Liberal realism

A realist theory of liberal politics

Matt Sleat
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Events at the beginning of the twenty-first century have served to demonstrate to us the truth of the insight at the heart of the recent renewed interest in realist political theory that politics is characterized by inevitable and endemic disagreement and conflict. Yet much contemporary liberal political theory has taken place against the backdrop of an assumed widespread consensus on liberal values and principles. A central theoretical question for our day is therefore whether liberalism is a theory of politics consonant with the modern world or whether it is grounded in untenable theoretical presumptions and foundations.

This monograph offers the first comprehensive overview of the resurgence of interest in realist political theory and develops a unique and urgent defense of liberal politics in realist terms. Through explorations of the work of a diverse range of thinkers, including Bernard Williams, John Rawls, Raymond Geuss, Judith Shklar, John Gray, Carl Schmitt and Max Weber, the author advances a theory of liberal realism that is consistent with the realist emphasis on disagreement and conflict yet still recognizably liberal in its concern with respecting individuals’ freedom and constraining political power. The result is a unique contribution to the ongoing debates surrounding realism and an original and timely re-imagining of liberal theory for the twenty-first century. This provocative work will be of interest to students and all concerned with the possibility of realizing liberalism and its moral aspirations in today’s world.

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‘In Matt Sleat's first monograph he claims that realism is not just 'the latest in a long line of critiques of liberalism', rather it is a 'distinct and compelling form of political theorising in its own right' (p. 71). This book serves to substantiate this claim by providing perhaps the most significant contribution to realist thought since Bernard Williams' posthumously published In the Beginning was the Deed.'
Nat Rutherford (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Political Studies Review 13
December 2015

‘Liberal Realism is an engaging, suggestive, perceptive and well-judged contribution to both the growing literature on political realism and the already vast literature on liberalism.'
James Wakefield, Honorary Research Fellow of Cardiff University,

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