What does the work of Judith Shklar reveal to us about the proper role and limits of political theory? In particular, what are the implications of her arguments both for the way in which we should think of freedom and for the approach we should take to the resolution of moral conflicts? There is growing interest in Shklar’s arguments, in particular the so-called liberalism of fear, characteristic of her mature work. She has become an important influence for those taking a sceptical approach to political thought and also for those concerned first and foremost with the avoidance of great evils. However, this book shows that the most important factor shaping her mature work is not her scepticism but, rather, a value monist approach to both moral conflict and freedom, and that this represents a radical departure from the value pluralism (and scepticism) of her early work. This book also advances a clear line of argument in defence of value pluralism in political theory, one that builds on but moves beyond Shklar’s own early work.
nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality or citizenship, one retains a set of private
rights and personal freedoms that no collective authority can interfere with legitimately. In
JudithShklar’s words, liberalism’s dominant aim is ‘to secure the
political conditions that are necessary for the exercise of personal freedom’ ( Shklar, 1989 : 21). Or as Michael Sandel argues,
‘whether egalitarian or libertarian, rights-based liberalism begins with the claim that
we are separate, individual persons, each with our own aims
What do the victims of tyranny owe each other? In this chapter, I examine whether they can be condemned for betraying their friends, and I do so through a novel interpretation of Judith Shklar’s political thought. Shklar is a widely acknowledged and significant influence on non-ideal theory, including political realism. However, there is also a previously unnoticed transformation between her early and mature work, for, although she remains a sceptic, her approach to moral conflict changes from value pluralism to value monism. In addition, it is only in her mature work, as a monist, that she believes tyranny cancels obligations of justice. I argue here that Shklar’s monism fails, and this in turn has important implications for non-ideal theory. While non-ideal theorists have focused on developing a sceptical critique of ideal theory, this interpretation of Shklar’s work illustrates that greater awareness is needed of the pitfalls of monist strands of scepticism
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.
Judith Shklar’s liberalism of fear is a sceptical approach to political thought that also ranks the vices in a particular way, giving priority to the avoidance of cruelty. For that reason, her work is an important influence for non-moralists (political realists and non-ideal theorists) who say that liberalism is, primarily, about protecting the vulnerable from the power of those who are dominant. These theorists also want to take a novel approach to questions of justification in political thought itself. They are self-avowed in their scepticism: they call for a non-ideal, or non-utopian, form of political thought. At the same time, we should pause to consider a very important question. Can political non-moralists also be liberals, and indeed can they be liberals of a particular stripe? Can they give priority to one value and principle and institutional arrangement over others? As we shall see, in her mature work Shklar says both that the fear of cruelty is the summum malum and that hers is a sceptical argument, one that does not appeal to anything other than actuality. However, we must ask, is there more going on here in putting forward that argument, something that indicates a perhaps surprising degree of convergence with the political moralism of, say, Rawls – a convergence that has so far remained unnoticed?
Because of the value monism of Judith Shklar’s liberalism of fear it is both prescriptive and utopian. And because of its value monism, it is beset by epistemological weaknesses, but also it remains blind to the moral harms committed in its name. These problems will afflict other value monist approaches to political thought as well, whether or not they are sceptical. What, then, are the alternatives? Shklar’s first book, After Utopia, fails in its attempts to be both sceptical and also completely free from normativity. Indeed, all political thought will be normative insofar as it engages in a critical analysis of the values and paradigms of politics, as is the case, for example, with the various conceptions of freedom and the diverse liberal models of political life. We must therefore consider how political thought can be normative and yet avoid the shortcomings of value monism. Value pluralism provides the compelling answer. If we have not identified the general rule for resolving moral conflict, political theory cannot offer moral guidance in politics. It requires both that political theory should play a restricted role, and that it should be supplemented by practical reasoning and practical judgement.
with legitimacy? For example, how can we be said to have a warrant for the sacrifice of negative freedom in the name of personal autonomy?
In this book I will be returning again and again to these two key purposes of political theory. In particular, I concentrate on the following two interrelated questions: How should we conceptualise freedom? And how should we respond to moral conflict? But I address these questions in what may seem like an indirect manner, namely through a critical engagement with JudithShklar's work. I
circle’ (356) which is the stuff of a practical and applied
reading of the classics of Western philosophy.
Reading the classics is more than just overcoming the hermeneutical
problems of reading prose from a bygone age. The classical masters were
Introduction and method
broad thinkers, and as such they inspired many different interpretations
from a wide range of diverse – and often unrelated – academic subjects.
Rousseau is no exception to this. As JudithShklar has noted, ‘even among
his versatile contemporaries he was
employed, it operates
as a self-serving ideological device whereby governments assert the
legitimacy of all their actions. As JudithShklar has remarked, it seems
unnecessary to waste intellectual effort ‘on this bit of ruling-class
chatter’. 1 On the
other hand, certain critics of this rhetorical position identify the rule of
law with some notion of good or just law. In this case, however, the
obligation to arrest and conduct trials. We all have a right that suspects be openly tried because this is a fundamental protection (perhaps the fundamental protection) against abuse by the power of the state. Much political philosophy in the social contract tradition has emphasized the fear of anarchy – the ‘state of nature’ – as the prime motivation of political ethics. The state is rightly viewed as fulfilling an essential moral function by curtailing anarchy and enabling co-operative social goods. Yet, as thinkers like Hannah Arendt and JudithShklar have emphasized