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Realist Thought in Theory and Practice






Matt Sleat

Columbia University Press New York

Columbia University Press Publishers Since 1893 New York Chichester, West Sussex cup.columbia.edu Copyright © 2018 Columbia University Press All rights reserved Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Sleat, Matt, editor. Title: Politics recovered : realist thought in theory and practice / edited by Matt Sleat. Description: New York : Columbia University Press, [2018] | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017030806 (print) | LCCN 2017055329 (ebook) | ISBN 9780231175296 (electronic) | ISBN 9780231175289 (cloth : acid-free paper) Subjects: LCSH: Political realism. Classification: LCC JZ1307 (ebook) | LCC JZ1307 .P55 2018 (print) | DDC 320.01—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017030806

Columbia University Press books are printed on permanent and durable acid-free paper. Printed in the United States of America Cover design: Milenda Nan Ok Lee Cover image: © Shutterstock

In memory of Glen Newey


Acknowledgments ix Introduction: Politics Recovered—on the Revival of Realism in Contemporary Political Theory Matt Sleat 1 1


1 ii

The Truth in Political Realism Charles Larmore 27

Realism and Surrealism in Political Philosophy Glen Newey 49 Realism in Ethics and Politics: Bernard Williams, Political Theory, and the Critique of Morality David Owen 73


Anger, Humiliation, and Political Theory: Bringing the Darker Passions Back In William A. Galston 93 v

Legitimacy and Domination Paul Sagar 114 [ vii ]


Disenchantment Versus Reconstruction: Walter Lippmann, John Dewey, and Varieties of Democratic Realism John Medearis 140 vii The Paradox of the Democratic Prince: Machiavelli and the Neo-Machiavellians on Ideal Theory, Realism, and Democratic Leadership Richard Bellamy 166


Politics and the “Pure of Heart”: Realism and Corruption Mark Philp 194 1x



Democracy’s Limit: A Realist Response to the Quest for Transparency Rahul Sagar 218

The Case for Kinship: Classical Realism and Political Realism Alison McQueen 243 Getting Past Schmitt? Realism and the Autonomy of Politics William E. Scheuerman 270 x ii

Security and Poverty: On Realism and Global Justice Duncan Bell 296 xi i i


Feminism and Realism Elizabeth Frazer 320

Political Realism: A Reality Check Michael Freeden 344 List of Contributors Index 373

[ viii ]





thank Wendy Lochner and Christine Dunbar at Columbia University Press for their support and encouragement for this project from its very beginning and their patience toward its end. Most importantly, I must express my gratitude to the contributors, whose commitment and geniality made editing this collection such a satisfying and rewarding experience and from whose work I have learned a great deal.

[ ix ]


Introduction Politics Recovered—on the Revival of Realism in Contemporary Political Theory M AT T S L E AT

The Ambitions of Realist Thought


hen Socrates announces to Callicles in the Gorgias that “I am the only one practicing politics among people today,” it is hard to imagine that the reader is supposed to take this claim as anything other than ironic—though it is irony with a critical sting. Socrates wants his audience to accept that even those politicians credited with making Athens great, such as the revered Pericles, succeeded only in turning the city into “a swollen, festering sore” filled “with harbors and dockyards and walls and tributes and rubbish of that kind, without a thought for restraint or justice.”1 Politics, properly understood, should be directed not toward giving citizens what they want but toward helping them become better people. And it is in this sense that Socrates, who assures us that “I say the things I say on any occasion not out of any desire to please, but with a view to what is best rather than what is most pleasant,” was claiming to practice the true science of politics.2 But Callicles’s initial point was that philosophers such as Socrates are “without experience of the laws of the city, of the language required in dealings with people, whether public or private, of human pleasures and desires—in fact, altogether ignorant of the ways of the world.”3 At best, this ignorance makes “laughing stocks” of philosophers who attempt to enter into the business of politics; at worst, the failure to recognize that what Socrates calls “politics” bears no relation [1]

to politics as it really is will leave Socrates himself unable to negotiate the realities of political life (and, of course, it is in light of our knowledge that Athens eventually put Socrates to death that we are invited to evaluate his resolve). Where, Callicles asks, is the wisdom in that? In recent years, something akin to the dialogue between Callicles and Socrates has begun to play itself out once more. The modern Callicles is represented by a renewed interest in political realism. To call a theory “realist” is to identify a quality of that theory rather than to signify any particular distinguishing content. A realistic theory claims a certain sort of truthfulness or fidelity in relation to its subject matter. One can therefore adopt a realistic position on almost anything—art, morality, literature, science, psychology, and so forth—though the demands of realism will differ according to the subject matter. In political philosophy, these demands are given by the character of politics itself. Unsurprisingly, this means that there are different ways in which one can be realistic about politics. This understanding follows quite naturally from the fact that politics is a deeply complex sphere of human activity, involving a plurality of psychologically complex individual and collective agents with a plethora of shifting and often competing interests, beliefs, values, motivations, and goals; counting among its materials power and coercion, on the one hand, and authority and legitimacy, on the other; and standing in a series of multifaceted relationships to other domains of human life such as morality, economics, religion, and technology. We disagree, of course, about what politics is “really like,” and, indeed, such disagreements are themselves a part of politics that any realistic analysis needs to take seriously (and is an issue that several chapters in this volume reflect upon, most notably those by Newey, McQueen, Frazer, and Freeden). But it is at least clear what these disagreements are about, and it is in this claim to have a more truthful or complete account of politics that the assertion of being “realistic” is substantiated. Yet we also differ as to what it would be to respond appropriately to the realities of politics. Together, these disagreements explain why realism is best conceived not as an homogenous theoretical perspective on politics— even less a substantive political position within politics—but as a family of different approaches to how we ought to understand, theorize, and normatively assess politics. The diversity of topics addressed and approaches represented in this volume attests to the fact that the commitments of a realist can and have been expressed in different and not always compatible



ways. And it might prove illuminative to think of these differences in terms of the appropriate ambitions of realist political thought. A common and in many ways quite natural way of thinking about the aspirations of realism is in terms of its having either descriptive or prescriptive objectives: it wishes to provide either theories that aim at a certain sort of superior descriptive adequacy of the political realm or theories that are in some sense more appropriate guides for agents acting in the political sphere.4 This approach is mistaken only if it takes these options as mutually exclusive alternatives. It is certainly the case that realistic theories aim to help us better understand politics and make sense of our political experience. The now familiar realist charge against much contemporary political theory is that through inappropriate idealizations, abstraction, and moralization it presents a misleading, if not outright false, account of politics that sits at too great a distance from reality to offer us much that can help us comprehend or get any meaningful intellectual grasp of our political lives. At least insofar as political theory has failed to help in this regard, it is because political theorists have in recent years too often treated politics as if it were merely a form of “applied ethics” or “a branch of moral philosophy” and in doing so have conceived of politics as little more than the instrument for the application and realization of some antecedent moral values, principles, or ideals.5 The result has been to lose sight of too much of what is specific, unique, and indeed valuable about politics. There is clearly value in understanding for its own sake. Yet, as William Galston pithily puts it in his chapter in this volume, “Description precedes and constrains prescription. Political realism must begin with and rest on an adequate description of political life.” We seek to better understand politics also because we want our theories to do better in terms of helping guide us in practice. It might be more useful, therefore, to think about the ambitions of realist thought slightly differently, in terms of widening the scope of contemporary political theory, of changing its focus, and of developing an appropriately political normative theory, though recognizing that these ambitions, too, are far from mutually exclusive (as is again well demonstrated in this volume). One of the least contentious claims of realism has been that AngloAmerican political theory over the past several decades has been excessively narrow in the topics it has deemed worthy of exploration. It is only



a slight exaggeration to say that the concept of justice has dominated the subdiscipline and that theoretical reflection on almost every political issue of interest has been either funneled through that concept (not necessarily always appropriately) or overlooked because they are not clearly related to it. This situation is both hard to deny and easy to rectify. Realist theory therefore aims to expand the range of topics or questions that theorists address to include those that have either been obscured or wholly overlooked in recent years—such as questions about political possibility, political agency, compromise, political judgment, political institutions, and political responsibility—as well as some that are discussed in this volume— such as corruption (Philp), secrecy (Rahul Sagar), leadership (Bellamy), and the role of the emotions in political life (Galston). Importantly, the claim that political theorists ought to widen the scope of their inquiries is not a claim that they ought to amend how they go about those inquiries (unless, of course, the complaint is specifically about inappropriately interpreting certain issues as issues of justice) but rather a claim that they have focused their attention on too narrow a part of the spectrum of issues that constitute our political experience. A related but qualitatively stronger realist claim is that the focus of contemporary political theory has been aimed in the wrong directions. Whereas John Rawls famously asserted that justice is the “first virtue” of political societies, realism insists that political theory needs to turn its attention back to the sine quibus non of politics—order, stability, security, and the conditions of cooperation. Realism tends to be more appreciative of the magnitude of the achievement that stability represents and of its inherent fragility and precariousness, in part because it so often takes politics to be a way of achieving order in but without ever fully overcoming conditions of conflict and disagreement. This is not to say, as Galston illuminatingly discusses in his chapter, that realism needs to be committed to the psychologically implausible view that peaceful order satisfies all human needs or, indeed, to deny that other human motivations and interests can lead to the undermining of stability in the pursuit of other (more dignified) ends. And, from the other direction, it is of course true that few would deny that order and stability are important political goods or that without them little (but maybe not everything) else that we value will likely be achievable. Nevertheless, realism is going to have little patience with sentiments such as those expressed by Immanuel Kant (and affirmed later by Rawls) that “if justice perishes, then it is no longer worthwhile for men to [4]


live upon the earth.”6 In many places and for many people, both throughout human history and across the world today, a fragile order, no matter how unjust, is not only the most but also the best one can hope for. Order is not nothing, but then justice is not everything. Our theories need to help us make sense of that experience and to better understand the conditions in which order can flourish or decay. Though realism often wears its Hobbesian heritage on its sleeve— Bernard Williams defines the “ ‘first’ political question in recognizable terms as the securing of order, protection, safety, trust, and the conditions of cooperation”7—no political realist has followed Hobbes in thinking that the provision of such order is a sufficient condition of its legitimacy. It matters whether the solution to the first political question is “acceptable” to those subject to it—or, as Williams put it, whether the political association satisfies what he called the “basic legitimation demand” (BLD). As is evident in several of the chapters in this volume, Williams’s work generally and his notion of the BLD specifically have become central and highly influential features of contemporary realist theory (for a variety of perspectives— some more sympathetic than others—see in particular the chapters by Larmore, Owen, Paul Sagar, Bellamy, Scheuerman, and Freeden). Because this topic is covered in more detail in various chapters of this volume, there is no need to say too much about it here. What is crucial, however, is Williams’s claim that the BLD is “inherent in there being such a thing as politics.”8 His reasoning is that it is an axiomatic truth that might is not right, and, hence, if we are to make a distinction between acceptable and unacceptable answers to the first political question, then we will be asking whether our political association can make sense to us as a form of legitimate authority. That there is, in this sense, a distinction between successful domination (rule via might) and politics (rule via right) is therefore a fundamental conceptual claim about the nature of politics itself. As such and again contrary to Rawls’s insistence that justice is the first virtue of political societies, many realists have followed Williams in thinking that questions of political legitimacy ought to be prior to those of justice and hence that the focus of so much contemporary theory has been misplaced.9 These claims essentially contend that political theory needs to pay more attention to the specificities of politics, but they go beyond the ambition of increasing the scope of what theorists address insofar as such an increase is anticipated to have important ramifications for how we understand and theorize politics. It is therefore not hard to see how such claims bleed I N T RO D U C T I O N


into the more ambitious objective of developing a distinctively political normativity. The thought that there might be a particular form of normativity suitable for the political realm is often met with consternation, as if to make that claim is equivalent to saying that there are no normative standards to politics at all. Two quick and related thoughts: A useful but not wholly satisfactory slogan for realist theory (see the chapters by Larmore, Owen, Philp, McQueen, and Scheuerman) has been that it wishes to restore or reassert the “autonomy of politics,” the spirit of which should probably best be interpreted as insisting that we ought to develop ways of thinking about politics better suited to the nature of the political itself. In normative terms, there might be a temptation to think that a realist theory will therefore be dominated by the concepts of power and self-interest, leaving little, if any, place for moral considerations, ideals, or values (except maybe as cynical justifications that try to put a moral gloss on the pursuit of our self-interest). A political normativity is therefore one in which the only pertinent questions lie in identifying our interests and deciding how power can best be employed to achieve them. Although such a theory—one we rightly associate with realpolitik—is reasonably enough taken to be part of the realist family, it is not one that has any advocates in the contemporary debates, for good reasons. First, what realism rejects are particular and distorting accounts of the way in which morality and moral considerations do or should function in politics—or what has come to be called “moralism,” of which more is said in the final section of this introduction (see the chapter by Owen for an interesting discussion of political moralism). Second, we do not have as much trouble accepting that there might be forms of normativity that are specifically suited for other areas of human activity, such as economics and aesthetics. This does not mean that, for instance, we cannot ask questions of art that go beyond those of its beauty, and, indeed, we regularly evaluate pieces of art according to moral and political standards (or even economic ones: “Is this painting really worth that?”). Yet we seem quite at ease with thinking that there are standards—of taste and beauty— that are internal to aesthetics and that ought to play a significant role in our judgments as to the merits of a piece of work, without denying that other standards might also be highly pertinent in our assessments. The realist claim is probably best understood in a similar manner: the ambition is not to develop a political normativity in which all other considerations are absent and only properly political considerations (whatever they might be) [6]


are deemed salient, but rather one in which the nuanced and complex relationship between politics and morality is better understood, discussed in several of the chapters here (see those by Larmore, Owen, Paul Sagar, Scheuerman, and Freeden), as is the relationship between politics and other realms such as economics, law, religion, technology, and aesthetics. And all of this would be done to make possible a form of practical reason better suited to political agents acting in the political realm. The sorts of considerations that need to be taken into account here are clearly numerous, and, hence, the ways in which political theories might respond to them are equally diverse. One idea is that thinking realistically about politics must include taking seriously how political institutions actually work or the sort of beliefs, values, and motivations that people actually have, precisely because ignoring such questions may lead to counterproductive, possibly catastrophic, consequences if we try and pursue ideals that are not appropriately sensitive to those realities. As Rahul Sagar puts it in his chapter, “Realism . . . requires a normative theory to undertake a kind of due diligence: that is, to evaluate the plausibility of its assumptions and the feasibility of its prescriptions” (see also the contributions by Frazer and Freeden).10 With a more radical twist usually supplied by critical theory, the pursuit of understanding the realities of politics can also be put in the service of a form of ideological critique that seeks to unmask and potentially normatively indict patterns of social and political power without having to adopt a critical standpoint external to politics itself (see the chapter by Paul Sagar).11 A more controversial thesis has been that there are standards of evaluation and assessment, maybe even values and concepts, inherent to politics itself (what William Scheuerman calls in his chapter the possibility of an immanent morality grounded in politics). We have already encountered Williams’s claim that the BLD is one that arises from within the political sphere. In this sense, the demand for legitimacy is not to be thought of in terms of politics being called to account for itself according to some extrapolitical morality but rather as a standard of evaluation internal to the activity of politics. Williams goes further: if politics is not the same as successful domination, then we might also be able to provide a political justification for certain basic human rights—such as the rights to life, freedom from torture, free speech even—that are associated with unmediated coercion and to provide that justification in ways that do not depend on familiar moral accounts of the dignity of humanity or the autonomy of the person.12 I N T RO D U C T I O N


A further line of thought that some realists have pursued, also influenced by Williams, is that to construct political ideals or values in ways that do not take certain central features of politics as given will inevitably deliver theories that either are unable to tell us very much about how we ought to arrange our political societies or cannot meaningfully be understood as political theories at all (which is to say they are theories neither of nor for politics). As such, it is misleading to think that realism is set against normative theorizing per se but rather is critical of a particular way of doing normative “political” theory that, it turns out, is actually deeply unpolitical. Realism seeks a way of thinking normatively about politics that is suitably sensitive to the conditions and features of the political sphere, with the hope that doing so will provide us with theories befitting the actual practice of politics. Any appropriately political political philosophy will need to take certain facts about politics as necessary and ineliminable parts of the very practice that we seek to theorize and ought therefore to provide the context in which we construct our political ideals and values. This means that we should not aim to develop philosophical accounts in which fundamental aspects of politics are either absent or can, through philosophical argument, be rationalized away.13 Political philosophy, if it is to be realistic—which just means if it is to be about politics—should therefore aim to help us understand what it is political values such as justice, freedom, rights, equality, toleration, democracy, and so on can mean given the character and constraints of politics as it really is.14 The ambitions of realist thought are therefore varied and underline the fact that realism is better understood as a family of theories than as a unified theoretical position. That being said, one thing that unites realistic theories—whether their ambitions be to provide largely friendly corrections to the dominant positions in contemporary political theory or to alter more radically what it is to theorize politics at all—is the sense that the reality of politics ought to play some significant role in directing the theorist’s activity.

The Revival of Political Realism (and Its Problems) One of the notable features of the reemergence of realism in political theory is that it began as a reinterpretation of existing work going back, in some cases, several decades. This was not a youthful energetic movement [8]


fired by the discovery of new truths or novel ways of doing things but more a recognition that something interesting had been going on relatively unnoticed for some time. This “something” was not in any sense part of some furtive counterculture either: its main figures were, after all, taken to include pillars of the philosophical establishment such as Bernard Williams, Raymond Geuss, Judith Shklar, John Dunn, Jeremy Waldron, John Gray, and Stuart Hampshire. But what came to be appreciated was that these figures shared certain themes or positions in common that not only pressed against the “high liberalism” that so dominated the subdiscipline in the Anglo-American world (exemplified by the work of John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, and Jürgen Habermas) in a series of connected critiques but also did so in a way that could plausibly be understood as realist. That is not to say that these thinkers self-identified as realists; Williams and Geuss were the only ones to do so. Yet if In the Beginning Was the Deed (2005) by Williams and Philosophy and Real Politics (2008) by Geuss rightly garnered great interest at the time due to their authors’ status as significant contemporary philosophers, they did not do so as part—let alone as the key texts—of any unified countermovement in political philosophy. It was William Galston’s survey article “Realism in Political Theory,” published in 2010, that identified and gave form to “this dissenting movement in political theory.” 15 This movement mixed together not only the thinkers already mentioned but several who are a generation or so younger also—such as Bonnie Honig, Glen Newey, Richard Bellamy, Mark Philp, and Chantal Mouffe—into what Galston admitted was something of a “community stew” given their diverse philosophical perspectives that could nevertheless be united around themes that seemed recognizable as forms of realism. What “Realism in Political Theory” did was therefore provide a compelling new interpretation of a substantial body of existing work that galvanized a candidly realist way of thinking about politics that had been absent from contemporary political theory for some significant period of time. The (very recent) history of realism helps explains several striking—and possibly problematic—features of contemporary realist thought as well as the background against which the aims of this collection were devised. First of all, much of the realist literature hitherto tended to take the form of either analyses of those thinkers Galston listed as the pioneers of realism, most notably Williams and Geuss, or competing accounts of the topography of the realist landscape, such as the nature of their critique of ideal theory, I N T RO D U C T I O N


utopianism, and political moralism (including, indeed, discussions as to which of these topics ought to be the proper target of realism’s critical ire).16 There is nothing illegitimate about such inquiries, and it is quite understandable that theorists needed to spend much time not only getting to grips with a series of complex and nuanced thinkers but also arranging them in such a way that the general contours of realist thought could become clear. The fact that critiques of realism have often been based on misunderstandings of its character and ambitions point to the ongoing importance of such work. Yet it is a consequence of this focus that much realist theory has tended toward either being very methodological in nature or being engaged in the analysis of the work of Williams and Geuss in such a way that seems quite out of kilter with the professed ambitions of realist thought. That realism reemerged in the form of a critique of contemporary liberal theory, specifically of the work of John Rawls, which so dominated the discipline after the publication of his magnum opus A Theory of Justice in 1971,17 makes it little different from almost every other interesting development in Anglo-American political theory over the past few decades, such as communitarianism, global justice, multiculturalism, the politics of difference, and deliberative democracy. Yet unlike these developments and probably because realism did not offer an alternative normative theory (a point I return to in the following section), there developed a strong impression that realism is a purely critical mode of political philosophy whose raison d’être is merely to tame the wilder moralist or idealist excesses of the neo-Kantianism that Rawls and his followers represented. On this account, the value of realism depends on the validity of its criticisms of Rawlsian philosophy and hence is completely parasitic on the theory that it critiques. This impression was strengthened by the fact already commented upon that a significant proportion of the initial realist literature focused on clarifying or assessing the success of realism’s critical dimension rather than on exploring its more positive potential. But the ongoing ramification of this impression has been a general skepticism that realism can make the transition from a critical to a more constructive or productive form of political thought. Although these two features of the realist literature are understandable in the context of how the interest in realism reemerged, combined they have had the effect of creating a certain sort of disciplinary insularity to this realism. There are several ways in which this insularity has manifested [ 10 ]


itself. In part, it has taken the form of a reluctance to place what has been called “new” realism in the wider context of the tradition of realist thinking in Western political theory.18 This tradition includes such figures as Thucydides, Augustine, Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Weber, and Carl Schmitt, though several other thinkers have recently been subject to realist interpretations and hence may warrant inclusion in the canon also, including Herodotus,19 David Hume,20 Jeremy Bentham,21 Immanuel Kant,22 Vladimir Lenin,23 Mohandas Gandhi,24 Hannah Arendt, 25 Leo Strauss, 26 Michael Oakeshott, 27 and Isaiah Berlin.28 Put in that context, there is very little “new” about realism other than our interest in it. Nevertheless, there have been limited attempts at trying to bridge the realisms that stand on either side of the neo-Kantianism of the late twentieth century. Insofar as realism has a history, any full understanding of it as a position within political theory is going to require an understanding of that history.29 Furthermore, it goes without saying that an ignorance of the history of realism gratuitously denies us access to the insights that will inevitably be contained in such a significant body of philosophical work. This is a mistake that Scheuerman rightly claims has also been made in relation to realism in international relations (IR) theory (IR realism), dooming realists to “unwittingly reproduce conceptual ambiguities plaguing mid-century international realism.”30 (Indeed, as Scheuerman argues in his chapter in this volume, there might be good reason to think that political realism is less satisfactory in crucial regards. See also the chapters by McQueen and Freeden.) Realism not only has been one of the dominant theoretical paradigms in international relations but has also become a complex and highly sophisticated tradition in its own right, boasting impressive nuanced thinkers such as Hans J. Morgenthau, E. H. Carr, Reinhold Niebuhr, and John H. Herz, and has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years. As with the historical tradition of realism (with which the tradition of IR realism overlaps significantly), neither Williams nor Geuss nor indeed Galston in his popularization of the term realism thought it necessary to comment on the choice of that term to describe their theories or its possible connotations in light of its prominence in IR. Apart from some dismissive remarks that erroneously equate realism in IR with a form of amoralism—which characterizes IR realism no better than it does political realism—realists have had little to say about realism in IR, and hence not much work has been undertaken to explore the potential connections I N T RO D U C T I O N

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and opportunities for engagement between the two.31 In part, the absence of such work reflects the strong but unwarranted disciplinary divide between political and IR theory that seems to be observed by most theorists, not just by realists. Even so, realists should have more reason than most to want to break through this artificial partition, not least because any realistic account of politics today as it actually is, though this might be true of all times, will need to take into account politics’ international dimensions (a point well made by David Owen and Duncan Bell in their chapters). As the chapter by John Medearis attests, a rich tradition of “democratic realism” throughout the twentieth century reflected upon the shortcomings of the ideals of democracy in the face of the brute facts of reality. Some of these themes have been revisited again recently, for example, in discussions regarding the actual capacities, limitations, and motivations of voters and the ways in which these factors undermine the aspirations of representative democratic systems, as well as regarding the implications of the concentration of power in the executive branches of government.32 Yet, again, we find that democratic realism has had little resonance in contemporary realist political theory and vice versa. All this means that it is wrong to think that there is one realism, even as an approach to thinking about politics. Variants of realist thought are to be found both throughout history and in the concomitant fields of IR and democratic theory. However, the manner in which interest in realism in political theory reemerged, understandably though unfortunately, has hitherto led to a certain intellectual narrowness and hesitancy to engage with these other forms of realist political thinking. These comments as to the origins and nature of contemporary political realism help illuminate the intellectual backdrop against which the aims of this collection have been conceived, of which there are three. The first is to continue the exploration of the general character of political realism, the work of specific realist thinkers, and the limits or shortcomings of contemporary realist thought (see the chapters by Bellamy, Freeden, Larmore, Medearis, McQueen, Newey, Owen, Philp, and Scheuerman). The second is to broaden the focus of realism into new areas as a way of demonstrating how realist analysis can enhance our political understanding as well as to develop the more constructive potential of political realism through discussions of the role of human emotions in political theory (Galston), corruption (Philp), secrecy and transparency (Rahul Sagar), [ 12 ]


global justice and security (Bell), legitimacy and domination (Paul Sagar), and feminism (Frazer). Finally, several of the chapters hope to open up dialogues between the different forms of realism in order both to bring to light insights from these other fields and to show the mutual benefits that might accrue from the further exchange of ideas (Medearis, Bellamy, McQueen, Scheuerman, Frazer).

Politics, Philosophy, and Morality A few thoughts on the relationship between politics, philosophy, and morality in realist thought are in order here because it is a theme that several of the chapters address implicitly or explicitly. It is common to realistic theories that they take power, disagreement, and conflict to be among the ineradicable and constitutive features of politics. An important implication of this is a deep skepticism not that there are right answers to moral and philosophical questions about how we should live together but rather that politics can be fully governed by reason or morality precisely because we disagree about what reason dictates or morality demands. This skepticism rules out the possibility of grounding politics in some prepolitical or hypothetical consensus on justice, certain moral principles, or standards of deliberations, for instance. There might be a concern that this limitation dooms politics to a certain irrationalism and amoralism. Realists certainly reject the thought that politics can be understood in terms of the application of abstract rational or moral principles that authoritatively settle the question of what we ought to do (and the further but distinct question of what we ought to do when we disagree about what we ought to do).33 This is because politics is always historically located, and any proper understanding of politics and the contexts in which political agents act has to reflect this (a point picked up by Charles Larmore and Mark Philp in their chapters). Political action and practical reason are therefore badly conceived if we think of them in terms of applying an abstract theory to a concrete reality. Politics is, to use the ancient metaphor, much more like an art or a craft in which political actors have to employ their judgment in considering what they should do.34 Such judgments will not completely eschew all evaluative considerations of what might be morally desirable. Yet they must also take into account the “wider nexus of actions and action-related attitudes, habits and institutional I N T RO D U C T I O N

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arrangements, within which alone the judgment (finally) makes sense,”35 all of which quite obviously change over time and differ between societies. Moreover, in our assessments of the political actions of other individuals or societies, we need to be cognizant of these contextual considerations as opposed to simply judging them against a set of universal principles. All of this does not banish morality or reason from politics. There still might be the right—rationally or morally—thing to do. But discovering what that thing might be cannot be something we arrive at prepolitically via philosophical reflection. On the one hand, realists tend to think that there are universal truths about politics—that politics takes place in and is a response to conditions of deep disagreement and conflict; that politics is not warfare (“might is not right”); that political rule necessarily requires the wielding of power in its various forms; and so on. On the other hand, they insist that any adequate understanding of politics must also attend to its more contextual and contingent features. It may be that the former are the sort of conceptual insights about politics that philosophy is particularly well placed to help us comprehend and analyze, but we need not think that only philosophy can help us here. And where philosophy is either silent or unenlightening (all approaches have their limits), there our understanding most certainly will need to be supplemented with resources from elsewhere—from the social sciences, history, and psychology, for instance.36 As Raymond Geuss has put it, “Political philosophy . . . must start from and be concerned in the first instance not with how people ought ideally (or ought ‘rationally’) to act, what they ought to desire, or value, the kind of people they ought to be, etc., but, rather, with the way social, economic, political, etc., institutions actually operate in some society at some given time, and what really does move human beings to act in given circumstances.”37 Of course, all of these issues are the subject of much dispute, and it would be amiss to think that in appealing to the social sciences, for instance, theorists will hit upon a body of unquestionable findings from which political philosophy can then proceed; that disputability is both understandable from an epistemological point of view but also quite as it should be. The point is that political philosophy cannot simply help itself to a vision of politics that seems most amenable to the realization of the theorist’s preferred ideals but must rather be guided by the best accounts of actual political life available to us, even if that guidance comes at the expense of introducing what might be viewed as empirical “impurities” into the philosophical enterprise. [ 14 ]


Here we come up against a question that arises several times throughout this volume regarding the extent to which a realistic political philosophy is possible or, more moderately, whether there are significant limits to philosophical approaches to the study of politics insofar as the familiar analytical and conceptual tools employed by philosophers might be ill suited to shedding much light on its political subject matter (see the chapters by Freeden, Frazer, Owen, Newey, and Scheuerman). That the study of political theory has largely been “colonized” by philosophy, to the detriment of a fuller understanding of the political realm and all that falls in it, will be a point familiar to readers of Michael Freeden’s important and influential work in this area, and it is a point that he stresses forcefully again in his chapter for this volume. And as David Owen playfully suggests at the end of his contribution, this skepticism might be well captured by a slight reworking of the title of probably Williams’s most famous book: “politics and the limits of philosophy.”38 Glen Newey even goes so far as to state that realism is best conceived as a particular view of the appropriate relationship between philosophy and politics (which, presumably, is intended to incorporate moral philosophy and so might include some of the more familiar worries associated with moralistic approaches to politics but is also broader than that). In contrast, Elizabeth Frazer insists that because feminism “begins” in “philosophical realism,” then that is where realism ought to begin also (given that feminism is, she argues, inherently realist). So the relationship between politics and philosophy is one of the areas where realists disagree, though what is more significant is the fact that they want to emphasize and problematize this relationship as a topic deserving reconsideration in the first place rather than merely accepting the dominant view of how the relationship ought to be conceived. Any claim that reality must play some role—however considerable—in our political theories, such as in the construction of political values or in our normative assessments of political regimes, is always going to find itself open to charges that realism fails to sufficiently distance itself from the status quo—injustices, inequities, and all—and hence cannot avoid replicating justifications for it (a theme picked up in different ways in the chapters by Bell, Freeden, Frazer, McQueen, and Paul Sagar). It is certainly the case that realism cannot countenance the thought that political critique ought to take the form of comparing the actual with fully abstract ideals that have paid absolutely no heed to political realities. But the alternative to Plato is not Burke. Although any realistic theory will accept that I N T RO D U C T I O N

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we ought to give some weight to reality in our theories, it does not do so because it has a normative preference for what exists merely because it exists. It is not conservative in that sense. Indeed, a realist might genuinely lament that people are morally imperfect, that they sometimes let the darker emotions of hate and anger get the better of them, that human values and interests conflict, that politics necessarily involves the use of violence, and so on, and, indeed, the realist might wish people and the human condition were better than they are. The conditions that make politics indispensable are not necessarily to be celebrated, but neither should they be ignored or wished away when we make our best efforts to try and understand political life. And it hardly seems appropriate to think that all critical positions other than the full abstraction offered by Platonism or Kantianism are necessarily conservative. It is true that the attempt to ensure that theory maintains some link with reality means realism cannot adopt such critical extremes, but then realists are going to doubt that these extremes are appropriate places from which to engage in political critique in the first place (even if a “view from nowhere” is available to us, which is, of course, philosophically controversial). Such concerns about whether realism must—or cannot but—affirm the status quo is exacerbated by its critique of moralism. Yet, and again it is worth stressing, realism rejects the thought that the political domain can effectively be regulated by moral principles precisely because we disagree about such moral matters; it does not insist that morality has no place in political life. What realism rejects is moralism understood as a specific (and mistaken) way of comprehending the role of morality in politics. Moralism fails either insofar as it threatens to reduce politics to morality or because it cannot satisfactorily account for the place of morality in a proper understanding of political life. Political moralism, according to Williams, assumes that it is the role of theory either to develop the principles, concepts, ideals, and values that politics ought then to express “through persuasion, the use of power, and so forth” (what he calls the “enactment model”) or to lay down “moral conditions of co-existence under power, conditions in which power can be justly exercised” (the “structural model”).39 Both models “represent the priority of the moral over the political” insofar as they portray fundamental political questions—of the ends of politics and the rightful conditions of political power—as moral questions that can be given determinate answers by moral philosophy prior to politics. Geuss

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shares that concern but makes a further complaint about moralism, calling it “a kind of moralized preaching and an associated assumption about the causal efficacy and cognitive significance of making moral judgments.”40 Moralism assumes too much explanatory value for moral arguments about absolute good and evil in politics, and in doing so it leaves little space for other considerations that are highly pertinent in the making of political decisions. Yet, importantly, this is not an argument against the making of moral judgments in politics per se but rather against the inappropriateness of certain sorts of moral judgments. (Geuss regularly uses as his bête noire Tony Blair’s decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003, considering it an example of moralism in politics: despite the plethora of considerations for and against the invasion, the incredible complexities of the situation, and the deep uncertainties regarding the consequences of an attack, Blair’s decision making seemed determined by his conviction that Saddam Hussein was evil.41) Ultimately and for reasons illustrated in several chapters here, it has probably not been too helpful that the discussion of the relationship between morality and politics has been cast in terms of their “autonomy” or the “priority” of one over the other. The idea of fully autonomous spheres of human life is a deeply implausible one. And it is never quite clear exactly what is meant by saying that morality has priority over politics or vice versa. What seems more credible is the thought—discussed in different ways by David Owen and Alison McQueen—that politics and morality are best conceived not as separate but as deeply entwined and in such a way that we can neither understand one without the other nor reduce one to the other. Politics cannot be “applied ethics” because our moral frameworks and discourses have a history, at least part of which is going to be political. And so morality does not ground politics because morality is itself partly the result of past politics and political battles. And so any form of realism must likely reject the possibility of moral reasoning as fully autonomous in ways that we might usually associate with Platonic and Kantian traditions. Yet it would equally seem a mistake to agree with Geuss that “ethics is usually dead politics: the hand of a victor in some past conflict reaching out to try to extend its grip to the present and the future.”42 It may well be that there are some moral concepts and values that we have no good reason to continue to endorse once we realize that the only reason we do so is that they proved victorious as part of previous political struggles. Yet it is unlikely


[ 17 ]

that many of our values can be described in that way, and, more importantly, even when they can, it seems excessive to think that there really is nothing else—nothing that we properly associate with the realm and demands of morality—that can be said for our moral values and our commitment to them other than that they have succeeded politically. When realism does profess to have ambitions to provide action guidance, it is often criticized that it does not provide the sort of determinate guidance we need. And it certainly does not provide such guidance in the form that so much contemporary normative political theory has done, by constructing comprehensive conceptions of values such as justice, which are then used to inform public-policy issues, matters of institutional design, and questions of individual or collective action. Realists are always going to be very dubious of claims that human beings are unable to know how they should act in the absence of regulative ideals toward which to orientate their actions, and they have instead stressed the ways in which relative comparisons and the avoidance of familiar evils can provide such guidance without the need to appeal to ideals (and, indeed, might do a better job of providing such guidance). The guidance that realism offers is more cautionary in character—warning us against the perils of thinking about politics in particular ways or of overlooking particular aspects of our political experience. Where it may seek to be more constructive, it is never conclusive. And so realism does not always appear to provide the sort of guidance that we look to political theory to provide. Yet realism does not conceive of the task of political theory (or philosophy) in straightforward terms equivalent to those assumed in the more dominant normative forms of neo-Kantianism. As may be becoming clear here, this is because realists are likely to have a more modest understanding of the significance of the findings of political theory/philosophy and moral philosophy for our deliberations as to what we should do. Indeed, the question “What should we do?” is ultimately one that has to be answered via the processes of politics themselves. That is part of what it means to say that something is a political question. This understanding might not seem satisfactory to those who want more from their political philosophy, who think that philosophy should be able to provide determinate answers to the most fundamental political questions (“Which tax arrangement is most just?” “What is the correct balance between freedom and security?” “Does toleration require us to allow hate speech?” and so on). But that assumption about

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philosophy misses the point that realism does not straightforwardly accept that the provision of determinate answers is what we should want from our political theories. Even when realism does have normative ambitions, it nevertheless sets these ambitions in the context of a different and necessarily more limited account of the appropriate role of theory in our reflections on political life and deliberations as to how we should act. This limitation might be perceived as denigrating the significance of political philosophy (without prejudging what significance it ought to have, which is, anyway, a question we should not expect political philosophy to be well placed to answer). But really it is better understood as making sure our theories can accommodate the fact that it is ultimately through politics— not through philosophy—that human beings collectively decide what they shall do and hence as giving politics the significance it deserves in any properly political theory. One final and more speculative thought to end on, one that also might point to further areas where realists may—or should—have something important to contribute. The turn to realism throughout the history of political theory has often (though not always) been accompanied by or seen as a response to a crisis of politics. A “crisis of politics” is not the same as a “political crisis” but in a more general and deeper sense means that there is something problematic about politics as it is being practiced and at the extreme a sense that politics has failed us and that alternatives to political forms of coexistence must be sought. To some degree, all political theories are motivated by a dissatisfaction of some sort. The turn to realism, however, is less likely to be motivated by a substantive concern that our society may be too unjust, unequal, undemocratic, or so on but that politics as a particular human practice has gone awry or that our theories of politics may have become too divorced from the actual political world that they are supposed to help us understand. This is not to say that worries about the injustices of a society cannot lead in a realist direction: there is much to be said for the thought that the growing chasm between the egalitarianism that large swathes of Anglo-American political theory has advocated since the 1970s and the growing levels of inequality that Western democracies have actively pursued as a matter of policy has played a significant role in stimulating some deep reflection upon the relationship between political philosophy and the political practice of which realism has been part. Yet such substantive concerns need not and often have not led to


[ 19 ]

deeper anxieties about politics other than to reinforce a sense in which political power has simply yet to be put in the service of the right ends. The spur to realism often comes from somewhere else, some more profound worries about the nature of politics itself. That there is today widespread political disaffection in most Western liberal democratic societies is more than just a prevailing cynicism about politicians and their trade. It is driven also by an increasing sense that politics has failed to get a grip on many of the biggest challenges of our day (climate change, the rise of religious fundamentalism and violence, mass immigration, inequality, the power and influence of unaccountable supranational institutions, global economic security). Possibly worse, there is also a deep pessimism that political power can be a force for progressive change but is instead doomed to be the arena of sheer folly and the pursuit of sectional interests (a worry that for many is exemplified by recent events in the United States and the United Kingdom as well as by wider developments in places such as India, Turkey, and Hungary). From a different perspective, politics has come to be seen as an overweening obstruction to the pursuit of the common good, so that the latter objective would be better served by leaving the market to provide our public goods or by using technology to bypass the normal political processes. Such disaffection and pessimism have led to a significant diminishment of politics in the Western world. If political theory has anything to say about these attitudes (and that “if ” needs to be taken seriously), then it is going to need to put the practice of politics back at the center of its inquiry. This means reexamining many of the most basic questions of political theory, questions that have been little attended to in recent decades, such as “What is politics?” “What, if anything, is the value of or in political activity?” (or “Why should we value specifically political forms of rule?”), and “What is the place of politics in the human condition?” There is a real danger that at a time when politics as a practice is losing widespread support, we find ourselves unable to provide meaningful, comprehensive, and compelling answers to these questions, the practical ramifications of which may actually be quite devastating. Because these questions are also central to the realist endeavor, this area is one where realism ought to have something significant to say. It should not be a surprise and certainly cannot be a criticism that thinkers have different ideas of what realism is and of what a realistic political theory might look like. The same is true of, for instance, idealism and utopianism [ 20 ]


as well as of ideological positions such as liberalism, socialism, conservatism, and so on. If anything, such internal discussions should be seen as evidence of the vibrancy of the tradition rather than of any fundamental fault within realist thought. The chapters in this collection are purposefully diverse in order to reflect the intellectually dynamic state of realism today. The authors do not always agree, often hold opposing opinions as to the potential of realist thinking for political theory, and may see the value of realism as located in different places or to be understood in different ways. So much the better for realism. Above all else, what this collection attempts to do is demonstrate why realism is interesting, why it represents one of the more exciting developments in contemporary political thought, and draw attention to the significant questions that are currently occupying realist scholars as well as the spaces where important work has yet to be undertaken. As this introduction has sought to highlight, realism is best understood not simply as a methodological move within existing paradigms or as motivated by the concern that theory must have more “impact” or “relevance” in the real world (realism may have that thought, but it cannot be realism’s first thought). Realism is rather an attempt to recast how we think about politics itself, to recover politics, and to put it back at the heart of our political thinking. In many ways, it reflects a return to a set of very basic but fundamental questions about the very nature of politics and political theory itself. That theorists are now returning to these questions reflects the fact that considerable doubt has been thrown on the cogency and possibilities of our current political theories and practices and that a step back needs to be taken so that we can move forward once more. Realism’s own answers to these questions tend toward a complex attempt to focus simultaneously on the universalities of politics, power, conflict, authority, and the moral difficulties of political rule, combined with an appreciation of the local, the contextual, the facts of the actual situation. Unlike the dialogue between Plato and Aristotle depicted in Raphael’s frescoe The School of Athens, realists urge us not to look either to the heavens of abstract theories, ideals, and utopias or to the earth of concrete particulars, empirical knowledge, and practical ethics. That dichotomy, at least in politics, is a false one. Real politics always takes place somewhere near the horizon. And it is in this precarious suspended setting—rejecting moralism but not morality in politics, affirming reality but not the status quo— that a realistic political theory must situate itself. I N T RO D U C T I O N

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Notes 1. Plato, “Gorgias,” in Plato—Gorgias, Meexenus, Protagoras, ed. Malcolm Schofield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 104. 2. Ibid., 107. 3. Ibid., 59. 4. Michael Freeden, “Interpretative Realism and Prescriptive Realism,” Journal of Political Ideologies 17, no. 1 (2012): 1–11. 5. John Dunn, “Reconceiving Modern Political Community,” in Interpreting Political Responsibility (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990), 195; Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 6; Mark Philp, “Realism Without Illusions,” Political Theory 40, no. 5 (2012): 629–49; Bernard Williams, “From Freedom to Liberty: The Construction of a Political Value,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 77. 6. Quoted in John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), lxii. 7. Bernard Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 3. 8. Ibid., 5. 9. See John Horton, “Political Legitimacy, Justice, and Consent,” Critical Review of International and Social Political Philosophy 15, no. 2 (2012): 129–48; Enzo Rossi, “Justice, Legitimacy, and (Normative) Authority for Political Realists,” Critical Review of International and Social Political Philosophy 15, no. 2 (2012): 149–64; Matt Sleat, “Justice and Legitimacy in Contemporary Liberal Thought: A Critique,” Social Theory and Practice 41, no. 2 (2015): 230–52; Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory.” 10. See also David Schmidtz, “A Realistic Political Ideal,” Social Philosophy and Policy 33, nos. 1–2 (2016): 1–10. 11. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics; Janosch Prinz, “Raymond Geuss’ Radicalization of Realism in Political Theory,” Philosophy and Social Criticism 42, no. 8 (2016): 777–96; Janosch Prinz and Enzo Rossi, “Political Realism as Ideology Critique,” Critical Review of International and Social Political Philosophy 20, no. 3 (2017): 348–65. 12. Bernard Williams, “Human Rights and Relativism,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 62–74. 13. Jeremy Waldron, “Political Political Theory: An Inaugural Lecture,” Journal of Political Philosophy 21, no. 1 (2013): 1–23. 14. For work that discusses the nature of these constraints on normative theory, see Edward Hall, “Skepticism About Unconstrained Utopianism,” Social Philosophy [ 22 ]




17. 18.

19. 20. 21. 22.

23. 24. 25.

and Policy 33, nos. 1–2 (2016): 76–95, and “How to Do Realistic Political Theory (and Why You Might Want To),” European Journal of Political Theory 16, no. 3 (2017): 283–303; Matt Sleat, “What Is a Political Value? Political Philosophy and Fidelity to Reality,” Social Philosophy and Policy 33, nos. 1–2 (2017): 252–72; Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed, esp. chaps. 7 and 9; Bernard Williams, “Saint-Just’s Illusion,” in Making Sense of Humanity and Other Philosophical Papers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 135–50. William Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 385–411. This article was published as part of a special issue of the European Journal of Political Theory on political realism to which some of those co-opted by Galston as realists also contributed. See, for example, Alice Baderin, “Two Forms of Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 13, no. 2 (2014): 132–53; Freeden, “Interpretative Realism and Prescriptive Realism”; Adrian Little, Alan Finlayson, and Simon Tormey, “Reconstituting Realism: Feasibility, Utopia, and Epistemological Imperfection,” Contemporary Political Theory 14, no. 3 (2015): 276–313; Philp, “Realism Without Illusions”; Enzo Rossi and Matt Sleat, “Realism in Normative Political Theory,” Philosophy Compass 9, no. 10 (2014): 689–701; David Runciman, “What Is Realistic Political Philosophy?” Metaphilosophy 43, nos. 1–2 (2012): 58–70. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). Bonnie Honig and Marc Stears, “The New Realism: From Modus Vivendi to Justice,” in Political Philosophy Versus History? Contextualism and Real Politics in Contemporary Political Thought, ed. Jonathan Floyd and Marc Stears (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 177–205. Joel Alden Schlosser, “Herodotean Realism,” Political Theory 42, no. 3 (2014): 239–61. Andrew Sabl, Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012). David Runciman, “Political Theory and Real Politics in the Age of the Internet,” Journal of Political Philosophy 25, no. 1 (2017): 3–21. Terry Nardin, “Realism and Right: Sketch for a Theory of Global Justice,” in Ethical Reasoning in International Affairs: Arguments from the Middle Ground, ed. Cornelia Navari (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 43–63. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics. Karuna Mantena, “Another Realism: The Politics of Gandhian Nonviolence,” American Political Science Review 106, no. 2 (2012): 455–70. Patricia Owens, “The Ethic of Reality in Hannah Arendt,” in Political Thought and International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme, ed. Duncan Bell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 105–21. I N T RO D U C T I O N

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26. Nicholas Rengger, “Realism’s ‘Hidden Dialogue’: Leo Strauss, War, and Politics,” in Political Thought and International Relations, ed. Bell, 143–58. 27. Terry Nardin, “Oakeshott on Theory and Practice,” Global Discourse 5, no. 2 (2015): 310–22. 28. Paul Kelly, “Political Philosophy and the Attraction of Realism,” Global Discourse 5, no. 2 (2015): 191–203. 29. Williams, “From Freedom to Liberty,” 75. For an interesting discussion of the difficulties involved in realism’s appeal to a “realist tradition,” see Alison McQueen, “Political Realism and the Realist ‘Tradition,’ ” Critical Review of International and Social Political Philosophy 20, no. 3 (2017): 296–313. 30. William E. Scheuerman, “The Realist Revival in Political Philosophy, or: Why New Is Not Always Improved,” International Politics 50, no. 6 (2013): 799. 31. See Raymond Geuss, History and Illusion in Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 55. For the (very recent) exceptions, see Duncan Bell, “Political Realism and International Relations,” Philosophy Compass 12, no. 2 (2017): 1–12; Raymond Geuss, “Realism and the Relativity of Judgment,” International Relations 29, no. 1 (2015): 3–22; McQueen, “Political Realism and the Realist ‘Tradition’ ”; Alison McQueen, “Political Realism and Moral Corruption,” European Journal of Political Theory (forthcoming); Scheuerman, “The Realist Revival in Political Philosophy”; Matt Sleat, Liberal Realism: A Realist Theory of Liberal Politics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013). 32. See, for instance, Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels, Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016); Jason Brennan, Against Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016); Eric A. Posner and Adrian Vermeule, The Executive Unbound: After the Madisonian Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). 33. This distinction is made by Jeremy Waldron, cited in Alice Baderin, “Political Theory and Public Opinion: Against Democratic Restraint,” Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 15, no. 3 (2016): 216. 34. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, 15. 35. Raymond Geuss, “What Is Political Judgment?” in Political Judgment, ed. Richard Bourke and Raymond Geuss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 37. 36. Bernard Williams, “Political Philosophy and the Analytical Tradition,” in Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline, ed. A. W. Moore (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 155–68. 37. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, 9. 38. Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985; reprint, London: Routledge, 2011). [ 24 ]


39. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 1. 40. Geuss, “Realism and the Relativity of Judgment,” 4. 41. See, for example, ibid., and Raymond Geuss, Politics and the Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), esp. chaps. 1 and 3 42. Geuss, Politics and the Imagination, 42.


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The Truth in Political Realism CHARLES LARMORE

The Realist Revolt


ecent years have seen a growing wave of dissatisfaction with the main direction political philosophy has taken in the AngloAmerican world under the influence of John Rawls. The complaint is that political philosophy has lost touch with the very nature of its subject matter.1 In the effort to determine how society in the ideal should be organized, normative theorizing has become a means of escape from the realities of political life. The concern for consensus has obscured the permanence of conflict; the focus on justice has evaded the more basic fact that politics has to do essentially with the exercise of power. At issue is the broadly liberal framework within which political philosophy has come to be practiced—the primacy contemporary philosophers automatically accord to individual freedom, equality, and social welfare. The point is not so much that liberalism itself should be rejected as that political philosophy needs to be able to stand back from the reigning ideas of the day and see liberalism from the outside, as one political conception among others, one that like them is historically conditioned, sincerely contested by many, and inescapably (if unavowedly) committed to establishing mechanisms of rule that exclude its enemies and shape the thinking of the rest of society. Political philosophy, it is charged, has become insufficiently political. It has turned into a branch of ethics, drawing up blueprints of the ideal society [ 27 ]

that everyone should supposedly be able to see reason to endorse. The situation has not significantly changed with the more political emphasis of the later Rawls. For though his “political liberalism” rejects comprehensive conceptions of the human good as too controversial to serve anymore as the foundation of political philosophy, it still takes its bearings from a conception of justice it presumes to be the object of an “overlapping consensus.” Yet the nature of justice is no less controversial than other ethical matters. Political philosophy ought to regard as its starting point the ubiquity of conflict and thus the necessity of state power to create the conditions of social order. The dissenting voices I have evoked do not form a single movement. Their call for political philosophy to recover a sense of the real nature of politics occurs as part of widely different theoretical programs. However, one figure stands out because of the particularly probing way in which he developed this common theme. That figure is Bernard Williams, who in a number of largely posthumous essays argued that political philosophy has lapsed into “applied moral philosophy,” taking its cue from “a morality prior to politics,” and that it should instead recognize conflict and power as the defining political phenomena and therefore legitimacy—that is, the legitimate use of force—rather than justice as the primary normative concept with which it must deal.2 These views Williams intended to elaborate in a book about politics he was writing at the time of his death but never completed. Nonetheless, the account the essays provide is rich and provocative enough to serve in many respects as a canonical statement of the resolutely political conception of political philosophy I have been describing. As I go on to investigate this conception further, I take as a benchmark the views Williams outlined in these essays, following him in, among other things, giving it the name “political realism.”3 I also, however, lay out a version of political realism in my own voice. I do so because I am in considerable agreement with Williams’s understanding of the nature of political philosophy. In a previous essay, I explained the basis of my sympathy.4 The principal aim of political philosophy, I argued, cannot be to work out a theory of the ideal society since the major sorts of social conflict it must address arise not only from people’s passions and interests but also from their convictions about the good and the right, which are likely to diverge even when they are reasoning conscientiously. Given the deep disagreements to which moral thinking so often leads, political philosophy cannot consist in anything like applied moral philosophy.5 It has to be a more autonomous sort of enterprise. As I put the point at the end of [ 28 ]


that essay, “You have your moral views, I have mine, and each of us is convinced that he is right, standing ready to show the other the errors of his ways. But once we confront the problem of how people like us are to live together, we enter the terrain of political philosophy.”6 Thomas Hobbes expressed a similar view: “When men that think themselves wiser than all others clamor and demand right reason for judge, yet seek no more but that things should be determined by no other men’s reason but their own, it is as intolerable in the society of men as it is in play, after trump is turned, to use for trump on every occasion that suit whereof they have most in their hand.” 7 Like Hobbes, I believe that political philosophy has its own agenda. It must deal, in the first instance, with the problems of authority and legitimacy, with the reasons why people need to subordinate their individual purposes to a common power, and with the conditions under which the exercise of that power is justified or legitimate. I have come to these realist conclusions through reflecting on the moral presuppositions of political liberalism.8 It will be useful if I summarize at the outset my train of thought. The central ambition of political liberalism, as I and others have conceived it, is to reformulate the core principles of liberal democracy without appeal to the individualist philosophies that shaped the classical liberalism of such figures as John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill. As shown by its devotion to the ideal of toleration, liberalism has always been a response to the breadth of social disagreement, seeking terms of political association to which people can agree despite all that divides them. Political liberalism aims to carry this concern further. Especially in the wake of the romantic rediscovery of the importance of tradition and belonging, individualist views that one should think for oneself and work out on one’s own how one will live—however influential in modern society—have become, no less than religious creeds or other ideas of the human good, objects of controversy about which reasonable people are likely to disagree.9 The basic principles of political association, it is argued, need to prescind from such views as well as from all comprehensive ethical doctrines. Yet if liberalism, now understood as a strictly political conception, is to be “freestanding” in this way, it cannot stand free from moral assumptions altogether. Otherwise, one cannot explain why liberalism ought not to stand or fall with a commitment to individualism. I have sought to bring out more clearly than Rawls himself what these assumptions are. The most important is the conviction that because political principles differ from T H E T RU T H I N P O L I T I C A L R E A L I S M

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other moral principles in being essentially coercive in character, people cannot rightly be held subject to them unless they can also assent to the reasons for imposing them. Only so will they then be treated not merely as means, their compliance to be enforced for the sake of social order, but also as persons in their own right, as beings who do not simply (as the higher animals can as well) think and act on the basis of reasons but can also determine by reflection which reasons they ought to guide themselves by. It is this specific conception of respect for persons (to be distinguished from the many other things the notion of “respect” has been taken to mean) that forms the core of the liberal idea of political legitimacy. That idea, as I have formulated it, is the requirement that the fundamental principles of political society, being coercive in nature, should be such that all who are to be subject to them must be able from their perspective to see reason to endorse them on the assumption, which in some cases may be counterfactual, that they are committed to this principle of respect—that is, to basing political association on principles that can meet with its citizens’ reasonable agreement.10 However, this principle of respect is one that some people have from their standpoint good grounds to reject. They may be of the view, for instance, that the crucial feature of political principles is that they be pleasing to God, whether they happen to accord or not with the reason of those whom they are to bind. Liberalism, for all its desire to be inclusive, also excludes, as every political conception does. I have more to say about this fact toward the end of my essay. Here my aim has been to explain why I have come to an appreciation of many of the central ideas of political realism. Conflicts in belief among reasonable people are endemic in social life and are so to an extent that liberal thought itself has often underestimated. Political philosophy loses sight of this fundamental truth about politics when it supposes its primary object consists in determining how a just society ought ideally to be organized. People differ deeply about what justice means and entails. Political philosophy needs therefore to deal first of all with the question of how social order is possible and with how in particular the state ought to exercise its power to bring it about. Realism in the form that Williams expounded seems to me nonetheless flawed. My disagreement has to do with his claim that political philosophy ought to avoid appealing to “a morality prior to politics.” As I explained in the earlier essay and the preceding remarks suggest, I do not think this is possible, even when one is focusing on the distinctively political question of the conditions under which the exercise of state power is legitimate. [ 30 ]


Later in this essay, I go more deeply into my reasons for rejecting his view and respond to some objections that have been made to my criticisms. First, however, I want to lay out less autobiographically and more systematically what I find correct in the general orientation of political realism.

The First Political Question I begin by looking at another of John Rawls’s fundamental assumptions, one that was integral to his understanding of political philosophy. Near the beginning of A Theory of Justice, Rawls declared that “justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.” He returned to this view at the end of his book, saying that it expresses “a common sense conviction.”11 Yet the idea that justice is the first virtue of social institutions is not the truism it may appear to be. Certainly, social institutions that are unjust are importantly defective, and steps should be taken, if possible, to bring the society closer to what justice requires. But should the reform or abolition of unjust institutions take precedence over every other sort of consideration? Should these goals be pursued at the expense of whatever other merits the institutions may possess? This is apparently what Rawls meant when he attributed to justice the status of a “first virtue.” “An injustice is tolerable,” he explained, “only when it is necessary to avoid an even greater injustice.”12 The fact that certain institutions are unjust gives us supposedly sufficient reason either to correct them or to abolish them, “no matter how efficient and well-arranged” they may be, so long as justice would not elsewhere be compromised even more. But is this true? Can it really be maintained that justice is in this sense the first virtue of social institutions? Consider Rawls’s own statement that “a society is a cooperative venture for mutual advantage.”13 As a definition, this will hardly do since society is not itself a venture but consists in the shared forms of thought and action that, making us who we are, enable us to undertake the various ventures we do.14 However, the idea Rawls had in mind is that the justice of a society’s institutions has to do with the terms on which they enable cooperation among its members. Although people count as cooperating if they are acting together so as to produce results that are to the advantage of them all, T H E T RU T H I N P O L I T I C A L R E A L I S M

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the rules by which they operate are unjust if some profit more from the results than they should and others profit less because, for instance, the rules have been dictated by differences in power among the parties concerned. Relations of mutual advantage are just only if they are fair. Now precisely because unjust institutions may still be mutually beneficial, reforming or abolishing them simply because they are unjust, without attending to any other considerations, can sometimes mean a loss in social cooperation. Perhaps if such an institution is eliminated, no other way of coordinating people’s actions in this area of social life will then be possible. Or perhaps making the rules of the institution more just will lead those who profited from the previous arrangement to no longer take part in the institution’s activities. Not in every case, of course, does cooperation serve to achieve some actual good, but when it does, it may do so without its terms being just. It can therefore sometimes happen that the pursuit of justice needs to be weighed against the importance of there being cooperation at all. Depending on the circumstances, justice may not always prove to be the first virtue of social institutions. The situation is not in fact so different with truth and systems of thought. All else being equal, Rawls is right: “a theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue.” But it can sometimes be better to hold on to an overall view of things we know to be in certain respects false or only approximately true if the alternative is to have no comprehensive view at all or one whose scope has been reduced to the parts that are strictly true. For without this overall view, we may lack the ability to orient ourselves in the world, to make sense, if only partially, of the things that interest us. Truth is certainly the supreme virtue of systems of thought, as justice is of social institutions: they are what we ultimately aim at. But they are not necessarily the first virtue, the value whose pursuit must always outweigh other considerations. Social institutions can thus embody valuable forms of cooperation, however just or unjust their defining rules may happen to be. Their existence depends, however, not merely on the rules but also on people feeling they have the reasonable expectation that if they do their part and comply with the rules, others will do so too. Moreover, a society’s institutions do not simply coexist. They interact, sometimes coming into conflict but more often—if the society is to hold together—relying on one another in order to function as they do. A society is a system of forms of cooperation. In order to ensure that its different institutions cohere in this way and to provide [ 32 ]


in general the conditions of security and trust without which all cooperation would be narrow and episodic, a society must introduce laws. That means it must organize itself politically, giving itself some form of government to widen and strengthen the conditions for social cooperation. Political rule of some sort is therefore indispensable. Under particular circumstances and to a limited extent, social cooperation may indeed develop spontaneously. People may see that if each of them does his part in some common activity, provided that others do so as well, they will achieve some mutual benefit, as in David Hume’s famous example of two persons in a rowboat who begin, without any explicit agreement, to row in synchrony because otherwise they cannot move at all.15 However, people’s passions can get in the way of their reasoning. They can also be divided in their interests. They may furthermore have different conceptions of the human good and of what is right and fair. Perhaps one of the rowers desires the glory of being the commander, or the rowers disagree about their destination. They may also differ about whether rowing is a sport or just a means of transportation as well as about when it is appropriate to take a rest or about who should do the steering. Rowboating is an inconsequential affair, but not so the various kinds of cooperation on which societies depend. Despite the necessity for people to work together if they are to survive and flourish as a community, their passions, interests, and views about the good and the right often put them at odds, particularly when matters of importance are at stake. Social disorder and breakdown can ensue. The need for cooperation and the deep-seated human tendencies that render cooperation difficult if not impossible form, we may say, the circumstances of politics.16 They constitute the problem to which political rule (as in the form of a “state”) aims to be the solution. For only a body of laws that people regard as authoritative and enforceable can impel them to cooperate with one another on a broad and consistent basis. The hallmark of political institutions, as Max Weber observed, is that they secure obedience to their rules by what they claim to be the legitimate use or threat of force.17 Typically, the state claims that the laws or rules of cooperation it institutes are just or that it has tried to make them so. But its first task must be to guarantee the possibility of social cooperation itself, and that means establishing rules that, whatever their actual justice, will be authoritative. For the nature of justice and its demands in specific situations are subjects about which people differ, and their differences can run so deep as to keep them from joining together in common endeavors. As a number T H E T RU T H I N P O L I T I C A L R E A L I S M

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of early-modern thinkers recognized (I already cited Hobbes on this score), individuals reasoning about what is good and right are likely to disagree, so that the prime purpose of the state must be not the realization of justice but rather the establishment of order. For social cooperation to be possible, people must have the assurance that all will comply with the same set of rules determining, be it justly or not, what they own, what they may do with what they own, and how they may and must act in regard to one another. Being perceived to be if not just then not too unjust may often be necessary for the rules to be authoritative—that is, to be rules people believe they have good reason to obey. But the main thing is that the state, with the coercive means at its disposal, make the rules authoritative. Thus, Bernard Williams was right to assert, in the cardinal axiom of his political realism, that “the first political question” is “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.”18 The securing of social order must be the state’s first business since every other undertaking presupposes that social order has been achieved and continues to be maintained. With this part of Williams’s political realism I could not agree more.

The Concept of Legitimacy The state can ensure the conditions for social cooperation only if, as I have said, the rules it imposes have authority. This means (as I am using the term authority) that people must believe they have good reason to comply with them, even if their passions and interests and their own ideas of what is good and right may move them to wish that society were organized differently. Obviously, the state’s possession of means of enforcement figures among their reasons for compliance. But it cannot be the only inducement. Otherwise, the rules will lack authority: people will not regard them as laws having a claim on their allegiance but instead as simply commands they are being terrorized into obeying. Might is not right. In order for the rules to be authoritative, people—or at least most people—in the society must believe that the state is entitled to impose these rules on them. In other words, they must consider the state to be legitimate, justified in its use of coercive power to institute the rules of their social life. Consequently, if [ 34 ]


the state is to accomplish its task of making social cooperation possible, it must seek to legitimate the legislative and administrative power it exercises. It must, as every state does, develop some “legitimation story”— claiming, for instance, that it derives from some mythical founding, that the monarch is God’s representative on earth, that all its citizens have consented or would under appropriate conditions consent to its institution, that the leader is the voice of the people—that explains why it is entitled to rule. This is why, as I have observed, political philosophy needs to recognize that its primary, though certainly not its exclusive, concern has to lie with the idea of legitimacy rather than with justice. Some initial clarifications are necessary if the concept of legitimacy is to be properly understood. First, it ought to be clear that legitimacy and justice are not the same thing. A law may be just in its content and yet be illegitimately enacted or legitimately enacted without being just. In the case of states, too, the two concepts do not coincide. A state may be legitimate, justified in the power it exercises over its subjects, without being particularly just, and its various institutions may be just without its having any legitimate claim on the allegiance of those who live within its boundaries (they may, after all, be resident aliens) and who have simply the duty to support just institutions wherever they may exist. Legitimacy involves a right on the part of the state to exercise its coercive power over a particular group of people, a right that entails a special obligation on their part to comply with the laws it institutes. Legitimacy is therefore distinct from the justice the state may embody.19 At the same, though, the two concepts are not completely disjoint. For a state’s being entitled to exercise its power over a certain group of people is the same as its justly exercising over them that power. Legitimacy, we may say, is that politically fundamental aspect of justice that has to do with the state’s use of coercion, a point to which I return in the next section. Second, legitimacy and authority are not the same thing, either. Philosophers and social scientists sometimes employ a subjective notion of legitimacy, equating it with a state’s exercise of coercive power being widely perceived in the society as justified and with the state therefore enjoying authority. As should be apparent, I do not follow this usage, which is ill conceived. By a state being legitimate, I understand its actually being justified in its use of coercion. (Because it may be more or less justified in this regard, legitimacy is, properly speaking, a matter of degree.) That is, after all, what the term means. For when people accept a state as legitimate or a T H E T RU T H I N P O L I T I C A L R E A L I S M

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state claims legitimacy for itself, they are holding that the state’s exercise of power really is justified and not merely that they take it to be so. One reason that actual and perceived legitimacy are so often confused may be the influence of the modern idea of the consent of the governed. Yet this idea, which we need to remember is simply one conception of legitimacy among others, is no less dependent on that distinction: it regards consent as actually justifying the state’s power, not as merely being generally perceived to do so, and it requires, for the state to be legitimate, that citizens really do or really would, under stipulated conditions, consent to being subject to its rule. If the state’s exercise of power is perceived to be justified or legitimate, then it indeed enjoys authority: people regard it as having a claim on their allegiance. But neither the rules it imposes nor its power to impose them need be legitimate; they will not be so to the extent that the legitimation story the state promulgates and people accept is based on intimidation or on certain sorts of error or illusion. It is true that from the state’s standpoint the important thing is often not that it really be legitimate, but that it be by and large accepted as so. Yet this fact does not dissolve the distinction between authority and legitimacy. For only if people accept the state as in fact legitimate will it possess authority. More needs to be said substantively, however, about the nature of legitimacy. To this end, I turn to the account that Williams presented. He, too, held that the state can fulfill its indispensable task of securing order and the conditions of cooperation only if it is widely believed to be legitimate. Since legitimacy, not justice, is therefore the primary notion with which political philosophy ought to be concerned, he gave considerable attention to how the concept of legitimacy should be understood. This meant in effect—though, as we will see, he was less clear than he should have been—that his concern was to explain not only why the state must seek to be perceived as legitimate but also what it is, in at least a general way, to be legitimate. Thus, Williams claimed, in what can be called the second axiom of his political realism, that legitimacy is an essentially historical category, that the nature of political legitimacy varies from one historical era to another. With this thesis I agree, though it needs to be clarified and deepened in certain ways. But a third axiom—namely, the idea that political legitimacy does not involve “a morality prior to politics”—I reject altogether, as I explain in the following section. The core of Williams’s account is the idea of “the basic legitimation demand,” or BLD, as he dubbed it. In seeking to secure order and the [ 36 ]


conditions of cooperation, the state “has to offer a justification of its power to each subject,” a subject of the state being “anyone who is in its power, whom by its own lights it can rightfully coerce under its laws and institutions,” and from whom therefore “it expects allegiance.”20 Two initial points need to be noted about this BLD.21 The first is that the state must address its justification only to those whose allegiance it claims to rightfully command. There may be some inhabitants—Williams mentioned the Helots of ancient Sparta, but one could add slaves in general or simply resident aliens—over whom a state may intend to exercise its power without claiming to possess in their regard a legitimacy they should acknowledge. It seeks their submission, not their allegiance, since it considers them to be conquered peoples, visiting foreigners, or property rather than persons, not full-fledged members of the society. Second, in order for the BLD to be satisfied, it is not necessary that everyone, every “subject,” to whom the state does address its legitimation story accept that story or accept enough of it to recognize the state as legitimate.22 That would be an unrealistic requirement since some are bound to be anarchists, bandits, or—most pertinently from a philosophical perspective—people whose ethical or religious convictions are insuperably opposed to the terms in which the state is claiming to justify its power. It cannot be hoped, Williams declared, that there exist “absolute or universal conditions of legitimacy, which any ‘reasonable’ person should accept.”23 Any idea of reasonableness invoked to this end is in reality a historically specific conception that some particular groups happen to share but others do not. Both these points are on the mark. Williams did not say much to defend the second, though he made it clear that he was in particular criticizing the many liberal theorists who have supposed that a liberal regime, if constructed properly, would be one that everyone could see reason to endorse. I concur. As I have already indicated, that notion is an illusion. Every political regime, however inclusive it aspires to be, necessarily excludes. What Jean-Jacques Rousseau described as the fundamental problem of politics—to find a form of political rule to which all can freely assent—has no solution.24 Moreover, liberal ideas of the consent (real or hypothetical) of the governed form one conception of legitimacy among others. It should not be assumed at the outset that this conception, whatever its validity in the modern world, constitutes the standard for every historical epoch. To this third point, also central to Williams’s political realism, I return shortly. T H E T RU T H I N P O L I T I C A L R E A L I S M

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But first a question to which the preceding remarks may seem to demand an answer: If a regime, liberal or otherwise, need not have its selfjustification accepted by all those subject to it in order to count as legitimate, who or how many of them must then accept it? Williams himself posed this question, replying (rather vaguely) that “a substantial number of the people” must believe the BLD to be satisfied but that who and how many they are “depends on the circumstances.”25 Here, I think, he went astray. The question is misconceived. A state’s exercise of power is legitimate if it is justified, but its being justified does not necessarily require the justification to be accepted by anyone. It does so only if the legitimation story it presents, as in the liberal conception of the consent of the governed, makes acceptance of the justification an essential ingredient. Of course, acceptance of its legitimacy— and acceptance by a significant number of people, especially those with power and influence—is vital if any state (whether liberal or not) is to be able to exercise authority. Only if its laws and its power to enforce them are broadly perceived as legitimate can the state secure social order and the conditions of cooperation. But as I have cautioned, legitimacy and authority—that is, perceived legitimacy—should not be confused. Otherwise, no sense can be made of what it is that people are accepting when they accept that the state is legitimate. What they are accepting is that the state is indeed justified in its exercise of coercive power over them and (obviously) not that they perceive it to be justified—even if its being justified, when the notion of legitimacy happens to be a liberal one, may consist in their consenting, actually or hypothetically, to its rule. Here and elsewhere, Williams did not carefully distinguish between a state enjoying authority and its possessing legitimacy.26 “Meeting the BLD,” he wrote, “is what distinguishes a LEG from an ILLEG state.” For this to be true, meeting the BLD must not be equated with the state’s being accepted or being likely to be accepted as legitimate. Yet that is what Williams proceeded to do when, two sentences later, he wrote, “Meeting the BLD can be equated with there being an ‘acceptable’ solution to the first political question,” since, as seems clear, he meant by “acceptable” not “ought to be accepted” but rather “what people will believe they have reason to accept.”27 Let us then turn to the genuine question of what it is for a state to be legitimate. Williams adamantly rejected the idea of any single, historically invariant answer to this question. In particular, he denied that liberal ideas [ 38 ]


of legitimacy apply to every historical epoch. There is no point, he quipped, to “imagin[ing] oneself as Kant at the court of King Arthur.”28 In modern societies—“now and around here,” as Williams liked to say—a liberal conception does form the appropriate standard. It “makes sense” under modern conditions. But under different historical conditions, different conceptions of political legitimacy make sense. By “make sense,” Williams seems to have meant “appear to be justified” since he wrote that it is not a normative concept except when we use it about a state we consider to have a legitimate claim on our own allegiance.29 Yet that cannot be right. Clearly, he wanted to say that nonliberal regimes in earlier historical epochs did not simply appear legitimate but sometimes were so (a normative proposition). Otherwise, one could still assert the very thing he was keen to reject—namely, that only liberal regimes have ever been legitimate. Here again we see evidence of Williams having failed to distinguish carefully between a state’s being perceived to be legitimate—enjoying authority because its legitimation story “makes sense”—and its actually being legitimate. But let us leave aside such misleading formulations and focus on his real intent, what I have called the second axiom of his political realism, according to which legitimacy itself depends on the historical situation. I believe this axiom is true. However, Williams did not explain why it is so. Although he offered a Weber-inspired list of the modern social conditions that make a liberal conception of legitimacy appropriate today— “organizational features (pluralism, etc., and bureaucratic forms of control), individualism, and cognitive aspects of authority (Entzauberung)”30 —he did not indicate why they call for that conception. The reason becomes clear if we recall the circumstances that make the concept of legitimacy necessary. The primary if not the only task of the state is, we saw, to ensure by means of its authority the basis of social order and cooperation. Yet it can have this authority and command people’s allegiance only if it can justify in a broadly accepted way its right to impose laws and to enforce them. It has to be perceived as legitimate. Now, clearly, the acceptance of the state’s legitimacy depends on historical conditions— that is, on the interests and expectations of the society’s members. Yet not just the state’s perceived legitimacy but also its legitimacy itself (if it is legitimate) is historically conditioned. For what sort of power the state is justified in exercising so as to make order and cooperation possible depends on the prevailing ideas about the nature of social life as well as on the level of social and economic development since such are the materials with which T H E T RU T H I N P O L I T I C A L R E A L I S M

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the state must work in order to achieve those goals. The very reason the concept is needed indicates why legitimacy is an essentially historical matter. Here are two examples to illustrate the way that legitimacy depends on the historical context. It seems silly, for instance, to brand ancient city-states or empires as illegitimate simply because they rested on the institution of slavery, even though we would doubtless regard as illegitimate any regime that has done so in the modern world and may very well believe slavery to be unjust whenever it occurs. Why, then, is this so, if not that slavery appeared to nearly everyone in antiquity such an integral part of any economic system worth having that the conditions of social order and cooperation could not be ensured without incorporating it in some form or other?31 And second, consider the distinctive features of modern society that Williams listed as calling for a liberal conception of legitimacy. Williams did not, as I noted, explain why they do so, nor did he define very clearly that conception itself. But let us adopt the definition I sketched earlier, according to which the state’s exercise of power must be based on principles that all members of the society can see reason to endorse on the assumption (perhaps counterfactual) that they believe their political life should be organized in this way. This conception appears eminently suitable for a society characterized by the coexistence of many different cultural traditions (pluralism), the substitution of bureaucratic administration for feudal dependence, the pervasiveness of individualist modes of thought, as well as the increasing acceptance of a scientific (entzaubert) conception of the world and with it the transformation of religion into a matter of personal faith. For in such a complex, heterogeneous society, the conditions of cooperation can be ensured only if the basic rules of social order the state imposes are ones that its members can on reflection, from their now very different perspectives, see reason to accept.

The Moral and the Political In developing the idea of political legitimacy, I have up until now largely followed Williams’s lead, though not without making some significant corrections. Now I come to a major disagreement. It concerns what is probably the most distinctive claim of his political realism, the thesis I have called his third axiom: political legitimacy, he argued, does not rest on “a [ 40 ]


morality prior to politics.”32 As a result, political philosophy itself, insofar as it considers authority and legitimacy as constituting the first political question, cannot be practiced in a way that assumes “the priority of the moral over the political.” It can no longer take the form of “applied moral philosophy,” as it has typically done among contemporary liberal philosophers.33 “Political moralism,” as Williams rather invidiously labeled the approach he opposed, views political life fundamentally as a realm in which moral conceptions of the ideal society are to be implemented either through bringing about certain human goods (which he termed the “enactment model,” whose paradigm is utilitarianism) or through creating fair structures of social coexistence constraining what states and individuals may do (the “structural model,” typified by contractarian theories of justice such as that proposed by Rawls).34 Both currents, he charged, fail to appreciate what is distinctive of the political realm. It is a domain defined by opposing forces and deep disagreements, about morality among other things, and its primary concern must therefore be the institution of a common authority. In order to establish an authoritative order, the state must seek to justify its power to those from whom it expects allegiance. But this basic legitimation demand (the BLD), if a moral principle, “does not represent a morality which is prior to politics. It is a claim that is inherent in there being such a thing as politics” since “the situation of one lot of people terrorizing another lot of people is not per se a political situation.”35 Insofar as political philosophy recognizes the primacy of the question of legitimacy, it will not therefore set out from an account of the moral ideals to be implemented in society. To be sure, it may go on, once it determines what can now count as legitimate rule, to develop within this framework a conception of the just society, though Williams had little to say on this score. But it will not have its basis in a body of moral principles given in advance of a solution to the fundamental political problem of securing the conditions of order and cooperation. In that sense, political philosophy can be said to assume instead a priority of the political over the moral. This position seems to me a mix of truth and error. Let me begin by underscoring the part where, as I have already said, Williams got things right. Political philosophy does misconceive its subject if it proceeds as a kind of applied moral philosophy. It cannot simply launch into discussing the principles of a just society, as contemporary political philosophers tend commonly to do. Such work is perfectly fine, often indeed T H E T RU T H I N P O L I T I C A L R E A L I S M

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interesting and insightful, as an exercise in moral philosophy, whose aim is to describe the very nature of the good and the right. However, political philosophy must start with what I earlier called the circumstances of politics, the need for social cooperation and the various kinds of conflicts, including not least disagreements about the right and the good, that stand in its way. This is why political philosophy must begin, as Williams claimed, not with the question of social justice but instead with the question of authority and legitimacy. The idea is not therefore that it should simply concern itself with both. On the contrary, the one question is prior to the other. For the conditions under which the state is justified in exercising its coercive power constrain what can count from a political point of view (as opposed to the more absolute standpoint of morality) as the ideal of social justice to be pursued: the morally best may not be politically justifiable.36 Yet what about the concept of legitimacy itself? Does it really stand free from assumptions involving a morality prior to politics? Williams declared that the BLD—the state’s obligation to provide a justification of its exercise of power—does not involve any such assumption since if it counts as a moral principle, it is one that arises only within the political sphere. That may be so. However, the same is not true of the justification provided. I pointed out earlier how the justification must base itself on the historical context, on what happen to be the prevailing ideas about the nature of society as well as on the level of social and economic development since they are the materials with which the state must work to accomplish its prime task of securing order and cooperation. But this is not all on which the justification depends. Whatever the specific legitimation story may be, whether it invokes some mythical founding, God’s purposes, the citizens’ consent, or the leader’s charisma, it embodies some idea of what entitles the state to exercise coercive power over its subjects. It appeals therefore to a moral principle describing the conditions under which coercive power may justly be exercised. This particular principle of justice, just like the legitimation story of which it forms part, needs to be suitable to the historical context. So it would be a mistake to suppose that any such principle is universally relevant. Yet it cannot be simply deduced from that context. It is presumed, moreover, to express a morality prior to politics in that it has to be understood as having a validity antecedent to the authority the state aims thereby to acquire. For it supposedly serves to ground the legitimacy the state claims [ 42 ]


for itself.37 The legitimation story, we might even say, “applies” what it takes to be a prior moral truth to the actual political situation. The moral principle thus applied need not comprise a comprehensive vision of the good and the right; it need not even imply a general conception of social justice. Its object need only be the conditions under which state power may justly be exercised. It is therefore a principle that certainly looks to the circumstances of politics. It nonetheless asserts a moral constraint on the political operations of the state. A good example is the liberal conception of legitimacy as I outlined it earlier, which holds that the state’s use of coercion is justified insofar as it honors a principle of respect for persons. But so, too, is the idea that the state justly exercises coercion insofar as being God’s representative it is furthering God’s purposes for his creatures. I have presented this argument in terms of what the legitimation offered by the state entails and not in terms of what the state must actually believe. States are often, to varying degrees, disingenuous about the legitimations they proclaim, hoping to secure their authority one way or another, by hook or by crook. But what matters here is the concept of legitimacy itself, however it may be deployed in reality. On that score, it seems clear that claims to legitimacy must always rest on assumptions expressing a morality prior to politics. So clear is it that Williams himself, when he turned to consider the liberal sort of legitimation modern states present, could not help but effectively acknowledge the fact, observing that it may appeal to “an ethically elaborated account of the person” and, more broadly, that discussions about whether modern state power is legitimate typically refer to “moral” concepts among others. 38 Such passages do not indicate that Williams’s position is more sophisticated than I have been supposing,39 but rather that it is inconsistent. Had he pursued such thoughts a bit further, he would have seen that liberal legitimation stories invariably invoke moral principles assumed to have a prior validity and that they are not unique in this regard but exemplify an inherent feature of the concept of legitimacy. I repeat that this critique leaves untouched the reasons Williams rightly gave for rejecting “political moralism.” It remains true that political philosophy is not a province of moral philosophy. It cannot proceed by laying out a body of moral truths about the nature of the good society that are then to be given political realization. It must instead begin with the problem of legitimacy—with the ubiquity of conflict (over moral questions, among T H E T RU T H I N P O L I T I C A L R E A L I S M

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other things) and the need for authority if the conditions for social order and cooperation are to be secured. In order to establish itself as the source of such authority, the state has to provide a justification for the coercive power it exercises in pursuing these primary ends, if not further ends as well. This demand for legitimation (the BLD) arises, therefore, as Williams said, only within a political situation, in which a state is claiming and expecting allegiance from its subjects. Insofar as the BLD can be said to constitute a moral obligation for the state to fulfill, it does not therefore represent a morality prior to politics. It is imperative, however, to distinguish between the demand and the legitimation the state offers to satisfy the demand. The latter, I have argued, does involve a morality prior to politics inasmuch as it must appeal to some conception of the conditions under which coercive power may be justly exercised.40 True, this moral principle purports to govern how an essentially political problem, the exercise of coercive force, is to be handled. In this sense, it may be said not to represent a morality prior to the politics. But in another, very important sense, it is a prepolitical principle since it is assumed to possess a validity independent of the political role it is invoked to fill: it serves to justify the exercise of power and thereby to found the state’s authority. Certainly, one conclusion that appears inescapable is that the phrase “morality prior to politics,” as Williams used it, was ill defined and ambiguous.

The Permanence of Conflict To conclude, I want to emphasize that although a state claims legitimacy first and foremost in order to carry out its prime task of containing social conflict and ensuring the conditions of cooperation, the expectation is that its legitimacy will itself be an object of conflict. There will always be some, reasonable people among them, exercising sincerely from their perspective the general capacities of human reason, who will deny that the state is justified in its use of coercive power. Conflict never disappears altogether. Certainly, some will regard the further ends the state may choose to pursue—be it wars, economic expansion, or social justice—as an abuse of power. But even as far as securing order and cooperation is concerned, there can be deep disagreement.

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Some people, for instance, may fault the state for lacking sufficient power to accomplish its primary task. Or they may accuse it of having amassed far too much. Most significantly, there may be people who reject the terms in which the state justifies its power. As I have argued, every conception of legitimacy depends on assumptions about the conditions (prevailing ideas about the nature of society, the level of social and economic development) in which social cooperation is to be ensured as well as on some moral principle defining the extent to which coercion may justly be exercised. Both elements can become the object of controversy. Obviously, some people may regard the latter as incompatible with their most cherished convictions. But they may also believe that existing conditions are deplorable and need to be changed, if any state worthy of their allegiance is to exist. Such beliefs are not necessarily unreasonable. Historical conditions, precisely because they are historical, are not unalterable. Both sorts of objection fuel the resistance in the modern world to liberal conceptions of legitimacy. Those, for instance, who hold even today that in the political realm conformity to God’s will outweighs respect for human reason regard the transformation of religion from a society’s bond into a matter of personal faith as a betrayal of the very meaning of religion. Liberals need to understand that people can be reasonable and yet reject the liberals’ idea of political legitimacy, though this does not mean that they themselves should abandon that idea. Every conception of legitimacy, however inclusive it aims to be, also excludes since it embodies values that some people reject, defining a community in which they must feel like strangers. Our aim cannot be a general reconciliation of individual freedom and political rule, for that is impossible. It must be instead to include and exclude for the right reasons.41

Notes 1. William Galston’s essay “Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 385–411, is still an excellent survey of this development. 2. The essays are collected in Bernard Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). In these political writings, Williams did


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4. 5.

6. 7. 8.


not, as in some of his earlier writings, use the term moral as a contrast with ethical or associate “morality” with a Kantian conception. I follow suit. I might also have taken as representative some of the writings of Raymond Geuss, whose conception of political realism overlaps with that of Williams. However, I have decided to leave them aside since they are marred by historical distortions, such as the notion that liberalism is “the attempt always to see society sub specie consensus” (Raymond Geuss, History and Illusion in Politics [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001], 4)—for the one sidedness of this view, see the paragraph after next in the text—as well as by the silly if not irresponsible idea of enrolling political realism under the banner of a “neoLeninism” (Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics [Princeton: Princeton University, 2008], 23–29, 99). Furthermore, Geuss’s political realism consists largely in criticizing the views of others without ever making clear the normative assumptions on which he relies, following in this his model, Theodor Adorno. Charles Larmore, “What Is Political Philosophy?” Journal of Moral Philosophy 10 (2013): 276–306. Rawls, too, it may be noted, declared that political philosophy is not “applied moral philosophy” ( Justice as Fairness: A Restatement [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001], 14, 181–82). However, what he meant falls short of the crucial point. His idea was that political philosophy should not consist in applying to the political domain some comprehensive religious, moral, or philosophical doctrine about the ultimate ends of man but should focus instead, as does his own “political liberalism,” on the essential structure of political association—namely, the principles, essentially coercive in character, that govern the way a society’s main institutions fit together into one system of social cooperation—in order to ask which such principles would constitute fair terms of cooperation. This line of thought is on the right track. But it does not go far enough. It overlooks the fact that people disagree, even when reasoning to the best of their abilities, about what fair terms of cooperation would be. That is why political philosophy must concern itself first of all with the question of authority and legitimacy. Larmore, “What Is Political Philosophy?” 306. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1994), I.v.3. See Charles Larmore, The Autonomy of Morality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), chap. 6, and “Political Liberalism: Its Motivations and Goals,” in Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 63–88. I should signal that by “reasonable” I mean here and elsewhere exercising one’s general capacities of reason to the best of one’s abilities. This is a broad [ 46 ]




12. 13. 14.

15. 16. 17.

18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26.

epistemic notion and therefore distinct from the moral sense of “reasonable”— being disposed to seek fair terms of cooperation—that Rawls used. See my essay “Political Liberalism: Its Motivation and Goals,” sec. 2. For more on this principle of respect and the idea of legitimacy it entails, see ibid., sec. 3–4. There I show how this principle underlies, for instance, what Rawls called “the liberal principle of legitimacy”: “Our exercise of political power is proper and hence justifiable, only when it is exercised in accordance with a constitution the essentials of which all citizens may be reasonably expected to endorse in the light of principles and ideals acceptable to them as reasonable and rational” (Political Liberalism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1996], 217; see also 137). John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 3, 586. Rawls, it should be noted, added that this thought may be “expressed too strongly.” Ibid., 4. Ibid. One might also object that people are members of society—and therefore subjects of justice—even when they are too old or disabled to enter into cooperative relations. On this point, see Martha Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006). David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975), 490. See the similar conception in Jeremy Waldron, Law and Disagreement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 102–3. Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Tübingen: Mohr, 1972), I.1.17. Although not all forms of political rule can properly be called “states,” I henceforth speak only of states since they are the characteristic mode of rule in modern times. Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed, 3; see also 62. For more on this distinction, see A. John Simmons, “Justification and Legitimacy,” Ethics 109 (1999): 739–71. Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed, 4, 95; see also 135–36. Edward Hall brings out both these points well in “Bernard Williams and the Basic Legitimation Demand: A Defense,” Political Studies 63 (2015): 471, 473. Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed, 135–36. Ibid., 136. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du contrat social, I.6. Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed, 136. It might be thought that Williams would have rejected this distinction because of his well-known view that the only reasons a person can be said to have are “internal” reasons. But this is not so. Williams defined internal reasons as those a person could come to acknowledge by a “sound deliberative route” T H E T RU T H I N P O L I T I C A L R E A L I S M

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27. 28. 29. 30. 31.

32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37.

38. 39.



from his existing motivations. See Bernard Williams, “Internal Reasons and the Obscurity of Blame,” in Making Sense of Humanity and Other Philosophical Papers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 35–45. There is thus a distinction, even in the domain of internal reasons, between people perceiving a state to be legitimate (its enjoying authority) and their having a good or sound reason, given their perspective, to think it legitimate (its possessing legitimacy). For my own views about internal and external reasons, see The Autonomy of Morality, 58–59, 125–26. Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed, 4. Ibid., 10. Ibid., 10–11. Ibid., 9. On how society for the ancients was unimaginable without slavery, see M. I. Finley, “Was Greek Civilization Based on Slave Labor?” in Economy and Society in Ancient Greece (New York: Viking, 1982), 97–115. Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed, 5, 7, 9. Ibid., 2, 8, 77. Ibid., 1–2. Ibid., 5. For more on the difference between moral and political philosophy, see my essay “What Is Political Philosophy?” Note that what I claim to embody a morality prior to politics is the legitimation itself the state offers, not our own judgment about whether the legitimation satisfies the BLD. Edward Hall (“Bernard Williams,” 470, 476) confuses the two things in his criticism of the version of this argument I present in “What Is Political Philosophy?” (291–92). Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed, 8, 11. This appears to be Matt Sleat’s view in his defense of Williams against my criticism. See Matt Sleat, “Legitimacy in Realist Thought: Between Moralism and Realpolitik,” Political Theory 42, no. 3 (2014): 319. In defending Williams against this objection, Sleat seems to run together the demand and the state’s way of satisfying the demand (ibid., 319–22). I do not deny that the demand for legitimation arises from within the political sphere. Nor, for that matter, did Rawls—with whose “political moralism” Sleat associates me on this score—since his liberal principle of legitimacy (see note 10 here) is stated as governing “our exercise of political power.” For more on the logic of reasonable disagreement as well as on inclusion and exclusion in liberalism, see Larmore, “Political Liberalism: Its Motivations and Goals,” sec. 2, 4.

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Realism and Surrealism in Political Philosophy GLEN NEWEY


here on a notional spectrum from utopianism to blank realpolitik should political philosophers focus their efforts? The spectrum extends from the high moralism upheld by many if not all utopian thinkers to the emphasis on prudential reasons by practitioners of realism in international theory. I argue that there is no definitive answer to the question of where to focus our efforts, and in the absence of such a focus the choice of a specific focal point needs justification. One merit of G. A. Cohen’s later work lay in facing up to this question and in trying to argue for a specific answer—a utopian or strongly normative one. John Rawls, too, at times seems to have acknowledged the question and answered it with what he called “realistic utopianism.” This essay falls into the following parts. First, I set out my understanding of the stakes between what is now called “realism”1 in political philosophy and its critics regarding how much normative content should be front-loaded by philosophical theories of politics, including those that treat politics as a branch office of justice. I suggest that there is no compelling reason to think that any specific position on normativity, in particular on how much moral content to give it in political philosophizing, is selected ahead of that activity or as a condition of doing it. Next, I criticize Cohen’s utopianism. Political philosophy does not have to be normative in the sense of guiding action.2 I argue that the demand for normativity is not one that needs to be met as a condition of understanding political phenomena. [ 49 ]

Finally, I sketch an understanding of politics from which this view follows. Freedom is at the center of this account, but it is a normatively reduced understanding of freedom. The ambiguity of stances—between staking out a position within politics and taking a philosophical position about politics— necessarily arises from the orientation of politics toward freedom.

Normative Nuances It is an obvious thought, perhaps too much so to need articulating, that a normative philosophical theory—any such theory—has to take a position about its own normative stance. One way to do this is simply by stating it, so that the position works as a premise in what follows. To take a well-known example, Robert Nozick begins Anarchy, State, and Utopia by asserting that “individuals have rights, and there are things that no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights).”3 Nozick does not try to say much to convince someone who disputes the premise that rights enjoy the primordial moral status he ascribes to them. That is the respect in which the theory that follows in his book is, as he correctly regarded it, a utopian one, in common with some other libertarian defenses of the market. It turns out that this utopianism is qualified, in fact, since Nozick accepts that basic data of political life, such as that the fact of scarcity and the inevitability of “boundary crossing” call for a rectificatory response.4 Room remains for nuance even among extreme versions of utopianism. At the farthest reaches lie treatments of utopia, some avowed fictions, that deploy extravagantly counterfactual premises or mise-en-scènes. David Hume noted that the empirical preconditions of theorizing about justice included limited altruism and nonabundance;5 Karl Marx seems to have dispensed with the latter in the vision of postrevolutionary society sketched in Critique of the Gotha Programme. One way of bilking real-world scarcity is by imagining not augmented productivity but diminished wants, such as a recursive desire for material betterment, a thought already present in Plato.6 A further issue that arises even within strongly utopian thought is how far the idealized conditions conduce to an ideal reality—a significant question for Christian thinkers such as Augustine, who compares fallen humanity with its prelapsarian counterpart. Compare Gregory Kavka’s

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view that even morally perfect people would require government, part of the point being that such people would still need to be coordinated.7 These examples, taken from an extreme point on the spectrum referred to at the start of this essay, suggest that nothing compels a specific entry point into normative theorizing on a spectrum between the modifiable and the given. This goes for the other end of the spectrum, too, with realpolitik. If there is a practical question to respond to at all, different answers must at least seem possible. There is always the possibility of qualifying certain constraints on action, one perhaps more apparent in political deliberation than elsewhere, insofar as political agents may work with real and not merely notional power.8 Even within a commitment to “realism,” political actors need to decide what elements of the deliberative landscape to take as fixed or given. That a decision is involved is particularly obvious when the landscape includes, as it usually does, the practical attitudes of other people—such as those inclined to oppose the actors’ favored project. It is true, as Cohen argues, that a theory of justice need not be held hostage to those who misguidedly oppose it. But insofar as that is true, it tends to push the theory, as a political project, to the margins. The saying “fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus” does not name a practical stance of any sort, still less a political one. Orthogonal to the spectrum, whose gradations consist in progressively increasing (or, in the other direction, reduced) moral content to normativity, lies the eschewal of normativity tout court. Someone who approaches political philosophizing in this way makes no obvious mistake. Nothing makes this approach compelling, either. What would be needed is something that, first, makes normativity itself compelling and then an argument to show why some specific entry point into the normative is called for. The point might be thought to cut both ways: if there is no compelling reason for a given entry point, then, it may be said, there is no such reason against one, either, so one can choose the entry point at will. That reasoning, however, is flawed. If the reason why there is no such point is that compelling reasons exist against any particular one, then the conclusion fails to follow. By analogy: the reason why there is no highest prime number is that there is compelling reasoning—given, for example, by Euclid’s proof—that shows that no such number exists.9 The fact that there is no compelling reason to select a particular number as the highest prime, as is consistent with the proof, does not mean that there is no compelling reason not to do so.


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There is nothing that compels one philosophically to approach politics from a normative standpoint or to a specific point of entry on the normative spectrum.

Cohen on Principles and Facts In “Facts and Principles,” G. A. Cohen argues that the normative force of a given factual or empirical premise depends on its being conjoined with a principle-stating premise that takes that fact into account, which presupposes a further, fact-insensitive principle.10 I take it that Cohen’s main aim in the paper is to argue that if a given fact is adduced as a reason for constraining or modifying a certain principle, it will do so only if appeal is implicitly made to some further subsuming principle; his ulterior concern is with the use of certain fact-dependent patterns of argument in theorizing about justice. Cohen argues that “it follows from the stated premises that every fact-sensitive principle reflects a fact-insensitive principle: that is true both within the structure of the principled beliefs of a given person . . . and . . . within the structure of the objective truth about principles.” He concludes that “every fact-sensitive principle reflects a factinsensitive principle.”11 This position could be called “surrealist” in view of its rejection of realism and its setting over or against the empirical world a normative order regarded as prior to it.12 So, for instance, it may be said that distributive equality within a certain sphere should be qualified by some empirical fact: it is possible, say, that an unequal distribution of goods is Pareto optimal with respect to an equal distribution. This may be a factual claim, at least given an authoritative basis for measuring welfare. If it is inferred from this claim that deviations from equality are permissible, desirable, and so on, where doing so yields a Pareto-superior distribution, this conclusion will follow only if a normative premise is added, such as one that says that deviations from equality are permissible, desirable, and so on when there are available distributions to which equality is Pareto inferior. It might be thought that Cohen’s argument establishes a specific answer to the question posed at the start of this essay—namely, that the appropriate entry point on the notional spectrum is at the utopian extreme. That this is Cohen’s intention in formulating the argument is suggested by his own advocacy of utopianism about justice—for example, in his discussions [ 52 ]


elsewhere of how one should react to others’ noncompliant behavior.13 Such an inference would, however, be faulty.14 It does not follow, merely from the fact that argument to a normative conclusion requires a normative premise, that formulating the normative premise itself calls for counterfactual idealization and that the normative principle is at the extreme end of demandingness. Suppose someone says that whatever assignment of goods is needed to maximize average net preference satisfaction is justified. That statement can be treated as an ultimate principle in the sense that it does not require a further normative premise to yield a practical conclusion. To yield such a conclusion, however, empirical content needs to be added—such as that a certain assignment has this effect. But there is no counterfactual idealization in the premises of such an argument. All that is required is that some assignment(s) is (are) justified.15 Hence, first, the truth of Cohen’s claim about facts and principles does not establish a position on what I have called the “normative spectrum.” Second, it is doubtful to what extent the principles as Cohen conceives them really are action guiding; his approach might in fact be called a transnormative one. The conclusion that justice demands a certain distribution of valuable things (goods, opportunities, achieved capacities, etc.) may look like a normative one, but whatever normativity it possesses is quite far removed from that of an utterance such as “Open the door.” Its remoteness lies in refraining (in Cohen’s case as a matter of principle) from considering how, at the level of action, the demands of justice are best met, with possible resort to indirection, compromise, corner cutting, and so on. The more remote the demand is from the latter, the less concretely action guiding becomes, and, insofar as it still takes an evaluative stance, it becomes something more akin to an aesthetic judgment.16 Hence, surrealism, as an artistic movement, takes elements of the real world only to subject them to radical counterfactual reprocessing. Third, it is not clear that the claim about facts and principles is defensible. What should be said of someone who claims that the normative statement “We should always φ because of C” (where C names some empirical fact) is a baseline commitment? It is not obvious that the person has made a mistake. After all, any argument requires premises, and it is in the nature of premises not to be founded on anything else. Thus, We should always φ because of C; therefore, We should φ, REALISM AND SURREALISM IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

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is a valid argument. An obvious response is to say that, though valid, the argument will be unpersuasive to anyone who does not accept “We should always φ because of C.” But if the underlying claim is that only an argument that contains as a premise a fact-insensitive subsuming principle will prove persuasive, this is open to doubt. Suppose the fact-insensitive principle here is “We should always φ because of C, or it is not the case that we should always φ because of C.” This is a fact-insensitive principle because it is a necessary truth (assuming the principle of excluded middle), and so its truth, in particular, is insensitive to the empirical truth of C—or, more fully spelt out, to whether it is empirically true that conditions of C hold. It does not seem that the revised argument, with the fact-insensitive premise at the start, is more persuasive than the original. In fact, because the original argument is valid the addition of the fact-insensitive premise has no bearing on the derivability of the conclusion. The argument also, fourth, does not determine the direction of effort appropriate within political theory. Most Anglophone political philosophers devote themselves to normative theorizing, at least when not expositing other texts.17 But that is a contingent fact about the discipline of political philosophy as currently practiced in some places. It might be thought more pressing to identify the practical context in which principles apply, even if one is persuaded by Cohen’s transnormative surrealism. Even at the level of political thought or theory, there is room for a broadly descriptive approach.18 This approach may address normative concepts such as freedom, justice, democracy, rights, and so on, but, again, the relevant distinction is between working with concepts—for example, as part of a rhetorical strategy aimed at persuasion—and working on them, as when analysis aims to grasp their historical development or their ideological role. With respect to philosophical accounts of political action, no particular normative orientation seems required. It is also the case, fifth, that the applicability of principles of justice depends on facts. To this extent, “ideal theory” about justice is misconceived because justice supervenes on worlds only where ideal features, such as abundance or benevolence, are lacking. Consider again the Humean preconditions for justice mentioned earlier—namely, limited altruism and the scarcity of goods. These preconditions are contingent facts that might be different depending on context—there are possible worlds where they do not hold. However, on Hume’s view, they trigger conditions for justice. Cohen’s transnormativity gets outflanked by a possible world where [ 54 ]


justice is irrelevant. Cohen could say that even if counterfactually political theorists inhabited such a world, they could speculate and formulate normative principles to apply to a world in which the conditions do hold. Would such principles be fact insensitive? Suppose the favored principle P prescribes the doing of φ in any world where the conditions C are met. Thus, P: In any world where C hold, φ. P could be said to be fact insensitive because it does not affirm that the conditions hold but only prescribes what to do if they do hold. But the applicability of the principle clearly depends on whether fact-sensitive conditions hold. That may well be a nontrivial matter, and this is a point at which normative argument can clearly play a role. For example, if the principle declares that all men are created equal and that they have certain inalienable rights among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, one can ask, for example, whether this principle applies to all human beings or only to adult males or only to those adult males who have not been enslaved. Here the verbal content of the principle, enshrined in a foundational text, is clear. What needs clarifying is how to take it, which may be strongly circumstantially variable. James Madison argued out the question in Federalist No. 54 and concluded that each African American slave should count as three-fifths of a white man for the representational purposes at issue during debates in the Constitutional Convention over the Virginia and New Jersey plans. Because the Federalist aimed to persuade readers of the benefits of a unitary state, its arguments, including Madison’s, were designed to forestall separatism. Of course, it is possible to formulate contextually a fact-insensitive version of P such that C is filled out by the argument “It is the case that conferring full citizenship on all persons will derail the supreme aim of political union,” and the action-counseling consequent calls for some qualification to the principle of universal citizenship, such as “Unless C, then confer full citizenship on all.” That some such filler for C was in Madison’s mind, as well as in Federalist coauthors Alexander Hamilton’s and John Jay’s, is a significant historical fact.19 Here, insistence on a fact-insensitive principle offers limited historical insight. So, sixth, insistence on the primordial status of principles with respect to facts may divert attention from what in context is politically significant. REALISM AND SURREALISM IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

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There is, relatedly, a danger of vacuity. It is plausible to think that if attention is directed from the fact-sensitive principle at each stage in the inquiry and one moves upward in search of a fact-insensitive principle, then the content of the ultimate fact-insensitive principle is liable to be uninteresting. In the Madison example just given, the ultimate principle (UP) may be cited as something like the following: UP: Treat like cases alike, unless there is reason not to do so. That is an all-but-vacuous statement of “formal” equality, the point being that it is entirely compatible with the systematic slavery-based discrimination practiced in the antebellum United States. UP can subsume P, as in the following argument: UP. C provides a reason of the sort specified by UP. P. So φ. Cohen’s argument may seem to license inferring that the subsuming, fact-insensitive principle must be at least as important as the downstream principle(s) that it subsumes. But in fact the likelihood of formal vacuity increases pari passu with the strength of the demand that intermediate principles be inferable from subsuming ones. In the example, of course, attention will quickly focus on the reasons allegedly arising from C. Seventh, not only the application of the principle but also the grounds on which it is held to be justified may depend on empirical facts, as in the Rawlsian constructivist methodology that forms the main target of Cohen’s position.20 Philosophical debate may result over the normativity of the reasons derived from C or, indeed, over whether states of affairs can ever yield reasons of the kind required by the formal argument. But debate is also likely not just over the general question but also over the specific claim that the demands of political union require qualifying universal citizenship—a political argument. What things count as reasons for action and what actions a given consideration favors are the everyday stuff of practical deliberation. Little is resolved by pointing out that, at any rate, when the question is whether C favors φ-ing, the matter is subsumed under some such fact-insensitive principle as UP. [ 56 ]


There will also, eighth, be a number of candidates for the subsuming principle. That assumption might seem to return the debate over principles to center stage, but that conclusion would be hasty. In the example, the issue may be between a formalistic principle such as UP and some other norm, such as one favored by those who believe in a norm based on morally relevant ethnic differences; it would be naive to think that in such cases the only argument is about the ultimate principles. Even if those principles are argumentatively on the table, there is still space to move in either direction: as the saying goes, one person’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens. So the fact that the fact-insensitive principle yields a particular conclusion about action or policy may be taken, on the one side, as a recommendation of the latter or, on the other side, as a way of undermining the principle. Of course, in the second case the apodosis is still a commended action (such as “We must secure the republic”). The point is that nothing requires that discussion concentrate on the fact-insensitive subsuming principle(s) rather than on that commended action or indeed on the factual claims associated with C. In fact, Cohen’s stance seems to reprise a much older position in metaethics adopted by those who deny that normative statements can be inferred from factual ones, a position that rallies both Humeans and intuitionists such as Harold Prichard.21 That debate focused on whether an ought claim was needed in order to reach an ought-prescribing conclusion. At first sight, Cohen’s concerns may seem distinct from this debate because his main concern is with different categories of principle (that is, roughly, with different sorts of ought claims). But the claim that a fact by itself has no action-guiding force seems clearly to rely on the claim that the categorial distinction Cohen draws shows that only principles can yield such force. As already argued, it is far from clear that this is formally the case. However, the idea that a given fact-sensitive principle needs a supplement leaves it open, on the face of it, that the supplement can be a factual proposition.22 Suppose someone says, “I cannot continue to serve with honor,” after some incompetence or impropriety (call this F for “the facts”) in public office has been exposed. Such statements are often made when politicians and others resign from public office. They are certainly enthymematic or at least elliptical.23 The audience infers that the speaker is reporting her intention to resign. But even if there is a suppressed premise in such discourse, to the effect that, “given F, it is impossible to continue to serve REALISM AND SURREALISM IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

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with honor,” this still looks like a fact-sensitive claim. Of course, honor is a thick normative term, but the point is that the statement reports a relation between it and salient facts, which are held to have a certain practical valence. A different practical conclusion would have been drawn by a politician who says that in view of F she intends to go on serving without honor. Here, if the response is that premises that use concepts such as “honor” are implicitly ought entailing, it seems that the wider position rests on the noninferrability of an is from an ought claim. If it does not, it is hard to see what can establish the general line on fact insensitivity. So, ninth, it seems that Cohen is mistaken about the metaethical commitments of his own argument. I conclude that Cohen has failed to show that principles are in any significant sense prior to or more basic than facts. More particularly, it seems that his argument fails to establish a site for principles at a specific point on the normative spectrum; that his argument appears to be transnormative rather than normative; that the claim about priority is unjustified; that no conclusions follow from the claim about the direction of effort in political philosophy; that in order to guide action an argument, such as a practical syllogism, requires empirical premises as much as normative ones; that understanding is often served by attending to circumstantial facts; that the justification of principles may rely on factual claims; that there will be a plurality of candidates for the supposedly encompassing principle, many of which will be formulated at a level of generality that makes them uninteresting; that his position on facts’ categorial distinctness from principles is committed to claims that he does not think it is committed to; and that, therefore, insofar as his argument aims to establish these conclusions, it fails. More particularly, it fails to do the job that I take Cohen envisaged for it—of showing where normative political philosophers’ efforts are best engaged. In its nature, it shows nothing about whether those efforts take precedence over nonnormative philosophizing.

Meteorology, Justification, and the State In some areas of political philosophy, the normative stance—that is, there being some normative angle—comes already tied to a certain understanding of the phenomena. In such cases, it may prove misleading to

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think that the philosophical engagement comprises two phases—namely, the identification of the phenomena, followed by a normative inquiry about them. What, on that view, purports to be a normative supplement to the phenomena is emergent upon the identification of them as being phenomena of a certain kind.24 Perhaps there is only a holism of rival normativities, so that the supposedly descriptive language itself is normatively dependent. If so, then again the entry point into discussion is not decided by the relevant normative commitments—it will have to come from somewhere else. But just because what is in view is a form of holism—or, more precisely, a set of holisms—it is not clear where the relevant point d’appui can lie. I return to this contention later. By way of illustration, consider arguments over the justification of the state and attempts to justify political obligation.25 Thoughts about political obligation often seem to assume that people have some choice about the existence of the state and about how it acts. But people seldom get such a choice. Suppose we asked this question: “What is the moral justification of the weather?”26 One might call this question “the problem of meteorological obligation” and begin by noting that all human beings find their lives affected to a greater or lesser degree by weather, subject to local climatic conditions. People often talk of “good” or “bad” weather—generally as the conditions serve or fail to serve their purposes, such as growing crops or sunbathing. In general, people have little say on the prevailing weather to which they find themselves subject, though there are various (e.g., sartorial) expedients that may be open to them in response to it. Within the general nonvoluntariness of weather, divine intervention aside, people have local responses that one may see as more or less adaptive, a fitness that remains intelligible despite its arising in response to natural necessity. The undeniable ineluctability of the weather does not preclude forming attitudes toward it in conjunction with practical responses that may prove more or less maladaptive. So it would be a mistake to deny that the weather can give rise to normative attitudes and associated practical responses, according to whether it aids or frustrates the needs of the moment. One might call this set of thoughts and actions the responses. What seems quite gratuitous, however, is the claim that the responses must organize by subsuming themselves under a category such as obligation.27 The sense of gratuitousness that comes from subsuming the responses under this deontic concept arises from more


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than one source. One is that the concept simply provides a likeness, borrowed from moral theory, of the already well-formed and explanatorily sufficient notion of natural necessity. Another is that insofar as the actions are specific—for instance, to particular persons or groups or certain locales—the organizing concept, being general, works at the wrong level. It would be overhasty to conclude, however, that the reason why the idea of meteorological obligations is redundant lies in the fact that the weather is not a human creation, whereas polities are.28 There are many human creations—at least if that means phenomena that would not exist if human beings did not exist29 —that also resist the application of deontic categories to them. For example, the human genome would not have existed if human beings did not exist, but the idea of owing obligations to the genome (as such) seems far-fetched. The same goes for specifically human activities such as joking or other gratuitous human activities such as games and artistic production. In none of these cases does adding obligation as a distinct category of reasons to the activities aid understanding— quite the reverse. Perhaps the idea behind the objection is not simply that the human activities that diverge from the responses should not simply depend on the existence of human beings but also in some sense be the object of human choice. So we do not get to choose whether we have humor or not or have a particular genetic structure or not, any more than we choose the dependence of various human practices on the weather. But with other activities, such as the forming of states, we do have a choice, and it is at this point that it makes sense to apply the concept of obligation. Talk of obligations is admissible and can be made sense of in contexts of choice, and (an objector may say) this is where the disanalogy with the weather becomes plain. The obligations supervene on conduct where individuals can choose between options, as when they decide whether to conform their action to some demand made by the state or not. The objection, if correct, applies only to one, albeit important, area of work covered by the label “the problem of political obligation.” If the state is simply there, as the weather is, the question of its justification still seems misplaced. What that leaves is the question of how citizens or subjects should respond to its existence, on the supposition that they have a choice. But once the presence of the state is taken as given and natural to human beings, just as the use of language, humor, or subjection to the weather

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are, it becomes less than compelling to frame the choice via the concept of obligation. The assumption to isolate and question is that there is a deliberable possibility—namely, life without the state—and that theorizing about the state’s legitimacy or citizens’ appropriate stance toward the state should take its bearings from that possibility. The mere existence of choice, in any case, does not necessarily create moral obligations where they would not otherwise exist. Also required for the creation of moral obligations is that the choices have moral significance.30 But if the state is there whether “we” choose it or not, it is not necessarily true that choosing it has that significance. There is, to be sure, the question whether a particular state is acceptable. But even then nonacceptance is often not an option—certainly if it comes to reforming the state and even, for many, if it comes to emigration. As regards the first possibility, the question of legitimacy—the acceptability of the local political climate—is not best framed in terms of obligations on citizens. It is better framed as a question about the dynamics of coercion and consent, a process that continues with varying degrees of co-option, dysfunction, and ill will on all sides and whose normative vocabulary typically makes more use of must and can than ought. People may sometimes think of their relation to the state in deontic terms—for example, when contemplating an act of civil disobedience, possibly conceived of as responding to a conflict of obligations. Because civil disobedience, as usually understood, entails law breaking, however, it is not clear what the content of the person’s thought is meant to be. Maybe it is a pro tanto obligation. But that obligation, if it is a legal one, is generally supposed to be something that supervenes on the fact that the law to be breached is indeed a law, which is agreed on all sides. Law breaking by definition breaches a legal obligation. But that is agreed by those who doubt that “political obligation” names some further extralegal, deontic thing. So it seems that the obligation that the civilly disobedient breaches must be something else. It presumably must be something that arises apart from the law’s standing as law. The idea may be that the law, in addition to the legal obligation to obey it, creates a pro tanto moral obligation to do so. It is not obvious why this should be so. But even if it does, the obligation would arise only to be at once trumped or nullified by whatever moral imperative law breaking was thought to serve in cases of civil disobedience. Moral obligation shadows


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its legal counterpart—except when it does not because the moral obligations run the other way. It might be that the pro tanto moral obligation runs the whole gamut of legal obligations but disappears or shrinks when the individual’s conscience opposes it. But moral obligations—superadded to legal ones when, but only when, validated by individual moral sciences— as plastic as this serve no obvious purpose. Explanatory economy suggests that the paradigmatic case of civil disobedience arises when someone proposes on moral grounds to breach a legal obligation. Then the situation is one in which the practical environment frustrates or hinders someone’s moral purposes. Nothing precludes a moral taxonomy of the weather for those whose preferences run that way, though the idea of a “moral justification” of the weather (that is, of certain sorts of weather) still sounds strained. The point is that nothing compels this justification—for example, as a condition in engaging in a philosophical appreciation of the weather. As already emphasized, it is still possible to talk in an everyday way about “good” and “bad” weather, talk that is generally geared to the weather’s local impact on various human purposes. 31 However, as with weather, there is no reason to think that there is some generic end that the state must serve. It is mistaken, in particular, to think that because the state is a human artifact, at least in the sense that it owes its existence to the species Homo sapiens, it must serve some generic purpose. Its having been created by humans is consistent with its serving several purposes or none. This conclusion, incidentally, calls into question the presuppositions of philosophical anarchism. Philosophical anarchists typically argue that there are demands of natural morality that the state must violate or cannot but fail to meet.32 But on a meteorological view of the state, even if the moral demands themselves have been justified, the question remains whether they have been sensibly applied or whether what is being asked for is something like a moral justification of an occluded front. To think that the state’s very existence must lie open to the justificatory question seems to assume that because its existence depends on the existence of human beings, the proposition to do without a state could form the subject matter of the basic political question “What do we do?” But that possibility disappears with the meeting of the conditions for posing the question: that there is some body of human beings with the executive capacity not simply to modify the state—that is an evident possibility—but also to put a stop to its very existence. It may be that humans will one day become [ 62 ]


disaggregated to the point where no statelike bodies exist. But it is hardly possible that future humans, disposing of the necessary executive cohesion, will be able to enact—and implement—a decision to end that very cohesion.33 This position need not be seen as relativistic. Someone who sees the state, in certain respects, as a phenomenon like the weather need not think that no single bundled description-plus-normative supplement is rankable with respect to any other one. Perhaps we just lack the information or understanding needed to rank them correctly. But it will make a difference what practical stance one takes toward the ostensible phenomena. With the state, for instance, it makes a difference whether the aim is design, auditing, inquisition, observation, explanation, or something else. Again, it is unclear that any one such stance is primordial or philosophically more important—for example, by dint of being more basic—than the others. In particular, the stance is not privileged by addressing itself to a specific concern, such as that of justice. The conclusion needs to be argued that justice trumps other concerns, so that no gain on these other dimensions, however large, can ever offset a diminution in justice, however trivial. The tendency of such thinking is indeed “fiat iustitia et pereat mundus” because even if world saving is at stake, justice will always be ahead of it in  the queue.34 When discussion reaches this point, the term justice is often tacitly redefined to specify whatever is given decisive deliberative weight. There is nothing particularly wrong with this redefinition as long as it is exposed and its implication accepted: that justice thus understood names no distinct category of (e.g. moral) concerns but simply identifies whatever in fact has been treated as decisive in a given deliberative context. So, for instance, when debate addresses man-made climate change, it might be that the most effective responses demand a departure from independently formulated principles of justice—say, as regards the distribution of net burdens, taking account of present-discounted historic burdens.

Politics Without Normative Supplements So far I have criticized Cohen’s views on fact insensitivity and the inference from it of either a utopian substantive political philosophy or a methodological bias toward fact-insensitive normative theorizing. I have illustrated REALISM AND SURREALISM IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

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the further claim that no special point along the notional utopia–realpolitik spectrum offers a preferred point of entry for political philosophizing with regard to the debate within political philosophy over the state and citizens’ relation to it and to each other. In this final section, I briefly outline an understanding of politics that aims to dispense with normative supplements. I understand politics as a process of joint action that is initiated once the question “What do we do?” is posed.35 This is not intended as a definition, but as an operational understanding that tries to explicate politics by relating it to other descriptive and explanatory ideas. As such, politics itself is intrinsically normative—that is, orientated toward action—though it does not follow that a philosophical account of politics that registers that orientation must also share it: there is still the possibility of metapolitical inquiry, on analogy with the relation between ethics, which is an intrinsically normative matter, and metaethics. When the question arises, there is usually more than one way of answering it. Is anything given “transcendentally” in the conditions for posing the question? What seems to be required for the practical question to be posed at all is that those involved see themselves as free to answer it. That requirement does not mean that they can answer it in any way they like or do whatever they like. Here, as in all deliberative contexts, the practical landscape is shaped by various kinds of impossibility. All that is required is that those who put the question understand their capacity to answer it and act on the answer as not being fully determined in doing so.36 There also has to be a collective subject as the reference group of the basic political question “What do we do?” Here, however, it is important to see that the requirement that there be a collective subject does not decide the subject’s scope. On the view of politics favored here, the identity of the collective subject is part of what is at stake in posing the basic question. Particular utterances of the question may perform a wide variety of speech-acts, including those of rallying support; proposing, questioning, or dismissing a certain course of action; repudiating or endorsing an allegiance; making a profession of faith or an avowal of intention; deriding opponents; signaling dissent; and so on. These possibilities respond to local context. They often work performatively so as to create rather than to report on the prior existence of a collective subject. What they create is decided postfactum. It is not required that the basic question have more than one possible answer. But, in fact, most of the time the question does have more than [ 64 ]


one answer, and of these answers there is very often nothing that is obviously the thing to do.37 If the question is to be posed intelligibly, its answer will not be obvious. This does not mean essentializing politics as conflictual or “agonistic.” Conflict arises, when it does, because the basic question admits more than one answer, each of which may, in conditions of freedom, attract partisans.38 It does not follow that politics is essentially “about” conflict—it could hardly do so because the basic question aims to concert collective action. However, in any situation where the question lacks a clear and definitive answer, the possibility of conflict remains. The underlying account of freedom also aims to limit normative commitments. It does not hold that freedom is a good or a bad thing, either generally or contextually. The basic idea is that the freedom involved in political action is that of undetermination. In other words, to act freely in a joint project is not to be determined to act by someone or something else. It is thus a form of nonheteronomy, though Immanuel Kant’s specific idea of autonomy is only one of many possible contrastive notions. Action concerted collectively in response to the basic political question need not be free of (though it also need not demand) the use of force. The action will often be selected from an imperfect set of options. What does not help much is to characterize a difference between the legitimate and illegitimate use of force by reference to what people would accept in some hypothetical situation,39 such as one of perfect knowledge or equally distributed power.40 The basic problem with this approach is that it tries to sanitize political agency to remove alleged distortions wrought by circumstance, coercion, or misinformation, when the sanitizing process and its products are as open to political contestation as the original unsanitized discourse. The correct response to this situation is not to imagine a politics from which power and any informational deficit have been purged but to accept these phenomena as immanent. Power loops arise when judgments that bear directly on freedom, and hence on whether the relations to which they refer are free, become politically contentious. Such disagreements may arise, for instance, regarding a putative right of secession, as in Katanga or Biafra in the 1960s or in the southern states of the United States a century earlier. Is there a general “right to secession”? If the idea is that some procedure such as a referendum can answer the question, an answer will already be implicit in vesting sovereignty, for the purposes of the vote, in a certain constituency, as with the Scottish referendum of 2014 or the UK-wide referendum on REALISM AND SURREALISM IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

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membership in the European Union in 2016. In any case, an argument can be made in terms of freedom from the determinacy of the starting point. The broader point is that to ask whether a particular right to secession exists is to assume, of those of whom the question is asked, a form of freedom that becomes determinate only when it has effectively been answered. Determinacy is always with us. It means that the basic political question is always posed in some particular place and time. Because political action aims to move on from an inherited position—if only by prolonging it—the question addresses inherited determinacy. Those self-addressed by the question can understand themselves as free insofar as they think of their agency as involved in giving or effectuating a certain answer to the basic question. That intentionally vague way of putting it is meant to take into account the fact that for any particular posing of the basic question the identity of the self-addressed subject is not given ahead of the subject’s posing the question. I began by asking whether political philosophy has to take a specific stance about normativity and by arguing against Cohen that it does not. A very general way of stating the point is that nothing requires any specific stance toward political phenomena. I illustrated the point with regard to the state: nothing requires that one regard the state as the sort of thing that needs justifying. Insofar as thinking that it does has prompted a hunt for obligation-founding reasons, this may have made it harder rather than easier to think about how citizens relate to states. I have laid out the bare bones of an alternative account of politics where to recognize activity as political does not entail any clear normative commitments. The ultimate question is “What is to count as authoritative?” In other words, what will be taken to count as a clinching answer to the basic question, posed in local circumstances? It follows that the agency or a decision so taken need not be owed to some independent merit it may have. As regards authority, nothing is gained by insisting on a highly corrective account that may diverge dramatically from anything that those who put the question will recognize as authoritative. Theorists who cleave to such an account risk exposing themselves as prescriptive anthropologists laying down norms that few or none of their subjects recognizes. They also risk embarrassment if they endorse an ideal of respect for persons while ignoring what people say of and for themselves. [ 66 ]


Notes 1. Obviously, what is called “realism” in political philosophy has some affinities both with realpolitik as a political stance and with “Realism” (often capitalized) in international theory, a strand of thought put down in international relations textbooks to writers and thinkers such as Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Hans J. Morgenthau (though it has little in common with “realism” in other areas of philosophy, such as the philosophy of science or even metaethics). “Realism” in political philosophy is distinct from “realism” in each of these areas because it is not unambiguously a stance within politics, but (as I understand it) rather a view of the appropriate relation between philosophy and political practice. In my view, it is also not committed to positions that realists such as Morgenthau take about the frame appropriate for understanding international political agency. I believe the overlap between what Bill Scheuerman calls elsewhere in this volume “the new realism” and Realism in international theory is less extensive than Scheuerman thinks it is, but I agree that they share the emphasis, stressed by Morgenthau, on the distinctiveness of political action. I agree with Alison McQueen that to the extent that international relations realism and “new realism” have a common ancestor, disciplinary speciation has already occurred. 2. Prescriptivity and normativity, as I understand them, take a stance toward a certain action, but prescriptivity is essentially attitudinal in that it makes no necessary call on action. Thus, aesthetic attitudes of approval or dislike are prescriptive in that they pass a judgment. Insofar as any action is called for in response, that action is one of sharing the judgment, though even here it is not plausibly seen as a condition of (the speech-act of ) making the judgment that it calls on others to share: the speech-act may be made with no expectation that others will be led to share it. 3. Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974), ix. 4. Though not, curiously, with respect to some large-scale appropriations, such as that of the North American landmass by mainly European settlers. 5. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, 2nd ed., ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, with text revised by and notes by P. H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978). 6. See, for example, Gorgias 494b6, discussing the recursive cycle of appetite and consumption of the so-called torrent bird (kharadriós, variously identified as a Stone Curlew or Plover). 7. Gregory Kavka, “Why Even Morally Perfect People Would Need Government,” Social Philosophy and Policy 12, no. 1 (1995): 1–18. 8. For this reason, too, political agency is more susceptible to a blurring of the line between deliberation and fantasy. REALISM AND SURREALISM IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

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9. See Euclid, Elements, bk. IX, prop. 20. 10. G. A. Cohen, “Facts and Principles,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 31, no. 3 (2003): 211–45. I do not pursue the questions whether this metaclaim is itself a fact or a principle and whether it subsumes (as in discussions of induction that generate a regress to infinity by positing a metainductive covering law) fact-insensitive principles only at the cost of generating a regress. Cohen agrees that nothing in his argument rules out such a regress. 11. Ibid., 218. 12. See Cohen’s discussion of eyeball trees in Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 243–44. The eyeballs on the trees are imagined to drop into conveniently positioned empty eye sockets below them. The framing principle is presumably something like the following: “Strong ownership rights—for example, over eyeballs—should be qualified if it is imaginable that they [the eyeballs] could be acquired by some fortuitous meanings other than the genetic lottery.” It would solve problems in distribution if the fantasy were true. But as the fantasy stands, it is strongly transnormative. The agreeableness of the fantasy says nothing about whether, say, the state is entitled to enforce ocular transplants or would be so entitled in the (relatively modest) counterfactual scenario where such transplants were effective in restoring or giving sight to patients. 13. G. A. Cohen, “Incentives, Inequality, and Community,” Tanner Lectures on Human Value, Stanford University, 1991, http://tannerlectures.utah.edu/_docu ments/a-to -z/c/cohen92.pdf. 14. I do not pursue the further objection that the argument cannot constrain the content of utopian principles, so that someone might argue that all actual holdings of goods are justified. 15. Nothing rules it out, also, that the range of fact-insensitive and thus (on Cohen’s view) more fundamental principles form a plurality. Whether some additional fact-insensitive principle exists to arbitrate between them in cases of conflict would be a matter for further negotiation. Cohen thinks, however, that the argument about fact sensitivity will at least limit the range of eligible principles to a set that includes his own luck-egalitarian principle. See G. A. Cohen, “On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice,” Ethics 99, no. 4 (1989): 906–44. 16. Not coincidentally, authors of essays in utopian thought, such as Thomas Campanella in City of the Sun (1602) and William Morris in News from Nowhere (1890), have often seen these visions as aesthetic as much as political. 17. Obviously, that is not to deny that exposition may also have normative aims. 18. For an excellent exemplar of this approach, see Michael Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). [ 68 ]


19. See also Madison’s notes on the debates over the rival plans in the Constitutional Convention, available online at the Yale Avalon project, http://avalon .law.yale.edu/subject_menus/debcont.asp. 20. Cohen also seems to have in his sights T.  M. Scanlon’s contractualism, whereby a presented principle has normative authority if and only if it is such that no reasonable person could reject it. See T. M. Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998). 21. Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, e.g., 414; Harold A. Prichard, “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” Mind 21 (1912): 21–37. 22. One possible example is Alasdair MacIntyre’s watch. In After Virtue (London: Duckworth, 1981), MacIntyre’s argument that “this is a good watch” follows from the watch’s instantiating certain naturalistic properties (57–58). But in other cases, such as those involving “thick” properties, it is not clear that the metaethical commitments are appropriately seen as naturalistic. 23. The Aristotelian enthymeme is often regarded simply as an incomplete syllogism—for example, when Aristotle remarks in the Rhetoric (e.g., 1357a1) that an enthymeme has fewer premises than a formal syllogism. On one reading, enthymematic reasoning is not simply elliptical, in the sense of omitting premises, but also concerns only probably true premises or probable inference. 24. This two-phase procedure is of course characteristic of positivism in social and political science. Aristotle, too, in aiming to “save the phenomena,” may seem to engage in a similar procedure. But in fact the identification of a phenomenon (for example, identifying something as a polis) already carries with it normative commitments for Aristotle—for instance, that it represents the “most final” end point of a teleology of institutions. The point for present purposes is that it is possible to make the identification while taking a normatively null stance toward it. 25. These projects are not identical. Someone might think that the state was justified because its citizens are politically obligated toward it, but other justifications are possible, some of which dispense with the notion of obligation. On this point, see, for example, William Edmundson, Three Anarchical Fallacies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). 26. This discussion follows a line of thought suggested by Thomas Hobbes’s famous comparison of the state of nature, qua state of war, with unsettled weather in Leviathan, chapter 13: “For as the nature of Foule weather, lyeth not in a showre or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many dayes together: So the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto” (Leviathan, ed. R. F. Tuck [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], 88–89). The thought proceeds, however, in the opposite direction to REALISM AND SURREALISM IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

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Hobbes’s: it imagines not that the nonstate situation is naturalized, but that the state itself is. The gratuitous addition of the notion of obligation to the discussion of the state and citizens’ relation to it (or to each other) seems to have been a later Victorian idea. See T. H. Green, Lectures on Political Obligation (Kitcher, Canada: Batoche Books, 1999). An Ngram search of the term political obligation bears this out, though interestingly one use of the phrase occurs in the fifth Lincoln– Douglas debate (October 7, 1858), where Lincoln, speaking of the Dred Scott verdict, questioned “the political obligation of a Supreme Court decision.” Unlike some of those who have followed this usage, Green imagined the obligations in question to be those of law (see, e.g., 5). No doubt part of the reason for that connection was the Victorian tendency, now prolonged by neo-Kantians, to think that ethical relations must be capturable in terms of obligations. But it may not be coincidental—particularly in the case of social liberals such as Green—that the deontic turn took its cue from the bureaucratic state’s assumption of omnicompetence, with a justifying discourse calculated to cast its wider remit in terms of (individuals’) obligations. This deontic turn was noted at the time, for example, by Herbert Spencer (The Man Against the State, ed. Donald MacCrae [Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1968]). In spite of anthropogenic climate change, it remains true that human beings did not create the weather. As far as this goes, climate change is on a par with the leaving of man-made objects on the moon. “Phenomena that would not exist if human beings did not exist” is clearly a broader category than things that exist because humans made them, which is itself broader than the category of things that humans intentionally made. Which category the state, as a congeries of human institutions and performances, fits into is a matter for debate. But if it is pointed out that the state would not exist if humans did not or that the state exists only because humans intended it to, it will not show that the state is not natural. The human activity of eating cheese may exist only because humans have followed through an intention to create the comestible known as “cheese.” It does not follow that eating cheese is not natural for human beings or more generally that it is not natural for humans to eat processed food. The upshot is that the objection fails to ground special obligations owed by citizens in respect of compatriots—obligations of the sort defended, for example, by David Miller in On Nationality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995). As Raymond Geuss notes, “The weather is not in itself a political issue . . . but if we were able technologically to change and control the meteorological conditions, then it might very well become a political matter” (A World Without Why [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014], 148).

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32. For classic statements, see, for example, Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), and Alan John Simmons, Moral Principles and Political Obligations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979). 33. Of course, associations, such as political parties, can vote to dissolve themselves. But that is further grounds for doubting that states are or are relevantly like associations. The main reason for doubting this, from my own standpoint, is that states may lay claim to but can never make good on their title to exact allegiance on the quasi-contractual terms in which the association paradigm encourages citizens to view their relation to the state. 34. It is idle to say that only just solutions will work or that they will be more effective than other solutions. It is possible to say that if there is a choice, then just solutions should take priority over unjust ones, but that luxury may not exist. Even if it does, the trumping status of justice has then been abandoned. 35. This formulation is intentionally ambiguous between asking what those addressed in fact do and what they intend to do. Those alternatives are indeed distinct. But in practice the specification of the subject is seldom clearly distinct from that of the actions that the subject characteristically does. 36. There is at least this much in the often overdrawn contrast between politics and war: that those subordinated to another’s will—for example, as combatants subject to the command of a superior officer—are not in the primordial political situation. That remains true even if, contrary to the arguments of senior Nazis at Nuremberg, military orders fail to void legal responsibility, presumably on the assumption that they might still be disobeyed. Even if so, however, the possibility of piecemeal disobedience does not of itself create the primordial political situation until it includes the possibility of joint action. 37. I do not attempt to explain this additional feature. Possible explanations include value pluralism, the “fact of reasonable pluralism” (John Rawls, Political Liberalism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 54–58), “essential contestedness,” and so on. The basic feature is that action-guiding concepts, including evaluative ones, are not fully practically determinate. 38. There is, of course, the further point that formal politics is often organized institutionally so as to give conflict salience—for example, through the idea of an official opposition. 39. There is no reason to think that the question whether individuals would accept a certain settlement in some hypothetical situation has a determinate answer. Presumably, it is possible that people would not accept it. Given this presumption, the claim that persons would accept the settlement needs justification. The claim that people will “freely” accept it simply raises the


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question regarding what warrants the judgment that this and only this response is free—that others, who reject it, would not be free in doing so. 40. For an attempt of this sort, see Bernard Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).

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Realism in Ethics and Politics Bernard Williams, Political Theory, and the Critique of Morality DAV I D OW E N


n his essay “Realism in Political Theory,” William Galston suggests that it is not yet clear whether realism is to be understood as attempting to be “critical and cautionary” in respect of contemporary political philosophy or as seeking to articulate “a coherent affirmative alternative” to the main currents of contemporary political philosophy.1 In a more recent overview of the burgeoning literature on this topic, two prominent advocates of political realism, Enzo Rossi and Matt Sleat, insist that although “realism is politically indeterminate, and in that sense not a substantive political position, it would be mistaken to characterize realist thought as simply a set of methodological concerns directed towards correcting any overly unrealistic political theory.” Rather, Rossi and Sleat contend, political realism is a constructive alternative approach to political theorizing that acknowledges the autonomy of the political domain—that is, its nonreducibility to morality: “politics cannot be exhausted by morality and . . . key political concepts such as legitimacy and authority need to be rethought in conditions of ineradicable moral and political disagreement.”2 The issue at stake here is significant not only because it is important to clarify the nature of the challenge that political realism poses to approaches to political philosophy that are grounded on morality but also because the concerns that animate political realism also support a critical attitude toward the view of morality that grounds those approaches.

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In addressing this topic, this chapter focuses on the work of Bernard Williams not simply because he has been a pivotal figure for the contemporary realist turn in political philosophy but also because his late work on political realism is an expression of his more general commitment to a realist orientation in thinking that is also expressed in his critique of “the morality system.” This matters, I argue, because it shows that, at least for one influential strand in contemporary realist political theory, the significance of the debate over political realism is not simply a matter of how we conduct political philosophy but also and crucially a matter of how we conceive of ethics, and, as we will see, how we conceive of ethics has considerable salience for how and why we value politics.

Realism as Orientation in Thinking Realism as an orientation in thinking involves a philosophical approach to human beings that is, as far as possible, nonmoralized. In recent philosophy, this orientation has been most fully elaborated by Bernard Williams. It is central to Williams’s account of naturalism in ethics and his interest in Friedrich Nietzsche’s genealogical mode of inquiry.3 Raymond Geuss helpfully draws out Williams’s appreciation of this outlook and its wider significance in the essay “Thucydides, Nietzsche, and Williams.” Here Geuss notes that Nietzsche raises the novel question of whether Plato or Thucydides is the better guide to human life and offers two reasons in support of the latter’s claims. First, Nietzsche “held that Thucydides had an unprejudiced theoretical sympathy for, and hence understanding of, a much wider spectrum of possible human motivations than Plato had.”4 Or, as Williams more subtly reformulates the point in Shame and Necessity, “Thucydides’ conception of an intelligible and typically human motivation is broader and less committed to a distinctively ethical outlook than Plato’s; or rather—the distinction is important—it is broader than the conception acknowledged in Plato’s psychological theories.”5 Second, Nietzsche takes Thucydides, like Sophocles, to offer “a pessimism of strength” (a phrase adopted by Williams in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy to characterize his own preferred outlook) as an alternative to the “optimism” of the philosophical tradition. In this alternative, as Williams notes in Shame and Necessity, we acknowledge that we have no reason to think that the world is, even in principle, fully intelligible to us or that it is receptive to our ethical purposes and [ 74 ]


interests. Geuss offers the following sketch of the optimism to which the Thucydides–Nietzsche–Williams position is opposed: This optimism has several related aspects. First of all, traditional philosophers assumed that the world could be made cognitively accessible to us without remainder. . . . Second, they assumed that when the world was correctly understood, it would make moral sense to us. Third, the kind of “moral sense” which the world made to us would be one that would show it to have some orientation towards the satisfaction of some basic, rational human desires or interests, that is, the world was not sheerly indifferent to or perversely frustrating of human happiness. Fourth, the world is set up so that for us to accumulate knowledge and use reason as vigorously as possible will be good for us and will contribute to making us happy. Finally, it was assumed that there was a natural fit between the exercise of reason, the conditions of healthy human development, the demands of individuals for satisfaction of their needs, interests and basic desires, and human sociability.6 The modesty of Williams’s realism appears bleak only in contrast to this optimism. The contrast between “moralized” optimism and “nonmoralized” pessimism drawn here is helpful in at least two respects: first, in simply showing that there is a contrast to be drawn and thereby making visible the background presuppositions of “moralized” outlooks as objects open to philosophical evaluation and, second, in making it clear that a desideratum for a coherent “nonmoralized” outlook is that it must be capable of accounting for the emergence of the “moralized” outlook in nonmoralized terms. With respect to the second consideration, Williams provides some helpful thoughts on the topic of wishful thinking in his final major work, Truth and Truthfulness.7 Williams’s argument begins with the thought that the image of the mind as composed of an assembly of internal agencies (as, for example, manifest in Plato’s psychological theory) must (contra Plato) be viewed as an achievement and not as a starting point: “in the typical case, as Diderot recognized, the agent is awash with many images, many excitements, merging fears and fantasies that dissolve into one another.”8 This nonmoralized picture can, Williams contends, offer a deeper account REALISM IN ETHICS AND POLITICS

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of desire than Plato’s picture, in which the assembly of internal agencies is pregiven, and he attempts to establish this point by noting a complication in the idea “that if one knows that one cannot possibly bring about or affect a certain thing, then that thing can be matter only for a wish.”9 The complication is that what is practically possible for an agent is in part a function of the agent’s desires—that is, the constraints constructed by the agent’s other cares and commitments. The implication of this complication in the context of Diderot’s picture of mind is elucidated by noting that, in the context of practical deliberation, the distinction between desires (as states the content of which can be seen as being potentially satisfied on the basis of actions that follow the process of deliberation) and mere wishes (as states that cannot be so satisfied) is fuzzy because “the process of deliberation itself decides what can and cannot be satisfied within that context, [so] there will be some states that start in deliberation as desires but end (for the time being, at least) as wishes.”10 Moreover, although there will be other desires and mere wishes that remain, respectively, desires and mere wishes throughout the process of deliberation, there will also be “states of mind that have neither been definitively advanced as candidates for satisfaction [desires] nor definitively dismissed [mere wishes], and these too can be called ‘wishes,’ but without the implication of a mere wish.”11 Deploying this broader sense of the term wish, Williams offers the following argument: A state of affairs, an outcome, or a process may come before the agent’s mind, either on the way to being assessed, or, perhaps, merely as passing through, and since it comes through in the context of desire and deliberation, it will very probably carry with it an attitude; indeed, its coming through is likely to be explained by an attitude. If the attitude is favorable, such a content seems itself to be indistinguishable from a wish. If this is right, it seems that the wish can play a role both in the register of desire and in the register of belief. To put it more accurately, a content, relating to an outcome or a process which is relevant to the deliberation and to the affective state in which the deliberation is conducted, comes before the mind, carrying with it an attitude that is part of the affective state. This . . . is not yet either a belief or a desire. But it may be on the way to becoming either. As a result of one kind of process, this picture may come to embody a belief of the agent’s about an outcome, for instance, that it is genuinely [ 76 ]


possible; as a result of another, it will come to express a desire that the outcome occur. . . . There are two routes, leading respectively to committed belief . . . and to clear-headed desire . . . and the boundaries between the two are not sustained merely by conscious process, still less simply given in advance.12 If right, this argument carries with it the important implication that maintaining this boundary and being able to distinguish between desires and beliefs is an achievement that requires the disciplines needed to combat wishful thinking; that is, “we can recognize that the virtues we need in considering what to do coincide at deep levels with the virtues that we need in inquiring into anything, the virtues of truth.”13 Moreover, the fact that first-person deliberation requires the virtues of truth helps to explain why deliberating about what I should do with another (who does not share my wishes) can be useful because the fact that this other does not share my wishes means that “we can help to sustain each other’s sense of reality, both in stopping wishes [from] becoming beliefs when they should not, and also in helping some wishes rather than others to become desires.”14 The immediate importance of this argument is to illustrate the deep connection between realism as an orientation in thinking and the virtues of truth—that is, the sense in which realism as an orientation in thinking is a disciplining of mind by the virtues of truth.15 However, for our current purposes, the primary points raised by the argument are, first, to draw attention to the depth of our susceptibility to wishful thinking; second, to alert us to  the point that moralized psychologies such as Plato’s may occlude this depth in ways that render us more vulnerable to the problem; and, third, that wishful thinking may play a role in accounting for the emergence of moralized outlooks. An example may help to illustrate the point. Nietzsche’s genealogy of morality is itself a concerted attempt to provide a nonmoralized account of the formation of “morality” by delineating a set of psychologically realistic routes through which the various elements that come together to form “morality” may emerge and conjoin.16 The first essay of On the Genealogy of Morality explicates how a wholly intelligible experience of ressentiment on the part of the slaves and directed at the nobles can, under circumstances where this affective state cannot find satisfactory expression through deeds such as slave revolts, support a fantasy of free will and a purified conception of blame that in turn enables a reevaluation (largely an inversion) of REALISM IN ETHICS AND POLITICS

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the existing order of ethical values. It is helpful to separate three related claims in Nietzsche’s critical diagnosis of this “slave revolt in morals.” The first claim is that slave morality involves a special and peculiar picture of human agency that is characterized by “a kind of double-counting” in constructing the idea of an agent-cause and an action-effect, where the agentcause stands behind and separate from the contingent conditions in which one is embedded and produces action-effects in virtue of the operation of “the will,” where “the mode of causation is that of command.”17 The second claim is that “such a peculiar account must have a purpose, and that purpose is a moral one”; more specifically, the claim is that this picture emerges because it provides the conditions of articulacy for “a certain purified conception of blame.”18 Williams describes the relationship of this conception of blame to the picture of agency and willing at stake by noting how the position of a person (for example, a slave) who is (a) subject to harm, (b) subject to the systematic failure of the other to acknowledge that harm as something for which reparation might be due to the victim, and (c) powerless to do anything about (a) or (b) “can give rise, in the victim or in someone else on behalf of the victim, to a very special fantasy of retrospective prevention”: As victim, I have a fantasy of inserting into the agent an acknowledgement of me, to take the place of exactly the act that harmed me. I want to think that he might have acknowledged me, that he might have been prevented from harming me. But the idea cannot be that I might in some empirical way have prevented him: that idea presents only a regret that it was not actually so and, in these circumstances, a reminder of humiliation. The idea has to be, rather, that I, now, might change the agent from one who did not acknowledge me to one who did. This fantasized, magical, change does not actually involve changing anything, and it therefore has nothing to do with what, if anything, might have changed things. It requires simply the idea of the agent at the moment of the action, of the action that harmed me, and of the refusal of that action, all isolated from the network of circumstances in which his action was actually embedded. It involves precisely the picture of the will that has already been uncovered.19 The thought is thus that in being denied the true reaction, that of deeds, ressentiment becomes creative in the sense that it motivates the construction [ 78 ]


of this picture of the will and thus the conditions of articulacy required for an inchoate desire for revenge to reemerge as a seemingly impartial idea of moral accountability that specifies criteria of blameworthiness. The third claim is that this thought is a misunderstanding of human agency, an example of wishful thinking in that the idea of an agent-cause isolated from the circumstances in which one acts is a fiction, a version of the idea of the causa sui that Nietzsche describes as “the best self-contradiction hitherto imagined, a kind of logical rape and unnaturalness.”20 Realism as an orientation in thinking may thus be conceived as an outlook characterized by a discipline of mind that is deeply committed to the virtues of truth. The initial salience of genealogy for such an outlook is that it involves “an appropriately suspicious rule of method: never explain the ethical in terms of something special to ethics if you can explain it in terms that apply to the non-ethical as well.”21 The thought here is twofold. On the one hand, it expresses the truism that “sophisticated and reflective observers have always had good reason to think that stories human beings tell themselves about the ethical tend to be optimistic, self-serving, superstitious, vengeful, or otherwise not what they seem to be.”22 By analogy to the use of the term political realism, this rule might be called the “principle of ethical realism.” On the other hand, this rule provides for an intelligible and nonvacuous project of ethical naturalism in that it aims to account for the psychological features of human beings most immediately related to their living in ethical systems as far as possible in terms of psychological features that they possess, as it were, anyway—thus, “the naturalist question about ethics will emerge as something like the question of how closely the motivations and practices of the ethical are related to other aspects of human psychology.”23 To elucidate the implications of this methodological heuristic for our understanding of ethics, before returning once more to the issue of political realism, is the task of the next section.

Realism in Ethics and the Morality System At this stage in my argument, it is important to distinguish between ethics in the general sense and “morality” as “a range of ethical outlooks . . . so much with us that moral philosophy spends much of its time discussing the differences between these outlooks, rather than the difference between all of them and everything else.”24 The term morality in this sense does not REALISM IN ETHICS AND POLITICS

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denote a specific domain within the ethical but rather a specific kind of ethical orientation, and we, in Williams’s view, are susceptible to “the powerful feeling that morality just is the ethical in rational form.”25 One way to think about the grip of “morality” can be elucidated by noting the predicament that arises once it becomes impossible truthfully to hold on to Aristotle’s natural teleology as a way of justifying ethical life. The predicament can be laid out thus: 1. The question of the justification of ethical life can be asked from a perspective that is “inside” ethical life or a perspective that is “outside” ethical life, where the former asks what reasons we have for continuing to live such a life, with the first personal reasons invoked drawing on the ethical dispositions we take to be part of who we are, and where the latter asks why we should take up ethical life at all, with the third personal reasons invoked taking those ethical dispositions as objects of evaluation. For Aristotle, the virtuous agent experiences no conflict or tension between inside and outside perspectives because, on his theory, there is, according to Williams, a view of “a certain kind of ethical, cultural and indeed political life as a harmonious culmination of human potentialities, recoverable from an absolute understanding of nature.”26 2. However, as Williams notes, “We have no reason to believe that,” and once we lose the belief . . . a potential gap opens up between the agent’s perspective and the outside view. We understand—and, most important, the agent can come to understand—that the agent’s perspective is only one of many that are compatible with human nature, all open to various conflicts within themselves and with other cultural aims. With that gap opened, the claim I expressed by saying that agent’s dispositions are the “ultimate supports” of ethical value takes on a more skeptical tone. It no longer sounds enough. I believe that claim is true. . . . At the same time, we must admit that the Aristotelian assumptions which fitted together the agent’s perspective and the outside view have collapsed. No one has yet found a good way of doing without those assumptions.27 In the light of this predicament, one response is to surrender the project of giving an account of a fully developed human life and adopt a way of [ 80 ]


justifying ethical life in terms of “morality” through an appeal to rational agency in which “morality” presents itself to the rational agent as a categorical demand. On this view, there is no tension between an inside and outside perspective because the reasons to be moral are intrinsic to rational agency as such. “Morality” can be seen here as involving two claims: a claim to be comprehensive with respect to the domain of ethical value (i.e., as monopolizing that domain) and a claim to be normatively authoritative with respect to that domain. Morality’s supposed hegemony in turn renders unintelligible and hence serves to suppress the thought that there may be a viable ethical outlook distinct from morality.28 As a way of responding to the post-Aristotelian predicament, “morality” entails a commitment to what Williams calls “reasons externalism,” according to which at least some reasons satisfy the following schema: A has a reason to φ even if A has no (sound deliberative route to a) motive that would be served by ing. Now consider a style of question markedly Nietzschean in spirit: “What is the point of morality’s insisting that people do have reason to do what it demands?” In his original construction of the internal/external reasons debate, Williams’s focus is on how the morality system attempts to recruit rationality to its cause and to justify its charge that agents who do not accept morality’s claim to be comprehensive and normatively authoritative with respect to the domain of ethics are irrational.29 His response is to deny that there are “external reasons” in this sense, and the implication of his skepticism is that ethical reasons are reasons only for those for whom they are internal reasons. The argument that Williams advances is basically that one has reason to do whatever one concludes, through an exercise of practical reasoning in which one’s existing motivational set is engaged in an unrestricted and imaginative process of deliberation, that one has reason to do. For “reasons externalism” to be true, it would have to be the case that “if the agent rationally deliberated, then, whatever motivations he originally had, he would come to be motivated to φ.” But if that is right, then we have good reason “to suppose that all external reason statements are false.”30 However, Williams comes to consider the question of morality’s claim to comprehensiveness and normative authority at stake in its appeal to external reasons in a wider Nietzschean vein that finds in Nietzsche “a general attitude . . . that can be a great help.”31 The attitude has two relevant REALISM IN ETHICS AND POLITICS

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dimensions. The first, which I have already noted and which is manifest in Williams’s argument for “reasons internalism,” calls on us to inquire whether “what seems to demand more moral material makes sense in terms of what demands less.”32 In response to the question “How much should our accounts of distinctively moral activity add to our accounts of other human activity?” Williams replies, “As little as possible. . . . [T]he more that some moral understanding of human beings seems to call on materials that specially serve the purpose of morality—certain conceptions of the will, for instance—the more reason we have to ask whether there may not be a more illuminating account that rests only on conceptions that we use anyway elsewhere.”33 If we can understand human capacities in terms of psychological materials “we use anyway elsewhere,” then we should do so. In contrast, numerous moral theorists posit some additional faculty by which specifically moral truths may be apprehended. Immanuel Kant, for instance, held that the demands of morality are revealed through and justified by reasoning that is pure—“pure” in that it need neither start from nor otherwise engage one’s subjective motivational repertoire but nonetheless arrives at substantive moral truths that any rational agent can recognize and be motivated by. To make sense of this and to thereby justify the demands of morality as both motive independent and universally applicable, Kant ended up positing (or presupposing) a radical conception of free will, one common to all rational beings, that stands outside (but nonetheless causes action in) the natural world—a conception in tension with even a very broad naturalism and about which, Williams therefore supposes, one should be suspicious. Grounds for suspicion are further amplified by the thought that such conceptions of agency may be far from ideologically innocent. As Williams puts it, “[A] second helpful thought to be recovered from Nietzsche is that such a peculiar account must have a purpose, and that the purpose is a moral one.”34 The point of positing some such conception is to guarantee that people are capable of both recognizing moral reasons and freely doing— or freely violating—whatever morality demands. And the point of that is to vindicate practices of moral blame. Furthermore, Williams (like Nietzsche) thinks that moral blame may be objectionable because blame can function as a mechanism of control or power. Given that being blamed (by others or, as in the case of guilt, by oneself ) is typically unpleasant, the desire to avoid blame may readily become internalized. And because a necessary means for avoiding moral blame is complying with morality, [ 82 ]


one way to ensure that one does avoid it is to internalize moral values. Hence, blame may be used as a tool by which to “recruit” people into the morality system. However, having reason to reject the morality system (as Williams holds we do) confronts us once again with the post-Aristotelian predicament concerning the justification of ethical life. Here Williams notes that the problem posed is one of reflective instability in that the reflective modern agent is unable to reconcile outside and inside perspectives—or, as Hume appears to suppose, to see the gap as an illusion—while taking the foundational justification of his or her ethical outlook to require just such a reconciliation.35 Williams’s response is to jettison the idea of foundations in relation to ethics and to focus on what might be required to sustain confidence for agents already inside ethical life once this idea is dropped (this is what he means by a “pessimism of strength”). It is an important point for Williams that, given the historical self-consciousness that is an integral feature of the modern outlook as well as the fact that it is a feature of modern ethical outlooks that they aim to combine authority and transparency, we are peculiarly exposed to a condition in which historical reflection on the ethical outlooks that compose our internal commitments can presumptively put into question those commitments’ claim to legitimate authority because “if we do not believe that the history of our outlook is vindicatory, then understanding the history of our outlook may interfere with our commitment to it, and in particular with a philosophical attempt to work within it and develop its arguments.”36 Hence, a way of putting the point of conceiving of a vindicatory mode of genealogy is this: we may need such an account in order to stabilize the reflective relationship between our third personal account of the history of our current ethical values and our first personal commitment to the authority of these ethical values—that is, in order to enable us to have confidence in our ethical outlook. These reflections on realism in ethics provide an explanation for Williams’s concern with realism in political theory. First, they indicate that one source of Williams’s skepticism concerning political moralism derives from his skepticism concerning the picture of morality presupposed by political moralism. Second, they draw attention to the fact that the history of our ethical outlooks (in the broad sense that includes our political outlooks) is not in and of itself vindicatory. The history of liberalism, for example, is not a history of discovery and can only be seen as such in terms of commitment to a teleological account of history that we have no reason REALISM IN ETHICS AND POLITICS

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to believe (and liberalism in its moralist form notably lacks an error theory). Third, they point to the importance of focusing on the need to engage reflectively with our ethical and political outlooks in terms of our ability to sustain confidence in these outlooks. Alongside these three points that motivate Williams’s political realism, there is a final point that appears to have been largely elided in discussions of Williams’s political realism thus far: the simple point that politics—our outlooks, institutions, practices, and relationships—plays a significant role in shaping the conditions in which our ethical and reflective dispositions are formed.37 Political culture, as we may put it, matters both in terms of persons’ propensity to form certain ethical dispositions (for example, disposition of tolerance) and in terms of the reflective stances that people take to their ethical and political outlooks. I return to this point after I address Williams’s political realism.

Realism in Political Theory Williams’s political realism begins by focusing on what he calls the “basic legitimation demand” (BLD). It does so because he takes this demand to be constitutive of the political domain. The thought here has two dimensions. The first identifies the fundamental political question—fundamental because solving it (and continuing to solve it) is a condition of posing and solving other political questions—as the establishing of “order, protection, safety, trust, and the conditions of cooperation.”38 Addressing this question—or, more accurately, this set of questions—is a necessary condition of the constitution of politics as a distinct domain of human activity. The second dimension involves acknowledging that “if the power of one lot of people over another is to represent a solution to the first political question, and not itself be part of the problem, something has to be said to explain . . . what the difference is between the solution and the problem, and that cannot simply be an account of successful domination. It has to be a mode of justifying explanation or legitimation.”39 A relationship between a group exercising coercion over another group becomes a political relationship, a relationship of authority between rulers and ruled with the offering of a legitimation that makes sense to its addressees (whether they accept it or not). As Paul Sagar rightly notes, “It is a serious mistake of Williams’s critics to suppose he implicitly relied upon some (unrealistic, fantastical) consensus view of politics whereby states are only legitimate if [ 84 ]


all those subject to its power accept it as such. His was a more basic analytic contention that in order for there to be such a thing as politics at all, something has to be said to those being coerced. The BLD is a demand, and whether the answer given to that demand is found acceptable is a further question.”40 This is a “nonmoralized” view of politics because it is worked up by attending only to the constitutive conditions of politics as a human practice, and it is also a pluralist view that recognizes that over human history there have been a wide variety of ways of satisfying the BLD that were not liberal and, importantly, were not dependent on beliefs that were held as the product of the exercise of coercion. Williams’s next and more controversial step is to argue that under conditions of modernity (understood in broadly Weberian terms), legitimacy “now and around here” entails liberalism, where “a liberal society” is “one that aims to combine the rule of law with a liberty more extensive than in most earlier societies, a disposition to toleration, and a commitment to some kinds of equality.”41 However, Williams charges that the prevailing political moralist accounts of liberalism are unable to vindicate this political outlook because “there is no plausible cognitive account that explains why people in certain parts of the world should recently have grasped the moral rightness of the principles of a liberal society”: The demand for a cognitive genealogy of liberalism seems particularly pressing because our attachment to its principles is so often represented as a triumph of moral understanding. Much of what is said in favor of liberal society and its principles is, naturally enough, said in the terms they offer, that is to say, in terms of liberalism’s various accounts of itself (the differences between which are the subject of much modern political philosophy). This gives the impression of a self-contained moral vision, what at once raises the question of how it arrived on earth, and makes that question peculiarly hard to answer.42 If it is the case that “liberal moralism” cannot provide a vindicatory account of liberal society, then to stabilize our reflective endorsement of liberal society, we require a different kind of account of liberalism that can sustain our confidence in this political outlook. It is here that Williams takes up Judith Shklar’s notion of the “liberalism of fear”—that is, a view of liberalism predicated not on conformity to moral principles or the achievement REALISM IN ETHICS AND POLITICS

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of moral goods but on the avoidance of political “bads.”43 The thought here is that there is a vindicatory case to be made for liberal society, acknowledging its many and varied imperfections, as being better at protecting those subject to its authority from a range of threats to life and liberty that emerge with and from the modern state.44 On the one hand, this account can point to the fact that liberal societies have come to adopt, through the processes of political struggle made possible by their being liberal societies, institutions that significantly enhance the power of the state to protect those subject to its authority and that limit the power of the state to abuse those same subjects—for example, institutions such as representative democratic government, human rights, and welfare states. On the other hand, this account can point to the failures of other types of political society— and very often failure is too small a word—to protect and not to abuse its subjects. Furthermore, one should not think the liberalism of fear’s focus on the avoidance of basic political “bads” such as fear, want, and cruelty means that it may not also be concerned with a wider range of forms of social and political injustice that generate quite demanding requirements in terms of social and political equality because any such liberal society has a political interest in being able to identify and respond to claims concerning new forms of political “bads.” (Williams is, I take it, assuming a wider background knowledge of Shklar’s work on the liberalism of fear than his own truncated remarks can articulate.45) The important point here, though, is that, as Ed Hall comments, “This defense of a liberalism of fear does not offer a comprehensive justification of every aspect of liberal practice that we may affirm ‘now and around here,’ and necessarily underdetermines what positive features a state must have but to object to it on these grounds would be to misunderstand its significance as it enables Williams to sketch ‘the least ambitious and most convincing justification of liberalism’ by focusing on the basic problem of political legitimation.”46 In offering this account, Williams has provided at least an outline of the way in which political realism may represent a constructive alternative to the mainstream of contemporary political philosophy, one that is more attentive to the distinctive character of the political domain and of political values. At this point, however, it is important to register a limitation in the account that Williams has sketched: simply that it is significantly incomplete in virtue of its focus on the state in isolation from the international system of states. If we are considering genuinely political questions concerning the character of political governance, then we need to acknowledge that [ 86 ]


any state’s ability to establish and sustain the conditions of politics—“order, protection, safety, trust, and the conditions of cooperation”47—is significantly dependent on the broader regional, international, or global situation that it inhabits. Failed states such as Somalia demonstrate that securing the conditions of politics is an achievement that can be supported or undermined by the practices of a wide range of “external” actors, encompassing private corporations, states, and regional or global regimes of governance, whether in alliance with or independent of domestic agents. (We should further note that even where conditions of politics are currently in place, the kinds of response to the BLD that are liable to be successful are likely to be dependent in part on what responses are successful in other polities.) What is needed to repair this problem in Williams’s account is to extend political realism beyond the domestic state context to the arena of international relations. This is not a terrain that Williams explores, but it is, of course, the terrain on which realism in its classical form has retained its greatest grip, and, as Alison McQueen brilliantly argues in her chapter in this volume, the kind of political realism that Williams advocates is continuous with and can learn from the tradition of classical realism. I do not have space to explore this issue in this chapter but would note that under conditions in which climate change and nuclear proliferation pose very real dangers to the conditions of human life and even human existence, the question of whether a scheme of global governance structured in terms of an international system of (nominally) equal states is adequate to the political challenges it confronts must be a pressing issue for any form of realist political theory. Noting this limitation, however, should also help to draw our attention to a feature of the transformation of political philosophy that political realism seeks to accomplish: namely, that developing normative arguments in political philosophy concerning issues such as the coordination problems of the international system of states in relation to global threats to humanity will require that this realist mode of political philosophy be necessarily “impure”—that is, that it be much more closely linked to history, law, and the social sciences than at least the ideal theory mode of contemporary political philosophy has typically been. Let me conclude this section by returning to the point that politics and how we conceive of politics have an important role to play in shaping our ethical and reflective dispositions. One of the reasons that we value politics is precisely that it plays this role and that there is an important sense in REALISM IN ETHICS AND POLITICS

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which it is constitutive of the possibility of sustaining any valuable form of ethical life. A liberal politics is, in Williams’s account, likely to support certain ethical dispositions, such as tolerance and truthfulness, and the latter, in particular, is liable in its critical spirit to undermine the myths that sustain various ethical and political outlooks—and hence to raise the question of whether these outlooks can be sustained independently of these myths (as Williams argues that liberalism can be). At the same time, conceiving of this politics in terms of a liberalism of fear is liable to play a role in supporting various reflective dispositions that direct us away from foundational forms of ethical and political reflection and toward more historically situated practices of reflection. In this respect, Williams’s political realism is the philosophical expression of the form of a political way of life that it seeks to bring into being. In this chapter, I have sought to demonstrate that the influential articulation of political realism in the work of Bernard Williams is a natural expression of realism as an orientation in thinking and its expression in the approach to ethics that he develops in mounting his critique of morality and that this articulation provides the basis of a constructive alternative to “political moralist” practices of political philosophy, an alternative that has important implications for the character of political philosophy. But in demonstrating that this concern with realism in political theory is an expression of a commitment to realism in ethics more generally, we are ineluctably led to the question of whether the cogency of political realism is conditional on the validity of the kind of critique of “morality” that Williams offers. There is one clear sense in which it must be the case that political realism is dependent on a critique of morality because if “morality” is taken to be comprehensive and normatively authoritative with respect to the ethical domain, then a critique of morality is a presupposition of political realism (as a rejection of political moralism) getting off the ground. It is plausible that at least some contemporary moral philosophers may disavow an understanding of morality as comprehensive and normatively authoritative with respect to the whole ethical domain and may acknowledge that there are ethical (and for that matter nonethical) reasons whose importance may override moral considerations under various circumstances, but some may also want to argue that moral considerations should still constrain political reflection and action in important ways. Here the political realist’s response is not to deny this claim but rather to make two [ 88 ]


points. First, much of what the political moralist construes in terms of morality is available to the political realist as he or she works out the political character of the values of freedom, equality, and justice.48 Remember that although sustaining the conditions of political order is the first political question on the realist view, it is not the only political question—and there are resources in Rawlsian liberalism concerning, for example, the fair value of the political liberties of which political realists can and should avail themselves while engaging more closely, as republican political thought typically does, with the institutional conditions and prudential considerations involved in addressing these questions. Second, the question regarding which moral considerations should take priority under what conditions is not a question that philosophy can decide; rather, addressing that question is part and parcel of the activity of politics, perhaps especially of politics in liberal states. In this respect, political realism exhibits a further form of skepticism that might be expressed under the title “Politics and the Limits of Philosophy.”49

Notes 1. William Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 408. 2. Enzo Rossi and Matt Sleat, “Realism in Normative Political Theory,” Philosophy Compass 9, no. 10 (2014): 696, 691. See also Mark Philp, Political Conduct (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007); Mark Philp, “Realism Without Illusions,” Political Theory 40, no. 5 (2012): 629–49; and Alison McQueen’s chapter in this volume. 3. Bernard Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” in Making Sense of Humanity and Other Philosophical Papers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 65–76. 4. Raymond Geuss, “Thucydides, Nietzsche, and Williams,” in Outside Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 221. 5. Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 161–62, quoted in Geuss, “Thucydides, Nietzsche, and Williams,” 221. 6. Geuss, “Thucydides, Nietzsche, and Williams,” 223. 7. Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). 8. Ibid., 195. REALISM IN ETHICS AND POLITICS

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9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.

16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21.

22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28.

Ibid. Ibid., 196. Ibid. Ibid., 197, italics in original. Ibid., 198. Ibid. It is also of note, however, that this implication of Williams’s argument makes clear the importance of salient forms of diversity to sustaining a culture of realism. In this regard, the attitude of acknowledging and, as far as plausible, accommodating human diversity adopted by much realist thought is both, as an outlook, an expression of realism’s nonmoralized stance and, as a practice, a support for the conditions requisite to maintaining this stance. See David Owen, Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality (Dublin: Acumen Press, 2007). Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 71. Ibid., 72. Ibid., 73. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 21. Bernard Williams, “Replies,” in World, Mind, and Ethics: Essays on the Ethical Philosophy of Bernard Williams, ed. J. E. J. Altham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 204. Ibid. Bernard Williams, “Naturalism and Genealogy,” in Morality, Reflection, and Ideology, ed. Edward Harcourt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 154. Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985; reprint, London: Routledge, 2011), 193. Bernard Williams, “Moral Luck: A Postscript,” in Making Sense of Humanity, 246. Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, 59. Ibid. The next four paragraphs in the text draw heavily on joint work with Simon Robertson and specifically on what was primarily his contribution to David Owen and Simon Robertson, “Influence on Analytic Philosophy,” in Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche, ed. Ken Gemes and John Richardson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 185–207. See also Simon Robertson, “Nietzsche’s Ethical Revaluation,” Journal of Nietzsche Studies 37 (2009): 66–90; “Normativity for Nietzschean Free Spirits,” Inquiry 54, no. 6 (2011): 591–613; and “A Nietzschean Critique of Obligation-Centered Moral Theory,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 19, no. 4 (2011): 563–91.

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29. Bernard Williams, “Internal and External Reasons,” in Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 110. 30. Ibid., 109. 31. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology.” See also Williams, “Naturalism and Genealogy.” 32. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 68. 33. Ibid. 34. Ibid., 72. 35. On this point, see Paul Sagar, “Minding the Gap: Bernard Williams and David Hume on Living an Ethical Life,” Journal of Moral Philosophy 11, no. 5 (2014): 615–38. 36. Bernard Williams, “Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline,” in Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 192. 37. For a notable exception, see Paul Sagar, “From Skepticism to Liberalism? Bernard Williams, the Foundations of Liberalism, and Political Realism,” Political Studies 64, no. 2 (2016): 368–84. 38. Bernard Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 3. 39. Ibid., 5. 40. Sagar, “From Skepticism to Liberalism?” 371, italics in original. See also Ed Hall, “Bernard Williams and the Basic Legitimation Demand: A Defense,” Political Studies 63, no. 2 (2015): 466–80. 41. Williams, Truth and Truthfulness, 264. It seems clear that we should read Williams as intending to encompass modern republicanism under his capacious understanding of liberalism. 42. Ibid. This particular criticism is not, I think, one that can be directed at Rawls after his “political” turn or at Rawls’s (Hegelian) understanding of his project in terms of “philosophy as defense”—that is, as offering an account of how we can have rational faith in the possibility of a just democratic society—given the fact that pluralism offers a challenging alternative to Williams’s political realism. 43. For an excellent discussion of Williams’s relation to the liberalism of fear, see Ed Hall, “Contingency, Confidence, and Liberalism in the Political Thought of Bernard Williams,” Social Theory and Practice 40, no. 4 (2014): 545–69. 44. There is much to be said concerning this claim, not least with reference to the relationship of liberal society to imperialism. But because my focus here is on the character of Williams’s account, I leave this argument aside while noting that indigenous peoples in settler societies, peoples subjected to colonial forms of rule more generally, and others whose lives have been and are


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45. 46. 47. 48.


still being damaged by the legacies of liberal imperialism may not be so sanguine as Williams on this front. This is an issue addressed in Judith Shklar, The Faces of Injustice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). Hall, “Contingency, Confidence, and Liberalism,” 566. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 3. See Bernard Williams, “From Freedom to Liberty: The Construction of a Political Value,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 75–96. For commentary, see Ed Hall, “How to Do Realistic Political Theory (and Why You Might Want To),” European Journal of Political Theory 16, no. 3 (2017): 283–303. I am particularly grateful to Paul Sagar and Matt Sleat for detailed critical comments on a prior draft of this chapter. Their engagement notably improved it as well as making me think harder about some of the claims advanced and the mode in which they are presented. Earlier versions of this essay were presented on a panel at the Western Political Science Association meeting in Seattle in 2014, where I benefitted from discussion with my fellow panelists—Michael Freeden, Alison McQueen, and Craig French—as well as with our lively audience, and at the Chicago Political Theory Workshop, facilitated by Patchen Markell and Will Levine, where I owe particular gratitude to Daniel Nichanian for acting as discussant.

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Anger, Humiliation, and Political Theory Bringing the Darker Passions Back In W I L L I A M A . G A L S TO N

Passion and the Quest for Significance


ike the modes of self-interest, the passions are facts—part of the basic structure of the human condition. This reality has not always been acknowledged. Since the beginning of modernity, influential thinkers have hoped that self-interest might subdue or even supplant the passions. Many observers considered the outbreak of World War I unthinkable because of the economic damage it would wreak on Europe. As late as 1936, with the horrors of that war still fresh, John Maynard Keynes could write that “dangerous human proclivities can be canalized into comparatively harmless channels by the existence of opportunities for money-making and private wealth, which, if they cannot be satisfied in this way, may find their outlet in cruelty, the reckless pursuit of personal power and authority, and other forms of self-aggrandizement.”1 He seemed to have forgotten that the century of relative peace and prosperity after the Congress of Vienna also witnessed the flowering of antibourgeois sentiments—in particular contempt for commercial activities and for the self-protective timidity of bourgeois life. Rupert Brooke’s famous words in “Peace,” penned at the outset of the Great War, reflect this contempt: Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour, And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping, [ 93 ]

With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power, To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping, Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary, Leave the sick hearts that honor could not move, And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary, And all the little emptiness of love!2 These sentiments cannot justify the war, but they certainly help explain it. And even after Brooke’s heroic romanticism had given way to the harsh realism of Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et decorum est,” antibourgeois thinkers and politicians dominated the interwar years, preparing the way for fascism and National Socialism. In times of chaos and strife, human beings crave the tranquility of daily life, and many are satisfied when they get it. But some are not, and they tend to include not only the potential leaders of their societies but also individuals whose aspirations extend beyond material comfort. Theories of politics that neglect this dimension of the human condition are bound to be descriptively and normatively inadequate. Realism demands more than a narrow focus on self-interest and on the political order and security within which individuals can pursue it. Discontent with the character of bourgeois life has a long and surprising history. Discussing the defects of a society devoted to market transactions, Adam Smith remarked that commerce “sinks the courage of mankind and tends to extinguish martial spirit.” With the national defense consigned to a narrow class of professional warriors, the people grow “effeminate.” Worse, their minds are “contracted, and rendered incapable of elevation,” and the “heroic spirit is almost lost.”3 We may wonder whether empirical sociology would vindicate these judgments, but their influence on centuries of thinkers and social elites is beyond question. When Brooke denounces the “sick hearts that honor could not move” and welcomes war as “cleanness,” he draws on the tradition that juxtaposes the martial virtues to the alleged small-mindedness of daily economic and social life.4 What joins this tradition to the phenomenon of humiliation is the experience of being demeaned—by an ignoble society or by identifiable individuals. Granted, the sentiment corresponding to the former is closer to disgust than to anger. What they have in common is a sense of higher possibility thwarted by circumstance. It is too simple, therefore, for political theorists (especially those who regard themselves as realists) to give strict priority to order over other [ 94 ] W I L L I A M A . G A L S T O N

considerations. As Thomas Hobbes understood, some people care more about honor or religious truth than about physical security. Order, he argued, should take normative priority. But he was under no illusion that everyone would agree about its priority. Nor should we be. It is hard for today’s theorists—especially liberal theorists—to take these considerations on board. The idea of honor smacks of aristocracy, and the horror of war obscures the merits of martial virtues. To the lovers of peace and security, dying for a cause—religion, country, or simple dignity—is almost incomprehensible. But it is an enduring fact of human existence that some people will be willing to do so even if most are not, and our theories must be capacious enough to embrace that fact.

Toward a Richer Liberalism: Bringing the Darker Passions Back In Since the publication of John Rawls’s book A Theory of Justice more than four decades ago, the dyad of justice and self-interest (or, in Rawls’s later parlance, the reasonable and the rational) has dominated liberal political theory. We are free to be rationally self-interested agents pursuing our own good as we understand it, subject only to principles of justice that define the rightful limits of that pursuit. Rationality means comparing the options before us and choosing the one most conducive to our conception of the good. We compare ourselves to ourselves, not to others. Rawls defines envy as the “propensity to view with hostility the greater good of others [as measured by primary goods] even though their being more fortunate than we are does not detract from our advantages.” If justice permits others to have more than we do, comparing our condition to theirs is irrelevant or worse from a moral point of view. A rational individual, Rawls says, “is not subject to envy.” Nor is the rational individual influenced by the desire to dominate others or submit to them or by any of what Rawls terms the “special psychologies.” Passions, emotions, and drives matter only as potential threats to the stability of just regimes.5 Notably, Rawls is unable to maintain this position without qualification. He acknowledges that in some circumstances justice may allow that “a person’s lesser position . . . may be so great as to wound his self-respect.” For those suffering this injury, “envious feelings are not irrational.” Selfrespect, which Rawls deems the “main primary good,” contains an element A N G E R , H U M I L I AT I O N , A N D P O L I T I C A L T H E O RY

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of comparison that cannot be ignored or expunged.6 The good that we pursue as individuals involves, in part, our position within a social order. We may come to experience our life within that order as demeaning and humiliating, even if (perhaps especially if ) that order seemingly leaves us no just cause for complaint. So liberal theory is not free to disregard the “special psychology” of envy after all. And envy is not unique. Observers extending back to Augustine have discerned a libido dominandi—lust for power—at the heart of the human condition. For some individuals, if not all, the desire for a position of domination is central. This is why James Madison insisted in Federalist No. 51 that neither reason nor moral sentiment would be enough to contain the drive to lord it over others. Instead, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” 7 Before politics can be an arena for the just pursuit of individual well-being, it must minimize the likelihood of the greatest political evil—falling under tyrannical rule. To be sure, as Rawls insists, bringing the passionate facets of human nature from the periphery of our gaze to the center complicates the task of agreeing on principles of justice. But this argument puts the cart before the horse. Political philosophy must be open and responsive to the political phenomena it theorizes. Bringing the passions back in can help us see political morality more clearly. Indignation—the special kind of anger that being mistrusted or seeing others mistreated often generates—is the point of departure for understanding justice. Self-assertion—the willingness to stand up for ourselves in the face of domination—discloses the ways in which we may think of ourselves as the equal of those who claim to be superior. Without such experiences, we would lack the considered judgments—the elemental experiences of right and wrong—that form the basis of every normative theory. The sentiments that illuminate political morality are as likely to reflect conflict as consensus, antipathy as affection. Political agreement—theoretical or practical—is meaningful only when it takes into account all the forces that divide us. This is why anger and humiliation are important.

Psychological Realism as a Crucial Dimension of Political Realism Human beings bring themselves, in full, to politics, so political theory—not only liberal theory but all political theory—needs a psychology as rich as the [ 96 ] W I L L I A M A . G A L S T O N

political life it seeks to comprehend. The Greeks understood this need; too often we forget it or set it aside in the name of a more tractable simplicity.8 A dyadic psychology of reason and self-interest leaves too much out; when passions surge, even self-interest gives way. And so does a triadic psychology that focuses on ameliorative sentiments such as empathy, solidarity, and love because politics more often elicits harsher emotions. We can neither grasp nor conduct politics successfully unless we reckon fully with the passions and emotions—not only mild and benign sentiments but also their harsher cousins such as rage and the desire for revenge. If we hope to cabin the latter’s destructive power, we must put them at the center of our attention. Antipathy may well be the dominant political sentiment. It unites individuals into communities of the like-minded and pits these groups against each other. Anger—far more than enthusiasm—mobilizes people to act.9 Shared antipathy is often the only force holding a group together. When the object of antipathy disappears, the group splinters. Dictators always use antipathy to mobilize support and mute criticism. Democratic leaders, even leaders with positive agendas, often do so as well. In a speech capping his reelection campaign in 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared of his enemies—business and financial monopolists, speculators, and reckless bankers, among others: “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are united in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”10 So did the crowd, which roared its approval of Roosevelt.

A Typology of Antipathies I begin with the fundamental difference between anger and hatred. Anger is directed to agency, hatred to identity. We feel anger because of what someone has done, hatred because of who someone is. Offenders can seek to make amends for what they have done, but how can they do so for what they are? Anti-Semitism is not anger toward Jews (although it often represents itself as that) but rather hatred of Jews, regardless of what they do or have done. The Iron Crosses that German Jews earned during World War I availed them nothing during World War II. If anti-Semitism had been directed at the religion of Judaism, European Jews could have saved themselves by converting. They could not because their destroyers regarded being Jewish as an indelible identity rather than as a fungible choice. A N G E R , H U M I L I AT I O N , A N D P O L I T I C A L T H E O RY

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The difference between anger and hatred plays out in human experience. With time, anger usually cools; hatred can and often does persist indefinitely. Anger seeks to impose pain or punishment on its object, whereas hatred seeks the destruction of the Other. Anger seeks rectification for the wrongs the perpetrator has committed; for hatred, there can be no rectification. We typically feel anger when someone has harmed us, but we may also experience it—as righteous indignation—when we observe harms to others, especially when the wrongdoers go unpunished. The causes of anger are various. Most primal is the frustration of expectation or desire. We see this in the anger of infants who have not yet developed moral consciousness or a sense of self. But adults who seek to impose their will on events often experience something similar. Herodotus tells the story of the enraged Xerxes, who when faced with stormy waters that delayed his invasion of Greece responded by whipping the Hellespont.11 The mature response to frustration of the will by inanimate objects is frustration, not anger, as it is to unplanned collective events, such as stockmarket crashes. In extreme cases, the anger-induced attribution of will to such forces can shade over into paranoia. The most common cause of anger is injury inflicted on you or a third party, on purpose or through inattention. The harm can take many forms— physical, material, or even social. Some people are angry about immigration not because immigrants commit crimes or consume tax dollars but because they change the character of long-established communities. And we can be angry about prospective as well as current injuries. Many people were angry about President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act long before it was signed into law not because it cost money or restricted freedom but because of their fears that it would do so farther down the road. Harmbased anger reflects our interpretation of intentions and circumstances, not just the injury itself. If another driver swerves out of his lane and hits your car, anger is the natural response, even if he was not ramming you for sport. The discovery that he was texting while driving is not likely to abate your ire. However, learning that he acted to avoid hitting a child who had dashed into the road should transform anger into another sentiment altogether. (If it does not, you actually are angry about something else). A third occasion of anger is damaged pride. The classic example is Achilles sulking wrathfully in his tent after Agamemnon has taken Briseis from

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him. Achilles tells his mother, the goddess Athena, that Agamemnon “has done me dishonor.” The injury is secondary; what rankles most is the insult. Honor is prominent in aristocratic societies and therefore, too, is the sensitivity to dishonor. But insult and the anger it breeds manifest themselves in egalitarian circumstances as well. Dignity is honor democratized. Actions that breach dignity evoke rage not only from the powerful and well born but also from the lowly and oppressed. On December 17, 2010, a young Tunisian man, Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire after suffering public humiliation, the details of which are disputed. But it is not disputed that he was harassed and extorted by government officials as he sought to support his family by selling produce from a wheelbarrow in the streets of his hometown, Sidi Bouzid. An official seized his weighing scale, and the local authorities refused to return it. Bouazizi was powerless to strike back against the government to regain his livelihood and dignity, so he doused himself with gasoline and immolated himself. Lacking on effective outlet, his thwarted rage was directed inward; instead of attacking his oppressors, he destroyed himself. Bouazizi became a symbol of an entire generation’s humiliation at the hands of its government, triggering massive street protests, the ousting of Tunisia’s longtime leader, and eventually the Arab Spring. No doubt the spread of egalitarian sentiments has raised the aspirations of oppressed groups and their awareness of deprivation. But the desire for dignity—the recognition of one’s standing as a human being—is more than a social construction. This desire, in fact, helps explain the attractiveness of the ideas that ratify its legitimacy and give it force as a constitutive principle of social order. To be human is to be liable—as Mohamed Bouazizi was—to the injury and insult of humiliation. The tension between subjection to the will of others—even legitimate authority—and the desire for dignity is a permanent feature of the human condition.

Humiliation, Rage, and Political Conflict Of all the variants of anger, the most powerful and often the most dangerous is the anger born of humiliation. Wherever we look, we see individuals, groups, entire nations seething over affronts to pride, dignity, and self-respect. A number of philosophers have looked at the statics of

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humiliation.12 I am more interested in its dynamics—in what it does rather than what it is. Nevertheless, it is useful to begin with a description of its central features. The word humiliation is derived from the Latin term humus, “earth” or “dirt.” This derivation points to a core dimension of humiliation: bringing someone down to earth from a height. Toppling statues of deposed dictators symbolizes this process; so does making people prostrate themselves before you or kiss your shoes. To humiliate, then, is to degrade by reducing someone to a lower position in rank or estimation. The French army’s treatment of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish artillery officer wrongly accused of passing information about artillery parts to the Germans in 1894, offers a vivid example: Each regiment of the Paris garrison had sent a unit to represent it. . . . [A] small door was thrown open. From it stepped a giant sergeant of the Republican Guard. He led four soldiers with drawn swords in whose midst walked Captain Dreyfus. They walked up to General Darras, who sat waiting for them on horseback. The general drew his sword . . .: “Alfred Dreyfus, you are unworthy of carrying arms. We herewith degrade you in the name of the people of France.” Dreyfus . . . lifted up his head. “Soldiers,” he shouted, “An innocent is dishonored. Long live France.” The giant sergeant rushed at Dreyfus. He tore the epaulets from the captain’s shoulders and then tore the red stripes . . . from [his] trousers. Finally he took the captain’s sword and broke it in two.13 As Frederick Schick points out in his description of this incident, Dreyfus was not ashamed; he knew he had done nothing wrong. But he was humiliated, and a closer analysis of this episode explains why. Dreyfus was deprived of agency and strength; he was rendered helpless and weak, deprived of control over his fate. He was disempowered. And more than that: his disempowerment was forced on his attention. Dreyfus’s humiliation was very public (indeed, it was the most publicly visible event in France at the time, and its visibility endured for years). But third-party spectators are not essential to the experience of humiliation. B can humiliate A even if no one else is there. B can experience humiliation because of how he behaved in A’s presence, even if A did nothing to rub it

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in, even if A is unaware of B’s assessment. Without abusing the term, B may believe that he degraded himself. Humiliation requires only two parties, and one of them may be the agent’s internalized spectator. When there are only two, however, the humiliated party must believe that his behavior was in some respect unworthy—otherwise, no humiliation. Dreyfus was brought low not in his self-estimation but in others’ esteem. The public witnessing of the accusation of treason made it a humiliation. Although bringing someone down in rank or office is a classic instance of humiliation, it is not a necessary condition. Ordinary people may be and often are subjected to degrading treatment that qualifies as humiliation. Humiliation, say Jennifer Goldman and Peter Coleman, occurs in relationships of unequal power in which the humiliator has control over the victim.14 US treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib is one example, and there are many others. Nazis sometimes ordered Jews to get down on their hands and knees and clean streets with toothbrushes. In a SS-run concentration camp, the guards ordered Jewish prisoners to take fallen autumn leaves between their teeth and move them one by one to the edge of the courtyard. Non-Jewish prisoners were commanded to watch and shout epithets, although many courageously refused and turned their backs.15 Evelin Lindner describes the use of public rape as a strategy of humiliation, made even worse by the authorities’ refusal to take it seriously.16 As everyone who has survived high school knows, selective exclusion is a common strategy of humiliation. By depriving some individuals of the rights and opportunities that others enjoy, the power holders send the message that those whom they exclude are of lesser worth. Systems of segregation almost always embody such a message. That is why separate is hardly ever equal—unless the dominant group is willing to take separation to its limit by granting subordinate groups something approaching full autonomy to determine their own fate. Humiliated individuals and groups are always deprived of something. In some cases, they have never possessed or enjoyed the object of deprivation but believe that they should, and they see their humiliator as standing in their way. In other cases, they once possessed or enjoyed what they desire, but the humiliator has wrested it from them, and they want it back. The line between these two kinds of humiliation can be indistinct: not infrequently, an oppressed group will create the myth of a glorious past, a high station it yearns to regain. In other cases, the deprivation is demonstrable:

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the decline of a once-great empire, the loss of cherished territory, the transition from dominance to insignificance. The desire to regain what has been lost is one of the most potent motives in human affairs.

Defining Humiliation So much for the description of humiliation; I turn next to its definition. Avishai Margalit, the best-known contemporary philosopher to address himself to this topic, defines humiliation as “any sort of behavior or condition that constitutes a sound reason for a person to consider his or her self-respect injured.” Otherwise put, humiliation is “injury to human dignity.”17 Although these definitions link humiliation to familiar terms in moral discourse, the meaning of these terms is contested. It is conceptually possible to distinguish between pride and self-respect: the former, one may say, represents an overreaching sense of self; the latter a correct assessment of our standing simply as human beings. According to Benedict de Spinoza, “Pride . . . is joy born of the fact that a man thinks more highly of himself than is just.”18 In this spirit (though against the letter of Spinoza), one might say that self-abasement is thinking less highly of oneself than is just, out of self-hatred, whereas self-respect consists in an accurate self-assessment gained through the exercise of reason and a sense of proportion. But this move elides the central question: What does an accurate appraisal yield? From a familiar Christian perspective, unflinching introspection reveals every human being to be a sinner. “Use every man after his desert,” Hamlet muses, “and who shall ’scape whipping?”19 We may want to become better, but we cannot improve through our own efforts alone. On this view, without the aid of a divinity whose power and goodness infinitely exceed our own, we would remain mired in sin. Understanding our sinfulness and dependence on a higher power is true humility. An accurate self-appraisal means that self-respect and humility are one. Although the Christian account of human beings is egalitarian, it is unabashedly negative. We are equal because we all are weak, fallible, divided against ourselves. Although equally egalitarian, the modern understanding of the self as the bearer of dignity and worthy of respect is much more affirmative. We all are capable of self-reflection and of change through choice. This conception of the self might be described as the secularized [ 102 ] W I L L I A M A . G A L S T O N

version of the biblical proposition that each of us is made in the image of God, hence capable of creativity and generosity. Note that this definition is normative in two senses. First, it does not regard inner sentiments as dispositive. There may be sound reasons for feeling humiliated without actually feeling that way; alternatively, one may feel that way without sufficient warrant. If you are a member of a caste that has been systematically oppressed for generations, you may not have the internal experience of humiliation because you cannot imagine an alternative to the treatment you endure. (You may even have internalized your oppressors’ justification for it. Conversely, if you are a father within a tribal system of “honor codes,” your daughter’s refusal to marry the man you have selected for her may induce a sense of humiliation even though, judged externally, you lack a sound reason for feeling humiliated.) This brings us to the second sense in which Margalit’s definition of humiliation is normative: he assigns a thoroughly negative evaluation to the experience of humiliation. If one accepts the classic Christian view that pride is the worst sin and humility the greatest virtue, then the normative status of humiliation becomes more complex. If humiliation (like all suffering) counters pride and fosters humility, as Christian theology teaches, it is not an unmixed evil—even if the humiliator is driven entirely by base motives. This may be the reason why Christian martyrs would often thank their humiliators for bringing them closer to God through suffering.20 With this qualification, we have moved from a static definition of humiliation to the Christian account of its dynamics. But historical experience makes it hard to defend that account. On balance, Friedrich Nietzsche’s depiction of ressentiment seems closer to the mark. When the strong humiliate the weak, the oppressed typically experience anger, which their circumstances require them to repress. But the anger remains and fosters the desire for revenge. Despite this difference, all these accounts of humiliation share a common premise: the opinions and actions of others affect our sentiments and our self-assessment. Humiliation, Doron Shulziner and Itai Rabinovici suggest, means “treating people or displaying attitudes in a way that conveys the message that they have lower, or no, social worth.”21 In most cases, they suggest, the message will have an effect. Human beings seek recognition from others. Depriving them of the recognition they crave diminishes their social worth and is experienced as an injury to their self-worth—that is, as humiliation.22 A N G E R , H U M I L I AT I O N , A N D P O L I T I C A L T H E O RY

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Stoicism challenges this assumption by claiming that self-respect is bestowed by the self on the self and cannot be externally provided, withheld, or impaired. This sharp division between inner and outer runs counter to much ordinary experience. Nietzsche regarded it as a psychological impossibility. Shakespeare underscored the conflict between the Stoic Brutus’s professions of invulnerability and his actual sentiments. Nevertheless, some individuals have approached the Stoic ideal. Traveling through Pennsylvania, Frederick Douglass once was forced to sit in the train’s baggage car. When a white passenger expressed his regret that Douglass had been “degraded” in this manner, the abolitionist leader and former slave replied, “They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is in me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but [rather] those who are inflicting it upon me.”23 Throughout his life, Douglass burned with anger over the injustice of slavery and second-class citizenship. But because he was armored against humiliation, his righteous anger never shaded over into the desire for revenge. Other political actors whom powerful oppressors tried to humiliate—Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel—also seemingly endured the experience without giving way even to anger. These extraordinary individuals represent one of the three responses to socially inflicted humiliation—the ability to withstand and rise above it. This response is the hardest, and it would be unwise to rest either theory or practice on the presumption that this inner self-sufficiency is or can be widely shared. For most people at most times, a sense of self-worth and dignity reflects, in part, society’s favorable judgment and respectful treatment, the denial or withdrawal of which is acutely painful. Those who experience this pain respond in two opposite ways: by turning their humiliation inward to depression and self-destruction or outward to burning anger that enacts the desire for revenge.24 Psychiatrists reserve the term narcissistic rage for this kind of anger. Its destructive potential is unlimited, in part because, as a pioneering student of this phenomenon, Heinz Kohut, has argued, those in its grip show “total lack of empathy.”25 This void of feeling enables them to do terrible things to others without guilt or regret. It is as though other human beings do not exist except as screens on which that rage is projected and as vehicles for revenge. Many survivors of mass shootings have reported the killers’ affectless demeanor. The most systematic research finds that these

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murderous rampages are “acts of personal desperation performed by humiliated individuals, almost all of whom are men. They finally lose control after they have brooded for a long time over supposed personal insults or injuries for which they feel unable to get satisfaction any other way.”26 Humiliation and cold-blooded murder are linked on the political level as well as the personal level. The connection between humiliation and terrorism is well established. A leading expert, Jessica Stern, describes the internal dynamics of terrorism in terms nearly identical to those of mass killers: “It is the pernicious effect of repeated, small humiliations that add up to a feeling of nearly unbearable despair and frustration, and a willingness on the part of some to do anything—even commit atrocities—in the belief that attacking the oppressor will restore their sense of dignity.”27 A good example is found in the statement of a masked terrorist on a videotape showing the beheading of American captive Nicholas Berg. Referring to photos showing the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the terrorist said, “The shameful photos are evil humiliation for Muslim men and women in the Abu Ghraib prison,” and asked, “Where is the sense of honor, where is the rage? Where is the anger for God’s religion? Where is the sense of veneration of Muslims, and where is the sense of vengeance for the honor of Muslim men and women in the Crusaders’ prisons?”28

The Political Dimensions of Humiliation Social theorists have long wrestled with the movement from individual to group psychology. There is no need to posit a perfect isomorphism, let alone a mysterious group soul. For my purposes, the connection is straightforward: when individuals think of themselves as members of a collectivity, they experience what befalls the collectivity as their own individual fate as well. This capacity for sympathetic identification is ubiquitous in human affairs, from the elation sports fans experience when their team prevails to the dejection citizens feel when their country’s army is defeated. Some defeats are honorable; others are not. Although losing 1–0 to Germany in the 2014 World Cup, the US team was thought to have acquitted itself well. By contrast, the citizens of Brazil experienced their team’s 7–1 defeat as a national humiliation, and the sense of collective disgrace was

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palpable. The collapse of the French army in the face of the German onslaught in 1940 was a profound shock to the nation’s self-respect, and much of General Charles de Gaulle’s wartime strategy was directed toward regaining French dignity. The Arabs’ stunningly swift defeat at the hands of the Israelis during the Six-Day War of 1967 was a collective humiliation that their leaders felt impelled to overcome. As in the individual case, there are two variants of collective humiliation. In the first, oppressive power prevents a group from asserting its claim to equal standing. The oppressed group is deprived of the ability to determine its own fate, a status it experiences as a denial of dignity. The group may never have enjoyed such independence. Nevertheless, the lack of selfdetermination is a deeply felt absence whose rectification demands collective self-assertion. This dynamic is at the heart of anticolonial movements, all the more so when colonial powers justify their rule through the language of racial or civilizational superiority. In the second form of collective humiliation, the group has been deprived of something it once possessed and regards as its own by right, a loss analogous to physical mutilation. The loss often occurs in the wake of a military defeat that is felt to be dishonorable, producing seething resent and a desire for collective revenge, of which territorial irredentism is a classic manifestation—France after 1870, Germany after 1918, and Pakistan after 1948. Germany’s humiliation at Versailles at the end of the Great War was the emotional trump card that Adolf Hitler played effectively for nearly two decades. It fueled his rise to power and sustained him throughout the 1930s. His economic and diplomatic successes helped restore national pride and marginalized his critics. Without this fund of exploitable humiliation, the Nazi triumph would have been unimaginable. Whereas Germany’s experience of Versailles was as fresh as an open wound, the memory of national humiliation can be very long lasting— indeed, all but indelible. Serbia’s defeat by the Ottomans at Kosovo Polje in 1389, which paved the way for centuries of Turkish rule, drives Serbian nationalism down to the present day and helps explain why the Serbs opposed the Kosovar independence movement so bitterly in the 1990s. The desire to regain what has been lost and to punish the group or state that took it cannot be reduced to a means–ends calculus—economic, demographic, or military. At heart, it is a matter of injured self-regard or dignity and honor. The reason/interest dyad is no more adequate to explain the affairs of nations than the motives of individuals. As Robert Harkavy [ 106 ] W I L L I A M A . G A L S T O N

observes, “Were revenge seen as a major component of international relations, foreign policy models based on assumptions of realism, rational choice or rationality would be weakened.”29 Sometimes the loss is larger and less specific, such as when a great empire or civilization declines to relative insignificance. Not all such losses lead to enduring resentment, however. There is no evidence of a burning desire to re-create the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During World War II, Winston Churchill famously declared, “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”30 With but a slight lag, however, that is exactly what happened—a momentous shift in the United Kingdom’s global standing to which most of the British people responded with nostalgia rather than anger. The contrast with Russia could not be sharper. Vladimir Putin’s speech to the Duma on March 18, 2014, passionately articulated a litany of grievances against Western policies since the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Referring to Crimea, he said that a weakened post-Soviet Russia had “humbly accepted the situation” because the country was “incapable of defending its interests.” Nevertheless, he declared, “the people could not reconcile themselves to this outrageous historical injustice.”31 The remainder of the speech in effect extended this conclusion more widely, as one would expect of a leader who regards the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest historical tragedy of the twentieth century. In the immediate aftermath of the speech, an overwhelming majority of Russians endorsed Putin’s stance. China offers a subtler but equally pertinent example. According to a well-known expert, William Callahan, “the master narrative of modern Chinese history is the discourse of the century of national humiliation.”32 This history recounts how aggressive foreigners exploited corrupt rulers to undermine Chinese sovereignty and occupy substantial portions of the country. The decades following the First Opium War (1839–1842) witnessed a long sequence of failed rebellions, military defeats, and political decline. Though lifelong adversaries for command of modern China, Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek agreed on the need for a program of national salvation to overcome China’s humiliation and restore its greatness. As Callahan observes, national salvation entailed more than a domestic agenda: “its notions of ‘the rightful place of China on the world stage’ continually inform Chinese foreign policy in both elite and popular discussion.”33 The drive to overcome humiliation thus encourages a military request of A N G E R , H U M I L I AT I O N , A N D P O L I T I C A L T H E O RY

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China’s “sacred territory,” often defined as the outer perimeter of the Ching dynasty, and reinforces claims to contested islands well outside what international law recognizes as China’s territorial waters. To the outside world, China’s “fall and rise” story appears extraordinary. From the inside, the restoration of what China has lost is far from complete. Americans see the US Navy’s growing presence in the South China Sea as the minimum needed to keep faith with their friends in the region and to honor American treaty commitments. From the Chinese perspective, by contrast, the US fleet is more than a counterweight to their own power; it is an unwelcome reminder of an era in which foreign powers dismembered and dishonored their country. The Muslim world presents what may be today’s most potent narrative of collective humiliation.34 After dominating much of the Mediterranean region for centuries, Islam entered a protracted period of cultural and military decline. The Christian reconquest of Iberia was a heavy blow, and the Crusades became an enduring metaphor for Western incursion into regions Muslims regarded as permanently theirs. The collapse of the Ottoman caliphate reinforced the sense of loss, and its colonial partition after World War I meant a demeaning loss of agency throughout the Sunni world. British domination of the Iranian oil industry had a similar effect in the heart of Shiʿa Islam. The covert Anglo-American operation that overthrew populist Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953 set the stage for a generation of struggle against the shah, who was seen as the tool of Western interests. The restoration of dignity became a major theme of contemporary Muslim politics, all the more so after a series of humiliating defeats beginning in 1948 at the hands of the Israelis. The Six-Day War was the Waterloo of the secular Arab nationalism that Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser represented. Muslims asked what it was about their culture and political systems that could pave the way for such a defeat, and many concluded that the adoption of Western ideologies and institutions was to blame. After 1967, the Islamist political alternative became increasingly attractive, as did stricter versions of Sunni and Shiʿa Islam. For many Muslims, the stunning victory of the Khomeini forces in the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the storming of the US embassy, and the hostage crisis represented long-overdue steps toward the restoration of independence and dignity.

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Humiliation and the Limits of Self-Interest It is not the purpose of these narratives to defend, let alone ennoble, political conduct driven by humiliation. The point, rather, is to argue that the sources of humiliation are rooted in the human condition. To be sure, social arrangements shape how individuals and groups experience the behavior of others. Acts that would be humiliating in hierarchical societies may not be in egalitarian settings, and vice versa. Hobbes hoped that the recognition of equal vulnerability might purge society of the disruptive force of hair-trigger aristocratic pride. But the belief in equal dignity carries its own disruptive potential. Populists can be just as sensitive to slights, real or imagined, as the elites against whom they contend. When average citizens believe that those with wealth or education are “looking down” on them, their response can be ferocious.35 The politics of humiliation can be even more dangerous in relations between nations. Driven by a sense of loss, peoples are apt to exaggerate the glory of the past. So the drive to regain lost standing often overreaches, imposing losses on others and affronting their dignity in turn. Policies driven by the desire for revenge can easily turn brutal and end by denying the humanity of the adversary. Only when the spirit of vengeance cools can interests be negotiated. In the quest to regain honor or dignity, individuals often make choices that appear irrational, even self-destructive. And so do peoples. Egypt launched the Yom Kippur War against Israel in 1973 not so much to reconquer the Sinai as to regain the pride it had lost six years earlier. The war ended with the Israelis crossing the Suez Canal and encircling Egypt’s Third Army. But in the eyes of most Egyptians the war had achieved its primary objective: their soldiers’ bravery and bold tactics had earned respect from friend and foe alike. Despite the ultimate failure of their attack, the Egyptians were able to deal with Israel as equals, not supplicants. If 1973 had not muted the humiliation of 1967, Anwar Sadat could not have flown to Tel Aviv in 1977 or made peace with Menachem Begin in 1979. Political scientists cannot understand these events without paying attention to humiliation and its consequences. Contemporary political theory, for its part, needs a moral psychology rich enough to do justice to these phenomena. This is hardly a new thought. Plato’s tripartite account of the

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soul gave independent status to thumos—spirited self-assertion—as distinct from the satisfaction of appetites and basic needs. Aristotle’s Rhetoric offers a systematic account of the passions in a moral and political context. Rousseau distinguished between amour propre and amour de soi. G. W. F. Hegel emphasized a desire for recognition powerful enough to overcome the instinct for self-preservation. And Hobbes, the apostle of political order based on self-preservation, knew well that two forces—prickly pride and religious fervor—are capable of disrupting that order. When these forces combine, as they do in narratives of Muslim humiliation, they achieve explosive power. Hobbes would not have been surprised. The point is not that a politics of honor or dignity is necessarily nobler than a politics of interests or that risking one’s life is more worthy than risking one’s capital. It is rather that the desire for standing, whether equal or superior, differs qualitatively from the desire for comfort and security and that no account of politics can be adequate if it fails to recognize this difference. Humiliation may explain conduct but does not suffice to justify it. At most, humiliation invites an inquiry into the events that evoke it—and into the possibility that those events represent an injustice that warrants rectification. Even if that turns out to be the case, rectification need not take the form of accepting the humiliated actor’s demands, which are often punitive and disproportionate. In this regard, humiliation is on all fours with self-interest, the demands of which often lack justification. The broader point is that normative theory must take its bearings in the first instance from what human beings are and from the kinds of relationships we form. Any theory, however elegant, that neglects our physical needs or the desire for order and security would condemn itself to irrelevance. So too would any theory that takes self-interest into account while ignoring the passions. The basic structures of human existence are fundamental. Description precedes and constrains prescription. Political realism must begin with and rest on an adequate description of political life.

Notes 1. Quoted in Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), 134. 2. Rupert Brooke, “Peace,” in Rupert Brooke: Complete Poetical Works (Hastings, UK: Delphi Classics, 2013), 38. [ 110 ] W I L L I A M A . G A L S T O N

3. Quoted and discussed in Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests, 106–7. 4. This is not to deny that more personal elements (including a failed romance) also shaped Brooke’s words. 5. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 530–32. 6. Ibid., 534. 7. James Madison, Federalist No. 51, in Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist, ed. Terence Ball (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 252. 8. For a useful argument in this vein, see Michael A. Neblo, “Philosophical Psychology with Political Intent,” in The Affect Effect: Dynamics of Emotion in Political Thinking and Behavior, ed. W. Russell Neuman, George E. Marcus, Ann N. Crigler, and Michael MacKuen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 25–48. See also Raymond Geuss, “Thucydides, Nietzsche, and Williams,” in Outside Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 219–33. 9. Nicholas A. Valentino, Ted Brader, Eric William Groenendyk, Krysha Gregorowicz, and Vincent L. Hutchings, “Election Night’s Alright for Fighting: The Role of Emotions in Political Participation,” Journal of Politics 73, no. 1 (2011): 156–70. At the same time, anger (unlike fear and anxiety) tends to suppress the search for new information. See Nicholas A. Valentino, Vincent L. Hutchings, Antoine J. Banks, and Anne K. Davis, “Is a Worried Citizen a Good Citizen? Emotions, Political Information Seeking, and Learning Via the Internet,” Political Psychology 29, no. 2 (2008): 247–73. So anger yields what might be termed close-minded mobilization and is thus the enemy of deliberation. 10. Franklin D. Roosevelt, address at Madison Square Garden, New York City, October 31, 1936, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15219. 11. Xerxes instructed his men to say the following as they administered three hundred lashes to the Hellespont: “You salt and bitter stream, your master lays this punishment upon you for injuring him, who never injured you” (Herodotus, The Histories, trans. Aubrey de Selincourt [Edinburgh: Penguin Books, 1964], 429). 12. For example, see Avishai Margalit, The Decent Society, trans. Naomi Goldblum (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), and Daniel Statman, “Humiliation, Dignity, and Self-Respect,” Philosophical Psychology 13, no. 4 (2000): 523–40. 13. Frederic Schick, “On Humiliation,” Social Research 64, no. 1 (1997): 134–35. 14. Jennifer S. Goldman and Peter T. Coleman, “A Theoretical Understanding of How Emotions Fuel Intractable Conflict: The Case of Humiliation,” n.d., http://www.humiliationstudies.org /documents/GoldmanNY05meetingRT2 .pdf. A N G E R , H U M I L I AT I O N , A N D P O L I T I C A L T H E O RY

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15. Evelin Lindner, Making Enemies: Humiliation and International Conflict (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006), 4. 16. Ibid., 117–18. 17. Margalit, The Decent Society, 9, 262. 18. Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics (London: Penguin Book, 1996), 84. Granted, ordinary language suggests the possibility of justified pride consistent with accurate self-assessment. A craftsman takes pride in his work; a less-than-diligent student is proud of her ability to buckle down and study. But these self-assessments are of particular activities, not of the overall state of one’s soul or character. This generalized pride typically reflects inadequate recognition of one’s shortcomings. 19. William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 2.2.519–20. 20. I owe this observation to Matt Sleat. There are traces of a similar sentiment in Judaism—for example, in the account of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom at the hands of the Romans. 21. Doron Shulziner and Itai Rabinovici, “Human Dignity, Self-Worth, and Humiliation: A Comparative Legal-Psychological Approach,” Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 18, no. 1 (2012): 111. 22. See also Lindner, Making Enemies, 171. 23. Booker T. Washington tells this story in Up from Slavery (New York: Doubleday, 1901), 100. 24. For the link between anger and depression, see Fredric N. Busch, “Anger and Depression,” Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 15 (2009): 271–78. 25. Quoted and discussed in Robert E. Harkavy, “Defeat, National Humiliation, and the Revenge Motif in International Politics,” International Politics 37 (2000): 356–57. 26. Donald C. Klein, “The Humiliation Dynamic: An Overview,” Journal of Primary Prevention 12, no. 2 (1991): 108, summarizing the research in John C. Spores, Running Amok (Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1988). 27. Quoted in Miriam H. Marton, “Terrorism and Humiliation,” n.d., http:// www.humiliationstudies.org/documents/MartonBerlin05meeting1.pdf. 28. Quoted in Goldman and Coleman, “A Theoretical Understanding of How Emotions Fuel Intractable Conflict,” 6. 29. Harkavy, “Defeat, National Humiliation, and the Revenge Motif,” 346. 30. Winston Churchill, “This Is Not the End,” speech at the Mansion House, November 10, 1942, http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1942/421110b.html. 31. Vladimir Putin, speech to the Duma, March 18, 2014, http://www.praguepost .com /eu-news/37854-full-text-of-putin-s-speech-on-crimea. 32. William A. Callahan, “National Insecurities: Humiliation, Salvation, and Chinese Nationalism,” Alternatives 29 (2004): 204. [ 112 ] W I L L I A M A . G A L S T O N

33. Ibid., 214. 34. For an interesting analysis of the Muslim case, see Roxanne L. Euben, “Humiliation and the Political Mobilization of Masculinity,” Political Theory 43, no. 4 (2015): 500–532. Euben makes a strong argument that in the case of Islam humiliation is often experienced and described as a form of emasculation— that is, as imposed restraints that impede the acts of and deny the status appropriate to men. For the reasons set forth in this article, I do not believe that this account works generally, although there are certainly analogues in Putin’s Russia. 35. The classic analysis of this phenomenon in democratic societies is Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), chap. 3 (“What Is Wrong with Snobbery?”). See especially Shklar’s depiction of Jacksonian Democrats’ response to the aristocratic pretentions of wealthy Americans (107–14).

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Legitimacy and Domination PAU L S AG A R


he aim of this chapter is to make progress regarding issues that arise for what may be termed “internalist” accounts of political legitimacy. Such accounts maintain that the conditions by which a political grouping—often but not necessarily the state—can intelligibly be said to be legitimate must be built entirely from materials available within the process of politics that is itself under analysis. To put the matter crudely but for now helpfully: internalist accounts posit that legitimacy is and can only be a function of the beliefs of those subject to power, and insofar as subjects believe that the power exercised over them is legitimate, it therefore is. Such a view gives rise to (at least) two sorts of objections, one of which I seek to address, the other I largely set aside. The complaint I set aside arises from adopting an external perspective on the practices of some other group. Namely, that even if the institutional power structures of that group were wholeheartedly endorsed by its subject population, if those structures involved violations of certain moral values, then no matter what its subject population believed, such an institutional formation must be illegitimate. To use another crude example: even if all the citizens of the Third Reich had wholeheartedly endorsed Nazi extermination policies, the Third Reich would nonetheless be an illegitimate state. This seems obviously right, at least from the point of view of, for example, the postwar West. The philosophical questions that this external perspective raises are primarily those of relativism: the attitude [ 114 ]

we should take to the subjects of such a political organization (and reflexively our own in turn), whose beliefs about what moral bounds political agents may transgress and still remain legitimate, differ so starkly from ours. Practically speaking, very difficult problems are raised about what we might do about such an entity should we be unfortunate enough to encounter one. Those practical problems themselves have deep philosophical dimensions, but it is clear by this point in our history that they are not easily solved. These, however, are not the concerns of this paper. What I focus on instead is what we might say from only an internal perspective about the construction of beliefs in legitimacy—in particular, a perspective that does not operate by imposing external (even if eminently endorsable) moral constraints.1 Varying the example accordingly, consider the following. If there were a group of happy slaves who believed that their master was legitimate only because the very same power of their master brought about this belief in them, we should rightly deny that the master’s authority was legitimate. This appears to straightforwardly defeat the crude internalist position sketched earlier—that legitimacy is simply whatever people happen to think it is. Nonetheless, it is possible to articulate less-crude versions of internalism, which can handle the slavery counterexample and yet continue to posit that legitimacy must be—indeed, can ultimately only be—a function of the psychological processes of the ruled. The question of how to account satisfactorily for legitimacy on an internalist account arises implicitly in the political thought of David Hume,2 Adam Smith,3 and Max Weber4 but is not adequately addressed by them.5 More recently, it has arisen explicitly in the later work of Bernard Williams, who resembles these earlier thinkers with regard to his basic approach to political philosophy.6 Yet Williams’s treatment of the subject is dense, brief, and at times obscure, and, although it is highly suggestive, more needs to be said and clarified if an adequate internalist account is to be had.7 A central aim of this essay is thus to say something more than Williams offers as well as to clarify some of what he did have to say—thus, I hope, making progress toward a more satisfactory account. But the stakes are higher than simply an interpretation of one recent prominent realist thinker and an attempt to extend his arguments. For it has been charged against the realist revival that insofar as realists deny that we must—and, indeed, often claim that we should not—posit prepolitical moral standards when developing a political theory that is appropriately responsive to what is politics mundanely speaking, in the process they L E G I T I M A C Y A N D D O M I N AT I O N

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forfeit the ability to engage in appropriately normative critique.8 That is (the charge runs), unless we have some independent prior moral standards, constraints, values, and so on, then we cannot truly engage in what political theory is for and about: not just the descriptive reporting of how politics is or might be, but the making of value judgments about not just what is but also what we ought to prefer to be—in turn providing potentially action-guiding implications for what we might do in the light of our critical reflections. This is a serious charge. If realism entails an incapacity to engage in genuine normative critique and has no way of making sense of how change might be advocated by those who come to view political arrangements critically and in turn call for their reform, then it will indeed be woefully deficient as political theory. Happily , however, the charge is misplaced. Realists are well positioned to explain how we can normatively criticize political practices and in turn use political theory not just to describe but to evaluate and perhaps even motivate if they employ the tools of internalist assessments of legitimacy that I outline and develop here.

Williams: The Basic Legitimation Demand and the Critical Theory Principle It is helpful to remind ourselves of the basic features of Williams’s political thought and why he came explicitly to consider the need for an internalist explanation of legitimacy. The following discussion is schematic as detailed substantiations are available in the secondary literature.9 For Williams, we begin with the “first political question,” which relates to the securing of “order, protection, safety, trust.” This question is “first” because “solving it is the condition of solving, indeed posing, any others.”10 Although Williams identifies this first question in “Hobbesian” terms, he distinguishes his own view from that of Thomas Hobbes, for whom pretty much any organized coercive imposition of order was ipso facto an improvement on the absence of order. For Williams (as for most others), this is not necessarily true in that some answers to the first question are worse than the problems they aim to solve: a reign of organized terror effectively becomes the problem that politics is meant to be a solution to and thus is not acceptable as a solution. For Williams, although it is a necessary condition of a state’s being considered legitimate that it solve the first political question, its doing so is not [ 116 ] PAU L S A G A R

sufficient. Identifying conditions of sufficiency meant introducing the idea of the basic legitimation demand (BLD). The BLD is best understood, in the first instance, as a way of delineating when politics, as opposed to mere warfare, is actually happening. In the case of warfare, one group (or groups) merely asserts power over another (or others) without giving reasons to those others, in terms that they are expected to accept, as to why they ought to consider that power as rightful. (This assertion of power without justification can be internally as well as externally realized, as when the Spartans claimed domination over the Helots but not in terms the latter were supposed to accept as making claims on them, meaning the Spartans and Helots were not in a genuinely political relationship with each other.) By contrast, when one group gives reasons in the expectation that the subordinated group ought to accept the power of the subordinating group as rightful, then politics has begun: the dominated group makes the BLD, and the dominators offer some kind of answer to it. Thus, “if the power of one lot of people over another is to represent a solution to the first political question, and not itself be part of the problem, something has to be said to explain (to the less empowered, to concerned bystanders, to children being educated in this structure, etc.) what the difference is between the solution and the problem, and that cannot simply be an account of successful domination.”11 It is an axiom of politics for Williams that might does not make right. In order to get to right, the BLD has to be made, and a response attempted. Once these two things occur, politics is happening. Yet in order for the given form of politics to be deemed legitimate, the answer to the BLD will have to be found acceptable by those to whom it is offered. Williams insists, however, that “we cannot say that it is either a necessary or sufficient condition of there being a (genuine) demand for justification, that someone demands one.”12 It is not sufficient because anyone can raise a demand based on a grievance, no matter how spurious, and the mere fact that some people don’t accept an answer to the BLD is not sufficient to show that the answer is therefore inadequate because those unsatisfied may be “anarchists, or utterly unreasonable, or bandits, or merely enemies.”13 As a consequence, whether the BLD is satisfied will not in practice be an all-or-nothing verdict (except perhaps in the most egregious cases of failure) but will instead be scalar, with judgment required as to whether the state in question can reasonably be said to be legitimate overall. As Matt Sleat has recently emphasized, even states considered legitimate overall will typically engage in the domination of some subordinated groups, who L E G I T I M A C Y A N D D O M I N AT I O N

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(rightfully) experience their domination as precisely that and in turn reject the legitimacy of the organized coercive power in question.14 Robert Jubb has similarly argued that the severely disadvantaged in modern liberal states are entitled to reject these states for failing to meet the BLD and that relevant observers should see the legitimacy of these states as impugned accordingly.15 An important upshot of Williams’s analysis, however, is that because legitimacy is scalar and its ascription dependent on judgment, it is quite coherent from his internalist perspective to say that the same state can be both legitimate and illegitimate to different groups of people at the same time. Indeed, this is one important way in which internalist views will tend to differ from externalist accounts, which typically posit that insofar as some key value or criteria is violated, then the state is rendered illegitimate simpliciter.16 But, for Williams, it is also not a necessary condition of there being a demand for justification that someone actually makes one, due to the possibility that people do not make such a demand precisely because they have been “drilled by coercive power itself into accepting its exercise.”17 This brings us to the concerns of this chapter regarding the generation of beliefs in legitimacy. Williams wishes to impose as a condition of acceptable satisfaction of the BLD that it meet “the critical theory principle, that the acceptance of a justification does not count if the acceptance itself is produced by the coercive power which is supposedly being justified.”18 Such a principle is necessary to defeat the crude slavery objection encountered earlier and thus to save Williams’s internalist theory from an apparently obvious and immediate inadequacy (although we shall consider in the next section how far the slavery model really gets us). But Williams further suggests that the “obvious truth” of the critical theory principle (CTP) “can be extended to the critique of less blatant cases.” However, “the difficulty” with the CTP relates to “making good on claims of false consciousness and the like . . . in deciding what counts as having been ‘produced by’ coercive power in the relevant sense.”19 Williams’s fullest discussion of the CTP occurs in his final monograph, Truth and Truthfulness. He there offers a more detailed articulation of the CTP by imagining a society where there is an unequal distribution of power: Suppose that of two parties in the society, one is advantaged over the other, in particular with respect to power; and suppose that there is [ 118 ] PAU L S A G A R

a story which is taken to legitimate this distribution, a story which is at least professed by the advantaged party and is generally accepted by the disadvantaged; and suppose the basic cause of the fact that the disadvantaged accept the story, and hence the system, is the power of the advantaged party; then the fact that they accept the system does not actually legitimate it, and pro tanto the distribution is unjust.20 Williams goes on to state that in “any interesting case these parties (it is of course a simplification that there are only two of them) will be classes, social orders, or some such formation; very notably, they may be the two genders [sic].”21 In any case, his focus is on cases where the legitimation story is “ ‘generally accepted’ by the disadvantaged party,” covering the “standard case, in which most of them mostly accept it,” perhaps grumbling about the inequalities of power but nonetheless accepting its general legitimation, bringing up their children to accept it, and so on.22 In such cases, when can we say that the CTP is relevant (or not) and that belief in legitimacy is to be accepted (or impugned) from an internalist perspective? According to Williams, the CTP must address two concerns if it is to be an adequate tool of understanding: “What is the content of the causal claim, and what is its critical force?”23 The first issue relates to being able to make a respectable claim regarding how the power of one causes belief in another. Although making this claim is easy in simplistic fantasy cases such as those in Brave New World and 1984 and novels like them, in real cases some plausible causal explanation in respectable social scientific terms must be supplied, or else the CTP will simply register an unproved and potentially false hypothesis about the illegitimacy of social orders owing to the acceptance of beliefs simply under certain social pressures. The second issue concerns a “genetic fallacy objection,” such that just because some belief was caused in some way, it does not automatically become illegitimate or discredited as such: some additional reason(s) must be given for thinking that evaluative reappraisal is required in the light of genetic factors. Williams is particularly sensitive to this point because his CTP is centrally concerned with power, specifically how it brings about beliefs, but he recognizes that power will always be present in the creation of beliefs for socially embedded subjects. The CTP must be able to discriminate between normatively unproblematic cases such as those of education— where the power of the teacher is used directly and indirectly to educate the pupils—and the problematic cases it is designed to impugn. Sensitive L E G I T I M A C Y A N D D O M I N AT I O N

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to this issue, Williams suggests a truth-focused method of internal critical evaluation targeted at the proper formation of beliefs. Williams attempts to make good on the CTP via the formulation of a “critical theory test.” This begins by asking of a belief held by a group, “If they were to understand properly how they came to hold this belief, would they give it up?” Williams then moves through a process—an “artificial rationalization, but something like it does actually happen on a social scale”—by which members of the group might come to assess whether they “understand properly” why they hold their beliefs. Williams aims to show that if a disadvantaged group comes to identify some more advantaged group, “the instructors,” as the cause of their beliefs, but without any independent reason for those beliefs to be taken as true, then the legitimacy of the instructors’ authority is ipso facto called into question. In turn, if “the process of instruction” becomes deprived of any claim to authority in this way, it will soon “appear as an exercise of power and not much else.” Indeed, the “more the instructors . . . resist the objections to the status quo, as they no doubt will, the more obvious it becomes that the system is unjust in the most basic terms, an exercise of unmediated power. To the extent that it is defended by overt coercion, this is what it will have become. But there is good reason to say also that this is what it always was.”24 Williams’s discussion of the CTP is explicitly indebted to the tradition of critical theory and in particular to the idea of false consciousness and its overcoming. Indeed, his formulations appear particularly dependent on the explication of Frankfurt School approaches provided by Raymond Geuss in The Idea of a Critical Theory, although Williams purposefully distances himself from the idealist, Kantian strand (exemplified by Jürgen Habermas), which identifies agents’ coming to reject illegitimately formed beliefs with the identification of true beliefs as they would be formed in an ideal speech situation entirely free of coercion and governed only by norms of free discussion. Nonetheless and despite diverging from Geuss’s reconstruction of the core aspects of Frankfurt critical theory in several ways (some of which I consider later), Williams shares with this approach an emphasis on (1) unacceptable power (or Herrschaft) as being what is objectionable in the formation of problematic beliefs, (2) the interest that some subjugated group has in being enlightened about its true condition, and (3) the coming to recognize or know of the presence of illegitimate power and the suppression of interests as emancipatory in its motivational tendency insofar as knowing (1) and (2) gives one reasons to want change to occur (even if one is [ 120 ] PAU L S A G A R

not able to actually bring it about or cannot expect that others will be able to either). Having recapitulated Williams’s position, we can next move beyond his discussion and get clearer on what the CTP needs to do on an adequate internalist approach. In the next section, I consider cases when the CTP is not required and in the succeeding section examine cases where its invocation will be appropriate, but I also ask what exactly we need the principle to do.

Imaginary Slaves, Natural Authority, and Known Domination The intuitive power of the happy-slaves example with which we began lies in the apparently obvious requirement that an internalist account be able to address such cases, or else the account will ipso facto be inadequate. But to what extent does this requirement hold? Two considerations are relevant here. First, that such examples are only ever imaginary. Second, that even in the imaginary cases it is easy to say what is going wrong. The first consideration matters insofar as internalist accounts of legitimacy are offered as attempts to explain real processes of politics as actually experienced by human beings. Although it is a fair conceptual point that a theory of legitimacy that says simply “legitimacy is whatever people think it is and nothing more” is inadequate, and the example of the slaves can help to bring out why, this objection is hardly of a particularly important sort because we know that human beings simply are not easily or straightforwardly manipulated into believing in the legitimacy of rulers through processes of conscious deception. Fantasy examples such as 1984 and Brave New World are precisely that, fantasy: the causal mechanisms (drugs, propaganda, surveillance, etc.) by which compliance and belief in legitimacy are secured are imaginary. In the real world, the causal efficacy of such techniques is far lower than would be required to generate the results depicted in fiction. But even when we remain at the level of hypotheticals, the answer to what is wrong with such cases can easily be supplied from the most basic and minimalist tenets of critical theory, such as those adopted by Williams and which anybody else may help themselves to without further conceptual baggage. Namely, it is easy to say what is wrong with the happy-slave L E G I T I M A C Y A N D D O M I N AT I O N

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cases by imagining what the slaves themselves would come to think if freed from the power of their master and given adequate information to make an independent assessment of their situation. (We might also consider how slave societies really have been experienced by both slaves and their masters. There are obvious reasons that the Romans didn’t let the slaves dress alike—the most important being that they would discover their numbers.) Freeing the happy slaves from Herrschaft need not necessarily posit their adoption of an “ideal” situation of perfect knowledge (as more elaborate and ambitious versions of critical theory suggest25) but simply a modest set of assumptions about whether the slaves would be content to endorse their situation if they knew it for what it really was. Assuming that they wouldn’t be content—they are, after all, slaves—we can say easily what is wrong with any precritical belief of theirs that their situation is legitimate: that they themselves would reject such beliefs if properly informed about how their situation serves to promote the interest of another group (or groups) at their expense and has no justification other than in relation to that other group’s interests. So the internalist should not worry about happy-slave-type cases: the action is elsewhere. The interesting question, we can agree with Williams, is whether the basic insights of a minimalist critical theory can be extended to “less-blatant” cases. Yet to know whether it can be it is necessary to be clear on which of the “less-blatant” cases call for invocation of the CTP and which do not. The following considerations are pertinent. It is important to note that the mere presence of power inequalities, status hierarchies, and uneven distributions of burdens and benefits in a society does not automatically indicate that those subject to these inequalities must be deceived about their nature and accept them only because they hold beliefs that are the product of power and that they themselves would abandon if more fully informed. This point is stressed by Hume and Smith, who emphasize the importance of natural authority in explaining large-scale human associations run on hierarchical lines and exhibiting stratifications of power and status.26 Although it may be an uncomfortable fact for many left-leaning egalitarian political philosophers, it is an observable truth that human beings have a predilection for deferring to authority, frequently generated by apparently nonrational sources, identified, for example, by Smith as including superiority of abilities, age, wealth, and hereditary descent and explained by both Hume and Smith as originating in the human capacity to share affective sentiments and in turn the tendency to admire and [ 122 ] PAU L S A G A R

esteem rather than to hate and resent the rich and powerful.27 For present purposes, the important thing to note is that an internalist account of legitimacy should not posit that simply because there is political, social, or economic inequality, the belief in the legitimacy of this state of affairs by those who are subject to it is necessarily unacceptably formed. Insofar as many human beings willingly submit to the power and authority of others, even when their material interests are harmed or retarded by that state of affairs (think, for example, of the mania in the United Kingdom—or for that matter and even more bizarrely in the United States—surrounding British royal weddings), and would continue to do so even if “fully informed” about their own interests and how their beliefs came about (which, indeed, they may already be), then that legitimacy is genuine, even if it offends the sensibilities of egalitarian observers. However, we also must not assume that simply because resistance is not manifest and acquiescence to a regime or power structure is openly observed that a claim of legitimacy is therefore recognized and granted by a relevant subject population. The absence of open organized dissent is not a reliable indicator of legitimacy. Yet we can often say why without invoking the CTP. Particularly helpful here is James C. Scott’s work on identifying and explaining resistance among subordinated groups in societies where there are severe inequalities of power, some are explicitly dominated by others, and yet open resistance is not practiced. In this regard, Scott’s distinction between the “public transcript” and the “hidden transcript” of power is illuminating.28 The “public transcript” refers to the interactions that take place in sight of both dominators and the subordinated. In this arena, both sides will normally observe the rituals, practices, modes of address, social roles, and so on that their group standing assigns to them. Those who are in a position of subordination will adopt the practices of deference, humility, subservience, and so on (varying with context-dependent social formations and locations) that the dominators demand, and the reason for this is obvious: if they do not, they will be liable to retaliation from those who hold power, which can be severe, potentially even life threatening. But away from the eyes of dominators (who in public must also engage as their societal roles demand), the dominated are more or less free (depending on varying levels of control and opportunity) to engage in a hidden transcript with those who are in a like situation. The existence of the hidden transcript allows the dominated to air grievances, experience solidarity, and L E G I T I M A C Y A N D D O M I N AT I O N

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privately (i.e., in conditions of relative safety) denounce the dominators’ activities and ultimately their power and status. As Scott says, “To put it crudely, it would ordinarily be suicide for serfs to set about to murder their lords[;] . . . it is, however, plausible for them to imagine and talk about such aspirations providing they are discrete about it.”29 The important upshot of Scott’s distinction for present purposes is that insofar as the dominated possess a “hidden” transcript regarding their attitudes to power, then the real lived psychology of the subordinated is far richer than superficial observation would indicate. Insofar as the subordinated possess opportunities to discourse with each other away from the eyes and ears of superiors—and any actual society outside of fantasies of totalitarian control must give rise to such opportunities—then the hidden transcript will enable rejection of the legitimacy of the dominators’ power. Insofar as a subordinated group recognizes itself to be subordinated, the existence of the hidden transcript provides opportunities for rejecting—even if only internally, mentally—the legitimacy of the powerful. Crucially, however, the hidden transcript is hidden. The historical record—at least if the subordinated have done a good job of staying concealed in the service of their own self-protection—will typically show marks of this transcript only at those relatively infrequent times when it erupts into public view. This invisibility in the record can make it appear as though subordinated populations are quietly acquiescing in their subordination. But appearances are deceptive. “To conclude,” cautions Scott, “that slaves, serfs, peasants, untouchables, and other subordinate groups are ethically submissive merely because their protests and claims conform to the proprieties of the dominant class they are challenging would be a serious analytical error.”30 Furthermore, it is also worth noting that many regimes that ape the outward trappings of legitimacy are in fact engaged in purposeful performances of power employed as mechanisms for controlling subject populations via a mere simulacrum of freely given acquiescence—and that everybody involved knows this to be the case. This type of case is brought out, for example, in Lisa Wedeen’s study of Syria under Hafiz al-Assad. Simply because the subject population of Syria outwardly affirmed that al-Assad was the savior of the nation (and also, as it happened, Syria’s “premier pharmacist” who “[knew] all things about all issues”), it did not follow that either the ruled or the ruler(s) really believed this or that the latter actually wanted the former to. Rather, in al-Assad’s Syria, not only was it “impossible not to experience the difference between what social scientists, [ 124 ] PAU L S A G A R

following Max Weber, might conceive as a charismatic, loyalty-producing regime and its anxiety-inducing simulacrum,” but the continuous performance also was not intended to achieve genuine legitimacy at all. What was intended was “a strategy of domination based on compliance rather than legitimacy . . . through enforced participation in rituals of obeisance that are transparently phony both to those who orchestrate them and to those who consume them.”31 Wedeen’s point generalizes beyond Syria and is relevant to a great many oppressive regimes that have disingenuously aped the trappings of legitimacy and that are easily identified as having done so. Given these points, therefore, in a great many cases we can say that a regime either possesses or lacks legitimacy without needing to invoke the CTP at all, simply by paying attention to how subject populations actually view rulers and institutional systems of domination and/or power (although looking beneath immediate performances and affirmations may be required). There may often be no work for the CTP to do either because (as in Hume and Smith “natural-authority” cases) a subject population is freely acquiescing to inequalities of power through processes of willing subjection to established authority or (as in Scott- or Wedeen-type cases) because in conditions of actual domination the ruled aren’t deluded about their situation and do not believe in the legitimacy of their rulers anyway, even if they have to act outwardly as though they do. However, it is worth noting the consequences for Williams’s position. Williams is explicit that although liberalism is the only form of rule that satisfies the BLD and is thus legitimate, he affirms that for people like us “now and around here” there manifestly have been and maybe still are nonliberal societies that are legitimate insofar as they satisfy the BLD on relevant local criteria.32 Past forms of society—such as theocracies in which power distributions and claims to authority were justified by appeal to divine law—may no longer be acceptable to us because the legitimation stories they relied upon no longer “make sense” insofar as we have repudiated (for example) the theistic outlook that made them intelligible. But in the past and insofar as such outlooks widely obtained, such legitimations did “make sense,” and, hence, nonliberal but legitimate states have previously existed. This necessarily follows as a matter of the logic of Williams’s position regarding the BLD and the first political question. But what we must guard against is the simplifying assumption that people in past societies were typically more easily reconciled to conditions of domination than we are now—say, by invoking the vague notion of theocratic authority (or L E G I T I M A C Y A N D D O M I N AT I O N

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something similar). Following Scott and Wedeen, we may come to suspect that a great many human societies have not satisfied the BLD even on the local, nonliberal conditions, for the basic reason that human beings tend to know pretty well when they are being dominated and tend not to approve of that domination (even if they cannot actively or openly enact resistance). As a result, there may turn out to be more of a connection between legitimacy and liberalism on Williams’s own position than some of his political writings appear to suggest. For although it does not follow that only liberalism is legitimate as a form of politics because of some moral or metaphysical criteria that the theorist delineates from the armchair, it may nonetheless be the case that liberal societies are far more likely to meet the BLD (on any standard) because they are less likely to engage in systematic domination than are their alternatives (both present and historical). As a result, however, and given the relatively recent rise of liberal modes of politics, the world may historically have contained fewer legitimate political orders than Williams suggests, and thus the widespread emergence of legitimate states may be a relatively recent phenomenon. The extent to which this is true, though, can be determined only by empirical evaluation—that is to say, via careful historical analysis. Interestingly, such considerations may nonetheless strengthen another of Williams’s suggestions—namely, that the CTP might be mobilized to discredit nonliberal forms of political organization and thus may represent “one of liberalism’s most powerful weapons, because it does not depend on merely asserting liberalism’s own set of values against a rival set but mobilizes the values of truth in a distinctive political interest.”33 The idea here is that because the CTP privileges truth in assessing whether a belief is acceptably or unacceptably formed by power, then the CTP will be particularly effective against regimes that suppress truth with the aim of securing domination that would be rejected by agents’ own lights if they knew how things really were. This point may be developed as follows. Insofar as truth and truthfulness are connected to a reduction in domination and cruelty, and liberalism is connected to the promotion of truth and truthfulness, then liberalism turns out to have a special connection to legitimacy (at least vis-à-vis its historical and contemporary rivals, if not versus impossible imaginary utopias). That is, liberalism emerges as exhibiting a particular and desirable relationship to legitimacy not because of any metaphysical or moral superiority as such but because it is good at securing the avoidance of political evils associated with domination and cruelty. This is [ 126 ] PAU L S A G A R

not a coincidence but a function of liberalism’s being a form of politics that more than other experienced regime forms protects the virtues of truth and truthfulness. As a result, considerations of legitimacy dovetail directly with Williams’s advocacy of “the liberalism of fear” as the proper basis of the superiority and desirability of liberalism.34

Problematic Beliefs: When the Critical Theory Principle Is Required Although the CTP may often not be required when assessing the (il)legitimacy of a political situation, there nonetheless exist cases when beliefs are problematically formed, and a minimalist critical theory along the line of Williams’s is helpful for making progress with regard to identifying what is going wrong. Two sorts of cases help to bring out this connection. These cases are imaginary idealizations, but are instructive so long as we bear in mind the injunctions of the previous section: in real cases look carefully, beneath the surface. Imagine, first, the case of a group of villagers who defer to the authority of the local priest because they hold certain beliefs about religion (which tell them, in particular, to do as the priest says) but who hold these religious beliefs only because the priest and his ilk have inculcated it in them from a young age.35 Or consider, second, what we might call a “total” patriarchal society in which all members of each gender (assuming for simplicity that there are only two) subscribe entirely to the prevalent gender norms. No external influences challenging those norms have yet been encountered or internally posited, and everybody—let us fancifully suppose—is happy with his or her assigned gender role. Nonetheless, those roles are characterized by deep inequality, with burdens and advantages distributed unequally along gendered lines. These unequal distributions are accepted by those who suffer them—let us assume, rather less fancifully, that those who are subordinated are the women—because this state of affairs seems natural or inevitable or some mixture of both (“This is just how things have to be, how they have always been”). But, then, these inequalities seem natural or inevitable only because nothing else has ever been experienced, posited, or considered, and the present structure of gender-based power ensures that nothing else is allowed to come up for consideration. L E G I T I M A C Y A N D D O M I N AT I O N

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These examples are of course severe simplifications: no real society or human experience will ever be so easily characterized, especially regarding the causal mechanism by which belief is formed by structures of power. Nonetheless, they seem appropriate targets for the CTP. What, specifically, ought we to say about them? First, some terminological housekeeping. In discussions of defective political belief formation, the terms false consciousness and ideology are sometimes used interchangeably.36 Yet false consciousness appears inappropriate in the cases we have just described because it is unclear what, if anything, is false in the consciousness of the villagers or the women (or for that matter of the priest or the men). Raised in a world in which people’s identities are tightly constructed by the structures of power under which they live, their consciousness can be considered “false” only as compared either to some “true” self that is taken somehow to stand in the (metaphysical?) background waiting to be released or unveiled or to some idealized true personality that would come into being if exposed to the “right” political circumstances, whatever they happen to be, and even if the oppressed individuals have no prospect of ever living under such conditions. I take it that both of these options are implausible, especially when we grant the truth of a high degree of social construction in explaining and understanding why and how people are who they are.37 As a result, the term false consciousness is a misleading way of engaging the relevant issues. What is at stake is not truth or falsity but the normative acceptability of certain states of belief and attendant understandings of how agents should be and act in given social and political structures.38 Happily, we can make better recourse in this respect to the language of ideology, abandoning false consciousness. As Sally Haslanger makes clear, ideology in itself is not necessarily problematic when understood in a “descriptive” sense as “[a] representation[] of social life that serve[s] in some way to undergird social practices.” Ideology is ubiquitous for human beings precisely because “we are not simply cogs in structures and practices of subordination, we enact them. And something about how we represent the world is both a constitutive part of that enactment and keeps it going.” In this sense, all human beings, living as they must in cultures and societies and hence under structures of power and surveillance, are possessed of ideology, which is “pervasive and unavoidable.” Yet this descriptive sense can be contrasted with a “pejorative” understanding that refers “to representations of the relevant sort that are somehow misguided, for example, by [ 128 ] PAU L S A G A R

being contrary to the real interests of an agent or group of agents.”39 Agreeing with Haslanger that we can think of ideology in general as “an element in a social system that contributes to its survival and yet that is susceptible to change through some form of cognitive critique,”40 we can see that it is specifically pejorative ideology that is impugned by the CTP and that ought to be focused upon accordingly. The cases of the religious villagers and women under total patriarchy help to illustrate this point. What is wrong with their (pejorative) ideology in these cases—what makes it normatively objectionable—is precisely that it is brought about by power that we have good reason to suspect the villagers and the women might themselves come to reject if they knew that they believe what they believe only because of the very powers that are being legitimated. In turn, they would likely come also to see that insofar as their interests are being harmed by the present arrangement, then they ipso facto have reasons (if not necessarily decisive ones) to desire change. This last point brings us to the question of emancipatory potential. Here an important difference must be noted between Williams’s approach and that given by Geuss in his reconstruction of Frankfurt-style critical theory. As will be recalled, Williams introduced the idea of a “critical theory test” to help illustrate cases where oppressed individuals might come to question the status of their beliefs, in particular coming to see them as formed by unacceptable power and hence repudiating them accordingly. On Williams’s presentation, the critical theory test is explicitly an “artificial rationalization” of processes that individuals are conceived of as undertaking independently, via their own critical engagements in situations of political evaluation and contestation. Geuss’s characterization, by contrast, presents critical theory as itself necessarily generating an effect that “is supposed to be emancipation and enlightenment.”41 On this view, full knowledge of the critical theory is supposed to rationally compel individuals to reject structures of power that they previously believed to be legitimate as a necessary consequence of having demystified themselves as to the real causes of their beliefs by coming to see them as the product of Herrschaft. Yet, as Geuss makes clear, it is remarkably difficult to make good on this strong claim of the inherently emancipatory tendency of critical theory, requiring as it must a great many controversial assumptions about the nature of critical theory itself (in particular as contrasted with scientific theory), the way in which human agents can be rationally compelled, the epistemic worldview that must be presupposed, the ways in which agents L E G I T I M A C Y A N D D O M I N AT I O N

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can be said to understand their own interests, and what it would mean for them to definitely know what their beliefs and interests would be if free from Herrschaft.42 Fortunately, however, it seems that the internalist theorist needs only something like Williams’s position in order to attempt to explicate adequately the content of political legitimacy and to do so without excess Frankfurtian baggage. For the internalist need only try and make a reasonable set of assumptions about why people believe what they believe and whether they would continue to believe this same thing if they knew where their beliefs (actually) come from. Once that is done, the internalist can pass judgment on a relevant situation when attempting to say whether it represents a case of genuine legitimacy or not. It is likely that in real-life cases there will be considerable ambiguity and indeterminacy as to whether legitimacy can be said to genuinely obtain or not, and we may only be able to say in principle what would count as cases of genuine legitimacy, while finding real-life cases much more difficult to adjudicate. The internalist may not be able to be more specific than this—but, then, it is not clear why she should need or want to be more specific. Real-life cases will vary in complexity, and, anyway, real emancipation will need to be achieved by the actual people living in relevant cases. If we abandon (as we should) the vain (in both senses) hope that it is philosophers alone who will do the emancipating of these people by simply telling them, from the armchair, that their beliefs are malformed, then the internalist theorist’s task may accordingly be accepted as the suitably modest (and yet difficult enough) one of being able to explain what is going on in the world and why some of what is going on is normatively acceptable and some of it is not. As it happens, however, we can actually go beyond this and admit into the internalist picture the fact that philosophical critique need not confine itself only to “artificial rationalizations,” while stopping short of the “inherently emancipatory” ambitions of Frankfurt-style approaches. Although we shouldn’t go as far as Geuss’s reconstruction of what the Frankfurt School claims critical theory can do, we ought also and nonetheless to go beyond what Williams suggested. In this regard, Haslanger’s work is again instructive. Articulating a more moderate vision of critical theory than that depicted by Geuss, Haslanger identifies a critical theory as one that is “situated” both epistemically and politically.43 That is, while a critical theory must aspire to describe the world accurately and is subject to the norms of truthful inquiry that govern other kinds of empirical research, it is also in the [ 130 ] PAU L S A G A R

business of effecting political change in the name of certain causes, and hence the epistemic focus will be tailored to bring about political goals (ideally to assist the emancipation of a subjugated group). As a result, in assessing a critical theory, we must ask not only whether it accurately reports the world (which includes socially constituted phenomena) but also whether it has successful practical payouts in terms of promoting emancipatory change. Given that the purpose of critical theory is both epistemic and political, a critical theory that achieves the former but not the latter is inherently lacking in some way (although exactly how and why it is lacking will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis). Importantly, Haslanger stresses that such a critical theory is not the preserve of an intellectual elite because “anyone can engage in critique,” although it may be the case that the critical theory is strengthened by the contributions of intellectuals, who help give sharper or more compelling articulation to arguments for what is wrong with a present distribution of power and by extension for why belief in that power’s legitimacy is unacceptable.44 Looking at things this way helpfully breaks down an artificial and unnecessary divide between theorists and practitioners when it comes to thinking about the role of critical theory. On the one hand, it allows us to move beyond dubious visions of a critical theory as inherently the source of emancipation (the implausible picture depicted by Geuss). On the other, the relegation of theoretical thinking simply to reconstructing what nontheorists allegedly do for themselves in isolation is also avoided (a relegation that Williams essentially confined himself to). The result is a more realistic picture of how arguments for social change are developed and deployed in processes of political contestation, where social and political structures are critiqued using vocabularies that draw upon (as well as contributing to) theoretic and abstract analyses. Unlike Geuss, who articulates a vision of critical theory as inherently emancipatory, Haslanger is clear that it does not follow that a good critical theory must necessarily enlighten and emancipate those who are its target and are accordingly exposed to it. Although a critical theory “must be judged, in part, by its practical pay-off,” nonetheless “critique may fail to garner broad endorsement not because the theory itself is unacceptable or because the inquirers are epistemically at fault, but because the social context does not provide for ways of being that are necessary in order to find value in the critique.”45 More generally, there may be many different kinds of critical theory aimed at many different kinds of injustice, and L E G I T I M A C Y A N D D O M I N AT I O N

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these theories will vary in their efficacy and adequacy according to both the quality of each theory and the conditions to which it is being applied. For example, the ways our hypothetical villagers might be brought to criticize the priest’s authority will be different to the ways in which women in the “total” patriarchy come to reject and resist that social structure, not least because the differing nature of the belief formations and social legitimations in play will make for differing capacities (and willingness) to reject (or to go on endorsing) the old order if or when its true nature becomes apparent. The same will also be true within groups, not just between them. History offers ample evidence that individuals of the same group (either “villagers” or “women”) can respond in very different ways to exposure to facts that challenge (for example) religious authority or patriarchy— which is one reason why both institutions persist in the real world in varying forms throughout the West and beyond, long after processes of critique have been applied to them and made available to (many of ) the relevant subject populations. Finally, we can take from Haslanger a sense of the purpose of a moderate critical theory (i.e., one that accepts that although emancipation may be the goal, it is not a guaranteed outcome) and join it to a sense of justified optimism regarding the capacity for some theory to interact successfully with the goal of improving practice. Haslanger suggests that “social critique is a process of rethinking the practices that we constitute partly through our thinking, of trying out new responses to the world in place of the old responses that have come to seem problematic. The task is to situate ourselves differently in the world, not just to describe it more accurately.”46 One way of situating ourselves and others differently in the world is to ask if we and others would continue to believe what we do if we knew the truth—and, just as importantly, were being truthful with ourselves—about why we believe what we do and then change our views and practices accordingly. Insofar as philosophers and other academic theorists can help others who engage in social struggles to do this and to see the truth better, then the internalist theorist can aspire to do more than simply provide “artificial rationalizations” of processes of critique that happen in the real world. We may be able to help improve and strengthen those critiques not just for ourselves but also on behalf of others. After all, in recent history some critical theories have proved remarkably effective in securing change and have benefited directly from the support lent to them by academic, in some cases philosophical, argument. “Clear examples,” states Haslanger, [ 132 ] PAU L S A G A R

“include critical reframing of marital rape, domestic violence, hate speech, and sexual harassment. These are cases in which feminist critique has been incorporated into law.”47 Although it is wise to be skeptical of the power of philosophy all by itself for effecting change in the real world, the power of philosophy may not be inconsiderable if it is put to the service of making clear when domination is occurring and why the dominated should (and maybe thereby will) come to repudiate their domination. As Geuss reminds us, it does not follow that objectionable power structures will simply or automatically cease to exist simply because (some section of ) the subjugated population repudiates these structures’ legitimacy, not least because those who benefit from such structures and are in positions of power have a strong vested interest in blocking change.48 Nonetheless, insofar as change is the desired outcome, the withdrawal of support by those who previously acquiesced unquestioningly to structures they now find objectionable may be a vital step in enabling change to come about.

Conclusion: A Realistic Fable? By way of conclusion, I want to ask what, if anything, is necessarily missing from an internalist theory of legitimacy as I have tried more fully to explicate it here. Answering this question can be attempted by taking one of our earlier examples—that of “total patriarchy”—and imagining how such a society might undergo normatively approvable change. The following is a fable, but a potentially instructive one. We can imagine change in both normative evaluation and perhaps in turn wider political structure coming about in our “total” patriarchy in at least two ways. First, the society may come into contact with outside values held by some other society that is not (or is at least less) patriarchal and where women experience a greater range of advantages and equalities. Knowledge that such a society exists would help (at least for the relatively open-minded) to dislodge belief in the naturalness and/or inevitability of the “total” patriarchy. Contact with such outside values, however, would immediately render them candidate inside values: “If they have that there, why can’t we have it here?” In this way, change may come about due to contact with different ways of organizing society, the sheer knowledge that difference is practically possible leading to the invalidation of inequalities previously legitimated through a belief in their necessity or naturalness. L E G I T I M A C Y A N D D O M I N AT I O N

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But it is also possible to conceive of change arising from within such a society even though there is no external prompt. For example, imagine that after a period of economic development some women in the “total” patriarchy are freed from onerous laboring and have more time to contemplate the dynamics of their society. In so doing, they perform an internal evaluative critique and ask, for example, if the principle “only equals should be treated equally” in fact supports the present distribution of advantages. If thinking carefully and truthfully about how their society is organized, they will conclude that the principle does not support such a distribution because all of the putative distinctions between men and women that supposedly legitimate their different treatment are at best misconceptions and falsehoods and at worst lies and fraud.49 Once they come to that realization, the standard internal to the “total” patriarchy—treat equals as equals—can be turned against the patriarchy by asserting the truth that men and women are not on any truthful metric unequal as such. Certainly, practical—that is, political—battles will have to be fought not only to prove this truth but also to have it accepted and have institutions reformed in light of that acceptance. We can imagine various philosophically inclined thinkers, in waging those battles, trying to articulate more exact statements of what is wrong with the patriarchal form of social organization and see these statements as being of help to those who wish to better understand their own rejection of the prevailing patriarchal norms as well as emancipating and enlightening others who may not have yet begun the process. This fable is, of course, a simplification (not least because both the “internal” and “external” critiques will in reality intermingle over time). Nonetheless, I believe it approximates a basically correct explanation of how women have, to greater and lesser degrees, begun to escape from patriarchy across the globe in recent human history. But if so, what, if anything, is the internalist theorist of legitimacy missing? We can say why the “total” patriarchy was not genuinely legitimate before the process of emancipation began (and may indeed continue not to be for a long time after). And we can explain processes of change as arising from within that society in various ways, some of which may be assisted by theoretical or abstract contributions. What we don’t seem to need is any appeal to moral values that exist independently of the ideas that are actually available or that could through some fairly straightforward critical internal reflections become available to those individuals who inhabit the societies in question (remembering

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the point that contact with initially “outside” values held by some other society immediately makes them candidate “inside” values). If we assume (as seems plausible) that we can put the necessary detail into our fable and make it something like a real history, is the internalist missing anything at all? If not, might an internalist perspective—at least one properly worked out and built up beyond the mere sketch I have offered here—turn out to be everything that we need? At this point, we can finally make explicit the connection between what I have been calling an internalist theory of legitimacy and a “realistic” approach to politics, as indicated at the outset. A basic objection to internalist approaches, as to realist ones, is that they cannot provide adequate standards by which to judge whether legitimacy does or does not obtain because without some external moral standard to act as a final site of adjudication, the reasoning brought to bear must inevitably either beg the question or be secretly dependent on a prior moral standard. The implication is that morality must, after all, be made prior to politics. Thus, the common charge against internalism is the same as that made against realism (and this is likely not a coincidence; they may ultimately turn out to be much the same thing): both are nonstarters insofar as they do not begin from a prior and independent moral standard. One thing I hope to have shown in this essay, by a somewhat different route than is commonly taken, is that this is simply not true. Realists who are prepared to endorse the sort of internalist view of legitimacy I have sketched here can in turn disregard the accusation that denying the necessity of a prior, independent moral standard when it comes to the assessment of political questions leaves realists with something less than political theory fully conceived.50 Normative critique is not the preserve of moralist political theory, and to suppose otherwise is either to beg the question as to what such critique must consist in or to engage (consciously or not) in a form of unjustified intellectual imperialism about who gets to do what and why. Internalist accounts of legitimacy have more going for them than might initially be supposed, and a direct consequence of this is that internalists— like realists—need not feel put on the back foot in terms of either explaining or advocating social and political change when faced with externalist critics who claim that these things can be done only if bringing to bear moral values that are somehow prior to real practices of politics. On the contrary, when we come to see how much the internalist can account for,


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we may rather come to wonder what distinctive contribution the externalist is supposed to be making and if that isn’t simply surplus to requirements.51

Notes 1. For examples of what I have in mind by externalist accounts, see Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism (New York: Harper, 1970); A. John Simmons, “Justification and Legitimacy,” in Justification and Legitimacy: Essays on Rights and Obligations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 122–57. 2. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. David F. Norton and Mary J. Norton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 342–62. 3. Adam Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence, ed. R. L. Meek, D. D. Raphael, and P. G. Stein (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 312–30, 401–37. 4. Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (1948; reprint, Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 1991), 77–128. 5. David Beetham, The Legitimation of Power (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1991); Paul Sagar, “The State Without Sovereignty: Authority and Obligation in Hume’s Political Philosophy,” History of Political Thought 37, no. 2 (2016): 271–305. 6. Edward Hall, “Bernard Williams and the Basic Legitimation Demand: A Defense,” Political Studies 63, no. 2 (2015): 475; Geoffrey Hawthorn, introduction to Bernard Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), xii. 7. The sense of the term internalist I am using here, to describe a position in political philosophy in relation especially to legitimacy, is not the same as that which Williams used with relation to moral motivation (“Internal and External Reasons,” in Moral Luck [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981], 101–13); the two senses are, however, related to one another in important ways. 8. This is the raw impulse behind—if not the exact articulation of—many of the earliest responses to Williams’s political theory. For example, Matt Sleat, “Bernard Williams and the Possibility of a Realist Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 485–50; Jonathan Floyd, “From Historical Contextualism, to Mentalism, to Behaviourism,” in Political Theory Versus History? Contextualism and Real Politics in Contemporary Political Thought, ed. Jonathan Floyd and Marc Stears (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 38–64; Michael Freeden, “Interpretative Realism and [ 136 ] PAU L S A G A R


10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.



28. 29.

Prescriptive Realism,” Journal of Political Ideologies 17, no. 1 (2012): 1–11; Charles Larmore, “What Is Political Philosophy?” Journal of Moral Philosophy 10, no. 3 (2013): 276–306. For a reply to these attacks on Williams’s behalf, see Hall, “Bernard Williams.” See, for example, Hall, “Bernard Williams”; Edward Hall, “Contingency, Confidence, and Liberalism in the Political Thought of Bernard Williams,” Social Theory and Practice 40, no. 4 (2014): 545–69; and Paul Sagar, “From Skepticism to Liberalism: Bernard Williams, the Foundations of Liberalism, and Political Realism,” Political Studies 64, no. 2 (2016): 368–84. Bernard Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 3. Ibid., 5, italics in original. Ibid., 6. Bernard Williams, “Toleration, a Political or Moral Question?” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 136. Matt Sleat, Liberal Realism: A Realist Theory of Liberal Politics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 45–52. Robert Jubb, “The Real Value of Equality,” Journal of Politics 77, no. 3 (2015): 679–91. Hall, “Bernard Williams,” 473. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 6. Ibid. Ibid. Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 221. Ibid., 222. Ibid. Ibid., 224. Ibid., 227–29, 230. For example, as explicated in Raymond Geuss, The Idea of a Critical Theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt School (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 55–75. Hume, Treatise, 342–62; Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. R. L. Meek, D. D. Raphael, and P. G. Stein (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 708–23. Sagar, “The State Without Sovereignty”; Michael Rosen, On Voluntary Servitude: False Consciousness and the Theory of Ideology (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996), 95–99, 115–29. James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 1–17. Ibid., 91. L E G I T I M A C Y A N D D O M I N AT I O N

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30. Ibid., 92. 31. Lisa Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1990), 3, 6. 32. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 7–11. We need not invoke an especially taxing understanding of liberalism; Williams’s capacious formulation of it as a form of society that “aims to combine the rule of law with a liberty more extensive than in most earlier societies, a disposition to toleration, and a commitment to some kinds of equality” will suffice (Truth and Truthfulness, 264). 33. Williams, Truth and Truthfulness, 219–20. 34. Judith Shklar, “The Liberalism of Fear,” in Liberalism and the Moral Life, ed. Nancy Rosenblum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 21–39; Sagar, “From Skepticism to Liberalism.” 35. Note that the priest may believe everything he teaches the villagers; we need not suppose that those in positions of power purposefully set out to deceive and manipulate subordinates—they may wholeheartedly believe in the legitimacy of the social order. 36. See, for example, Geuss, Idea of a Critical Theory, and Rosen, On Voluntary Servitude. 37. On this social construction explanation, see especially Clare Chambers, Sex, Culture, and Justice: The Limits of Choice (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008). 38. This remains true even though it may feel and seem to an emancipated villager or woman that he or she previously labored under a falsity and has now been delivered unto truth. What has really occurred is a process of change, whereby one’s identity evolves and repudiates what one earlier was rather than moving from a “false” consciousness to a “true” one. 39. Sally Haslanger, Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 411–12. 40. Ibid., 412. 41. Geuss, Idea of a Critical Theory, 58. 42. Ibid., 55–75. 43. Haslanger, Resisting Reality, 22. 44. Ibid., 26. 45. Ibid., 29. 46. Ibid. 47. Ibid. 48. Geuss, Idea of a Critical Theory, 73–75. 49. Bernard Williams, “The Idea of Equality,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 99–105.

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50. For an argument that reaches a very similar conclusion, albeit by a different path, see Jacob T. Levy, “There Is No Such Thing as Ideal Theory,” Social Philosophy and Policy 33, no. 1–2 (2016): 312–33. 51. A very different version of this essay was presented to the “Rethinking Responsibility” workshop organized by Hallvard Lillehammer and James Laidlaw at Birkbeck College, University of London. I am grateful to all those participants who helped me see just how much more work my argument needed. A more developed version was improved by exposure at David Estlund and Amanda Greene’s “Realism and Moralism” workshop held at University College London and then at the political philosophy workshop at the University of Cambridge—again I am grateful to all participants for their help in improving this paper. Individual thanks must also go to Tom Dogherty, Ed Hall, Rob Jubb, Nakul Krishna, Hallvard Lillehammer, Enzo Rossi, David Runciman, Matt Sleat, and Bernardo Zacka.


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Disenchantment Versus Reconstruction Walter Lippmann, John Dewey, and Varieties of Democratic Realism JOHN MEDEARIS


alter Lippmann’s writings on public opinion, John Dewey’s appraisals of Lippmann and democratic malaise, and the hundreds of pages that scholars have devoted to both—all teem, at many levels, with claims about realism. Citizens, in Lippmann’s account, have little grasp of political facts and need experts to help them form a more “realistic” worldview. Democrats, in turn, he argued, have deluded themselves about citizens, embracing an “ideal” theory in conflict with “realities.”1 We are often told that Dewey had a more abiding faith in democratic ideals.2 But if there was one aspect of Lippmann’s argument that riveted Dewey, it was the former’s “relentless and realistic analysis.”3 So some scholars argue that Dewey followed Lippmann in treating democracy “analytically and realistically”4 or that he simply placed Lippmann’s “democratic realism” in broader context.5 The fact that so many people have thought realism was at stake in Lippmann’s and Dewey’s disagreement about democracy suggests that there may be a chance to learn something about democratic realism from their work.6 The contrast between their writings, I argue, represents not a case of realism juxtaposed to ideal theory but rather of two possible forms of democratic realism, the first aimed above all at debunking or disenchanting democratic theory of a certain idealist kind, the other at reconstructing democratic theory for the social conditions of late modernity.

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Lippmann and Dewey shared a general conviction that political ideals inherited from the eighteenth century could no longer orient people practically to the challenges of twentieth-century America. They agreed that in their time the public, the essential but elusive democratic actor, was disoriented and ineffective. But here the similarities end, intellectually and biographically. Lippmann, the journalist and social critic, was also a consummate insider who helped Woodrow Wilson craft the Fourteen Points. His critique of the public was the critique of an insider looking out and seeing, naturally, outsiders gaping in. In Public Opinion and The Phantom Public, he argued that citizens are naturally both ill equipped and poorly situated to attain the information needed to make good judgments about political questions. Human psychology prevented citizens emotionally and cognitively from making informed decisions about the wide array of complex issues that face modern societies. Faith in the public had to be abandoned, Lippmann argued, with little to take its place except interest brokering by a bureaucratic state staffed by experts and professional specialists. Although Dewey’s pragmatism committed him to aim for political relevance, he always remained a stranger to statecraft, one who wrote both about and for the broad democratic public he envisioned. The Public and Its Problems was in part a response to Lippmann, but if it is read alongside Dewey’s other political works, such as Individualism Old and New, it is clearly more than that: an argument for reformulating democratic theory specifically and liberalism generally in light of the practical challenges twentieth-century Americans faced as potential actors in a world of unpredictable, far-reaching market forces and huge corporations. Dewey offers little in the way of prescriptions, but it is clear that he thought citizens had to reorganize themselves to be at the center of any democratic solution worth embracing. Lippmann’s writings on democracy are dominated by the impulse to debunk a particular ideal of the informed citizen, and all the fissures and improbabilities of his vision follow from this overriding aim. His presentation of the citizen in the guise of the “disenchanted man” 7 overturns a democratic ideal but largely leaves in place a related, supporting epistemological ideal, a view of what satisfactory political knowledge must be. And Lippmann’s insistence that the psychology of political perception prevents citizens from attaining that sort of ideal knowledge steers him, ironically,


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toward a set of unrealistic epistemic and motivational expectations for experts as well as an unduly limited conceptualization of political conflict that fits well with those expectations. Dewey respected Lippmann’s intent to focus on the way people really do perceive politics, but ultimately Dewey’s approach is quite different. He situates the problem of citizens’ bewilderment within a theory of social action and its consequences, which leads him not only to a different view of what constrains the public but also to a vision that incorporates far more centrally both power and democratic struggle to manage the state. In place of an abstract focus on stereotypes as hindrances to the perception of facts, Dewey’s approach considers particular ideological frames, prominent in liberalism and the theory of political democracy, that discourage citizens from understanding and grappling with democracy’s contemporary challenges. In contrast to Lippmann’s disenchantment, Dewey’s approach is best understood as a “reconstruction” of democratic theory.8 Beyond critically elucidating Lippmann’s and Dewey’s realist democratic theory, I connect what can be learned from this exercise to contemporary debates about realism in political thought.9 Lippmann’s work, I think, exemplifies one way that a certain kind of realist impulse can go wrong. This can best be understood by situating Dewey’s confrontation with Lippmann against the background of William Galston’s influential synthetic account of “the principle points of disagreement between realists and their adversaries.”10 Among the most significant points of contention Galston names are differences concerning the origin or generation of norms and ideals and the role norms and ideals should play in political life and thought; concerning the constraints imposed on politics by human psychology, moral and cognitive; and concerning both the prevalence and the character of conflict. These three characteristic features or stakes of the debate about realism entwine in the Lippmann–Dewey controversy. Lippmann’s work, especially, suggests that it may often be a serious error for realists to overemphasize their roles as world-wise contrarians, simply debunking the ideals that animate their opponents’ thought rather than critically exploring and reconfiguring the deepest assumptions in which those ideal expectations are embedded. This may be especially true if the idealist aspiration in question rests on an account of purportedly universal or at least very general features of human psychology. Such a purely negative, empirically disconfirming exercise can allow the same idealist element or some of the basic assumptions on which it is premised to emerge [ 142 ]


elsewhere, intact and unacknowledged—as I argue happens with Lippmann, who resuscitates a sort of fully informed, fact-drenched form of political judgment as a valid ideal expectation for government bureaus of experts, even after rejecting that form as unattainable for citizens. In such cases, merely contrarian realism focused on generic claims about human psychology can also come at the expense of grounded, concrete thinking about political power and conflict in the contemporary world. In Lippmann’s case especially, what is lost is realism about the actual states staffed by government experts and about some private interests’ ability to capture states or to steer them to their own advantage. I return to these lessons for realism at the end of the essay, after exploring not only Lippmann’s realist shortcomings but also how Dewey’s approach avoids them.

Disenchantment and the Omnicompetent Citizen Public Opinion and The Phantom Public are works evidently written in torrential bouts, with absorption and urgency, and so contain—though barely—an overabundance of ideas. But as the centerpieces of Lippmann’s democratic realism, they are also unmistakably focused on an empirically minded psychology of political-opinion formation, a psychological vision that is both moral and cognitive. Lippmann explores how the political understanding of ordinary citizens is shaped by habit and emotion as well as by citizens’ remote connection to politics. Because the public is so unprepared to judge political matters, Lippmann argues, it must be “put in its place.”11 He presents this suggestion as a finale to his argument. But in a very significant sense, placing the public is conceptually actually the first step in his line of reasoning. According to his schema, we ought to see citizens as “bystanders” necessarily or by definition at some distance from the political “scene of action” where the true agents involved in any problem or conflict interact. Lippmann’s placement of the citizen seems innocent at first. But this sharp separation of agents from bystanders and his portrayal of citizen-bystanders as sharply separated from the world about which they are to make judgments reproduce a standard epistemological assumption of which Dewey was often critical: that “knowing is viewing from outside.”12 The key problem, from such a viewpoint, is how individuals can gain direct, undistorted access to the empirical world. D I S E N C H A N T M E N T V E R S U S R E C O N S T RU C T I O N

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I return later to Dewey’s criticism of this approach. In the meantime, though, it is important to recognize that distinguishing between agent and bystander—between the scene of action and the picture in a citizen’s head— does open up the space to accommodate two of Lippmann’s most significant contributions: “stereotypes” and “interest.” When we look at a complex scene, Lippmann observes, we pick out things we have been trained by our culture and past experience to see, and we fill out much of the rest of the picture by extrapolating from these “stereotypes.”13 Lippmann admits that this extrapolation is in one sense hardly scandalous. We cannot see every new scene “freshly and in detail” because doing so would take too much effort.14 But Lippmann is inclined to emphasize the darker side of “stereotypes.” He stresses, for example, the case of a xenophobic tale that spread through Germany early in World War I—a rumor that Belgian Catholic priests were instigating their flocks to mutilate helpless, wounded Germans.15 Out of the analysis of “stereotypes” grows Lippmann’s discussion of “interest.” He explores how it comes to be that our attention fixes on some aspect of a complex reality, emphasizing especially the way attention may be held by personifying, sexualizing, or giving a visual character to an abstract concept.16 Stereotypes and interests provide a purchase, Lippmann argues, for those who want to try to manipulate public opinion. Through censorship, the latter can make facts even harder to come by and can then fill the void with propaganda that plays on existing biases. All these factors together create what Lippmann calls the citizen’s “pseudo-environment,” which is a combination of “human nature” and “conditions,” an additional barrier between bystanders and the empirical political world.17 A vast scholarly literature produced over nearly ninety years testifies to the fecundity of such psychological concepts. Students of political psychology have studied how different conceptual frames and emotional appeals affect, for better or worse, the information citizens process, the conclusions they reach about policy and politics, and the forms of participation they undertake. It is important to see, however, that such textured inquiry and nuanced judgment are not the use to which Lippmann puts his conceptual innovations. He does not use “stereotypes” and “interest” to initiate critical exploration of what promotes and inhibits considered judgment and robust participation. That approach would involve fully inhabiting the “realist” side of the territory, comparing what is actually better and actually worse in citizens’ knowledge and conduct. Lippmann instead dwells almost [ 144 ]


exclusively on the negative moment of his contribution, drawing on his account of how political judgment really works in order to reject what he takes to be the informed-citizen ideal of traditional democratic theory— that is, to reject the idea that citizens can ever have enough access to facts to make informed decisions. If we take realism, in its most general sense, to signify insistence on “truthfulness or fidelity in relation to its subject matter,” as Matt Sleat states in the introduction to this volume, Lippmann’s approach here certainly counts as a realist one, but, adopted in isolation, it is one that has its clear limits. Lippmann compares the citizen he presents us with—his “disenchanted man”18 —to the “omnicompetent citizen” found, he says, in “the theory of democracy.”19 Traditional democratic theory rests on an “unattainable ideal”: “to know what is going on and to have an opinion worth expressing on every question which confronts a self-governing community.”20 The theory suggests that members of such communities simply “[take] in their facts as they [take] in their breath.”21 In light of his understanding of “stereotypes” and “interest,” Lippmann finds this unmediated access to facts to be an unattainable ideal for democratic citizens. Yet it remains for Lippmann the ideal standard for reliable judgment—the basis upon which we are to judge citizen judgment to be so lacking. This explains why the first inference to be drawn from Lippmann’s realist demolition of the “omnicompetent” citizen is the need for experts of a certain kind—more particularly the need for fact-finding government intelligence bureaus. Lippmann claims that experts constitute a “specialized class” capable, because of their detailed knowledge, of managing “common interests.”22 He tells us that for politicians to make good decisions, they need vast amounts of facts: “memoranda,” “great stacks of typewritten reports,” “unending series of figures.”23 To supply themselves with these things, they need multitudes of trained, professional fact gatherers. In outlining his ideas about intelligence bureaus and experts, Lippmann does not again mention “stereotypes” and “interests,” but he clearly retains direct and unmediated access to facts as the standard for judgment. A decision maker needs a “disinterested expert” who “first finds and formulates the facts for the man of action.”24 And experts must focus on facts alone; they must not have or be suspected of having a “policy” to promote.25 The second inference Lippmann draws from his denial of citizen “omnicompetency” is that citizens’ role in the political world must involve something much less exalted than informed judgments about policy. D I S E N C H A N T M E N T V E R S U S R E C O N S T RU C T I O N

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According to Lippmann, voters are in effect called upon occasionally to act as a mute collective umpire, throwing the weight of their numbers behind one party or the other. Lippmann portrays this taking of sides as a matter of force, essentially irrational and uninformed, at least as to substance. “The intrinsic merits of a question are not for the public,” he insists.26 With the shape of Lippmann’s arguments before us, it is possible to survey some of the consequences of building his democratic realism around the demolition of the “omnicompetent citizen.” The primary thrust of his argument is negative: to claim that this citizen cannot exist and that with him or her “the democratic ideal” must fall.27 An alternative realist procedure focused on critical exploration of citizens’ actual abilities might find valuable democratic possibilities to be nurtured in existing practices. Lippmann passes over such an approach in favor of a technocratic account of expert advisers, on the one hand, and citizens as referees, on the other. But in obliterating any basis for crediting the “omnicompetent citizen,” Lippmann simultaneously undermines the plausibility of the role he does assign the public. He suggests that experts can counteract the power of stereotypes over citizens and so help them become more realistic.28 But there is little or nothing in his account to support this suggestion. Stereotypes, as he presents them, are barriers to facts, not to be weakened by an onslaught of facts themselves. There are no better and worse stereotypes, in Lippmann’s account, nor any systematic consideration of how their grip on thinking can be loosened. Moreover, Lippmann argues that although citizens are unequipped to decide whether a policy or a law is socially beneficial or just, they are capable as voters of intervening in disputes on behalf of those they perceive as having followed appropriate procedures. For example, they can apply what Lippmann calls the “test of inquiry,” asking “which party to the dispute is least willing to submit its whole claim to inquiry and to abide by the result.”29 But it is not clear how a public too fully in the thrall of stereotypes to judge an issue by its substance would be capable of drawing reliable conclusions about the disputants’ sincerity. And that is not all. Lippmann not only denies that citizens are rational legislators but also argues that they are passive, indifferent nonentities on the stage of politics. This is the predominant theme of the first few chapters of The Phantom Public, the justification for calling citizens “bystanders,” not “agents.” But many of his examples of stereotypes do not support his view of the insignificance of what ordinary people do in politics. And this internal inconsistency makes it possible for Lippmann to pass over [ 146 ]


problems another realist might consider significant. For example, the stereotype about rapacious Belgian priests might have made Germans impervious to certain facts about the war, but Lippmann himself tells us it also sparked a “Kulturkampf,” contributing to popular enthusiasm for fighting30 —surely not a politically insignificant phenomenon. Lippmann similarly shows how Americans, in the thrall of the stereotype of “progress,” ignored poverty and pollution and rallied behind parties that pushed reckless expansion of industry. More than undermining Lippmann’s suggestion that stereotypes are necessarily associated with inaction and irrelevance, these examples suggest that a robust “realist” project might involve not just the destruction of the “omnicompetent citizen” ideal but also a careful, critical, substantive consideration of stereotypes—or, more broadly, ideologies that include but are not limited to stereotypes or conceptual frames—and how they affect public opinion and political participation. Unlike a consideration of stereotypes, viewed abstractly, an exploration of the effect of ideologies and their political significance would necessarily encompass power relations and conflict among the bearers of different ideologies, making it a more comprehensive realist undertaking. In any case, the conceptual weapons with which Lippmann attacks the “omnicompetent citizen” and the “democratic ideal” seem equally potent against experts and government intelligence bureaus. Lippmann, we have seen, insists on the importance of government experts being impartial producers and conveyers of facts. He gives us very little reason to expect, however, that experts will be immune to pathological uses or kinds of conceptual frames. Certainly he provides no theoretical framework for believing they will be—no argument as comprehensive as his treatment of “stereotypes.” The problem is not just that expert bureaus are no panacea for the pathologies of mass political psychology, as he describes them, but also that experts are vulnerable, too, revealing the possibility of a whole new terrain of democratic conflict of which Lippmann seems unaware: conflict between democratic publics and different agencies of the bureaucratic state, mobilized on behalf of certain ideological agendas. For us, reading Lippmann’s work a century after it was written, the examples of supposedly neutral experts empowered to pursue some geopolitical or economic dogma are too many and too obvious to forget. A final, related consequence of Lippmann’s attack on the ideal of “omnicompetency” is its effect on his theorization of conflict, another crucial concern for realists. Lippmann offers two main explanations of conflict. D I S E N C H A N T M E N T V E R S U S R E C O N S T RU C T I O N

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Although one is consistent with his broad political psychology, and the other is consistent with his vision of the role of experts and publics, the two are not consistent with each other. And neither seems capable of doing the work needed of any adequate theory of democracy. Lippmann’s first conceptualization of conflict is closely connected to his account of stereotypes and interest—to the limited outlook of the “self-centered man.”31 “Deep” pluralism, people’s tendency to see the world very differently, is the crucial source of conflict.32 Some of these differences in outlook would seem to predispose people to form groups and go to political battle with each other. Lippmann mentions the idea of the working class as a stereotype linked to the idea of the labor movement as “Emancipator.”33 Stereotypes also depict other groups as despicable and dangerous, as in the case of the German tale about blood-thirsty Belgian Catholic priests. But Lippmann’s depiction of the way experts and appropriately constrained publics can intervene in disputes suggests a different view of conflict. Here the goal is a “modus vivendi” in which “conflicting interests merely find a way of giving a little and taking a little, and of existing together without too much bad blood.”34 Lippmann gives the example of a stylized dispute in the steel industry in which mediation, loosely overseen by the public but carried on by an expert committee, is ultimately resolved by a finding that certain categories of workers are underpaid.35 The key to this approach is seeing society as an amalgam of “adjustments between individuals and their things.”36 Conflicts can be resolved this way precisely because they are, in truth, not clashes of worldviews but just maladjustments of rationally calculable interests. These portrayals of conflict are obviously themselves in tension. Even in the imaginary steel industry dispute, each side at first “issues a manifesto full of the highest ideals” and begins with stereotypical but “soulfilling” phrases such as “Justice, Welfare, Americanism, Socialism.” Lippmann says, though, that marshalling “budgets and price statistics” finally “disintegrates partisanship” and untangles “stereotypes and slogans.” Yet he has told us that the specific power of stereotypes is to block such facts. The “perfect stereotype,” he says, “precedes the use of reason” and “imposes a certain character on the data of our senses before the data reach the intelligence.”37 And these expert-driven solutions seem even less convincing when we consider how they are to be crafted and imposed. Parties, after all, have to be brought to the conference of experts, and whatever technical solution to the dispute is envisaged must be enforced. Whether a disputant is [ 148 ]


willing to have a conflict resolved by government experts—backed by public intervention—will surely depend, in significant measure, on the group’s assessment of its social position and power. In fact, Lippmann’s whole argument about the nature and efficacy of technocratic solutions rests on assumptions about power and the shape of society that he only occasionally mentions or pursues in any depth. In one passage, Lippmann writes that capitalism is so powerful a system that, before the conflicts it causes can be resolved, it is necessary to convert “the whole network of relations under which industry operates from the dominion of arbitrary forces into those of settled rules.”38 Lippmann himself recognizes at times that efforts at reconciliation are contingent upon certain conditions of power and social structure. “All the machinery of conference, of peaceful negotiation, of law and the rule of reason is workable in large affairs only where the power of the negotiators is neutralized one against the other,” he writes; “before there can be law there must be order, and an order is an arrangement of power.”39 Although he provides a quite extended and elaborate account of the social-psychological underpinnings of conflict, he offers only a few comments like this about power, its distribution, and the social relations that support it. Lippmann’s references to power, though tentative and insufficient, are entirely pertinent. Any realist democratic theory, insofar as it is concerned with who rules—who has the capacity to rule—surely cannot limit critical inquiry to matters of disagreement, understood as discord about values, judgments, and beliefs. It must necessarily encompass conflict, understood to include struggle between differently positioned agents or groups, phenomena explicable in terms of social institutions and relations, the power they provide people, as well as agency and the consequences of social action, intended and unintended. A realistic democratic theory should reflect not only on the reliability of ordinary people’s judgments but also on whether the institutions and the social world they inhabit and shape are amenable to their rule. The consideration with which Lippmann ends The Phantom Public, that “the field of international affairs and the field of industrial relations” represent “great centers of anarchy in society” that are nearly incapable of being governed democratically—whether true or not—points toward these broader questions.40 But Lippmann’s works on democracy do not take up these questions systematically. Lippmann’s most notable failure in this regard concerns the very intelligence bureaus—the bureaucratic state—to which he sets the task D I S E N C H A N T M E N T V E R S U S R E C O N S T RU C T I O N

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of compensating for the frailties of public opinion. Lippmann is outspoken about the need of such expertise to be nonideological in conveying facts to government and officials and the public. But he seems to have given little thought to the possibility that technocrats might succumb to dogmas and abuse their power—or that business interests could capture the state and bend it to their purposes. He seems not to have considered the structural relationship between state and society or the forms of political action that might be required to ensure that state agencies serve the common good rather than some narrowly conceived interest.

Reconstructing Democracy for the Great Society The conceptual foundation of Lippmann’s work as well as its rhetorical apex—the demand to free politics from the “trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd”41—entails a vision of the public put “in its place.” Dewey takes issue not just with the stark conclusion Lippmann reaches but with the conceptual starting point that foreshadows it. Dewey starts with neither an enchanted nor a disenchanted universal psychology, but with an alternative vision of humans as actors practically enmeshed in a social context. In effect, he merges Lippmann’s bystander and agent, insisting that problems of knowledge, however acute, are fundamentally an actor’s, not a remote observer’s, problems. Rather than trying to find a way to argue that citizens somehow can have unmediated and unbiased access to facts, Dewey roots his democratic theory in a theory of “experience.” “We take then our point of departure,” writes Dewey, “from the objective fact that human acts have consequences upon others.” “Some of these consequences are perceived,” he continues, and “their perception leads to subsequent efforts to control action so as to secure some consequences and avoid others.”42 These few broad strokes already show that Dewey’s is a reflexive theory of action, a fact indicated especially by his referring to “efforts to control action” as “subsequent” to action rather than antecedent to it. Instead of viewing action as a series of discrete acts, each ideally preceded by a distinct decision that governs it, Dewey views action as a stream that has already begun to flow. So “efforts to control action” involve reflection on and intervention in ongoing action rather than perfect forethought. The character of the intervention depends on considering the relationship between actions and their consequences. [ 150 ]


And consequences, Dewey posits, “are of two kinds, those which affect the persons directly engaged in a transaction, and those which affect others beyond those immediately involved.”43 He also soon adds distinctions between intended and unintended consequences of action as well as between beneficial consequences and harmful consequences.44 In incorporating these elements of a reflexive understanding of action into his democratic theory, Dewey is simultaneously rooting his view of democracy in a characteristically Progressive vision of modern society. His “Great Society” is a vast, bustling, and bewildering hive of social activity in which ordinary people are always interacting and engaging in conduct that, although perhaps conceived in terms of those directly involved, generates far-ranging, indirect consequences and so is always helping and harming many others in ways that are often unintended. Dewey’s version of this vision particularly insists that in so acting, people are constantly creating the gargantuan impersonal social and economic forces of the “Great Society”—forces and effects such as pollution, market gyrations, and poverty. He pictures Americans as endlessly engaged in “struggle for existence” or a “pecuniary race,” their working, buying, and selling having ripple effects on others.45 “Rapid industrialization,” Dewey argues, took most Americans “unawares,” and uncertainty about their role in industrial society is an ongoing feature of that industrialization.46 In such social conditions, few workers know “the meaning of what they do, and still fewer know what becomes of the work of their hands.” The propagation of consequences far beyond immediate interactions and local boundaries indicates that “the whole country is one.” And the impersonal economic forces produced this way determine “the growth and decay of institutions” as well as “the fate of individuals.” All this leaves people understandably “bewildered, uneasy, restless.”47 In binding the elements of this social vision together with a theory of reflexive action, Dewey presents a world in which ordinary people’s day-to-day activities matter vitally and in which modern social problems are for them not distant and abstract but immediate and personal. All this forms the basis of his definition of the public, a term that by the late 1920s had been important to political debate for decades. Progressive thought posited the existence of a collective body that could be distinguished from private “interests” such as banks and railroads. A public was in this sense a collection of disinterested citizens vigorously pursuing common interests. Rather than accepting such a reverential view of the public D I S E N C H A N T M E N T V E R S U S R E C O N S T RU C T I O N

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or portraying it, like Lippmann, as merely a “phantom,” Dewey defines “the public” in a neutral and unsentimental (if elusive) manner that binds the concept firmly to his theory of reflexive action. “The public,” he writes, “consists of all those who are affected by the indirect consequences of transactions to such an extent that it is deemed necessary to have those consequences systematically cared for.”48 Critics may rightly complain that some of the terms of this definition, especially consequences and transactions, should be much more precisely specified. But the definition serves a number of purposes that are quite important from a realist standpoint. Above all, although the definition does not settle any questions in itself, it points our attention toward an analysis of the concrete settings in which social action plays out, settings characterized by conflict and power (I return to this general point later). Crucially, this definition of the public as given shape by the character of common activities also prepares the way for Dewey’s understanding of a state. The state, according to his nomenclature, is nothing other than the union of such a public with the officials the public has charged with caring for the indirect consequences of common activities.49 At this point, we have in front of us Dewey’s conceptions of the public and the state, both built on a theory of action and a vision of interconnected, active people. It is important to underscore how far we are at this point from anything like an elucidation of pure democratic ideals—or a glib refutation of them. Dewey’s democratic realism neither posits pristine democratic values first nor aims chiefly at a debunking of such values. Rather, it theorizes democracy’s attractions in conjunction with a full exploration of its challenges. The first challenge Dewey considers is that although many regimes claim to further public interests, historically they have actually served the private and particular interests of those in government.50 Dewey mentions gerontocracy, rule by military leaders, and theocracy as premodern forms of government, either of which could be transformed into “dynasty.” Each of these forms of rule found its own particular justification, but he considers each essentially arbitrary from the standpoint of the purposes that state power is called upon to fulfill. And this phenomenon makes it possible to see what Dewey refers to as “the primary problem of the public”: to gain some control over the already-existing state.51 He insists, on a number of grounds, that this problem is not merely one that occurs at the founding of “the state,” a problem that has already been solved, but also necessarily a standing challenge for all publics. [ 152 ]


Only at this point does Dewey explicitly introduce democratic theory— but still not either as a discrete, independent source of pure ideals against which the existing world can be unfavorably judged or as a set of unattainable ideals to be dismissed on account of brute facts about the existing world. He introduces democratic thought as a historical phenomenon, integrally involved in shaping the modern political world. On his account, classic political democracy arose in response to the struggle to reclaim state power, but it did so in terms that created problems for the modern age.52 Most importantly, from Dewey’s standpoint, classical political democratic theory was unduly individualistic—not ethically, in overvaluing the individual but conceptually in how it understood human beings. Its proponents wrongly treated “individuals” as given, fully formed by nature and intrinsically autonomous, understandable as standing in sharp opposition to society and social institutions, which they viewed as artificial. There were two reasons for classical democratic theory’s portrayal or vision of individuals. First, the existing competitors for state power were “established authorities” with a privileged place in enduring social relations. So “the natural recourse was appeal to some inalienable sacred authority resident in the protesting individuals” separate from those social relations.53 Second, many of the same thinkers, as advocates for laissez-faire economics, found it convenient to adopt the view that isolated individuals were the best judges of the transactions into which they entered, essentially because the indirect consequences of those transactions for others could be assumed to be negligible—or even entirely positive.54 According to Dewey, however, the forces that were unleashed by people acting on these individualist arguments—especially large-scale economic forces and big business—actually produced conditions and institutions that threatened individual autonomy and dwarfed the individual’s control of his or her environment. Dewey is again thinking of the “Great Society” discussed earlier. In such a society, first, large corporations and their owners “reach out to grasp the agencies of government” and “become the controlling factors in legislation and administration,” Dewey writes. Second, these new circumstances make it exceedingly difficult for people to trace the problems that are affecting them back to the activities and “transactions” of which these problems are indirect consequences. In the modern world of Dewey’s description, “indirect and unthought-of consequences are usually more important than the direct.” Such indirect consequences include “mechanical forces and vast impersonal organizations” D I S E N C H A N T M E N T V E R S U S R E C O N S T RU C T I O N

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that determine “the frame of things” so that the individual counts for “less in the direction of social affairs.” And all this militates against the effective organization of democratic publics because, Dewey argues, “an inchoate public is capable of organization only when indirect consequences are perceived, and when it is possible to project agencies which order their occurrence. At present, many consequences are felt rather than perceived; they are suffered, but they cannot be said to be known.”55 In Dewey’s view, then, democracy requires publics to appoint and actively monitor agents to look after widespread consequences of common activities. But the specific conditions of modern life—including market activities, individualist ideologies, and the organization of business interests—make these goals difficult to achieve.

Power, the State, and Individualist Errors With the principal elements of Dewey’s democratic theory in front of us, it is possible to elaborate on them while accentuating some issues of particular realist interest. Lippmann’s choice to start with “bystander” citizens and what they cannot possibly know draws attention to a category of genuine problems in political psychology and allows him to rebut an idealistic view of citizens’ capacity for judgment, but it leaves untouched the epistemological assumption that informs that naive ideal—the idea that good judgment must be characterized by direct and unmediated access to facts. Having controverted the belief that citizens can attain this ideal, he recovers the ideal as a possible goal for government experts. His gesture toward realism, then, founders on a dualism, contrasting deluded lay passivity with active expert state intervention. Dewey effaces the fixed dichotomy of agent and bystander, but he does not simply contradict Lippmann by insisting that citizens really are ideally informed. His theory of experience leads him instead to begin with the sort of quotidian activities in which all modern citizens are involved and considers their democratic significance, and he simultaneously puts observation and thinking in what he considers their rightful place, thoroughly bound up with action. One advantage of this emphasis on action is that it leads, almost immediately, to the problem of power. Focusing on action leads logically to consideration of the socially constituted capacities that make action possible—that

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is, to power.56 And this no doubt explains why Dewey’s vision of citizens trying to trace the consequences of their actions mirrors his vision of the Great Society with its overpowering economic forces, tumult, and conflict. And it surely explains how quickly Dewey proceeds from his initial sketch of action and its consequences to publics and their efforts to manage runaway states. He is often criticized for neglecting considerations of power, and there is some validity to the criticism.57 But as soon as he lays out the main elements of his theory of publics and the genesis of the state, he begins to discuss the problem of state power.58 Moreover, after he builds on the same analysis and turns to what he significantly calls “the most serious problem of government,” “the primary problem of the public” or “the problems and prospects of democratic government,” the term power and its cognates appear more than a dozen times in roughly seven pages of The Public and Its Problems.59 And crucially, the “serious” and “primary” public problem to which Dewey is referring is conflict over the use and direction of state power, a problem that Lippmann largely neglects. Bound up with the contrast between their two conceptual points of departure—the citizen as bystander-observer versus the citizen as actor— are the differing ways that Lippmann and Dewey subject the “omnicompetent citizen” to realist analysis. Despite introducing then novel concepts such as “stereotypes,” Lippmann, as I have indicated, leaves untouched the basic assumption that political competence means unmediated access to facts. In fact, in Lippmann’s telling, the scandal of “stereotypes” lies in the fact that they interfere with receptivity to facts. Dewey widens the scope of attention from “stereotypes” to all the ways that “habit” conditions thinking. Mental habits, of course, shape our understanding of the empirical world. But the importance of “habit” in intelligence is no scandal for Dewey. “Knowledge,” according to him, simply is “a function of association and communication” that “depends upon tradition, upon tools and methods socially transmitted, developed and sanctioned.”60 Naturally, for Dewey, then, simply discrediting “omnicompetence,” as Lippmann understands it, is of little interest to the realistic democrat. What is more important is to explore socialized habits of thought and their effects on the public’s ability to understand the concrete political problems it faces. The form of Lippmann’s attack on the “omnicompetent citizen” virtually guarantees that he will rely problematically on expertise. But Lippmann, I have suggested, does not explain adequately why his experts should be


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immune to the presumably ubiquitous phenomena of stereotypes and interest. Nor does his technocratic theorization of conflict draw attention to the possibility that modern bureaucratic states and their expert staffs might resist or undermine democratic public goods. As we have seen, Dewey’s central focus on action disposes him to pay attention to power, and his theory of the public and the state lead him almost immediately to the danger that those who gain state power will use it for nonpublic purposes. And these two themes come together in a vision of the democratic struggle to manage the state. Even the traditional political democratic theories Dewey criticizes, those associated with James Mill, in his view are responses to this struggle. They represent, he says, “an effort in the first place to counteract the forces that have so largely determined the possession of rule by accidental and irrelevant factors . . . to counteract the tendency to employ political power to serve private instead of public ends.”61 Ironically, though, the establishment of modern representative democracy, the remedy favored by Mill and his followers, resulted, in Dewey’s estimation, only in “a transfer of vested power from one class to another”—a transfer to business elites, who understood “how the new governmental machinery could be made to serve their ends.”62 When Dewey explicitly considers Lippmann’s idea that expertise can solve the problems of modern societies, his demurral seems mild at first glance. “Technical matters” such as “sanitation, public health, healthful and adequate housing, transportation,” and so on may seem to be what need the most attention, he writes. But “such considerations,” he continues, do not “cover the entire political field,” which includes a variety of “forces” that have always already “been composed and resolved before technical and specialized action can come into play.”63 Given the overall structure and trend of Dewey’s argument about democracy and the state as well as the fact that this passage comes after several pages that refer recurrently to the way “big business rules the governmental roost,”64 it should be clear that, despite the gentle tone, this statement is a quite specific dismissal of the most central prescription of Lippmann’s democratic realism. Lippmann’s use of “stereotypes” chiefly to negate the ideal of “omnicompetency” encourages him, I have argued, to overlook what might be learned from an inquiry into particular stereotypes—particular frames—and their effects, both healthy and deleterious, on the way people think about modern politics. By contrast, Dewey argues consistently (though he does

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not emphasize it strongly in The Public and Its Problems) that philosophers deceive themselves when they imagine that they can derive valid ideals from anything other than the world of experience, with its flaws, uncertainties, and dangers.65 It would make little sense, from this standpoint, to claim that a questionable ideal is questionable because of the normative purity its proponents claim for it—its permanent remoteness from lived experience. So when Dewey engages in a realist critique of certain democratic ideals, he is at pains to show not their detachment from concrete social conditions but their critical entwinement with them—first, how the ideals arose in a particular historical context and then how they function in the present context. In The Public and Its Problems, the simple invocation of “stereotypes” in general is replaced by a critical analysis of the individualistic ideals and premises of classic political democratic thought. To review, Dewey’s narrative is that classic political democratic thinkers found it natural to posit “the individual as an independent and isolated being” who is “naturally the best judge of his own interests,” economic and political, because this view provided the simplest way of criticizing traditional hierarchies and premodern regulation of markets.66 But the eventual absorption of such ideas into common wisdom made it particularly difficult for people to understand the “Great Society” of just a few decades later, with its large-scale forces emanating from but dwarfing myriad individual citizens. Clearly, this analysis entails the broad idea that stereotypical ideas condition how people process facts, but it also transcends the somewhat misleading idea of stereotypes simply as mere barriers to facts. Without the conceptual tools to relate themselves to large-scale forces that are buffeting them, most people, in Dewey’s estimation, are simply bewildered by those forces; they cannot really even begin to analyze them rationally. And what is at issue is not just a matter of cognition. Individualistic misunderstandings, according to Dewey, shape what people do and so shape the consequences of what they do. Their misapprehensions are in part constitutive of the “Great Society” rather than just being impediments to their understanding that society. All of this underscores that Dewey’s particular sort of realism about political perception and its pitfalls ultimately merges with a broad social vision in which such perception takes its place alongside a vision of action, power, and conflict.


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Some Lessons for Contemporary Political Realism Lippmann’s democratic theory exemplifies one way that the realist impulse in political thought can go wrong. It represents a wrong turn implicating three broad, recognized themes in contemporary realist discourse: the origin and place of ideals in political theory; the need for a realistic political psychology; and the persistence and constitutive character of conflict in politics. Lippmann’s singular emphasis on deploying what he considers to be a realistic human psychology mainly to debunk the ideal of the fully informed democratic citizen leads him implausibly to attribute to government experts nearly as prodigious an acquaintance with facts and nearly as sure an immunity to “stereotypes” as the theorists he criticizes attributed to ordinary citizens. And his resulting account of problem solving by government experts weds him, in turn, to an implausible conceptualization of political conflict rooted primarily in negotiable maladjustments of rational interest. Each of these weaknesses involves, as we have seen, an element of internal contradiction within Lippmann’s argument. But in exploring them, we do not just learn about Lippmann’s realism alone. A number of contributions to the contemporary realism debate directly address perhaps the broadest problem implicated in the discourse: Where do the ideals at work in political theory come from, and what role should they play in inquiry and argument? One way to sum up realism’s challenge to other modes of political argument can be found in Raymond Geuss’s critique of the idea that “one can complete the work of ethics first, attaining an ideal theory of how we should act, and then in a second step, one can apply that ideal theory to the action of political agents.”67 Bernard Williams rejects much the same approach when he insists on the autonomy of political theory—that is, on denying that political thought ought to be governed by principles derived elsewhere.68 Such critiques suggest that commonsense juxtapositions of ideals and empirical reality may need to be reconceptualized. The very simplest realist view, however, might simply invert idealism’s implied hierarchy—accepting that the realm in which ideals are generated and the realm of practical political reflection are distinct but insisting that, rather than the former ruling the latter, the latter should be authorized to reject the edicts of the former. Such a crude realist inversion is, in effect, Lippmann’s approach. One might argue, in fact, that he adopts without amendment the content of two [ 158 ]


principles or ideals generated in other realms of thought: an epistemological ideal of unobstructed access to facts and a democratic ideal holding that citizens may achieve such a privileged perspective. The work of Lippmann’s political psychology of “stereotypes” and “interest” is simply to show that, for citizens, access to facts is anything but direct and unfiltered. But Lippmann does not replace or fully rethink direct access to facts as an ideal standard, nor in the end does he reject the idea that the ideal might be satisfactorily attainable by some category of persons other than citizens. A first consequence of his not rejecting this idea, we have seen, is that the repressed epistemological ideal does in fact return elsewhere: in his expectations for government experts. Empirical negation of the ideal, without serious reconsideration of it, turns out, in other words, to accomplish less than one might hope for the cause of realism. Dewey, one might say, avoids this problem, first by substituting for Lippmann’s epistemological ideal a whole ontology of experience, described earlier, that is focused on active human beings and their interactions with the world. Although Dewey shares some of Lippmann’s critical assessment of his contemporary fellow citizens’ political judgment, he does not merely reject the “omnicompetent citizen” ideal. There is no need to review Dewey’s ontology again here other than to say that insofar as there is an ideal at work in it, it is an immanent, integral, and restrained one—the progressive cultivation of more intelligent, fruitful experience—and it does not rest on conditions anywhere as stringently counterfactual as unmediated access to facts. Dewey is critical of other misguided ideals in political philosophy as well, especially the variety of individualism that he thinks characterizes early-modern liberalism and liberal democratic theory. But he does not merely seek to demonstrate that such individualism represents an ideal that is an unattainable for most people. He does not merely seek to show that it is an ideal that originates from entirely outside political experience and remains foreign to it. Rather, he is concerned to show the practical, discernible effects of actual thinkers and citizens acting on such individualist assumptions in politics. His realist understanding of the origin and function of ideals in political thought, in other words, is complex and directs him away from the sort of straightforward debunking that characterizes Lippmann’s approach. Lippmann’s and Dewey’s discussions of what citizens can know or understand obviously also implicate what is, within contemporary realist thought, a second distinct theme: the need for a realistic human psychology. Although D I S E N C H A N T M E N T V E R S U S R E C O N S T RU C T I O N

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the impulse to expose unrealistic psychological assumptions is a recognizably realist one, the example of Lippmann strongly suggests that there may be a danger that this impulse can become too dominant or exclusive a focus. Lippmann, of course, is just one of a series of political thinkers who have mounted roughly epistemic critiques of traditional democratic theory as they envision it. Joseph Schumpeter’s later elite theory also founds its conclusions about democracy on claims about the pathologies of ordinary people’s political judgment.69 And the tradition lives on in quite contemporary works, such as Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels’s suggestively titled book Democracy for Realists.70 In each case, the claim advanced is that some form of traditional democratic theory is marred by naive psychological assumptions about the cognition or emotional dispositions of voters. Why might there be a problem with such claims about general human psychology becoming too central a feature of any realist intervention in democratic thinking? Suppose we take the subject matter of political inquiry to include, broadly, the many different ways that people can organize their collective lives—how they can cooperate effectively and fruitfully—and the character of the social relations in which they find themselves, relations characterized by structural properties of various kinds, including the allocation of power. Purportedly universal features of human psychology, then, would seem mainly to set boundary conditions for such crucial problematics of politics. By contrast, not universal traits but socially produced differences—differences in interests, ideologies, and position in power relations—are likely to be decisive factors in diagnosing what can go awry (and what can change for the better) in politics. Even if we accept claims such as Lippmann’s about general human psychology, we still would want to know whether particular ideologies or configurations of power or forms of conflict can interact with these psychological traits, making their operation worse or better. A plausible and compelling account of these factors would seem indispensable for any realist political project. The danger, then, is that realism as to the broadest features of human psychology may come at the expense of realism as to conflict, ideology, and power in society. Here again we can see why Dewey is able to avoid some of Lippmann’s errors. Dewey focuses less on debunking and more on building an alternative epistemology that can form a more robust framework for democratic thinking. And the alternative he constructs, which explains the shortcomings of citizens’ grasp of politics and society in terms of [ 160 ]


reflexive action, its prerequisites, and the social phenomena it produces, has the advantage of directing attention directly toward power and agents’ conflicting purposes. There is another aspect of Dewey’s response to Lippmann that, from our later vantage point, we can recognize as pointing to a third crucial stake in contemporary debates about realism and idealism: the need for a compelling sociology of conflict. Dewey’s claim, contra Lippmann, that expertise can resolve only “technical matters,” not the broader contestation over state power in which such matters are situated, can be understood precisely as a critique of the way Lippmann conceptualizes conflict. Although at times Lippmann seems to envision other origins and aspects of conflict, his central argument that government agencies armed with detailed, specialized knowledge can resolve important political disputes rests logically, as we have seen, on envisioning those disputes as involving, above all, adjustable disparities of reasonable, calculable interests. Conflicts rooted in either significant discrepancies of power or in clashing ideological outlooks would seem far less amenable to such technocratic reshaping. It is not just Lippmann and Dewey but other realists, too, who are likely to differ with each other about the origin and character of political conflict, with some attributing it, for example, to the variety of ways human beings use their reason under conditions of freedom and others attributing it to the logic of identity formation. Although contemporary realists sometimes suggest that realism can distinguish itself simply by making conflict central to its understanding of politics, even proponents of ideal theory frequently do not really fail to account for conflict. Many of them just have particular ways of understanding and theorizing the sort of conflict they wish to address— as well as particular arguments for categorizing the more intractable dimensions of political conflict as unworthy of philosophical attention. Realists are likely to find some of these approaches more adequate than others. Matt Sleat’s adoption of what is essentially a version of John Rawls’s theory of political disagreement as a centerpiece of his own realist liberalism illustrates with exceptional clarity the real terrain of difference.71 These reflections on conflict suggest further that, with the main lines of realist criticism of contemporary political theory well established, realist advances are likely to come from substantive arguments about political ontology—such matters as the character and origin of political conflict or the analysis of power relations. The persuasiveness of any realist approach to political theory is likely to be judged according to the plausibility of its D I S E N C H A N T M E N T V E R S U S R E C O N S T RU C T I O N

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vision of the political world as much as according to the justness of its criticisms of ideal theory. And this in turn suggests a reason why realism probably will remain not a single cohesive project but a diverse family of approaches: realists will differ significantly in their visions of political life. In that sense, realisms simply take their place among all the approaches to political theory that (unlike too much ideal theory) are self-conscious about theorizing “the way the social, economic, political, etc. institutions actually operate in some society at some given time.” 72

Notes 1. Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, with a New Introduction by Michael Curtis (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1991), 254, 269. 2. James Bohman, “Realizing Deliberative Democracy as a Mode of Inquiry: Pragmatism, Social Facts, and Normative Theory,” Journal of Speculative Philosophy 18, no. 1 (2004): 23–43; Ben Berger, Attention Deficit Democracy: The Paradox of Civic Engagement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 9–10. 3. John Dewey, “Review of Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann,” in The Middle Works, 1899–1924, vol. 13: 1921–1922, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983), 337, 340. 4. David Greenberg, “Lippmann vs. Mencken: Debating Democracy,” Raritan: A Quarterly Review 32, no. 2 (2012): 129. 5. Robert Westbrook, John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), 308. 6. Scholars have come to talk about a “Lippmann–Dewey debate,” but although Dewey commented on Lippmann’s work, Lippmann never answered, leading several scholars to deny there was ever a debate. See, for example, Michael Schudson, “The ‘Lippmann–Dewey Debate’ and the Invention of Walter Lippmann as an Anti-Democrat, 1986–1996,” International Journal of Communication 2 (2008): 1031–42, and Greenberg, “Lippmann vs. Mencken.” 7. Walter Lippmann, The Phantom Public (1927; reprint, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1993), 3–11. 8. I borrow the word reconstruction, of course, from John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920; reprint, Mineola, NY: Dover, 2004). 9. The present generation of political realists take inspiration from figures as dissimilar as Aristotle, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Carl Schmitt. Contributions to contemporary realism include but are not limited to William Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 385–411; Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton: [ 162 ]


10. 11. 12.

13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20.

21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29.

Princeton University Press, 2008); Bonnie Honig, Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993); Charles Mills, “ ‘Ideal Theory’ as Ideology,” Hypatia 20, no. 3 (2005): 165–84; Chantal Mouffe, The Return of the Political (London: Verso, 1993), and The Democratic Paradox (London: Verso, 2000); Glen Newey, After Politics—the Rejection of Politics in Contemporary Liberal Philosophy (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001); Mark Philp, “What Is to Be Done? Political Theory and Political Realism,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 466–84; Matt Sleat, Liberal Realism: A Realist Theory of Liberal Politics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013); Marc Stears, “Liberalism and the Politics of Compulsion,” British Journal of Political Science 37, no. 3 (2007): 533–53, and Demanding Democracy: American Radicals in Search of a New Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010); and Bernard Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). William Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 386. Lippmann, Phantom Public, 145. John Dewey, “The Need for a Recovery of Philosophy” (1917), in John Dewey: The Political Writings, ed. Debra Morris and Ian Shapiro (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1993), 4, italics added. Lippmann, Public Opinion, 89. Ibid., 88. Ibid., 100–103. Ibid., 159–69. Ibid., 25. Lippmann, Phantom Public, 3–11. Lippmann, Public Opinion, 273, and Phantom Public, 11. Lippmann, Phantom Public, 10–11. Lippmann is not very clear about whose theory this “traditional” democratic theory is. I refrain from putting scare quotes around the term traditional in the text, however, to avoid the implication that it is Lippmann’s consistent terminology. Lippmann, Public Opinion, 258. Ibid., 310. Ibid., 371. Ibid., 375. Ibid., 381–84. Lippmann, Phantom Public, 134. Lippmann, Public Opinion, 269. Ibid., 254, 314. Lippmann, Phantom Public, 122. D I S E N C H A N T M E N T V E R S U S R E C O N S T RU C T I O N

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30. Lippmann, Public Opinion, 102. 31. Ibid., 263, 266. 32. Lippmann, Phantom Public, 87. Lippmann is none too clear whether we should take this tendency to see the world differently as a sign of humans’ deplorable selfishness and will to power, as his near-contemporary Reinhold Niebuhr, would suggest, or as being due to reasonable differences in how people think. On this distinction, see Sleat, Liberal Realism, 133–37. The basic conceptual apparatus of Lippmann’s political psychology would seem to suggest the latter, but many of his examples the former. 33. Lippmann, Public Opinion, 152. 34. Lippmann, Phantom Public, 89. For more recent theories of modus vivendi politics, see Sleat, Liberal Realism, chap. 4, and John Horton, “Realism, Political Moralism, and a Political Theory of a Modus Vivendi,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 431–48. 35. Lippmann, Public Opinion, 403–7. 36. Lippmann, Phantom Public, 162. 37. Lippmann, Public Opinion, 402, 404, 405, 98. 38. Lippmann, Phantom Public, 185. 39. Ibid., 183–84. 40. Ibid., 180. 41. Ibid., 145. 42. John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (1927; reprint, Athens, OH: Swallow, 1954), 12. 43. Ibid. 44. Ibid., 12, 106, 13. 45. John Dewey, Individualism Old and New (1929; reprint, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1999), 5, 6. 46. Ibid., 8. 47. Ibid., 6, 19, 7. 48. Dewey, The Public and Its Problems, 15–16. 49. Ibid., 27. 50. Ibid., 76. 51. Ibid., 77. 52. Dewey is fairly clear whose theory he has in mind as an exemplar: James Mill, whom he credits with “a classic formulation of the nature of political democracy” (ibid., 93). In acknowledgment of this attribution, I refer to the democratic theory Dewey wishes to criticize as “classic political democracy” or “classic political democratic theory.” 53. Ibid., 86. 54. Ibid., 91–92, 106. 55. Ibid., 108, 106, 96–97, 131. [ 164 ]


56. I understand power as “those capacities to act possessed by social agents in virtue of the enduring relations in which they participate” ( Jeffrey C. Isaac, Power and Marxist Theory: A Realist View [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987], 80). 57. For an overview of this line of critique and a partial defense of Dewey, see R. W. Hildreth, “Reconstructing Dewey on Power,” Political Theory 39, no. 6 (2009): 780–807. 58. Dewey, The Public and Its Problems, 28–36. 59. Ibid., 76, 77, 82. 60. Ibid., 158. 61. Ibid., 83. 62. Ibid., 161. 63. Ibid., 124, 125. 64. Ibid., 118. 65. On this feature of Dewey’s realism, see John Medearis, Why Democracy Is Oppositional (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), 69–72. 66. Dewey, The Public and Its Problems, 87, 91. 67. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, 8. 68. Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed, 3. 69. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942; reprint, New York: HarperPerennial, 2008). 70. Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels, Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016). 71. Sleat, Liberal Realism. 72. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, 9.


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The Paradox of the Democratic Prince Machiavelli and the Neo-Machiavellians on Ideal Theory, Realism, and Democratic Leadership RICHARD BELLAMY

Introduction: The Paradox of Democratic Leadership and Neo-Machiavellianism


espite contemporary democratic systems increasingly resembling the model Max Weber categorized as “leadership democracy” (Führerdemokratie),1 political scientists have paid scarce attention to the concept of democratic leadership,2 and most normative theorists of democracy have ignored the topic entirely.3 Indeed, many scholars regard the concept as a contradiction in terms, with leadership “opposed to participatory self-government.”4 Paradoxically, those few writers who advocate a role for democratic leadership often seem to agree regarding leadership as an antidemocratic corrective to democratic idealism that is required to save democracy from itself.5 As Giovanni Sartori, who somewhat exceptionally treated leadership as a central feature of modern democracy, put it, “When pressure from below is greatest . . . eminent leadership is more necessary than ever.”6 Two related claims underpin this advocacy of the paradox of democratic leadership.7 First, democratic decision making, understood as responsiveness to the preferences of the demos,8 is viewed as an unrealistic ideal, both impractical and undesirable. On the one hand, it allegedly raises irresolvable conflicts and coordination problems, given that many of these

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preferences are likely to prove incompatible and incommensurable; on the other hand, it supposedly poses the dangers associated with the tyranny of the majority, of prejudiced, self-serving, or ill-informed decisions that either ignore the interests of minorities or fail to serve those of the people as a whole. Second, leadership ostensibly proves inconsistent with democracy so conceived. If empirically, to earn reelection, and normatively, because of a moral obligation to respond to the preferences of citizens, democratic politicians must follow the will of the electorate rather than their own, then there is “no room within such a concept of political representation for leadership, initiative, or creative action.”9 From this perspective, the role of the democratic leader cannot but be paradoxical. A politician who abides by democratic norms cannot lead and so is destined to fail to give the people what they want due to the internal contradictions of democracy itself. A democratic leader can escape this fate and deliver on democracy’s promise, but only by acting in a nondemocratic fashion.10 To achieve the democratic ends of government for the people, a leader must circumvent and manipulate the democratic means of government by the people. This essay challenges an influential line of reasoning that has been deployed in support of this supposed paradox: namely, those arguments that invoke a purported Machiavellian realism to justify their advocacy of the paradoxical figure of the democratic prince. The supposition that Niccolò Machiavelli’s political treatise The Prince might offer guidance for democratic leaders may seem not only anachronistic but also misconceived and even perverse. After all, democratic norms emerged to counter the very acceptability or possibility of princely rule—not least by constraining politicians from adopting some of Machiavelli’s more notorious recommendations, such as a willingness to deceive and go back on promises or to act swiftly and with extreme violence to remove all rivals for power.11 Yet, despite this apparent contradiction, a small but significant tradition of Machiavellian-inspired analysis of modern democratic politics has developed that embraces and defends this paradox. This neo-Machiavellian argument, as I denote it, can be found in literatures of very diverse kinds—from what is perhaps the locus classicus within elite accounts of democracy12 to the memoirs of self-styled Machiavellian advisers to democratic politicians13 and the normative proposals of analytical political philosophers.14 Despite their differences, all claim to adopt a Machiavellian approach in


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criticizing the intrinsic qualities of democracy as hopelessly idealized and in advocating a more realist and instrumental view of both the democratic process and the role of politicians within it—an argument they employ to justify the democratic leader’s subversion of democratic means to realize democratic ends. This essay disputes the purported realism of their critique of democracy and their resulting defense of the democratic prince. It argues that realism supports a normative case for democratic processes that reflects the need for a legitimate resolution of the disagreements that shape the “circumstances of politics,”15 giving rise to a realist case for leaders to be responsive to the people they serve. The neo-Machiavellian reworking of democratic norms reflects not a genuinely Machiavellian realism so much as a traditional liberal distrust of and occasional disdain for actually existing or real democracy as an often unsuitable or nonideal practice for promoting liberal ideals.16 It has a pedigree not in a supposed illiberal realism but in a conventional liberal fear that democracy encourages porkbarrel politics and a tyrannous populism inimical to liberalism.17 The neo-Machiavellians see their advice to democratic leaders to act like a Machiavellian prince as reflecting the Florentine’s injunction that to be useful to those who practice politics, political analysts must explore how political systems really and have to operate, not how they imagine they ought ideally to function, and take human beings as they are, not as they believe they should be.18 Much as Machiavelli shows why a successful prince cannot be the paragon of virtue the traditional humanist literature conventionally exhorted and claimed him to be,19 so these neo-Machiavellians contend that democratic leaders must often act in ways that contradict the democratic ideal in order to succeed in real democratic politics, the practices of which often encourage and even require such apparently antidemocratic behavior. They insist that although the legitimacy of contemporary politicians may involve their obtaining some formal degree of democratic endorsement and seeming to act like democrats, democratic leaders will prevail only if in reality they are prepared to defy democratic norms and act like a prince. Against this view, I argue that a genuine Machiavellian realism turns out to be more democratic, at least in the weight given to popular opinion. The difference lies in the value accorded to politics. Whereas the neo-Machiavellians adopt a broadly instrumental view of political power as a means to secure certain ideal ends, on my reading a Machiavellian realism takes more seriously the normative value of politics in offering secure and popularly legitimized rule as an end in its own right. [ 168 ]


The argument proceeds as follows. The first section distinguishes realism from nonideal theory and draws on Bernard Williams to offer a realist defense of the democratic process and the importance of popular responsiveness that contrasts with the critique of democracy as nonideal. The second section then aligns Machiavelli’s argument in The Prince to this realist case for democracy. I read Machiavelli as arguing that responding and giving effect to the popular will best serves the prince’s interest. He advises the prince to employ the dark arts of politics against not the popolo, but against the grandi, who seek to serve their own interests by seizing power and using it to oppress the people. This account differs from the various neo-Machiavellian positions discussed in the third, fourth, and fifth sections. These positions offer less a realist critique of democracy and more a view of democracy as a “nonideal” means for achieving supposedly “ideal” democratic ends. Yet the resulting paradoxical view of democratic leadership risks suffering from the very flaws that neo-Machiavellians associate with idealized accounts of democracy, wherein this leadership degenerates into a populist facade for rent seeking by well-positioned and organized groups. Their vaunted realism therefore proves normatively and empirically misplaced. The third section illustrates these criticisms through an examination of the political sociology of Vilfredo Pareto. One of the originators of the elite theory of democracy, Pareto develops the negative case of how democracy undermines leadership by encouraging a democratic prince to adopt all the policies and forms of behavior that will cause his ruin and that of his state. Only a nondemocratic prince can avoid this outcome. The fourth section explores the positive case through the memoirs of Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff. If Pareto describes how a prince will be undone by democracy, this self-styled Machiavellian adviser to a democratic leader teaches how a prince can escape this fate by adopting neo-Machiavellian tactics to undo democracy. The fifth section turns to the “Rawls–Machiavelli program” of the contemporary political philosopher Philippe Van Parijs. Here the Machiavellian prince is the philosopher himself in the guise of the legislator or constitutional designer. Van Parijs’s advocacy of the philosopher prince is self-confessedly a product of the very utopian political moralism Machiavelli decried, yet it mirrors the views of the other neo-Machiavellians in claiming to adopt realist means to achieve ideal ends in a nonideal world. All three neo-Machiavellian positions prove problematic and ultimately self-defeating. As the conclusion points out, such apparently realistic neo-Machiavellian positions, despite T H E PA R A D OX O F T H E D E M O C R AT I C P R I N C E

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their differences, involve an antipathy to democracy of a kind that realism warns against for pragmatic and related normative reasons.

Democracy in Nonideal and Realist Theory It has become standard to distinguish nonideal theory from realism.20 Nonideal theory refers to the practical difficulties of realizing a particular, factindependent, moral ideal given the imperfect circumstances of the world.21 For example, cosmopolitan moral ideals might point to forms of political organization beyond the nation-state. But in a world in which nation-states remain the key actors, a nonideal theory will investigate how they might be modified and deployed as agents of cosmopolitanism, even if to some degree their very existence potentially creates a problem for the full realization of certain aspects of at least some versions of the cosmopolitan ideal.22 By contrast, realism, at least in the version associated with Bernard Williams and adopted here,23 views the disagreements and conflicts that, for reasons described later, form the circumstances of politics not so much as nonideal but ultimately temporary conditions for the realization of a given ideal than as an inherent aspect of the human condition that shapes the very way in which we can conceive of and pursue ideals in the first place. These circumstances of politics assume not simply that some, if not all, persons might be “knaves” but also that in a complex world, characterized by what John Rawls calls the “fact of pluralism,” “reasonable disagreements” and conflicts of values, interests, and judgments are endemic.24 Even if objectively “right” moral ideals exist, the limits of human practical reasoning make it unlikely that we can ever be sure we have correctly identified them or convince others that we have done so. There are simply too many empirical variables, legitimately different moral perspectives, and incommensurable and clashing values and interests for our reasoning to be ever anything more than partial, in the sense of being both incomplete and biased toward our own experience and concerns. As a result, we will always be faced with competing ideals and, for those purposes where a collective decision is required, will need some form of political process to choose which ones to undertake and how they are to be pursued. However, if political realists regard the circumstances of politics as at odds with what they call political moralism 25 —or the belief that a given set of moral ideals can be identified as constraints on certain types of action or as goals to be [ 170 ]


pursued and ideally upheld by all individuals and every political system, without their needing to be determined politically—they nonetheless believe politics involves ideals of its own. They contend that the very necessity for politics generates functional and normative requirements that are distinct from any non- or prepolitical ideals that politics might be employed to support or pursue.26 Williams identifies two such requirements. First, politics must provide a convincing answer to what he calls the “first political question”: “the securing of order, protection, safety, trust, and the conditions of cooperation.” This question is “first” because “it is the condition of solving, indeed posing, any others.” Second, politics must satisfy the “basic legitimation demand” (BLD). To meet this demand, the answer to the first political question must offer “an ‘acceptable’ solution,” one that can provide a justification of a ruler’s right to rule to each person who is subject to it. Though Williams notes that logically answering the first question forms a necessary but not a sufficient condition for legitimacy, he appears to suggest practically that the first political question cannot be answered adequately without meeting the BLD. As he elaborates, the provision “acceptable to each” offers a threshold condition—that no group should be “so radically disadvantaged” by the prevailing regime that they conceive themselves as enemies of the polity and its rulers.27 Williams concedes that the BLD is a moral principle, but not one that is “prior to politics.” Rather, “it is a claim that is inherent in there being such a thing as politics: in particular, because it is inherent in there being first a political question.”28 Williams reasoned that the first political question is unlikely to be answered in a stable way that acknowledges the disagreements and conflicts that stand behind the very need for politics and raise the question in the first place, unless rulers can avoid so radically disadvantaging a given group by their rule that this group can never find that rule acceptable in the sense of preferring it to open war. A situation in which a group of people hold power by terrorizing another group does not provide an answer to the first political question but rather represents the very circumstance that the political is supposed to address. Might never implies right in and of itself because “the power of coercion offered simply as the power of coercion cannot justify its own use.”29 The latter argument might appear to imply that the BLD can be satisfied by acceptable “outputs” without involving any special sort of political “inputs.” However, that possibility would suggest that the legitimacy of a T H E PA R A D OX O F T H E D E M O C R AT I C P R I N C E

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given regime can result from its promoting a certain moral ideal that lies outside of politics, in the sense of being beyond reasonable disagreement. From a realist perspective, though, that position cannot be plausible if the whole point of politics arises from disagreement about which moral ends and modes of moral reasoning are to be preferred. Williams does consider that doing politics implies the upholding of a limited set of basic human rights, certain extreme circumstances apart, for the simple reason that “everywhere, universally, at least this much is true, that might is not per se right: the mere power to coerce does not in itself provide a legitimation.”30 Yet these basic human rights are not goals of politics so much as implications of what resolving the issue of authority in a political manner entails. As such, the “acceptability” of any political authority stems from how rather than to what purpose it is exercised. It depends on whether that authority is exercised politically or coercively in a way that acknowledges the “circumstances of politics” and hence the need to rule in a manner capable of being perceived as “acceptable” by those subject to it or nonpolitically through the systematic oppression of some or all of the ruled. Therefore, the exercise of political authority carries some normative weight of an independent kind from either its pragmatic virtues or lack of them, on the one side, or its conduciveness to realizing some desirable normative outcome, on the other. That weight consists in the way those subject to political decisions feel those who wield political power regard them and the resulting acceptability of their rule to them. Williams has been accused of assuming a prior moral claim that all human beings matter equally or that authority requires universal consent, notions that might ground some set of prepolitical procedural rights.31 However, his argument is purely political and derives from the nature of political authority itself toward those who are subject to it rather than from some prepolitical morality. We can relate this distinction between nonideal theory and realism to two different accounts of liberal democracy. Political realism does not in and of itself mandate liberal democracy as the form any “acceptable” politics must take. However, as I argue later with regard to Machiavelli, realism can be viewed as tendentially liberal, given the inherent regard for basic rights involved by the notion of politics, and in the broadest sense as democratic, given the need for rule to be “acceptable” to the ruled through being nondominating of any given group. These conditions may have been

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met in many different and nonliberal democratic ways in most past societies. However, it makes perfect sense for a realist to espouse liberal democracy as the most plausibly “acceptable” form of politics “now and around here,” given contemporary attitudes and social and economic conditions.32 Nevertheless, the realist’s reasons for doing so will differ from those of an ideal theorist, not least in regarding certain aspects of actual liberal democratic processes as necessitated by the reality of political life rather than as contingently “nonideal.” On this nonideal account, actually existing democracy can be open to criticism as an imperfect mechanism for realizing liberal ideals. Such liberal ideals may themselves be conceived in theory as the hypothetical results of a putatively ideal democratic process.33 However, in practice a nonideal democratic process can often fail to realize these ideals. As a result, any actual democracy can be justifiably constrained by mechanisms designed to uphold liberal ideals. Such reasoning commonly underlies arguments for the entrenchment of a broad set of specifically liberal rights in a constitution and their protection against potentially tyrannous majorities or the arbitrary acts of executives by some form of constitutional judicial review.34 On the realist account, by contrast, liberal norms can be justified as valid political norms only to the extent that they can be accepted as intrinsic to democracy as a process that avoids radically disadvantaging any given group. As we saw, that justification warrants only a narrow set of basic rights. Such a political system might be better called “democratic liberalism” in the sense that the focus lies on the democratic procedures embodying liberal notions of equality of concern and respect rather than on the democratic decisions necessarily doing so. What does this distinction between the relation of ideal to nonideal theory, on the one hand, and realism, on the other, entail for our understanding of Machiavelli’s and the neo-Machiavellians’ respective understandings of the role of the “democratic prince”? The suggestion explored in the next section is that whereas Machiavelli adopts a genuinely realist position with regard to the prince that to some degree urges compliance with broadly democratic liberal norms of legitimacy, the neo-Machiavellians conceive democracy in nonideal terms, thereby allowing for a far more unprincipled stance on the part of the democratic prince whereby the ideal liberal ends justify nonideal means, including those of an antidemocratic or only superficially democratic character.


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The Democratic Realism of Machiavelli’s The Prince Machiavelli’s The Prince clearly addresses the “first political question” in offering advice on how the prince can establish and maintain his rule. How far this advice can satisfy the BLD might appear more doubtful. After all, Machiavelli flies unashamedly in the face of conventional morality in recommending that “among so many who are not good . . . it is necessary that a Prince, who wants to maintain his rule, should learn how not to be good.” Deliberately departing from accepted ethical standards, he argues that a prince has to be willing to use the cunning of a fox to lie and betray friends and enemies alike to avoid “the traps” laid by rivals and to use the force and violence of a lion to ward off “the wolves”—be they foreign rulers, contenders for his title, or rebellious subjects—ever ready to topple and kill him.35 As such, he appears to have placed little weight on the prince’s rule meeting the criteria of acceptability. However, in line with the realist position outlined earlier, Machiavelli’s objection is to the inappropriateness of applying to the political realm moral ideals conceived for circumstances that are in various ways outside politics—because they either assume an ideal world of angelic individuals, without conflicting views or interests, where politics would be redundant, or refer to nonpolitical spheres of life. Yet that does not mean Machiavelli believes there are no political norms. On the contrary, the prince has to learn not only how not to be good but also “when it is and when it is not necessary to use this knowledge.”36 Machiavelli offers three main guidelines governing how and in what ways the prince can be “not good” that indicate a respect for the BLD in roughly the terms proposed by Williams. First, he suggests that even when not being good in the conventional ways—being compassionate, trustworthy, sympathetic, honest, and especially religious—the prince should seem to be so.37 Nor should the prince get a reputation for those vices that might cost him his power to govern. Therefore, Machiavelli counsels that a prince should always appear to meet general expectations of acceptable behavior that accord with the BLD, even if occasionally he may have to depart from them. In essence, Machiavelli’s appeal here is to the “civilizing force of hypocrisy.”38 A prince who avoids openly cultivating a reputation for evil and vice is less prone to act in an evil and vicious manner and thereby needlessly alienating those subject to his rule. [ 174 ]


Second and relatedly, Machiavelli advises the prince to employ a rough rule of proportionality. His notorious advice that a prince cultivate a reputation for meanness rather than beneficence, be merciless and act with extreme violence to remove rivals and crush rebellion, be feared rather than loved, and not always keep his word is motivated by the need to offer an effective answer to the first political question. 39 For example, both generosity and mercy can prove self-defeating if the one results in higher taxes and the other merely postpones tackling one’s enemies to a less-propitious occasion when even greater violence and bloodshed may be needed to suppress them.40 However, he is unequivocal in warning against excessive force and extortion as likewise counterproductive—they would only breed hatred and thereby also render the prince’s rule less secure.41 Third, and most pertinent of all, Machiavelli urges the prince to avoid alienating the people even more than alienating the elites or grandi.42 Not only are there so many more of them, making rule without at least their tacit support unstable, but also “the objectives of the populace are less immoral than those of the elite, for the latter want to oppress, and the former not to be oppressed.”43 The elite look out for themselves and always seek to ingratiate themselves with whoever offers them most. However, although the prince must always live with the people, he can make and unmake the elite. Indeed, almost all of Machiavelli’s “Machiavellian” advice regarding foxlike and leonine behavior concerns the handling of rivals from among the elite rather than handling the masses. Significantly, the comment quoted in the previous paragraph comes in chapter 9 of The Prince, which is devoted to what Machiavelli calls the “civil principality,” where the prince is a “private citizen” rather than a hereditary ruler—perhaps the closest example of a democratic prince in the book. Such a prince is particularly dependent on the people for support, given that the elite almost always come to resent his ascendency over them. Yet the reasoning behind this advice proves consistent throughout Machiavelli’s writings and links up with William’s view of the BLD as avoiding the radical disadvantage of any group of people—but especially, given the need for general acceptability, of the majority or mass. This argument informs Machiavelli’s advocacy of citizen or subject militias over mercenaries or the support of foreign armies.44 In arming the people, the prince has to be certain that they are willing to fight for him, which would not be the case were his rule incompetent or oppressive so that they hold him in contempt or hate him. But if these criteria are met, they will prove far more reliable T H E PA R A D OX O F T H E D E M O C R AT I C P R I N C E

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than the alternatives. Moreover, the people’s being armed also reduces the possibility of their oppression by the elite.45 In other words, this best known of his policy recommendations neatly links an answer to the first political question with meeting the BLD. Machiavelli was obviously not a democrat in the contemporary, liberal, sense. Yet the Discorsi are generally read as involving an endorsement of a republican account of democracy,46 and though he distinguishes republics from principalities at the start of The Prince,47 the realist perspective of this work yields broadly democratic conclusions of a republican nature.48 Namely, if the prince is to provide stable rule of the kind required to respond to the first political question, then he must meet the BLD by securing the masses against domination by either foreign powers or, most relevantly for the current argument, the elite.49 Breaking with accepted morality proves legitimate only to the extent that it results in rule that most will find generally acceptable through not being radically disadvantaged by it. This advice may be motivated by pragmatic considerations more than any ideal moral norm. Yet that is what makes this reasoning realistic in the political sense rather than simply nonideal—it is an appeal to a distinctively political ethic.

Neo-Machiavellianism and Elite Theory: Vilfredo Pareto and Plutodemocracy James Burnham’s classic study The Machiavellians of 1943 first aligned the elite theories of Gaetano Mosca, Robert Michels, and Vilfredo Pareto with a distinctively Machiavellian approach to the understanding of democracy.50 He added Georges Sorel to this line of thinking,51 and, as Joseph Femia has noted,52 the Italian Marxists Antonio Labriola and especially Antonio Gramsci, who saw the Communist Party as the “Modern Prince,”53 can also be included in this tradition, as can many among the Italian liberal idealist thinkers, too.54 More significantly for the argument here, this theory shaped the modern account of democracy, quintessentially expressed by Joseph Schumpeter as the “competitive struggle for the people’s vote” between rival elites.55 Three themes run through this neo-Machiavellian tradition. First, all forms of government, including democracy, involve rule by an elite.56 Democracies may call for different skills among the elite or ruling class, [ 176 ]


recruit from different social strata, and be legitimated on a basis that is different from, say, that of a feudal aristocracy, but they are no less elitist in character. “Psychological tendencies . . . constant in social life” and “the necessary technical conditions of social organization,” states Burnham, render democracy in the sense of “self-government” or “government by the people” “impossible.”57 From this perspective, a democratic prince is not so much a paradox as a necessity. Princes are inevitable in all human societies; democracy merely alters their mode of recruitment and style of governing. It might be objected that democracy can adapt to these circumstances in ways consistent with the democratic ideal of self-government by ensuring that rulers are authorized by and accountable to the ruled. In complex and large-scale societies, direct democracy may be a practical impossibility for all but a few key decisions, but representative democracy need not be and yet can still retain clear democratic credentials. However, many elite theorists deny even this view. As Mosca remarks, “Whoever has assisted at an election knows perfectly well that the electors do not elect the Deputy, but usually the Deputy has himself elected by the electors.”58 Nevertheless, Mosca and even more so Pareto grant that democratic elections constrain the elite to some degree, favoring those with the qualities suited to recruiting electoral support.59 Indeed, Pareto contends that a genuinely democratic leader cannot escape acting in a decidedly non-Machiavellian and ultimately self-defeating manner. He is thereby led to portraying the true democratic prince as a charismatic populist who can ignore democracy. The second theme enters here. Following Machiavelli, but in a partial and simplifying way, the neo-Machiavellians regard government as involving a mix of force and the manipulation of consent.60 As noted earlier, Machiavelli sees recourse to these dark arts as following from the universal tendency for some humans to resort to violence or trickery to pursue their interests. Yet though he counsels a preparedness to act as either a lion or fox when the occasion demands, he does not regard such actions as necessarily the norm. By contrast, the neo-Machiavellians treat these ways of acting as the sole forms of rule, with the democratic prince largely constrained by the nature of democracy to employing various foxlike stratagems to win consent.61 Third, the elite theorists cast their analysis as an empirical critique of democratic ideals.62 Most commentators on their work have regarded this mode of analysis as exemplifying Machiavellian realism, lauding them for T H E PA R A D OX O F T H E D E M O C R AT I C P R I N C E

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challenging the idealizations of political moralists, who assume implausible psychological motivations and ignore the constraints attending most forms of economic and political organization.63 Yet we saw how the recognition that current circumstances are nonideal need not produce a normative commitment to political realism. Rather, it can lead to political cynicism and an instrumental approach to the achievement of the ideal. In this regard, Pareto offers one of the most rigorous versions of the neoMachiavellian account of the rule of the democratic prince. Like the critiques forwarded by others in this tradition, his critique of democracy is better characterized as that of a disillusioned idealist rather than as that of a committed political realist. The division between ideal and nonideal theory informs his approach to social science, which hinges on a parallel distinction between logical actions and nonlogical actions.64 The former follow “logico-experimental” forms of reasoning and are “logically linked to an end, not only in respect to the person performing them but also for those who have a more extensive knowledge.” By contrast, the latter emanate from “nonrational” states of mind for which human beings provide post hoc rationalizations that offer a “logical veneer.”65 Whereas a science of economics can be developed on the basis of “logical” action to satisfy certain objective human interests, the vast majority of human behavior consists of “nonlogical” actions governed by certain subjective psychological states, including people’s ideological affiliations and political choices.66 As a consequence, the scientific study of politics consists of exploring and systemizing the relationship between the various constant and universal psychological states that motivate all nonlogical human actions, or what Pareto calls “residues,” and the vast array of justificatory theories, such as ideologies, which he terms “derivations,” that people develop to appeal to or legitimize actions following from these psychological preconditions.67 Pareto identifies fifty-two “residues” that he breaks down into six classes. However, he traces most social conduct to the first two classes. Class I, the “instinct for combinations,” is the ability to bring different ideas and emotions together, a tendency that manifests itself in the scientist, the artist, and the entrepreneur. Class II, the “persistence of aggregates,” is a conservative tendency to hold on to existing ways of seeing the world and resist new combinations.68 Each class gives rise to a wide variety of attitudes and behavior within human beings but can be found in all societies throughout history. Drawing on a wide array of historical and contemporary materials, Pareto claims that almost all human political history can be explained [ 178 ]


by exploring the balance between Class I and Class II residues in motivating any given action or set of actions.69 Applying this thesis to the analysis of government, Pareto argues that regardless of the type of regime, elites always rule.70 Elite rule reflects the fact that some people will always be better suited for certain tasks than others, so that the ruling elite in any society will be those individuals who by social class, education, and ability happen to have the requisite qualities for that given time and place. Which qualities are suitable depend on the prevailing balance of Class I and II residues. Relating these two classes of residues to Machiavelli’s two styles of rule, he argues that the elite need the qualities to rule as foxes when Class I residues prevail and as lions when Class II residues predominate.71 Foxes appeal to the “instinct of combinations” and govern by building consent through a mixture of cunning and persuasiveness; lions appeal to the “persistence of aggregates” and govern through force and the insistence on law and order. The form of government is largely a product of the sort of qualities and type of rule needed given the prevailing balance of residues present within a society.72 Pareto argues that democratic regimes arise in societies with a preponderance of Class I residues and so favor elites capable of acting as foxes.73 However, whereas Machiavelli counsels acting like a fox in order to outwit rivals by occasionally defying conventional morality, Pareto portrays the foxlike democratic politician as one who acts in the ways Machiavelli advises against as being likely to bring one into contempt.74 Pareto characterizes contemporary democratic regimes as “demagogic plutocracies” or “plutodemocracy.”75 Drawing on his observations of current Italian politics from the 1890s onward, he sees democratic systems as dominated by two groups—on the one hand, “speculators” or the entrepreneurial class, financial traders and all those dependent upon them, such as lawyers, and, on the other hand, the socialist leaders of organized labor.76 Although these two groups might be thought natural enemies, he argues they work in tandem to “despoil” those he terms “rentiers,” people who have savings or property or whose source of income does not depend on the activities of “speculators.”77 Both the “speculators” and socialist leaders look to the state to grant them various economic privileges, such as state monopolies and tax breaks for the former and improved working conditions, minimum pay, welfare, and social security for the latter.78 Pareto regards reformist socialism or social democracy as an unholy alliance between the two groups. Politicians who work for these two groups or seek their support are led, in an almost T H E PA R A D OX O F T H E D E M O C R AT I C P R I N C E

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inversion of Machiavelli’s advice, to be generous rather than mean; aim to be loved rather than feared; appear weak, liable to vacillate in their decisions as they look which way the electoral wind blows; and fall victim to duplicitous flatterers willing to desert them whenever it serves their interests better to do so.79 Pareto sees democracy as promoting rent seeking by well-organized groups who either fraudulently or self-deludedly deploy the illusory humanitarian and egalitarian rhetoric of socialism to serve their special interests via the “spoliation” of the rest of the population.80 It is only in peddling this deceit, with the exception of those socialist leaders who naively but sincerely believe in it, that such democratic politicians might be regarded as Machiavellian. In every other respect, their policies ultimately prove self-defeating, as Machiavelli warns. A free-market liberal, Pareto contends that plutodemocracy can only lead to mounting taxes as the public debt rises as well as to an overpriced and declining economy.81 As a result, popular support will steadily wane as the electorate seeks government retrenchment, a control of union power, and regulation of the financial sector and freewheeling entrepreneurs. These demands reflect a shift in the social psychology of the population toward Class II residues and a corresponding desire to protect the “rentier” class.82 Such circumstances favor the emergence of a political elite with the qualities of the lion, willing to use force to establish law and order. If foxes employ democratic processes to build consent through extensive forms of clientalism and various indirect and direct forms of public spending, lions rely on populist endorsement of a “strong” ruler.83 In both cases, democracy as “popular sovereignty” remains a sham. Pareto’s thesis has been subjected to numerous critiques, not least that his categories are so loose that almost any event can be redescribed in terms of them.84 Such an assessment lies outside the scope of this essay.85 Here, the key feature lies in the normative character of his theory. A purportedly empirical analysis of parliamentary democracy, it does not rest on the advocacy of a realist perspective on politics. Infamously, Pareto appeared to greet the fascist seizure of power in 1922 with enthusiasm, portraying Benito Mussolini as “the man the Sociology can invoke.”86 Certainly, Pareto saw Mussolini’s rise as verifying his own view of the “circulation of elites,” in which foxes inevitably give way to lions.87 He also saw in him the possibility of a populist, demagogic prince, who might use force to bring about a much needed “radical change” in Italian politics. Yet though Pareto was no democrat, he was far from being a fascist either—despite Mussolini’s [ 180 ]


personal approval of his writings. His criticism of plutodemocracy reflected his liberal economic views and led him to advocate stripping the state of most of its economic powers—something far from the corporatism adopted by fascism.88 He was also a classical liberal with regard to civil rights and freedom of speech and disagreed with the conservative opinions of many of his friends.89 He advocated laissez-faire capitalism as a system that could be defended on logico-experimental grounds as the rational pursuit of selfinterest within a liberal framework to ensure the maximum utility of the collectivity by curbing the ability of economic agents to use state power to pursue their own interest at the expense of others—for example, through the creation of monopolies. Yet such Pareto-optimal economic competition can be maintained only in a system that holds at bay the speculators and other groups aiming at “spoliation.” The free market requires a strong state of a kind only a nondemocratic prince can provide. If classical liberalism were the ideal, one that Pareto believed a direct democracy of the kind he admired in his adopted Switzerland would choose to promote as the most mutually advantageous economic and social system,90 the democratic systems of most states at the time were not so much nonideal as positively dystopian. Given these tendencies and the unavailability of the Swiss model outside small-scale societies, the nonideal mechanism for instituting the liberal ideal, according to Pareto in this era, was the antidemocratic, demagogic prince. Although Pareto lived barely a year after Mussolini’s assumption of power, disillusionment had already set in. Mussolini, too, proved neo-Machiavellian in the worst, nonideal sense of failing to promote the well-being of the community in order to bolster sectional advantage instead.

The New Machiavelli and the New Labour Prince Pareto sees the need to rule democratically as depriving the prince of the necessary virtù to govern effectively. To exercise leadership, therefore, the prince must break with democracy. By contrast, the second example of neo-Machiavellianism consists of advice to the democratic prince on how to deploy Machiavellian virtù to circumvent these very democratic constraints. This strand can be found in the memoirs of certain advisers to democratic leaders who take The Prince as their model.91 This section examines a particularly self-consciously neo-Machiavellian account—that of T H E PA R A D OX O F T H E D E M O C R AT I C P R I N C E

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Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff of during the latter’s period as prime minister. Like Pareto, Powell accepts the democratic process as necessary for the formal legitimacy of leaders. It forces a democratic leader to obtain a degree of popularity with the electorate by heeding their opinions and, to some degree, cultivating and even changing them. Yet, pace Pareto, the democratic prince need not do so by indulging in an ultimately selfdefeating attempt to buy their support through public spending or by pandering to their every whim by vainly trying to be loved. The prudent democratic leader observes The Prince’s advice to cultivate a reputation as a careful, even stingy, manager of public finances and in general prefers to be regarded as austere rather than loveable. Success lies in having a shrewd idea of what policies will serve people’s interests and in effectively implementing them. Indeed, according to Powell, the democratic prince must be capable of generating a personal following among the electorate by reaching out to them directly across party lines, for the key neoMachiavellian advice is directed not toward the democratic prince’s dealings with the voters but toward his or her management of government officials and fellow politicians, especially those within his or her own party and the various vested interests that allegedly stand behind them.92 All these figures are seen as potential blocks on the democratic prince’s ability to implement a coherent and rational political program that serves the public interest. Powell makes much of his Machiavellian realism in exploding political “myths,” such as the supposed desirability of cabinet government, which he dismisses as merely a sign of executive weakness, and in being guided by the “eternal verities” of the largely self-seeking character of human nature.93 Yet his argument rests not on realism so much as the contrast between a certain theoretical ideal of democracy and its supposedly nonideal practice. In this regard, he follows his former boss, Tony Blair. In his memoirs, Blair remarks at various points how, as a “lawyer,” he was used to rational debate and forensic scrutiny of arguments. He complains bitterly that such discussions never arise in actual democracy, which is all about bargaining and making deals. As a result, he singles out “efficacy” as “the challenge of modern democracy.” Checks and balances, accountability, transparency, honesty, guarding against corruption may be important qualities of a constitutional democracy. However, they “lead not to consensus for change but to sclerosis or minimal change” because postwar welfare [ 182 ]


states contain “a vast network of special interests that have every incentive to defend the status quo vigorously, and virtually none to alter it or even adjust it.” Worse, “the brains of the best talents,” united by a “patriotic” desire to serve the public good—the sort of people needed to define more effective policies—are not attracted into democratic politics, so the available “gene pool . . . is now frighteningly limited.” Indeed, “the way our democracies work in the early twenty-first century is virtually a conspiracy against rational decision-making.”94 As hinted earlier, part of the solution proposed by Powell involves reaching out directly to the people, so the democratic prince must possess a populist touch and avoid attracting contempt through appearing weak by seeming unable to make or keep to a decision. As Powell sees it, this ability depends to some degree on fortuna—being the right person for the times and circumstances. However, much also depends on virtù, the capacity to adapt to events, and having the strength of will to manage one’s own party. It is for this purpose that these neo-Machiavellians advise the deployment of the black arts of Machiavellian statecraft, the use of guile if not force—the Pareto tactic of the leonine prince, who employs force when consent fails because failure is not an option for a democratic prince. Nevertheless, the prince must be ruthless in sidelining rivals by removing them from positions of power. In Powell’s view, Blair’s major mistake was not to dispose of Gordon Brown at the very start—it became only harder and eventually impossible to do through being continually postponed. As a consequence, Blair had to contend with his self-appointed successor in waiting throughout his long premiership. The prince must also use the patronage of government to create dependency among his party in Parliament. As Powell ruefully remarks, “If prime ministers had their way, they would appoint all [members of Parliament] on their benches to ministerial office.” Those who reach the inner circle of the cabinet should know they owe their privileges to the prince, while the hope of being chosen for office keeps in line those outside that circle. However, the true court consists of unelected advisers, such as Powell himself—people capable of avoiding flattery and offering independent advice because they themselves are neither rivals for the prince’s position nor representatives of special interests.95 Is this version of neo-Machiavellianism closer to the Florentine’s political realism? Machiavellian guile is used to secure the democratic prince’s position against rivals and to maintain the prince’s popularity with the electorate. However, at best, both the first political question and the T H E PA R A D OX O F T H E D E M O C R AT I C P R I N C E

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BLD are taken for granted as having been met by the very existence of a democratic system. The advice offered the democratic prince addresses neither directly. The alleged drawbacks of actually existing democracy concern its effectiveness neither as a mechanism of popular rule nor as a block on domination—as we saw, the mechanisms that might promote popular responsiveness, such as checks and balances, are criticized as part of the real problem with democracy from the prince’s perspective. This problem concerns the way democratic processes can get in the way of the prince implementing his or her favored policies. These policies are presumed to be in the public interest, with the ongoing popularity of the prince supposedly the guarantee that they are. However, the special interests that the prince’s populism seeks to circumvent are by and large the other elected representatives of the people, civil servants, and public-sector unions. The lobbying by the wealthy, vested business interests, the financial sector, and the media are hardly mentioned. In other words, what Machiavelli sees as the grandi—those with an interest in preserving the inequalities in society and dominating the majority—merit virtually no attention. The democratic prince’s Machiavellian skills are instead directed toward subverting those very democratic mechanisms that might allow the majority to combat or challenge the influence of these contemporary grandi on the policy process. This neo-Machiavellian approach raises two obvious dangers. First, it risks being open to capture by well-organized and otherwise influential groups operating outside the formal democratic process and on whom the democratic prince comes to rely for information, funding, and support. A central policy of New Labour was to be more open to financial and business interests than Labour had traditionally been. Although Blair’s electoral success has often been attributed to the way he secured the backing of economic and social groups traditionally aligned to the Conservatives, the risk was that the “rational” and “realistic” policies he claimed to pursue simply were those that served the interests of the contemporary grandi. That he thereby promoted a vibrant economy, the ostensible grounds for doing so, may or may not be true. However, it needs to be open to contestation, not least by those lacking the same degree of economic power, and the circumvention of democratic channels prevents that from happening. Second and relatedly, the democratic prince may simply get things wrong. The decision to support the US-led invasion of Iraq has overshadowed and to some degree blighted the public’s perception of Blair’s period in office. [ 184 ]


Notoriously, the professed reason for this decision—the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction—was disputed at the time and proved unfounded. Yet all the neo-Machiavellian skills for the management of the party and public opinion were placed at the service of gaining assent to a decision that has tarnished Blair’s reputation and, in Machiavellian terms, deprived him of any chance of glory.96

“Just Democracy”: Philippe Van Parijs and the “Rawls–Machiavelli Program” Though the arguments of contemporary liberal egalitarian philosophers rightly appear some distance from those of the elite theorists or contemporary political advisers, they, too, have expressed neo-Machiavellian doubts about the operation of democracy. Such worries might be thought to have surfaced most clearly in the discussion of “dirty hands.” Yet such philosophers generally regard these dilemmas as resolvable, be it in ideal terms or through the invocation of a Machiavellian realism of the kind described earlier.97 By contrast, confronted with the difficulties of implementing their favored ideals in nonideal conditions, a number of recent writers have succumbed to the temptation to employ neo-Machiavellian means to ideal ends. Philippe Van Parijs’s advocacy of what he calls the “Rawls–Machiavelli program” of “just democracy” provides a conspicuous example of this tendency.98 Van Parijs argues that a Machiavellian approach to democracy is justified to bring about Rawlsian outcomes. By “ just democracy,” he means the design of democratic means so that they are constrained to serve the ends of social justice as he understands it. Although his position is not entirely instrumental in that he acknowledges some intrinsic value to democratic participation, he nonetheless commits himself to an “uncompromising consequentialist” approach to constitutional design to improve the chances that democratic decision making will promote only just outcomes. As he argues, “Democratic engineering should not be guided by an autonomous democratic ideal . . . but by an ideal of justice, in relation to which any democratic ideal that one might wish to formulate constitutes, at best, a sheer instrument.” Notoriously, he proposes on this basis the disenfranchisement of the elderly, who he sees as less likely than the young to consider the fate of future generations.99 T H E PA R A D OX O F T H E D E M O C R AT I C P R I N C E

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As Thomas Christiano has noted, this is a “quasi-Machiavellian” position—or, as I have termed it, a neo-Machiavellian position.100 First, like the neo-Machiavellians discussed earlier and unlike Machiavelli himself, the would-be constitutional engineer—Van Parijs’s hoped-for democratic prince—is presumed to be less self-interested than other citizens and politicians. Machiavelli assumes the prince is as self-interested as his subjects but counsels that self-interest in holding on to power and winning glory involves acting in a broadly democratic manner by empowering and promoting the interests of the people. Second, this position overlooks the democratic prince’s possible fallibility and the presence of reasonable disagreement about justice: that, say, he may have underestimated the concern of the elderly for future generations or that they may have valid interests, in their turn, that the young may overlook or that can legitimately weigh against future generations’ interests to some degree. A neo-Machiavellian instrumental approach to democracy—however well intentioned—risks not showing a group such as the elderly equal concern and respect. It becomes utopian, in the very sense criticized by Machiavelli, by assuming the myth of an ideal world whose supposed guardians are somehow better than those whom they aim to guide or govern. By contrast, I have tried to show how a realist account of democracy, even one presided over by a democratic prince, that incorporates the BLD acknowledges the need for equal participation as a way of guarding against such a lack of equal concern and respect. It does so by a sort of political  invisible hand, whereby the prince’s self-interest is tied to giving equal consideration to the interests of the people as well as to those of the grandi. In sum, as with the two cases examined earlier, Van Parijs’s neoMachiavellianism can be rejected on realist grounds as illegitimate and likely to produce perverse consequences of the very kind it seeks to avoid.

Conclusion: Nonideal Princes and Real Democracy This chapter has explored the relationship of political realism to democracy through the issue of democratic leadership and the use and abuse of Machiavelli’s The Prince as a purportedly realist guide to how such a leader must behave. It has aimed not at recovering the “true” or “historical” Machiavelli but at offering an alternative reading to the Machiavelli proposed by those I call “neo-Machiavellians”—one that challenges their [ 186 ]


view that realism rejects democracy and renders the notion of a democratic leader at worst a contradiction in terms and at best a paradox. In its way, my own interpretation of Machiavelli may be as neo-Machiavellian as theirs. However, that is done deliberately in order to dispute their reading as the only or the most plausible account. The neo-Machiavellians employ an ostensibly realist critique of the democratic ideal as an unworkable form of self-government to justify a paradoxical notion of leadership in which the leader must either submit to the inherent failings of democracy or follow the neo-Machiavellian advice to act as a seemingly democratic prince while maneuvering and undermining the democratic means to achieve the democratic end of the public good. By contrast, I have argued that this position is indeed paradoxical and self-contradictory and that its flaws are testimony to its not being realistic enough. A more thoroughgoing political realism, of the kind advocated by Bernard Williams, can be read as supporting broadly democratic means given the requirements of the BLD. A regime that will be “acceptable to each” person subject to it and not “radically disadvantage” any group and that meets these criteria in ways consistent with the political disagreements that define the “circumstances of politics” necessitates a degree of political equality whereby the ruled can give such acceptance and counteract domination. I have argued that Machiavelli’s advice to the prince can be understood in such terms because it is motivated by the need for the prince to secure his position by curbing the power of the grandi to dominate the popolo by empowering the people. A genuinely realist account of the democratic prince need not involve any paradox. Rather, this problem arises for those pseudorealist theorists and politicians who hold an ideal view of what democracy and truly democratic decisions ought to be yet find themselves confronting what they regard as a nonideal practice. As the examination of the three neoMachiavellian accounts has revealed, such theorists see democratic means as subverting the achievement of ends they believe would be endorsed by  an ideal, undistorted democracy. Yet within the circumstances of politics the only real warrant that any given ends can legitimately claim to serve the public good is that they gain acceptance from the public through democratic means. A democratic prince can facilitate that process, not least by helping citizens coordinate their disparate demands, but only by responding to rather than manipulating or coercing the popular will.101 T H E PA R A D OX O F T H E D E M O C R AT I C P R I N C E

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Notes 1. Max Weber, “The Profession and Vocation of Politics,” in Political Writings, ed. Peter Lassman and Ronald Speirs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 338–39. 2. For example, in On Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998) Robert Dahl ignores the topic. Exceptions that prove the rule include Jean Blondel, Political Leadership: Towards a General Analysis (London: Sage, 1987); Archie Brown, The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age (London: Vintage, 2014); Robert Elgie, Political Leadership in Liberal Democracies (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 1995); Sergio Fabbrini, Il principe democratico: La leadership nelle democrazie contemporanee (Bari, Italy: Laterza, 1999); and John Kane and Haig Patapan, The Democratic Leader: How Democracy Defines, Empowers, and Limits Its Leaders (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). 3. Standard texts, such as Ian Shapiro, The State of Democratic Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), look at representation but not leadership. However, see Andrew Sabl, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); Nannerl O. Keohane, “Western Political Thought,” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Leadership, ed. R. A. W. Rhodes and Paul t’Hart, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 25–40; and Eric Beerbohm, “Is Democratic Leadership Possible?” American Political Science Review 109, no. 4 (2015): 639–52. 4. Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 237. 5. Giovanni Sartori, Democratic Theory (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1962), 98. 6. Ibid., 119. 7. See, for example, Jan Pakulski and András Körösényi, Toward Leader Democracy (London: Anthem Press, 2012). 8. See, for example, Robert A. Dahl, Polyarchy, Participation, and Opposition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971), 1. 9. Hannah Pitkin, The Concept of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 90. See also Ruth Grant, Hypocrisy and Integrity: Machiavelli, Rousseau, and the Ethics of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 45. 10. Weber, “The Profession and Vocation of Politics,” 351. 11. See chapters 15–19 of Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, ed. and trans. David Wootton (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1995). References are to this edition, with occasional small changes in the translation based on my own translation of Il principe e Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio, 8th ed., ed. Sergio Bertelli (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1983). [ 188 ]


12. See James Burnham, The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom (Chicago: Gateway, 1943), a classic of the genre. 13. See, for example, The New Machiavelli: The Art of Politics in Business (New York: Wiley, 1998) by Alistair McAlpine, an adviser to Margaret Thatcher; The New Prince: Machiavelli Updated for the Twenty-First Century (Los Angeles: Renaissance Books, 1999) by Dick Morris, an adviser to Bill Clinton; The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need to Know Now (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) by Carnes Lord, an adviser to George W. Bush; and The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World (London: Bodley Head 2010) by Jonathan Powell, an adviser and chief of staff to Tony Blair, whose argument is discussed later in this essay. 14. Though Machiavelli features most commonly in discussions of “dirty hands,” I focus on the related invocation of Machiavelli as a guide for realizing political ideals in a nonideal world, as exemplified in Philippe Van Parijs, Just Democracy: The Rawls–Machiavelli Programme (Colchester, UK: ECPR Press, 2011), 1–2. 15. Jeremy Waldron, Law and Disagreement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 107–13. 16. On the liberal distrust of democracy, see Anthony Arblaster, The Rise and Decline of Western Liberalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), chap. 15, 326, and passim, for its twentieth-century manifestation in a reworking of democracy. 17. See Nadia Urbinati, “Unpolitical Democracy,” Political Theory 38, no. 1 (2010): 65–92. 18. See, for example, Powell, The New Machiavelli, 6, citing the opening paragraph of chapter 15 of Machiavelli, The Prince, 47–48. 19. Felix Gilbert, “The Humanist Concept of the Prince and The Prince of Machiavelli,” in History: Choice and Commitment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Pres, 1977), 91–114. 20. Matt Sleat, “Realism, Liberalism, and Non-ideal Theory, or, Are there Two Ways to Do Realistic Political Theory?” Political Studies 64, no. 1 (2016): 27–41. 21. Ibid., 3–4, here following Laura Valentini, “Ideal vs. Non-ideal Theory: A Conceptual Map,” Philosophy Compass 7, no. 9 (2012): 654–64. 22. Lea Ypi, “On the Confusion Between Ideal and Non-ideal in Recent Debates on Global Justice,” Political Studies 58 (2010): 536–55. 23. See Bernard Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 1–17. 24. John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 55–57. 25. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 1–3. 26. Ibid., 3; Matt Sleat, “Legitimacy in Realist Thought: Between Moralism and Realpolitik,” Political Theory 42, no. 3 (2014): 315. T H E PA R A D OX O F T H E D E M O C R AT I C P R I N C E

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27. 28. 29. 30. 31.




35. 36. 37. 38.

39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46.


Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 3–5. Ibid., 5. Ibid., 5–6. Bernard Williams, “Human Rights and Relativism,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 69. Matt Sleat, “Bernard Williams and the Possibility of a Realist Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 485–503. For a critique to which Sleat concedes (“Legitimacy in Realist Thought,” 335–36 n. 43), see Ed Hall, “Bernard Williams and the Basic Legitimation Demand: A Defense,” Political Studies 63 (2015): 446–80. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 8, and “Human Rights and Relativism,” 65. In Williams’s terse formulation, “Liberalism = Legitimacy + Modernity” (“Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 10). See, for example, Joshua Cohen, “Procedure and Substance in Deliberative Democracy,” in Democracy and Difference, ed. Seyla Benhabib (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 99–100. As Williams notes (“Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 12), such reasoning motivates Ronald Dworkin’s advocacy of strong rights-based judicial review and the constitutional entrenchment of liberal rights in his book Freedom’s Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). For critiques of Dworkin, see Waldron, Law and Disagreement, chap. 13, and Richard Bellamy, Political Constitutionalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 93–100. Machiavelli, The Prince, chap. 15 at 48–49 and chap. 18 at 54. Ibid., chap. 15 at 48. Ibid, chap. 18 at 55. Jon Elster, introduction to Deliberative Democracy, ed. Jon Elster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 12, and “Deliberation and Constitution Making,” in Deliberative Democracy, ed. Elster, 111. This advice is given in Machiavelli, The Prince, chaps. 16, 17, and 18. Ibid., chap. 16 at 50 and chap. 17 at 51. See the distinction between “cruelty well used and cruelty abused” (chap. 8 at 30). Ibid., chap. 19 at 56. Ibid., chap. 18 at 55; chap. 19 at 58. Ibid., chap. 9 at 32. Ibid., chap. 12 at 38 and chap. 13 at 43–45. Ibid., chap. 20 at 64. See John G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), 212, 232, and John P. McCormick, Machiavellian Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), esp. chap. 2. Machiavelli, The Prince, chap. 1 at 6. [ 190 ]


48. For a parallel account that has much influenced the view taken here, see McCormick, Machiavellian Democracy, chap. 1. See also Claude Lefort, Machiavelli in the Making (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2012), 229–33, 247–50. 49. As Machiavelli notes, “When it comes down to it only the masses count” (The Prince, chap. 18 at 55). 50. Burnham, The Machiavellians. 51. Ibid., part 4. 52. Joseph V. Femia, The Machiavellian Legacy: Essays in Italian Political Thought (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998). 53. Antonio Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere, ed. Valentino Gerratana (Turin: Einaudi, 1977), 1558–61; for quotations of non-English source material other than The Prince, my translations are given unless otherwise noted. 54. See Richard Bellamy, Modern Italian Social Theory: Ideology and Politics from Pareto to the Present (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987), esp. 4–11, and “Gramsci, Croce, and the Italian Political Tradition,” History of Political Thought 11 (1990): 313–37. 55. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (London: Unwin, 1976), 269. 56. See, for example, Gaetano Mosca, Elementi di scienza politica, in Scritti politici, vol. 2, ed. Giorgio Sola (Turin: UTET, 1982), 608; Vilfredo Pareto, Trattato di sociologia generale, 2 vols., 2nd Italian ed., ed. Noberto Bobbio (Milan: Edizione di Communità, 1964), para. 2025, 2031–34. 57. Burnham, The Machiavellians, 265. 58. Gaetano Mosca, Sulla teorica dei governi e sul governo rappresentativo, in Ciò che la storia portrebbe inseganre: Scritti di scienza politica (Milan: Guiffré, 1958), 275. 59. See Bellamy, Modern Italian Social Theory, chap. 2 (on Pareto) and chap. 3 (on Mosca), and Richard Bellamy, Croce, Gramsci, Bobbio, and the Italian Political Tradition (Colchester, UK: ECPR Press, 2014), 238–44. 60. See, for example, Pareto, Trattato: “Throughout history, consent and force appear as agencies of government” (para. 2251). The inspiration comes from Machiavelli, The Prince, chap. 18 at 54. 61. Burnham, The Machiavellians, 260–62; Pareto, Trattato, para. 2178. 62. See, for example, Mosca, Sulla teorica, 30, and Pareto, Trattato, para. 6. 63. Burnham, The Machiavellians, 251–56. 64. Pareto, Trattato, para. 149–53. 65. Ibid., para. 150. 66. Ibid., para. 153, 161, 180. 67. Ibid., para. 868–70, 875, 1690. 68. Ibid., para. 888, 889, 991. 69. Ibid., para. 2025–26. T H E PA R A D OX O F T H E D E M O C R AT I C P R I N C E

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70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84.

85. 86.

87. 88. 89. 90. 91. 92.

93. 94. 95. 96.


Ibid., para. 2031–34. Ibid., para. 2178. Ibid., para. 2237, 2239, 2274–76. Ibid., para. 2257, 2259. Ibid., para. 2260, 2305. Ibid., para. 2268, and Vilfredo Pareto, La trasformazione della democrazia (Milan, 1921), 73–77. Pareto, Trattato, para. 2231–33, 2257, 2305. Ibid., para. 2234–35, 2313. Ibid., para. 2228, 2255, 2306–7; Pareto, Trasformazione, 83–86. Pareto, Trattato, para. 2268, 2307–9. Pareto, Trasformazione, 23, 56–57. Pareto, Trattato, para. 2311–13, 2390; Pareto, Trasformazione, 83–86. Pareto, Trattato, para. 2235, 2313. Ibid., para. 2223–26, 2235. See, for example, S. E. Finer’s excellent introduction to Vilfredo Pareto, Vilfredo Pareto: Sociological Writings, comp. S. E. Finer, trans. Derick Mirfin (Oxford: Blackwell, 1966), esp. 72–77. See Bellamy, Modern Italian Social Theory, chap. 2, for such an assessment. Vilfredo Pareto to Lello Gangemi, November 13, 1922, in Vilfredo Pareto, Correspondence, 1890–1923, 2 vols., ed. Giovanni Busino (Geneva: Droz, 1975), 2:1114 n. 1261. Pareto to Gangemi, October 11, 1922, in Pareto, Correspondence, 2:1106. Pareto, Trattato, para. 2267. Ibid., para. 1050, 2390. Ibid., para. 2240. See the citations in note 13. Powell, The New Machiavelli, 26–27; 105 (quoting Machiavelli’s advice in The Prince, chap. 17 at 51–52); 11, 56; 38–39; 71, 181–82 (commenting on Machiavelli, The Prince, chap. 6 at 19–20). Powell, The New Machiavelli, 5–6 (commenting on Machiavelli, The Prince, chap. 15 at 47–48). Tony Blair, A Journey (London: Arrow, 2011), xxiv, 44, 71, 172, xxiii, xxiv. Powell, The New Machiavelli, 48, 182; 22; 26, 28, 31; 25, 34; 132; 142; 95. Brown shows how Blair’s mistakes, notably the Iraq War, came from not being checked by other democratic voices and from following the advice of unelected advisers such as Powell, whereas his successes, such as the constitutional reforms he regretted and his economic policy, came from having to make such democratic compromises (Myth of the Strong Leader, 8, 10, 326–41, 350–51). See, for example, Michael Walzer, “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 2 (1973): 160–80, and Bernard Williams, [ 192 ]


“Politics and Moral Character,” in Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1981), 66–67. 98. Van Parijs, Just Democracy, 1–2. 99. Ibid., 39, 16, and chap. 4, a proposal Van Parijs defends as exemplifying the Rawls–Machiavelli program (37–39). 100.Thomas Christiano, “Is Democracy Merely a Means to Social Justice?” in Real Libertarianism Assessed: Political Theory After Van Parijs, ed. Andrew Reeve and Andrew Williams (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 172–200. 101. I am grateful to Guy Aitchison, Joe Femia, Hanspeter Kriesi, Cecile Laborde, John McCormick, Matt Sleat, Albert Weale, and especially Andy Sabl for helpful comments on an earlier draft and to participants at seminars in Florence, Montreal, and São Paolo for their probing questions.


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Politics and the “Pure of Heart” Realism and Corruption MARK PHILP


his essay discusses political realism and the problem of political corruption. It is not an “application” of realism or a theoretical defense of it. It is concerned to try to set out the ways in which political realism might help us think about political corruption, but it is equally concerned with how thinking about political corruption might help us think more clearly about the variability of the politics that realism aspires to do justice to. I have written elsewhere about the definition of political corruption. In doing so, I have tried to analyze how we think about corruption, why we think about it as we do, and how we should think about it as well as to consider the place that claims about corruption have within certain intellectual traditions and within particular cultures and societies.1 One major concern with definitions is the need to be sensitive to locality and to social meanings without succumbing to complete relativism—if corruption is just what people count as corruption around here, and if they don’t count “this” (whatever “this” is) as corrupt, then it cannot be corrupt. If there is to be a discussion of corruption that is properly cross-cultural (and that “if ” needs to be a genuine question, as does how extensively comparative we can in fact be), then we need to be sure that we are talking about the same thing across different contexts. The line I have taken has been to focus on political corruption and to argue that politics is, in broad terms, a system of ordering, allocation, and exchange that has some genuinely cross-cultural [ 194 ]

dimensions and purposes. If there is no politics, then there is no political corruption; if there is politics, then it is going to be functioning with, in very broad terms, similar types of claims and aspirations and will be responding to similar kinds of problems, and these claims and aspirations will give us some guidance in determining whether an activity is corrupting of politics or not. This is not to suggest that there is only one way of doing politics and only one perfect political order. On the contrary, politics exists because there are conflicts and issues that require a certain sort of authoritative solution, without which we fall back on war or domination by force (and even if war and domination require political mobilization, they do not act toward the “enemy” in political ways). There are also certain features of political solutions that are distinct from other forms of ordering—familial, economic, and social.2 Politics involves claims to authority and legitimacy; an appeal to certain principles—such as fairness, nonarbitrariness, nondomination, and so on—together with a de facto ability to secure order and compliance in areas where conflict would otherwise generate disorder and violence; and the establishment of procedures and processes that have some normative weight independent from the outcomes that the procedure delivers (so that we accept the outcome not because we agree with it, but because it is the outcome of the process). The precise scope and form of politics, then, must depend on the precise types of conflicts that exist and on the range of political solutions that are feasible (recognizing that what works may have many dimensions in tension—the degree to which solutions are predictable, sustainable, encompassing, enabling, and so on). In practice, many states in the West see themselves as forced to act in ways that go beyond what can be directly politically legitimated and that in various ways fall short of strictly political relations with subject populations— and so in these instances they appeal to a “state of exception.” It goes beyond my brief to say whether recent revelations about such exceptionalism in relation to terrorism, surveillance, and so on have adequate justification. Such claims confirm, however, that political orderings by their very nature depend on being able to make and to make stick (more or less) a claim to sovereign judgment. To rule politically is to invoke an ultimate power of decision to settle what can and cannot be tolerated or permitted, which is intrinsic to the authority those in power claim. That puts a distinctive pressure on their judgment and means that their actions are always potentially contestable—with corruption being one potential language of critique. In P O L I T I C S A N D T H E “ P U R E O F H E A RT ”

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determining the legitimacy of such criticism, we have to recognize that reflection on corruption becomes, in many cases, a very direct reflection on the nature of politics and on what political realism demands in particular contexts. The various dimensions involved in political rule—the distinctive type of relation to those whom such rule claims legitimately to govern and the set of decisions it must make about where the line between that group and “outsiders” is drawn, about how those outsiders are to be responded to, and about what actions are warranted in relation to those within the state to ensure stability, legitimacy, and order given the forces within which the state acts, together with the possibility of misuse of such power—means that work on political corruption is closely related both to work on political conduct and standards in public life and to a concern with realism in political theory. These areas of research and practice are interdependent: no one element acts as the foundation for the others; working out the content of one in a particular context involves simultaneously working out some of the distinctive local content of the others. In this essay, I address two recent claims about how to understand corruption (as a violation of impartiality or of institutional purposes), and I use these claims to indicate the conceptions of politics that they assume. I then draw on a literature on non-Western states to underline the points that politics does not rule everywhere or everywhere in the same way and that we have to address exactly how it operates in a given context if we are to make intelligible claims about the corruption of that politics. Being a realist about politics and its corruption means recognizing their symbiotic and rather local character and should lead us to be skeptical about accounts that put either impartiality or institutional purposes at the core of their conception of corruption.

Impartiality and Institutional Corruption One standard Western model of corruption, which has recently had a very eloquent defense at the hands of Bo Rothstein, is the view that corruption involves departures from impartiality in the exercise of public office.3 If politics is about authoritatively resolving conflict, and if it does so by standing above the conflict and settling differences between the parties in ways that they can acknowledge as legitimate, then deviations from impartiality

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would seem to undermine legitimacy and would thereby attack the very nature of political authority. Of course, there are various ways (such as incompetence) in which public office can be exercised badly (and without impartiality) but not in fact be corrupt, but Rothstein sees derogation from standards of impartiality for private gain as lying at the core of corruption. Rothstein’s account has many strengths. What holds claims about political corruption together cross-culturally is the sense that goods and services are misallocated if the powers of public office are used to benefit those who have a responsibility not to benefit or who have no entitlement. The exact content of the rules governing public office does not have to be crosscultural. What is required for comparability across contexts is the idea of a legitimate process and consequent distributions that operate according to shared understandings that are implemented impartially rather than subverted or compromised. Stable political orders that command authority are marked by common patterns of expectation in relation to the exercise of power and authority and to shared conceptions of the legitimate processes for the determination of political outcomes. Where these normative patterns are widely shared, it is possible to identify cases of corruption and to see why judging someone to be corrupt is both an individual judgment and an institutional judgment. That is, the individual action violates rules for unsanctioned gain (to the individual and/or to others), and it subverts and potentially compromises the ends and character of the institution that the agent is responsible for furthering. Recent work on “institutional corruption” has proposed that we might separate these two components—suggesting that institutions can be seen as corrupted whenever activity under their auspices subverts their ends (without referring to individual motives—as in, for example, the common definition of corruption as “the abuse of public office for private gain”).4 Separating the impact of actions on the character and ends of the institution from the intentions of the agent means that institutions can be corrupted even when agents act wholly within the remit of their office. Even when they do the “right” thing, if that “right thing” subverts the ends of the organization, then, according to this definition, we should account it corrupt.5 In ethical terms, for institutional theorists, the primary judgment concerns what supports and what subverts the institution and the ends it pursues. There may be a further judgment that reflects on the worth of those ends relative to other competing ends: for example, Carl Bernstein

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and Bob Woodward’s behavior in the Watergate scandal certainly did subvert the institution of the presidency under Nixon, but it did so in the name of a higher set of ideals for the presidency. In one way, this move is liberating—it disconnects agent motivation from institutional effect, so we separate how we judge the conduct of the agent and how we judge that conduct’s effect, and it can give us an agenda for reform that identifies activities that are subversive of the ends of the institution in a way that makes no assumption about the character of the agent’s motives. This is in sharp contrast with most modern definitions of corruption that yoke motive and effect firmly together—“the abuse of public office for private gain” demands both damage to the office and agent intentionality. Indeed, there are long traditions in the West that see these two components as inseparable: an act is corrupt not just because it is bad for the ends of the political system but also because the agent acts in a way that consciously ignores or violates the rules and does so for (broadly) self-serving ends. If only because private gain and corruption have been so integrally related for so long, it is worth examining the institutional approach. To recommend this approach is not, however, to endorse it! My sense is that the approach stretches the language of corruption too far. Institutions can be bad, flawed, indifferent, contradictory, perverse, self-defeating, and so on. Political institutions may be any or all of these things. Yet to call them corrupt whenever some action undermines their ends (irrespective of intent) involves the application of a technical but normatively infused language traditionally linked to a dereliction of agency to a world in which institutional purposes are often deeply contested. It is not the application of a general language of evaluation to an objectively describable set of institutional purposes, and it overstates the claims to objectivity that can be made in relation to both institutional purposes and the conditions for order. The work of Dennis Thompson and Mark Warren, for example, in which institutional corruption is tied to the ideal of democracy, assumes a content to democracy that is highly contestable (certainly as a universal, but only marginally less so as a claim about the democratic ideals of US society). And even if we can get agreement on what the ideal democracy is, it is not clear that we want to describe behavior that subverts democracy as corrupt where the intent is missing. We might agree that we ought to legislate against certain transactions, such as accepting undisclosed donations to campaign funds, because of what such as actions might do to the political process, but that is not the same as identifying those actions—the [ 198 ]


donations or their receipt—as corrupt irrespective of the rules, intentions, and motives in play. As Anastasia Piliavsky has recently reminded us with respect to India, democracy encompasses both a competitive practice and a complex and contested normative ideal. The relationship between those two elements is systematically unstable and cannot be stabilized simply by treating the normative as prior to and as constraining the competitive dimension, in part because the competitive dimension often involves a contest over the appropriate ideals of the practice.6 Where normative judgments about ends and institutional purpose are contested, so that there is no definitive set of ends to an institution, it is much more difficult to ground the normative judgments that seem to be intrinsic to claims about political corruption. Much behavior in organizations is dysfunctional, contradictory, self-defeating, and self-serving. And organizations can become inoperative as a result. But we should resist applying a terminology that draws on traditions of analysis and judgment that are concerned with motive, gain, and effect to institutions in which only the last is salient. Seumas Miller suggests that knowingly marrying a couple bigamously or engaging in perjury involve corruption because they subvert the institutions of marriage and justice, but at the very least we seem to need to know something about the agents’ motives. And even if they are acting for personal gain, it is not clear that the intuition that the behavior is corrupt necessarily works. For example, a thief clearly acts contrary to property law and with intent to gain, but what is gained by talking about him or her corrupting the institution of property? For that description to be good, considerably more seems to be required. Similarly, perjury seems a perfectly good term to describe lying in court, and it is unclear what is added by thinking of it as corrupt. Conducting bigamous marriages for personal gain might be closer to corruption, but it is so because of the impact on the institution or because there is a dereliction from the formal requirements of a role for personal gain.7 This might encourage us to go back to Rothstein and the idea that it is the agent’s adoption of an inappropriate motivational set, in place of impartial judgment, that constitutes corruption. Clearly, motivation has been important in the way people have thought about corruption. But impartiality is an especially demanding ideal for motivation in politics (and elsewhere). Purely impartial judgment seems to reflect an implicit Kantianism—one does the right thing only when it is done solely from a sense of duty (impartially to serve the public). Yet we might reasonably P O L I T I C S A N D T H E “ P U R E O F H E A RT ”

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ask if A’s motive for doing what she does matters if what she does is the thing that she ought to do. Does her motive for providing the service have to be that it is what impartiality demands? She might provide it because she feels sympathy for B; because she wants to avoid being penalized by her boss for failing; because she sees it as enhancing her status within the organization; and so on. Indeed, few institutions can operate on the assumption that impartiality is an agent’s sole motive in the conduct of office even if it is recognized that certain other motives for providing a service might introduce contradictory impulses. In some central and eastern European states emerging from transition in the 1990s, anticorruption units were established whose staff were often paid considerably more than ordinary civil servants. But there was little reflection on whether these units were simply attracting people who were in it for the money. In such cases, it is clearly important to reflect on what does and what should motivate people and to consider carefully the implications of the assumptions we make about what is attracting people to a particular line of work. By all means pay public servants in anticorruption roles more, but we should think hard about whether we want them to be motivated by the money (which can be dangerously unstable) or the status and respect the money represents (which is perhaps less dangerous, but if that is the objective, we should also look for other things that reinforce this aspect rather than focusing wholly on financial gain). If you recruit by offering the highest wages, can you reasonably expect to retain people’s loyalties whenever someone outbids you, and, if so, on what basis and, crucially, how hard have you worked to develop that alternative basis? We might say that we are concerned with the intent of the act—to fulfill the requirements of the office. But can we really be wholly indifferent to the motives that lie behind the adoption of that intent and that may come to undermine it?

Politics Versus Impartiality A great many factors in Western traditions encourage us to make these connections and distinctions among motive, intent, and impartiality.8 The Reformation was driven in part by the rejection of a conception of divine grace that suggested that it could be bought in the form of indulgences or earned through works. Both routes raised the problem of whether, if you are doing something only in order to be saved, you are doing it for reasons [ 200 ]


that an omniscient God will or ought to reward. In this tradition, it looks as if the sole legitimate motivational structure we can endorse in our relations with God is one that is utterly abject and selfless. For many, not worshipping God for the right reasons is as bad as (perhaps worse than) not worshipping him at all. Are we expecting something similar when we worship at the altar of the impartial state? Clearly, the Seven Principles of Public Life developed by the United Kingdom’s Committee for Standards in Public Life (and informing codes of ethical conduct around the world) seem to suggest this expectation: the list begins with “selflessness.”9 It does so because in the West, perhaps more specifically in Anglo-American and northern European Protestant cultures, our conception of bureaucratic orders demands a sharp separation between the motives that the agent may have for doing the job and those that are brought to bear in decision making under the allocated powers of office. There is a right way to take the decision, and there are a range of motivational components that need to be excluded from that process. The impartial state demands purity of heart in the exercise of judgment. But this emphasis on impartiality obscures a major dimension of political life. Rothstein’s good-governance/impartiality-based understanding of corruption depends (perhaps not sufficiently explicitly) on a line being drawn between political decision making and the impartial administration of policy. He accepts that political decisions are not impartial and (by definition) cannot be. They are not necessarily self-interested, but in them someone often, as Bernard Williams puts it, “wins.”10 People win office by appeals to partial and sectional interests as well as to general considerations. True, the struggle for power is constrained in part by rules and procedures that define the process, but these components do not determine its outcome. Competition for office inevitably involves conflicting commitments and judgments—not just conflicts of preferences but value conflicts that can run extremely deep. Once someone is in office, his or her political decisions are affected by a range of considerations in which impartiality may play a greater or lesser role, but underlying the exercise of political office is some sense that in winning that person has the opportunity (perhaps a mandate or even an obligation) to pursue some ends, values, and goods rather than others. And if we are inclined to insist on separating politically partisan policy making from the impartial administration of decisions, we need to be aware that the line between political decisions and administrative P O L I T I C S A N D T H E “ P U R E O F H E A RT ”

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decisions cannot be sharply drawn, not least because the line is in the final analysis drawn by politics and not for it on some independent set of criteria. As Williams argues, the first question of politics is order.11 Solving that problem may involve establishing a number of institutions that invoke impartiality (such as the judiciary), but the problem of order itself is not one that can be solved impartially. Moreover, a further problem, to which I return later, concerns situations in which the domain of politics is not as sharply distinguished from other domains as it is in Western models of the political world and of state administration, if indeed it is distinguished at all. The implicit model of purity of motive in officeholders also encourages people to think that there is a natural trajectory toward probity. Writers on corruption (and more widely on development and modernization) have tended to see the history of the West as a progressive triumph over the challenge of corruption. In contrast, we might be wiser to see it as a progressive process of identifying as “corrupt” certain sets of activities that are seen to threaten the expanding authority of the state (both in breadth and in terms of its unconditional character) in certain ways. On this view, the rise of the modern state, the delineation of a sphere of politics, and our understanding of corruption develop hand in hand. The West and its relatively clean political systems are less evidence of the triumph of impartiality and its institutionalization within public bureaucracies and more a political and partisan outcome that was brokered by a series of evolving deals that subsequently became institutionalized. Following Mancur Olson’s “roving versus stationary bandit” metaphor, we might say that political groups and their leaders moved from thinking in terms of a smash-and-grab raid on communities to seeing the political game in longer-run terms, involving institution and system building, rather than the optimization of returns in the short run, even though this meant accepting limits to partisanship and self-seeking within the political order.12 They recognized that it was in their interests to build institutions to pursue their purposes (not least as fiscalmilitary states), but they also increasingly saw the advantages of not having to dismantle or eliminate the institutions and their occupants whenever power changed hands. So they developed technical and professional bodies that were rule constrained, impartial and instrumental in character. In turn, this development placed constraints on those in power and allowed them to construct corruption as a problem because it threatened the

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compromises struck and the effectiveness of their political control (as well as their legitimacy and hence their political control). On this account, then, a definition of corruption wholly in terms of the impartial responsibilities of those in public office will not work. Much corruption (especially administrative corruption in advanced Western polities in northern Europe and North America) certainly is about derogation from rules of impartiality in public office—but that cannot be used to construct an ideal of impartial politics or as a guide to how to model institutions for other societies, especially where those other societies have different historical paths and have not evolved similar state forms. Rather, we have to recognize that our conceptions of the nature and scope of impartiality in public office are delimited by historical political deals and decisions that make sense in our context but have no claim to universality. We should also acknowledge the pertinent points made by writers such as Partha Chatterjee about the partiality of the norms for politics constructed in the West and the constant exceptionalism (a neat contradiction in terms) that these norms generate in many Asian societies—or, indeed, in African states where the formal state apparatus is both financially and functionally unable to deliver its promises and thus has to resort to alternative ways of producing distributions or decisions.13 The model of impartiality requires a sharp distinction between politics and administration, and it is primarily relevant to the latter. Moreover, as a result of developing “the administration” as a tool that will serve political will, further clear lines have been drawn between dimensions in which personal motives may play a part (in relation to salary, status markers, and so on) and the attitude that should be taken to fulfilling the demands of office. The very insistence on the “impersonality” of office is precisely an indication of that split. Western models (and it should be acknowledged that this description does little justice to the variety of compromises struck in such states and the different traditions that have evolved in relation to the expectations of those in office, even within a rather selective group of northern European and North American states) generally rely on double distinctions: political/administrative and personal/office. Where these distinctions are not sharp, we lack a central building block for a conception of impartiality. And where that is the case, we cannot think of the conduct of office in terms of the purity of motives and the singleness of the ends pursued.

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Moreover, even in the West, purity of motive is not something we attribute to politicians. We know, for example, that British ministers’ decisions about how hard to press the European Community about the rules concerning immigration to the United Kingdom in the years before the referendum on Europe were deeply affected not by objective evidence about net migration or the value added to the economy but by judgments about whether a failure to appear tough on immigration would lead voters (and potentially members of Parliament) to defect to the political right. We may be contemptuous of the pragmatism that drives this system—and sometimes it is pretty despicable—but if politicians want to make a difference, they have to win elections, and to be insouciant to the wishes of an electorate would be political suicide and politically irresponsible. Politicians want certain things, they are partisan, they have to compete for office, and they have to sweat and grind in the electoral and committee processes of the modern world. It might be possible for them to guide or shift public opinion by taking a courageous stance and insisting on the facts of the case, but if they are seriously contending for power, they have to be confident that that is the message that they will get across and will get across to the right (and right number of ) people. They cannot be committed to the value of the thing (objective or policy) wholly for its own sake. That thing has to be an element of a wider political calculus that is in part about forging and maintaining coalitions and in part about being willing to broker deals that inevitably fall short of the ideal but that allow the politician to win and then achieve something. It has, in short, to be approached with an ethic of responsibility, not an ethic of ultimate ends (although both we and the politician need to recognize and guard against the fact that means often become ends).14 In a complex world, with multiple dimensions of value, advancing on some fronts will always involve sacrifices on other fronts, and some dimensions of value will be squeezed as others are pursued, and even the pure of heart in politics will have to make compromises that qualify their ideals and that cannot be legitimated equally to all. People may sometimes want a Robespierre, but rarely for long and not when he demands that everyone in politics meets his own standards of virtue and his unswerving commitment to his particular conception of the public good. In politics, purity of motive means that deals cannot be brokered; it accords no weight to loyalties and reciprocity; it disavows compromise and demands sacrifice; and it makes impossible any sense of entitlement to the trappings and emoluments of office. It makes politics suprahuman—and although there are [ 204 ]


periods in which politics has aspired to this purity, the results rarely make them an attractive example to follow. Exactly how venal and grubby politics has to be is an important issue— there are clearly degrees, and exactly what is practically possible depends heavily on causal constraints. But the point holds: politicians are and have to be driven by partial and partisan motives if they are going to succeed, and how grubby they have to get depends hugely on the context in which they have to compete for power. Western polities have attempted to curtail certain possibilities: they have demanded a certain amount of transparency, have restricted the scope for arbitrary decision making, and have instituted forms of accountability. But although this curtailment might restrict the scope for particular forms of blatant self-serving, it does not follow that we can or should expect our politicians to be wholly pure in heart. Nor does it follow that politics has or can ever become impartial.

Non-Western Politics In many places in the world, the lines between politics and administration are not sharply drawn—and in some less well-developed countries, the lines are barely present.15 Similarly, the lines between the personal and the official are often weak or absent. Where this is the case, there cannot be much in the way of impartiality—and there will instead be what seems to us to be extensive corruption. Even if these societies often have institutions that are apparently similar to ours—political parties, legislatures, executives, and so on—these institutions often have substantially less authority as procedures and processes to determine the ordering of conflict, and they are often interlinked with social, familial, tribal, religious, and cultural networks, which means that their authority should not be understood as a function of claims to political sovereignty but as deriving instead from their embeddedness within existing forms and relations of exchange. As such, in these cases we need to avoid thinking that some model of politics is being corrupted. Rather, we need to recognize that things are working rather differently and that what we think of as politics may barely be working at all. This does not mean that the practices of such communities are consensually validated or that these communities are significantly different in culture and that that is how we should explain their behavior. We should not rule out the possibility that there may be instances in which there is P O L I T I C S A N D T H E “ P U R E O F H E A RT ”

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consensual validation. What interests me more is what I take to be the more common situation in which many people in the culture are unhappy about how those in office behave—that is, where those in office are caught in patterns of expectations that endorse enrichment, emphasize particularistic obligations, and facilitate self-serving behavior (which under certain conditions can take off into forms of massive self-enrichment). Ordinary people who complain about those in office and their decisions may make claims about corruption and its reach. Although the ethnographic literature is not extensive on this point, one exception is Giorgio Blundo and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan’s work: in Everyday Corruption and the State, they show that a very extensive range of terms are being used to describe the behavior of those in office. They describe this range as the semantic field—“the expressions used by everyone to talk about, describe and practice corruption.”16 As they point out, relatively little work has been done recently on the local vocabularies associated with illicit activities. But the exercise is complex (and they are candid about being unable to tackle all the complexities). They report relatively few generic terms—the Wolof term ger, meaning “to sweat,” or the Arabic term rashawa, which they report as meaning “corruption.” They instead identify a (considerable) number of registers—some terms linked to transaction, some to gratification and begging terms, some to sociability, some to extortion, and some to secrecy. One key register is “manducation”—that is, terms associated with eating: guzzling, devouring, being greedy, taking bait, stuffing oneself—and a whole range of expressions that have food connotations—juicy, coffee money, sugar for the children, to wet the rice, to break the fast—and a range of expressions linked to kola/cola. That is merely a small selection—merely to whet the appetite! We need to ask, however, under what conditions we want to say that these are terms relating to corruption. To turn the use of such registers from descriptive or condemnatory of distinct behaviors to descriptions of corrupt behavior that invoke such behavior as a distinctive class containing these items is a more doubtful move. My sense is that, for all the ethnographic focus, Blundo and Olivier de Sardan operate with what is broadly a standard Western view of corruption and fit these diverse terms of judgment and condemnation into that view. In doing so, they give a unity to vocabularies that are not necessarily unified. It might be better instead to treat as distinct the use of each term or type of judgment and acknowledge that all of these terms do not necessarily point to a more joined-up conception of a generally recognized phenomenon called “corruption.” And [ 206 ]


good ethnographic work on the use of terms and registers should ask how far they form coherent patterns: we might assume that describing someone as “a dog” expresses one’s disapproval—but is that description and evaluation shared by others? Is it more expressive than descriptive? Is it in fact compatible with judgments we might take as contrastive—admiration for X’s power, for the way he looks after his group, for his generosity, for his cunning, and so on? Might “you dog” sometimes carry admiring connotations? Finally, it will often be important to identify the field within which particular comments and claims are made. In many Western states, we treat claims about the behavior of people in office as part of a general discourse of politics. But it is clear that in some contexts such claims function quite differently—for example, as a part of something like gossip, which involves often highly particularized judgments and expectations of officeholders that do not relate to more general principles or claims or to a delineated wider field of activity.17 Treating these terms as part of a language of corruption absorbs these particulars into an assumed unified and coherent whole. But that case has to be argued for in each distinct locality. The language of corruption alongside the language of politics is too often imported from the West and subsequently turned to a range of contestatory and polemical purposes, and in failing to attend to the complex registers of local judgment, we often fail to appreciate the variability of people’s assessment and the extent to which they are tied to sets of expectations that are linked to perceived patterns of responsibility and obligation that are some distance from ideas of the impartial exercise of office. As a result, we fail to grasp how what we understand as the core components of politics are understood in this locality and to appreciate the exact space they occupy and their relationship to other forms of allocation and exchange. Moreover, judgments are often not consistent across relationships. Where one person complains of another person’s meanness, yet another might praise his generosity, even if she has received the same treatment from him, depending on how she conceives of her relationship to him. Moreover, being mired in conflicting and competing sets of expectations and demands means that ordinary people and those who hold some kind of standing or office in the community can be locked into incommensurable expectations and patterns of exchange that they have to negotiate through whatever means they can. People may not be content—they may be very much the reverse—but that does not mean there is a single P O L I T I C S A N D T H E “ P U R E O F H E A RT ”

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alternative order or set of values that they subscribe to that is not being realized. It is not simply that the status quo may present a huge collectiveaction problem; it may also be that people have such dramatically conflicting expectations and demands that there is little basis for a political solution in which some autonomy and impartiality can be guaranteed to aspects of the administration of the political system. In the growing literature on early-modern markets and about the socially embedded nature of exchange transactions, in anthropological work on exchange and obligation, in a range of work about the negotiation of legal pluralism, and in a range of materials that draw inspiration to some degree from Karl Polanyi’s book The Great Transformation,18 the social embeddedness of exchange and obligation is treated as axiomatic.19 I cannot review this literature here, but I want to suggest that we need something similar to be effected in our analysis of politics and in the history of politics in different parts of the world. That is, we need to recognize that politics is more often than not imperfectly distinguished from other forms of social and economic transaction, that societies and states differ considerably in the extent to which and the ways in which these domains are distinguished as well as the extent to which they can command a consensus on such differentiation. If we start from such a position, it will necessarily have substantial implications for the way in which we think about political corruption, which currently presumes a sphere of politics that is largely purged of or able to dominate other forms and patterns of allocation and exchange. The more local question of what “politics around here” involves will be concerned to identify forms of local ordering and contestation and the forces that threaten their stability. And thinking about what disrupts or distorts what is going on “around here” will influence our view of what kind of politics is feasible or desirable in this context. In the West, a great deal of literature on economics and politics focuses on the moment of transaction: in economics, treating the exchange of goods or commodities for money; in politics, concentrating on the moment of administrative decision and judgment. In contrast, the alternative literature to which I have referred recognizes the complexity of the institutions and frameworks that have to be in place for this simple operation to take place as a pure one-off transaction. In neoclassical economics, the crucial moment of transaction is the conjunction of supply and demand in the idea of price; in politics, it involves the recognition of legitimate claims through decision and allocation. But in both cases the frameworks within which [ 208 ]


and the backgrounds against which these transactions take place are seen largely as of little relevance or as “noise.” Yet aspects of the exchange become impossible to explain without reference to features other than price or decision: in both cases, the exchange presumes relations of trust, confidence, norms of reciprocity and obligation, patterns of power and authority, the distribution of access to knowledge and information, and so on—all based on both informal and formal networks, expectations, and relationships. Consider, for example, the situation that exists in some African cultures (especially in West Africa), where solidarity networks are necessary to secure access to essential goods and services (in part because of the absence of a paternalist state able to do this but faute de mieux also simply in part because that is how people have traditionally managed). In recent decades, in many communities the multiplicity and the potentially conflicting character of the demands made by these solidarity networks have ensured that no one can place full reliance on such networks, which offer “weak ties” that must be strengthened with gifts, favors, certain exchanges, and so on if they are to be serviceable.20 In a world in which the state is not in a position to ensure that it is the prime source of, maintainer of, and legislator for the political and social order, networks and solidarities are what people have to prevent the worst. The multiplicity of such networks does not turn them into a market (although it might encourage extensive monetization); indeed, it creates an expectation that all exchange will be freighted—that it will involve something more, thus generating reciprocal claims, acknowledging responsibilities and obligations, and confirming status hierarchies. Those who have no access to these networks will have no alternative to engaging in direct bribery. For such communities, when exchange becomes wholly commodified in such contexts and the price of the good fully determinate, the good’s distribution paradoxically becomes seen as corrupt because it has broken free from the social expectations and obligations that accompany the way in which people and property relate to each other. David Sneath has found something similar in the dramatic rise of people complaining of corruption in Mongolia after the demise of state socialism, the monetization of exchange, and the destruction of patterns of enabling relationships that were seen as nontransactional.21 Olivier de Sardan suggests that the multiplicity of solidarities, coupled with the uncertainty of success, gives people a very strong sense of a zerosum game—that if others get something, then it must be at your cost. He P O L I T I C S A N D T H E “ P U R E O F H E A RT ”

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also notes the common “overmonetization” of relations.22 Money increasingly enters all relationships and serves to blur the lines that allow for a political order, an economic order, a social order, a familial order, and so on. We tend to think that money dominates in capitalism, but there is something interesting in the idea that the “banalization” of monetary exchange across all relationships and the interleaving of money in every transaction serve to prevent independent domains from emerging and becoming consolidated. In such contexts, we cannot talk about strictly political or economic relationships or orders because they are never strictly political or economic. One feature emphasized by the anthropological literature on West African politics and distribution in the 1990s, particularly by Blundo and Olivier de Sardan, is the multiplicity of normative expectations and competing normative systems—raising the problem of whose norms matter when there are many competing systems: Christianity, Islam, traditional religious expectations, patrimonial patterns, customary law, colonial law, postcolonial law? This problem creates a situation in which people may in part be bargaining over the appropriate order to subscribe to so as to reach a resolution (a version of what the legal literature refers to as “forum shopping”).23 We need to recognize that this multiplicity of expectations and normative systems barely looks like our understanding of politics at all,24 much less like the imposition of an order—rather, it is more an order that emerges ex post from negotiation. Olivier de Sardan argues that vagueness arising from the coexistence of various normative systems obviously favors the diffusion of corrupt practices “by widening the margin of negotiation.”25 But his suggestion raises the following question: With respect to what standard of politics are such diversity and negotiation then corrupt? The judgment of corruption implies the sovereignty of a political order, but that is largely absent. Even if there are people who hold various formal political offices and have certain formal responsibilities, they have to engage in these processes of negotiation in which the ends are partly about securing order and bolstering their authority but which often require and almost always turn out to involve some enrichment of self and others. Becoming someone with power means that one attracts an array of claims, some of which have to be met to consolidate one’s authority. It is, then, hardly surprising that ongoing concessions are made to such demands and that, if they are not met, those in power are criticized for greed and corruption.26 Of course, people also help themselves, but that is also often an expectation [ 210 ]


among the different parties—although they may share that expectation without agreeing about what obligations attach to those gains. And in many cases, the process of negotiation is itself a process of constructing an order and attempting to consolidate to some degree people’s authority where the formal position is often not a necessary condition and rarely a sufficient one even where it is necessary. When people are acting to build and strengthen their authority (in a context where there is no alternative legitimating source), it then seems inappropriate to claim that they are acting corruptly. Things can often go very badly awry, as when Western governments, businesses, and aid agencies act in ways that systematically distort the practices of local communities, picking winners and losers, identifying and conferring authority, providing access to resources, and assuming responsibilities that cut across existing patterns of obligation and reciprocity. In such cases, exactly who is acting corruptly with respect to what? If corruption is something that is predicated on actions or occurrences in defined domains—and if what interests us is political corruption—then we have to have some sense of what politics involves “around here” and some sense of whether politics is the ruling game or whether, in fact, it lacks the grip and the sovereignty that it has in the developed political systems of the West. That Western states have tried to create such systems for many of these countries does not mean that the systems function. Again and again we have assumed that with just a little change societies deeply riven by conflict can turn themselves into representative liberal democracies just like us—as in Iraq, throughout the whole Arab Spring and on a more global scale in respect to societies and complex cultures that do not operate as the West currently does and where politics occupies a morefragile, less-dominant place. Such local, less-sovereign forms of politics are often systematically distorted by the pressures that are placed on those in positions of leadership by the international economy, the international development system, and the international order of states. One consequence, especially in resource-rich states, is often massive fraud, expropriation, and corruption by those in power because of the opportunities that are opened up in virtue of the amount of wealth (relative to local standards) that can become available in the absence of traditions of sharing power and wealth across competing groups and networks. This is not intended as a reductionist, culturalist account of corruption in “less-developed” states. Nonetheless, political realism has to recognize that politics does not rule everywhere and in the same way, and it has to P O L I T I C S A N D T H E “ P U R E O F H E A RT ”

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assess how and how far politics is working in particular contexts, what it is responsible for, and through what means it conducts those responsibilities. At the same time, it must recognize that the encounter with the modern world economy and state system has created dramatic opportunities for enrichment for some, often by their laying claim to the political power that we expect them to have but that operates in practice on a very different basis than it does in the West. Western conceptions of political corruption are predicated on a set of distinctive intellectual traditions and practices that depend on the separation of politics and administration, presume the sovereignty of politics, and are often accompanied by an expectation of purity of heart on the part of those serving in politics that is relevant to a rather restricted domain of practice and is both quite a complex as well as a very culturally and historically specific expectation. Many societies lack such traditions, and their political systems function very differently, if indeed they have such a distinct “political” domain. In the West, we rather reluctantly admit the plural motives of those in political office—but the sharpest sequestering of private interests comes from a particular conception of administration and the purity of bureaucratic motives in which a systematic division is expected between what moves the agent qua person and what drives the formal decision. That distinction is not integral to politics, and it has rather limited application in systems that lack those sharply differentiated spheres. Western assumptions about the naturalness of the political order have also led to an international development and state system that puts huge responsibilities on and opportunities in the way of those who are identified as formally in power. It should not be surprising that those in power often turn these opportunities to personal, sectional, and political advantage, which further entrenches their power and dominance. Indeed, by assuming that a politics of the impartial state will work in these places, we have created possibilities for (and the problem of ) corruption in many societies on a dramatic scale. Insofar as there is a political realism adequate to understanding corruption in many African states, it would involve asking questions about how to consolidate certain aspects of these orders, how to make them more predictable and more acceptable as a compromise between rival claimants so that there can be regular changes of government, how to make the

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administration more open and transparent, and how to look for ways to connect up what people identify as most objectionable and destructive about political decision making (which will often pick out large-scale extractive corruption that is not fed back into the economy) with the implementation of systems for tackling that corruption—by increasing powers of seizure of bank accounts, blocking movements of goods and currency abroad, establishing constraints on the kinds of deals that can be struck between multinationals and politicians, perhaps enforcing the creation of sovereign wealth funds, and so on. Many of these measures require those in power in these political systems to relinquish a degree of sovereignty, but the West has done little to earn the role of caretaker and responsible banker to such systems. Therefore, progress is going to have to depend on forging links between international organizations for Africa, Western financial and development institutions, and the political groups within the various countries so as to generate something of a consensus about how best to build longerterm stability and incentives for probity into these political systems. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that this process will be a clean one—people will have to be bought off, compromises struck, partialities and solidarities respected.27 And the process will be long and difficult— often dramatically exacerbated by our desire to help and our expectation that these states will follow our lead. That is not a cheery conclusion, but it has the virtue of a degree of realism! In my opening comments, I suggested that political corruption may help us think about political realism as much as vice versa. That is because it forces us to ask how far, in what forms, with what effectivity, and for what purposes there is politics in a given society. I have tried to suggest that there is a very distinct take on politics in the West, with a sharp separation between politics and administration as well as between personal motives and impartiality, that dominates the discourse of political corruption. But these conditions do not apply universally, and we need a better grasp of when and where and to what extent these expectations and this terminology are appropriate. This is not the sort of thing that political theorists characteristically do, even those who subscribe (often in highly abstract terms) to political realism. Indeed, it may be that this job is not one for political theorists, but there is little sign that comparativists and institutionalists in the discipline are willing to do justice to these complexities. And if theorists are interested in politics and realism, it is difficult to avoid

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the conclusion that the abandonment of political moralism entails a responsibility to think harder about politics in all its diversity—perhaps especially where it is at its most fragile.28

Notes 1. See, for example, Mark Philp, “Defining Political Corruption,” in Political Corruption, ed. Paul Heywood (Oxford: Blackwell/PSA, 1997), 20–46; “Corruption, Definition, and Measurement,” in Measuring Corruption, ed. Charles Sampford, Arthur Shacklock, Carmel Connors, and Fredrik Galtung (Basingstoke, UK: Ashgate, 2006), 45–56; and, most recently, “The Definition of Political Corruption,” in The Routledge International Handbook on Political Corruption, ed. Paul Heywood (London: Routledge, 2015), 17–29. 2. I refer implicitly here to Carl Schmitt, The Concept of Political (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1976), but a wider group of theorists shares a sense of the essentialism of political relations and the centrality of questions of decision and power, including Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1958) and The Promise of Politics (New York: Schocken Books, 2005); Jacques Ranciere, Disagreement (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999); and, most recently, Bernard Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). See also my book Political Conduct (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), chaps. 3 and 4. 3. Bo Rothstein, The Quality of Government: Corruption, Social Trust, and Inequality in International Perspective (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Bo Rothstein and Jan Teorell, “What Is Quality of Government? A Theory of Impartial Government Institutions,” Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions 21, no. 2 (2008): 165–90. 4. For such work on “institutional corruption,” see Dennis Thompson, Ethics in Congress (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1995) and “Mediated Corruption: The Case of the Keating Five,” American Political Science Review 8, no. 2 (1993): 369–81; Mark Warren, “What Does Corruption Mean in a Democracy?” American Journal of Political Science 48, no. 2 (2004): 328–43, “Corruption as Duplicitous Exclusion,” PS: Political Science and Politics 34, no. 4 (2006): 803–007, and “The Meaning of Corruption in Democracies,” in Routledge International Handbook on Political Corruption, ed. Heywood, 113–44; Laurence Lessig, Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop it (Boston: Hachette, 2011); Seumas Miller, Moral Foundations of Social Institutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). [ 214 ]


5. Although it seems odd to account the action of doing the “right” thing “corrupt” even if we do think that the result is in some way corrupting, the position’s advocates do not seem to be concerned about that. 6. Anastasia Piliavsky, “India’s Demotic Democracy and Its Depravities: In the Ethnographic Longue Durée,” in Patronage as Politics in South Asia, ed. Anastasia Piliavsky (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 154–75. 7. Miller, Moral Foundations of Social Institutions, 172, 155. 8. As Williams and other political realists have argued, there are deep historical roots to certain aspects of modern liberal institutions and practices. See, for example, Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed, chaps. 1, 4, and 5. 9. The Seven Principles are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. See Committee for Standards in Public Life (CSPL), Ethics in Practice: Promoting Ethical Conduct in Public Life (London: CSPL, 2014) and Public Ethics and Political Judgment (London: CSPL, 2014). 10. Bernard Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 13. 11. Ibid., 3–4. 12. Mancur Olson, Power and Prosperity (New York: Basic Books, 2000). 13. Partha Chatterjee, Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), chaps. 1–2. 14. Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” in From Max Weber, ed. Hans Gerth and C. Wight Mills (London: Routledge, 1948), 77–128. 15. Moreover, in thinking about the history of Western societies, it is important to try to identify the points at which these distinctions begin to become salient as well as the debates and discourses that drive these developing distinctions. There is a case to be made, for example, for thinking that it is in part through applying a developing discourse of corruption in religious circles to politics and administration that Western states begin to separate out legitimate and illegitimate components in decision making in office. See Mark Knights, “Samuel Pepys and Corruption,” Parliamentary History 33, no. 1 (2014): 19–35, as well as his forthcoming work on political corruption in early-modern Britain. 16. Giorgio Blundo and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, Everyday Corruption and the State: Citizens and Public Officials in Africa (London: Zed Books, 2006), 120, in general 120–33. See also Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, “A Moral Economy of Corruption in Africa?” Journal of Modern African Studies 37, no. 1 (1999): 25–52. 17. The suggestion here is that we have to be alert to potentially different discursive forms. For example, thinking about claims of corruption as forms of gossip might lead to a substantially different reading than treating them as claims P O L I T I C S A N D T H E “ P U R E O F H E A RT ”

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18. 19.



22. 23. 24. 25. 26.

about principles of politics or justice. See Max Gluckman, “Gossip and Scandal,” Current Anthropology 4, no. 3 (1963): 307–16; Sally Engel Merry, “Rethinking Gossip and Scandal,” in Towards a Theory of Social Control, vol. 1, ed. Donald Black (New York: Academic Press, 1984), 271–302; and Diego Gambetta, “Godfather’s Gossip,” European Journal of Sociology 35, no. 2 (1994): 199–223. Karl Polyani, The Great Transformation (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1944). See, for example, John Davis, Exchange (Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 1992); Marcel Mauss, The Gift (London: Cohen and West, 1966); Laurence Fontaine, The Moral Economy: Poverty, Credit, and Trust in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Caroline Humfress, “Thinking Through Legal Pluralism: ‘Forum Shopping’ in the Later Roman Empire,” in Law and Empire, ed. Jeroen Duindam, Jill Harries, Caroline Humfress, and Nimrod Hurvitz (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 225–50. In law more generally, see work in the Journal of Legal Pluralism. And see especially Fontaine’s concluding remarks in The Moral Economy, which rightly point to some of the virtues of markets over more solidaristic forms of exchange, not least their compatibility with aspects of democracy. She is surely right to doubt the superiority of more embedded forms of exchange—and has evidence from the early-modern period to support her case. But it is also important to avoid a binary opposition between markets and politics and to avoid thinking that there is ever any simple way of moving from one system of exchange in some sort of equilibrium to another. On the gift, see also James Laidlaw, “A Free Gift Makes No Friends,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 6, no. 4 (2000): 617–34. In contrast to the role of weak ties in a more egalitarian market economy, as discussed in Mark Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology 78, no. 6 (1973): 1360–80. David Sneath, “Transacting and Enacting: Corruption, Obligation, and the Use of Monies in Mongolia,” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 71, no. 1 (2011): 89–112. On Mongolian judgment, see also Caroline Humphrey, “Exemplars and Rules: Aspects of the Discourse of Moralities in Mongolia,” in Ethnography of Moralities, ed. Signe Howell (London: Routledge, 1997), 38–60. Olivier de Sardan, “A Moral Economy of Corruption in Africa?” 40–41, 45. See note 19 for this chapter. Although this multiplicity may be more familiar in relation to judicial practices in complex federal orders, such as the United States. Olivier de Sardan, “A Moral Economy of Corruption in Africa?” 37. See, for example, Chinua Achebe, No Longer at Ease (Cape Town: Heinemann, 1960).

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27. Just as in the West plea bargaining, witness protection, and other means are used to provide immunities to some in exchange for information that allows the elimination of certain forms of organized crime. 28. Earlier versions of this paper were discussed in the University of Warwick’s Corruption Network meeting in December 2014 and at Sussex University’s Corruption Conference in January 2015. I owe particular thanks to David Anderson, Liz David Barrett, Dan Branch, and Mark Knights for comments.

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Democracy’s Limit A Realist Response to the Quest for Transparency R A H U L S AG A R


he defining characteristic of a democratic people, Alexis de Tocqueville observes in Democracy in America, is “an ardent, insatiable, eternal, invincible passion” for equality.1 Contemporary history validates this observation: some of the most important debates and events in our time revolve around redressing social, economic, and political inequalities associated with race, gender, income, opportunity, and access to information. I do not intend to evaluate here equality’s moral worth or status. I instead want to evaluate its prospects in one particular domain: the norm of transparency or the quest for equal access to information. I explain why calls for transparency have greatly increased in recent decades and why efforts to meet these calls are continually frustrated. The argument rests on a simple observation: because democracies must have recourse to secrecy, someone in a position of authority will need to have a final, unreviewable say on what is done in secret. This fact implies that our evaluation and understanding of many important government decisions will invariably have to rely on something other than public scrutiny and deliberation. The claim, in short, is that the contemporary quest for transparency is bound to flounder and that a failure to face up to this reality renders democratic theory a poor guide to confronting political problems, especially potential abuses of power under the cover of secrecy. The more realistic way forward, I propose, is to investigate and cultivate mechanisms

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and institutions for good governance that are not predicated on transparency. The search must be for answers that give reason to hope that we will be ruled well in the many moments when we can neither rule ourselves nor watch over those who rule in our name.

Why Pursue Transparency? Democratic theory provides citizens three mechanisms to oversee their governors: elections, public opinion, and public deliberation. These mechanisms rely on citizens being able to access information about policies and policymakers. Elections cannot be truly competitive if either the electorate or the rivals of an incumbent are denied the information required to judge performance. Similarly, if public opinion is to be a means of control, then, as Bernard Manin writes, the public must be capable of forming opinions independently of government direction, which requires “that governmental decisions are made public.”2 Public deliberation is especially demanding on this point. As Jürgen Habermas puts it, what is democratic about deliberation is “the condition that all participate with equal opportunity in the legitimation process conducted through the medium of public discussion.”3 But if this equality of opportunity is to be meaningful, then the preliminary materials of deliberation must themselves be publicly accessible because, as John Rawls writes, in aiming for public justification “we appeal to ascertainable evidence and facts open to public view, in order to reach conclusions about what we think are the most reasonable policies.”4 The requirement of public accessibility notwithstanding, a democracy will often want to employ secrecy. Such secrecy can be both for civil purposes such as to maintain fairness, candor, privacy, and efficiency as well as for national security purposes. The latter kind of secrecy, which I am concerned with here, is especially worrisome because it tends to be long lasting and to insulate from public view the logic and evidence behind grave and costly decisions pertaining to war and peace. Such withholding is typically seen as a serious threat to democracy. John Dunn, for example, writes that “government seclusion is the most direct and also the deepest subversion of the democratic claim” because the “more governments control what their fellow citizens know the less they can claim the authority of those citizens for how they rule.”5

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These concerns are not theoretical. Recent events have given fresh life to Arthur Schlesinger’s observations in the wake of the Vietnam War. “No one questions the state’s right to keep certain things secret,” he wrote then, but the “real function of the secrecy system in practice is to protect the executive branch from accountability for its incompetence and its venality, its follies, errors and crimes.”6 The principal factor behind heightened anxiety today is the sense that secrecy has made it especially difficult for citizens and lawmakers to oversee and bring the president to account for the vigorous exercise of executive power since the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. During this time, secrecy has served to limit public debate on questions such as whether the United States ought to undertake preventive war and utilize practices such as extraordinary rendition and targeted killing. It has also hindered members of Congress from knowing about, much less overseeing, the use of secret prisons, extralegal surveillance, and so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. And it has prevented the courts from proceeding with cases brought by citizens and foreigners who have been subjected to warrantless wiretaps, incarceration, and torture by the United States or its allies. The kind of worry voiced by Dunn and Schlesinger is sometimes depicted as overblown. Critics argue secrecy does not really endanger democracy because citizens require only limited bits of information in order to hold officials accountable. For example, Bruce Russett writes that in spite of pervasive secrecy citizens are not helpless when it comes to overseeing national security decisions because “information levels are quite adequate to set basic and stable principles to guide public policy.” 7 Bear in mind, however, that ascertaining whether a principle ought to be applied in a particular setting typically requires contextual information (for example, we may be opposed to war in general but willing to permit it on grounds of self-defense, which means that much depends on whether we have or have not been attacked first). There are two reasons to be skeptical of citizens’ ability to obtain such information. To the extent that the assertion of citizen competency is an empirical claim, the evidence is grim. Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro conclude from their study of a half-century of American public-opinion data that centralized control of information about foreign affairs has allowed successive governments to “present a unified, carefully constructed picture of events to the public” such that public opinion is led rather than followed by public officials.8 [ 220 ]


This empirical claim may be challenged on the grounds that the ongoing “information revolution” has reduced the epistemic gap between citizens and the government.9 A mind that is open, inquisitive, and skeptical, it could be argued, is unlikely to succumb to propaganda. But consider this news report summarizing former US attorney general Alberto Gonzales’s argument on behalf of warrantless surveillance: “Gonzales said the warrantless surveillance has ‘been extremely helpful in protecting America’ from terrorist attacks. However, because the program is highly classified, he said he could not make public examples of how terrorist attacks were actually disrupted by the eavesdropping.”10 This example clarifies the challenge that secrecy poses: it raises the distinct possibility that officials can justify controversial decisions via reference to suppressed evidence—that is, by claiming to have secret information that validates their decision but that cannot be shared with citizens. Such claims might be disregarded, I suppose, but then the point of delegating national security management to elected representatives is itself in question. Yet if such claims are accepted, then what remains for citizens to judge and deliberate? The concern that secrecy undermines democracy may also be contested on the grounds that participation and especially accountability can be realized without needing to make detailed information public. It is often said that an executive can obtain hypothetical consent by asking itself whether citizens could be expected to approve a given policy if they were in fact to have access to the relevant information. Alternately, an executive can employ generalization: that is, “if a particular decision cannot be disclosed in advance, the general type of decision can be discussed publicly, its justifiability in various hypothetical circumstances considered, and guidelines for making it in those circumstances formulated.”11 These tactics do not survive close scrutiny, though. The problem with the former, Dennis Thompson points out, is that the first premises of the relevant actors “are usually too contestable to be resolved through assumptions about human nature, shared beliefs and interests under hypothetical conditions.”12 In practice, this means that an official may simply not know what might be a reasonable standard to compare her policy against. Convinced of the rightness of her decisions, she may too readily assume her fellow citizens’ concurrence. This is the reason why, as David Luban argues, “the best way to make sure that officials formulate policies that could withstand publicity is by increasing the likelihood that policies will withstand publicity.”13 D E M O C R AC Y ’ S L I M I T

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The problem with the latter rests in the difficulty of interpreting whether a specific case falls under the purview of a general restriction or approval. For example, suppose citizens vote to prohibit drone-based surveillance. Now imagine a new threat emerges—drug trafficking across a vast and inhospitable border. Does the previous general restriction on drone surveillance apply, and if so, should it be revisited? In answering such questions, as Thompson notes, there can be “no substitute for the consideration of particulars.”14 In the case at hand, for instance, perhaps drone surveillance is going to be especially helpful in tracking terrorist networks given the logistical and financial hurdles associated with manned posts. But to get into detailed discussions on the merits of a particular surveillance policy defeats the whole point of employing generalization, which is to avoid public deliberation on sensitive matters lest this deliberation let the cat out of the bag. Moreover, even if such a public discussion were undertaken, the executive’s monopoly over secret intelligence provides it with a significant advantage in determining whether the circumstances recommend deviating from a general norm. In the event, a generalized policy does not appear to provide any distinct advantage over the status quo.

The Quest for Transparency The foregoing discussion goes to show that secrecy cannot be described as a minor obstacle to key democratic norms of participation and accountability. This conclusion in turn explains why, especially over the past halfcentury, scholars and activists have tried to come up with ways to ensure that pervasive secrecy will not thwart participation and especially accountability. These efforts have been directed at figuring out how to make the executive abide by the norm of transparency—that is, the expectation that information will be concealed only in the public interest and not in order to shield wrongdoing and incompetence. The action has been on three fronts. The first set of efforts has been directed at the executive. A common tactic has been to draw attention to the sheer volume of classified documents, which number a few hundred million annually. However, pressuring the government to reduce its use of the classification stamp is not very

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convincing because a democracy will want the government to keep secrets if doing so is genuinely necessary for national security. A case-by-case approach also comes with its own complications. Because the costs and benefits of disclosing a piece of information cannot be conducted in public, citizens must delegate classification decision making to the executive. Then again, given that we wish to scrutinize the executive because we fear the abuse of state secrecy, asking officials to calculate the benefit and harm caused by disclosure is like asking the suspect to provide the evidence. In other words, the success of efforts to promote transparency are destined to rely upon the faithfulness of officials, which is ironic because the point of the exercise is to prove rather than assume their good faith. The dilemma outlined here can be lessened, it has been argued, by attending to how classification decisions are made. The idea is not to divest the executive branch of the final say. Rather, it is to subject classification decisions to internal review by the government’s own legal officers, such as the attorney general.15 If a classification decision survives such scrutiny, scholars argue, then we have reason to be more confident about its merit because the reviewers are not likely to share the original classifier’s parochial interests. But does widening the circle of reviewers really improve the credibility of internal review in hard cases—for instance, where national security choices are bound up with complex political and moral issues? The officials responsible for reviewing classification decisions may not have the same incentives as the officials responsible for the original decisions, but this does not mean that the former will have an incentive to promote transparency. Broader administration-wide objectives may lead internal reviewers to play along with the original classifiers, especially when the stakes are high. An embarrassing disclosure may not be an embarrassment exclusively to the parent organization of a particular classifier—it may embarrass or even weaken the administration as a whole and thus prompt a loyal silence from internal reviewers. Another possible way to ensure that officials charged with undertaking declassification will act appropriately is to impose limits on the duration of secrecy, principally in the form of disclosure rules. For example, a rule might require records stamped “confidential” to be treated as such for one year from the date of classification, following which the need to maintain confidentiality is presumed to have expired and the record is deemed

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declassified. The utility of such automatic-disclosure rules is that they seem to lessen the discretionary power that officials enjoy over declassification decisions, thus increasing the likelihood that citizens and lawmakers will obtain access to records that might otherwise be withheld by officials wishing to cover up wrongdoing. However, such rules have two obvious shortcomings. The first is that in practice they tend to have long fuses, typically from twenty to thirty years. These extended durations are justified on the grounds that long periods of time must be allowed to elapse before methods and sources are revealed lest earlier disclosures lead to a drying up of intelligence and collaborators. Yet requiring citizens and lawmakers to wait this long before they can examine how decision makers have acted greatly constrains their ability to enforce accountability. This is the problem of irretrievability: the greater the delay before declassification, the harder it becomes to remedy in any meaningful sense the harm caused by poor decision making. A further problem associated with disclosure rules is that we cannot demand that they be followed absolutely, just as we cannot be certain of the length of time after which the disclosure of a secret will prove harmless. Consider Aftergood v. CIA (2005), a case brought under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1974 by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, who sought from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) information about the size of its Cold War–era intelligence budgets. The CIA argued that it was entitled to withhold the information in question in order to “protect the classified intelligence methods used to transfer funds to and between intelligence agencies.” Aftergood challenged this claim, arguing that he had previously published the intelligence budgets for 1953, 1954, 1955, and 1972 that a historian had discovered in the archives of former congressmen. The publication of these documents, Aftergood claimed, had “had no identifiable” negative consequences for the United States. Hence, the court, he argued, ought to order the CIA to disclose the requested information. The court concluded otherwise. “The plaintiff invites the court to conclude that the plaintiff is more knowledgeable than the ADCI [assistant director of central intelligence] about what disclosure of information would harm intelligence sources and methods,” it observed. “The court declines the plaintiff’s invitation.”16

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Seeking Judicial Intervention The difficulties highlighted in the previous section explain why many scholars argue that transparency is more likely if the final say on declassification is vested in one of the other branches of government. Given Congress’s political character, the judiciary is typically the preferred alternative. But are judges, far removed from the cut and thrust of international intrigue, in a position to challenge the president’s contentions as to what information should be made public? The evidence is not promising. Though the existing statutory framework for information disclosure in the United States, the FOIA, authorizes courts to conduct a de novo review of classified information to determine whether it should be disclosed, courts have proven reluctant to challenge the executive’s prediction of the harm that disclosure is likely to cause. As the DC Circuit Court recently summarized in Center for National Security Studies v. United States Department of Justice (2003), “In the FOIA context, we have consistently deferred to executive affidavits predicting harm to the national security, and have found it unwise to undertake searching judicial review.”17 The courts have been even more deferential with respect to invocations of the state-secrets privilege, an evidentiary privilege that allows the United States to “block discovery in a lawsuit of any information that, if disclosed, would adversely affect national security.”18 As the DC Circuit Court established in an early landmark case, Halkin v. Helms (1978)—where antiwar protesters sought to compel the National Security Agency to disclose if they had been subjected to warrantless surveillance—judges must “accord the utmost deference to executive assertions of privilege upon grounds of military or diplomatic secrets” because advances in information technology mean that “bits and pieces of seemingly innocuous information can be analyzed and fitted into place to reveal with startling clarity how the unseen whole must operate.”19 The record outlined here has provoked much criticism. Commentators argue that such sweeping deference is unjustified when democracy and civil liberties are at stake. Louis Fisher, for instance, asserts that for judges “to defer to agency claims about privileged documents and state secrets is to abandon the independence that the Constitution vests in the courts and

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[to] place in jeopardy the individual liberties that depend on institutional and public checks.”20 However, before we advise judges to subject the executive’s claims to close scrutiny, we ought to be clear about the reasons that the courts have offered in defense of deference. The first reason stems from the worry that the examination of classified materials even in camera might lead to unauthorized or inadvertent disclosures. The concern here is not that judges and their clerks cannot personally be trusted with state secrets but rather that the institutional capacity is lacking. As the DC Circuit explained in Ellsberg v. Mitchell (1983), the issue is that “in our own chambers, we are ill equipped to provide the kind of security highly sensitive information should have.”21 The second reason stems from concerns about expertise. As the Fourth Circuit summarized in El-Masri v. United States (2007), “Deference is appropriate not only for constitutional reasons, but also practical ones: the Executive and the intelligence agencies under his control occupy a position superior to that of the courts in evaluating the consequences of a release of sensitive information.”22 This is not to claim that the average judge is incompetent. Rather, the issue is about comparative advantage: deference in the areas of military and foreign affairs and secret intelligence is founded on the assumption that executive officers who are continuously immersed in these domains are likely to make more refined or accurate predictive judgments. Undeterred by these points, commentators have argued that judges’ concerns can be addressed via procedural innovations—either by modifying trial procedures (for example, calling upon outside experts) or by establishing special courts staffed by judges and clerks deeply versed in intelligence matters and able to conduct trials in camera and ex parte where necessary.23 There are reasons to be skeptical about such proposals, though. A court that routinely handles classified information may well become a target of espionage. As a result, judges, clerks, and public defenders may be subject to counterintelligence surveillance and potentially liable to prosecution for disclosing classified information. How will the resulting intrusions into the lives of these actors affect their independence? Furthermore, what actions will count as troubling enough to justify the loss of a security clearance—an essential prerequisite to operating in this domain? There is a deeper conceptual point to be made as well. The quest for a more refined oversight architecture obscures the fact that so long as there [ 226 ]


is secrecy, someone will need to have the final, unreviewable say on what is done in secret. Adversarial proceedings or not, a special court’s judgment will ultimately not be open to public review. So how, then, can we be confident that the relevant judge or bench has correctly weighed both sides? Recall that decisions about whether and how secrecy is justified is often a political question. Whoever makes the final decision on whether to disclose information or not may therefore impose in secret a potentially self-interested or partisan view. It may be objected that even if decisions about whether and when to release classified information are indeed political in nature, it is still preferable to have this decision made by judges rather than by executive officers because the latter have an obvious conflict of interest. But is it appropriate to simply assume that judges will remain disinterested once they are drawn into the business of systematically evaluating whether secret information ought to be released? On the contrary, vesting such politically significant authority in the courts will likely make appointments to the relevant benches a matter of unique contention. Because the appointees will have to keep the grounds for their decisions secret, it will be difficult for observers to ascertain that the appointees have not been influenced by partisan considerations. This goes to show that disinterestedness is not easily procured by tasking a purportedly independent court with the application of general law. This approach seems more appropriate when the availability of information allows the disinterestedness of the regulator itself to be critically evaluated rather than assumed.

Having Congress Intercede The political nature of decisions surrounding when and how to employ secrecy has led a number of scholars to argue that participation and accountability are most likely to be secured when the legislature takes the lead in overseeing the executive. In practice, however, Congress has invariably found itself in the dark in precisely those instances where it ought to have been best informed—recent examples include the politicization of intelligence on Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction, the establishment of secret prisons, and the use of enhanced interrogation methods and warrantless surveillance. D E M O C R AC Y ’ S L I M I T

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Why has Congress struggled to obtain the information it needs to tailor laws, monitor potential violations, and enforce accountability? The blame is usually placed on the fact that the executive does not believe itself to be obliged to comply with Congress’s requests for national security information. It claims an “executive privilege” to withhold information based on the notion that the separation-of-powers theory vests responsibility for the “stability and security of the nation” in the executive because this institution is best suited to act with “secrecy and speed.”24 This responsibility in turn, the argument goes, authorizes the president to withhold national security information from Congress whenever doing so is necessary to protect national security. This claim is often challenged. Why should we believe that Congress is less capable of maintaining due secrecy? If the claim at hand is just about the number of decision makers who are in the know, then we are hardpressed to explain why a congressional committee should not be provided unrestricted access to national security information, considering that a committee will comprise only a handful of members. This is why when Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule argue that executive privilege is justified by the concern that “Congress leaks like a sieve,” David Pozen retorts that no one has explained why “the odds of public disclosure increase not linearly but geometrically” when the “circle of secret-keepers is widened to include authorities from another branch.”25 There is an explanation for why the odds of public disclosure increase exponentially when we provide only a few members of Congress with unrestricted access to secret information. The key factor is not the size of the groups that have access to information but rather how their memberships are composed and structured. In the executive branch, officials owe their position to the president. This makes it less likely that they will have an incentive to reveal information contrary to the president’s wishes. A congressional committee, by contrast, invariably comprises adversarial parties, who will thus usually have a greater incentive to disclose sensitive information in a bid to gain political advantage. James Wilson, who played a key role in the drafting of the US Constitution, makes this point best: can secrecy, he writes, be expected from a body in which “to every enterprise, and to every step in the progress of every enterprise, mutual communication, mutual consultation, and mutual agreement amongst men, perhaps of discordant views, of discordant tempers and of discordant interests, are indispensably necessary?”26 [ 228 ]


A predictable response to Wilson’s charge is to argue that Congress can surely prevent partisanship from having undesirable consequences by strengthening internal safeguards on the handling of classified information and establishing penalties for unauthorized disclosure. But this response lacks credibility. Lawmakers can be subject to disciplinary action only if they are found guilty of having made an unauthorized disclosure. Yet the evidence required to prove guilt is usually hard to come by when lawmakers act under cover of anonymity, safe in the knowledge that the president will be hard-pressed to order a penetrating investigation lest he be accused of criminalizing political differences or violating Congress’s dignity and independence. Moreover, even when the source is identified, the adversarial composition of Congress raises questions about the impartiality of the judges—that is, members of Congress—who are invariably more forgiving of unauthorized disclosures made by members of their own party. Contrast the foregoing with the position of officials in the executive branch. These individuals are vulnerable to criminal, civil, and administrative action should they be found responsible for unauthorized disclosures. Moreover, because these officials serve at the pleasure of the president, they can be dismissed or transferred or demoted upon the slightest suspicion, making the maintenance of internal discipline that much easier. There is, then, a good reason why the executive should be allowed to withhold national security information from Congress. But the implication for democratic accountability is troubling because we can hardly expect the executive to voluntarily hand over evidence of wrongdoing conducted in secret. This conclusion typically prompts the following recommendation: we ought to allow Congress unrestricted access to national security information even though lawmakers are more prone to making unauthorized disclosures. We should do so, the argument goes, because when the country is faced with important decisions—for example, whether to wage war— the benefit of allowing lawmakers unrestricted access may outweigh the harm that might be caused if they were to disclose such information. If we fail to provide Congress with unrestricted access in such cases, the objection goes, we will be guilty of treating national security as a “trump” rather than as only one of a number of important interests that need to be taken into account. To see why providing Congress with independent access to national security information will not eliminate fears about the misuse of secrecy, D E M O C R AC Y ’ S L I M I T

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though, we must account for the steps that Congress would need to take in order to merit such access. It would arguably be irresponsible for Congress, given its structural disposition toward indiscipline, to seek independent access without first attempting to reduce the risk of unauthorized disclosure. How can this be done? A common recommendation is that Congress should delegate the oversight of national security matters to a “core group of members” from its highest ranks.27 Assume that restricting the membership of this core group will increase the probability that “cheaters” will be caught at a level high enough to bring unauthorized disclosures under control. The question to ponder, then, is: How effective is such a core group likely to be at preventing the misuse of secrecy? The group’s members will presumably now have the information needed to determine whether Congress ought to support or oppose the president’s policies. But can we be confident that they will act dutifully when their own conduct as overseers is shielded from public view? Note that the secrecy accompanying this core group’s activities may leave its members unable to explain to the public why they wish to block or investigate the president’s policies or decisions. Hobbled in their ability to rally public opposition to policies that they view as harmful or unwise, the group may thus be rendered little more than mute spectators. The prospect that the core group may be bulldozed may lead to the demand that it be allowed to overrule the president and to share its views with Congress or even the public. However, before we accede to this demand, we ought to ask what will prevent the group from misusing such a prerogative? This question will of course be posed most acutely when a majority of the members of the core group come from the same political party as the president, an arrangement that naturally raises fears of collusion. A number of scholars have responded to the prospect of ineffectual oversight by calling for oversight committees to be chaired by members of the rival party. Yet concerns about the quality of oversight do not fade away even when a majority of the members of the core group come from the party opposed to the president. This is because the majority might exploit its position for partisan purposes—for example, by selectively revealing national security information that furthers its own partisan agenda or by taking one position in a closed session and then another in public when the political winds turn unfavorable. In this setting, the shoe will simply be on the other [ 230 ]


foot because it will now be the president who is left unable to fully explain why the released information should be discounted. So we are returned once again to the deeper point overlooked in standard discussions on the subject of oversight: to the extent that someone must decide what information is to be shared or concealed, it is always possible that such a person or committee will abuse this authority. It seems often to be assumed that a committee will be less vulnerable to committing such abuse. But why should this be so? A committee will have to make decisions via a decision-making rule such as majority or supermajority voting. What is to prevent a factional interest from emerging dominant within the committee? It is not possible to cancel out the effect of factions by expanding the size of the committee. Nor should we expect individuals or minorities to violate the rules of the committee and make ad hoc unilateral disclosures to Congress or the public—were this to happen, the whole purpose of entrusting the decision to a group would be defeated. It appears, then, that taking the final say over information sharing away from the president and vesting it in a congressional committee would serve only to re-create doubts about how secrecy is being employed in practice.

A More Realistic Approach The foregoing discussion implies that contemporary democratic theory does not offer a satisfactory answer to the question of how participation and accountability can be secured under conditions of secrecy. There has been much hand waving, usually in the form of exhortations for greater transparency and oversight, but, as we have seen, none of the proposed solutions actually survives close scrutiny. This diagnosis is not limited to the United States. Though I have focused on the American experience, the insight drawn from it applies generally. Contemporary events in Europe provide numerous examples of the futility of the quest for transparency.28 Note that I have not claimed that the demand for transparency—or indeed the demand for greater participation and oversight—is improper. A claim of this kind would hardly be unusual, I should add. In the American context, claims of this variety can be traced all the way back to the framing of the Constitution, when deliberators argued that transparency was not merely imprudent but also unwise in light of ordinary citizens’ limited capacities. I have not elaborated or defended such claims, which are D E M O C R AC Y ’ S L I M I T

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founded on skepticism about the value of democracy and about the utility of transparency in particular. I have instead shown that even if we concede that contemporary democratic theory is right to insist on transparency, this value is still beyond reach in practice. Nevertheless, the conclusion I am working toward is not the glum assertion that secrecy impairs democracy. To the contrary, a closer examination of reality reveals that participation and accountability can be serviced in unexpected ways—for instance, through the underexamined practice of leaking. The need of the hour, then, is for contemporary democratic theory to become more realistic both in terms of comprehending the limited utility of transparency and in terms of spying out new ways to service old values. Realism, at least as I understand it here, requires a normative theory to undertake a kind of due diligence: that is, to evaluate the plausibility of its assumptions and the feasibility of its prescriptions. A failure to consider plausibility and feasibility opens a theory up to the charge of irrelevance and even irresponsibility. This is especially true when constraints are so pervasive or onerous as to call the end itself into question. At this point, we go from worrying about how to strike a compromise with reality—the domain of nonideal theory, which details the steps needed to incrementally advance toward a given end—to questioning the plausibility of the ideal itself. This is not to suggest that a normative theory should have no “aspirational” content whatsoever. Rather, as William Galston writes, it ought to locate “the outer perimeter of the desirable possible and to use it as a guide for action in the here and now.”29 Consider here, for example, A Preface to Democratic Theory, in which Robert Dahl takes as one of the central assumptions of democracy that “all individuals possess identical information about the alternatives.” Dahl admits that such equality is hard to realize, noting that “in recent times the gap has [ironically] been further widened in national governments by growing technical complexities and the rapid spread of secrecy regulations.” Nevertheless, Dahl concludes, “if one is dismayed by the utopian character of [this equal-access requirement], it is worth recalling that we are looking for conditions that may be used as limits against which real world achievement can actually be measured.”30 But this prescription hardly seems the right one because a democracy will surely want officials to keep secrets when doing so is truly necessary to preserve national security or to further some other equally valuable public purpose. Hence, the sensible political leader will [ 232 ]


rightly conclude that keeping secrets from her constituents furthers rather than weakens democracy. David Estlund has defended normative prescriptions that are improbable (but not impossible) on the grounds that there is “more to goal setting than likelihood or ease of success.”31 Consider, though, the negative externalities that arise when ideals such as transparency prove perpetually out of reach. Aside from the costs associated with organizing and striving, a moving but improbable theory may generate ennui and worse—conspiratorial reasoning about how some group or particular individual is responsible for keeping citizens from an ideal world. For example, over the past decade there sprang up a profitable cottage industry of conspiracy theories revolving around the notion that President George W. Bush and his colleagues, Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, had a unique proclivity for secrecy.32 Consider what happened next. Though candidate Barack Obama led the charge against the “excessive” secrecy of the Bush administration, the Obama administration itself was strongly condemned for its secretiveness, particularly with respect to the use of covert drone strikes and—that favorite of the fringe—the supposed cover-up of failings leading up to the attack on the American station in Benghazi, Libya.33 How to explain this wasteful investment of time and energy if not by reference to the conviction that drives the extreme Left (Occupy) and the extreme Right (the Tea Party)—that secrecy allows “elites” in “Washington” to plot against the people? The foregoing implies that the question of how democratic theory ought to respond to the challenge posed by secrecy invites us to think about plausible alternatives to the contemporary quest for transparency. What we should not do is to replace one implausible generalization (there can be no good government without transparency) with another (for instance, that politics is dominated by “reason of state”). Let me now try to develop one such alternative. As I have argued in Secrets and Leaks, when we reflect on contemporary events, what we find is that the abuse of secrecy is typically exposed by unauthorized disclosures of classified information.34 Because this practice effectively distributes rather than centralizes the power to disclose classified information, it circumvents the aforementioned problem of “regulatory capture” accompanying any scheme that entrusts the responsibility for supervising state secrecy to a single authority, such as a committee or a tribunal. D E M O C R AC Y ’ S L I M I T

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Some rush to classify leaking as undemocratic and therefore illegitimate. For example, Gabriel Schoenfeld and Lillian BeVier argue that unauthorized disclosures are wrong because of the “injury to democratic rule when unelected individuals act to override the public will” as expressed by elected representatives.35 But this position is untenable. When an employee exposes wrongdoing committed in secret, she furthers democratic values because she makes it possible for citizens and overseers to bring the wrongdoer to account. It would be a mistake, however, to try to salvage democratic theory by now proclaiming unauthorized disclosures a constant friend. In reality, such disclosures are not always used to further the citizens’ interests and values. The difficulty begins when we see that few officials have an incentive to openly blow the whistle because doing so would expose them to bruising professional and social sanctions from managers, supervisors, and colleagues, whose reputations and careers are threatened, directly or indirectly, by the disclosures. It should come as no surprise, then, that officials usually make unauthorized disclosures by leaking: that is, by divulging information anonymously. There is an unfortunate tendency—a result of abstract valorization instead of careful empirical analysis—to classify leaking as a form of civil disobedience, a morally justified act of resistance to the wrongful use of political power. But this claim is problematic. At times, an anonymous disclosure may reveal such severe wrongdoing that the discloser’s identity and motives are rendered irrelevant—good examples here include the disclosure of prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib and the US use of secret prisons overseas. 36 However, not every leak reveals activities so wrongful as to invite widespread condemnation. In such less-intense cases, anonymity allows an official to leave the public to pick up the pieces in the event that his disclosure eventually proves to be unwarranted. A good example here is the New York Times’ disclosure in 2006 of the Department of the Treasury’s efforts to monitor international money transfers. As the Times’ own public editor, Byron Calame, subsequently observed, the disclosure was unwarranted in view of the “apparent legality of the program in the United States, and the absence of any evidence that anyone’s private data had actually been misused.”37 Worse yet, it has become ever more apparent that not only insiders but also reporters editors, and publishers have learned to use anonymity to their

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own advantage, whether to pursue vendettas, to manipulate public opinion, to obtain prizes, or to earn profits. As the media critic Renata Adler bemoans, in recent decades the role played by anonymous disclosures has come to be “precisely reversed.” Where once the purpose of providing sources with confidentiality was to allow the powerless to speak up without fearing retaliation from the powerful, she writes, more recently “almost every ‘anonymous source’ in the press . . . has been an official of some kind, or a person in the course of a vendetta speaking from a position of power.”38 One might cite numerous examples here, ranging from anonymous disclosures aimed at smearing the reputations of Wen Ho Lee and Steven Hatfill to the well-documented campaign by the New York Times to hoodwink the public into believing that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.39 The realization that leaks can be used both for good (to sound the alarm) and for ill (to pursue a narrow or partisan agenda) implies that our ability to guard against the misuse of state secrecy depends less on formal checks and balances and more on the virtues and vices of the individuals who take the law into their own hands. Yet we are not helpless. It is in our power to influence—albeit indirectly—this competition between virtue and vice. On the one side, citizens can encourage disclosures that are in the public interest by honoring and rewarding individuals who bring grave wrongdoing to light. On the other, the government can stem inappropriate disclosures by doing more to reassure employees that its decisions or policies are well founded. An executive might do this, as Posner and Vermeule recommend, by appointing to the cabinet respected political actors, including rivals, whose concurrence gives observers reason to believe that the president’s secret decisions and policies have the support of men and women of experience.40 Should these political heavyweights choose to make what Albert Hirschman has termed a “clamorous exit,”41 then would-be whistleblowers and leakers will have more reason to disclose what they know about suspected wrongdoing. Citizens can also make efforts to hold journalists and media organizations accountable for how they promote or violate secrecy. They can do so, for example, by creating a reputable, independent, civil society organization with a mandate to scrutinize and even challenge potentially unwarranted disclosures. This is not a new proposal. It echoes what the once much-discussed report of the Commission on the Freedom of the Press (commonly referred to as the Hutchins Commission) had to say more than

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half a century ago, in 1947.42 Because the idea has understandably never attracted the support of the press, media organizations have done their best to ignore it. Reviving and realizing it will therefore require concerted action. It is important to note that these remedies (as Niccolò Machiavelli would describe them) are not offered as neat solutions. My realism extends to my own proposals. I expect that remedies along the lines proposed earlier will confront a number of contingent obstacles—the unpredictable “stuff” of everyday politics—that make it difficult to cultivate virtue and trim away vice. For instance, confronted with a public attracted to sensation and media conglomerates armed with lobbyists and prime airtime, media critics may well struggle to make a dent in the public’s perception of the truthfulness and reliability of media conglomerates.43 Similarly, appointing one’s political opponents to the cabinet may have other harmful effects—in a polarized political environment, it may lead to a loss of what Alexander Hamilton termed “energy” as the president finds herself compelled to water down her policies lest her administration suffer embarrassing resignations. As Posner and Vermeule admit with respect to this proposal, from the president’s perspective, credibility will sometimes have to be “gained at the expense of control.”44 There may be other problems with this proposal, too. Consider the difficulty that cabinet heavyweights will face in signaling their independence to critics on the hunt for signs of co-optation. What issues will these officials fix upon to burnish their standing in the eyes of outsiders? Alternately, should it become a norm for presidents to act multilaterally or to make bilateral appointments, a decision to forgo these arrangements—perhaps in the absence of suitable candidates—may end up arousing unwarranted skepticism on the part of observers. None of the difficulties identified here means that we ought not to persevere with careful experimentation. The point is that we need to think carefully about institutional design and practical virtues rather than engage in belabored analysis of abstract principles—such as transparency—with little thought for how these principles might be realized in practice (or indeed whether they can be realized at all, at least in any meaningful sense). This essay has made two observations. First, the world we live in features starkly unequal access to information, particularly with respect to matters

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of war and peace. The claim that citizens do not really require wide-ranging access to information in order to participate in the polity or enforce accountability is not credible given how far policy choices depend on contextual information. Second, I emphasized the futility of our efforts to rectify our unequal access to information. The failure to realize transparency is typically attributed to practical constraints—the laziness or gullibility of citizens and the malignancy of political actors who refuse to behave transparently. These charges have some merit, but it is crucial to come to terms with an enduring problem: so long as we cannot do without secrecy, someone somewhere must have the final say on what information is made public, meaning that access to information will always be unequal. Accepting this dilemma opens the door to wisdom—that is, to accepting that democratic ideals of participation and accountability cannot be realized through demands for transparency and that our efforts to shape our futures will instead require us to call upon concepts such as honor and faith and upon institutions such as counselors. How to groom, select, and indirectly monitor leaders: this is the business of institutional design and management that we must devote ourselves to if we wish to be ruled well in the many moments when we can neither rule ourselves nor watch over those who rule in our name. Contemporary theory tends not to examine such devices and mechanisms because it demands “rigor,” which in turn demands abstraction because reality rarely permits broad generalization or a drastic reduction of complexity. As a consequence, topics that cannot be more important to our age, such as the role that counselors can play in shaping an administration and the power that news editors or even press photographers have in deeply shaping public perceptions of political actors or events, are dismissed as problems within the domain of “applied ethics” and therefore left to colleagues in law, business, journalism, and business, who seem more willing to immerse themselves in mundane things such as studying cases, interviewing subjects, conducting field and archival studies, and learning by doing public service. This observation brings me to a broader point. This chapter shows, I hope, how crucial it is for political theorists and political theory to exhibit judgment. By this, I mean developing and employing an awareness of the dangers, limits, and generally vexing nature of political life. No one genuinely interested in politics—or the effectual truth of the matter—can cease

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to be amazed by the degree to which contemporary political theory has become applied theology or, more politely, applied ideology. I have already discussed one example of such devotional behavior—the delusion, so common among political philosophers, that whistleblowers and leakers must be brave or courageous. I have written elsewhere about a specific case, the almost religious veneration for Edward Snowden.45 The veneration stems from the belief that Snowden has somehow struck a blow on behalf of an abstract principle that matters to these people: privacy. They may not actually understand or even care about the technicalities involved and are therefore not in a position to really know whether his actions, especially the disclosure of information on routine international espionage, have advanced or hindered the public interest, but they are nonetheless convinced a priori that Snowden is noble and therefore that his detractors must be handmaidens of power. The stunned silence—or even derision— that greets public servants who point out that states are entitled to conduct espionage and maintain secrets reveals that few theorists dwell on the dilemmas and tragedies of politics and what these things demand in terms of responsible theorizing. They may teach Max Weber’s essay “Politics as a Vocation,” but they do not wish to learn from it themselves. I have tried to indicate here another way of undertaking political theory—one that is, I hope, more engaged and more responsible. This way of proceeding sees political theory as a means to sharpen our understanding of political life and to find ways to get by in the face of the often exhausting or even insurmountable challenges it features. To my mind, this roughand-ready approach is a more useful and therefore preferable method of engaging in political theorizing. The end product may lack the exquisite clarity and precision that becomes possible when one makes neat or rather improbable assumptions about how actors will behave. But to dirty one’s hands with the contingent and the factual—to descend or perhaps ascend from the philosophical to the practical—allows one to offer conclusions that have the hope or at least a better chance of preventing evil and possibly of preserving, if not advancing, the good.

Notes 1. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 482. [ 238 ]


2. Bernard Manin, The Principles of Representative Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 167–68. Also see Hannah F. Pitkin, The Concept of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 209. 3. Jürgen Habermas, The New Conservatism, trans. Shierry W. Nicholsen (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 138–39. 4. John Rawls, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” in The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 155. 5. John Dunn, Democracy: A History (New York: Grove/Atlantic, 2005), 185–86. 6. Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Imperial Presidency (New York: Mariner Books, 2004), 447–49. 7. Bruce M. Russett, Controlling the Sword: The Democratic Governance of National Security (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), 157. 8. Benjamin I. Page and Robert Y. Shapiro, The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans’ Policy Preferences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 282; see also 173, 205–6, 283, 376–77, 394–97. Also see Gabriel A. Almond, “Public Opinion and National Security,” Public Opinion Quarterly 20 (1956): 373; Robert Y. Shapiro and Lawrence R. Jacobs, “Who Leads and Who Follows,” in Decisionmaking in a Glass House, ed. Brigitte L. Nacos, Robert Y. Shapiro, and Pierangelo Isernia (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), 243–45; Ole R. Holsti, Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), 298–300. 9. For example, see Jessica T. Mathews, “Power Shift,” Foreign Affairs 76 (1997): 50–66. 10. “Gonzales Defends NSA, Rejects Call for Prosecutor,” CNN, January 17, 2005, http://www.cnn.com /2006/POLITICS/01/17/gonzales.nsa/. 11. Dennis F. Thompson, Political Ethics and Public Office (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), 26. 12. Ibid., 23–24. 13. David Luban, “Publicity Principle,” in The Theory of Institutional Design, ed. Robert E. Goodin (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 157. 14. Thompson, Political Ethics, 29. 15. For example, see Steven Aftergood, “Reducing Government Secrecy: Finding What Works,” Yale Law and Policy Review 27, no. 2 (2009): 407–9; Christina E. Wells, “State Secrets and Executive Accountability,” Constitutional Commentary 26 (2010): 642; and David Pozen, “Deep Secrecy,” Stanford Law Review 62, no. 2 (2010): 324. 16. Aftergood v. CIA, 355 F.Supp.2d 557 (DDC, Feb. 9, 2005), at 563. 17. Center for National Security Studies v. United States Department of Justice, 331 F.3d 918 (DC Cir. 2003), at 927. Also see Robert P. Deyling, “Judicial Deference and de Novo Review in Litigation Over National Security Information Under the Freedom of Information Act,” Villanova Law Review 37 (1992): 67. D E M O C R AC Y ’ S L I M I T

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18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23.


25. 26. 27.


29. 30.

Deyling writes, “Since the enactment of the 1974 [FOIA] amendments, the courts have ruled on hundreds of cases involving classified information, affirming the government’s decision to withhold the requested information in nearly every case” (67). A summary of the exceptions is provided in US Department of Justice, “History of Exemption 1 Disclosure Orders,” in FOIA Update XVI, no. 2 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, 1995), 4, 12. Ellsberg v. Mitchell, 709 F.2d 51 (DC Cir. 1983), at 56. Halkin v. Helms, 598 F. 2d 1 (DC Cir. 1978), at 8. Louis Fisher, “The State Secrets Privilege: Relying on Reynolds,” Political Science Quarterly 122, no. 3 (2007): 408. Ellsberg v. Mitchell, at 58 n. 31. El-Masri v. United States, 479 F. 3d 296 (4th Cir. 2007), at 305. For example, see Meredith Fuchs and G. Gregg Webb, “Greasing the Wheels of Justice: Independent Experts in National Security Cases,” American Bar Association National Security Law Report 28, no. 4 (2006): 3–5; Robert M. Chesney, “State Secrets and the Limits of National Security Litigation,” George Washington Law Review 75, nos. 5–6 (2007): 1249–332. David Crockett, “Executive Privilege,” in The Constitutional Presidency, ed. Joseph Bessette and Jeffrey K. Tulis (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 217; see also Mark J. Rozell, Executive Privilege: Presidential Power, Secrecy, and Accountability (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002), 23–26. Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule, “The Credible Executive,” Chicago Law Review 74, no. 3 (2007): 885; Pozen, “Deep Secrecy,” 331. James Wilson, “Of Government,” in The Works of James Wilson, 2 vols., ed. R. G. McCloskey (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 1:294. Harold H. Koh, The National Security Constitution: Sharing Power After the IranContra Affair (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 167–69, 171–73; Heidi Kitrosser, “Congressional Oversight of National Security Activities: Improving Information Funnels,” Cardozo Law Review 29, no. 3 (2008): 1071–72. For example, in 2011–2012 German investigators discovered that members of the intelligence services had hidden documents from overseers and utilized espionage and surveillance techniques beyond those approved by the Federal Constitutional Court. On this case, see David Gordon Smith and Kristen Allen, “Electronic Surveillance Scandal Hits Germany,” Der Spiegel, October 10, 2011, and Matthias Gebauer, “Interior Ministry Ordered Destruction of Intelligence Files,” Der Spiegel, July 19, 2012. William A. Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 401. Robert A. Dahl, A Preface to Democratic Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), 70–73.

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31. David Estlund, Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 271. 32. Consider, for example, the oft-cited story about the “man-size” safe that Vice President Richard Cheney reportedly used to store his documents (Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, “A Different Understanding with the President,” Washington Post, June 24, 2007). 33. John Schwartz, “Obama Backs Off a Reversal on Secrets,” New York Times, February 9, 2009; Karen De Young, “Secrecy Defines Obama’s Drone War,” Washington Post, December 19, 2011. 34. Rahul Sagar, Secrets and Lies: The Dilemma of State Secrecy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013). 35. Gabriel Schoenfeld, Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law (New York: Norton, 2010), 267; Lillian R. BeVier, “The Journalist’s Privilege—a Skeptic’s View,” Ohio Northern University Law Review 32, no. 3 (2006): 472. 36. On Abu Ghraib, see Seymour M. Hersh, “Torture at Abu Ghraib,” New Yorker, May 10, 2004. On secret prisons, see Dana Priest, “CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons,” Washington Post, November 2, 2005. 37. Byron Calame, “Can ‘Magazines’ of The Times Subsidize News Coverage?” New York Times, October 22, 2006; Byron Calame, “Bill Keller Responds to Column on Swift Mea Culpa,” New York Times, November 6, 2006. 38. Renata Adler, Canaries in the Mineshaft: Essays on Politics and Media (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001), 27. 39. On Wen Ho Lee, see Matthew Purdy and James Sterngold, “The Prosecution Unravels: The Case of Wen Ho Lee,” New York Times, February 5, 2001. On Steven Hatfill, see Eric Lichtblau, “Scientist Officially Exonerated in Anthrax Attacks,” New York Times, August 8, 2008. On reporter Judith Miller and the New York Times campaign, see Michael Massing, Now They Tell Us: The American Press and Iraq (New York: New York Review Books, 2004). 40. Posner and Vermeule, “The Credible Executive,” 897–910. 41. Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 117. 42. Commission on Freedom of the Press, A Free and Responsible Press: A General Report on Mass Communication (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), 100–103. 43. Sensationalism has been criticized for well more than a century now—to little effect. For a brief overview, see John P. Ferré, “A Short History of Media Ethics in the United States,” in The Handbook of Mass Media Ethics, ed. Lee Wilkins and Clifford G. Christians (New York: Routledge, 2008), 17–18. For

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a more recent critique, see Jay Rosen, What Are Journalists For? ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 286, 296. 44. Posner and Vermeule, “The Credible Executive,” 911. 45. Rahul Sagar, “Against Moral Absolutism: Surveillance and Disclosure After Snowden,” Ethics and International Affairs 29, no. 2 (2015): 145–59.

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The Case for Kinship Classical Realism and Political Realism ALISON McQUEEN


he past decade has witnessed the revival of political realism within contemporary political theory. These political realists have a standard story they tell themselves about themselves. It is a story about a theoretical approach that, although targeted at the particular pathologies of contemporary liberal political philosophy, has its roots in the work of Thucydides, Augustine of Hippo, Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Publius, Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Weber, and Carl Schmitt.1 There are at least two interesting facts about this story. First, none of the thinkers listed self-identifies as a “realist.” Second, the list excludes a sizable group of mostly self-identified realists in the field of international relations (hereafter, “international realists”)—for instance, midcentury classical realists such as E. H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau (hereafter, “classical realists”) and more contemporary structural realists such as Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer (hereafter, “structural realists”).2 This chapter is concerned primarily with this second fact.3 In particular, it asks whether this exclusion is well grounded. Are there foundational theoretical differences between political realism in contemporary political theory (hereafter, “political realism”) and international realism that might reasonably ground a firm distinction between the two? Many political realists seem to think that there are. The exclusion of all international realists from political realism’s standard list of forerunners [ 243 ]

suggests an implicit argument to this effect. Some political realists make the case quite explicitly.4 The most frequent ground for such a distinction is international realism’s purported tendency to underplay the role of moral considerations in the explanation and evaluation of political outcomes.5 International realists are often cast as amoral strategists who are “normative without being moral, eager to advise political actors on the basis of what will help them succeed without regard to the moral costs of success.”6 However, a small body of recent work rejects the distinction between political and international realism, claiming that both approaches share a set of canonical forerunners (e.g., Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Weber) and targets (e.g., various forms of “idealism”). Given these points of commonality, the argument goes, political realists should pursue a deeper engagement with at least some strands of international realism.7 I am sympathetic to this line of argument, and this chapter seeks to build upon it. However, I think that arguments for a foundational distinction between political and international realism are worth taking seriously. I also think that the case for a deep foundational connection between political and international realism has so far been made in rather gestural terms. Shared canonical forerunners and a common tendency to rail against “idealism” are not in themselves evidence of the kind of deep conceptual and analytical kinship that could make closer engagement between political and international realism fruitful. The case for kinship demands a stronger and more sustained articulation. If political realists and international realists are engaged in fundamentally different projects, it is less clear that the former has anything to learn from the latter’s successes and failures. Political realists might then carry on much as they have been, setting international realism aside as a distant and substantially distinct member of the realist family.8 This chapter considers the most plausible arguments for a firm distinction between political and international realism. I argue that although there may be foundational theoretical differences between political realism and structural realism, there are no similarly strong axes of distinction between political realism and classical realism. The exclusion of thinkers such as Carr and Morgenthau from the political realist “canon” cannot be justified on the grounds of important foundational differences and is more likely the result of a caricatured picture of classical realism. What is more, as William Scheuerman has suggested, this exclusion comes at a cost.9 Classical

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realists offer important lessons for thinking about the possibilities and challenges of the political realist research agenda. This chapter seeks to highlight three lessons that strike me as both particularly valuable and underexplored. The first concerns the nature and breadth of the realist target. The second addresses realist assumptions about human nature. The third deals with realism’s purported conservative bias.

The Realist Family This section asks whether there are fundamental distinctions between political realism and international realism by considering whether international realists can affirm what political realists take to be a series of defining commitments. A close examination of the recent literature on political realism suggests that it is a distinctive family of approaches to the study, practice, and normative evaluation of politics that tend to (a) affirm the “autonomy” (or, more minimally, the “distinctiveness”) of politics; (b) hold an agonistic account of politics; (c) reject as “utopian” or “moralist” those approaches, practices, and evaluations that seem to deny these facts; and (d) prioritize the requirements of political order and stability over the demands of justice (or, more minimally, reject any kind of absolute priority of justice over other political values).10 I take this conceptualization of political realism to be relatively uncontroversial. The question for our purposes is whether international realists can affirm these commitments. It seems clear that most structural realists— those writing in the aftermath of Kenneth Waltz’s book Theory of International Politics (1979)—could affirm neither the particular conceptual framings nor the normative dimensions of these claims. This is simply because structural realism is predominantly an analytic paradigm whose aim is to explain and predict international outcomes.11 Consider two examples of commitments that structural realists would likely fail to accept. First, although structural realists might seem to affirm something like the “autonomy” of (international) politics, their reasons for doing so are purely analytical. As Kenneth Waltz explains, “In reality, everything is related to everything else, and one domain cannot be separated from others. Theory isolates one realm from all others in order to deal with it intellectually.”12 The structural realist is not committed to the notion that politics is, in reality, an autonomous


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realm but only to the assertion that it may be analytically useful to treat it as such. On these grounds, she would reject the political realist’s conceptual framing of the “autonomy” of the political. Second, the structural realist would not affirm any kind of normative priority of political order and stability over the demands of justice. She might instead insist on the empirical and descriptive claim that states act primarily on the basis of their interest in political order and stability (or security and survival) rather than on the basis of justice and right. On an extreme version of this view, state arguments that invoke the demands of justice are just “cheap talk” that conceal “real” power interests.13 Thus, the structural realist would reject the normative dimension of the political realist’s claim about the priority of order. I take these examples to be illustrative of deeper differences and sufficient for concluding that the political realist and the structural realist are engaged in fundamentally different projects. From the perspective of the political realist, the structural realist is at best a rather distant relative. However, the case seems far less clear once we turn to the classical realists. Let us take in turn each of the four commitments listed earlier. First, political realists affirm the “autonomy” of politics. To my mind, this framing of the commitment is somewhat misleading because what political realists tend to mean when they make claims about the “autonomy of the political” is that politics is not reducible to other fields or domains. The variant of this claim advanced by many contemporary political realists concerns the nonreducibility of politics to ethics. It is this kind of argument about nonreducibility, rather than a broader claim about the autonomy of the political, that seems to underpin both Raymond Geuss’s critique of “ethics-first” approaches to political philosophy, which try to derive political principles from ethical ones,14 and Bernard Williams’s insistence that “political philosophy is not just applied moral philosophy.”15 There may be several reasons why politics might be nonreducible in this way. One is that politics is an entirely separate and contained sphere of human activity. It is not clear that political realists want to explicitly endorse this claim.16 Another is that politics is a distinctive realm of human activity with “its own character, purposes and means,” albeit one that “sits in a series of complex relations with other human activities.”17 Both the more radical claim about separateness and the more moderate claim about distinctiveness might be taken to ground a range of familiar arguments about the relationship between politics and ethics—for instance, that politics is an [ 246 ] A L I S O N M c Q U E E N

amoral realm, that it is a realm with its own normativity distinct from that of other spheres, or that it is a realm in which conventional and/or universal moral rules must be overridden and “good” political actors must dirty their hands. However, a third reason why politics might not be reducible to ethics is that the two are deeply mutually enmeshed. On this view, politics deserves “attention in its own right, not because we think that it is something separate and autonomous, but precisely because we think it is an important dimension of all realms of human activity and experience: we cannot just work out ethical truths and then apply them to ‘politics’ because ethics is already a part of politics (and politics a part of ethics).”18 If politics and ethics are enmeshed in this way, then it is simply a mistake to think that certain moral values are insulated from the forces of politics or have “antecedent authority over the political.”19 Only the first of these three arguments for nonreducibility commits the realist to a strong claim about the “autonomy of the political.” The remaining two are committed to the more moderate claim that politics is a distinctive realm that is connected in various ways to other kinds of human activity and forms of evaluation. Classical realists affirm the overarching commitment to the nonreducibility of politics to ethics. For Carr, the tendency to “regard politics as a function of ethics” is part of a broader tendency within “idealist” or “utopian” thought first to devise moral principles a priori and then to apply them to the political world.20 It is this kind of thinking, he suggests, that lies behind the bankrupt doctrine of the harmony of interests and the spectacular failure of the League of Nations. However, his objection to reductionist thinking is not exclusively practical. The problem is not just that reductionism may lead to costly and dangerous political outcomes but also that it fails to understand the relationship between politics and ethics. For Carr, as for those who take the third route outlined earlier, politics cannot be reduced to ethics because ethics is always and already deeply political. Wearing his Marxism on his sleeve, Carr claims that realism’s great achievement was to reveal that moral arguments can never truly be formulated a priori and are always both the product and the reflection of power and interests.21 Morgenthau similarly sees the reduction of political questions to moral ones as a utopian tendency.22 At first blush, he appears to ground this commitment to nonreducibility in a claim about the radical separateness of politics as a sphere of human activity. He argues that the realist sees THE CASE FOR KINSHIP

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“politics as an independent sphere of action and understanding apart from other spheres, such as economics, ethics, aesthetics, or religion.”23 However, it would be a mistake to interpret this argument as a commitment about the nature of politics as such. Like Waltz, Morgenthau thinks that treating politics as an autonomous sphere is a necessary theoretical abstraction. Without this abstraction, “a theory of politics, international or domestic, would be altogether impossible.”24 When Morgenthau tries to capture the actual relationship between politics and ethics, he most often affirms a claim about the distinctiveness of politics. For him, politics is a realm with its own imperatives and stands in a complex and often fraught relationship with the demands of morality. In the realm of politics, “universal moral principles cannot be applied to the actions of states in their abstract universal formulation, but they must be filtered through the concrete circumstances of times and place.”25 The political realm is governed by a contextual, consequentialist, and prudential ethics, which means that political actors will regularly face tragic choices between the moral imperatives of politics and the demands of the universal moral law.26 The prevalence of these tragic choices is part of what makes the political realm distinctive. That they are experienced both as “tragic” and as “choices” is evidence that the political realm is not entirely separate from the moral realm. Second, political realists have an agonistic conception of politics. They take disagreement and conflict to be perennial (or, more strongly, constitutive) features of the political condition. Williams gives one of the stronger articulations of this claim when he suggests that the “the idea of the political is to an important degree focused in the idea of political disagreement.”27 Political realists attribute this disagreement to a variety of causes that tend to fall roughly into one or more of the following categories—human nature and the limits of human rationality,28 competing identities and interests,29 and value pluralism.30 Whatever their causes, these disagreements are not primarily intellectual and will not tend to be resolved through “the unforced force of the better argument.”31 The fact that we disagree over moral, religious, economic, aesthetic, and other matters makes it difficult (or impossible) to live together in the absence of a political authority capable of making and enforcing commonly binding decisions. Politics is necessary “because we have to live and act alongside those with whom we disagree.”32 There are various possible political frameworks (e.g. representative democracy, direct democracy, competitive [ 248 ] A L I S O N M c Q U E E N

authoritarianism)—each with its own core values, institutional arrangements, practices, and procedures—that may allow us to live together in the face of deep disagreement. Although these frameworks may channel and manage disagreement, they will not eliminate it. In fact, realists expect that the terms of political association will themselves be the subject of ongoing disagreement. We will disagree not only about the normative desirability of particular political frameworks but also about the interpretation and relative priority of the values that any given framework is seen to instantiate.33 It is in part for this reason that political realists view all forms of political order as provisional and fragile. Classical realists affirm a similarly agonistic conception of politics. For Carr, the primary explanation for political disagreement and conflict lies in the competing interests of hierarchically situated groups. Dominant groups will tend to defend and justify the status quo, whereas less-powerful groups will tend, so far as they are able, to resist and criticize it. In the face of this disagreement, dominant groups will deploy their formidable ideological resources to make the case that the existing order benefits everybody.34 For Morgenthau, in contrast, the roots of political disagreement can be found in human nature. Evincing his debts to Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud, Morgenthau argues that man has a lust for power and a will to dominate. This “aspiration for power over man” is, for Morgenthau, both an important cause for conflict and “the essence of politics.”35 Whatever the cause of conflict and disagreement, classical realists tend to be cautiously optimistic that domestic political and social institutions and practices can effectively channel and manage it, thereby preventing outright war. Like political realists, classical realists think that a number of possible political frameworks can plausibly achieve this goal. However, because the sphere of international politics lacks any comparable kinds of institutions and practices, they think that disagreement and conflict are liable to become far more explosive in this sphere. Despite the international focus of their arguments, they clearly hold the kind of agonistic account of politics that would be familiar to political realists. Third, political realists tend to reject as “utopian” or “moralist” those approaches that seem to deny the autonomy of politics and the persistence of disagreement and conflict. The first of these labels is at least somewhat misleading. To be sure, political realism is frequently interpreted as a rejection of the “utopianism” of contemporary liberal political philosophy.36 On this interpretation, political realists are concerned primarily with questions THE CASE FOR KINSHIP

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of fact sensitivity and feasibility. They take aim at theories and approaches that fail to attend to psychological, sociological, and institutional constraints on political action and therefore offer inadequate (or even dangerous) guidance for political reform. “Top-down,” “ethics-first” theories are, suggest political realists, particularly prone to these purported pathologies. Political realism, on this view, is primarily a methodological critique aimed at prompting greater fact sensitivity—a corrective to the abstraction and idealism of contemporary liberal political philosophy. This antiutopian interpretation of political realism captures something important. Political realists do take aim at top-down approaches to political thinking and often raise questions about feasibility. However, the interpretation fails to capture the foundational conceptual motivation for these positions. Political realists are not concerned with feasibility and fact sensitivity per se.37 Rather, they are concerned with the conception of politics that lies at the heart of much liberal political philosophy. As Matt Sleat puts it, for the realist, “liberal theory fails to be sufficiently political: either it does not adequately recognize the extent to which politics is an autonomous human activity or it overlooks the extent to which politics is characterized by political disagreement and conflict rather than harmony and consensus.”38 These purported pathologies are better captured by what political realists call “moralism,” or an approach to political thinking that insists on the priority of the moral over the political and understands the purpose of politics as the elimination of conflict and disagreement.39 By conceiving of the political realist’s target as utopianism, we run the risk of mistaking a conceptual criticism for a methodological one. To the extent that realists are concerned with fact sensitivity and feasibility constraints, these concerns are derivative of a conceptual disagreement with political moralism. I return to this point in the following section. For now, it is worth noting that this third commitment, framed in this way, may seem like a difficult one for classical realists to affirm. Thinkers such as Carr and Morgenthau bear much of the responsibility for framing realism as a reaction to or even the opposite of “utopianism” (or “idealism”). For Carr, pure realism and absolute utopianism stand in a dialectical relationship, each offering a corrective for the excesses of the other.40 Morgenthau takes a similar line when he argues that the struggle between utopianism and realism is the central story of modern political thought.41 It is largely due to Carr and Morgenthau that the encounter between [ 250 ] A L I S O N M c Q U E E N

utopianism and realism is often seen as the “first great debate” in the field of international relations.42 Yet although it is certainly true that both Carr and Morgenthau take aim at utopianism for its fact insensitivity and failure to attend to feasibility constraints, these complaints do not capture their fundamental worry. For Carr, the underlying problem with utopianism is its appeal to absolute and prepolitical ethical standards as the basis for political evaluation and reform.43 Realism, in contrast, insists that there are no prepolitical ethical standards because ethical judgments are deeply inflected by power relations.44 For Morgenthau, utopianism is motivated by a disdain for power, disagreement, and conflict, which, for the utopian, are contingent features of social life, atavistic remnants of a past age that must be repudiated and replaced by a “rational and moral political order derived from universally valid abstract principles.”45 I think there is a plausible case to be made that even for classical realists political moralism is a more fundamental target than utopianism. Finally, the fourth commitment is that political realists tend to prioritize the requirements of order and stability over the demands of justice. For political realists, order and stability are fragile accomplishments. Because disagreement and conflict are ineradicable, order and stability are always vulnerable. They should never be understood as “once-and-for-all achievements.”46 It is precisely because of this fragility that stable systems of authoritative political order should be viewed as profound accomplishments. This is part of the reason why Williams objects to John Rawls’s characterization of a pragmatic social consensus as “a mere modus vivendi.”47 For Williams, there is nothing “mere” about a modus vivendi: “experience (including at the present time) suggests that those who enjoy such a thing are already lucky.”48 However, political realists do not merely want to insist that order and stability are more fragile and valuable achievements than contemporary political liberals seem to assume. Many political realists want to defend the stronger claim that order and stability enjoy a certain priority over the demands of justice. Williams identifies the problem of securing “order, protection, safety, trust, and the conditions of cooperation” as “the ‘first’ political question.” The question of order and stability enjoys priority “because solving it is the condition of solving, indeed of 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 THE CASE FOR KINSHIP

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to the first question being required all the time, it is affected by historical circumstances.”49 Williams’s framing of this point manages to be both ambiguous and forceful. There are at least two points here on which political realists might disagree among themselves. The first concerns the kind of priority claim that is being made here. Is it the case that order and stability enjoy a logical priority over the demands of justice, such that it is not possible to work out the conditions for a just regime without first working out the conditions for a stable one?50 This case seems implausible.51 Or do order and stability merely enjoy a political priority over the demands of justice, such that, as a practical matter, we must generally secure order and stability before pursuing other political values? The latter view seems more plausible because, in a political context at least, “justice purchased at the expense of order is likely to prove self-defeating.”52 The second point on which political realists might disagree concerns the strength of Williams’s claim. Political realists want to insist on a certain asymmetry in the relationship between justice, on the one hand, and order and stability, on the other. Whereas a just but unstable order will tend to be self-defeating, a radically unjust order, history suggests, will not reliably face the same fate.53 Nevertheless, it seems possible to acknowledge this asymmetry without committing oneself to any absolute priority of order and stability over justice. The political realist might instead commit herself to the more minimal view that “justice enjoys nothing like an absolute priority over other valued features of political life.”54 Indeed, this view would be consistent with a realist suspicion of “ethics-first” and a priori thinking. On this more minimal version of the fourth commitment, political realists would abstain from any antecedent judgment about the relative priority of political values. Tensions among justice, order, stability, and any number of other political values must, on this view, be subject to more local forms of political judgment. On this more minimal framing, the political realist rejects any absolute political priority of justice over other values. Can classical realists accept either the maximal or minimal versions of this claim about the relative political priority of justice and order? The principal view that runs through classical realist thought is that it is imprudent for states to affirm the absolute political priority of justice over other values. This is because doing so will dangerously distort foreign policies. Classical realists offer several reasons for this view. First, as a general matter, our [ 252 ] A L I S O N M c Q U E E N

reasoning about justice is unreliable. This is true at both the individual level and the international level. Classical realists think that arguments from justice at the individual level are often mere rationalizations for unconscious drives, irrational impulses, and material interests.55 They expect this tendency to be even more pronounced at the international level, where these drives, impulses, and material interests are less effectively contained by laws and institutions.56 Second, classical realists worry that state representatives who think that they are motivated primarily by justice are comparatively more likely to pursue absolute ends and less likely to be susceptible to moderation and compromise. Instead of seeing states with competing ends as opponents to be reckoned with through bargaining and war, the justice-motivated state sees them as immoral pariahs and legitimate targets of unlimited violence.57 Finally, even when justice does not serve as moral cover for baser interests or propel a state toward dangerously absolute ends, classical realists think there may nonetheless be good prudential reasons to avoid assigning absolute political priority to justice (or indeed to any political value). This is because the political realm is tragic. The complexities of social coordination mean that we are often unable to control and anticipate the effects of our actions. Once performed, a political action collides with other actions, leading to consequences that we could never have foreseen and have only a limited capacity to control. These collisions “deflect the action from its intended goal and create evil results of our intentions.”58 This is especially true at the international level, which lacks the laws and institutions that might channel political actions in more predictable ways. Instead of assigning absolute priority to any one political value or moral end, the prudential actor must evaluate and compare policies according to his or her best estimation of their political consequences.59 Importantly, classical realists insist that none of these arguments should lead us to abandon the transformational project of international justice. Rather, they are “persuaded that this transformation can be achieved only through the workmanlike manipulation of the perennial forces that have shaped the past as they will the future.”60 To sum up, I have argued that political and classical realists affirm a common set of defining commitments, even if they sometimes do so through different routes. Insofar as the affirmation of a common set of conceptual commitments is sufficient for inclusion within a theoretical family or THE CASE FOR KINSHIP

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tradition, there are no clear grounds for ignoring the conceptual and analytical kinship between political and classical realism. I also take the conceptual arguments described in this section to be sufficient to demonstrate that classical realism is hardly amoral in its commitments and approach. Why, then, have most contemporary political realists tended to ignore the possibility of such a kinship with classical realism? I think that this rejection is based not on profound conceptual or analytical differences but rather on a caricature of classical realism as a form of amoral realpolitik.61 There may be rhetorical reasons to insist on such a caricature. Many of the most powerful critiques of realism have tended to reduce the entire family of approaches to the uncareful skepticism and amoralism of a crude realpolitik.62 By insisting on the caricature, contemporary political realists can contain these criticisms by conceding their force against a particular strain of realism while insisting on the distinctiveness of their own approach. But however rhetorically useful such a caricature may be, it nevertheless obscures deep conceptual and analytical connections.

Three Lessons In this section, I suggest that at least three important lessons can be learned from political realism’s closer engagement with classical realism.

Realism’s Critical Targets First, such engagement might allow political realists to be clearer about the nature of their critical targets. This is a question about which there is some confusion. We have already considered one sort of confusion. Although realists often claim that their target is utopianism, I argue that their target is more accurately construed as political moralism. One advantage of clearing up this confusion about realism’s target is that it helps us to distinguish more clearly between political realism and nonideal critiques of ideal theory, which are also concerned with questions of fact sensitivity and feasibility.63 Nonideal critiques are primarily methodological, operate within liberal political philosophy, and take aim at theories that make assumptions about human behavior and institutional capacities that are unlikely to hold true in a world like ours (e.g., Rawls’s assumption of full compliance). These [ 254 ] A L I S O N M c Q U E E N

critiques contend that, insofar as one of the goals of liberal political philosophy is to offer guidance to political actors and reformers, an insufficient regard for the facts or attentiveness to feasibility constraints will prove counterproductive. Nonideal critiques are methodological interventions and internal correctives of liberal ideal theory.64 In contrast, realism’s criticisms are conceptual ones that resist a particular vision of politics that is common to much of liberal political philosophy. The disadvantage of conceiving of the target in this way is that it too easily leads to a potentially misleading view of realism’s relationship to liberalism. The realist’s target is political moralism, of which some forms of liberalism are a species. Because liberal approaches have dominated contemporary Anglo-American political philosophy and because liberal democracies have been the dominant postwar political form in the West, most political realists have focused their critical attention there. This focus has obscured two facts—that there are forms of liberalism that are not moralistic and that there are forms of political moralism that are not liberal. The first helps us to account for the fact that many political realists either self-identify or are plausibly categorized as liberals.65 There is nothing contradictory about this. There are forms of liberalism that acknowledge the distinctiveness of politics and are not wedded to the strongly harmonious vision of politics that is characteristic of political moralism. These forms of liberalism might plausibly include contestatory Madisonian liberalism, Judith Shklar’s liberalism of fear, modus vivendi and value-pluralist liberalisms, as well as several more recent articulations of liberal realism.66 There are also many core liberal values that do not depend on (and are perhaps even antagonistic toward) a strongly harmonious conception of politics. These values might, as Andrew Sabl has suggested, plausibly include “liberty, equality, individualism, freedom of speech and dissent, at least a minimal form of justice, dispersion of the effective ability to choose, and security against arbitrary power—and, in all modern contexts, representative democracy.”67 Indeed, for much of the history of liberalism, defenses of these values have happily coexisted with more contestatory and agonistic visions of politics. However, just as there are forms of liberalism that are not moralistic, so too are there species of political moralism that are not liberal. And contemporary political realists have said far too little on this matter. For classical realists, however, liberalism is only one species of the larger genus of political moralism.68 They provide a fuller account of both the THE CASE FOR KINSHIP

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features and the dangers of this larger genus. Like political realists, classical realists think that the problematic features of political moralism flow from its failure to acknowledge the distinctiveness of politics and its reliance on a strongly harmonious vision of politics. For these reasons, political moralists will tend to see conflict and the exercise of coercive power as objectionable disturbances and exceptions to harmonious normalcy, to have confidence in the human capacity to impose our will on the political world, and to share a belief in the possibility and durability of moral progress in politics.69 Although liberalism may provide the paradigmatic instance of these tendencies, they have been shared by other post-Enlightenment political programs, such as Marxism and Nazism.70 These commitments become dangerous when they are challenged by the realities of the political world— when conflict and coercive power can no longer be dismissed as exceptional, when politics escapes human mastery, and when moral progress proves elusive or reversible. At this point, suggest classical realists, there is a temptation for the moralist political actor to double down and to contemplate more radical and violent means for achieving a harmonious and moral political order.71 Contemporary political realists need not affirm the particular details of this account of political moralism and its dangers. However, they might do well to follow the lead of classical realists in offering a fuller account of nonliberal instances of political moralism and in specifying the features they share with liberal ones. Which forms of republicanism, Marxism, or conservatism are appropriately subject to the realist rejection of political moralism? What sorts of practical dangers do all of these forms of political moralism share? What is missed by focusing the critique of the genus of political moralism so squarely on its liberal species?

Realism’s Account of Human Motivation Second, political realists might look to classical realists for a more empirically attentive account of human motivation. Regardless of whether one understands political realism as a methodological or a conceptual critique, it is clear that one of the advantages it claims over its targets is that of a more bottom-up approach to political thinking. In contrast to the abstract

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ethics-first, top-down approach of the political moralist, the political realist begins “from an account of our existing motivations and our political and social institutions.” 72 What the political realist aims to capture is not the behavioral and institutional requirements of a fully just state or even a “realistic utopia” but rather “the way the social, economic, political, etc., institutions actually operate in some society at some given time and what really does move human beings to act in given circumstances.” 73 Yet most political realist work has hovered between the abstract and the polemical without much attempt to offer these kinds of empirically attentive accounts of human motivation or institutional operation.74 For the sake of argument, let us focus on the question of human motivation.75 Political realists rely on both explicit and implicit assumptions in responding to this question. Untethered to empirical evidence, the explicit assumptions have the air of timeworn ritual utterances. Echoing “realist” forerunners such as Thucydides, Augustine, and Machiavelli (all of whom, it bears noting, wrote during times of war or deep political crisis), contemporary political realists ask us to take it as an “undeniable fact that most human agents most of the time are weak, easily distracted, deeply conflicted, and confused.”76 These agents’ beliefs are often indeterminate, incoherent, and the product of various forms of illusion.77 Such “facts” are made to bear a heavy burden in the realist’s attempt to explain why the moralist’s political and institutional principles translate so poorly into effective political proposals. Yet, despite decades of major advances in the empirical study of individual and social psychology, such statements remain purely stipulative. What is more, many political realists seem to assume that human weakness, distraction, and irrationality are virtually constant traits. They do not offer any account of how and under what circumstances we might expect such traits to be more or less pronounced. It may seem rather strange to suggest that classical realists have anything to teach political realists on this question. After all, classical realists are often taken to have a hackneyed account of human nature that was influenced more by a pessimistic theology of original sin and a dated philosophical anthropology than it was by empirical psychological findings. However, classical realists such as Morgenthau and Carr were far more attentive to the psychological findings of their day than is generally supposed. This attention is most visible in these thinkers’ intellectual debts to Freud. For instance, Morgenthau argues that man is motivated by two


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instincts: self-preservation, which is satisfied when the requirements of survival have been met, and self-assertion, a will to dominate that “would be satisfied only if the last man became an object of domination, there being nobody above or beside him, that is, if he became like God.”78 For Morgenthau, these instincts produce the intense disagreements and conflicts that define the political condition. As Robert Schuett’s textual and archival work has shown, this account of human motivation reflects Morgenthau’s close engagement with Freud’s instinct theory.79 Both Morgenthau and Carr evince additional debts to Freud’s accounts of repression and identification in their common argument about the roots of aggressive state behavior. Within the state, the individual’s instinct toward self-assertion is diverted and weakened by rules, institutions, and social norms. However, the individual compensates for the domestic repression of these instincts by vicarious identification with his state’s self-assertion.80 Of course, these arguments now appear hopelessly dated. However, I suggest that this datedness reflects the nascent state of the field of psychology in the mid–twentieth century rather than the classical realists’ failure to engage seriously with empirical questions of human motivation. One aspect of human motivation about which classical realists may have been generally correct concerns our tendency toward moral rationalization. They argue that what appear to be moral arguments may often be post hoc and largely unconscious justifications for our inclinations, intuitions, and interests. Contemporary political realists such as Raymond Geuss share this motivational assumption, treating the tendency toward rationalization as a virtual constant and therefore as a ground for suspicion of moral argument. Arguments about justice and right are, he suspects, often moral cover for the interests of the powerful and the preservation of the existing order.81 However, where Geuss makes motivational suggestions, Carr and Morgenthau offer more complete and empirically attentive accounts. For Carr, Freud’s great contribution to the understanding of human motivation was to drive “the last nail into the coffin of the ancient illusion that the motives from which men allege or believe themselves to have acted are in fact adequate to explain their action.”82 Although Carr is unwilling to give up altogether on the explanatory power of human reason, he insists that it is a less-potent motivational force than post-Enlightenment optimists tend to suppose. He combines this Freudian insight with a Nietzschean moral psychology and a Marxist diagnosis of ideological illusion, all of which [ 258 ] A L I S O N M c Q U E E N

point to the ways in which moral reasoning might be motivated by unconscious drives, irrational impulses, and material interests. Morgenthau largely echoes these arguments. Although the individual “is dominated by interests and driven by emotional impulses, as well as motivated by reason, he likes to see himself primarily in the light of this latter, eminently human quality. Hence he gives his irrational qualities the earmarks of reason. What we call ‘ideology’ is the result of this process of rationalization.”83 This motivational account provides the psychological underpinning for an account of international state behavior. State actors will tend to rationalize their states’ drives and material goals by appealing to arguments about justice and right.84 For both Carr and Morgenthau, the task of the realist is to unmask the drives and interests lurking behind these ideological smokescreens.85 Whatever one makes of the international application of these arguments, it is clear that there is powerful empirical evidence that individuals have a tendency to invoke moral reasons in order to defend and justify their needs and inclinations.86 Among these reasons is an inclination to consciously and unconsciously justify and rationalize the political, economic, and social status quo.87 There is disturbing evidence that under certain circumstances individuals will rationalize the existing order even when it violates their individual or group self-interest.88 Given the centrality of claims about rationalization to their account of human motivation and critique of political moralism, contemporary political realists might engage with these findings more closely. At the very least, such an engagement might prevent political realists from treating rationalization as a motivational constant and prompt them instead to offer some account of the conditions under which we should expect the tendency toward rationalization to be especially pronounced. This is merely one example of how deeper engagement with the empirical study of human motivation may both support and strengthen the contemporary political realist agenda.

Realism’s Account of Human Motivation Third, and on a closely related note, classical realists might give political realists insights into the routes by which realism acquires a conservative bias. In both its international and political variants, realism is often criticized for being a rationalization of the status quo and an apology for THE CASE FOR KINSHIP

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existing power relations. The suggestion seems to be that there is something about the conceptual framework or methodological approach of realism that makes it particularly vulnerable to becoming a mere rationalization or apology for the existing order. Yet, on its face, this suggestion is puzzling. Although realist commitments may be consistent with certain strands of conservatism, these commitments do not themselves demand that one assign any special normative value to the status quo. For most realists, the fact that a set of institutions, traditions, customs, or prejudices happen to have stood the test of time does not invest them with particular normative significance. And many realists, as public intellectuals and political actors, have defended a range of progressive positions aimed at challenging or upsetting existing power relationships. What is more, realists are acutely attuned to the ways in which political and moral arguments can serve as rationalizations of the status quo and apologies for power. They diagnose these tendencies—often with a certain unrelenting zeal—in the arguments made by their “idealist,” “utopian,” or “high liberal” targets.89 So if realism does amount to a rationalization or apology of the kind that its critics allege, it is not because realists set out to defend or justify existing power relationships. If realists end up as rationalizers and apologists, they get there through a more circuitous route. Political realism’s critics and interlocutors have proposed several such routes. Insofar as political realists are committed to fact sensitivity and attentive to feasibility constraints, extreme forms of realism may be left with no other option but to affirm the status quo. David Estlund reminds us of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s complaint in the preface to Émile: “ ‘Propose what can be done,’ they never stop repeating to me. It is as if I were told, ‘Propose doing what is done.’ ”90 Theories that are maximally sensitive to facts and attentive to feasibility constraints must endorse or demand precisely the kinds of institutions and patterns of citizen behavior that we have already. Of course, as Estlund acknowledges, “virtually no one will insist on this extreme kind of realism in normative theory.”91 Even if there were some who did insist on this extreme realism, it might not be accurate to equate their fact sensitivity and attentiveness to feasibility constraints with “realism.” As we have already seen, realists are concerned not with fact sensitivity and feasibility per se but rather with the conception of politics that is held by their critical targets. It is at least logically possible to be a realist who is not concerned with fact sensitivity and feasibility. Radicalism [ 260 ] A L I S O N M c Q U E E N

and critique of the status quo need not sit uncomfortably with realist commitments.92 Nevertheless, as Lorna Finlayson has forcefully argued, although realist commitments do not logically entail an affirmation of the status quo, many political realists tend to make argumentative moves that push them toward a kind of conservatism. They focus on institutional or behavioral phenomena that are allegedly fixed and constant rather than variable. They then move from seeing these phenomena as fixed to treating them almost always as constraints on political possibility and virtually never as enabling factors. Finally, they criticize their predominantly liberal targets for overlooking these phenomena and constraints and for being too ambitious in their demands on institutions and citizens. To the extent that realists make these argumentative moves, their position will shift “towards a greater acceptance of the status quo, towards more modesty in the change that [they] are prepared to propose or demand.”93 On Finlayson’s account, realists end up affirming the status quo because they make a series of conservative argumentative moves that they mistakenly think are entailed by realism’s fundamental commitments. If they can be persuaded that doing so is indeed a mistake, there is no reason why they cannot move in more radical directions. Classical realists, however, suggest a subtler route toward an affirmation of the existing order—and one that may be more difficult to avoid. As we have seen, a frequent realist charge against political moralism is that, despite its seemingly radical aims, it amounts to a rationalization of or apology for the existing order. Realists often see their role as that of revealing or unmasking such rationalizations and apologies. Carr is especially attuned to the way in which this very attention to the possibility of status quo justification can prevent the realist from identifying and defending genuine moral principles at all. The realist, “in denying any a priori quality to political theories, and in proving them to be rooted in practice, falls easily into a determinism which argues that theory, being nothing more than a rationalization of conditioned and predetermined purpose, is a pure excrescence and impotent to alter the course of events.” At its extreme, political realism leaves us with no “right of moral judgment” or grounds for principled and purposive political action.94 In other words, in attempting to avoid the dangers of rationalization and status quo justification, the realist embraces a form of unmasking criticism that threatens to reproduce the problem by another means. If all normative THE CASE FOR KINSHIP

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political arguments are potentially corrupted by interest, then no particular argument can be easily defended. In these circumstances, the realist is left without firm grounds for pursuing political action of any sort. All proposals are suspect, and therefore the existing order is likely to continue by default as no more obviously unjustified than any other alternative.95 Carr worries that the only option left for a thoroughgoing realist is the “passive contemplation” of political reality.96 Now, one might reasonably suggest that Carr has fallen victim to the genetic fallacy. Even if the realist can show that any given moral claim is a rationalization or apology for the existing order, this does not itself show that the claim is false. It is, at best, merely grounds for suspicion—an invitation to seek independent corroboration for the claim. However, I take Carr’s worry to be that the realist’s embrace of a certain kind of unmasking criticism, as both a psychological and an epistemological matter, leaves her suspicious of even the well-justified moral beliefs and therefore at perpetual risk of political paralysis. Offering the realist a remedial philosophy lecture on the genetic fallacy may not reliably ease this suspicion. Given the place of unmasking criticism in certain strands of contemporary political realism, this strikes me as a worry worth taking seriously. In sum, there is a close conceptual and analytical kinship between political realism and classical realism. Political and classical realists share core conceptual foundations, although they may do so through different routes: a commitment to the autonomy or distinctiveness of politics, an agonistic account of politics, a critique of political moralism, and a rejection of any absolute priority of justice over other political values. Insofar as shared core commitments are sufficient for conceptual and analytical kinship, there are no good grounds on which to ignore the familial ties between political and classical realism. What is more, a failure to acknowledge this kinship is conceptually and analytically costly. Classical realists have thought carefully on questions about realism’s targets, its account of human motivation, and its potential for status quo bias. These questions are at the heart of contemporary conversations both among political realists and between them and their critics. Classical realists such as Carr and Morgenthau should be given places at the family table.

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Notes 1. William Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 385–411; Matt Sleat, Liberal Realism: A Realist Theory of Liberal Politics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013); Enzo Rossi and Matt Sleat, “Realism in Normative Political Theory,” Philosophy Compass 9, no. 10 (2014): 689–91. 2. At this point, the sensitive reader is no doubt reeling at the sheer number of “realisms” that I have managed to invoke in a single paragraph. Some conceptual and definitional clarification is in order. I take “international realism” to include both classical realism and structural realism as well what has come to be called “neoclassical realism” (see Gideon Rose, “Neoclassical Realism and Theories of Foreign Policy,” World Politics 51, no. 1 [1998]: 144–72). However, I take the central contrast for my purposes here to be between classical and structural realism. Both of these forms of international realism share “common orienting principles regarding the significance of the role of anarchy, fear, the balance of power, and the national interest, as well as the central role of politics in explaining the behavior of actors in international relations” ( Jonathan Kirshner, “The Economic Sins of Modern IR Theory and the Classical Realist Alternative,” World Politics 67, no. 1 [2015]: 156). There are at least three differences worth flagging here. First, structural realists (e.g., Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer) locate the causes of international order and disorder in the structure of the international system (e.g., anarchy, the distribution of power, changes in the distribution of power). Classical realists attend not only to structural explanations but also to explanations that rest on human nature and domestic politics. Second, classical realists tend to be comparatively less sanguine than their structural realist counterparts about the possibilities of reliably predicting state behavior. This is because, in contrast to their structural counterparts, classical realists tend both to emphasize uncertainty and contingency in international politics and to reject strongly rationalist assumptions (see Kirshner, “Economic Sins”). Third, classical realists do not tend to affirm a clear is/ought distinction and therefore, in contrast to their structural counterparts, are more comfortable making overtly normative claims and extending their analysis beyond a strict focus on the explanation of outcomes (see William E. Scheuerman, “The Realist Revival in Political Theory, or: Why New Is Not Always Improved,” International Politics 50, no. 5 [2013]: 789–814, and Scheuerman’s chapter in this volume). 3. For a piece that deals with the problems raised by the first fact, see Alison McQueen, “Political Realism and the Realist ‘Tradition,’ ” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 20, no. 3 (2017): 291–305.


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4. Raymond Geuss, History and Illusion in Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) and Politics and the Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). 5. For example, Geuss, History and Illusion, 55, and Politics and the Imagination, 39; Bonnie Honig and Marc Stears, “The New Realism: From Modus Vivendi to Justice,” in Political Philosophy Versus History? Contextualism and Real Politics in Contemporary Political Thought, ed. Jonathan Floyd and Marc Stears (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 182. 6. Andrew Sabl, “Strategy: Liberal Realism in Politics,” working paper (2014), 7, http://www.academia.edu/6188408/Strategy_Liberal_Realism_in_Politics. Sabl himself resists such a reading. 7. Scheuerman, “Realist Revival”; Sleat, Liberal Realism, 12–14; Rossi and Sleat, “Realism in Normative Political Theory,” 696–97. 8. I am grateful to Charles Beitz, who helpfully pushed me on these questions. 9. Scheuerman argues that the failure of political realism to engage seriously with classical realism is a mistake for two reasons. First, it means that political realists do not learn from the classical realists’ failures. They therefore “unwittingly reproduce [the] conceptual ambiguities” of the classical realists, particularly on the question of the relationship between morality and politics and the autonomy of the political. Second, the political realist failure to engage with classical realism means that political realists do not learn from the classical realists’ successes (i.e., their ability to move beyond polemical critique and toward “a powerful descriptive account of real-life international politics”) (“Realist Revival,” 799; see also Scheuerman’s chapter in this volume). I am largely in agreement with Scheuerman’s diagnoses, but I think he has far from exhausted the case for a more productive engagement between political realism and classical realism. 10. Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Karuna Mantena, “Another Realism: The Politics of Gandhian Nonviolence,” American Political Science Review 106, no. 2 (2012): 455–57; Rossi and Sleat, “Realism in Normative Political Theory”; Sleat, Liberalism Realism; Bernard Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 1–17. I should note than in conceiving of political realism as a distinctive family of approaches, I mean to emphasize both terms in this phrase equally. Political realism is distinctive in the sense that there are other approaches and positions that reject these commitments (e.g., those found in Plato’s Republic or John Rawls’s Theory of Justice). It is a family of approaches in the sense that its various commitments can, as we shall see, be developed and expressed along different

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12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18.

19. 20. 21. 22.

23. 24. 25. 26.

27. 28.

lines. Despite their differences, the approaches that emerge from these developmental trajectories bear a certain “family resemblance” to one another. See Duncan Bell, introduction to Political Thought and International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme, ed. Duncan Bell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 3. I owe part of this conception of a “distinctive family” to Joshua Cohen. Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979); Charles Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, 2nd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999). Waltz, Theory of International Politics, 8. John Mearsheimer, “The False Promise of International Institutions,” International Security 19, no. 3 (1994): 5–49. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, 8–9. Bernard Williams, “From Freedom to Liberty: The Construction of a Political Value,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 77. For example, Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, 23. Matt Sleat, “Realism, Liberalism, and Non-ideal Theory, or, Are there Two Ways to Do Realistic Political Theory?” Political Studies 64, no. 1 (2016): 32. Lorna Finlayson, “With Radicals Like These, Who Needs Conservatives? Doom, Gloom, and Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 16, no. 3 (2017): 267. Rossi and Sleat, “Realism in Normative Political Theory,” 689. E. H. Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919–1939 (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 14. Ibid., 63–88. See also Raymond Geuss, “Realism and the Relativity of Judgment,” International Relations 29, no. 1 (2015): 3–22. Hans J. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), 168–203; Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 2nd ed. (New York: Knopf, 1954), 3. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 5. Ibid. Ibid., 9. Ibid.; Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics; Richard Ned Lebow, The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests, and Orders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 216–56. Williams, “From Freedom to Liberty,” 77. See also Galston, “Realism in Political Theory.” Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, trans. George Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics; Mark Philp, Political Conduct (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).


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29. Chantal Mouffe, On the Political (London: Routledge, 2005); Bonnie Honig, Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993). 30. John Gray, Two Faces of Liberalism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000); David McCabe, Modus Vivendi Liberalism: Theory and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). 31. Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998), 306. 32. Sleat, Liberal Realism, 44. 33. Matt Sleat, “Legitimacy in Realist Thought: Between Moralism and Realpolitik,” Political Theory 42, no. 3 (2014): 323. 34. Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis, 41–62. 35. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 45. 36. Galston, “Realism in Political Theory”; Laura Valentini, “Ideal vs. Non-ideal Theory: A Conceptual Map,” Philosophy Compass 7, no. 9 (2012): 654–64. 37. Rossi and Sleat, “Realism in Normative Political Theory”; Sleat, “Realism, Liberalism, and Non-ideal Theory”; Enzo Rossi, “Facts, Principles, and (Real) Politics,” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19, no. 2 (2016): 505–20. 38. Sleat, “Realism, Liberalism and Non-ideal Theory,” 8. 39. Ibid.; Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory.” 40. Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis, 93. 41. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 3. 42. See, for instance, Steve Smith, “The Self-Images of a Discipline: A Genealogy of International Relations Theory,” in International Relations Theory Today, ed. Ken Booth and Steve Smith (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), 1–37; Chris Brown, Understanding International Relations (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1997). 43. Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis, 22–24. 44. Ibid., 67–71. 45. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 3; Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 41–74. 46. Philp, Political Conduct, 62. 47. John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 147. 48. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 2 n. 2. See also Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, 21–22. 49. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 3. 50. I have in mind here something like the kind of logical priority claim that is sometimes made about the relationship between ideal and nonideal theory. A. John Simmons argues, for instance, that ideal theory necessarily enjoys logical priority over nonideal theory such that we cannot engage in nonideal [ 266 ] A L I S O N M c Q U E E N


52. 53.

54. 55.

56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62.


theorizing without first working out an ideal of justice (“Ideal and Nonideal Theory,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 38, no. 1 [2010]: 34; see also Burke A. Hendrix, “Where Should We Expect Social Change in Non-ideal Theory?” Political Theory 41, no. 1 [2013]: 133–35). In the case of the relative priority of order and stability, on the one hand, and justice, on the other, this kind of claim about logical priority would be consistent with thinking that, as a political and practical matter, the conditions of a just society have to be compatible with those of a stable one. I refer to this assertion as a claim about political priority and address it separately later in the chapter. It seems more plausible to think that it is possible to establish the conditions for a just regime without any concern for the requirements of order and stability. We might then identify a range of possible institutions, practices, and procedures that meet the requirements of justice. Finally, we might use the requirements of order and stability as a constraint when choosing institutions, practices, and procedures from that range that seem best suited for the circumstances we find ourselves in “now and around here” (Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 2). Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” 388. One has to think only about the persistence of India’s caste system or any number of brutal imperial orders to dispel any optimism on this score. The only way in which the situation might look different is if one, like Rawls (Political Liberalism), were to adopt a moralized conception of stability. This move is understandably something that political realists want to resist. Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” 388. E. H. Carr, The New Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), 69, 105–6, and What Is History? (Houndmills, UK: Macmillan, 1986), 134; Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 155. Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis; Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 81. Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis, 51–53; Hans J. Morgenthau, “The Twilight of International Morality,” Ethics 58, no. 2 (1948): 87–99. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 189. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 7; Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, 190. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 9; Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis, 224–39. Geuss, Politics and the Imagination, x; Geuss, History and Illusion, 55. For example, see Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, 13–66, and Marshall Cohen, “Moral Skepticism and International Relations,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 13, no. 4 (1984): 299–346. For example, see Colin Farrelly, “Justice in Ideal Theory: A Refutation,” Political Studies 55 (2007): 844–64; Zofia Stemplowska, “What’s Ideal About Ideal Theory?” Social Theory and Practice 34, no. 3 (2008): 319–40; and Laura Valentini, THE CASE FOR KINSHIP

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64. 65. 66. 67. 68.


70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79.

80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86.

“On the Apparent Paradox of Ideal Theory,” Journal of Political Philosophy 17, no. 3 (2009): 332–55. Sleat, “Liberalism, Realism, and Non-ideal Theory,” 3–4. Finlayson, “With Radicals Like These”; Galston, “Realism in Political Theory.” Sabl, “Strategy”; Sleat, Liberal Realism. Sabl, “Strategy,” 11. As I suggested earlier, classical realists often use the terms utopianism, idealism, and moralism somewhat interchangeably. For the reasons I suggested, I tend to find this interchangeable use misleading. Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis, 22–62; Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 3; Hans J. Morgenthau, In Defense of the National Interest (New York: Knopf, 1951), 92–101. Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis, 90–91; Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 41–74. See, for example, Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 52–67, and Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis, 89–93. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, 59. Ibid., 9, my emphasis. Galston, “Realism in Political Theory”; Scheuerman, “Realist Revival.” On the relationship between realism and human motivation, see William Galston’s chapter in this volume. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, 2. Ibid., 3–4, 10–11. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 193. Robert Schuett, Political Realism, Freud, and Human Nature in International Relations: The Resurrection of Realist Man (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 25–34. Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis, 159; Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 95. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, 91–111, 85–92. Carr, What Is History? 134. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 155. Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis; Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 80–89. Alison McQueen, “Political Realism and Moral Corruption,” August 2016, DOI: 10.1177/1474885116664825. Jonathan Haidt, “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment,” Psychology Review 108, no. 4 (2001): 814–34; Jonathan Haidt and Matthew A. Hersch, “Sexual Morality: The Cultures and Emotions of Conservatives and Liberals,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 31, no. 1 (2001): 191–221.

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87. John T. Jost and Joanneke van der Toorn, “System Justification Theory,” in Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology, vol. 2, ed. Paul A. M. Van Lange, Arie W. Kruglanski, and E. Tory Higgins (Los Angeles: Sage, 2012), 313–43. 88. John T. Jost, “An Experimental Replication of the Depressed-Entitlement Effect Among Women,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 21, no. 3 (1997): 387– 93; John T. Jost and Mahzarin R. Banaji, “The Role of Stereotyping in System-Justification and the Production of False Consciousness,” British Journal of Social Psychology 33, no. 1 (1994): 1–27. 89. For example, see Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics. 90. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, or On Education, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 34, quoted in David Estlund, Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 263. 91. Estlund, Democratic Authority, 263. 92. Rossi, “Facts, Principles, and (Real) Politics.” 93. Finlayson, “With Radicals Like These,” 270. 94. Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis, 13, 89. 95. These arguments are explored in greater depth and detail in McQueen, “Political Realism and Moral Corruption.” 96. Carr, Twenty Years’ Crisis, 92.


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Getting Past Schmitt? Realism and the Autonomy of Politics WILLIAM E. SCHEUERMAN


ontemporary political realists have begun to acknowledge the overlap between their efforts and those of so-called classical realists, whose creative contributions to the study of international relations (IR) influenced generations of political scientists.1 Unfortunately, the disciplinary divide between normative theory and empirical political science impedes a fruitful exchange. Growing scholarly interest in IR realism’s roots notwithstanding, most philosophers and political theorists ignore the fact that its most prominent midcentury representatives—E. H. Carr, John Herz, Hans J. Morgenthau, and Reinhold Niebuhr—addressed many of the same issues motivating the more recent endeavors.2 Empirical IR scholars, for their part, prefer not only to keep their philosophical colleagues safely quarantined but also to view the normative concerns of Morgenthau and others as evidence of intellectual backwardness.3 Unlike their more scientific offspring, classical IR realists never endorsed the strict methodological separation of is and ought on which postwar political science built its tidy little house, one in which the empirical study of IR occupied a different (and better-situated) room than normative theory. The unfortunate consequence is that international realism’s rich legacy regularly gets reduced to facile sound bites about power politics and the primacy of the national interest. Both contemporary political philosophers and empirical IR scholars make things too easy for themselves. Caricaturing midcentury IR realism, they miss the challenges it poses for their own endeavors. [ 270 ]

In this chapter, I focus on one potentially significant part of the story. The new realism in political philosophy is inspired, to be sure, by a multiplicity of sometimes conflicting aspirations.4 Yet one of its main aims is the quest “to give greater autonomy to politics (from morality, economics, etc.) as a discrete sphere of human activity.”5 Political realists worry about the alleged reduction of politics to a subdivision of ethics or morality. Only by developing a theoretical alternative in which “the distinctiveness and autonomy of politics” is taken seriously, they argue, can unrealistic and normatively inchoate variants of hypermoralistic political philosophy, along the lines allegedly proffered by Kantian liberals, be successfully countered.6 Envisioning politics as an independent activity, resting on its own internal laws and immanent logic, political realists simultaneously hope to avoid reducing it to “a fully amoral sphere in which moral judgments and values have no place because that would undercut the possibility of differentiating politics from violence which is required to keep distance between realism and Realpolitik. . . . Realism attempts to distance itself from Realpolitik by accepting the centrality of power to politics without reducing politics to power. Its strategy for doing this is to insist that there are normative conditions for legitimacy that distinguish politics from successful domination.” 7 The unpleasant specter of both “might makes right” and its nasty cousin realpolitik can be dodged. How? Normative standards internal to politics can be identified, allowing us to delineate legitimate politics from illegitimate domination or violence. Recourse to moral standards prior or external to politics, along the lines endorsed by political moralists, is both unnecessary and counterproductive. Accordingly, the programmatic challenge at hand is to see “whether it is possible to develop a stable and compelling theory of legitimacy that occupies this ground between Realpolitik and moralism.”8 A burgeoning scholarly literature suggests, at the very least, that many now deem this challenge worth taking up. For those familiar with IR realism and especially with the towering figure of Hans J. Morgenthau, the project’s broad outlines should seem remarkably familiar. In the famous introduction to his widely read book Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, with respect to the “six principles of political realism” Morgenthau described “politics as an independent sphere of action and understanding apart from other spheres, such as economics, ethics, aesthetics, or religion.” He characterized political realism by its distinctive acknowledgment of “the autonomy of the political sphere,” insisting that it could still do justice to “the moral G E T T I N G PA S T S C H M I T T ?

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significance of political action.”9 His brand of realism, Morgenthau declared in another work, has nothing to do with realpolitik.10 To be sure, political realism cannot build directly on “moralism,” a misplaced effort to deny the autonomy of politics and the harsh (and normatively unsettling) fact that politics is fundamentally about the struggle for power.11 Yet “this realist defense of the autonomy of the political sphere against its subversion by other modes of thought does not imply disregard for the existence and importance of these other modes of thought. It rather implies that each be assigned their proper sphere and function.”12 Realism is hostile not to morality per se but only to misguided attempts to view politics as subordinate to its separate logic and laws. Because realism presupposes “a pluralistic conception of man,” based on the intuition that human beings are obliged to follow not only the laws of politics but those of morality (as well as economics, aesthetics, and so on), it grasps that anyone “completely lacking in moral restraints” is potentially a mere “beast.”13 Even those engaged in the struggle for power cannot claim complete exemption from the laws of morality. Morgenthau anticipated key features of the new political realism. However, my primary interest here is neither genealogy nor the assignment of scholarly credit. I instead focus on some subtle but significant differences between Morgenthau’s views about the autonomy of politics and those now found among contemporary realists. I do so not for antiquarian reasons but because these differences are crucial for identifying the new realism’s theoretical frailties. Despite a shared programmatic basis, the new realists part company with the “old” realist Morgenthau on a number of issues. There are good reasons, however, for doubting that their alternative realist theory represents unambiguous progress. To see why this is so, we must briefly return to Weimar, Germany, where Morgenthau first encountered what he described in an autobiographical essay in 1978 as “a short book called The Concept of the Political that had a sensational impact upon German political thinking.”14 Morgenthau was referring, of course, to Carl Schmitt’s attempt to conceive of politics as a distinct sphere of activity, first sketched out in 1927 in the pages of the prestigious journal Achiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik and then in 1932 in a subsequent book. Throughout Morgenthau’s career, he struggled to differentiate his ideas about the political from Schmitt’s, whose own views, Morgenthau presciently grasped as a young jurist, were conceptually flawed as well as politically irresponsible. Though I remain unsure whether [ 272 ] W I L L I A M E . S C H E U E R M A N

Morgenthau ever succeeded in offering a fully satisfactory rejoinder to Schmitt, his efforts to do so provide useful lessons for contemporary realism. Present-day realists need to distinguish their efforts from Schmitt’s legacy more effectively than they so far have achieved.15 As they struggle to do so, they can learn from Morgenthau, who sketched the outlines of a nuanced political ethics not only superior to Schmitt’s account of the nexus between politics and morality but also directly pertinent to contemporary realism.

A Hidden Dialogue? Schmitt and Morgenthau on the Political Morgenthau’s “hidden dialogue” with Schmitt is now the object of a sizable body of literature.16 In light of the emergence of the new realism, however, some of its features deserve reexamination. As early as 1929, Morgenthau criticized Schmitt’s initial (1927) statement of the idea that politics represents a separate activity, operating alongside competing forms of human endeavor. Morality is preoccupied with the problem of good and evil; aesthetics concerns the difference between the beautiful and the ugly; economics focuses on profitability and unprofitability; and politics is fundamentally about the contrast between what Schmitt called “friend and foe.”17 As Morgenthau observed, some of Schmitt’s comments misleadingly implied that politics can be interpreted as referring to a predetermined set of essentially political objects, a thesis that in Morgenthau’s view could not usefully grasp the notion that any sphere of activity potentially takes on “political” qualities. In Morgenthau’s alternative formulation, developed at greater length in a second (1933) volume devoted to the concept of the political in which he more directly targeted Schmitt, the political “resides solely in a tone, in a particular nuance,” that any issue or matter of contestation potentially takes on. “The political is a quality which can be found, to varying degrees, in all subject matter, just like the quality of heat can be found in all bodies.” Drawing from any of a variety of (moral, aesthetic, or economic) fields of activity, specifically political concerns evince a high “degree of intensity,” or what he described in the context of his discussion of international law as “the degree of intensity of the connection between the object of the state’s activity and the state.” Politics also operated, to be sure, “beyond the G E T T I N G PA S T S C H M I T T ?

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sphere of the state”: whenever social actors fight “to maintain acquired power, to increase it, or to manifest it,” objects of common interest can abruptly take on a heightened significance.18 Conceding the difficulty of deciding at precisely which juncture a particular social relationship became sufficiently “intense” and thus deeply rather than superficially political, Morgenthau nonetheless deemed his definition superior to Schmitt’s: it better captured core elements of political existence. Schmitt, it appears, basically agreed. In any case, Morgenthau was probably right to claim that Schmitt “changed the second edition of the Concept of the Political [1932] in the light of the new propositions of my thesis.”19 Schmitt’s revised version generally dropped formulations implying that politics consisted of a predetermined set of objects, while leaning heavily on Morgenthau’s competing idea of political intensity.20 To be sure, both thinkers would continue to describe politics as occupying an independent sphere of activity. However, this idea took on different connotations for each of them. Crucial to these differences was a second criticism the young Morgenthau leveled at Schmitt, a criticism whose bite the senior scholar never seems to have properly acknowledged. Schmitt advanced a “metaphysical”—and thus unsound—view of the political: the abstract and rigid antinomy of “friend versus foe” possessed at best a distant relationship “to historical and psychological reality.” 21 A proper account of the autonomy of politics could not therefore build productively on this feature of Schmitt’s theory, either. Even if Schmitt claimed to outline a politically realistic model of politics, he simply offered bad metaphysics. Two separate but distinct observations buttressed this criticism. First, Morgenthau believed that the contrast or antinomy of “friend versus foe” could be immanently criticized according to Schmitt’s own conceptual logic. Its structure was different from that of the competing spheres of activity Schmitt discussed. They merely laid out the direct conceptual implications of the specific activity or “value” in question: morality was about being morally worthy (or good) versus morally unworthy (bad); aesthetics concerned the aesthetically worthy (beautiful) versus the aesthetically unworthy (ugly); economics focused on the economically worthy (practical or profitable) versus the economically unworthy (impractical or unprofitable). Yet the “friend versus foe” contrast did not fit this template. As Morgenthau commented, “The foe can equally be of political value as politically without value, and the same can be said for the friend.”22 [ 274 ] W I L L I A M E . S C H E U E R M A N

Depending on the particular social circumstances, a political ally or friend can prove either “valuable” or not; the same is true of political opponents or foes. “Friend versus foe” did not mesh with the general pattern in Schmitt’s exposition, which entailed asserting a particular social activity’s possession of a corresponding value (e.g., goodness, beauty, or profitability) and the corresponding lack thereof. From the perspective of Schmitt’s own framework, the “friend versus foe” antinomy lacked a sufficiently sturdy conceptual basis. Why did this matter? The “friend versus foe” dichotomy, Morgenthau concluded, was ungrounded. Schmitt was right to acknowledge the autonomy of politics, but he had done so in a misleading way. Second, Morgenthau argued that Schmitt’s theory was metaphysical because it lacked the requisite sociological and psychological grounding. Despite its own realist pretenses, it paid little if any systematic attention to social facts or concrete human beings.23 Pitched at the level of abstract political philosophy, it sloppily hypostasized a particular type of agonistic politics (that is, friend versus foe) without paying heed to its underlying roots in social and psychological experience: “We can . . . speak about the politics of a city, about those of a cartel, and even about the politics of an individual, such as, for example . . . those of a debtor towards his creditors, or those of a woman towards her husband, the world or her servants. All of these sociologically established facts have this in common: they all have the will to power as the psychological factor at their base.”24 This “will to power,” Morgenthau declared, undergirds political tensions that manifest themselves in a multiplicity of ways and with a greater or lesser degree of intensity. Better than Schmitt’s contrast of “friend versus foe,” “will to power” does justice to the empirical complexity of political affairs. This analytic move was in part inspired, for better or worse, by Morgenthau’s early fascination with psychology and especially its Freudian rendition.25 Even though he later downplayed this genealogy, the notion of the “lust for” or “will to” power always remained a central tenet of his realist brand. Not surprisingly, it remained among that brand’s most controversial elements. Yet the underlying analytic move still served Morgenthau well in one crucial fashion. His worries about the sociological and psychological lacunae of Schmitt’s theory opened the door to an empirically based theory of international politics, one that rested, to be sure, on some underlying conceptual (and occasionally perhaps dogmatic) foundations yet still systematically engaged with social and especially political G E T T I N G PA S T S C H M I T T ?

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“reality.” In Morgenthau’s hands, realism was able to transcend the disciplinary confines of abstract political philosophy and become a theoretically motivated empirical social science. Schmitt, revealingly, never pursued a similar path and too often cobbled together a highly selective reading of empirical evidence simply to illustrate the veracity of tendentious conceptual claims.26 A final feature of the Morgenthau–Schmitt exchange is pertinent. To be sure, Schmitt’s Concept of the Political acknowledged the existence of morality as an autonomous field of activity. Yet it said nothing about the proper relationship between morality and politics. Nor did it seriously consider the possibility that an immanent morality can be grounded in politics. On the contrary, Schmitt repeatedly inferred that so-called normativism inevitably violates politics’ autonomous logic.27 For his part, Morgenthau repeatedly criticized inappropriately moralistic views of politics, and he also discounted the possibility of normativity directly grounded in the political sphere. Despite this overlap, sizable differences remained. Schmitt seemed to condone and sometimes to celebrate the “pure politics” of friend versus foe. In contrast, Morgenthau frequently underscored its perils, viewing Schmitt’s preference for la politique pour la politique as a deplorable defense of political action unharnessed from indispensable normative checks. For Morgenthau, “a man who was nothing but a ‘political man’ would be a beast, for he would be completely lacking in moral restraints.”28 Pure politics means unadulterated power politics or realpolitik, where humanity’s “will to power” is given free rein. By no means coincidentally, Morgenthau associated pure politics with Schmitt’s own fascist political preferences. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini represented one-sidedly political “beasts” because they delighted in “the will to power and the struggle for power as elemental social facts,” which they unabashedly glorified; they represented disastrous personifications of the logic of “pure politics.”29 Fascism eventually failed, Morgenthau insisted, because “it did not understand the nature of man, who is not only an object of political manipulation but also a moral person endowed with resources which do not yield to manipulation.”30 Fascism ignored humanity’s “pluralistic nature,” which means that “real man [sic] is a composite of ‘economic man,’ ‘political man,’ ‘moral man,’ ” and so on.31 Even if politics and the will to power rest on human nature, human beings always unavoidably remain more than mere political creatures.

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How, then, to check the dangers of the political? Given the basic logic of Morgenthau’s exposition, restraints can stem only from competing modes of social activity because no inherent normativity can be directly located in the political spheres. Even if “man is a political animal by nature,” forced irrepressibly to seek power over others, Morgenthau argued, he always simultaneously remains “a moralist because he is a man.”32 Though forced to abide the harsh laws of the political sphere, we are similarly obliged to heed morality’s strict dictates. Unlike Schmitt, Morgenthau frequently discussed the complex nexus between the competing logics of politics and morality. Schmitt’s readers will search in vain for a well-developed political ethics, whereas Morgenthau’s readers—or at least those conscientious enough to rely on more than the usual textbook excerpts—soon encounter an account of the human condition as basically tragic.33 In Morgenthau’s political ethics, we are obliged to do justice to our pluralistic and indeed contradictory nature as both political animal and moralist despite the immense difficulty of doing so. Even under the best of conditions, the likely result will be a frustrating modus vivendi, an “uneasy, precarious, and even paradoxical” situation in which political action requires morally unpalatable compromises. Morally responsible political actors fuse a hard-headed sense of political realities with a principled commitment to moral imperatives: unlike the one-sided power politicians Hitler and Mussolini, they combine “political wisdom, moral courage, and moral judgment” as they struggle to reconcile politics and morality. On this view, it is only “the awareness of the tragic presence of evil in all political action which at least enables man to choose the lesser evil and to be as good as he can be in an evil world.” Those who refuse to accept this harsh vision, Morgenthau declared, naively try “to gloss over and to distort the tragic contradictions of human existence with the soothing logic of a specious concord” between politics and morality.34 More remains to be said about Morgenthau’s response to Schmitt, but let me instead turn to its surprising relevance for the new political realism.

Bernard Williams Meets Carl Schmitt Fast-forward to the near present. Bernard Williams’s posthumous collection In the Beginning Was the Deed offers the “most well-developed and potentially

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fertile theory of political realism.”35 Although Williams at one juncture dubbed the quest to define the political fruitless, he proceeded to sketch his own updated concept of it.36 Its main features are familiar; I limit my analysis to those elements pertinent to my discussion. Williams’s main starting point is the Hobbesian insight that the most fundamental and thus inescapable political task is “the securing of order, protection, safety, trust, and the conditions of cooperation.”37 The autonomy of politics entails recalling Thomas Hobbes’s core intuition about the primacy of political order because the maintenance of order represents both a presupposition of other political goods and an enduring task. The political, on this view, is fundamentally about creating and preserving order and basic security. Yet Schmitt also makes a surprise appearance, with Williams cautiously expressing some sympathy for the German theorist’s model of “friend versus foe” politics. Politics, Williams asserts, is basically about disagreement. In contrast to other forms of disagreement, in politics disagreement potentially draws on multiple sources, and it concerns “what should be done under political authority, in particular through the deployment of state power.” Its infamous links to Weimar’s demise notwithstanding, Schmitt’s definition, states Williams, “is basically true in at least this sense, that political difference is of the essence of the politics, and political difference is a relation of political opposition, rather than, in itself, a relation of intellectual or interpretative disagreement. Many things can be covered by the idea of ‘opposition’ itself.”38 Politics is about having “opponents.” Yet, Williams emphasized, it would be a mistake to conflate political with moral or intellectual opponents, though political differences can sometimes rest on moral and intellectual disputes. Similarly, political conflict or opposition can involve disagreements about competing interests while in principle transcending them as well. “Political disagreement is not merely moral disagreement, and it need not necessarily involve it, though it may do so; equally, it need not be a disagreement simply of interests, though of course it may be.”39 Political opposition represents a special—and potentially more consequential—type of disagreement. In contrast to disagreements in other areas, in politics they concern the fateful question of how state power is to be deployed. In this second (and analytically somewhat distinct) component of Williams’s definition, politics refers to deep or profound differences or opposition having direct relevance for state coercion. [ 278 ] W I L L I A M E . S C H E U E R M A N

Williams tended to suggest that this rudimentary account of politics provided a basis for some surprisingly robust normative principles. State power must always meet a “basic legitimation demand” (BLD), dictating that the state proffer a plausible justification for itself to those subject to it. The BLD, he bluntly stated, “is a claim that is inherent in there being such a thing as politics: in particular, because it is inherent in there being first a political question.” Notably, the BLD allegedly excludes disadvantaging persons such that it would become impossible to see how their status is different from those denied the usual protections we associate with securing political order. It also excludes “one lot of people terrorizing another lot of people” because for Williams the sine qua non of politics is to circumvent disorder, instability, and violence.40 Despite its normatively ambitious connotations, the BLD should not be seen as resting on moral justification prior to politics; the political possesses its own normativity. Under modern conditions, only liberal states respectful of basic human rights (for example, prohibitions on torture) satisfy the BLD.41 Terrible human rights violations are “not per se a political situation” but instead precisely a situation “[that] the existence of the political is in the first place supposed to alleviate.”42 Similarly, what he dubbed the “critical theory principle” allegedly discredits unacceptable forms of coercion or domination: if acquiescence in a particular system of legitimation obtains because it was “produced by the coercive power which is supposedly being justified,” it is suspect and probably illegitimate.43 Williams’s move to deduce normativity from some seemingly elementary facts of political life has ignited controversy (see the discussion in the next section). By returning again to Morgenthau, we can perhaps understand why. Morgenthau worried, as noted earlier, that Schmitt’s concept of the political suffered from arbitrariness: Schmitt never sufficiently grounded the “friend versus foe” antinomy. In a parallel vein, Williams moves expeditiously from his (Hobbesian) emphasis on the centrality of political order to the (Schmittian) notion of politics as antagonism or opposition without much appreciation for possible tensions between the two conceptual strands. It is not even clear that Williams was cognizant of the existence of these tensions: Hobbes and Schmitt, after all, often get misleadingly clumped together.44 Yet key differences remain. For example, the card-carrying Hobbesian might seek a political universe in which intense enmity or opposition has been effectively vanquished for the sake of securing political G E T T I N G PA S T S C H M I T T ?

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order. However, his Schmittian rival might instead suggest that enmity (or political opposition) is fundamentally irrepressible and that attempts to eliminate or even drastically reduce it are misconceived.45 The Hobbesian might easily endorse a cosmopolitan or universal political order,46 whereas the Schmittian would aggressively devalue such an aspiration as naive and potentially irresponsible. These tensions are of possible relevance to Williams’s analysis. Critics worry that his interpretation of the BLD contains normative elements that have not been sufficiently justified.47 Particularly if one highlights his express references to Schmitt, there may be something to this concern. Williams’s restatement of Schmitt might be interpreted as suggesting that political opposition or conflict transcends disagreements otherwise resolvable by moral appeals, by political arguments having far-reaching intellectual and/or interpretative content, or even by the aggregation of competing interests.48 A tendency to devalue normal or ordinary liberal-democratic modes of politics (e.g., the aggregation of competing interests or deliberative political exchange) perhaps inadvertently seeps into his exposition, as it did unambiguously in Schmitt’s original model. In any event, the polarizing Schmittian politics of friend versus foe hardly provides a firm grounding for the liberal and humanitarian ideals Williams found so appealing. Schmitt was perhaps more consistent though normatively less appealing: he saw that if we interpret politics (a) as an autonomous sphere characterized chiefly by (b) the antagonistic and potentially explosive logic of friend versus foe (or, in Williams’ terms, political opposition), then there is (c) no internal political reason why it might not sometimes entail potentially brutal forms of coercion and violence. To his credit, Williams never followed Schmitt down this road. In discussing the possibility of severe crises or emergencies, however, Williams once conceded that “blatant denials of human rights” and other extreme measures might then be justified.49 The BLD, it seems, might not obtain when subversives or revolutionaries threaten the political status quo. Political actors can then legitimately take recourse to highly contextualized political judgments, and such judgments might understandably lead these actors to condone brutal actions otherwise prohibited by the BLD.50 In contrast to those who believe that liberal states should be categorically prohibited from committing such extreme measures, one lesson liberals apparently should learn is that it can prove mistaken, “as the writings of Carl Schmitt may remind us,” to “wait too long” before pursuing them.51 [ 280 ] W I L L I A M E . S C H E U E R M A N

In the case of a “vivid emergency exception,” Williams also argued in “Politics and Moral Character,” politicians need to act in morally (and presumably also legally) disagreeable ways, even if it remains important that they are temperamentally “disinclined to do the morally disagreeable thing.” Though “sackcloth is not suitable dress for a politician,” only those who refuse cynically to celebrate morally unsavory action “have much chance of not doing it when it is not necessary.”52 When the chips are down, it seems, the ambitious normative principles Williams thought he could derive from his overall account of politics perhaps no longer carry much weight. When political survival is at stake, politics’ immanent normativity is robbed of a great deal of its once seemingly robust content. Even if Schmitt was decidedly less worried than Williams about making sure that political leaders are disinclined to act immorally during a crisis, Williams’s argument here does echo key features of Schmitt’s. This tendency in Williams’s thought would have surprised neither Schmitt nor Morgenthau, both of whom rejected the intuition that morality or normativity can be based in the political sphere’s independent logic. Schmitt probably did so because he preferred the agonistic politics of friend versus foe over liberal models of deliberation and compromise. Morgenthau’s reasons for doing so, however, are more intriguing. One suggestion he frequently made is that only by taking the autonomy of the political seriously can we fully grasp its myriad dangers and perils. Moralistic ideals of politics, on this view, risk closing our eyes to the nasty realities of a political universe in which morally deplorable political action remains depressingly commonplace. By openly recognizing (as Williams may have inadvertently done in his discussion of states of emergency) that when the chips are down, the dictates of politics invite brutal action, Morgenthau seemed to believe that we might be better situated to think constructively about how to counteract such action. Williams was a complex and nuanced thinker. He occasionally qualified his strong claims about politics’ immanent normativity by noting that his model “does not deny that there can be local applications of moral ideas in politics.”53 Nonetheless, his overall position surely would have worried Morgenthau. On Morgenthau’s competing account, we typically find violence or terror unacceptable even when it potentially serves an identifiably political logic. Why? It imperils deep sensibilities grounded in a moral sphere whose imperatives we are obliged to follow. We are sickened by torture not exclusively or even chiefly because it impairs core political G E T T I N G PA S T S C H M I T T ?

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functions, especially considering that in rare instances it might in fact serve them, but instead because it assaults our most fundamental moral intuitions.54 According to Morgenthau, “the test of a morally good action is the degree to which it is capable of treating others not as means to the actor’s ends but as ends in themselves.”55 He frequently appealed to the egalitarian moral intuition that “the use of man as a means to an end” is unacceptable, mentioning both Kant and Marx as theorists who had rightly grasped this point.56 On his view, politics and morality unavoidably clash; there are no easy solutions to the resulting conflicts. To be sure, both Morgenthau and Williams ultimately opposed Schmitt’s inference that politics is best cleansed of moral concerns (so-called normativities) altogether, and their endeavors sometimes overlap. For example, Morgenthau’s recourse to the strict moral demand that we treat other persons as ends is mirrored in Williams’s apparent or at least occasional moral egalitarianism implicit in his key claim that those who exercise legitimate power “must have something to say to each person whom they constrain.”57 The question generated by Williams’s position, as Morgenthau would have recognized and contemporary critics similarly observe,58 is whether its moral fundaments can be sufficiently based in politics or instead must depend far more extensively on moral intuitions external to politics, as Morgenthau posited. Predictably perhaps, Williams’s thinking even here proves ambivalent. His defense of the critical theory principle, for example, can be taken as implying the necessity of a rigorous set of normative tests according to which existing relations of political domination have to be checked against some ideal (and perhaps counterfactual) model of truly noncoerced (and thereby legitimate) power relations. Such a set of tests would invite moral reflection about an idealized model of legitimate power relations distant from everyday political realities and about the differences between genuine (i.e., noncoerced) choices and false or incomplete (i.e., coerced) choices. In short, it would unavoidably open the door to precisely the kind of demanding normative theorizing that the principle’s chief inspiration, Jürgen Habermas, has systematically pursued for many decades.59 Yet how could such an idea secure a sure resting place in Williams’s otherwise adamantly anti-Kantian and down-to-earth realist theoretical edifice? Revealingly, Williams elsewhere backed off from demanding moral tests of this type, commenting that the necessity of providing “a legitimation story . . . does not imply, of course, that in terms of the story there is [ 282 ] W I L L I A M E . S C H E U E R M A N

some presumption that citizens should be treated equally.”60 Here again, as in his discussion of severe emergencies, he offered an escape route for those who initially surmised that the BLD entails rigorous normative tests. When push comes to shove, the BLD insists on a “story” that somehow speaks to everyone but without requiring any actual commitment on the part of power holders to a norm of equal treatment or equal respect. Cannot many brutal dictatorships easily meet this test? They regularly offer “legitimation stories” (or narratives) without taking the principle of equal treatment seriously. And they often gain mass ideological assent while making mincemeat of basic rights. Here again, Williams’s BLD suddenly seems rather hollow. The underlying dilemma, as Morgenthau intimated, is that a truly realistic notion of the political is unlikely to provide the normativity Williams apparently hoped to draw from it: one can justify the requisite normativity only by building more extensively on moral foundations external to politics.

Contemporary Realism: In Schmitt’s Shadows? In response to such enigmas, Williams’s critics have moved in different directions. Reminiscent of Morgenthau, some of them focus on Williams’s implicit recourse to normative intuitions that cannot in fact be grounded in the political. Some of them, however, then quickly try to restate the “ justificatory primacy of morality” along the lines rejected not only by Williams but also previously by Morgenthau.61 Morgenthau was as critical of attempts to privilege morality over politics as he was of prioritizing politics over morality: on his view, politics and morality constitute equiprimordial activities, each generating legitimate demands on social actors who unavoidably confront difficult and sometimes tragic choices. Morgenthau’s “pluralistic” narrative about human nature always entails acknowledging the existence of rival yet equally obligatory forms of political and moral activity. Other critics echo Morgenthau in viewing Williams’s depiction of politics as surprisingly unrealistic.62 Williams ultimately justified neither the BLD nor the critical theory principle, both of which have subsequently been discarded because of their incongruity with a more consistent realism.63 For reasons I have tried to explain, Morgenthau might have G E T T I N G PA S T S C H M I T T ?

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sympathized with this line of criticism, yet he would have posed some questions. Can the new realism offer a genuinely hard-headed account of politics without succumbing to Schmitt’s hostility to “normativities”? How might realists transcend Williams’s failure to ground normativity without embracing a “pure politics,” in which the links between politics and morality become even more frayed? A brief examination of the ongoing debate suggests that such concerns remain pertinent. Among Williams’s recent critics, Schmitt seems to be assigned an even more pronounced role. Bonnie Honig and Marc Stears, for example, read Williams as a tension-ridden thinker situated between the “advocacy of a free-flowing, open-ended agonistic politics, attuned to both the possibilities and the dangers of expressive (dis)orderly action,” on the one hand, and “the insistence on a more cautious, safety-seeking, pessimistic pursuit of stability and order,” on the other hand.64 The authors’ sympathies lie with the former, which they envision as implying a superior brand of consistently agonistic realism rooted in the Nietzschean traits of Williams’s thinking and which they interpret as operating productively against Williams’s (allegedly) more conservative Hobbesian preoccupation with security and stability. On this view, realism needs to jettison Williams’s overly cautious brand of liberalism and rationalism and fully embrace radical pluralism and contingency, both of which imply the irrepressibility of coercion and struggles for power. Though Schmitt is left unnamed, what Honig and Stears radicalize are the implicitly Schmittian overtones of Williams’s political theory, especially his conflict-centered model of politics as opposition, now unmoored from the Hobbesian framework by means of which Williams grounded his account. By doing so, however, they risk robbing political realism of any meaningful basis for normativity—not a surprising development perhaps, given their tendency to treat political contingency, disorder, and instability as having an implicitly privileged normative status.65 Although undermining Williams’s BLD, they offer nothing in its place. Which normative standards might allow us to distinguish, for example, responsible from irresponsible varieties of “free-flowing, open-ended agonistic politics”? Against Williams’s view of the BLD, they declare that “all efforts at legitimation are best understood as parts of the struggle for power.” In response to those worried about the open-ended normative implications of their position, Honig and Stears promise “that history itself provides a response, with its many instances of hopeful and successful political action on behalf of [ 284 ] W I L L I A M E . S C H E U E R M A N

legitimation and solidarity, not all of which are aptly redescribed in realist terms as mere power politics.”66 How, then, are we to distinguish praiseworthy exemplars of legitimation or solidarity from mere power politics? Honig and Stears probably cannot answer this question because the very attempt to do so is associated in their minds with the allegedly conservative and “pessimistic” virtues of order and stability. Reminiscent of Schmitt, they leave us with not only a harshly agonistic model of politics but one whose relationship to morality remains unclear. Matt Sleat’s study Liberal Realism: A Realist Theory of Liberal Politics not only offers a superior philosophical grounding for realism but also aims to do so, as the volume’s title suitably attests, in sync with modern liberalism. Sleat offers a sophisticated explication of the new realism, yet Schmitt’s ghost still haunts it in ways that would have alarmed Morgenthau. Sleat’s starting point is a strong thesis about the unavoidability of deep and indeed radical political disagreement, “not just moral or religious.”67 Most liberals, of course, purport to take “the fact of pluralism” (Rawls) seriously. According to Sleat, however, they downplay its far-reaching character and also the harsh fact, liberal efforts notwithstanding, that it remains unbridgeable. No ideal procedure or theory of legitimation can fully tame pluralism. Even in seemingly well-integrated political orders, we can identify groups whose political commitments clash irreparably with those of the hegemonic political interests and ideas. Liberal societies have always included illiberal political constituencies. As a consequence, coercion and domination remain unavoidable even there: “Coercion is therefore a necessary fact of political life. All political associations will involve coercion of some sort and no proper form of political understanding can eschew the truth that forms of coercion will be necessary for political order to be possible at all.”68 How, then, are we to identify acceptable or legitimate forms of coercion or domination? Sleat argues that neither Williams’s BLD nor the critical theory principle can be satisfactorily defended. Williams astutely grasped that politics was about coercion, domination, and the struggle for power, yet he did so incompletely. Once we free ourselves from Williams’s normative illusions, Sleat believes, we can properly appreciate the necessity of “a more thoroughgoing amendment” to liberal realism.69 In a nuanced account I cannot do justice to here, Sleat provides such an amendment. For our purposes, its most striking feature is its redeployment of Schmitt’s concept of the political, which Sleat criticizes but which he also views as providing useful building blocks. Schmitt accurately captures G E T T I N G PA S T S C H M I T T ?

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not only the basically agonistic nature of politics but also the fact that liberalism necessarily faces “existential” foes—that is, as Sleat puts it, “those who hold radically anti-liberal views that liberalism must be prepared to struggle against.” 70 Liberalism constitutes a partisan worldview, Sleat contends, in a dangerous political universe populated by many who would seek to destroy it. Because on Sleat’s account opponents of liberalism are located not just outside but within the boundaries of liberal states, liberals urgently need to figure out how best to handle them. His answer is that liberals have to exercise an irrepressible dose of coercion (or “mastery”), yet they need to do so while diligently upholding basic liberal ideals of moral equality and freedom. The liberal “places on him- or herself a series of normative and institutional constraints that ensure (as far as possible) that coercive power is not used in a manner that violates the freedom or moral equality of any person, including internal enemies. Liberals are masters, but they are selfrestrained masters, and it is this self-restraint that should lead them to respect the freedom and equality of enemies.” 71 Unlike Honig and Stears, Sleat offers an identifiably liberal normative framework for guiding responsible political action: even when confronting their enemies, liberals are obliged to abide by the demanding ideals of freedom and equality. Yet Sleat’s account leaves many unanswered questions. It relies on what he describes as liberal moral intuitions (concerning freedom and equality) in order to minimize the potential brutality of “friend versus foe” politics.72 On occasion, he describes the liberal recourse to moral ideals of freedom and equality as providing a possible basis for successfully taming and even integrating political enemies: when liberals respect everyone’s moral equality and freedom, then enemies prospectively become “broadly supportive of the political association, at least in the sense that they do not seek to change those decisions via means other than the established procedures.”73 Yet then Sleat has perhaps provided only a modified version of the (supposedly unacceptable) version of liberal political theory he initially seemed to be criticizing, according to which liberalism should identify common moral (or procedural) means for bringing together radically opposed political positions. Deep pluralism, it turns out, is potentially bridgeable after all, at least if liberals can figure out how to encourage their enemies to accept the liberal order’s underlying framework. For Sleat, ideas of freedom and equality remain constitutive of liberalism. There is nothing inherent in the harsh realities of political experience [ 286 ] W I L L I A M E . S C H E U E R M A N

that requires viewing such liberal ideals as binding on nonliberals, who may have few if any incentives for acting in a similarly responsible way. Sleat favors treating enemies in accordance with ideals of freedom and equality because he is a liberal but not ultimately because he is a realist. He follows Schmitt in seeing liberalism as just one among a number of rival partisan doctrines, which means that he cannot consistently ground ideas of freedom and equality in core facets of the political; we defend these ideas as liberal because we are liberals, in full awareness of the nonuniversalizable character of our political choice or “decision.” The choice preference for freedom and equality represents only one among a number of competing political options. This political universe remains one that is riveted by deep antagonisms and one where the common ground between friends and foes remains limited. Sleat hopes that liberals will exercise self-restraint even when faced with dangerous opponents. Nonetheless, the deeply antagonistic and explosive political universe he depicts might just as likely invite liberals to abandon their normative commitments. Even if Sleat desires otherwise, it is certainly easy to imagine (or to call to mind actual instances of ) liberals asserting the necessity of engaging in terrible acts (e.g., violence or torture) to tame their foes. Given his exposition’s basic parameters, his preference for a selfrestrained liberalism may prove as unrealistic as Williams’s attempt to ground the otherwise admirable BLD in politics. The Achilles’ heel may again be a failure to delineate a novel realist concept of politics from the agonistic Schmittian politics of friend versus foe.

Realism in Search of Reality? Morgenthau criticized Schmitt for succumbing to political metaphysics and in the process occluding the empirics of real-life political conflict along with its complex psychological and sociological sources. A similar criticism, I believe, can be directed at the new political realism. Here again, Morgenthau’s exchange with Schmitt remains relevant. To be sure, new realists such as Raymond Geuss declare that the best “way to make discernible intellectual progress, in contradistinction to Neo-Kantianism, which allegedly begins with ‘unreal’ moral ideals, is by studying history, social and economic institutions, and the real world of politics.” 74 Realism, he asserts, starts “from an account of our existing G E T T I N G PA S T S C H M I T T ?

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motivations and our political and social institutions (not from a set of abstract ‘rights’ or from other intuitions).” 75 Despite the gesture toward an empirically oriented theory of politics, the new realism remains first and foremost political philosophy. Even on the one rare occasion when Geuss ventures into the world of IR realism, he offers an interpretation of E. H. Carr in which the great historian and IR theorist mysteriously morphs into a moral philosopher.76 For his part, Sleat openly concedes that the new realism neglects human psychology and material interests and instead links its core theses about “disagreement and conflict to theories of the nature of normative value and judgment.” 77 So far it has failed to produce, by no means coincidentally, anything akin to the wide-raging, though hardly flawless, social-scientific inquiries by Morgenthau, Carr, and Herz. Every scholarly paradigm entails some division of labor. One can perhaps excuse philosophically minded realists for leaving the task of formulating an empirical complement to their theoretical inquiries to those of a more social scientific bent. Unfortunately, the problem at hand goes deeper. As Morgenthau observed in the case of Schmitt’s concept of the political, we can identify a certain tendency in the new realism to treat empirical— and thus perhaps historically and socially malleable—facets of political and social existence as possessing something like a metaphysical or ontological character.78 We are provided with a “realist” political ontology that implicitly rests on some account of the “real” (political) world, absent a hardheaded social science that might help us determine whether the underlying empirical diagnosis is sufficiently sound. As realists have moved toward embracing an increasingly rarefied concept of agonistic politics, conceived as possessing its own autonomous logic and disconnected from concrete social realities, their thinking risks suffering from what Lois McNay describes as “social weightlessness.”79 Although the realists promise to take the facts of power and domination seriously, they not only have little to say about the actual empirical dynamics of power and domination but also perhaps impede effective critical analysis of them. They tend to depict the facts of power and domination as little more than offshoots of an essentialist account of the political, whose relationship to the complex social dynamics of inequality and domination remains highly ambiguous. In the new realists’ work, we too often find an implicit conceptual hierarchy where highly abstract claims about the irrepressibility of agonistic politics gain a privileged position vis-à-vis the analysis of social

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realities, with the latter appearing as an empirical manifestation of a quasi-transcendental concept of the political. Unfortunately, as McNay points out, the resulting “detachment of the realm of the political from its social conditions of possibility empties it of much content and vitiates its relevance to the everyday practices that sustain and renew it.”80 Because the new realists ignore the complex universe of social relations of power and domination, they are doomed to offer a view of politics reminiscent of Schmitt’s “friend versus foe” politics in its one-sidedness. Tellingly, for new realists such as Sleat, the “fact of pluralism” is not actually conceived as a “fact” that demands careful empirical and historical interrogation but instead as an unchangeable and seemingly ontological basis for a philosophically minded normative theory. Apparently indubitable truths about a deep and supposedly unbridgeable pluralism serve as the groundwork for his entire (allegedly) realistic theory. It would be naive to ignore that pluralism represents a key feature of modern political experience. The key question is how we view the “fact” of pluralism. Does it represent, as Sleat seems to imply, a foundational political truth, an essential feature of political reality from which we then can deduce additional political “truths” (for example, the unavoidability of deep political antagonism)? Or does it instead constitute, as Morgenthau suggested, a political and social phenomenon that is capable of taking different forms and whose potential excesses might also be usefully mitigated? In the global arena, Morgenthau believed, international morality remains underdeveloped; competing moral, religious, and political ideas mean that even seemingly clear-cut legal standards are too often subject to dramatically opposing interpretations. Pluralism is indeed deep and divisive, and international law suffers accordingly. Yet even there, he believed, structural trends working to undergird both international morality and legality can be identified. One can at least begin to imagine a possible future scenario in which deeper commonalities successfully provide the foundations for a more effective as well as legitimate global political order.81 As for existing nation-states, pluralism there generally is already hemmed in by a robust sense of common aspirations. “What justice means in America I can say,” stated Morgenthau, “for interests and convictions, experiences of life and institutionalized traditions, have in large measure created a consensus which tells me what justice means under the conditions of American society.”82 Even in divided and heterogeneous political orders such as the United

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States, one can identify widespread agreement about core political questions. Far-reaching pluralism coexists alongside politically and legally significant arenas of far-reaching homogeneity. My aim is not to conclude by trivializing the serious political challenges posed by pluralism or to downplay the vital contributions made by the new political realists to the analysis of those challenges. Yet here as well they might learn a thing or two from “old” realists such as Morgenthau, who presciently grasped that a viable political realism needs to build on more than reified abstractions about the political curiously disconnected from social reality. From Morgenthau, they should also learn that extreme caution needs to be exercised before taking elements of Schmitt’s flawed concept of the political on board.83

Notes 1. Matt Sleat, Liberal Realism: A Realist Theory of Liberal Politics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 52–63, 104–5, 164–65. 2. For an important (and insightful) exception, see Alison McQueen’s chapter in this volume. For an earlier attempt, see William E. Scheuerman, “The Realist Revival in Political Philosophy, or: Why New Is Not Always Improved,” International Politics 50, no. 6 (2013): 798–814. 3. This was a theme of Kenneth Waltz’s influential work, beginning with Man, the State, and War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959). 4. William A. Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 385–411. 5. Matt Sleat, “Legitimacy in Realist Thought: Between Moralism and Realpolitik,” Political Theory 42, no. 3 (2014): 315. 6. Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” 390. 7. Sleat, “Legitimacy in Realist Thought,” 315. 8. Ibid. 9. Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 2nd ed. (New York: Knopf, 1954), 5, 10, 9. 10. Hans J. Morgenthau, Dilemmas of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 249, 253. See also Richard Ned Lebow, The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests, and Orders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 216, and William E. Scheuerman, Morgenthau: Realism and Beyond (Cambridge: Polity, 2009), 51–64. 11. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 11.

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12. Ibid., 12. 13. Ibid. 14. Hans J. Morgenthau, “An Intellectual Autobiography,” Society 15, no. 2 (1978): 67. 15. It is not self-evident, to be sure, that all contemporary writers sensibly classified as political realists endorse strong theses about the autonomy of politics (see, for example, David Runciman, “Political Theory and Real Politics in the Age of the Internet,” Journal of Political Philosophy 25, no. 1 [2017]: 3–21), though many clearly do so. Judith Shklar did not endorse such theses (see Legalism: Law, Morals, and Political Trials [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986], 124–26), although she is sometimes—in my view, misleadingly— placed under the realist rubric. 16. See, for example, William E. Scheuerman, Carl Schmitt: The End of Law (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), 225–51; Martti Koskienniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law, 1870–1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 413–509; Chris Brown, “ ‘The Twilight of International Morality’? Hans J. Morgenthau and Carl Schmitt on the End of the Jus Publicum Europaeum,” in Realism Reconsidered: The Legacy of Hans J. Morgenthau, ed. Michael Williams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 42–62; Oliver Jütersonke, Morgenthau, Law, and Realism (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 2010). 17. Carl Schmitt, “Der Begriff des Politischen,” Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik 58, no. 1 (1927): 1–33. Morgenthau first discretely engaged Schmitt’s ideas in his dissertation, “Die internationale Rechtspflege, ihr Wesen und ihre Grenzen,” Universitätsverlag von Robert Noske, 1929. 18. Hans J. Morgenthau, The Concept of the Political, trans. Maeva Vidal, ed. Hartmut Behr and Felix Rösch (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; originally published in German in 1933), 102, 106. 19. Morgenthau, “An Intellectual Autobiography,” 68. 20. This second edition was translated into English: Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, trans. George Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). 21. Ibid., 108. 22. Ibid., 112. 23. Schmitt frequently described his theory as one based on “realities.” 24. Morgenthau, Concept of the Political, 106. 25. This interest manifests itself in a number of early unpublished manuscripts. See, more generally, Robert Schuett, Political Realism, Freud, and Human Nature in International Relations: The Resurrection of Realist Man (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

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26. See, for example, Schmitt’s description of classical parliamentarism, whose idiosyncrasies I discuss in Carl Schmitt, 39–60. 27. Schmitt uses the term normativism broadly and imprecisely to undermine attempts to subject politics to general moral or legal norms (Scheuerman, Carl Schmitt, 62–72, 75–77). 28. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 12. 29. Ibid., 206. 30. Hans J. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), 8–9. 31. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 12. 32. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 168. 33. For an illuminating discussion, see Lebow, Tragic Vision of Politics, 216–56. 34. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 203. 35. Sleat, Liberal Realism, 113. 36. Bernard Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 12. 37. Ibid., 3. 38. Bernard Williams, “From Freedom to Liberty: The Construction of a Political Value,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 77, 78. 39. Ibid., 77. 40. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 5. 41. Ibid., 5–9; Bernard Williams, “Human Rights and Relativism,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 62–74. 42. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 5. 43. Ibid., 6. 44. Schmitt was fiercely critical of Hobbes. See his book The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes: Meaning and Failure of a Political Symbol, trans. George Schwab (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996). 45. A strong anticosmopolitan strand runs through Schmitt’s theory (for example, The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum, trans. G. L. Ulmen [New York: Telos, 2003; originally published in German in 1950]). Interestingly, anticosmopolitanism also surfaces in Williams (“Humanitarianism and the Right to Intervene,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 145–53). 46. See Furio Cerutti, Global Challenges for Leviathan: A Political Philosophy of Nuclear Weapons and Global Warming (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2007). 47. See, for example, Alex Bavister-Gould, “Bernard Williams: Political Realism and the Limits of Legitimacy,” European Journal of Philosophy 21, no. 4 (2011): 593–610 (although Bavister-Gould nonetheless tries to salvage Williams’s project); Charles Larmore, “What Is Political Philosophy?” Journal of [ 292 ] W I L L I A M E . S C H E U E R M A N

48. 49. 50. 51. 52.

53. 54.


56. 57.

58. 59. 60. 61.


Moral Philosophy 10 (2013): 289–93. For a response to critics of this type, see Edward Hall, “Bernard Williams and the Basic Legitimation Demand: A Defense,” Political Studies 63, no. 2 (2015): 466–80. Williams, “From Freedom to Liberty,” 77–78. Williams, “Human Rights and Relativism,” 69–70. Ibid., 70. Ibid. Bernard Williams, “Politics and Moral Character,” in Public and Private Morality, ed. Stuart Hampshire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 62, 64. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 8. As Matt Sleat has correctly pointed out to me, one might read Williams’s essay “Politics and Moral Character” as challenging this interpretation. There are some complex exegetical issues here. Let me just say that Williams’s writings from the 1970s—including this important essay—do not, in my view, mesh neatly with his later and more self-consciously “realist” contributions. I focus here on Williams’s mature political realism. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 196. Despite the standard view of Morgenthau as a Hobbesian, he regularly criticized Hobbes (Scheuerman, Morgenthau, 60–62). Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 184. Bernard Williams, “Toleration, a Political or Moral Question?” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 135, emphasis in the original. Paul Sagar reads Williams as an ethical skeptic (“From Skepticism to Liberalism? Bernard Williams, the Foundations of Liberalism, and Political Realism,” Political Studies 64, no. 2 [2016]: n. 8). I do not believe the textual evidence consistently supports this reading. In any event, if it were to support that reading, it would draw Williams closer to Schmitt than I believe would be appropriate: Schmitt could easily be described as an ethical skeptic and relativist. Matt Sleat, “Bernard Williams and the Possibility of a Realist Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 495. On Williams’s critical theory principle, see Paul Sagar’s contribution to this volume. Williams, “From Freedom to Liberty,” 95. Eva Erman and Niklas Möller, “Political Legitimacy in the Real Normative World: The Priority of Morality and the Autonomy of the Political,” British Journal of Political Science 45, no. 1 (2015): 215–33. Admittedly, I doubt Morgenthau had the analytic resources necessary to respond adequately to sophisticated theoretical arguments of this type. Michael Freeden, “Interpretative Realism and Prescriptive Realism,” Journal of Political Ideologies 17, no. 1 (2012): 1–11. G E T T I N G PA S T S C H M I T T ?

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63. Sleat, Liberal Realism, 112–31. 64. Bonnie Honig and Marc Stears, “The New Realism: From Modus Vivendi to Justice,” in Political Philosophy Versus History? Contextualism and Real Politics in Contemporary Political Thought, ed. Jonathan Floyd and Marc Stears (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 192. The neo-Nietzschean move is absent, however, from Marc Stears, Demanding Democracy: American Radicals in Search of a New Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). 65. Why social experiences of contingency, instability, and rupture should be viewed as basically positive, as Honig and Stears’s account implies, is never justified. 66. Honig and Stears, “The New Realism,” 190–91. 67. Sleat, Liberal Realism, 127. A number of Sleat’s arguments were anticipated in an important essay by Jane Mansbridge, “Using Power/Fighting Power,” in Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political, ed. Seyla Benhabib (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 46–66. Even earlier, John H. Herz advocated “realist liberalism” (Political Realism and Political Idealism [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951]). 68. Sleat, Liberal Realism, 61. 69. Ibid., 129. 70. Ibid., 143. 71. Ibid., 161. 72. Ibid., 144. 73. Ibid., 173. 74. Raymond Geuss, Outside Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 38. 75. Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 59. 76. Raymond Geuss, “Realism and the Relativity of Judgment,” International Relations 29, no. 2 (2015): 3–22. 77. Sleat, Liberal Realism, 54. 78. In a similar vein, see Lorna Finalyson, “With Radicals Like These, Who Needs Conservatives? Doom, Gloom, and Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 16, no. 3 (2017): 264–82. 79. Lois McNay, The Misguided Search for the Political (Cambridge: Polity, 2014), 40–46. 80. Ibid., 15. 81. In earlier work, I tried to interpret Morgenthau and other midcentury international relations realists in this (heterodox) way (The Realist Case for Global Reform [Cambridge: Polity, 2001]).

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82. Hans J. Morgenthau, “National Interest and Moral Principles in Foreign Policy: The Primacy of the National Interest,” American Scholar 18 (1949): 210–11. 83. I thank Alison McQueen for her incisive comments on an earlier version. Thanks also to the participants at the University of Amsterdam’s political philosophy colloquium for a lively discussion and especially to Robin Celikates for the invitation.

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Security and Poverty On Realism and Global Justice DUNCAN BELL

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the academic study of international relations is a debate about realism.1 There is no essential opposition of realism and idealism.2


his chapter starts with a problem and ends with a dilemma. The problem concerns a striking gap in the revival of realism in political theory; the dilemma arises when the gap is bridged. At once welcome and frustrating, the revival has been marked by a failure to integrate international politics into its theoretical schemas, a failure that has taken two distinct through overlapping forms. First, realists, despite their insistence on the centrality of power and the importance of context, have generally refrained from developing or incorporating empirical accounts of international politics into their analyses of the contemporary condition. Yet any truly realistic political theory today must place questions of geopolitics and global capitalism at its core. The (largely implicit) methodological statism of much recent realist thinking is politically unrealistic. The second gap—one addressed in a number of chapters in this volume—is a failure to engage with the realist literature that has shaped the field of international relations. This gap is surprising given the clear “case for kinship” between figures such as E. H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau and recent realist thinking, and realists will need to address it if they are to offer plausible accounts of contemporary politics.3 In this chapter, I adopt a different strategy. Rather than developing a realist theory of global justice or seeking to synthesize past and present realist thinking, I explore how realist empirical insights about international politics might constrain or inflect cosmopolitan visions of global [ 296 ]

distributive justice.4 In particular, I probe—in a necessarily speculative fashion—some of the ways that realism and cosmopolitanism might intersect. Charles Beitz divides realism into three types: skeptical, heuristic, and analytical. His pioneering work Political Theory and International Relations opens with an assault on realist skepticism, a position that supposedly rejects the applicability of moral reflection to international affairs. He takes realism as “heurisitic” to be a casuistical mode of practical reasoning that “advances a cautionary view about the role that normative considerations should play in international affairs,” identifying, for example, the “predictable kinds of errors that can occur when moral considerations are applied naively or in the wrong way.” This is, he contends, the “important truth” in realism. Finally, realism can be seen as an “analytical paradigm for international behavior.”5 Putting aside the question of the adequacy of his first two categories, I here focus on the last panel of this triptych. The insights of analytical realism, it is worth noting, cut across both “classical” and “neo” variants of the tradition, and they cannot be reduced to either—they are shared by thinkers from Hans Morgenthau and John Herz to Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer. Contemporary political theory realists (indeed, political theorists in general) have been rather too quick to ignore the insights of analytical realism. For the sake of argument, I grant the basic moral cosmopolitan assumptions that “human beings are ultimate units of moral concern[, and] [f ]amilies, tribes, nations, cultures, and so on can become units of concern only indirectly. The status as an ultimate unit of moral concern extends to all human beings equally. Human beings should be treated as ultimate units of concern by everyone.”6 For many cosmopolitans, these assumptions underpin a “fundamental thesis”: “given the reasons we give to defend the distribution of resources and given our convictions about the irrelevance of people’s cultural identity to their entitlements, it follows that the scope of distributive justice should be global.” 7 I also accept that the current distributive pattern is profoundly unjust and that as a consequence the wealthy have a duty to try and remedy this situation. Various ethical positions can generate these claims, including neo-Kantianism and utilitarianism, but the following arguments do not presuppose any specific philosophical orientation. Cosmopolitans tend to argue that realizing global justice demands a radical overhaul of global (re)distribution and/or of the architecture of international institutions. Yet although a large body of work has elaborated S E C U R I T Y A N D P OV E RT Y

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accounts of global justice, and although numerous policy options have been proposed, little attention has been paid to the question of how to motivate action and secure compliance in a conflict-ridden, hierarchical interstate system. Realism is the silent shadow of the debates over global justice, the specter that haunts them. Most cosmopolitan prescriptions stand in stark contrast to the geopolitical and economic constraints identified by realist international relations scholars. For at least two centuries, optimists have argued that increasing levels of economic and political interdependence have transformed states’ self-interested behavior. The impending arrival of a new world order has frequently been proclaimed—and just as frequently this hope has proven illusory. Realist thinkers have insisted that such claims are exaggerated and often profoundly misleading. This view leads to the problem: if the proponents of realism are broadly correct in their analyses of international politics, then most of the practical demands made by the cosmopolitans are doomed to failure. In what follows, I examine the potential difficulties that (analytical) realism poses to demands for global wealth redistribution. The first section argues that although realism provides reasons to be skeptical about many cosmopolitan policy proposals, there is nothing in (most variants of ) analytical realist theorizing that in principle precludes a significant redistribution of global wealth. This qualification offers space for creative thinking about political possibilities. The second section explores some of the different meanings of the term feasibility in political theory. The third section contends that from a realist perspective the most plausible way to motivate global wealth redistribution is through the “securitization” of global poverty—the refiguring of poverty into a problem not only (or primarily) of ethics but of national security—while arguing that this move is potentially dangerous, threatening the degradation of civil liberties and democratic values.8 These two countervailing points set up  the dilemma: the most effective way to motivate redistribution may simultaneously threaten the fragile hold of democratic values in the states with the greatest distributive capacities and obligations.

Political Realism Contra Global Justice? The realist vision is pessimistic: international politics is marked by constant power struggles and conflict. The list I give here is a minimalist generic [ 298 ]


account of “analytical” realism. The account is generic because it synthesizes a wide variety of positions.9 It is minimalist in that (most) realists would agree with the propositions. 1. Politics is a domain of human activity structured by power and coercion. The ever-present potential of conflict, including but not limited to lethal violence, accounts for much of the intensity and urgency of political life.10 2. Within political communities, power and the possibility of conflict can usually be constrained or channeled by institutions, although they can never be eliminated entirely. In contrast, relations between political communities (today primarily territorial states) unfold largely in a context of “anarchy.”11 Lacking an overarching authority—a global Leviathan— the interstate system is consequently shaped and reproduced by the radically asymmetric distribution of power, where power is defined in multidimensional terms (but especially military and economic capacity). 3. Governments adopt a hierarchy of priorities, almost always placing the “national interest” above other considerations. At the core of “national interest” lies “national security.” Although ideas about the content of the national interest vary, this ranking of priorities is found in all types of regimes, from democracies to dictatorships.12 4. The most powerful states set the terms of global interaction and dominate international institutions, both formal and informal. Relations between these “great powers” are frequently marked by fierce competition. Although such states voluntarily enter arrangements that constrain their behavior, they will not adopt policies that fail to conform with their interpretation of the national interest. It follows that binding agreements and international institutions—and indeed the very possibility of international cooperation—are limited in their scope and effects, at least where they are seen to challenge the interests of the powerful. Although realists disagree over emphases, over the epistemological and ontological status of these arguments, and over what ethical imperatives and policy options follow from them, they converge on this set of core claims about the dynamics of modern international politics. Three additional points are worth making. First, analytical realism is compatible with both mainstream “neoutilitarian” articulations of S E C U R I T Y A N D P OV E RT Y

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realism—work that is often labeled “rationalist” in political science—and more recent “constructivist” realist scholarship.13 Proponents of the former, such as Kenneth Waltz, argue that realist arguments are valid transhistorically and that the logic of security seeking, confrontation, and power balancing is an inevitable function of the system’s anarchical structure. It applies as much to street gangs as to states.14 This “neorealist” approach is frequently elaborated in the utility-maximizing terms of rational choice. Constructivism arose in part as a response to neorealism, and, as such, both its proponents and (especially) its critics have often regarded it as antithetical to realism as a whole. This is a mistake. Influenced by social theory, constructivist scholars such as Alexander Wendt and John Ruggie dissent from many of the ontological assumptions about the social world defended by “rationalists” (realist and nonrealist alike).15 They challenge claims about inevitability and criticize the narrowness and ahistorical character of much rationalist social science, arguing instead that the sovereign state and anarchy are ultimately contingent, the products of intersubjective meanings reproduced over time by the repeated interaction of multiple agents. Interests are the product of identities, endogenous not exogenous. Anarchy, sovereignty, and even the state system itself are in principle mutable and hence open to transformation. Realist constructivists accept these ontological arguments but emphasize the practical limits of mutability. For them, the way in which sovereignty is understood by the most powerful actors, the centrality of the ideology of the national interest, and the vast systemic power asymmetries between the weak and the strong place formidable barriers in the way of transformation.16 As John Hall observes, “Everything in social life . . . is socially constructed. But to leave matters at this point can lead to licentious voluntarism, that is, to the implicit belief that anything can be constructed at any time. Nothing could be further from the truth: social structures limit and select ideological innovation.”17 Although all political practices are the contingent products of history and ultimately of human agency, many of the most consequential are extremely difficult to challenge, not least because their reproduction benefits the most powerful agents in the system. Second, analytical realism is normatively indeterminate. Beitz contends that realism can buttress an “ethic of the national interest.”18 Insofar as cosmopolitans view realism as having any ethical dimensions at all, this is how they typically understand it. Yet although Beitz is correct to state that realism can buttress such a position, it does not entail that position, and he [ 300 ]


fails to observe that (at least some) realist arguments are compatible with a wide variety of other normative positions. Charles Taylor draws a useful distinction between ontological issues and advocacy commitments. Ontological issues are those that “you recognize as the factors you will invoke to account for social life,” whereas advocacy relates to “the moral stand or policy one adopts” as a result of the ontological account. Although the former can influence the selection of the latter, there is no necessary connection between them.19 Realism provides an analytical account of many of the key dimensions of modern politics, yet it is compatible with multiple and contradictory advocacy commitments, from deep conservatism to radical leftist politics. Thinkers from Henry Kissinger to Noam Chomsky can be characterized as realists. Realism is not, then, inherently conservative. Although many conservatives have been realists—indeed, it is arguable that a coherent conservatism demands adherence to some form of realism20 —it does not follow that all realists are conservative. Most current scholarly realists see their work as detached from (or only indirectly related to) ethical questions, insulated by the methodological perimeter of social science. Yet analytical realism is in principle compatible with a variety of normative orientations—from statist defenses of the moral priority of compatriots to the view that the borders of states are morally arbitrary and that the current international system is abhorrent. The former seems to be the view held by the vast majority of those wielding political power throughout the world. But it is also possible to believe that realism accurately describes many of the key features of the world, even while lamenting this situation and arguing that change is an ethical imperative. Analytical realism, then, does not provide grounds for a principled rejection of global wealth redistribution. (Contemporary political theory realists, however, may well adduce such arguments). Contemporary international relations realists rarely engage with this issue because their focus lies elsewhere, concentrating—often myopically—on the origins, character, and consequences of interstate conflict. Likewise, although the “classical” realists were deeply concerned with ethical issues, they had little to say about distributive justice. One of the most pressing issues for realists over the next few years will be to develop fully fledged theories of global justice. When global justice is viewed through a realist lens, the most significant question about its realizability concerns the relationship between redistribution and (perceptions of ) the national interest, especially in the most S E C U R I T Y A N D P OV E RT Y

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powerful states. There are three possible options here: (1) that redistribution is neutral with respect to the national interest (in a particular case) and so is neither required nor impermissible; (2) that it is in the national interest to redistribute, and thus redistribution is permissible and/or required; (3) that redistribution is against the national interest. The third section of this essay examines (2). In the meantime, it is important to understand that analytical realism, as it is usually formulated, is committed to (1): pursuing the national interest is neutral with respect to redistribution (in all but the most extreme cases). Indeed, even a realist who adheres to both the basic analytical account and the normative view that states should act in ways that conform with the national interest cannot prohibit addressing absolute deprivation, except in some marginal hypothetical cases, without inserting further extrarealist normative steps into the argument. It might be objected that a realist would regard any transfer of wealth as a security threat, for it would allow the beneficiary state to potentially increase its coercive capacity, thus generating a relative gain in power over its (potential) competitors. Yet few realists object (on realist grounds) to the existing transfer of wealth for development purposes. The sums required to alleviate absolute deprivation are simply not enough to economically and politically degrade the major states or to strengthen the recipient states in ways that significantly challenge the balance of power. The normative statist will baulk, though, at more radical cosmopolitan claims for egalitarian redistribution—that is, for addressing global inequality rather than poverty—and at this point a cleavage opens between adherents of analytical realism. As I have argued, however, realism does not entail analytical statism—the latter is only one “advocacy commitment” compatible with the realist ontology. There is no intrinsic theoretical reason, then, why one cannot simultaneously hold a realist account of the empirical dynamics of world politics and subscribe to radical arguments about the moral necessity of economic redistribution and political transformation.

On Feasibility Questions of feasibility play a controversial role in contemporary political theory. For some, the main goal of political theorizing is to delineate the best possible account of justice independent of practicability. Theorists here occupy one pole of a division of intellectual labor. Policy proposals [ 302 ]


can be left to those working in policy schools, think tanks, or government. This model of theorizing has been one of the main targets of the realist revival. Many political theorists, though, see their role as identifying the meaning of justice and prescribing (feasible) action—the difficult question, of course, concerns the relationship between the two. The elaboration of detailed policy proposals has been a significant feature of debates over global justice,21 hence the large amount of “applied” work done on topics such as health care, taxation, and intellectual property as well as on the more general schemes for redistribution, such as Thomas Pogge’s Global Resources Dividend (GRD).22 Scholars working in this vein have increasingly drawn on empirical research.23 According to Pablo Gilabert and Holly Lawford-Smith, feasibility concerns can enter the construction of a political theory at three separate points: first, in the “formulation and defense of core principles” concerning a just (international) society; second, in the design of institutional schemes to implement the principles; and third, in the identification of efficacious strategies to help realize the principles and create the institutions.24 Much of the contemporary debate over realism in political theory focuses on the first stage. Here, I am concerned with the second and third stages. In addressing the plausibility of communism, G. A. Cohen distinguishes “human motivation” from “social technology.”25 Communism, it can be argued, is infeasible because people are “insufficiently generous and cooperative.” However, even if people were capable of meeting these motivational demands, “political and cultural forces,” including the widely held belief that communism is infeasible, could render a transition to communism impossible. In a move echoed in much contemporary theorizing, Cohen then sets aside the second question and focuses on the first. The concern with individual motivation is paralleled in the global justice debates by discussions over the internal motivational power (or lack thereof ) of cosmopolitan moral principles. Philip Pettit argues, for example, that cosmopolitan accounts of justice are typically premised on implausible behavioral assumptions—that they require a world run by “saints.”26 In most discussions, questions of “social technology” are ignored or downplayed, yet they are vital to address if feasibility is understood as involving institutional realizability rather than simply whether a theory is in principle capable of sufficiently motivating individuals under idealized conditions. Although the latter issue is significant, it presents only half the picture. As the anthropologist Paul Rabinow argues, the formation of a new “moral imaginary” S E C U R I T Y A N D P OV E RT Y

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is unusual enough, “but if it is to form an integral part of an enduring community—and thereby challenge traditional moral bonds—then those who seek to implement those imaginaries must seriously attend to power relations and . . . institution-building.”27 The problem resides in the fact that it is often the (asymmetrical) content of the power relations that impedes the institution building necessary to enact and sustain the new normative imaginary. To argue that a policy is feasible, it is necessary first to provide a systematic account of the relevant empirical factors, but what counts as relevant is determined by the type of feasibility under discussion. For Cohen, this determination would require, for the individual motivation objection, an explanatory account of human nature that contradicts the basic psychological foundations of communism (for example, that humans are hard-wired to act selfishly). Addressing the social technology objection requires a comprehensive account of the pertinent ideological norms, interests, and political institutions that block attempts to establish communism. We can distinguish between “hard” and “soft” constraints on political action. The former include facts about what is “logically, conceptually, metaphysically, and nomologically impossible,” and they set absolute limits on realizability. The latter are chiefly economic, institutional, and cultural. They are, in principle, malleable, open to revision.28 There are two complicating factors, though. First, there is no stable answer, no uncontested account, against which to measure feasibility because social scientists themselves are profoundly divided not just on questions of fact and interpretation but also on the very character of social scientific knowledge— that is, of what we can know and how we can know it.29 Second, some soft constraints are much “harder” than others insofar as they are deeply entrenched, sustained by power elites, require fundamental social and political transformation to overturn them, and so forth. The “soft” constraints identified by analytical realism are at this harder end of the “soft” spectrum. They are changeable in principle, but (realists insist) the probability of change occurring in the foreseeable future is very low. Realists have little difficulty in identifying the political dynamics that account for the abysmal lack of progress made in addressing global poverty. They highlight why the issue of feasibility is more complex than many cosmopolitans assume or imply. Political theorists have displayed considerable ingenuity in devising policy proposals that might ameliorate the horrors of crippling poverty. Admirable as these proposals are, from a realist [ 304 ]


perspective many of them are inadequate as political solutions. This is most evident in plans that demand that the most powerful states cede key aspects of their sovereignty (or that sovereignty itself be dissolved). Although sovereignty is far from monolithic, and although major states do sometimes pool control over elements of domestic and foreign-policy decision making—notably in the European Union—this pooling is almost always done where it is seen to be in the national interest to do so. Indeed, the lessons drawn from the European Union are routinely exaggerated by those promoting schemes for “global governance.” The European Union—the historical product of a world war, gestated under the security umbrella of a hegemonic power—does not offer a replicable model for the extension of a “post-Westphalian” democratic order. Sovereignty may well be morally problematic, but it remains central to the construction of power and legitimacy in the contemporary world, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future, whatever the moral force of the arguments leveled against it. In practical terms, it is worth distinguishing between two types of soft constraint in relation to global justice: economic and political. A (distributive) policy proposal can be seen as economically feasible in relation to the financial burdens it would impose on the governments and/or taxpayers of wealthy states. The assumption here is that citizens and government officials will usually reject expensive policies that do not appeal to their selfinterest. This understanding of feasibility combines two analytically distinct claims. The first refers to individual motivation, identifying an unwillingness to bear high economic costs on behalf of alien others. The second relates to the role of economic burdens in the electoral dynamics of contemporary democratic societies, wherein officials intent on remaining in power will not countenance expensive policy proposals unless they can effectively link them to the perceived self-interest of a wide constituency. Many cosmopolitan theorists are sensitive to both of these dimensions. Pogge argues that the GRD would not impose a high financial burden on the citizens of affluent states and that, consequently, his proposals are “modest and feasible.” And “modesty,” he maintains, “is important if the proposed institutional alternative is to gain the support necessary to implement it and is to be able to sustain itself in the world as we know it.”30 Peter Singer argues that citizens in wealthy countries should donate at least one percent of their annual salary to nongovernment organizations addressing global poverty, although he contends that morality demands the donation of far more. His reason for picking only one percent acknowledges the S E C U R I T Y A N D P OV E RT Y

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economic feasibility condition: we should aim, he argues, at proposals that have “a realistic chance of success.”31 Economic conditionality, sometimes combined with accounts of the internal motivational plausibility of cosmopolitanism, often seem to exhaust the question of feasibility from a cosmopolitan perspective. Yet economic feasibility does not address key aspects of state motivation and compliance. This is where political feasibility conditions enter the picture. The norms and institutions that shape the dynamics of international politics place significant constraints on the range of realizable policy options. Although this point may seem obvious, it nonetheless receives very little sustained attention. In order to engage with this type of feasibility, however, it is necessary to defend a particular empirical account of (international) politics.32 Consequential empirical assumptions are already embedded in many accounts of global justice—often through allusions to the exaggerated effects of globalization—but this form of systematic engagement is rare. On a realist understanding, political constraints would include the centrality of the national interest in state leaders’ calculations, the overriding political importance accorded to sovereignty by the most powerful states, the prohibitively complex collective-action problems generated by interstate competition, the general weakness of international law in taming powerful states, the routine prioritization of security over economic distribution, and the subservience of international institutions (especially the international financial institutions) to the demands of the dominant agents in the system. The major geopolitical context today and for the foreseeable future is the brute fact of American hegemony and the challenges to it from Russia and (in particular) China. Any attempt to design feasible plans for global reform will have to deal, at the very least, with the fierce contest between these three states. Both economic and political feasibility conditions need to be met if a proposal is to have any chance of adoption. As such, Pogge’s GRD runs into trouble, as do virtually all ambitious schemes for institutional transformation. The reason for this trouble lies not in the economic costs the GRD would impose but rather in the demand that states cede a significant element of sovereign control over the financial proceeds resulting from the extraction and sale of natural resources that fall within their jurisdiction. Although an innovative idea, the GRD, on a realist understanding of international politics, has no hope of gaining support from the relevant agents in the key decision-making states. Yet Pogge retains a “provisional” [ 306 ]


optimism about the GRD’s feasibility. He derives this optimism from two arguments, both of which he only very briefly articulates—and both of which arguably play an important background role in the global justice debates. First, he contends that moral convictions “have real effects” in international politics, a point “even some political realists admit, albeit with regret.” And second, he argues that addressing global poverty is not only a moral priority but also one of “prudential interest” for the most powerful states.33 The second, security-oriented argument is explored in the next section. The first argument is both true and misleading. Although some realists claim that moral convictions play no role in international affairs, others would certainly agree with Pogge. The problem resides in linking convictions and concerted political action. The vital question, in other words, is not whether convictions can or do play a role, but which convictions and under what conditions. Motivating political change through public pressure is an exceptionally difficult task, and it is always shadowed by the danger of unintended consequences; as a result, other, more concrete mechanisms need to be specified as part of any prudent political strategy.34 For moral arguments to shift government policy, one of two conditions usually has to be met: the policy domain must be exogenous to perceived core national interests, or the moral convictions and public pressure must actually conform to or align with dominant perceptions of the national interest. Although utilitarians are regularly accused of demanding too much from people, it is Singer, among the most ardent of cosmopolitans, who seems most attuned to “political feasibility” constraints. He remains deeply skeptical about the chances of significantly changing the major states’ behavior, lamenting that the wealthy powers give meager sums in aid and that what they do give is often directed to countries that fit their narrow strategic objectives. Much aid policy, as realists would expect, is tied to interpretations of the national interest.35 The power of the better moral argument sadly carries very little weight against such forms of political practice. As a consequence, Singer directs his attention not at the radical transformation of existing political structures, even as he recognizes the compelling moral reasons for doing so, but instead at the citizens of wealthy states. The institutional and ideological barriers in the way of meeting political feasibility conditions leave the theorists of global justice with some difficult choices. They can continue to offer increasingly sophisticated accounts of the nature and demands of justice. As such, they can provide S E C U R I T Y A N D P OV E RT Y

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future historians with compelling documentary evidence that injustice was at least recognized at the turn of the millennium. “Ideal” theorizing can be defended in various ways, perhaps most powerfully as either exhibiting independent philosophical value or insofar as it can provide yardsticks to judge the present and help orient change.36 But there also exists the danger of a self-defeating purity of normative reasoning, of focusing on what Amartya Sen calls “transcendent” accounts of justice—those that identify “perfectly just societal arrangements” and the extremely demanding institutional requirements necessary to secure them—at the expense of engaging systematically with the multiple existing constraints on political change.37 An alternative option is for political theorists to grapple with the vast power asymmetries, myopic selfishness, and wide range of vested interests that characterize global politics. The best hope for the global poor is not likely to reside in the results of sophisticated moral theorizing. It will depend instead on the ability to align the results of moral reflection with an adequate understanding of the economic and political options available and the strategies necessary to secure them. Doing so requires, in the first instance, trying to work within and against the parameters identified by the realists. It is to this possibility that I now turn.

Under the Sign of Security The War on Terrorism may have at least one benefit . . . it can become a weapon in the War on Poverty.38

Motivating redistribution can assume various forms, with appeals made to economic self-interest, prudence, sympathy, overlapping identities, or the claims of reason and the sense of justice.39 The analytical realist will respond that none of these forms will gain traction insofar as they clash with the kind of political feasibility constraints outlined in the previous section. Indeed, from a realist perspective, the most effective way to motivate political interest in the alleviation of global poverty is to reframe it as a national security issue. Should cosmopolitans—or others keen to address global poverty systematically—therefore support the “securitization” of poverty? To securitize an issue is to refigure it as a security concern and in so doing to lift it above the routines of “normal” politics. An issue that has been successfully securitized demands urgent political attention and the (re) [ 308 ]


allocation of extraordinary resources, time, and energy.40 “Securitizing actors”—often but not always agents of the state—have classified security issues as presenting a threat to the political community. From this perspective, “security issues cannot be reduced to the existence of objective possibilities of harm. Claims about security and threats are made politically efficacious through the authoritative declaration of an ‘existential threat’ to the object concerned, and through their acceptance as ‘security issues’ in these terms by a relevant audience.”41 The object concerned is usually the state, and the threat can be to the state’s autonomy, economic capacity, identity, and so on. The effects of a successful process of securitization are powerful. “By uttering ‘security’ a state-representative moves a particular development into a specific area, and thereby claims a special right to use whatever means are necessary to block it.”42 The process can be seen, for example, in the way migration has been increasingly treated as a security problem.43 Although many contemporary realists employ a very narrow conception of security—one that focuses primarily on states’ material capabilities—a wider understanding of the realist tradition allows us to see the issue in a different light. The key here is the essentially contested character of two key concepts fundamental to the structuring of contemporary politics: the “national interest” and “security.”44 Their scope and content are malleable. Classical realists such as Arnold Wolfers recognized that the national interest is “an ambiguous symbol” that is interpreted in various ways by diverse groups of actors in different contexts.45 The same is true of security. Such a position is entailed by constructivist ontological commitments. This conceptual elasticity creates a space for refiguring the status of global poverty. “Any sector, at any particular time, might be the most important focus for concerns about threats, vulnerabilities, and defense.”46 If successful, “securitization” will propel global poverty to the forefront of government decision making and harness resources currently unavailable. Indeed, a number of issues that were previously regarded as primarily humanitarian (or moral) in character are already the subject of powerful securitizing moves. There is an illuminating precedent here: HIV/AIDS. During the mid-2000s, a number of states (above all the United Kingdom), international institutions, health-care bodies, and relief organizations made a concerted attempt to securitize the disease. The effort was partially successful insofar as HIV/AIDS rose high on the international policy agenda (especially at the United Nations). Although the disease has now been largely “desecuritized,” S E C U R I T Y A N D P OV E RT Y

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the earlier moment arguably led to directing a considerable amount of resources and attention toward addressing the pandemic.47 Meanwhile, in another example, efforts continue to securitize climate change.48 Some political theorists might baulk at this argument, fearing the specter of instrumentality. It lies outside the scope of this chapter to engage with the complex ethical issues surrounding deliberate dissimulation in the name of a greater good. However, in this case the issue need not arise. The United Nations Development Program already recognizes that global poverty is a security issue insofar as it threatens the stability of political communities and aggravates conflict.49 Moreover, a number of political theorists already highlight this theme, although they discuss it only in passing.50 The argument is straightforward though controversial: poverty leads to destabilizing social disruption and state failure in strategically important or volatile parts of the world. Today, it is frequently argued that the global poor and disposed are ripe targets for recruitment to anti-Western (especially Islamist) forces, and poor states are susceptible to takeover or rebellion. A further argument is that the mass migration triggered by poverty is itself a political threat to the West, in particular Europe—an argument that was widely invoked in the migration crisis of 2015. Of course, even if the securitization of global poverty were successful, it would not be a panacea.51 It would target some areas more than others, and there would invariably be numerous problems with implementation. Nevertheless, there are two different ways in which global poverty might be securitized. In the first, one or more major powers would come to view global poverty as a security threat and act accordingly. In the second, assorted international organizations—in particular the United Nations Security Council—would identify it as such and act accordingly.52 From an analytical realist perspective, the former is more plausible. It is probably the only feasible way in which the most powerful states—in this world, not in a world run by “saints”—might be motivated within a foreseeable timeframe to systematically address global poverty. The key question in the present context is whether the securitization of poverty is normatively desirable—that is, whether cosmopolitans (or others who believe that the massive redistribution of global wealth is required) should advocate it. Most scholars of the subject regard securitization as almost always morally and politically problematic because to securitize a domain is to shield

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it from the scrutiny of democratic deliberation, the rule of law, and public accountability. Claudia Aradau, for example, contends that securitization is dangerous both because it may short-circuit democratic procedures and because it necessarily leads to the production of “enemy” others who need to be contained or destroyed.53 Discussing the securitization of HIV/ AIDS, Stefan Elbe warns that it “pushes responses to the disease away from civil society toward the much less transparent workings of the military and intelligence organizations, which also possess the power to override human rights and civil liberties.”54 Predicated on the construction of urgent threats and dangerous enemies, securitization further empowers the least democratically accountable elements of the state apparatus (and certain private agents). Securitization, that is, can undermine the very thing it claims to protect. Political theorists hardly need reminding of the threats presented by security-obsessed states. The politics of fear has been a recurrent theme in modern history.55 The fraught debate over the necessary trade-offs between liberty and security has taken on a renewed vigor in recent years, reflected in the assault on human rights—at home and abroad—pursued under the banner of the “war on terror.” Increasingly draconian legislation and security practices have eroded basic liberties and stoked fear about the future of democracy. Robert Goodin goes so far as to argue that the behavior of political elites in a number of countries, most notably the United States, can be classified as terrorism.56 The securitization of poverty, then, is a project beset with ethical and political dangers—dangers that threaten in particular the already fragile norms and values of constitutional democracy. The conventional view of securitization is premised on a (Schmittian) binary between “normal politics” and “states of emergency.”57 More recent work on securitization has challenged this position, chiefly through taking greater account of the dynamics of audience reception and nonlinguistic practices and (perhaps above all) by reconceptualizing security as scalar not binary. This challenge in turn has opened up space for reassessing the normative dimensions of securitization and in particular for asking whether and under what conditions securitizing acts might be legitimate. This line of argument assumes two main forms. First, it offers an empirical critique of the claim that securitization necessarily involves the effacement of democratic politics. Second, it challenges the normative claim that securitization is intrinsically an illegitimate phenomenon. Rita Floyd has developed the


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most thorough normative account of securitization, arguing that it can be justified when three conditions (derived from just-war theorizing) are met: 1. There must be an objective existential threat, which is to say a threat that endangers the survival of an actor or an order. 2. The referent object of security must be morally legitimate, which is the case only when the referent object is conducive to human well-being, defined as the satisfaction of human needs. 3. The security response must be appropriate to the threat in question, which is to say that (a) the security response must be measured in accordance with the capabilities of the aggressor and (b) the securitizing actor must be sincere in his or her own intentions.58 Securitization, Floyd writes, “has no intrinsic value; what matters are the consequences of securitizations alone.”59 What, then, of global poverty? Securitizing areas previously framed in humanitarian or developmental terms further extends the rights and responsibilities of the security apparatuses of the most powerful states while simultaneously instilling anxiety in their populations by adding to the already long list of purported security threats. This danger is exacerbated by the very malleability of the term security. If global poverty, like HIV/AIDS, is securitized, then where will the line be drawn? Climate-change discourse presents a parallel case. These kinds of securitization moves are likely to have significant effects in redirecting state action regarding climate change. Here we glimpse the Janus-faced character of securitization. On the one hand, securitization of the issue is a welcome development—and many environmental scientists greet it as such—for it signals a willingness by well-placed agents to challenge intransigent attitudes to climate change. On the other hand, it should also generate concern, for it can be seen as a powerful salvo in the conflict over which government agencies will determine the scope of state responses to environmental crisis, a conflict that national security agencies are well placed to win because of the resources available to them (including the normative resources generated by the claim to provide the overarching public good of security). Neorealists generally have very little to say about such matters, intent as they are on evacuating realism of normative content. (Although it is worth remembering that they are typically skeptical of the discursive extension [ 312 ]


of “security” beyond its traditional narrow confines, and as such they implicitly endorse the critique of securitization.) Although some realists have been complicit in the creation of a climate of fear both during the Cold War and today, a number of the “classical” realists were extremely wary of the dangers of militarism and the spreading threat to democracy posed by the creeping expansion of the state’s security-oriented elements. It was, after all, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a conservative realist, who warned of the dangers of the “military-industrial” complex. Hans Morgenthau, as contributors to this book have argued, frequently insisted on the need to carefully monitor the line between political and military power and to foster a civil society in which active dissent is seen as a positive virtue of the citizenry, not as a threat to social solidarity or political will.60 Realism, then, at least contains some resources to challenge securitization and threats to democracy. But the dilemma remains. As Elbe ruefully admits in relation to HIV/ AIDS, although it is important to recognize the various dangers associated with securitization, it is also essential to appreciate the potential benefits it can generate in terms of resources and the mobilization of political will.61 The same is true of climate change. So we must ask: Is it worth further risking democratic values in order to address global injustice? In recent years, political theorists have displayed great ingenuity in constructing elaborate arguments about global justice. They have offered powerful criticisms of the existing order, and many of them have proposed complex institutional reforms. Yet insufficient attention has been paid to the problem of feasibility and state motivation, of how to overcome the vast power asymmetries and the self-interested behavior that structure international politics. And even when this issue has been explored, it is often in a manner that fails to take sufficient account of the impediments generated and perpetuated by the very injustices of the order that cosmopolitans seek to overcome. This chapter has explored some of the possible consequences of taking seriously the central insights of a broad realist analysis of international politics. I have pursued two main lines of argument. First, I have sought to dispel some popular mischaracterizations of realism common in both political theory and even among international relations scholars. Analytical realism is normatively indeterminate, and on a critical reading it is compatible with (among other things) cosmopolitan moral commitments and S E C U R I T Y A N D P OV E RT Y

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sociological constructivist arguments about the role of norms, values, and identity. And second, I have explored some of the possibilities and pathologies of securitization. If addressing global poverty is an urgent priority, as many cosmopolitans insist, then the most feasible way to pursue it may well be through shifting the focus of debate away from the prioritization of moral claims and toward the prioritization of politics and, above all, security. Yet such a move carries great risks. Although (analytical) realism offers good reasons to be cautious about the difficulties of translating normative principles into political practice, especially on a global scale, it does not shut the door completely. There is room to maneuver, given creativity and—something essential in politics, though impossible to theorize adequately—a dose of luck. But in order to think seriously about how to motivate self-interested state elites (and publics) to redistribute global wealth, it is vital to bring together scholarship in political science and political theory in ways that have not been high on either field’s agenda.62

Notes 1. William Wohlforth, “Realism,” in The Oxford Handbook of International Relations, ed. Christian Reus-Smit and Duncan Snidal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 131. 2. John Herz, “Political Realism Revisited,” International Studies Quarterly 25, no. 2 (1981): 203. 3. See Alison McQueen’s chapter in this volume. For some commentators, this gap in the revival of realism makes the earlier iteration of realism superior; see, for example, William E. Scheuerman, “The Realist Revival in Political Philosophy, or: Why New Is Not Always Improved,” International Politics 50, no. 6 (2013): 798–814. For an earlier attempt to bridge the divide, see Duncan Bell, ed., Political Thought and International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Another exception is Matt Sleat, Liberal Realism: A Realist Theory of Liberal Politics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), chap. 1. 4. For a valuable synthesis of “progressive realist” and cosmopolitan positions, see William E. Scheuerman, The Realist Case for Global Reform (Cambridge: Polity, 2011). 5. Charles Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, rev. ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 185–91.

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6. Andrea Sangiovanni, “Global Justice, Reciprocity, and the State,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 35, no. 1 (2007): 3, emphasis in original. Of course, some (most?) political realists might reject these basic moral assumptions on normative grounds. 7. Simon Caney, “International Distributive Justice,” Political Studies Review 49, no. 5 (2001): 977. I am skimming over significant differences between cosmopolitans. For recent debates, see Gillian Brock, ed., Cosmopolitanism Versus Non-cosmopolitanism: Critiques, Defenses, Reconceptualizations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). 8. For the sake of argument, I assume that a significant redistribution of wealth, properly targeted, can help to alleviate global poverty: “International aid is one of the most effective weapons in the war against poverty” (United Nations Development Program [UNDP], International Cooperation at a Crossroads: Aid, Trade, and Security in an Unequal World [New York: UNDP, 2005], 7). 9. This account constitutes an expansive interpretation of realism, subsuming, for example, most “English School” theorists (e.g., Hedley Bull). This section draws on Duncan Bell, “Political Realism and the Limits of Ethics,” in Ethics and World Politics, ed. Duncan Bell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 93–111. 10. Realists disagree over the meaning of conflict and power. Their arguments span sociobiological theories of human competition, theological or metaphysical accounts of the “will to power,” value incommensurability, and the positional logic of the “security dilemma.” For a critique of the recent turn to biological theorizing (something not confined to realists), see Duncan Bell, “In Biology We Trust: Biopolitical Science and the Elusive Self,” in Human Beings in International Relations, ed. Daniel Jacobi and Annette Freyberg-Inan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 113–32. 11. Anarchy does not imply an absence of rules or institutions (or hierarchy). Rather, it identifies the lack of a determinate source of authority regulating the interaction of the principal units. As such, the balance of power is vital, although it is a contested idea (Richard Little, The Balance of Power in International Relations [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007]). Realists, it is worth noting, have in general been poor at conceptualizing imperialism (and some have been complicit in arguing for its perpetuation). 12. Some “neorealists” (e.g., Kenneth Waltz) argue that the domestic configuration of states is largely irrelevant in explaining international politics. This argument does not exhaust realism: “classical” realists (e.g., George F. Kennan and Morgenthau) and “neoclassical” realists (e.g., Randall Schweller), for example, recognize the importance of domestic politics.


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13. On “neoutilitarian” theorizing, see J. G. Ruggie, “What Makes the World Hang Together? Neo-utilitarianism and the Social Constructivist Challenge,” International Organization 52 (1998): 855–85. 14. Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979). 15. On the philosophical assumptions underpinning “modernist” constructivism, see Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000). 16. Constructivist realist scholarship offers considerable promise. See Samuel Barkin, Realist Constructivism: Rethinking International Relations Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Patrick Jackson, “Bridging the Gap: Towards a Realist–Constructivist Dialogue,” International Studies Review 6, no. 2 (2004): 337–52; and Richard Ned Lebow, The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests, and Orders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). 17. John Hall, “Transatlantic Images of Belonging,” in The Postnational Self: Belonging and Identity, ed. Ulf Hedetoft and Hjort Mette (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 54. 18. Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, 186. 19. Charles Taylor, “Cross-Purposes: The Liberal–Communitarian Debate,” in Liberalism and the Moral Life, ed. Nancy Rosenblum (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 159. 20. This is one of the reasons why the “neoconservatives,” avowed enemies of realism, look so strange from a traditional conservative perspective. 21. Throughout the chapter, I employ the term policy proposal in a general sense, referring to institutional prescriptions derived (at least in part) from normative commitments. These prescriptions include technical solutions to specified problems (such as modifying taxation regimes) and ideas for systematic changes in international norms and practices. 22. Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms (Cambridge: Polity, 2002). 23. For a useful critical analysis of (mainstream) social science and global justice, see Schmuel Nili, “Liberal Global Justice and Social Science,” Review of International Studies 42, no. 1 (2016):136–55. 24. Pablo Gilabert and Holly Lawford-Smith, “Political Feasibility: A Conceptual Exploration,” Political Studies 60, no. 4 (2012): 819–20. 25. G. A. Cohen, “Why Not Socialism?” in Democratic Equality: What Went Wrong? ed. Edward Broadbent (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 68. 26. Philip Pettit, “A Republican Law of Peoples,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 1 (2010): 86.

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27. Paul Rabinow, Marking Time: On the Anthropology of the Contemporary (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 74. 28. Holly Lawford-Smith, “Understanding Political Feasibility,” Journal of Political Philosophy 21, no. 3 (2013): 252, 255. 29. Most of the literature on feasibility assumes that it is possible (in principle) to uncontroversially identify those constraints. 30. Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, 1, 205. 31. Peter Singer, One World: The Ethics of Globalization (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 194, italics added. 32. Richard Price, “Moral Limit and Possibility in World Politics,” International Organization 62 (2008): 191–220. 33. Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, 210–14. 34. On the realism of American public opinion, see Daniel Drezner, “The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion,” Perspectives on Politics 6, no. 1 (2008): 51–70, and Joshua Ketzer and Kathleen McGraw, “Folk Realism: Testing the Microfoundations of Realism in Ordinary Citizens,” International Studies Quarterly 56, no. 2 (2012): 245–58. None of this implies that motivating change is impossible. Cosmopolitans (e.g., Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, 211) often refer to the abolition of slavery as an example; I would argue, however, that this case is more ambiguous than they suggest. 35. Singer, One World, 182, 190–91. 36. For useful overviews of “ideal” theorizing, see Laura Valentini, “Ideal vs. Non-ideal Theory: A Conceptual Map,” Philosophy Compass 7, no. 9 (2012): 654–64, and Zofia Stemplowska and Adam Swift, “Ideal and Non-ideal Theory,” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy, ed. David Estlund (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 373–93. Political theory realists, of course, have often been highly critical of ideal theorizing. 37. Amartya Sen, “What Do We Want from a Theory of Justice?” Journal of Philosophy 103, no. 5 (2006): 216. For a powerful critique of ideal theorizing, see Charles Mills, “Ideal Theory as Ideology,” Hypatia 20, no. 3 (2005): 165–83. 38. Gillian Brock, “Taxation and Global Justice,” Journal of Social Philosophy 39, no. 2 (2008): 175. 39. Thanks to Lior Erez for discussion on this point. 40. The concept of “securitization” is associated with the (constructivist) “Copenhagen School.” See Barry Buzan, Ole Waever, and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder: Westview, 1995), and Thierry Balzacq, ed., Securitization Theory: How Security Problems Emerge and Dissolve (London: Routledge, 2011). 41. Michael Williams, “Words, Images, Enemies: Securitization and World Politics,” International Studies Quarterly 47, no. 4 (2003): 514.


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42. Buzan, Waever, and de Wilde, Security, 55. 43. Philippe Bourbeau, The Securitization of Migration: A Study of Movement and Order (London: Routledge, 2011); Jef Huysmans, The Politics of Fear: Security, Migration, and Asylum in the EU (London: Routledge, 2005). 44. Jutta Weldes, “Constructing National Interests,” European Journal of International Relations 2, no. 3 (1996): 275–318; Scott Burchill, The National Interest in Theories of International Relations (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). 45. Arnold Wolfers, Discord and Collaboration: Essays on International Politics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1962). 46. Ole Waever, “Securitization and Desecuritization,” in On Security, ed. Ronnie Lipschutz (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 52. 47. Colin McInnes and Simon Rushton, “HIV/AIDS and Securitization Theory,” European Journal of International Relations 19 (2013): 115–38; Stefan Elbe, “Should HIV/AIDS Be Securitized? The Ethical Dilemmas of Linking HIV/AIDS and Security,” International Studies Quarterly 50, no.4 (2006): 119–44. 48. Rita Floyd, Security and the Environment: Securitization Theory and US Environmental Security Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Shirley Scott, “The Securitization of Climate Change in World Politics,” Review of European Community and International Environmental Law 21, no. 3 (2012): 220–30. 49. It is also common practice among national governments to treat poverty as a security issue. See Stephen Brown and Jörn Grävingholt, eds., The Securitization of Foreign Aid (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). 50. Brock, “Taxation and Global Justice,” 168, 275; Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights, 212–14; Singer, One World, 6–8. 51. There are two separate questions here: the first concerns the adequacy of the account of securitizing dynamics, on which there is an extensive literature; the second concerns the likely efficacy of a successful securitization in addressing the suffering of the global poor. The latter is an open question. 52. For discussion of the “internationalization” thesis, see Scott, “The Securitization of Climate Change in World Politics.” 53. Claudia Aradau, “Security and the Democratic Scene: Desecuritization and Emancipation,” Journal of International Relations and Development 7, no. 4 (2004): 388–413. See also Jef Huysmans, “Minding Exceptions: Politics of Insecurity and Liberal Democracy,” Contemporary Political Theory 3, no. 3 (2004): 321–83. On the “democratic bias” of securitization research, see Juha Vuori, “Illocutionary Logic and the Strands of Securitization: Applying the Theory of Securitization to the Study of Non-democratic Political Orders,” European Journal of International Relations 14, no. 1 (2008): 65–99. 54. Elbe, “Should HIV/AIDS Be Securitized?” 128. [ 318 ]


55. Corey Robin, Fear: The History of a Political Idea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Anthony Burke, Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). 56. Robert Goodin, What’s Wrong with Terrorism? (Cambridge: Polity, 2007), 50–108. 57. Williams, “Words, Images, Enemies.” 58. Rita Floyd, “Can Securitization Theory Be Used in Normative Analysis? Towards a Just Securitization Theory,” Security Dialogue 42, no. 4 (2011): 427– 39. Note that some of this account—for example, the idea of existential threat—conflicts with the Copenhagen School account of the malleability of securitization. 59. Floyd, Security and the Environment, 7. 60. For a good account of Morgenthau, see William E. Scheuerman, Hans Morgenthau (Cambridge: Polity, 2009). For a discussion of securitization arguments about the dangers of inculcating fear, see Michael Williams, “Securitization and the Liberalism of Fear,” Security Dialogue 42, no. 5 (2011): 453–63. 61. Elbe, “Should HIV/AIDS Be Securitized?” 62. This essay was originally drafted in 2007. For comments on it, I thank Ze’ev Emmerich, Sarah Fine, Duncan Ivison, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Charles Jones, Richard Ned Lebow, Casper Sylvest, and the participants in seminars at the Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge, and at the School of International Relations, University of St. Andrews. It was rewritten in 2015; thanks to Paul Sagar and Lior Erez for comments on this version.


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Feminism and Realism ELIZABETH FRAZER


n this essay, I argue for the significance for political theory of a distinctive—feminist—realism. My argument has three elements. First, I argue, modestly, that feminism always has a realist strand running through it. Second, I trace a more expansive feminist realism, in which feminism as social and political theory is inextricably linked to projects of social and political change—to practical and social movement1—and to realist commitments in social and political theory. Third, my argument involves showing that this feminist realism is distinct in many respects from the “standard model” of realism constructed in recent debates in political theory. It predates those debates, so in many respects it is orthogonal to them. Feminist realism—the expansive version—consists of a range of elements and principles: FR1: Feminism is oriented to the process of building realities. It takes the form of a political project and—notwithstanding engagement with abstract philosophy—has a programmatic element. Feminist descriptive, normative, and critical theory engages with the question of strategy. FR2: Reality is complex and contested. It is by no means a simple given. Its complexity means that it is always to be interpreted and contested.2 FR3: Feminism is committed to a form of explanatory realism. It follows from FR2 that explanations of why realities are either stable or fragile will [ 320 ]

be plural: political processes, for instance, are explicable by emotional, psychological, economic, and other processes and states of affairs. As inquiry, feminism seeks the mechanisms that link explanans (explanation) with explanandum (what is explained). It is expected that mechanisms will intersect and will interact. This explanatory realism is methodological rather than metaphysical. FR4: Feminism is critical in several ways. First, feminists always have an eye on “the negative”—what is omitted, what is lacking, what is not counted. Second, this critical stance, together with an insistence on real, not just formal, change, can be understood as a refusal to gloss over difficulties or to celebrate—there is here a kind of pessimism, a kind of insistence on clear-sightedness. But, third, this critical stance is shadowed by a focus on what is possible and, further, on what is impossible but desirable as well as by a focus on imagining, theorizing, and finding ways. Imagination and realism do not crowd each other out. FR5: Feminist theory is constructive. It is an element of the political reality that is undergoing challenge and change; just like other kinds of theory, it can contribute to the building and stabilization of institutions. That is, feminism is realist about theory itself. FR6: Politics is analytically distinctive, and political power (as opposed to other kinds) is real. This does not mean that politics is autonomous in any radical sense, but neither is it reducible to, for instance, economics. In this essay, I take the view that feminist thought is in this regard in accord with political realism. Feminist thought, theory, practice, and politics are highly contested. To set out feminism in the form of half-a-dozen realist principles will be already to invite the criticism of dogmatism and to invite immediate antirealist ripostes. In recent debates in political theory, realism has stood in contrast to idealism, formalism, utopianism, and moralism; there are, after all, feminist versions of all of these philosophies.3 In social studies, feminist theorists have espoused a number of approaches to methodology: feminist empiricism, interpretivism, interactionism, structuralism, phenomenology, and others are coherent categories. However, in this essay I argue that whatever methodological commitment is averred, whatever organizational strategy is favored, realism is present in feminist theory and politics in a number of ways—and I attempt to demonstrate this by way of reading feminist theorists who are not usually associated with realism (and FEMINISM AND REALISM

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in any case were writing before the recent realism debates in political theory). I should also say here, while clearing the ground and meeting immediate objections, that the association of feminism with social and political movement that I made in the first paragraph is also contentious.4 First, the idea of social movement can be taken to signal an ideal of organicism, spontaneity, and mass action, which invites a number of lines of criticism. Resistance to the idea that all women should identify with feminist movement, critique of the logic of assimilation implied, and criticism of the authoritarianism that can be concealed in ideals of organicism and spontaneity were articulated simultaneously with the articulation and practice of the idea of feminist movement itself.5 Nevertheless, in my understanding, reference to social movement emphasizes the opposition in feminism to more conventional forms of political organization in party, pressure group, or interest group. There are, to be sure, plenty of activists who trust more in the established procedures of party competition for the power to govern and implement public policy or in the strategies and tactics of more conventionally organized pressure groups or, indeed, in the promulgation of feminist aims by way of the pressures on governments exerted by global and regional organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations. Nevertheless, it is clear that any “top-down” policy innovations—for instance, those that require governments to take action on domestic violence—make clear the need for action, change, and movement at the level of social relations in all their complexity—conservative and liberal, urban and rural, professional and working class, with diverse religious and cultural ties and traditions—if such a policy is to be any more than just words.6 Feminist action in political parties will always have to take the shape of attempting to infuse what can be thought of as social movement values and principles into party structures, systems, and identities. The “political realism” from which I distinguish feminist realism is my reading of Bernard Williams and Raymond Geuss.7 Realism in this context is contrasted most often with “moralism” in a way that can seem to cut realistic political theory from moral philosophy. But it is important to remember that the realism/antirealism cut is present also within moral philosophy. That cut takes us into the field of “philosophical realism,” a position that is not much analyzed or referred to in recent debates, although in my understanding it is very important in feminist theory.8 I begin from philosophical realism—rather than moral realism, realism [ 322 ]


in international relations, or the more recent political realism—because I think that is where feminism begins (as far as this aspect of methodology and theory goes, at any rate). Feminist theory is also, as I have argued, bound up with critical method—and with the human capacity to imagine, to construct, to find ways.

Feminism and Antirealism Before I turn to realist strains within feminist political theory, I need to address some of the ways that feminist thinkers and actors, contrary to my view, are likely to be hostile to realism. In this section, I address three main lines of criticism. According to the first, realism is to be criticized because reality is equated with immutability. In the second, which follows the first, feminism must be utopian or theoretical rather than realistic. And there can be no requirement that feminist “theory” correspond to reality. In the third, feminism must be antitheoretical and constrained by the concrete experiences and categories of the everyday. In this section, as I present these antirealist lines of thinking, I begin to suggest what kind of realist response I think should be made to them. Many political thinkers and theorists aside from feminist theorists share the first kind of hostility. Realism connotes a pessimistic and aristocratic conservatism and associated attitudes to violence that are found in realist traditions such as that of security studies. The idea is that realism means facing up to a world in which there is no justice, no liberation, no transformation.9 “Back to reality” means fully facing up to societies with clear biological sex differences, onto which is mapped a clear division of labor and strength. Such pessimism, or the assertion of the immutability of structures of disadvantage and injustice, is one reason why feminists, like other progressive political thinkers, might reject realism. This view turns on an association between realism and conservatism (and a corresponding constructed contrast between realism and liberalism). The counterassertion is that we need to focus on what is possible and, more than that, on what is impossible but nevertheless desirable.10 This view turns on a contrast between realism and idealism or utopianism—paralleled by much recent discussion in political theory.11 In response to this association of feminism with idealism or utopianism, I argue that idealism in feminism is followed or shadowed by a diagnostic FEMINISM AND REALISM

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explanatory focus on what maintains existing structures and power relations—a form of explanatory realism (FR3)—and consideration of how structures might be dismantled and change achieved. This is not to say that there is any sunny optimism about probabilities here—the work of structural change is political work. Another distinct strand of feminist thought rejects idealism and utopianism in favor of rootedness of understanding in the everyday. The idea that the categories of understanding should be developed in dialogue between subjects and their worlds has been articulated in a number of positions ranging from antiscientific defenses of the humanities and of particularism in the methods debates of the nineteenth century to the pragmatist traditions of the early twentieth.12 In the mid–twentieth century, particularly but not only in sociology, a series of research programs and methodologies— ethnomethodology, phenomenological social sciences, subjectivism in social theory and method—developed. In the spirit of critique, they were turned against many targets. They were turned against positivism with its objective categories and search for invariant laws of nature and society. They opposed the kind of theoreticism associated with Marxism and were also a reaction to structuralism with its insistence on deep structures underpinning the systems of the world we inhabit, not present to consciousness but only able to be excavated by special academic research. Feminist versions of this position are suspicious of the way that categorizations, theories, and concatenations of facts operate to objectify, silence, and oppress subjects—to render them objects. Feminist theorists present the ethical objection that people are subjects, should not be treated as objects, and should not have their worlds rewritten or their experiences interpreted and diagnosed beyond recognition.13 Social knowledge, rather, needs to be fully articulable with the everyday knowledge of actors, in their worlds, from their standpoints. I am including discussion of this phenomenological critique in this section on antirealism because inference is often made from realism to objectivism and from antiobjectivism to antirealism.14 On the grounds discussed earlier—the association of realism with conservatism and the assertion of an immutable reality—feminist thinkers who have developed arguments along these lines would certainly consider themselves to be opponents of realism. However, it is perfectly possible, coherent, and cogent, I argue, to oppose forms of objectivism in epistemology while maintaining realism. I earlier alluded to a feminist next step in response to an idealist or utopian [ 324 ]


scheme—to critique, diagnosis, and then strategy (FR1). We can link that point to this matter of the importance of phenomenology and the everyday in feminism. Ideas of “what should be” connect with ideas of “what might have been”; utopias are premised on a philosophical anthropology and an interpretation of the world we live in.15 Realism in the sense of resistance to the forms of objectivism that project schemes and categories of understanding authoritatively onto subjects in contradiction of their lived lives puts a rather different construction on the common view that the dispute about fact sensitivity in political theory bears on the matter of realism.16 In my understanding, the two matters are orthogonal. If facts are epistemic categories only, for instance, whether we think of them as a product of subjective judgment or of intersubjective agreement about the categorization of knowledge or even as objective, they are not necessarily to be thought of as answerable to or corresponding to reality.17 Realism (or antirealism, come to that) is an extra philosophical thought about facts. Certainly, attendance to facts is not a very promising line for feminism. As a political tradition of protest, feminism has often been a reaction to alleged facts about sex and gender differences that have underpinned and been used as justifications—for exclusions, marginalizations, exploitations— in social and political institutions that disadvantage women and girls, the disadvantage then functioning as a reinforcing justification for unequal treatment. Wherever there are facts, questions of justification and questions about authority and questions about the role of the said facts in reinforcing and stabilizing institutions are to be posed. The feminist question “What facts?” does not in itself impugn the concept of factuality.18 But there can be limited gain from simply trading facts, which is a bit like trading statistics or religious quotations.

Realism in Social Science and Political Theory The previous section addressed some prominent feminist reactions to realism. In this section, I proceed to trace realist themes in the socialist, liberal, and postmodernist versions of feminist political theory. It is often remarked that realism coalesces as a position in reaction to a very wide range of rejected positions.19 As a result, it can be easier to specify what realism is not than what it is. There are three levels of difficulty.20 FEMINISM AND REALISM

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First, there is the difficulty of specifying what the term real means in terms of existence, materiality, causal power, and independence from us and our understandings of it (that is, of reality). Second, even if we arrive at a satisfactory philosophical analysis of reality and realism, there is the difficulty in specifying what exactly we want to be realist about: Causal powers, structures that are not immediately evident to sense experience, or particular entities (and which ones)? Debates in philosophy of science and in political theory have ranged over values and ethical principles (and over whether and how truth-values attach to statements about these values and principles); actors’ motivations and the constraints on their actions; the categories of science and social science with respect to questions such as whether the meaning of terms such as electron and social class is referential and whether our appropriate epistemic attitude is that such entities exist; and the truth-value of facts that are invoked in statements about motivations, distributions, and other politically relevant phenomena.21 Matters can be made more complicated in the context of intellectual and academic contexts in which the disciplines become jealous guardians of their own categories and phenomena. Émile Durkheim famously insisted that the explanation of a social fact or phenomenon is another social fact or phenomenon: he resisted any project of reducing sociology to psychology or physics. Traditional political institutionalists were concerned above all to test how successfully political events and processes (such as revolution and governmental breakdown) can be explained by prior political events and processes (such as the working of constitutions and the design of institutions) rather than by matters of economics or religious rivalry. And new institutionalists asserted the explanatory significance of institutional structures above, as it were, the level of the rational individual choice maker and actor.22 Such disputes feature, implicitly or explicitly, claims about which phenomena are real and which are theoretical or epiphenomenal. Third, there is the difficulty of what we might call modality. It is difficult to give content to what is fully independent of our understandings of it. But philosophical difficulties in establishing metaphysical realism do not constitute a significant barrier to methodological realism—a commitment to treat as real, to appreciate the reality of, that which is independent of our understandings of it. In opposition to methodological realism, some argue that theories should not be realist: Milton Friedman famously argued that in social sciences, as in economics, the point of theory is not realism [ 326 ]


at all but the provision of an ideal type (an idea such as perfect competition) that can serve as a heuristic and a methodological device.23 A model of a perfectly competitive market is by definition unrealistic and gives us a measure of how far from the ideal type any actually existing market is. Arguments for ideal models of justice or freedom in political philosophy comply with the same methodology. Alternatively, in some traditions of social research, the aim has been to gain predictive capability, which is thought of as explanatory traction, by finding “models of best fit.” Acceptance of a best-fit model as the best model—indeed, the very idea of a model—makes no realist claim or even any claim of descriptive validity. In the next two sections, I set out realist strains in feminist political theory, focusing on two themes: first, explanatory realism (FR3), or the demand that our understanding of the world should aim at grasping the mechanisms that bring about the distributions, institutions, and events that concern us as political actors and as social beings; and, second, the question of what we—feminist theorists—are being “realist” about (Is real a predicate or attribute?). In the concluding paragraphs, I elaborate on these realist and feminist themes.

The Realist Strains in Feminism Here I examine the work of three significant feminist political theorists and activists: Christine Delphy (b. 1941); Susan Moller Okin (1946–2004), and Iris Marion Young (1949–2006). None of them identifies explicitly with realism. Delphy counts herself as a materialist in distinction from the focus on symbolism that is central in some structuralist anthropology. As with “facts,” materialism is orthogonal to realism. Nevertheless, in my interpretation, her criticism of Marxist theory and political organization as well as her engagement in feminist politics by way of theory are best understood as realist. Susan Okin is often counted as a feminist political theorist for whom the Rawlsian version of idealism is the appropriate method. She counts on liberal equal freedoms to afford a universally applicable criterion for evaluation of a society’s institutions of justice and the justice of distributions. The normative emphasis of her work is on the justification of uses of state authority to regulate and enforce. She has less to say about the organizational and strategic aspects of feminism as a political project. Indeed, one FEMINISM AND REALISM

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complaint about her work is that it is strategically inadequate in its setting of goals for feminist action without appropriate understanding of concrete situations. However, we can also read Okin as constantly returning to a set of realist concerns, in particular with respect to the ways in which governmental redistribution and rights attribution can fail to address the real problem, while effective social change by political and other means requires a proper grasp of the mechanisms of disadvantage. Iris Young is recognized as a political theorist of feminist movements, whose work concerns the reality of embodied political agents and campaigns on the ground. She, more than Okin but in a different way from Delphy, explicitly engages with social science research. For Delphy, the statistical distributions of wealth, income, welfare, property, calories, working hours, and so on—although obviously to be approached with caution and by no means to be accepted at face value—are what tell the story about women’s position in economy, society, and culture. By contrast, Young frequently discusses the difficult methodological questions that attend our understanding of social and political change—the questions of how to organize, how to act politically, what will effect real as opposed to formal change. This research program takes us beyond the statistics describing distributions into the field of agency that the phenomenological critics of social science insist must be at the heart of our understanding and of our politics. In my interpretation, Young’s contributions to these questions are significant both for feminist politics and theory and for the question of realism.

Christine Delphy The point of Christine Delphy’s influential essay “The Main Enemy,” first published in French in 1970, was to show that the possible relief of the proletariat from exploitation and oppression would not by itself bring about the relief of women from exploitation and oppression as well as that the exploitation and oppression of women should not be understood, as it was in twentieth-century Marxist theory, in terms of its consequences for the proletariat.24 The origins of the thought and understanding articulated were practical and social—the essay came out of the experience of women working politically in parties on the left. The objectives were theoretical—to influence thinking and understanding. They were also explicitly political: [ 328 ]


the essay was intended to prescribe and promote a particular strategy for mobilization and a particular strategy for the coalitions and alliances into which feminist political actors should and should not enter.25 Delphy’s essay counts as empirically informed theory, a contribution to social science as such. She uses data on production, income, household expenditure, divorce, and employment in waged labor markets in France and other countries in order to establish how women’s (and children’s) labor is being exploited (by fathers) within family production and how the domestic labor of women, in families whose main income comes from waged work, is unpaid, its product consumed and exchanged by others.26 Subsequent controversies within the domestic-labor debates were highly technical and theoretical.27 But controversies about the relations between capitalist exploitation as understood in Marxist theory, about the fate and exploitation of surplus labor in domestic, caring, and reproductive labor, and about patriarchal exploitation and oppression as understood both in traditional liberal theory and in later feminism were also strategic. In Delphy’s words, the point is to work out who or what is the “main enemy.” Delphy’s work came out of and turned against political campaigns to “make it easier for the working woman to do her job as the mother of a family.”28 Her prescription is a feminist movement that has a “clearly and officially expressed intent to destroy patriarchy.”29 Its strategic focus should be on “how.” Delphy argues that feminist aims can be achieved by “attack[ing] false consciousness”—in particular, the identification of feminists and women in general as the enemy. Again, Delphy’s essay can be seen as seminal for the later projects showing how women are constructed as “the enemy” in numerous traditions of political thinking.30 Her strategic prescription that feminism must “show how this false consciousness serves the interests of patriarchy and detracts from our struggle” was one of the influential critical calls that generated the subsequent massive quantity of feminist readings and studies of constructions of gender. Within political theory, critical readings of canonical thinkers and theories aim to show how the diagnoses of masculinity and femininity overtly avow or covertly smuggle in structures and systems of inequality in status and material goods— structures and systems of superiority and inferiority or centrality and marginality.31 I repeat that I do not want to aver that Delphy should be read as a realist theorist. I do argue, however, that her theory has strains within it—the emphasis on prescription and strategy (FR1), on plurality in the explanation FEMINISM AND REALISM

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of social exploitation (the feminist criticism of orthodox Marxist class theory) (FR3), and on the constructive nature of theory itself (FR5)—that are continuous with the realism of feminist thought in general.

Iris Young Through her essays, Young sets out an account of groups, cooperative power, and societies, of polity, publicity, representation, and authorization. According to Young, a group’s shared disadvantage, its voice, and its own authorization of its actors and representatives count toward the justification of the group’s demands. That is, she articulates an account of normativity that is rooted in the world and in the relationships that inhere between us. Enhanced institutions of representation as well as particular practices of inclusion and accommodation are justified because of a group’s material position in a society, the history of its positioning, and its members’ shared needs. There is a tension between this element of Young’s theory and her theory of strategic action. For Young, cooperative power is a sometimes latent and sometimes actualized potential that exists where people might or do share needs, capacities, and resources. Individuals, of course, have complex group memberships and allegiances. But this means that there must be an element of strategy, both in the individual’s identification with, allegiance with, and action within any group. We cannot take it, as some sociological theories of class and social structure did, that an agent’s political identification, action, and behavior will follow straightforwardly from her social position. This must be so even where individuals are overwhelmingly placed by others as a member of a given group: as women are in sexdifferentiated and sex-segregated societies, as members of particular ethnic and racial groups are in racist societies. Among the factors that explain an individual’s identification and action “as” a woman or a feminist or not are matters of strategic reasoning. There is, further, an element of strategy both in the political construction of a group—in the decision by (some) group members to authorize representatives and to act politically (or to withhold such authorization)— and in the cooperation between groups in the formation of political alliances. 32 Whereas Young takes it that the organizations and actions of a political group such as an ethnic minority or women against disadvantage [ 330 ]


are legitimated (and hence worthy of political recognition and resources) by the group’s position in the wider state and society, this consideration of the strategic aspect of identity and organization suggests, rather, that the legitimacy and the effectiveness of a coalition cannot stem straightforwardly from the group members’ underlying needs and social position. Needs and social position might count in an argument for legitimacy, but they are argumentative and contestatory, not given. A coalition’s opponents might just as legitimately point out the fragility of the goods and bads shared between the coalition’s members, with the aim of disaggregating—and hence undermining—their needs claims, authorizations, and collective actions. It can be argued, then, that in her normative and constructive theory of group action, Young underemphasizes the “agonistic” and tense relationship between individuals and groups that can undermine hopes for progressive action in concert. She does not develop this aspect of recent political realism, but her theory can be read as realist for its particular critical and constructive nature (FR4, FR5) and for its emphasis on strategy both in the implications of academic theory as such and in the strategic logic of the social and political relations she studies.

Susan Okin Within feminism of the past several decades, Young’s work can be and often is brought into contrast with that of Susan Okin. For Okin, the heavy lifting in political theory must be done by the analysis of arguments. She subjects canonical texts in political theory, including very recent ones, to a textually and argumentatively based criticism that examines the ways that thinkers either elide or evade or resist the matter of women and justice.33 Normatively, the argument is settled. The ideal of justice for women and gender-blind distributions holds, as the defenders of fact-free theory insist, untroubled by the contradictions and complexities of the meanings of femininity, masculinity, the establishment of groups, or the potentialities for action here in the real worlds we inhabit. Liberal values are asserted, irrespective of the complex nature and histories of the societies to which they are applied as criteria for evaluation. Okin insists that theories of justice and rights cannot stop at the threshold of the “private” or cultural or personal worlds. Disadvantage that is FEMINISM AND REALISM

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engendered out of and instantiated in relationships in families and households, in cultural and subcultural formations, in the informal norms of workplaces, and interpersonal circles of friendship cannot straightforwardly be addressed by legal rights in the sphere of the state. These legal rights, to be sure, safeguard individuals who walk out of families, cultures, or social networks that oppress them, but they do nothing substantial to position individuals at the threshold of the exit door to begin with. Okin’s response is that we must not be coy about asserting the relevance of freedom, rights, and equality to individuals—in particular disadvantaged individuals— within the settings that generate the disadvantage. 34 To some liberal commentators, such political interest in individuals’ private and cultural lives threatens to license authoritarian—even totalitarian— levels of regulation and interference of what should properly be private life. To other critics, though, Okin’s approach takes insufficient account of the intersections of flows of power along the fissures of sex, race, ethnicity, nation, and culture.35 In particular, judgments about settings of power and authority should take account of the complexity of advantage and disadvantage as well as the complexity of membership and resistance. Critics argue that Okin’s focus on “patriarchy” is too broad brush to take proper account of how structures of sex and gender authority intersect with the inheritances of colonialism and imperialism, with the disadvantages of global patterns and flows of production and exchange, and with the frictions of ethnic memberships and religious commitments. Okin, then, puts a realist emphasis on the cultural and domestic mechanisms of oppression and exploitation (FR3), but her theory is subject to a distinct realist riposte that stems from a more complicated stance on intersectionality. I return to this theme in the following section.

Feminism and Realism Feminism is programmatic and oriented to the task of building realities (FR1). That is to say, we take seriously the -ism in feminism, which I understand to signal a systematic and normative set of principles, values, and characterizations of the world. Of course, this view of feminism is contested. Others might argue that it should rather be thought of as something like a critical method of reading gender and associated concepts and values— that is, a methodology, like empiricism or positivism. I don’t dissent from [ 332 ]


the view that this is an important element of feminism as a theory, but I would argue that feminism’s methodological character follows from its political purposes rather than the other way round. Like other political projects—socialism, conservatism—it can, first, be understood as a set of understandings and theories of the world: what the world consists of and why, why it is as it is, and how it might be otherwise. Such interpretive and explanatory theory is aligned with a set of guiding values and commitments, including commitments to particular strategies and tactics for achieving change. I have also presented feminism as a political project associated with and aligned to a widely based range of movements for social change (and in a tense or hostile relationship with other movements). Political projects can, alternatively, be elite based or take the form of restricted specialissue campaigns avowedly in pursuit of sectional interests or the form of party participation in the contest for the power to govern. In contrast, in feminism the form of movement—rather than pressure group, party, or faction—applies because the problems of sex and gender inequality are widely rooted and widely felt and in diverse ways. Notwithstanding that legislation has often been an aim, indeed a final objective, of feminist politics, it is clear that sex and gender inequality cannot be overcome with any simple legislation or policy. Similarly, the party project of competing for and winning power to govern or the interest-group project of influencing governing power are insufficient for feminism’s political project, which involves a transformation in values and structure and therefore has to be pursued within social institutions and settings. Feminism, then, is a political theory in the fullest meaning of that term. It is a theory for a political project; it focuses on political phenomena—on the power to govern, on public and social policy projects and proposals, on the nature of unequal social relations (FR6). There are other species of theory—theory to guide practices such as art or craft, for instance, or theory to guide discovery and knowledge, as in physical and social sciences. Both are relevant. Engagement with social knowledge, in particular that brand of it that we loosely refer to as social science and the human sciences such as medicine and psychology, has been salient in many historically significant episodes in feminist politics.36 Further, feminism is political in the sense of having political effects or playing a political role (FR5). When feminist theorists are formed and articulated, that counts as a move in the political process of participating in FEMINISM AND REALISM

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governing power. This aspect of political theory is noteworthy and puts it in a category distinct from scientific and practical theories. Theory of physics contributes to the practice and science of physics, but it is not itself physical. Likewise with art: art theory does not have the nature of its object. An interesting, problematic aspect of political theory is that it does—in some cases at least—share the nature of its object.37 Feminist idealism is one driver of this political project, but feminist politics also needs an explanation—not simply the measure—of the distance between reality and ideal. Further, feminism needs programmatic prescriptions for how to decrease the distance. Predictive models don’t offer accounts at the level of mechanisms or any explanatory account, beyond estimating a probabilistic prediction, of instances that are not predicted by the theory or model (FR3). Furthermore, feminism needs political programs: ideas of how to construct networks and coalitions, to generate the right energy, to shift values, motivations, and distributions of benefits and burdens. Feminist thinkers, theorists, and strategists are constrained—at some point at least in their theorizing, their dreaming the impossible, their imagining—by methodological realism (FR4). By way of certain key categories—gender, sexism, patriarchy are examples—we seek to articulate, to examine, a range of social mechanisms that differentiate and indeed discriminate (in both the neutral and the pejorative senses of that term) between men and women, in ways that are justified by a range of ethical, cultural, and material considerations, to the detriment of women and girls with respect to a range of distributions. In some settings, feminist thinkers meet and have to confront actors who deny the descriptive, the causal, and the ethical view of these processes. Both in confrontation with such denial and in confrontation with those who concede the descriptive validity of feminist interpretations of the world but contest the political and ethical evaluation of those processes and distributions, feminists, as political actors and theorists, are constrained by realism. That is, the denial, the confrontation, are undeniably part of the political context of disadvantage; the analysis of the mechanisms of disadvantage are undeniably an element in its political contestation and possible dismantling; and methodological commitment to the reality of gender disadvantage, sexism, and the like constitutes the terrain for political action. Both Okin’s discussion of disadvantage to women and girls and of the injustice of gender regimes in a range of cultural and political settings as [ 334 ]


well as Delphy’s use of the category “patriarchy” to characterize and analyze domestic production and consumption and the exploitation of women’s and children’s labor power are methodologically realist. It is important to emphasize that this methodological realism is not a commitment to the existence, the ontological independence, of an entity that corresponds to the theoretical category. Theoretically, indeed, it is wise to be open and sensitive to the shifts, diversities, and transformations in social phenomena and practices over time and to avoid hypostatizations of theoretical constructs such as sexism and patriarchy. Methodologically, we proceed to discovery and to understanding with the premise of realism, but this is not in the expectation of invariant, given (let alone law-governed) entities.38 Indeed, the whole point of feminism is the transformation of reality—our philosophical and political engagement with it with and against sexism and patriarchy is in the expectation of the transformation of these and other ills. I spoke earlier of the confrontation with denial, disagreement, and counterinterpretation that is an inevitable aspect of any political situation. Feminism is realist, further, in the sense of recognizing conflict, dissent, and friction both in any politically organized society and within any political organization—party, movement, campaigning group—including itself, and in its understanding of politics that understands this recognition to be a matter of coming to grips with disagreement. It is in the nature of politics that there will be disagreement about ideals, about goals, about strategies and tactics. To be sure, feminist activists have varied—disagreed— in their responses to such disagreements. The history of feminist action is characterized by loose coalitions, by single-issue campaigns, by an emphasis on practical projects that facilitate the combination of common purposes with political divergences, sometimes by sectarian schisms and antagonisms, and sometimes by the disappointments of a commitment to consensus and harmony. Some feminists do look forward to an eventual harmony of interests, whereas other feminists expect structural-interest antagonisms to survive even the overcoming of current fissures of disadvantage.39 The history of feminist politics, like that of other politics, is a history of conflicts: of disagreements, of action in concert, of splits. There have been disagreements about where effort should be directed, whether issues should be yoked together or kept apart, whether common cause can be made with other political groups.40 In feminism, familiarly, there have been—will always be—arguments about where the problem lies: with capitalism and FEMINISM AND REALISM

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its exploitation of labor power or with patriarchy and its control of female labor, reproduction, and sexuality or with the economy, most of all, or with the cultural bases of economy.41 There are questions about what imperialism and colonial political, economic, and cultural domination and exploitation mean for women and feminism.42 An important aspect of feminist realism lies in the implication of feminism with “intersectionality.”43 Where systems of inequality, oppression, and exploitation intersect, the results are not straightforwardly predictable (FR3). Sometimes interactions among, say, class, sex, and ethnicity will be effectively additive: a double or triple oppression.44 A number of difficulties arise. Logically, the idea that a person is oppressed—say, as a black person and as a woman—is that the category “black person” is by definition either male or gender neutral, neither of which can be right. Second, an intersection of racism and sexism may be additive, but it also may be contradictory and may afford opportunities for evasion or resistance. The reductive logic according to which the process of differentiation of lines of disadvantage leads to a logic of specificity that puts “white disabled religious minority men” into impossible and absurd competition with “black professional women” is a result of the obverse of intersectionality proper, which will always take a realist approach to the question of how an individual’s position vis-à-vis a multiplicity of lines of advantage and disadvantage actually interact—there can be no a priori assumption. In the history of political thinking and social study, we see that where a priori assumptions are brought to bear, they tend to be assumptions of additivity. First, they lead to an unrealistic attribution of specificity to individual identities. Second, such additive approaches to identity strategically can operate and have operated to prevent coalitions between different campaigns, such as feminist ones and ones oriented to dismantling racism or religious intolerance or class injustice. A proper account of intersectionality, by contrast, orients to the realist, practical, political possibility of coalition and action in concert. 45 The significant point here is that feminism cannot be a straightforward application of a theory—our understandings of, our predictions about, and therefore our actions in a particular social setting must proceed from analysis of how the intersections work in that setting. However, this kind of particularism does not go all the way with forms of antitheoreticism in the strong sense, which would eschew the use of categories such as class, sex, race, and ethnicity because of their connection with abstract theories. It [ 336 ]


cannot concede that only those meanings of the everyday that local actors use practically and in context are valid. Feminism is theoretical—it finds similarities in difference, social power in what seems to be natural, interest in preference, and resistance to power in desire. Reality is complex, consisting of intersections and interactions of the analytically distinct phenomena that are captured by our categories. These analytic distinctions are abstract— justified and validated by our instrumental purposes in theorizing because they are articulated in experience, in discourses, in our epistemic traditions, and in our resistant and revolutionary (utopian) imaginations. These theories, experiences, and discourses as well as, in particular, the contestations between them condition our understandings of what is real. Furthermore, because feminism is political, the point is to make proposals that will affect all (and, indeed, to be prepared to use political power—law, administration, cultural norms that are socially and legally endorsed, party policies—for what are judged to be justified and possible projects or policies). Of course, straightforward justificatory philosophical and theoretical reasoning is an element of feminist work here, and so are persuasive public discourse and communication. But the most weighty element is a series of categories and propositions that are both meaningful and valid. What is real for feminist political theory has to be realizable. This is not a realism that sticks to the descriptive or to the empirical, measurable, and observable. It is a realism according to which some of what is actual need not be so and changing what should and can be changed is one of the points of politics and of theory. The realization of an alternative set of facts, of structures of relations, of norms that constitute and construct the facts requires both theory and strategy as well as concerted action. And, of course, feminism also has to be realist in its recognition of the possible political thwarting of transformative projects. Another aspect of this analysis of intersectionality is also relevant to feminist realism. An additive account of intersections of power can have a progressively exclusionary and sectarian rather than coalitional political organizational logic. The formation of groups whose members share exactly a set of structural positions vis-à-vis racial, ethnic, sexual, class, national, and health statuses can lead—and in some historical settings certainly has led—to formations of activism that exclude prospective coalitions and patterns of solidarity. In such cases, of course, political judgment is called for as political actors make decisions about possible and viable patterns and FEMINISM AND REALISM

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acts of solidarity and coalition. In particular, intersections of power might make working across lines of sex, race, class, and religion extremely difficult, and the histories of women’s projects and campaigns are full of instances of such difficulty either being overcome or finally overcoming action. Or such intersections might allow constructive ambiguity. It is precisely the uncertainty that we must have at the outset about what the effects of a diverse set of differences and inequalities between actors will be that opens the space for the political construction of the possibility of common cause or action in concert. I have argued that feminism is implicated in realism in several senses. First, a great deal of motivation for feminist theory and political action proceeds from encounters with accepted facts about women’s and men’s respective capacities and proclivities—facts that are adduced in justifications for the uses of power and authority, including law, cultural norms, and forms of regulation. Political theory’s response to such commonsense and scientifically based understanding can, of course, take the form of pulling the normative away from the positive, denying the relevance of any characterization or actuality of how things are to the question of how things ought to be. But from the point of view of a programmatic political project of change and transformation, the more common and more salient response is a realist and critical form of inquiry that seeks to show how the sexist and false accounts can become entrenched, how they are defended institutionally, how values and interpretations can shift, how a new reality—new sets of social relations, distributions, and norms—can be built. That is, a feminist realism that is programmatic, critical, constructive, equal to the complexity of reality and focused on explanatory realism. Both Okin’s account of how formal legal rights for women in public institutions and life can be effectively negated by normative distributions in family and culture and Delphy’s account of how distributions of income and work are held stable by the rights and interests of some social actors (fathers, husbands) participate in this form of realism. The theme of realism is theoretically reinforced here by considerations of the significance of intersectionality in feminist study. Of course, simple and powerful models such as rational-action theory and social class analysis can be powerful predictors—statistically speaking—of social and political outcomes. But predictive capacity does not track descriptive validity all the way. Predictions of distributions of goods and bads to working-class people [ 338 ]


will be inaccurate for any individual, who is not simply “working class” but also subject to the differential flows stemming from norms of sex and gender (and also, depending on setting, the norms of religion in religiously divided societies, of race in racist societies, of ethnicity in ethnically conflicted or divided societies, and so on). This theme of intersectionality has two realist parts to play in feminist politics. First, in the context of social studies, it brings accounts closer to reality (FR3). Second, due attention to intersectionality strategically opens up a more realist approach to possible and impossible alliances and coalitions, a more realist analysis of the gains and losses—the possibilities—of action in concert across the divides of sex, class, and all the rest (FR1). Young’s emphasis on the processes of identification and action in concert for political ends emphasizes how we must conceive of realism as a dynamic matter. This attention to alliances and coalitions is simultaneously an attention to antagonisms and enmities. I began by associating feminist politics and theory with social movement theory and practice. If there have been moments at which the hope of a spontaneous, mass-based, organic movement of women together, across the world, making change has been articulated, such moments have invariably been replied to with insistence on diversity and difference in spontaneous consciousness and material interests. The idea of social movement means that feminism as political theory cannot be dissociated from social theory (and, as I have argued, is best associated with realist social study). Feminist political realism consists both of realism about social relations and of realism about practical political possibility.46

Notes 1. With due acknowledgement to anyone who finds this locution awkward, in this essay I refer to “social movement” rather than to either “a social movement” or “the social movement” or “social movements.” Using this grammatical form, as bell hooks does, avoids the hypostatization of “the feminist movement” while doing justice to the history of feminist political action as rooted in a diverse, widely based, resistant, linked set of campaigns and projects. For characterizations of feminist movement that are influential for this essay, see bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman (London: Pluto Press, 1981), 1–13, and Feminist Theory from Margin to Centre (Boston: South End Press, 1984), 2–41. 2. Margaret Somers calls this kind of position “relational realism,” to be distinguished from “theoretical realism” (“We’re No Angels: Realism, Rational FEMINISM AND REALISM

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3. 4.

5. 6.


8. 9.

10. 11.



Choice, and Relationality in Social Science,” American Journal of Sociology 104, no. 3 [1999]: 722–84). Lorna Finlayson, “With Radicals Like These, Who Needs Conservatives?” European Journal of Political Theory 16, no. 3 (2017): 264–82. See Gisela Kaplan, Contemporary Western European Feminism (London: Allen and Unwin, 1992), xix–xxvi, for presentation of feminism as movement, and hooks, Feminist Theory, 33–41. Jo Freeman, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” The Second Wave 2, no. 1 (1972): 20; hooks, Ain’t I a Woman? chaps. 2 and 3. United Nations, Center for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs, Strategies for Confronting Domestic Violence: A Resource Manual, ST/CSHDA/20 (New York: United Nations, 1993), 10–11; United Nations, Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, Ending Violence Against Women: From Words to Action (New York: United Nations, 2006), 27–35. Bernard Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Elizabeth Frazer, “What’s Real in Political Philosophy?” Contemporary Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 490–507. Frazer, “What’s Real in Political Philosophy?” esp. 497–99, examining Williams’s and Geuss’s relationships with philosophical realism and critical theory. Enzo Rossi and Matt Sleat attribute this view to readings of realism in international relations and security studies (“Realism in Normative Political Theory,” Philosophy Compass 9, no. 10 [2014]: 689–701); Finlayson, “With Radicals Like These,” 268. For example, Drucilla Cornell, Beyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism, Deconstruction, and the Law (London: Routledge, 1991), 3, 20, and passim. William A. Galston, “Realism in Political Theory,” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 4 (2010): 385–411; Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics; Bernard Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 1–17. Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (New York: Cornell University Press, 1986), esp. chap. 6, and “Introduction: Is There a Feminist Method?” in Feminism and Science, ed. Nancy Tuana (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 17–32; William Outhwaite, New Philosophies of Social Science: Realism, Hermeneutics, and Critical Theory (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1987), esp. chap. 4. Dorothy E. Smith, “Women’s Perspectives as a Radical Critique of Sociology,” Sociological Inquiry 44, no. 1 (1974): 7–13; see also Liz Stanley and Sue Wise, Breaking Out: Feminist Consciousness and Feminist Research (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983), esp. 12–32, 150–75. [ 340 ]


14. For instance, Paul Kelly, “Rescuing Political Theory from the Tyranny of History,” in Political Philosophy Versus History? Contextualism and Real Politics in Contemporary Political Thought, ed. Jonathan Floyd and Marc Stears (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 13–37. 15. Elizabeth Frazer and Nicola Lacey, The Politics of Community: A Feminist Critique of the Liberal–Communitarian Debate (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993), 38, 117. 16. Edward Hall, “Political Realism and Fact-Sensitivity,” Res Publica 19, no. 2 (2013): 173–18; for criticism of “fact-derived realism,” see Adrian Little, Alan Finlayson, and Simon Tormey, “Reconstituting Realism: Feasibility, Utopia, and Epistemological Imperfection,” Contemporary Political Theory 14, no. 3 (2015): 276–77. 17. Frazer, “What’s Real?” 495–97. 18. See William Scheuerman’s chapter in this volume for the argument that facts cannot be taken as ontologically foundational; see also Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (London: Chatto and Windus, 1984), for earlier lampooning of the rhetorical and material force of assertions of “fact” (e.g., 118, 127, 134). 19. Finlayson, “With Radicals Like These,” 264–65. 20. Sources for the points that follow in the text include Andrew Sayer, Realism and Social Science (London: Sage, 2000), 10–18; William Outhwaite, The New Philosophies of Social Science: Realism, Hermeneutics, and Critical Theory (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1987); Roy Bhaskar, The Possibility of Naturalism: A Philosophical Critique of the Contemporary Human Sciences, 2nd ed. (Hemel Hempstead, UK: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989), and A Realist Theory of Science, 2nd ed. (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1978). For other salient discussions, see Nancy Cartwright, How the Laws of Physics Lie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983); Rom Harre and E. H. Madden, Causal Powers: A Theory of Natural Necessity (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975); and William Newton-Smith, The Rationality of Science (London: Routledge, 1981). 21. Relevant discussions are also given in Peter Railton, “Moral Realism,” Philosophical Review 95, no. 2 (1986): 163–207, and Somers, “We’re No Angels.” 22. For discussion of the ontology of institutions, see Colin Hay and Daniel Wincott, “Structure, Agency, and Historical Institutionalism,” Political Studies 46 (1998): 951–57. 23. Milton Friedman, “The Methodology of Positive Economics,” in Essays in Positive Economics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 3–45. 24. Christine Delphy, “The Main Enemy,” Feminist Issues 1, no. 1 (1977): 24. 25. Ibid., 38. 26. Ibid., 25–33. 27. Christine Delphy, Close to Home (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984); Lydia Sargent, ed., Women and Revolution: The Unhappy Marriage of FEMINISM AND REALISM

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28. 29. 30. 31.

32. 33.

34. 35. 36.


38. 39.

40. 41.


Marxism and Feminism (Boston: South End Press, 1981); Michele Barrett, Women’s Oppression Today: Problems in Marxist–Feminist Analysis (1980; reprint, London: Verso, 2014). Delphy, “The Main Enemy,” 37 n. 25. Ibid., 39. In particular, see the essays in Carole Pateman, The Disorder of Women (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989). Susan M. Okin, Women in Western Political Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979); Diana Coole, Women in Political Theory (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993); Mary L. Shanley and Carole Pateman, eds., Feminist Interpretations and Political Theory (Cambridge: Polity, 1991). Iris Marion Young, Intersecting Voices (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), 31, 35. Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family (New York: Basic Books, 1989) and “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” in Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? ed. Joshua Cohen and Matthew Howard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 9–24. Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family, 170–86. See, for example, Linda Zerilli, “Towards a Feminist Theory of Judgment,” Signs 34 (2009): 295–317. Seminal contributions have often been a reaction to what passes as knowledge or expertise about women—the genre arguably started with Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792; reprint, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), esp. chap. 5; see also Woolf, Three Guineas. Alan Finlayson takes a line that converges with the argument that political theory shares the nature of its object: our practices of articulating our knowledge of reality, including the political and ethical aspects of our lives, are themselves part of the real historical phenomena that constitute our world (“From Theorizing Realism to the Reality of Theory: A Response to Adrian Little,” Contemporary Political Theory 14, no. 3 [2015]: 259). Somers calls the position I here reject and that she rejects, too, “theoretical realism” (“We’re No Angels,” 727). Jane Mansbridge, “Using Power/Fighting Power: The Polity,” in Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political, ed. Seyla Benhabib (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 46–66. hooks, Ain’t I a Woman? and Feminist Theory; bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (Boston: South End Press 1989). Sargent, Women and Revolution; Valerie Bryson, “Marxism and Feminism: Can the Unhappy Marriage Be Saved?” Journal of Political Ideologies 9, no. 1 (2004): 13–30. hooks, Ain’t I a Woman?; Feminist Theory; Talking Back. [ 342 ]


43. The term originates with Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (1991): 1241–99; similar ideas were worked out in Elizabeth Spelman, Inessential Woman (London: Women’s Press, 1988). 44. Historically, the concept and theory of intersectionality emerged in critical response to the simple additive idea of domination, exploitation, and oppression. See Nira Yuval-Davis, “Intersectionality and Feminist Politics,” European Journal of Women’s Studies 13, no. 3 (2006): 193–206; see also the arguments in Kathy Davis, “Intersectionality as a Buzzword: A Sociology of Science Perspective on What Makes a Feminist Theory Successful,” Feminist Theory 9, no. 1 (2008): 67–85, about origins of concerns about differences and commonalities to which intersectionality is a response. 45. I am indebted to Orlando Lazar Gillard for a helpful discussion of this strategic aspect of intersectionality theory. 46. I am very grateful to Udit Bhatia, Alan Finlayson, Orlando Lazar-Gillard, Jonathan Leader-Maynard, William Outhwaite, and Matt Sleat for discussions, critical comments, and suggestions; to Udit Bhatia for research and editorial assistance; and to an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments that have aided clarification.


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Political Realism A Reality Check MICHAEL FREEDEN


ime and again, discourses and arguments purporting to reveal the true nature of politics emerge in an attempt—plausible and justifiable in itself—to challenge the abstract, rosy-eyed, and idealized political theories that have dominated many types of normative political philosophy. Time and again, they show themselves as unadventurous, lacking, or uninformed and fail to deliver what they have committed themselves to deliver. They do so not at all because of the resilience of ideal political theory but because the various forms of political realism fall short of addressing the actual and ascertainable features of the political. The preponderant range of the debate over political realism reproduces— deliberately for the most part—some of the normative and justificatory aspects of the theoretical approaches it claims to substitute or at least to modify substantially, thus advancing a very particular interpretation of realism. The question usually posed in that debate is of the following type: “Which legitimate and authoritative political arrangements can keep endemic social disorder and conflict in check?” That question is too selective, partial, and insufficiently grounded in broad conceptions of what the political sphere actually consists—recognizing of course that any identification of the political has to be approached with the usual reservations about the contestability of interpretation. Exploring the problems and possibilities of legitimate and authoritative order has to be preceded by and can only be comprehended through the question “What are the distinct features [ 344 ]

and properties of the political and of thinking politically?”—given that both conflict and its control and indeed legitimacy itself are but one facet of the political. If we so wish, we may then proceed to make recommendations for engineering legitimate order, but prescriptive recommendations of whatever kind are not a mandatory aspect of being real about the political. Most students of political realism monopolize the term by focusing mainly on how theory can be made relevant to extracting from politics only what we should be extracting instead of what we can extract, thus pulling it in a specific direction that has attracted almost only prescriptive political theorists and philosophers. As argued here, political realism as currently understood overlooks the finality drive of the political, a drive of which legitimacy is but one variant; it excludes “brute” coercion from the political domain, although there is clear evidence of the political nature of such coercion; it expresses marked ethical preferences—despite many political realists’ insistent protestations to the contrary—not merely about what the political should contain but also about what is required to humanize and tame politics; and it utilizes the utterances of other political theorists as evidence for the realism debate rather than focusing on the concrete practices of human beings in their political capacity. Regarding this latter point, one encounters all too often a project not aimed at understanding the political but aimed, in David Owen’s words, at the “transformation of political philosophy.”1 None of these features, I contend, engages with the scholarly enterprise of understanding the actual manifestations of the political. The “crucial” question of “whether a coherent and plausible account of realist legitimacy can be developed,”2 important though it is, does not have to be indispensable to a political realism investigating political practices, whatever they may be. It illustrates, rather, how the interpretation of the real world is filtered through substantive norms, values, and a justificatory ethos guiding nearly all theorists who don the mantle of realists. What we can extract does not imply a conservative bias. Quite the contrary. Emphasizing what can be done as a guideline for political realism implies not a “can” constrained by current social customs employed by societies to proclaim their identity, but rather a “can” guided by the best methods available to us as scholars in the endeavor to probe the characteristics of and limitations on what human interaction and arrangements are capable of producing. Such an approach is intended to explore the full spectrum of human political expression and imagination in its revolutionary, POLITICAL REALISM

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progressive, traditionalist, or reactionary forms, and it should be concerned with illuminating cross-cultural differences and overlaps. Too many current political realists, however, replicate misconceptions or oversimplifications about the actual manifestations of the political and exclude somewhat arbitrarily those features with which they are out of sympathy. But sympathy, or its lack, does not do the work if we wish to take political realism seriously, if we want properly to engage with the political and not merely with those aspects of the political of which we approve in our parochial “now and around here.”3 Being realistic about the study of politics is, to say the least, a worthwhile enterprise and central to what is fast becoming the much-needed “political turn,”4 yet much of what currently goes under the umbrella of political realism is open to methodological questioning, in particular its selectiveness.

Realism and the National Interest Early contemporary forms of political realism surfaced in international relations theory, a forceful proponent being Hans J. Morgenthau at the height of his career. In his frequently reprinted book Politics Among Nations, Morgenthau outlined six principles of political realism. That doctrine held, among other things, that politics is “governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature”; it assumed that statesmen “think and act in terms of interest defined as power,” though the content of such interest would change over time and across space. And whereas the transformative appeal of current ideal theory is held to draw from the domain of universal norms of justice, the idealism that Morgenthau challenged is structural and temporal rather than substantive. Theories located in visions of future society, he argued, needed to give way to the “manipulation of the perennial forces that have shaped the past.” Morgenthau was concerned about abstract imaginary futures as against concrete historical practices. Current political realists, as we shall presently see, are instead concerned about the flawed applicability of general ethical guidelines to the complexity of social practices—though not about the principled need for a realist theory to apply ethical standards. What is common to those critical references to “idealism” covers two very different analytical positions that can broadly be termed, respectively, ahistorical and perfectionist.

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In addition to the six principles, Morgenthau permitted one kind of ethical requirement: considerations of national survival. Prudence, rather than a sense of any nation’s moral superiority, is “the supreme virtue in politics,” he announced. It is no surprise that the post-1945 Morgenthau was associated with American conservatism, but, then, it is a standard conservative ideological device to ascribe reality to what conservatives claim is the world as they find it. On one theme, however, Morgenthau expressed what has become a long-standing and plausible core tenet of political realism: “The political realist maintains the autonomy of the political sphere, as the economist, the lawyer, the moralist maintains theirs.”5 But he also made another significant observation, which few current political realists reflect: “The notion of the political . . . applies itself to manifestations which go widely beyond the sphere of the state.”6 Nonetheless, he was still far from stating what a realist view of politics should encompass. He reduced the political sphere to that of power alone, incorporating a Nietzschean will to power. Even though Morgenthau recognized the distinction between dominatory power and power as the collaborative realization of moral values,7 he rarely presented that distinction crisply. At best, he offered a severely curtailed account of the richness and diversity of human practices that can be called political. If we delve further into the unique features of actual political conduct and thought, we find a number of separate but interlocked practices. They include the arrogation of final decision making in a society, the ranking of collective priorities, the mobilizing or withholding of support for and by collectivities, the stabilizing and destabilizing of social arrangements, the conjuring up of social futures in the form of visions or plans, as well as the inevitable wielding of power through persuasion, rhetoric, emotion, menace, and force. And all of these practices appear in different relative weightings.8 Politics is never one thing, whether conflict, power, consensus, rupture, agonism, or whatever—that kind of reductionism is always a simplifying distortion. Nor is it real to reduce human motivation to the psychologism of the pursuit of self-interest. Even if in international relations that pursuit appears to be a strong incentive, moves to assuage climate change or to assist less-developed countries derive from more complex impulses. And was Morgenthau accurate in perceiving political realism as a broadly conservative exercise in respecting and replicating the past or in suggesting that perennial and static laws of human nature are


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evident to the political scientist? What we have here, rather, is a particular ideological take on the values that should guide the world, not necessarily on those values that do or can in effect guide it. Apropos ideology, Morgenthau’s view is equally unrealistic. In arguing that “the true nature of [state] policy is concealed by ideological justification and rationalizations,”9 Morgenthau was culpable of a double error. First, he could not detach himself from the hoary view that ideologies are false and dissimulative, a view whose origins lie in a Marxist analysis that Morgenthau himself would have abhorred. Second, he failed to acknowledge that, even on his understanding of ideology, such rationalizations are themselves part of the discursive reality of the political—serious features of actual political thinking.10 If you remove what they conceal, you will find more of the same rather than an objective truth dressed in the garb of scientific laws.

The Descent from Ideal Theory: From Prescribing to Interpreting Fast-forward half a century, with the philosophical thought experiments of the Rawlsian School coming under increased scrutiny. Growing criticism of that kind of philosophical argumentation arose from diverse quarters. Why is justice the first virtue of a society rather than well-being, let alone Morgenthau’s prudence? Is Rawlsianism merely a thinly disguised liberal political theory, one far more comprehensively liberal than its supporters claimed? How can the social sciences—and the emphasis is on social—accept veils of ignorance that isolate individual from individual and decontextualize our experiences of the world? And what about neutrality? Is there a view from nowhere? Is neutrality not confused with impartiality— which itself is a very difficult practice to pursue? How can one offer a neutral position with regard to some zero-sum practices as, for instance, between pro-lifers and pro-choicers on the termination of pregnancy? And is not the very aspiration to neutrality a key liberal principle—though never a liberal practice—masquerading as a universal one? Behind all those questions lies a deep suspicion that political theory was being increasingly colonized by a different discipline, philosophy, one with stated ethical purposes and a partiality for logical clarification. A stark illustration of that colonization was provided by the late Ronald Dworkin, who, when I asked him about the particular historical and geographical sources of his ostensibly [ 348 ]


universal liberal philosophy, offered the following response: “You say ideas don’t float in an abstract world. When my son was very young, he would tolerate me to ask him questions such as ‘Where do numbers live?’ And he got very tired of this, and he said one day, ‘I know where numbers live— they live in beer cans in the Himalayan mountains.’ And that’s where ideas live, too.”11 Well, now we know. Time and place are of no consequence to some moral philosophers, who hold ideas to be transspatial and transtemporal. Their ideal theory ignores or belittles the empirical, historical, and contextual roots of political discourse and language, which Dworkin disparagingly lumped together as “sociological.” The first concessions came from the political philosophers with a peace offering in the shape of what they called “nonideal theory.” Significantly, the “nonideal” still focused on justice, specifically on the domain of the unjust rather than on the “concrete,” the “particular,” or the “typical.”12 In order for political philosophy to be relevant to the “real world,” they held, it must offer tools for evaluating practical ways of reducing injustice in the world. In the words of Charles W. Mills in the book Contract and Domination, written jointly with Carole Pateman, “non-ideal theory seeks to adjudicate what corrective rectificatory justice would require in societies that are unjust.”13 Crucially, the real political world is yet again characterized only by one attribute, power, as is the case with Morgenthau, except that in the “nonidealist” instances the overriding attribute of power in Morgenthau’s case is conjoined with the further overriding attributes of distributive, gender, and racial injustice. The descriptions of the real world continue to be selective and specific. If we look at those two approaches together, two bleak “real” worlds emerge, with few redeeming features. For both, to be real—it appears—is to be unremittingly harsh about the basics of the world of politics. But whereas for the Morgenthauian—with the qualification noted earlier—the world of imaginary futures threatens to be one of delusionary hopes that obfuscate the necessary and often desirable rawness of the world as experienced over time, for the nonideal philosopher the world of ethical truths is one from which we may obtain regulatory guidelines that mitigate the inadequacy, inequality, unattractiveness, even brutality of that rawness and thus enable us to demand moral reform instead. All that is presented as relating to the search for and identification of the empirical characteristics of political societies, as if that were a clear-cut issue that does not require close investigation. True, power and self-interest may be accredited with POLITICAL REALISM

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the descriptor unjust, but that assessment may frequently be subject to ideological contestation—both may, on occasion, be evaluated as fair. That aside, in the main there is little agreement on which empirical characteristics are noteworthy or demand the most recognition—What is the hard core of that political reality? But without carefully examining evidence, we cannot even set out on that journey. The aim of “nonideal” theory thus becomes one of improving the quality of ideal theory, not one of replacing it with a recognizable account of the world to which different forms of theorizing can relate. It engages with the real world only because, disappointingly, that world fails to live up to philosophers’ normative expectations—but will it ever completely discharge those expectations? “Nonideal” theory wishes not to accommodate itself to the real world but to achieve, for example, what Mills calls “genuine racial and gender equality.”14 The word genuine in that context— with its connotations of “true,” “authentic,” or “pure”—does not come with any empirical markers for what that would look like but reverts to the general and the abstract, the imprecision of regulatory ideals. “Nonideal” ends up being no different from “ideal” except that it is a reaction to observable ills rather than a generalizing armchair exercise. But even armchair exercises are reactions to the socially conditioned imagination of the theorist. Behind the emphasis on the empirical in the previous paragraphs lies a serious concern. The drifting apart of political science and political theory had led to mutual impoverishment. We need a political theory that will speak to broader swathes of the discipline and complement the information we can glean from social conduct by positioning political thought patterns as integral rather than incidental to the workings of a society. And, in parallel, political theory—political philosophy even—needs to operate within the parameters of the “is,” the “can,” and the “could” if it wishes to create convincing arguments for the “ought.” The “ought” cannot leapfrog over those parameters. The insistence on prescribing as the chief rationale of political theory crowds out the alternative objectives of theorizing about the political that are chiefly those of understanding and interpretation. As A. John Simmons notes of Rawls, Rawls’s understanding of nonideal theory requires judgments concerning moral permissibility, political possibility, and likely effectiveness.15 If the aim of nonideal theory is to produce a conceptual array

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that is “well-designed to map and clarify the actual non-ideal realities,”16 its design is disappointingly vague and schematic and is drawn through negatively critical spectacles. And if it is part “of a strategy for the complete elimination of all societal injustices,”17 it would seem to be as near to ideal as one can imagine. All that meshes, if at all, only into one part of the realist story that can be told, a story that might greatly benefit from steering away in the first instance from either condemnatory or commendatory perspectives. Otherwise, we will have a truncated sense of the real world of politics. Moral permissibility may be an attractive constraint on the political, but it does not emanate from an autonomous political logic. Political possibility has never deterred articulators of plans from postulating the obviously unfeasible, fantasmic, corrupt, or depraved. Effectiveness may likely be so speculative or misguided that it is replaced by ineffective dreams or cussedness. But here’s the point: they are nonetheless a common feature of political thought inasmuch as they really occur. They all are real political thought practices that deserve study and analysis by political theorists. The acknowledgment of their status as forms of thinking politically bears its own significance and does not require trivialization by those bent only on imagining a better moral world as the main task of political theory. Hence, the questions “What does politics look like?” and “What does politics do?” should precede the question “What does politics do wrongly (or rightly)?” Both of those initial questions are theory rich as well as being contestable. Importantly, they replace the Marxist project of unmasking fundamental defects with the attempt to decode political thought and practice as well as supplementing the conventional normativity of political theory. And they are unquestionably fundamental to a political theorist’s task.

Constricting the Political So does the current self-styled school of political realism come to the rescue? Does it give an account of what the political is actually about? Does it indeed pay “proper respect to the ‘real’ social facts,”18 which is exactly what it should endeavor to do? There certainly is a change of emphasis, for whereas the nonideal philosophers at most descend slightly from their ethical heaven with their safety harnesses firmly in place to avoid a bumpy landing, the self-styled political realists ascend from an earthly engagement


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with the political, though they shake off much of the vulgar dust in search of decent ethical solutions.19 James Tully is one instance of a scholar associated with political realism who reflects the expectation directed at political theorists to incorporate the ethical, irrespective of what else they are arguing. Many of them no doubt welcome that association. On close inspection, Tully’s voice is similar to Mills’s, devoted to righting the wrongs of the historically marginalized. Tully sees that task as one of creating a critical and transformative theory, or, as he puts it, “an interlocutory intervention on the side of the oppressed,”20 the ultimate aim of which is to convert human interaction to “non-violent, democratic and peaceful relationships.”21 All that is laudable, but it, too, is hardly deserving of the term realist. Claiming to be a realist simply because one’s prescriptions are based on empirically ascertainable historical and sociological facts still doesn’t ensure a “realist” future. A realist approach cannot overlook the nonoppressed. It cannot—ironically— marginalize them methodologically as part of a complex account of what occurs in a society and with its modes of political thinking. Another instance of that inclination is a piece by Bonnie Honig and Marc Stears, who call for a “realist account of politics” that “may find in the exercise of political action inspiration to fight” for ideals such as cooperation, solidarity, and hope. For them, that account would be a “truly new realism we call ‘agonistic’ realism.”22 Honig and Stears are commendably cautious and critical about some of the recent realist literature. But agonistic realism is yet again just one slice of what realism may contain, and it is directly open to the justifiable criticism they level against Tully, who, in their view, “ends up normativising the real.”23 That critique bounces back, for agonistic realism is voiced in the same “normativising” register through its goal of taming violent contestations and removing them from the political arena. Appealing, certainly, but not real enough. Their agonistic realism is a manifesto for activists, aiming to “encounter and mobilize . . . [the] rebuilding [of ] our future together.”24 That is obviously a possible route for political theory, but only one route and certainly not a sufficient basis from which to theorize about the real world of the political. Other political realists appear to eschew an imposition of values, but in characterizing the “real” sphere of politics, they indirectly apply an appraisive standard. Thus, for Raymond Geuss, as noted in his muchquoted book Philosophy and Real Politics, political philosophy (he does

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not distinguish between political philosophy and political theory) must be “concerned . . . with the way the social, economic, political, etc., institutions actually operate in some society at some given time, and what really does move human beings to act in given circumstances.”25 Hence, we have in the school of political realism a typical mix of observing political patterns and offering a quasi-psychological account of human motivation. Significantly, however, Geuss, commencing not as an international relations expert but as a trained philosopher, seems to replicate Morgenthau’s argument when he states that “to think politically is to think about agency, power, and interests.”26 To be sure, the exercise of power is a central feature of the political, but it does not necessarily nest in a confined space of agency and interest—that is, in intentional selfserving acts based on a particular psychological motivation. The political can also be unintentional; it can be altruistic or solidaric; and it can be beneficially empowering—as feminist thinkers discovered more than a generation ago. Above all, thinking politically cannot be abridged to thinking about power but must include the many other attributes mentioned earlier. All too many political realists, Geuss included, are in accord with the connotations that politics, power, and ideology attract in common language. They replicate their negative reputational image without teasing out the subtleties and multiple meanings that each of those concepts holds and alerting us to the full panoply of positions they cover and that current scholarship has explored. The result is a continuous oversimplification that shrinks the complexity of the political and that does not give us a more discerning picture of what happens in its domain. Most psychologists or sociologists would never stand for such broad brushstrokes in their disciplines. Thus, Geuss’s reference to ideology as “a set of beliefs, attitudes, preferences that are distorted as a result of the operation of specific relations of power”27 perpetuates the denigrating of both ideology and power in the German intellectual tradition of Ideologiekritik. What, then, will the “nondistorted” understandings of the world look like once the “illusion” of ideology is removed? Is it realistic to imply that undistorted or true views exist in the first place?28 Applying a negative appraisal prior to thoroughly examining the nature of a phenomenon is to fall into the trap of employing prejudgment and endorsing discursive mythology—a far distance from realism.


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The Legitimacy Conundrum Geuss represents a trend in recent political theory, with which I concur, that seeks to extricate politics from the world of ethics. The idea is not that political theory should become or be seen as unethical but rather that the practices of action and thought that typify the political belong to a different sphere and to a different analytical category. For more than a generation, political theory has largely been taken over by a particular kind of political philosophy, mainly American, that seeks to spell out specific ethical rules for political conduct. Many of these rules and regulative principles are in themselves admirable, but they suffer from two inescapable drawbacks. First, they are Kantian-inspired universals in their intended application, bypassing the cultural diversity of political principles as well as political practices across the planet. That is so even when they consciously emanate from an identifiable point in the liberal-democratic spectrum as they are made to apply to an abstraction called “reasonable societies.” Second, they cannot take into account the immense variability of concrete instances for which general guidelines are simply insufficiently explicit or insufficiently discerning of actual complexities.29 Now that grip is beginning to relax, but its tenacity is far from over. Realists are still caught in its looser clutches. One recurring theme among them is the search for legitimation as they follow in the footsteps of Max Weber, who they often consider to be a forerunner of realism. But the concept of legitimacy has led an unhappy life in political theory. For many, it is still a normative sine qua non without which political systems and governments have no moral standing. For others, however—a view represented in this chapter—legitimacy is also part of a broader arsenal of practices relating to the fundamental need for human communities to mobilize internal and external support for their existence, self-identity, and activities. Hence, legitimacy can be understood as referring to certain standards of right, valid, and ethically sound conduct—say, the strict respect for the constitutional order of that society—or it can be understood as referring to the acceptance of or acquiescence in the political practices of a society irrespective of their “objective” moral merit—say, the practices of hereditary monarchy still prevalent in some European societies or of tribal elders in other societies. Legitimacy exists in the eyes of the beholder, and there is no compelling reason why the beholder should be an ethical philosopher [ 354 ]


rather than a member of a political community.30 We are talking here about political approval for a term whose concrete manifestations vacillate among strict legality, ethical justifiability, and vaguer social and cultural recognition. Among political philosophers, legitimacy is tightly linked to ethical justification and is epitomized above all in theories of political obligation. But political obligation only scratches the surface of the practices of collective support that actually exist in a society, practices that need to be captured by other terms such as allegiance, loyalty, and commitment.31 There is no irrefutable reason why the search for legitimacy should be central to a realist view of politics or keep in check the potentially much broader scope of a realist approach. But nor is a focus on legitimacy to be reduced to power interests, as Geuss contends. Political theorists should cultivate greater adventurousness in conceptualizing politics. And it is erroneous to assert that polities that fail a legitimacy test are consequently not political. For a problematic theory of realist legitimation, we may look to the writings of Bernard Williams, posthumously rediscovered as a leading member of the political realist camp. In his collection In the Beginning Was the Deed, Williams gives with one hand what he then immediately takes back with the other. He resoundingly endorses the distinction between the political and the moral, rejecting the priority of the latter over the former. He holds that a necessary condition of legitimacy revolves around the political imperative of securing order and safety. But the temptations in the other direction are too strong. Williams enunciates a basic legitimation demand (BLD) according to which any state has to offer a justification of its power to each of its subjects, thus denying any state legitimacy if radically disadvantaging practices occur within its boundaries.32 That demand is not only unrealistic but also curiously ideal in its conception, for several reasons. First, there is the problem of transmission: a process of communication that addresses every individual of a political society is unfeasible and hence chimerical. Second, there is the problem of the uniformity of the message: insisting that a moral case must be made to each member of a society suggests that all members are in principle susceptible to the same arguments or that there is one size of argument that fits all. Williams envisages an identical moral reasoning—albeit specific to a time and place—flowing from those in authority to those subject to that authority. Revealingly, in another article published in the same collection, Williams himself POLITICAL REALISM

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acknowledges these difficulties when he adds the phrase “at least ideally” to the requirement that a legitimate government must have something to say to each person.33 Third, there is the problem of reception: it is doubtful whether a single kind of justification works for every member of a society unless there is an expectation that predetermined rational and ethical criteria for evaluating justification are put into place. The insistence that justification should be standardized—common currency in legal theory but anomalous in the plural worlds of political practice—is both unhelpful and counterproductive. The directing of different justifications at different groups—effectively a realistic, pretty widespread, and not unintelligent political practice that can make good sense—would undermine the rationale of Williams’s BLD. In criticizing the efficacy of the BLD, one does not have to take the additional step of claiming it implies an illusory consensus or a requirement for universal acceptance, neither of which is Williams’s position, and it is odd that defenders of Williams accuse some of his critics of attributing those arguments to him.34 They misunderstand the objection, which is quite different: it does not refer to forming a substantive uniform agreement— that is, a shared response to the BLD—but to the assumption that the BLD can be formulated by constructing effective and generally understood regulative moral principles—namely, a demand processed through a shared interpretative filter—by which a state is made legitimate in a world of linguistic and conceptual pluralism and indeterminacy. The specter of ideal theory still shimmers over the text.

Toward a Realer Political Realism We confront at least five difficulties in current realist literature as epitomized by Williams. First, for a large number of realists inspired by Williams, legitimacy appears to have replaced justice as the normative master concept. But politics can equally be “illegitimate” from an ethical viewpoint, and the questions of power and order—though undoubtedly fundamentally political—do not on their own encapsulate the political in its entirety in the real world. Perhaps we should abandon the obsession with normative master concepts entirely, whether they be justice, legitimacy, or well-being, and acknowledge the diverse weightings that those concepts

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and others can possess, make peace with their multiple, divergent meanings, and accept their absence as well as their presence in political discourse. Second, the political is reduced to the state.35 That is a very traditional and limited way of conceptualizing the political sphere, linked notably to salient and entrenched theories of political obligation, as if that sphere predominantly involves a flow of command from state to individual, overlooking or at least downplaying the horizontal and substate political practices in any society. Political transactions cannot exclude the parallel centrality of nonstate interrelationships and, indeed, of the strong current of influence and power from groups of individuals located across a society toward those in positions of authority. To exclude or downgrade them is to emaciate what is real in politics. Not least, the state is not a political actor, although it is frequently presented as one. Governments, not states, attempt to exercise authority (Williams switches inconsistently between the two), though so do other social groups, individuals, and, indeed, administrative officers. They may endeavor to dress themselves in the symbolic clothes of a state, but it is they and not the state who are agents and actors. But of course to pose the state versus the individual has conventionally been an almost obligatory model for political philosophers. Third, Williams identifies moral principles necessary to the political sphere, and, unsurprisingly in his “now and around here” such moral principles emerge from a liberal stable. His emphasis—repeated by many other political realists in current debates—on governmental accountability, on employing a public political discourse acceptable and comprehensible to all, and on the idea that society is composed of individuals who have somehow to be part of the political process is central to the liberal tradition, but those features are not central to all political traditions. Although the political may embrace moral principles, it does not follow that those principles have to be liberal. Other political cultures and discourses have pursued alternative moralities that in their eyes are crucial to the political sphere. Liberalism does not exercise a monopoly on morality, although some liberals would prefer it to do so, and Williams thinks that is the case in the modern world. 36 Whether he is right or persuasive or not, Williams impresses overarching ethical preferences on his subject matter, opting for legitimacy over illegitimacy or truthfulness over deception. And why not? He was a moral philosopher, and that is what moral philosophers do—not


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necessarily imposing a particular morality on individuals but viewing social arrangements as an ethical enterprise. But being a political realist is, on my understanding, something different, which leads to the next point. Fourth, the very search for moral principles should be problematic from a realist perspective. It disables realists from asserting what they should be asserting without an air of reproach or a sensation of scholarly “dirty hands”: namely, that the political not only includes practices that emerge from nonliberal moralities but contains practices quite independently of their morality (and, for that matter, practices that many would consider also amoral or immoral). We have to take that understanding on board within the methodology of the discipline just as, say, historians would. That is what the autonomy of politics must mean. Some political realists currently believe the mission of political theorists is to be “politically convincing” and to “offer reasons” for adopting features that ensure order and cooperation.37 No doubt most current political theorists do precisely that, and long may their endeavor last. But that is not the kind of deep, ethically uncommitted realism to which this chapter appeals. Political theorists who explore the political thought practices of societies must, qua realist scholars, be indifferent to the merits or demerits of any preferences expressed in those practices, no matter how much those preferences entertain values and norms they would like to be realized in private and public behavior. Simply put, there are two different academic enterprises at stake here. After all, there is something pretty fundamental in requesting political realists to focus on a political enterprise, irrespective of its ethical or unethical content and motivations. That is why they are political realists, not ethical realists. The ethics and norms embedded in any political language are highly instructive, but they should be so as qualitative political evidence, as grist to the investigative and interpretative mill of political realists—and as a vital part of what political theory should cover under its aegis. If, say, the mobilization and withholding of support for collectivities are standard political practices, we should analyze and discuss them quite separately from their ethical significance. Alternatively, we should examine what the moral addons contribute to our understanding of the political and how they affect political discourse. Even that is not what happens in much of the debate surrounding political realism, though. Put differently, some political realists elide the distinction between ethical pluralism and methodological pluralism. Although Williams recognizes the variety of themes within an overarching liberal umbrella—Which [ 358 ]


serious student of liberalism would not?—there appears to be no place in his scheme and in the arguments made by some of his defenders for political theories that take the whole range of political manifestations seriously while concurrently refusing to invoke the radical relativism that anything goes ethically. For such analysts of actual political thought, it is right that everything goes as an object of study that falls with the rubric of political conduct and thinking, not the least because good scholarship involves curiosity. To deny or to query that is regrettably not an expression of methodological pluralism. To rule out terror as a political situation, as Williams does, 38 is either to offer a highly restricted view of political practices or to impose an ethical code on what we as political theorists are entitled to take into account. Rather, it is not unreasonable to maintain that if for Carl von Clausewitz war has political ramifications and is the continuation of policy by other means, the same understanding may apply to violence and terror. In view of the ideological single-mindedness of recent acts of terror, with their social destabilization aims and their insistence on an alternative and obligatory communal ethos, the ostensible depoliticization of terror by some political theorists and philosophers strikes a hollow note. Fifth, the tendency in the “pro-Williams” camp, for want of a better term, is to focus on political authority as if it were the hallmark of the political. It is at most one of the features of the political. The failure of some regimes to generate the kind of authority that liberals rightly insist on recognizing from their point of view does not diminish the many real political aspects of these regimes’ societies. It is therefore misguided to assume that the relationship between the regime and the people is not political just because it is not a “properly political” relationship,39 a phrase that sets ethical limits on what can be regarded as political but has no basis in the analysis of the political as an autonomous sphere with its own logic and characteristics. And yet such arguments are still thought to fall within the domain of political realism!

An Ideology for Liberals? The attempt to inject liberal principles into politics catapults Williams back into the family of those political philosophers who possess an emphatic liberal agenda and whose ideals and ideologies transcend real politics.40 One POLITICAL REALISM

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is reminded of the extraordinary claim by another Bernard, Bernard Crick, who flatly stated, “Politics is the way in which free societies are governed. Politics is politics and other forms of rule are something else.”41 More recently, Jacques Rancière, from exactly the contrary perspective, has arbitrarily reduced the political when declaring that “there are always forms of power, but that does not mean that there is always politics. Politics occurs only when political subjects initiate a quarrel over the perceptible givens of common life.”42 For Rancière, only disruption gains the accolade “true, radical politics,” thus permanently undermining the very nature of a liberalism based on trust, justification, and cooperation to which Williams aspires and damning any form of conciliation as apolitical. Even critics of Williams from a realist perspective are loath to discard the necessity of commonality as a defining feature of the political. Matt Sleat identifies “the political question” as “how we are to live together in the face of . . . deep and persistent disagreement[,] . . . establishing the terms on which we are to co-exist and also the means for making future commonly binding decisions.”43 That is a formula for making political life palatable and beneficial. It belongs to the realm of reform and improvement rather than to the dispassionate rendering of what constitutes and characterizes the political. It is, in Sleat’s own words, a liberal realism—indisputably an end that many sensible people would endorse—but it does not cover the fullness of the real world of politics. How on earth can we find our way if the signposts at each crossroads send us simultaneously in opposite directions? And what is more real than what in those instances? In effect, Williams is wedded to a clear ideological reading of the mission of political realism as well as to the moralizing one from which he, at least, sought to escape. For although Williams admits that legitimation claims have historically not usually been liberal, he also asserts that “now and around here the Basic Legitimation Demand together with the historical conditions permit [sic] only a liberal solution; other forms of answer are unacceptable.” He then adds the clincher: “In part, this is for the Enlightenment reason that other supposed legitimations are now seen to be false and in particular ideological.”44 Why, then, is his adoption of liberal principles not ideological? For two unconvincing reasons. First, Williams—like Geuss and Morgenthau—remains committed to the quasi-Marxist conception of ideology as distorted, but ideology scholars have come a long way since then. It is not helpful that some of the scholars who are located in the vanguard of political realism discourse entertain such [ 360 ]


an unrealistic and antiquated view of ideology as itself unreal. That disciplinary remoteness is not a good basis on which to ground political realism, not because it is misguided but because it cannot supply the tools that analysts of ideology—that is, of the actual and invariably parochial manifestations of political thinking—have come to require. Second, and no less tellingly, from Williams’s vantage point it is a commonly identifiable feature of Anglo-American philosophy to regard a liberal epistemology and a powerful ethical rectitude as one and the same thing. “Now and around here” is not as particular as it seems, for the real political world is made to return to the generality that liberal philosophy ostensibly bestows, devaluing the status of “then and elsewhere,” among other things, as nonmodern. It even recalls Rawls’s nod in the direction of the temporally and spatially specific when he associated his realistic utopia with a reasonable pluralism that limits the “practically possible here and now,” while assuming that “the social world we envision is feasible and might actually exist, if not now then at some future time.”45 Williams’s implication is that “now and around here” is the basis for an optimal political standard and that any change will be one for the worse. If other legitimations are false, this one must by extension be true, and we are back to a realism that is steadily inching its way to the best of all worlds among those already available and within reach. Finally, Williams proposes that “liberal political theory” (for there is no other that deserves the name) “should shape its account of itself more realistically to what is platitudinously political.”46 But what is “platitudinously political”? Apparently, it is reducing differences and taking into account others’ disagreement, showing respect for them. These things are remarkably similar to contemporary forms of agonism adopted by some poststructuralists, but they are hardly generally voiced platitudes. Recognizing difference and respecting others are already liberal forms of thought and conduct, so for liberal political theory to shape its realistic account around those ostensible “platitudes” is for a particular version of liberalism to chase its own tail in a conspicuously circular manner. Would historians or sociologists be driven in the first instance by the requirement to justify, validate, and prescribe? But our nominal realists seem unable to shake off the dictates of liberal ethics. Indeed, this description characterizes American political theorists more generally, who are under great pressure to address the problems of democracy in their work and to defend its principles. It is in one sense admirable that political philosophers form self-appointed POLITICAL REALISM

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ethical task forces recommending public policy because that is one role intellectuals have been expected to perform: to be advocates and guardians of the public good. But a very different role for intellectuals in the field of political theory is underdeveloped and often sidelined—the one involving a Weberian Verstehen that offers interpretative frameworks, one taking the pulse of a society engaged in thinking politically at all levels of social life, and one enabling political theory to reach maturity as a social science, not just as philosophy or as the history of ideas. That so few political theorists engage in such activities points to a malaise, or at least an imbalance, that has become intellectually and creatively costly. The critique of Williams offered in this chapter is entered into reluctantly, not because it is unjustified or discourteous but because his centrality to recent debates alerts us to a structural problem in the conversations about political realism. It cannot be a good sign when scholars dedicated to advancing the nature and use of political realism studies are deflected preponderantly into engaging with a key thinker in the field. As a consequence of this deflection, political realism as practiced now does not break out of the closed circle of political theorists talking about each other’s approaches rather than addressing the thinking patterns of their subject matter: the members of the body politic. Such debates are increasingly shaping up as yet another instance of similar standard strategies in political theory and philosophy. Williams himself was not guilty of this limitedness. He attempted—though in my view unsuccessfully—to address vernacular senses of liberalism, whereas many political theorists who operate under the banner of realism are too focused on arguments that have dominated recent debates among professional political philosophers, principally concerning reflective autonomy, neutrality, and consensus. There is a conspicuous tension between those political theorists who assume that contemporary liberal theory represents the heart of liberalism and those who explore the actual liberal narratives to be found in different societies.47 Hence, when political realists frequently criticize the failures of liberal political philosophers—that is, of academic liberalism—those criticisms are not tantamount to pointing to the failure or indeed unrealism of liberalism as a broad ideology or belief system. The latter may “succeed” or “fail” for a host of diverse reasons, and its “realism” lies both in its empirically observable discourse and in its taking on real-world problems and dilemmas.

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I am aware that the argument I have put forward is inevitably drawn into similar tactics of discussing other theorists, but it is only in order ultimately to cut them loose. The focus on the study of individual thinkers is a hallmark of conventional political philosophy—with all its merits and problems—but it is not an optimal tool for exploring the nature of the political. John Rawls was committed to a form of ideal political theory, even if he later termed it a realistic utopia, and that case may justify a flock of followers engaging in the methodology of ideal political theory through exploring a leading philosopher’s arguments. It is understandable that by their training philosophers are particularly keen to converse with other philosophers, not with the hoi polloi. But a student of realism should concentrate on the thought practices of human beings interacting in their political mode, not by means of the filter of a new guru such as Williams through which political realism is processed. Look at the subject matter first and foremost and at the methods conducive to its exploration; the debates focusing on individuals who argue over what does the best work in advancing a “morally permissible” or ideologically acceptable view of the political merely create a barrier between the scholar and what actual political thought consists of. If I, too, have devoted too much space in this chapter to a set of methodological arguments that involve particular individuals, my excuse is that my recent work has been an attempt to engage directly with what political realists should, in my view, be doing and to elaborate a research agenda for an interpretative political realism based on actual manifestations of thinking politically.48

Expanding the Reach of the Political Two further features are notably lacking in many explorations of realism: one is emotion; the other is the vernacular. There is insufficient space here to go into each in detail here, but I can say a few things. First, the political cannot be adequately decoded without an appreciation that persuasion, rhetoric, and threats as well as communal pride, solidarity, and anger are all part of political discourse.49 Oral discourse in particular is accompanied by intonations, inflections, emphases, silences, caesuras, and body language, without which the verbal messages become thin and information poor. The visual and aural dimensions of political thinking transcend


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rational argument and sidestep the methodological constraints that impede analytical philosophers and reforming ethicists from factoring in emotion and rhetoric as integral and central elements of human discourse. Second, the political cannot be adequately decoded unless we extend the remit of political thinking to investigate its manifestations at various points of articulation, of which the state is only one and in which democracy is only one kind of political regime. Take, for example, the traditional history of political thought, which focuses on some fifty individuals, plus outriders. Would social historians get away with that, often basing their findings on only one case per generation or even per century? I think not. That is not the history of political thought at all but rather merely a listed temporal sequence of people who are regarded as major political philosophers by other political philosophers. Getting real also means to have a far more extensive purview of the sources of political thinking rather than one restricted to a narrow and elitist segment of political philosophers and academics or to a small subsection of what is loosely and unsatisfactorily termed the “Western” world. It needs to take heed of pamphlets, newspapers, parliamentary debates, manifestos, popular books, literary works, art, minutes of meetings, and, not least, ordinary vernacular expressions—written, spoken, and visual—as well as the great minds of the age. All of these things contain instances of thinking politically, and all need to enter the orbit of what scholars do when they theorize about the political and about thinking politically. The question frequently asked in the realm of political realism is, How can we improve normative political theory and consequently our lives as members of societies? And the answer given in this case is: by relating political theory more closely to the real world of politics. But the question I want to ask is, How can we improve political theory simpliciter and consequently our capacities for understanding and analyzing the political domain? The answer is: by granting that ethics and normativity are but one feature of theorizing about politics and that theorizing—as with other disciplines— must also involve identifying and understanding the patterns we encounter without passing judgment on them. That kind of realism must precede prescriptive realism; otherwise, the appraisal and critique practiced by current political realists run the risk of becoming superfluous and wasteful if they also unrealistically engage with what can never be. Conversely, prescriptive political theorists weed out in advance those aspects of the political

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they oppose or reject, and they frequently do so by definitional fiat, simply by excluding them from the political domain. That is not realism. To be sure, we will never command an accurate knowledge of the real political world. We can never fully represent or reconstruct reality because the meanings of so many of its attributes are essentially contestable and because we cannot describe political reality, only interpret it. But we can— to the best of our heuristic abilities—attempt to devise plausible interpretations, to make as much sense as we can of the political phenomena we investigate, all the while conceding that we await contrary interpretations. Williams was right when he claimed that the world is messy, but his retort was to counteract that messiness by advancing a “now and around here” liberalism that, he believed, no longer had any contenders. Others are right to identify the disagreement that is so common to political life, but their response is to promote a sanitized kind of dissent—agonism—while ignoring both its more uncompromising variants and the contrary tendency to form blocs of consent, however thinly. Following the highly successful but severely limiting colonization of political theory by political philosophy over the past forty years, it would be a grievous loss were political realism to be wholly colonized by prescriptive political theory. My response to Williams’s claim is that political theory should acknowledge the messiness of social life and reflect it. And it should recognize that the political is a very complex set of phenomena that cannot be summed up in a few pithy phrases. In particular, it should regard the practice of thinking politically as a real activity demanding decoding, however attractive or unattractive the contents of that practice are. That, too, is what good political theory should do. That is what realism in political theory is all about.

Notes 1. See David Owen’s essay in this volume. 2. Matt Sleat, “Realism, Liberalism, and Non-ideal Theory, or, Are There Two Ways to Do Realistic Political Theory?” Political Studies 64, no. 1 (2016): 27–41. 3. Bernard Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument, ed. Geoffrey Hawthorn (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 8. 4. See Michael Freeden, “The ‘Political Turn’ in Political Theory,” Journal of Political Ideologies 19 (2014): 1–14.


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5. Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 3rd ed. (New York: Knopf, 1962), 4–15. 6. Hans J. Morgenthau, The Concept of the Political, trans. Maeva Vidal, ed. Hartmut Behr and Felix Rösch (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 106. Plausibly introducing the idea of different intensities of the political, Morgenthau then muddied the waters by bestowing the descriptor nonpolitical on any policy that lacks value for the realization of a given goal (115). 7. Hartmut Behr and Felix Rösch, introduction to Morgenthau, The Concept of the Political, 52, 57–64. 8. For a detailed discussion of the political and of the features of political thinking, see Michael Freeden, The Political Theory of Political Thinking: The Anatomy of a Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). 9. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, 86. 10. See Michael Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory: A Conceptual Approach (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). 11. Question and answer in “Concluding Debate,” in Liberalisms in East and West, ed. Timothy Garton Ash (Oxford: University of Oxford, 2009), 152. 12. Adam Swift, “The Value of Philosophy in Non-ideal Circumstances,” Social Theory and Practice 34 (2008): 363. 13. Carole Pateman and Charles W. Mills, Contract and Domination (Cambridge: Polity, 2007), 94. 14. Mills made this comment in the symposium “Contract and Domination,” Journal of Political Ideologies 13 (2008): 240. 15. A. John Simmons, “Ideal and Non-ideal Theory,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 38, no. 1 (2010): 19. 16. Pateman and Mills, Contract and Domination, 114. 17. Simmons, “Ideal and Non-ideal Theory,” 21–22. 18. William E. Scheuerman, “A Theoretical Missed Opportunity? Hans. J. Morgenthau as Critical Realist,” in Political Thought and International Relations, ed. Duncan Bell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 43. 19. For an elaboration of this comparison, see Michael Freeden, “Editorial: Interpretative Realism and Prescriptive Realism,” Journal of Political Ideologies 17 (2012): 1–11. 20. James Tully, Public Philosophy in a New Key, vol. 1: Democracy and Civic Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 17. 21. James Tully, Public Philosophy in a New Key, vol. 11: Imperialism and Civic Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 309. 22. Bonnie Honig and Marc Stears, “The New Realism,” in Political Philosophy Versus History? Contextualism and Real Politics in Contemporary Political Thought, ed. Jonathan Floyd and Marc Stears (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 178, 179. [ 366 ]


23. Ibid., 199. 24. Ibid., 205. 25. Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 9. 26. Ibid., 25. 27. Ibid., 52. 28. For Bernard Williams, truthfulness, if not necessarily truth, is a possibility or at least a desideratum. See Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). 29. On the problem of regulative principles, see Freeden, Political Theory of Political Thinking, 7–8, 268–71. 30. For a discussion of layers of legitimacy along those lines, see Michael Freeden, Liberal Languages: Ideological Imaginations and Twentieth Century Progressive Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 78–93. 31. Freeden, Political Theory of Political Thinking, 180–99. 32. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 3–5. 33. Bernard Williams, “Toleration, a Political or Moral Question?” in In the Beginning Was the Deed, 135. 34. Edward Hall and Paul Sagar have incorrectly claimed that of my critique  of  Williams. See Edward Hall, “Bernard Williams and the Basic Legitimation Demand: A Defense,” Political Studies 63 (2015): 472–73, and Paul Sagar, “From Skepticism to Liberalism? Bernard Williams, the Foundations of Liberalism, and Political Realism,” Political Studies 64, no. 2 (2016): 4, 15. 35. That is also the stance Hall takes in “Bernard Williams and the Basic Legitimation Demand.” 36. Williams, “Toleration,” 135. 37. Hall, “Bernard Williams and the Basic Legitimation Demand,” 474. 38. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 5. 39. Hall, “Bernard Williams and the Basic Legitimation Demand,” 477–78. 40. John Horton has tellingly noted that “it is not an uncommon experience— Williams’s discussion of the ‘basic legitimation demand’ is an interesting case in point—to feel that what has begun as a serious challenge to liberal moralism turns out to be in danger of becoming entangled in precisely the kind of idealizing assumptions that were the initial source of concern” (“Realism, Liberal Moralism, and a Political Theory of Modus Vivendi,” European Journal of Political Theory 9 [2010]: 446). 41. Bernard Crick, In Defence of Politics (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1962), 55. 42. Jacques Rancière, “Introducing Disagreement,” interview in Angelaki 9, no. 3 (2004): unpaginated. POLITICAL REALISM

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43. Matt Sleat, Liberal Realism: A Realist Theory of Liberal Politics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 47, emphasis in the original. 44. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 8. 45. John Rawls, The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 12. 46. Williams, “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” 13. 47. For the former perspective, see Sleat, “Realism, Liberalism, and Non-ideal Theory.” 48. See Freeden, Political Theory of Political Thinking, and Mathew Humphrey, “Getting ‘Real’ About Political Ideas: Conceptual Morphology and the Realist Critique of Anglo-American Political Philosophy,” in Liberalism as Ideology: Essays in Honor of Michael Freeden, ed. Ben Jackson and Marc Stears (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 241–58. 49. See William Galston’s contribution to this volume for an interesting discussion of the importance of the “darker passions” to an adequate understanding of politics.

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Duncan Bell is reader in political thought and international relations at the University of Cambridge and fellow of Christ’s College. He works on various topics in the history of political thought and contemporary international political theory. His most recent book is Reordering the World: Essays on Liberalism and Empire (2016). Richard Bellamy is professor of political science at University College London and director of the Max Weber Programme at the European University Institute. His main research interests are in the history of European social and political theory after 1750 and contemporary analytical legal and political philosophy. He has written on the history of both Italian political thought and European liberalism; pluralism, compromise, and public ethics; constitutionalism, rights, and the rule of law; as well as citizenship, representation, and democracy. He is currently exploring a number of these themes in relation to the democratic legitimacy of global governance, especially in the European Union. Elizabeth Frazer is fellow and tutor in politics at New College, University of Oxford. She is the coauthor, with Kim Hutchings, of a series of articles on the relationship between politics and violence in political thought and is engaged in research and writing on normative ideals of politics.

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Michael Freeden is emeritus professor of politics at University of Oxford and professorial research associate at SOAS University of London. His various books investigate liberalism, ideology, and the nature of political thinking. He has been awarded the Sir Isaiah Berlin Prize for Lifetime Contribution to Political Studies by the UK Political Studies Association and the Medal for Science by the Institute of Advanced Studies at Bologna University. He is currently coediting and contributing to a book series on the conceptual history of Europe. William A. Galston is the Ezra Zilkha Chair and senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. The author of eight books and numerous articles in political theory, American politics, and public policy, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. Charles Larmore is the W. Duncan MacMillan Family Professor in the Humanities at Brown University and the author of a number of books in moral and political philosophy, including The Autonomy of Morality (2008) and The Practices of the Self (2010). John Medearis is professor and chair in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Riverside. His research interests include political theory (especially modern and contemporary), democratic theory, social movements, the welfare state, and social science methodology and philosophy. He is the author of Why Democracy Is Oppositional (2015), Joseph Schumpeter’s Two Theories of Democracy (2001), and Joseph A. Schumpeter (2009). His research has appeared in American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, British Journal of Political Science, and Polity. Alison McQueen is assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University. Her work focuses on early-modern political thought and the history of international relations thought. Her book Political Realism in Apocalyptic Times (forthcoming) examines the responses of Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and Hans Morgenthau to hopes and fears about the end of the world. Glen Newey was professor of practical philosophy at the University of Leiden until his death in 2017. He is the author of  Virtue, Reason, and

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Toleration (1999), After Politics (2001), Hobbes and “Leviathan” (2007, rev. ed. 2014), and Toleration in Political Conflict (2013) as well as of many articles on topics such as freedom of speech, the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, toleration, political obligation, the justification of political lying, and value pluralism. David Owen is professor of social and political philosophy at the University of Southampton. He has published eleven books, most recently the edited volume Michel Foucault (2014) and the coauthored volume Prospects of Citizenship (with Graham Smith, 2011). He has published articles on a wide variety of topics in journals such as Political Theory, European Journal of Philosophy, Journal of Political Philosophy, and European Journal of Political Theory. He is coeditor of the book series “Critical Powers” and “Citizenship Transitions.” His current work focuses on the political ethics of migration. Mark Philp is professor of history and politics in the Department of History at the University of Warwick and emeritus fellow of Oriel College, Oxford University. He has written extensively on political corruption, political conduct, political realism, the history of political thought, and the political discourse of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Recent books include Political Conduct (2007) and Reforming Ideas in Britain (2014). He directed the prizewinning editorial and digitization project “The Diary of William Godwin” (2012) (http://godwindiary.bodleian .ox.ac.uk), funded by the Leverhulme Foundation; he is a codirector of the  network project “Re-imagining Democracy 1750–1850” (http://re -imaginingdemocracy.com); and he chairs the Research Advisory Board to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Paul Sagar is junior research fellow at King’s College, Cambridge. His research is mainly in the history of political thought, especially the work of David Hume and Adam Smith. His first monograph—The Opinion of Mankind: Sociability and the State in Enlightenment Political Thought—is forthcoming. He has also published on Bernard Williams’s moral and political thought. Rahul Sagar is Global Network Associate Professor of Political Science at New York University, Abu Dhabi, and a Washington Square Fellow at


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New York University, New York. He is the author of Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy (2013), which received the National Academy of Public Administration Louis Brownlow Award in 2014 and the Society of Policy Sciences Myres S. Mcdougall Prize in 2015. William E. Scheuerman is professor of political science and international studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he teaches political theory. He is the author or editor of nine books, including The Realist Case for Global Reform (2011), Liberal Democracy and the Social Acceleration of Time (2004), Carl Schmitt: The End of Law (1999), and Between the Norm and the Exception: The Frankfurt School and the Rule of Law (1994), which won the prestigious Spitz Prize for the Best Book in Liberal Democratic Theory. Scheuerman writes about critical theory, German political thought, international theory, and legal theory, and his articles have appeared in a range of important professional and more popular journals. Matt Sleat is reader in political theory at the University of Sheffield. He has written extensively on realist political thought, including articles in Political Theory, Review of Politics, Political Studies, Social Philosophy and Policy, European Journal of Political Theory, International Political Theory, Social Theory and Practice, and International Politics. He is also the author of Liberal Realism: A Realist Theory of Liberal Politics (2013).

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Page numbers followed by n refer to notes, with note number. Abu Ghraib prison, prisoner abuse in: and Arab humiliation, 101, 105; and leaks of classified information, 234 Achen, Christopher, 160 action, guidance for: and descriptive objectives, as not mutually exclusive, 3; necessity of accurate descriptions of real political behavior for, 1–2, 3, 7, 14, 350; as question for political process and not political philosophy, 18–19; as unrelated to main mission of realism, 18, 49, 345, 354. See also normative theory action, logical and nonlogical, Pareto on, 178–80 activism, political, anger as driver of, 97 Adler, Renata, 235 advocacy commitments, vs. ontological issues, 301 Affordable Care Act, causes of anger at, 98 African cultures: corruption in, avenues for addressing, 212–13; solidarity networks in, 208–9 Aftergood v. CIA (2005), 224

aggressive state behavior, classical realists on, 258 agonistic realism, 352 analytical realism: basic tenets of, 299; Beitz on, 297; compatibility with constructivist realism, 299–300, 313–14; compatibility with cosmopolitanism, 313–14; compatibility with neoutilitarianism, 299–300; compatibility with variety of normative orientations, 301; on global distributive justice, 299, 308; lack of grounds for rejection of global wealth distribution in, 301; as normatively indeterminate, 300–302, 313; on securitization of poverty, 310, 314 anarchism, philosophical, critique of, 62–63, 71n33 Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Nozick), 50 anger: causes of, 98–99; as driver of political mobilization, 97; vs. hatred, 97–99; humiliation as cause of, 99, 101–2; inward-directed, 99

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antipathy: as driver of political mobilization, 97; importance to political morality, 96; types of, 97–99 anti-Semitism, as hatred rather than anger, 97 Arab Spring, humiliation as origin of, 99 Aradau, Claudia, 311 Aristotle: and justification of ethical life, 80; on passions, 110; Rhetoric, 69n23 al-Assad, Hafiz, and forced enactments of legitimacy, 124–25 Augustine: on lust for power, 96; and philosophical heritage of political realism, 243 authority, vs. legitimacy, 35–36, 38 autonomy of politics: and balance of politics between moralism and Realpolitik, 271; as basic principle of political realism, 6, 73, 245, 270; classical realism and, 246–48; feminism on, 321; Geuss on, 287–88, 352–53, 354; as implausible, 17; international realism and, 6, 245; Morgenthau on, 247–48, 271–72, 274, 347; nonideal theory and, 351; political realists on, 291n15; potential meanings of, 246–47; and realism’s engagement with morality, 322; Schmitt on, 272, 273–74; structural realism and, 245–46; Williams on, 158, 280–83. See also morality prior to politics Bartels, Larry, 160 basic legitimation demand (BLD), 36–37; critiques of, 36–40, 42–43, 44, 283, 284, 355–56; effect of other polities on nature of successful answers to, 87; equal treatment of citizens as not required by, 122–23, 282–83; existence of despite lack of actual demander, 118; and false assumption that people in past societies were reconciled to domination, 125–26; as fundamental conceptual claim about politics, 5; groups not subject to, 37; as

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inevitably contested by portions of society, 37, 38, 44–45, 117–18, 356; influence of concept, 5; and legitimacy vs. authority, 38; liberalism as form of government most likely to satisfy, 126, 172–73; liberalism as only form of rule currently satisfying, 85, 125, 279, 360; Machiavelli’s The Prince and, 174–76; moral concepts necessarily underlying, 42–43, 44; as moral principle grounded in politics, 7; necessary suspension of in crises, 280–81; neo-Machiavellianism and, 186–87; as nonmoralized view of politics, 84; non-Western societies lack of structure satisfying, 203, 205–6, 207–10; normative principles derived from, 279, 280–81; past/historical forms of government satisfying, 42, 85, 125–26, 173; reasonableness as warrant for, 37; satisfaction of, as beginning of politics, 5, 41, 84–85, 117, 171, 172, 279; and separation of politics from morality, 279 Begin, Menachem, 109 behavior, correct, people’s ability to know without regulative ideals, 18–19 Beitz, Charles, 297, 300–301 Bellamy, Richard, 9 Berg, Nicholas, 105 Bernstein, Carl, 197–98 BeVier, Lillian, 234 Blair, Tony: and grandi, capture by, 183; on inefficiency of democracy, 182–83; and Iraq War, decision to enter, 17, 183–84, 192n96; and neo-Machiavellianism, 169, 181–85, 192n96 blame, as tool of manipulation, Williams on, 82–83 BLD. See basic legitimation demand (BLD) Blundo, Giorgio, 206, 210 Bouazizi, Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed, 99 bourgeois complacency: growth of opposition to, as triumph of passion over self-interest, 93–94; history of discontent with, 94


Britain: immigration policy, political influences on, 204; lack of resentment over collapse of Empire, 107. See also Blair, Tony Brooke, Rupert, 93–94 Brown, Gordon, 183, 192n96 Burnham, James, 176, 177 Bush, George W., charges of excessive secrecy against, 233 Calame, Byron, 234 Callahan, William, 107 Carr, E. H.: on autonomy of politics, 247; on disagreement as ineradicable feature of politics, 249; Geuss on, 288; on human motivation, 257–59; influences on, 257–59; on League of Nations, 247; political realists’ lack of engagement with, 243, 244, 262, 270, 296; as realist, 11; on realist tendency to justify status quo, 261–62; rejection of utopianism, 250–51; social science inquiries of, as model for political realism, 288. See also classical realism Center for National Security Studies v. United States Department of Justice (DC Circuit Court, 2003), 225 central European states, and anticorruption units, high pay of, 200 Chatterjee, Partha, 203 Cheney, Richard, 233 China: challenges to U.S. hegemony, and global distributive justice, 306; foreign policy, desire to recoup lost glory as driver of, 107–8 choice, as basis of moral obligation, 60–61 Chomsky, Noam, 301 Christianity, self-appraisal in, 102, 103 Christiano, Thomas, 186 Churchill, Winston, 107 citizens, Dewey on: as actors affecting each other within Great Society, 150–51, 153, 157; central importance to democratic structure, 141; as


disoriented and ineffective, 141; ideological frames filtering perceptions of, 142, 155, 157; inability to see big picture in modern society, 150, 154, 155, 157 citizens, Lippmann on: inability to access cogent political facts, 140, 141–42, 143, 145; limited role appropriate for, 145–46, 150; political impotence of, contradictions in, 146–47 civil disobedience, and obligation to state, 61–62 civil liberties, and war on terrorism, 311 classical realism: on aggressive state behavior, 258; analytical realism and, 297; and autonomy of politics, 246–48; characteristics vs. structural realism, 263n2; on conservative tendencies within realism, 259–62; costs of ignoring kinship with political realism, 262; on critical targets of realism, 254–56, 262; as form of international realism, 243, 263n2; and global wealth distribution, 301; on human motivation, 256–59; important lessons for political realism, 244–45; and justice as first virtue of politics, rejection of, 251–53, 262; kinship with basic tenets of political realism, 244, 246–54, 262; lessons for political realism in, 254–62; on order and stability as first virtue of politics, 251–53; political realists’ level of engagement with, 243, 254. 262, 264n9, 270; quarantining of, by empiricists, 270; and realist rejection of utopian views of politics, 245, 249–51; reasons for political realists’ ignoring of, 254; and rejection of morality prior to politics, 246–48, 249–51, 254–56, 262; Scheuerman on, 264n9. See also Carr, E. H.; Morgenthau, Hans J. climate change: and adequacy of global governance structures, as issue, 87; efforts to securitize, 310

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coercion: and basic legitimation demand, 84, 118–21, 171; legitimate vs. illegitimate forms of, 35–36, 43, 45, 61, 285; in liberal democracy, constraints on, 286, 287; as necessary fact of political life, 285. See also critical theory principle (CTP) Cohen, G. A.: advocacy of utopianism, 52–53; on eyeball trees, 68n12; “Facts and Principles,” 52–58; on feasibility of communism, 303, 304; on theories of justice, opponents of, 51; theory of normativity, critique of, 52–58; on utopian/normative focus of political philosophy, 49 Coleman, Peter, 101 colonialism, humiliation as driver of movement against, 106 Commission on the Freedom of the Press (Hutchins Commission), 235–36 Committee for Standards in Public Life (UK), Seven Principles of Public Life, 201, 215n9 Communism, feasibility of, 303, 304 The Concept of the Political (Schmitt), 272, 274, 276 conflict: Dewey on, practical focus of, 161; as key element in realist analysis, 161–62; liberalism’s focus on consensus as obstacle to addressing, 27; Lippmann’s account of, 147–48; Lippmann’s account, inconsistencies and omissions in, 148–49, 158, 161; political moralism on, 256; realists’ disagreement on, 161, 162, 315n10. See also coercion; disagreement as ineradicable feature of politics Congress, oversight of executive secrecy policies by, 227–31; and inability to maintain secrecy, 228–31; lack of access as hindrance to, 220, 227 consensus: political liberalism’s focus on, as obstacle to addressing disagreement, 27; in real-world democracies,

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impossibility of, 182–83; in U.S., Morgenthau on, 289–90 consent of governed: and actual vs. perceived legitimacy, 36; as basic moral principle of legitimacy, 29–30; and legitimacy of government action, 38; as one conception of legitimacy among others, 36; suitability as legitimacy conception in pluralistic society, 40; universal, as impossibility, 37–38. See also basic legitimation demand (BLD) conservative tendencies within realism: classical realism’s lessons for political realism in, 259–62; as common criticism, 259–61, 323; feminist views on, 323; liberal moral ground of political realism and, 345 constructivism, basic tenets of, 300 constructivist realism: compatibility with analytical realism, 299–300; on limits of mutability in international system, 300 Contract and Domination (Mills and Pateman), 349 corruption: critiques of, as reflection on nature of politics, 196; cross-cultural dimensions of, 194–95, 196, 197; cultural variations in definitions of, 194–95; definition of, 196–99; as language of government critique, 195–96; widely shared normative expectations as necessary basis of, 197 corruption, and Western impartiality standard, 196–97, 213; impracticality of in real-world politics, 199–200, 201–5; as potentially unnecessary, 200–201 corruption, Western model of: definition of corruption, 196–97; historical development of, as political process, 202–3, 212; and intention, moral relevance of, 199–201; limited applicability to other societies, 203, 205–12; and line separating government administration from


political activity, 201–5, 210, 212, 213, 215n15; private gain as component of, 197, 198–99 corruption standards, and non-Western societies: absence of line isolating government administration from society and, 203, 205–6, 207–10, 212; damage done by imposing Western political categories, 211, 212–13; limited applicability of Western standards, 203, 205–12; and nonexistence of political order satisfying BLD, 203, 205–6, 207–10; range of terms used to describe corruption, 206–7, 215–16n17 cosmopolitanism: awareness of economic constraints on global distributive justice, 305–6; basic moral assumptions of, 297; compatibility with analytical realism, 313–14; on ethical dimension of realism, 300; support for global distributive justice, 297. See also global distributive justice courts: as ill equipped to handle classified information, 226; and oversight of executive secrecy policies, 224, 225–27, 240n17 Crick, Bernard, 360 crisis of politics: definition of, 19; historical turns to political realism as response to, 19–20 critical theory: epistemic and political goals of, 131; examples of effective deployment of, 132–33; participation by practitioners and theorists, 131; variation in responses to, 132. See also emancipation from misguided ideology critical theory principle (CTP): cases requiring, 127–33; criteria for determining need for, 122–25; and critical theory test, 120; critiques of, 283; and distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate forms of coercion, 285; and genetic fallacy objection, 119; implicit


use of external moral criteria in, 282; and indeterminacy of real-life cases, 130; and legitimacy, 118–21; misguided ideology as focus of, 128–29; and power to emancipate from misguided ideology, 129–33; privileging of truth in, 126–27; standard for application of, as issue, 119–20; as tool to discredit nonliberal forms of political organization, 126–27; and unacceptable power, 120 Critique of the Gotha Programme (Marx), 50 Crusades, and Muslim humiliation, 108 CTP. See critical theory principle Dahl, Robert, 232 Delphy, Christine: critique of Marxist theory, 328–29; “The Main Enemy,” 328–29; as materialist, 327; realist strain in, 327, 328–30, 334–35, 338 democracy: coexistence of competitive practice and contested normative ideal in, 199; constraints on coercion in, 286, 287; failure to solve problems of, as source of political disaffection, 20; neo-Machiavellians on, 176–85; representative, neo-Machiavellians on, 177 democracy, Dewey on: challenges faced by, 152–53; historical development of, 153, 157; hope of modernizing theory of, 140, 141, 142; as inadequate guide for modern societies, 140–41; and individualism, excessive focus on, 153, 157, 158 democracy, Lippmann on: basis in false view of citizen capacities, 140; hope of debunking idealist form of, 140, 141, 144–45, 146; as inadequate guide for modern societies, 140–41; segments of society ungovernable by, 149 Democracy for Realists (Achen and Bartels), 160 Democracy in America (Tocqueville), 218

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descriptions of real political behavior, accurate, as goal, 3, 358–59; as alternative to prescriptive liberal theory, 354; as difficult but worthy endeavor, 365; failure to achieve, 288–89, 344–46, 351–53, 357–63; as key to improved normative theory, 364–65; legitimacy debates and, 354–56; necessity of, for adequate prescriptions, 1–2, 3, 7, 14, 350; possibility of, as issue, 353. See also facts, regard for Dewey, John: focus on conflict and power, 152; Individualism Old and New, 141; on Lippmann, 140, 156, 162n6; Lippmann’s influence on, 140; as political outsider, 141; on power in politics, 154–55, 156; practical focus of epistemology, 160–61; prioritization of real-world experience, 156–57; and public, definition of, 150–51; The Public and Its Problems, 141, 155, 156–57; as realist, 140, 157, 158; reflective theory of action in, 150; and reluctance to embrace abstract ideals, 158; sociology of conflict, practical focus of, 161 Dewey, on citizens: as actors affecting each other within Great Society, 150–51, 153, 157; central importance to democratic structure, 141; as disoriented and ineffective, 141; ideological frames (habits) filtering perceptions of, 142, 155, 157; inability to see big picture in modern society, 150, 154, 155, 157 Dewey, on democracy: challenges faced by, 152–53; historical development of, 153, 157; hope of modernizing theory of, 140, 141, 142; as inadequate guide for modern societies, 140–41; and individualism, excessive focus on, 153, 157, 158 Dewey, on modern society: citizens’ inability to see big picture in, 150, 154, 155, 157; Progressive view of, 150,

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151–52; traditional democracy as inadequate guide for, 140–41, 153–54 Dewey, on the state: capture of by special interests, 152; definition of, 152; maintaining focus of on public interest, as primary problem, 152–53, 154, 155, 156 Deyling, Robert P., 239–40n17 Diderot, Denis, 75, 76 dignity, damage to, as cause of anger, 99 disagreement: as ineradicable feature of politics, 13; and abstract reason and morality, practical ineffectiveness of, 13; as basic issue of political philosophy, 29, 158; as basic principle of political realism, 13, 27, 28, 161, 170, 285, 286; causes of disagreement, 248; classical realists and, 248–49, 262; critique of, 64–65; feminist realism and, 335–36; international realists and, 245; and legitimacy as inevitably contested by portions of society, 44–45; and necessity of politics, 170, 248–49; political liberalism’s focus on consensus as obstacle to addressing, 27; recognition of in traditional liberalism, 29; as unanalyzed philosophy abstraction, 289; Williams on, 28, 248. See also conflict distributive justice. See global distributive justice diversity, realism’s support for, 90n15 Douglass, Frederick, 104 Dreyfus, Alfred, 100 Dunn, John, 9, 219 Durkheim, Émile, 326 Dworkin, Ronald, 9, 190n34, 348–49 eastern European states, and anticorruption units, high pay of, 200 egalitarian liberal philosophers, and neo-Machiavellianism, 185–86 Egypt, and humiliation of Six-Day War, 108, 109


Eisenhower, Dwight D., 313 Elbe, Stefan, 311, 313 elderly, Van Parijs’s proposed disenfranchisement of, 185–86 elections, as oversight mechanism, effects of secrecy on, 219 Ellsberg v. Mitchell (DC Circuit Court, 1983), 226 El-Masri v. United States (Fourth Circuit Court, 2007), 226 emancipation from misguided ideology: examples of effective action, 132–33; outside vs. inside influences in, 133–34; role of philosophy in, 129–33; varying responses to push for, 132. See also critical theory Émile (Rousseau), 260 emotions. See passions enactment model of morality prior to politics, Williams on, 16, 41 envy, Rawls on, 95–96 equality: democratic passion for, 218; and government transparency, 218; primacy of in contemporary philosophy, as issue, 27; and wealth gap, reflections prompted by, 19 Estlund, David, 233, 260 ethical life, justification of, Williams on, 83 ethical naturalism, political realism and, 79 ethical realism, and critique of morality system, 79–84 ethics: foundations for, Williams’ jettisoning of, 83; inside vs. outside perspective on, Williams on gap between, 80, 83; vs. morality, 79–80; necessity of vindicatory genealogy for, 83; shaping by political culture, 84, 87–88. See also entries under morality Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Williams), 74 Euban, Roxanne L., 113n34


European Union, as global governance model, 305 Everyday Corruption and the State (Blundo and Olivier de Sardan), 206, 210 exclusion, as technique of humiliation, 101 executive branch, and secrecy, strategies to increase accountability in, 222–24, 235, 236 facts, regard for: in nonideal theory of democracy, 254–55; in political realism, and tendency to support status quo, 260–61. See also descriptions of real political behavior, accurate “Facts and Principles” (Cohen), critique of, 52–58 false consciousness: as term, 128, 138n38; and Williams’ CTP, 120 fascism, Morgenthau on, 276 feasibility: as constraint in nonideal theory of democracy, 254–55; regard for in political realism, and tendency to support status quo, 260–61; role in political theory, as issue, 302–3 feasibility of global distributive justice, 303–8; arguments from human nature, 303; and difficult choices faced by activists, 307–8; economic constraints on, 305–6; hard vs. soft constraints, 304, 305; insufficient attention paid to, 313; motivational power of cosmopolitan principles and, 303; and new moral imaginary, creation of, 303–4; political constraints on, 304–5, 306–8; real effects of moral conviction and, 307; realist views on political complexity of, 304–5; and social technology, 303–4 Federalist Papers, 55, 56, 96 Femia, Joseph, 176 feminism: antirealist strain in, 323–25; broad range of methodologies used in, 321; and danger of hypostatization of

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feminism (continued) theoretical concepts, 335, 339n1; examples of effective action by, 132–33; explanatory realism of, 320–21, 323–24, 327, 334, 336–38, 339; idealism of, 323; projects of social and political change, and commitment to realism, 320, 332–34, 337–38; realist strands in, 320, 321, 332–38, 339; on reality, as complex and contested, 320; and social and political movements, 322; strands rejecting idealism in favor of the everyday, 324–25 feminist realism: compatibility with phenomenological critique, 324–25; and danger of hypostatization of theoretical concepts, 335; Delphy and, 327, 328–30, 334–35, 338; and disagreement as ineradicable feature of politics, 335–36; disciplinary boundaries and, 326; as distinct from standard model of realism, 320, 322; elements and principles of, 320–21, 338; and fact sensitivity, 325; focus of realism in, 327; focus on both the possible and the impossible-butdesirable, 323, 339; and intersectionality, analysis of, 336–38, 338–39; Okin and, 327, 331–32, 334–35, 338; philosophical realism and, 322–23; in social science and political theory, issues in definition of, 325–27; and theories as ideal types, 326–27; Young and, 327, 330–31 Finlayson, Alan, 342n37 Finlayson, Lorna, 261 Fisher, Louis, 225 Floyd, Rita, 311–12 FOIA. See Freedom of Information Act Fontaine, Laurence, 216n19 Frankfurt School, influence on Williams, 120 freedom, individual: primacy of in contemporary philosophy, as issue, 27;

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reasons for submitting to governance, as issue, 29 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and access to classified information, 224, 225, 240n17 freedom to act: as basis of politics, 64, 65–66, 71–72n39, 71n36; constraints on, 64; real-world obstacles to, necessity of considering, 65, 66 free will, Williams’ critique of, 82 Freud, Sigmund: influence on Carr, 257–59; influence on Morgenthau, 249, 257–59, 275 Friedman, Milton, 326–27 Galston, William: and identification of political realism movement, 9; on normative theory, 232; on political realism, ambiguity of intentions of, 73; and realism in IR theory, failure to engage, 11; “Realism in Political Theory,” 9, 73; on realists, points of disagreement with adversaries, 142 Geuss, Raymond: on accurate descriptions of real political behavior, necessity of, 14; on autonomy of politics in political realism, 287–88, 352–53, 354; on Carr, 288; critique of “ethics-first” approaches to political philosophy, 246; and development of political realist thought, 9; emancipatory potential of philosophy in, 129–30, 133; on ethics as dead politics, 17; as focus of political realist analysis, 9–10; influence on Williams, 120; on legitimacy, 355; on morality prior to politics, 158; on moral rationalization, 258; on Nietzsche’s influence on Williams, 74–75; Philosophy and Real Politics, 9, 352–53; on political moralism, 16–17; on power as central to politics, 353; and realism in IR theory, failure to engage, 11; unusual features of political realism in, 46n3


Gilabert, Pablo, 303 global distributive justice: cosmopolitanism’s support for, 297; difficult choices faced by activists, 307–8; and ideal theorizing, limited value of, 307–8; international realism’s position on, 296–97, 298, 300–302; moral obligation to address, 297; motivating and enforcing action in, 298, 307, 308; and national interest, 301–2, 305, 306, 307, 309; Pogge’s GRD proposal for, 303, 305, 306–7; policy proposals and, 303; practical avenues of action, 308; scholarship on, 313; and sovereignty, 305, 306 global distributive justice, feasibility of, 303–8; arguments from human nature, 303; and difficult choices faced by activists, 307–8; economic constraints on, 305–6; hard vs. soft constraints, 304, 305; insufficient attention paid to, 313; motivational power of cosmopolitan principles and, 303; and new moral imaginary, creation of, 303–4; political constraints on, 304–5, 306–8; real effects of moral conviction and, 307; realist views on political complexity of, 304–5; and social technology, 303–4 global distributive justice, securitization of, 298, 307, 308–14; analytical realism on, 310, 314; arguments for, 310; and civil liberties, 298, 311; criteria for legitimacy of, 311–12; effectiveness as strategy, 308–9, 312, 314; ethical issues in, 310–13, 314; methods for accomplishing, 310; precedents for, 309–10; and public anxiety, 312; realist views on, 309, 312–13; United Nations and, 310 global governance structures, adequacy of, as issue, 87 global issues, political realism’s need for closer links to other disciplines in, 87


Global Resources Dividend (GRD), 303, 305, 306–7 Goldman, Jennifer, 101 Gonzales, Alberto, 221 Goodin, Robert, 311 Gorgias (Plato), 1–2 Gramsci, Antonio, 176 Gray, John, 9 GRD. See Global Resources Dividend The Great Transformation (Polanyi), 208 Habermas, Jürgen: on democratic deliberation, 219; and high liberalism in political thought, 9; Williams’ distancing from, 120 Halkin v. Helms (DC Circuit Court, 1978), 225 Hall, Ed, 86 Hall, John, 300 Hamilton, Alexander, 236 Hampshire, Stuart, 9 Harkavy, Robert, 106–7 Haslanger, Sally: on emancipatory potential of philosophy, 129–33; on ideology, good and bad forms of, 128–29 Hatfill, Steven, 235 hatred, vs. anger, 97–99 Hegel, G. W. F., 110 Herodotus, 98 Herz, John H.: and analytical realism, 297; political realists’ lack of engagement with, 270; as realist, 11; social science inquiries of, as model for political realism, 288 heuristic realism, Beitz on, 297 high liberalism, and development of political realist thought, 9 Hirschman, Albert, 235 Hitler, Adolf, 106, 276 HIV/AIDS, securitization of, 309, 311, 313 Hobbes, Thomas: and aristocratic pride, hopes to tame, 109; on disagreement as ineradicable feature of politics, 29; on

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Hobbes, Thomas (continued) order as priority of government, 95; on passions in politics, 110; and philosophical heritage of political realism, 243; and realist tradition, 5; on state of nature, 69n26; Williams and, 116, 278 Honig, Bonnie, 9, 284–85, 352 honor: as cause of anger, 99, 110; as concept foreign to modern liberals, 95. See also humiliation hooks, bell, 339 Horton, John, 367n40 human imperfections, pointlessness of ignoring, 16 human motivation, classical realism on, 256–59 human rights: mechanisms to defend, in nonideal theory of democracy, 173, 190n34; political justification for, 7; Williams on, 172 Hume, David: on empirical preconditions of theorizing on justice, 50, 54; and internalist accounts of legitimacy, 115; on natural authority and social classes, 122–23; and philosophical heritage of political realism, 243; on political cooperation, 33 humiliation: as cause of anger, 99, 101–2; definition of, 102, 103; and desire for revenge, 106–7, 109; as injury to self-respect, 102; in international relations, 109; nature and characteristics of, 100–102; necessity of accounting for in political theories, 109–10; as political force, 105–8; possible responses to, 102–5; and rational self-interest model of politics, 106–7; and ressentiment, 103; and terrorism, 105 humiliation, of group: individual’s identification with, 105–6; myth of glorious past as response to, 101; two types of, 106

[ 382 ]

Hutchins Commission (Commission on the Freedom of the Press), 235–36 ideal societies, planning of: legitimacy as forgotten issue in, 30; as task proper to moral and not political philosophy, 41–42 ideal theory: nonideal vs. political realist critiques of, 254–55; origin of, as issue in realism, 158; realist critiques of, 344; role in political theory, as issue in realism, 158 The Idea of a Critical Theory (Geuss), 120 ideology: as illogical residues, Pareto on, 178–80; misguided, as focus of CTP, 128–29; as pervasive and unavoidable, 128; as rationalization, Morgenthau on, 259; as term, 128–29 ideology, misguided, emancipation from: examples of effective action, 132–33; outside vs. inside influences in, 133–34; role of philosophy in, 129–33; varying responses to push for, 132 immigration: causes of anger at, 98; securitization of issue, 309, 310 imperialism, liberalism of fear and, 91n42 individualism: as basic principle in classical liberalism, 29; political liberalism’s uprooting of as fundamental concept, 29 Individualism Old and New (Dewey), 141 international realism: basic tenets of, 299; and defining commitment of political realism, 245–46; definition of, 263n2; on global distributive justice, 296–97, 298, 300–302; and global wealth distribution, 301; kinship with political realism, 244, 270, 271; political realists’ criticisms of, 244; political realists’ failure to engage, 243–44, 296. See also classical realism; structural realism international relations: and humiliation, potential danger of, 109; nations’ prioritization of national interests in,


299, 305, 306, 307; necessity of any realist theory’s engagement with, 296; and new world order, 298; realists’ failure to engage, 86–87, 296; realist view of as environment structured by power and coercion, 299, 315n11 international relations (IR) theory: disciplinary divide separating political theory from, 12; empirical theorists’ quarantining of philosophical theorists, 270; political realists failure to engage, 11–12. See also international realism intersectionality, analysis of, and feminist realism, 336–37, 338–39 In the Beginning Was the Deed (Williams), 9, 273–74, 355 Iran, British control of oil fields in, and Muslim humiliation, 108 Iranian Revolution, Muslim resentment and, 108 Iraq War: Blair’s decision to enter, and moralism in politics, 17; and congressional oversight, lack of access to classified information and, 227 IR theory. See international relations (IR) theory Israel. See Six-Day War of 1967 Jubb, Robert, 118 justice: as disputed term, 28; dominance of political theory discipline, 4; Hume on empirical preconditions of theorizing on, 50, 54; ideal theories about, and justice as concept pertaining to nonideal reality, 54–55; and legitimacy, as distinct concepts, 35; legitimacy as issue prior to, 5, 35, 42; and legitimate use of coercion, 35; liberal emphasis on, after Rawls, 95; liberalism’s focus on, obscuring of basic fact of politics as power by, 27, 28; nonideal theory’s focus on, 349, 351; order and stability as precondition for considerations of, 32–34; reality of politics vs. ideals of,


33–34, 42; triumph of passion over, 97. See also global distributive justice justice as first virtue of politics in liberalism: classical realism’s rejection of, 251–53, 262; critique of, 31–34; necessity of justifying, 63, 71n34; political realism’s rejection of, 245; Rawls on, 4–5, 28, 31–34; slippage of term in arguments claiming, 63 Kant, Immanuel: on autonomy, 65; and classical liberalism, 29; influence on Morgenthau, 282; on justice as first virtue of politics, 4–5; on reason as basis of morality, 82 Kavka, Gregory, 50–51 Keynes, John Maynard, 93 Kissinger, Henry, 301 Kohut, Heinz, 104 Labriola, Antonio, 176 Lawford-Smith, Holly, 303 leadership, democratic: internal contradictions of concept, 166–67; limited scholarly attention to, 166; Machiavellian realism as justification for, 167; neo-Machiavellians on, 176–85; responsibility to people they serve, 168; true role of, 187. See also The Prince (Machiavelli), on leadership leadership democracy, contemporary democracies’ resemblance to, 166 League of Nations, Carr on, 247 Lee, Wen Ho, 235 legitimacy, 34–40; actual vs. perceived, 35–36; vs. authority, 35–36, 38; authority of rules as dependent on, 34; degrees of, 35; equal treatment under the law as component of, 196–97, 282–83; forced enactment of, in oppressive regimes, 124–25; as historically contingent, 36, 37, 38–40, 42, 45; as inevitably contested by portions of society, 37–38, 44–45,

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legitimacy (continued) 117–18, 356; as issue prior to justice, 5, 35, 42; and justice, as distinct concepts, 35; legitimation story as basis of, 35, 38, 42; as liberal concept, 30; in modern world, liberalism as source of, 85, 125, 126, 172–73, 279, 360; as normative master concept, 356–57; norms and values assumed in realist account of, 345, 354–56; planned ideal societies and, 30; in political philosophy vs. common practice, 354–55; as primary issue in political realism, 28, 29, 35; and public vs. hidden transcripts, 123–25; respect for persons as basic moral principle of, 30, 42–44. See also basic legitimation demand (BLD) legitimacy, as free from morality prior to politics, 134–36; critique of, 40–44; Williams on, 36, 40–44. See also basic legitimation demand (BLD) legitimacy, internalist accounts of: and absence of visible resistance as inadequate evidence of legitimacy, 123–25; apparent inadequacy of, 115; and balance of politics between moralism and Realpolitik, 271; conflicting external perspective, and issues of relativism, 114–15; criteria for evaluating legitimacy in, 122–25; CTP as standard for, 119–20; definition of, 114; and false assumption that people in past societies were reconciled to domination, 125–26; imaginary examples used to discredit, limited effectiveness of, 121–22; philosophers addressing, 115; problems of, 114–16; and simultaneous legitimacy and illegitimacy to different groups, 118; as term, 136n7; uneven distribution of burdens and benefits, as inadequate evidence of illegitimacy, 122–23. See also basic legitimation demand (BLD); critical theory principle (CTP)

[ 384 ]

legitimacy of action, basis in justification rather than consent, 38 legitimation story: as basis of legitimacy, 35; coercion to accept, Williams on, 118–21; equal treatment of citizens not required by, 282–83; as moral claim prior to politics, 42–43; states’ disingenuousness about, 43; and variations in legitimacy types, 38, 42 liberalism: basic principles of, Williams on, 85; confusion of academic and real-world forms of, 362; and consensus, focus on, as obstacle to addressing disagreement, 27; definition of, Williams on, 138n32; and definition of politics as occurring only in liberal democracies, 360; emergence of political realism as critique of, 10; fear of worse alternatives as justification for, 85–87, 88, 91–92n44; focus on justice, obscuring of basic fact of politics as power by, 27, 28; as form of rule most likely to satisfy BLD, 126, 172–73; individualism as basic principle in, 29; lack of cognitive genealogy for, 85, 91n42; necessary moral assumptions underlying, 29–30; nonmoralistic forms of, 255; normative liberal principles underlying Williams’ realism, 357–58, 358–59, 360–61, 367n40; normative morality of, as implicit in political realist analyses, 357–63; as one political conception among many, necessity of recognizing, 27; ongoing influence of, 354; as only form of rule currently satisfying BLD, 125, 279, 360; and political moralism, 256; political realists’ critique of, 250, 285–87; privileging of truth in, as special connection to legitimacy, 126–27; recognition of disagreement as basic to, 29; and shaping of values by political culture, 88; universal values in, and global diversity of political


principles and practices, 354. See also consensus, political liberalism’s focus on; justice as first virtue of politics in liberalism liberalism of fear, 85–87, 88, 91–92n44, 255 Liberal Realism (Sleat), 285–87 Lincoln-Douglas debate, 69n27 Lindner, Evelin, 101 Lippmann, Walter: Dewey on, 140, 156, 162n6; on interest, shaping of public opinion by, 144; naive epistemological ideal of, 154, 159; The Phantom Public, 141, 143, 146–47, 149; as political insider, 141; on politics’ priority over morality, 158–59; and power in politics, inadequate treatment of, 148–49, 155, 156; Public Opinion, 141, 143; on public opinion, elites’ ability to manipulate, 144; realism of, 140, 142, 145, 146, 158; and state responsiveness to common good, failure to address, 149–50 Lippmann, on citizens: inability to access cogent political facts, 140, 141–42, 143, 145; limited role appropriate for, 145–46, 150; political impotence of, contradictions in, 146–47 Lippmann, on conflict: causes of, 147–48; inconsistencies and omissions in, 148–49, 158, 161 Lippmann, on democracy: basis in false view of citizen capacities, 140; hope of debunking idealist form of, 140, 141, 144–45, 146; as inadequate guide for modern societies, 140–41; segments of society ungovernable by, 149 Lippmann, on experts: idealized expectations for, 143, 145, 146, 147, 149–50, 154, 155–56, 158, 159; as necessary for government policy making, 140, 141, 145 Lippmann, on stereotypes: contradictions in, 146–47; experts’ ability to avoid,


146; insufficient attention to specific stereotypes, 147, 156; shaping of public opinion by, 144, 146–47, 155; as source of conflict, 148 Lippmann, psychology deployed by: on deep pluralism of human perception, 148, 164n32; on factors affecting public opinions, 143–45; inadequacy of, 158, 159, 160 Locke, John, 29 Luban, David, 221 Machiavelli, Niccolò, 167, 243. See also The Prince (Machiavelli) The Machiavellians (Burnham), 176, 177 Madison, James, 55, 56, 96 Madisonian liberalism, as nonmoralistic form of liberalism, 255 “The Main Enemy” (Delphy), 328–29 Manin, Bernard, 219 Margalit, Avishai, 102, 103 markets, early modern, social embeddedness of exchange in, 208, 216n19 Marx, Karl, 50, 258, 282 Marxism, and political moralism, 256 mass shootings, and narcissistic rage, 104–5 McNay, Lois, 288, 289 McQueen, Alison, 67n1, 87 Mearsheimer, John, 243, 263n2, 297. See also structural realism media, and government secrets, accountability for policies on, 235–36 metapolitical inquiry, possibility of, 64 Michels, Robert, 176 Mill, James, 156, 164n52 Mill, John Stuart, 29 Miller, Seumas, 199 Mills, Charles W., 349, 350, 352 modus vivendi liberalism, as nonmoralistic, 255 The Moral Economy (Fontaine), 216n19 moral frameworks, political influences underlying, 17–18

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moralism: and Blair’s decision to enter Iraq War, 17; on conflict and coercive power, 256; Morgenthau on, 276; neo-Machiavellians and, 177–78; nonliberal forms of, 255–56; and prioritization of moral over political, 16; tendency toward violence in times of crisis, 256; top-down approach to political thinking, 256–57 moralism, political realism’s rejection of, 6, 16–17, 271; and bottom-up vs. top-down conception of political thought, 256–57; classical realists’ insights and, 250–51, 254–56, 262; international realists and, 245; Williams and, 16, 41, 43–44 morality: vs. ethics, 79–80; vs. knowledge of real political behavior, 1–2; as motive for behavior, importance of minimizing, 82; place for in political realism, 6, 13–14, 16, 17–18, 271–72, 276–77, 281–82, 283; political, understanding of, moral passion as aid in, 96; and politics, as deeply intertwined, 17–18; proper balance of demands, as political question, 89; as system, realist critique of, 79–84, 88–89 morality, grounding of within autonomous political sphere, 7–8, 73, 74–79, 271, 276, 279; critiques of, 280–83. See also basic legitimation demand; legitimacy, internalist accounts of morality, rationality as basis of, 81; free will as necessary component of, 82; Kant on, 82; Williams’ critique of, 81–83 morality prior to politics: Geuss’s rejection of, 158; impossibility of avoiding, 30; Machiavelli’s rejection of, 174; necessity of, 41–44; as unnecessary, in internalist accounts of legitimacy, 134–36. See also autonomy of politics morality prior to politics, political realism’s rejection of, 17–18, 170–71,

[ 386 ]

271; classical realism’s kinship with, 246–48, 249–51; and defense of status quo, 261–62; motives for, 83–84; as not equivalent to rejection of morality’s role in society, 271; potential meanings of, 246–47; Williams and, 16, 30, 36, 40–44, 158, 171–72, 246, 280–83 moral philosophy: realists’ beliefs about modest usefulness of conclusions of, 18–19; Williams’ critique of, 79–84, 88–89; Williams on origins of, 75–79 moral principles, abstract: alternatives to full application of, 15–16; and ethical naturalism of political realism, 79; ineffectiveness as guide in arena of fundamental disagreements, 13, 16, 28–29; and variations in local circumstances, 14 moral rationalization: classical realists on, 258–59; of status quo, as common human tendency, 259; of status quo, criticisms of political realism for, 259–61 Morgenthau, Hans J.: and analytical realism, 297; association with American Conservatism, 347; bleakness of real world in, 349; on fascism, 276; on global political order, possibility of, 289; on human motivation, 257–59; on idealist political theories, 346; and imaginary futures as delusional, 349; influence on Schmitt, 274; influences on, 249; on international arena, underdevelopment of morality in, 289; kinship with political realism, 271–72; on line between political and military power, 313; on moral imperative to treat other persons as ends, 282; on moral rationalization, 259; on pluralism, in global and national arenas, 289–90; on the political in nonstate activities, 347, 366n6; on political moralism, 276; political realists’ lack of engagement


with, 243, 244, 262, 270, 296; Politics Among Nations, 271–72, 346; on potential political significance of all activity, 273–74; rejection of utopianism, 250–51; social science inquiries of, as model for political realism, 288. See also classical realism Morgenthau, critique of Schmitt, 272–77, 287; on lack of empirical basis, 274, 275–76, 279; on lack of role for morality, 276–77; relevance to new political realists, 287–90; relevance to Williams’ political theory, 279–84; scholarship on, 273 Morgenthau, on politics: autonomy of, 247–48, 271–72, 274, 347; disagreement as ineradicable feature of, 249; lack of inherent normativity in, 277, 281; nasty realities of, 281; will to power as basis of, 272, 275, 346, 347 Morgenthau, political realism of, 346–48; critique of, 347–48; description of actual practices as central focus of, 346–47; inclusion of moral considerations in, 271–72, 276–77, 281–82, 283; on prudence as supreme virtue in politics, 347; as realist, 11; six principles of, 346 Mosaddeq, Mohammad, 108 Mosca, Gaetano, 176, 177 Mouffe, Chantal, 9 Muslim world: desire to recoup lost glory as driver of, 108; radicalization of, as response to humiliation by West, 108, 110, 113n34 Mussolini, Benito, 180–81, 276 narcissistic rage, as response to humiliation, 104–5 Nasser, Gamal Abdel, 108 national interest: and global distributive justice, 301–2, 305, 306, 307, 309; nations’ prioritization of in international relations, 299, 305, 306, 307


Nazi Germany: humiliation of Jews in, 101; humiliation of Versailles Treaty as driver of, 106; and political moralism, 256; as triumph of passion over self-interest, 94 neo-Machiavellianism: Blair administration and, 169, 181–85, 192n96; and BLD, failure to meet, 186–87; central themes of, 176–77; critique of idealized model of democracy, 167–68, 177–78, 186–87; dangers of, 183; on democratic leaders, necessity of antidemocratic behavior in, 168, 176–86; figures associated with, 176; on government, as mix of force and manipulated consent, 177; and grandi, failure to engage, 183; nonideal theory of democracy in, 173; Pareto and, 169, 177, 178–81; on patronage, 183; pseudo-realist critique employed by, 186–87; and traditional liberal disdain for real democracy, 168; and utopian political moralism, 169, 186; Van Parijs’s Just Democracy and, 169, 185–86; and virtù of democratic leader, 183 neoutilitarian realism: compatibility with analytical realism, 299–300; on transhistorical value of realist arguments, 300 neutrality of Rawlsian School, critiques of, 348 Newey, Glen, 9 New York Times, 234, 235 Niebuhr, Reinhold, 11, 270 Nietzsche, Friedrich: on genealogy of morality, 77–79; influence on Carr, 258; influence on Morgenthau, 249; influence on Williams, 74, 77–79, 81–82; on pessimism of strength, 74–75; and philosophical heritage of political realism, 243; on Plato vs. Thucydides as guide to life, 74–75; on ressentiment in slaves, 77–79, 103; on Stoicism, 104

[ 387 ]

nonideal theory: bleakness of real world in, 349; critique of idealism, 254–55; focus on justice, 349, 351; ignoring of real-world particularities, 349–50, 350–51; as methodological intervention within liberal philosophy, 254–55; in neo-Machiavellians, 173; origins of, 349; vs. political realist theory, 169, 170–73; on power as driving force of politics, 349; as project to improve ideal theory, 350; regard for facts and feasibility constraints, 254–55; solutions in, as application of ideal theory, 350 non-Western societies without BLDsatisfying political order: absence of line isolating government administration from society, 203, 205–6, 207–10; blending of political, social, and economic spheres in, 205–6, 207–10; corruption in, avenues for addressing, 212–14; damage done by imposing Western political categories on, 211, 212–13; limited applicability of Western corruption standards, 203, 205–12 normative theory: avenues of approach to, 7–8; Cohen’s theory of, critique of, 52–58; complete eschewing of, as possible stance, 51; and criteria for selection of examples, 58–59, 69n24; and determinacy, as inescapable, 66; and fact-insensitive principles, 52, 54, 55–58, 68n15; and immanent morality grounded in politics, 7–8, 271, 276; improved accuracy of political description as key to improving, 364–65; lack of, and impression of political realism as critical mode, 10; morality prior to politics as unnecessary in, 135–36; necessity for evaluating realist claims, 7; necessity of justifying specific theories, 49, 63; as objective of political realist theory, 3,

[ 388 ]

5–9; political philosophy without, characteristics of, 63–66; political realism’s inability to form without reference to moral philosophy, 115–16; room for other considerations within, 6–7; as unnecessary to goals of political realism, 49, 58–63, 66, 358–59. See also action, guidance for normative theory, appropriate amount of: Cohen on, 52–53; lack of definitive answer to, 49, 50–52, 66 normativity, vs. prescriptivity, 67n2 Nozick, Robert, 50 nuclear proliferation, and adequacy of global governance structures, as issue, 87 Nuremberg trials, 71n36 Obama, Barack, 233 objectives of political realism: accuracy of description as, 3, 358–59; autonomy of politics as, 6; broadening of political theory topics as, 3–4, 5–6; descriptive vs. prescriptive, as not mutually exclusive, 3; normative theory of politics as, 3, 5–7; to put politics back at heart of political thinking, 21; refocusing discussion onto legitimacy, 5; refocusing discussion onto order and stability, 4–5 objectives of this collection, 12–13, 21 obligation to state: civil disobedience and, 61–62; lack of choice in, 59; as normative principle, pointlessness of, 61–63, 66, 70n27; recasting of mere responses as, 59–61 Okin, Susan Moller: critiques of, 332; on discrimination in private sphere, 331–32; overview of work by, 327–28; realist strain in, 327, 331–32, 334–35, 338 Olivier de Sardan, Jean-Pierre, 206, 209–10 Olson, Mancur, 202


On the Genealogy of Morality (Nietzsche), 77–79 ontological issues, vs. advocacy commitments, 301 order and stability: fragility of, political realism’s recognition of, 4; human passion and, 94–95; as insufficient, of itself, to meet human needs, 4–5; Machiavelli’s Prince on establishment of, 174, 175; moralized conceptions of, 267n53; as precondition for considerations of justice, 32–34; satisfying BLD as requirement for, 171 order and stability, as first virtue of politics in political realism, 4–5, 31–34, 195, 245; classical realists and, 251–53; international realists and, 245, 246; possible meanings of, 252, 266– 67nn50–51; structural realism and, 246; Williams on, 116, 171, 252, 278 Ottoman Empire, collapse of, and Muslim humiliation, 108 ought-prescribing conclusion, and ought claims, 57–58 oversight of government, secrecy as impediment to mechanisms of, 219–22 Owen, David, 345 Owen, Wilfred, 94 Page, Benjamin, 220 Pareto, Vilfredo: Burnham on, 176; on democratic elections, constraint of elite by, 177; on free market, strong state needed to create, 181; on ideological commitments as illogical residues, 178–80; Mussolini and, 180–81; neo-Machiavellian view of democratic leadership, 169, 177, 178–81 passions: and anger as driver of political mobilization, 97; as basic to human nature, 93; necessity of accounting for in political theories, 94–97, 109–10; political realism’s failure to account for, 362–63; Rawls’ insufficient attention


to, 95–96; triumph over self-interest, 93–94, 97. See also anger; antipathy; dignity; humiliation past/historical forms of government satisfying BLD, 42, 85, 125–26, 173; and false assumption that people in past societies were reconciled to domination, 125–26 Pateman, Carole, 349 “Peace” (Brooke), 93–94 pessimism of strength: as nonmoralized, 75; principles of, 75; Williams and, 74–75, 83 The Phantom Public (Lippmann), 141, 143, 146–47, 149 philosophical realism, feminism and, 322 philosophy: and limitations of philosophers’ tools of political analysis, as issue, 15; realists’ opposition to moralized optimism of, 74–79; relationship to politics, as issue, 15 Philosophy and Real Politics (Geuss), 9, 352–53 Philp, Mark, 9 Piliavsky, Anastasia, 199 Plato: empirical preconditions and, 50; on internal agencies, as pregiven, 75–76; on soul, thumos in, 109–10; vs. Thucydides, as guide to life, 74–75 plutodemocracies, Pareto on, 179–81 Pogge, Thomas, 303, 306–7 Polanyi, Karl, 208 political agency, real-world obstacles to, 14, 65, 66 political culture, shaping of ethics by, 84, 87–88 political disaffection in liberal democracies, as product of failure to solve major challenges, 20 political philosophy: and authoritative argument, nature of, 66; evolution into branch of ethics, 27–28, 41; objectives of, in realists’ view, 18–19; of Rawls, realists’ objections to, 27–31; realistic,

[ 389 ]

political philosophy (continued) and definition of political values in terms of politics, 8; realists’ beliefs on modest usefulness of conclusions of, 18–19; resources from other disciplines, value of, 14; study of living together despite disagreement as proper focus of, 29 political realism: bottom-up approach to political thinking, 256–57; complex balance of universal and local in, 21; complexity of political issues and, 2–3; conceptual difficulties in, 356–59; and contrarian role, danger of overemphasizing, 142–43; as critique of liberal theory, 10; as critique of morality, 88–89; disciplinary insularity of, 10–11; early focus on establishing contours of, 10; and ethical naturalism, 79; ethical preferences expressed by, 345; as family of approaches, 2–3, 12, 20–21, 28, 161–62, 245, 264–65n10; focused and prescriptive questions asked by, 344; focus on political authority, 359; historical turns to, as response to crisis of politics, 19–20; history of, 8–9; on human motivation, lessons from classical realism, 256–59; and ideology, antiquated idea of, 360–61; and legitimacy as normative master concept, 356–57; main figures of, 9; and meaning of conflict and power, disagreements on, 315n10; and nonstate political activity, failure to address, 357, 364; normative morality of liberalism implicit in, 357–63; pertinent questions left unaddressed by, 345; philosophical heritage recognized by, 243; points of disagreement with adversaries, Galston on, 142; problematic features of, 9–12; recent resurgence of interest in, 243; and reevaluation of basic nature of politics and political theory, 21; reluctance to

[ 390 ]

engage other realist traditions, 11–12; reproduction of normative theories in, 344; resistance to moralistic liberal vision of politics, 255; tendency toward oversimplification in, 353; as term, 28; truth as central value of, 77, 79; and vernacular expressions of political, failure to account for, 363 political realism, critiques of: on basic legitimation demand (BLD), 36–40, 42–43, 44, 283, 284, 355–56; on critical theory principle (CTP), 283; on disagreement as ineradicable feature of politics, 64–65; as fundamentally conservative, 15–16; on grounding of morality within autonomous political sphere, 280–83; and lack of specificity in prescriptions, 18; on legitimacy, 36–40, 40–44, 355–56; misunderstandings of realism in, 10; and philosophical tools as ill suited to address politics, 15 political realism, objectives of: accuracy of description as, 3, 358–59; autonomy of politics as, 6; broadening of political theory topics as, 3–4, 5–6; descriptive vs. prescriptive, as not mutually exclusive, 3; normative theory of politics as, 3, 5–7; to put politics back at heart of pol