By Glen Newey
Why do political philosophers turn away from politics? Glen Newey bargains a demanding and unique critique of liberalism, the dominant political philosophy of our time, tackling such key matters as kingdom legitimacy, value-pluralism, neutrality, the character of politics, public cause, and morality in politics. reading significant liberal theorists, Newey argues that liberalism bypasses politics since it ignores or misunderstands human motivation, and elevates educational systembuilding over political realities of clash and tool.
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This is suggested by Aristotle’s remark, that virtue cannot be exhaustively constituted by dispositions to act, since what is required is not just that the agent performs an act of which a given virtue-term is independently predicable (for example, a habitually mendacious person who tells the truth from fear) but that the act is done as a virtuous person does it29- which in this case means, presumably, that its motivational ground is most perspicuously understood as regard for truthfulness for its own sake.
Even – indeed especially – an avowedly normative contribution to theory has to explain how the changes it favours (for example, its preferred conception of distributive justice) would survive to implementation in a world where many, often most, side against rather than with it. If they would survive only in modified form, it seems pressing to state how far, and in what ways, the proposals of theory may be acceptably modified during negotiation. It may be said that the rather local historical explanations for the recrudescence of normative theory presented above must be irrelevant, given that this style of political philosophy has a much longer pedigree than recent anglophone political philosophy.
Political instrumentalism holds that politics exists to serve ends which are prior and external to it, and that political deliberation raises no special problems not to be found in individual practical reasoning. Instrumentalism implies a certain relationship between political activity and civil society, which also invites the form of methodological reductivism I have outlined. The implied relationship is that politics merely fills two complementary roles – negatively, to referee civil society conflicts when they occur, and positively, to facilitate the pursuit of civil society interests or conceptions of the good by using appropriate managerial techniques.