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A realist theory of liberal politics

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.

7 The moderate hegemony of liberal realism Legitimacy is a central concept in realist thought. Though the popular caricature of realism, especially in international relations theory, encourages the view that might is synonymous with right, that the ability to rule is the same as the right to do so, realists have often stressed that this is not the case. Rather, there is an important difference between rule as mere domination and rule as authoritative that the concept of legitimacy allows us to determine. This begs the obvious question of how liberal realism

in Liberal realism

6 The partisan foundations of liberal realism The aim of this chapter is to explore the ramifications for liberal theory of taking seriously the fact of political pluralism that incorporating the realist vision of politics demands. Any political theory that requires addressing or managing pluralism, be it moral, religious or political, will need to have an account of the origin and nature of that disagreement, for this will be crucial in determining the appropriate response. Realism has offered several different such accounts ranging from the clash of interests

in Liberal realism

5 Bernard Williams and the structure of liberal realism The hankering for political consensus that lies at the heart of liberal theory is not some epiphenomenal offshoot of an underlying epistemological commitment to a form of Platonism or value monism, but is driven by the moral commitment to place theoretical and practical limitations on the ends to which political coercive power can be put. This is a noble objective. Yet as we saw in the previous chapter, even attempts to modify the nature and content of the required consensus to a set of less substantial but

in Liberal realism
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1 Realism Realism resists the application of morality to war. Such resistance is typically part of a more general moral scepticism that is applied not just to the extreme circumstance of war but to international relations in general. The reason for this resistance is twofold. In the first place, it springs from the conviction that the reality in question is morally intractable, the dynamics of international relations and war being seen to confound most, if not all, attempts to apply an alien, moral structure to them. Secondly, and more urgently, it arises from

in The ethics of war
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The resurgence of realist political theory

backdrop of peace, stability, and widespread consensus around liberal values, increased awareness of dissent from liberalism within liberal societies has cast significant doubt on the validity of these assumptions. It is in this political context that a burgeoning interest in realist political theory has arisen. As the term suggests, there is a sense in which realism claims to stand in a close relationship to, or is sensitive to the facts of, political reality. Other theories, liberalism included, fail to take into account important truths about politics and, in doing so

in Liberal realism

3 The realist challenge to liberal theory The recent resurgence of interest in realist political theory has often been presented as essentially little more than the latest in a long line of critiques of liberalism.1 This is unfortunate and obscures the extent to which realism is a distinct and compelling form of political theorising in its own right. Nevertheless, it is indeed the case that realism does present an alternative and competing theory of politics to liberalism and challenges it on some of its most fundamental theoretical and normative commitments. In

in Liberal realism
The liberalism of fear and modus vivendi

of Kantian metaphysics or moral philosophy, nevertheless find themselves thinking about politics and political legitimacy in ways which are clearly derived from this theoretical heritage. One consequence of the multi-faceted nature of the liberal tradition is that it is very possible that the resources to develop a theory of liberal realism could be found in those non-Kantian strands of liberalism which have been relatively neglected by contemporary theorists. It might well be that one of these theoretical roads not taken, so to speak, might provide a form of

in Liberal realism
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  9 3 1 5 Critical realism SCIENCE, that is, knowledge of consequences; which is called also PHILOSOPHY. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan1 Without contraries is no progression. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell2 Introduction Critical realism: the painted veil of dialectics3 Critical realism attempted to ground dialectics in realism. Roy Bhaskar dealt extensively with the issue, and challenged Kant’s critique of science, empiricism and positivism throughout his work. He insisted on presenting the epistemological validity of structures or mechanisms which

in Critical theory and epistemology
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Modes of reading in Marxist-socialist and post-Marxist-socialist Television drama criticism

M410 HARRIS TEXT.qxd 20/7/06 11:35 AM Page 9 Phil's G4 Phil's G4:Users:phil:Public: 1 Beyond realism? Modes of reading in Marxist-socialist and post-Marxist-socialist Television drama criticism The ‘back story’: the critique of realism and the turn to form In the context of mid- to late twentieth-century British television drama criticism, the relationship between politics and aesthetics was most often defined through reference to the Marxist-socialist tradition and more specifically to the work of theatre practitioner and theorist Bertolt Brecht. Brecht

in Beyond representation