Focus: The Social Bases of Political Theory
2022 (44) Issue 1
Table of Contents
The Social Bases of Political Theory
Title: Liberalism and Social Theory after John Rawls
Author: Katrina Forrester
Does neo-Rawlsian political philosophy offer an adequate account of the social conditions of capitalism? In this paper, I present two arguments for thinking that it does not. First, I develop a historicist critique of liberal egalitarianism, arguing that it provides a vision of social reality that is intimately connected to the historical and ideological constellation that I call postwar liberalism, and as such cannot account for social reality since the neoliberal revolutions of the late twentieth century. Second, I explore arguments in Marxist and critical social theory that cast liberal egalitarianism as partial, on account of its inadequate portrait of capitalist society. In surveying responses to these critiques, I argue that merely extending liberal egalitarianism into new domains to account for how contemporary circumstances have changed since the mid-twentieth century cannot address the problem of its partial view of the social world. Taking seriously the insights of critical social theory and the study of capitalism should lead to a challenge to liberal egalitarianism, not an extension of it.
Title: Durkheimian Thoughts on In the Shadow of Justice
Author: Joel Isaac
This paper uses Durkheim’s distinction between cause and function to explore the aims and implications of Forrester’s critique of liberal egalitarianism in In the Shadow of Justice. I suggest that there is an interesting tension in Forrester’s argument between the portrayal of Rawlsian justice theory as a vestigial institution—a ‘survival’—left over from 1950s liberalism, and its continuing presence in political theory as a doctrine that has a strong function in policing the bounds of permissible philosophical discourse on politics. I then suggest that liberals are, in their nature, functionalists about politics, and that this may mean that they cannot easily countenance the kind of realism for which Forrester advocates at the end of her book.
Title: Capitalism, Justice, and the Boundaries of Liberalism
Author: Steven Lukes
The argument of Katrina Forrester’s In the Shadow of Justice explains the present neglect of Rawlsian thinking in the social and political world beyond academia. She there convincingly shows how its deep assumptions, conceptual framing and narrow view of what constitutes politics disabled it from grappling with the subsequent massive transformations of capitalism. Her second argument, advanced in her article and questioned here, offers an ideology critique of Rawlsian thinking that claims, in its strongest version, that such thinking fails to acknowledge that capitalism is not reformable and that this failure derives from its liberal assumptions. What is needed, she claims, is a critique that implies the feasibility of attaining a post-capitalist world that is based on a theory that goes beyond the boundaries of liberalism.
Title: Whose Realism? Which Legitimacy? Ideologies of Domination and Post-Rawlsian Political Theory
Author: William Clare Roberts
There is something amiss about post-Rawlsian efforts to bring political theory down to earth by insisting upon the political primacy of the question of legitimacy, peace, or order. The intuition driving much realism seems to be that we must first agree to get along, and only then can we get down to the business of pursuing justice. I argue that the ideological narratives of the powerful pose a political problem for this primacy of legitimacy thesis. To prioritize the achievement of democratic legitimacy seems to make sense only to the extent that we already live in a world in which systematic domination—and its ideological baggage—has been stamped out. I draw on the social study of domination for the sake of combatting in political theory the temptation to focus on the static design of the constitutional state at the expense of ignoring or even condemning the social processes that motivate legal and constitutional changes.
Title: How to Do Things with Justice: Professor Rawls, 1962–1971
Author: Brad Baranowski
Understanding the social bases of what John Rawls meant by justice requires understanding a central part of Rawls’s professional life: his role as a teacher. As this essay shows, Rawls’s approach to teaching was not ancillary to his approach to heady philosophical issues like the justification of moral reasoning. Rather, there’s an ethic that runs through Rawls’s work, one focused on deliberation and consensus-seeking, and one whose strengths and weaknesses are easiest to see when you examine his teaching.
Title: John Rawls and R. M. Hare: A Study of Canonization
Author: Bruce Kuklick
Why is someone enduringly prized as a philosopher? To answer this question, this historical case study examines the intersecting careers of John Rawls and R. M. Hare. It looks at their writings, a complex chain of disagreements, the argumentative dimension. The essay moreover explores the clash of differing temperaments. Finally, themes in addition to ratiocination and personality are factored in: the leanings of the institutions that control access to intellectual endeavor; the public square—politics widely conceived—into which the two men were thrown; and the cultural rivalry between England and America after World War Two.
Title: International Relations Theory and the Ukrainian War
Author: Richard Ned Lebow
Drawing on my qualitative and quantitative research I show that the motives for war have changed in the course of the last four centuries, and that the causes of war and the responses of others to the use of force are shaped by society. Leaders who start wars rarely behave with the substantive and instrumental rationality assumed by realist and rationalist approaches. For this reason, historically they lose more than half wars than they start. After 1945, the frequency of failure rises to over 80 percent. Rationalists allow for miscalculation but attribute it to lack of information. In most wars, information was available beforehand that indicated, or certainly suggested, that the venture would not succeed militarily or fail to achieve its political goals. The war in Ukraine is a case in point.
Title: Does Post-truth Expand or Restrict Political Choice? Politics, Planning, and Expertise in a Post-truth Environment
Author: William T. Lynch
Steve Fuller has replied to my critique of his endorsement of a post-truth epistemology. I trace the divergence in our approach to social epistemology by examining our distinct responses to the principle of symmetry in the sociology of scientific knowledge. Fuller has extended the concept of symmetry and challenged the field to embrace a post-truth condition that flattens the difference between experts and the public. By contrast, I have criticized the concept of symmetry for policing the field to rule ideology critique out of court. I argue that a focus on post-truth populism obscures the role of counter-elites and ideologies that restrict political choice. A better way to promote democracy would be to support minority positions within science that promise to open up suppressed political possibilities and to seek the coordinated use of different disciplines to address significant public problems.
Title: Symmetry in World-Historic Perspective: Reply to Lynch
Author: Steve Fuller
William Lynch has persistently questioned the politics underlying my appeal to science and technology studies’ flagship symmetry principle. He believes that it licenses the worst features of the ‘post-truth condition’. I respond in two parts, the first facing the future and the second facing the past. In the first part, I argue that the symmetry principle will be crucial in decisions that society will increasingly need to make concerning the inclusion of animals and machines on grounds of sentience, consciousness, intelligence, etc. In the second part, I argue that the symmetry principle has been in fact at the core of the ‘justice as fairness’ idea that has been at the core of both liberal and socialist democracies. Difficulties start once the means of expression and communication are made widely available and the standards of fairness are subject to continual questioning and renegotiation.