fact I think there manifestly have been, and perhaps are, LEG non‐liberal states. However, this does not exclude the possibility that there might be circumstances in which the only way to be LEG involved being liberal. This relates to the question of extra conditions on LEG, and, as I said, I shall come back to this.
I shall claim first that merely the idea of meeting the BLD implies a sense in which the state has to offer a justification of its power to each subject.
First, one or two definitions:
  1. For these purposes, the subject of a state is anyone who is in its power, whom by its own lights it can rightfully coerce under its laws and institutions. Of course this is not satisfactory for all purposes, since a state can claim too many people, but I shall not try to pursue this question. I doubt that there is any very general answer of principle to the question of what are the proper boundaries of a state.
  2. “What someone can fear” means what someone would reasonably be afraid of if it were likely to happen to him/her in the basic Hobbesian terms of coercion, pain, torture, humiliation, suffering, death. (The fear need not necessarily be of the operations of the state.)
  3. Call being disadvantaged with regard to what one can fear, being “radically disadvantaged.”
Suppose a group of subjects of the state – within its borders, required to obey its officials, and so forth – who are radically disadvantaged relative to others. At the limit, they have virtually no protection at all, from the operations of either officials or other subjects. They are no better off than enemies of the state. There may be something that counts as a local legitimation of this. But is it LEG? Is the BLD satisfied?
Well, there is nothing to be said to this group to explain why they shouldn’t revolt. We are supposing that they are not seen as a group of alien people captured within the ...

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