Political Philosophy in the Twentieth Century: Authors and Arguments

May 24, 2012

Editor: Catherine H. Zuckert

Edition: First

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Pages: 290

Price: £18.99

ISBN: 9780521185066

Lately, political philosophers have tended almost to take comfort in relaying a supposedly established narrative (call it narrative B), which suggests that the much-more-established narrative (call it narrative A) that John Rawls almost single-handedly revived in the second half of the 20th century has now largely been superseded by a wider understanding of the development of moral and political thought in the past century.

However, judging by most anglophone political philosophy syllabuses, one could be forgiven for thinking that narrative A is still healthy, and that narrative B is still struggling: Rawls and "footnotes to Rawls" - to irreverently paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead - still take the lion's share of the attention. Catherine Zuckert's edited collection, Political Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, is a timely attempt to help further reinforce narrative B, namely by demonstrating that there was much fruitful political philosophy before Rawls' contribution, and that there are more ways to do political philosophy than the broadly Rawlsian paradigm would suggest.

This book is organised in four sections, each containing chapters on individual political theorists. Part one sets out the three main competing political traditions of the early 20th century: liberalism (John Dewey), conservatism (Carl Schmitt) and socialism (Antonio Gramsci). Part two is somewhat more parochial and so perhaps less interesting to a European audience: it collects essays on emigre responses to the Second World War (Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, Yves R. Simon and Hannah Arendt - arguably a distinguished outlier in this group). Part three covers ground closer to the dominant post-Rawlsian paradigm, as it discusses four broadly liberal theorists of various stripes: Friedrich Hayek, Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin, H.L.A. Hart, John Rawls and Richard Rorty. The omission of Robert Nozick is telling: Hayek presumably (and justifiably) represents a richer, more politically and economically aware - if less philosophically sophisticated - approach to libertarianism. Part four discusses four critics of liberalism, chosen without concessions to currently fashionable postmodern theory: Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor.

Throughout its four parts, the book accomplishes the task of reinforcing narrative B: it broadens our understanding of the evolution of political philosophy in the 20th century. It does so in three main ways. First, it reminds us, and more importantly our students, that there are tenable positions beyond liberal egalitarianism, libertarianism and the moralised socialism of G.A. Cohen (who is another notable omission in this collection). Second, it encourages engagement with an uncommonly wide array of authors and texts. Third, and perhaps most importantly, most of the authors surveyed in this book remind us that, pace most post-Rawls anglophone political philosophy, justice is only one of many traditional concerns of the discipline - power, ideology, authority, legitimacy, sovereignty and so on are at least as important.

For those reasons, this book would excellently complement (but by no means replace) any of the more widely adopted advanced political philosophy textbooks.

Who is it for? Political philosophy postgraduates and final-year undergraduates.

Presentation: It varies from contributor to contributor, but is generally accessible.

Would you recommend it? Yes. This book provides a valuable alternative perspective on the development of contemporary political philosophy.

Highly recommended

The Development of Ethics - Three Volume Set

Author: Terence Irwin

Edition: First

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 2,832

Price: £60.00

ISBN: 9780199695287

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