Realism in political theory

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Realism, Liberalism and Non-ideal Theory Or, Are there Two Ways to do Realistic Political Theory?

Realism, Liberalism and Non-ideal Theory Or, Are there Two Ways to do Realistic Political Theory?

function of politics is to resolve conflict, to 'meet the urgent political requirement to fix, once and for all, the content of certain political basic rights and liberties, and to assign them special priority. Doing this takes those guarantees off the political agenda' (Rawls, 1996, p. 161). Such resolution has often been sought by discovering those principles or constitutional essentials that are acceptable to all those subject to them (Rawls, 1996, p. 137). Political activity, properly speaking, hence takes place within the confines of or with reference to principles and values that are or can be represented as the subject of universal agreement. Such a harmonious view of the nature of politics fails to take seriously the extent to which disagreement and conflict, including about the fundamental terms of our political association, are ineradicable features of political life in the context of which political action must still take place. This is why several realists have charged liberalism as failing to have a theory of politics at all, rather by focusing on agreement and consensus it seeks to 'displace' (Honig, 1993), 'repudiate' (Morgenthau, 1946, p. 75) or 'abolish' (Gray, 1995, p. 76) politics, or provide an account in which the disagreements and conflict that politics responds to have been resolved once and for all (Newey, 2001). In assuming the possibility of an actual or hypothetical consensus on political principles and values, which allows all persons to live according to laws that they are in some important sense the authors of, liberal political theory is simply not a theory of politics at all (for this general critique see also Schmitt, 1996; Sleat, 2011; Stears 2007). The second feature of a liberal conception of politics (indeed any conception of politics) that realism must necessarily reject is the attempt to make the moral prior to the political by insisting that its content (the ends to which it should be directed) and/or limits (which political actions are permissible) are given by a set of pre-political moral values and principles, e.g. rights, autonomy, freedom, etc., that are taken to have antecedent authority over it. While realism certainly does not refute that morality plays any role in political life (for clearly it does), to reduce politics to 'applied ethics', or to circumscribe rightful political action through morality is to miss the extent with which politics is a distinct sphere of human activity with its own character and nature that while related to morality is neither reducible to it, nor are its content and limits exhausted by the demands that morality might make of it.
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Realism and liberalism in the political thought of Bernard Williams

Realism and liberalism in the political thought of Bernard Williams

This commitment to taking seriously the opinions of our fellow citizens has wide- ranging implications for our reflexive understanding of political theory itself. Williams stresses that taking our fellow citizens seriously as opponents is not some kind of imperfect compromise with injustice, in the way the ‘ideal’ theorists might imply. Rather, considering which policies people will actually find acceptable, rather than those which further one’s favoured philosophical principles, can be a principled position because the question ‘how will it play in Peoria ... can involve a consideration of political right, as well as of expediency’ (IBWD, p. 151). The corollary of this is that if we genuinely want to move people to act in a particular way we must take seriously the need to speak to them in terms that they can embrace, a reminder which ties in with Williams’s belief that that ethical and political arguments will fail to guide action if they offer the sort of (conventional) philosophical theory which systematises ethical thought and reduces it to some basic principles. As we saw in Chapter One, Williams laments this modern turn to thin concepts for related reasons, primarily because they are ‘inadequate to provide any great substance to personal ethical experience’ (IBWD, p. 49). As Geoffrey Hawthorn notes, this leads Williams to malign the sort of abstract, thin and general theoretical political arguments that many political moralists articulate because they fail to offer a ‘full and satisfactory account of how we should go on … now and around here’ (IBWD, p. xiii). In what ‘What Might Philosophy Become?’ Williams develops this line of thought to make a point about the style of moral and political philosophy. He claims that ‘a philosopher may need to give us a picture of life and society and the individual, and to give it in a way that integrates it with what he or she cares about. If a philosophical writer does not solve
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Politics and the Limits of Philosophy: Political Realism and the Limits of the Political Realist Critique

Politics and the Limits of Philosophy: Political Realism and the Limits of the Political Realist Critique

82 principle” (Sabl, 2017, 368). He goes further than Sleat by arguing that because “liberals value diversity, experimentation, and freedom of thought”, the level of diversity we see in our ethical lives is “something to be welcomed, not lamented” (Sabl, 2017, 368). He argues that neither “politics nor political theory requires ‘regulative ideals’: principles, derived from systematic philosophy, that are allegedly necessary to orient common action and to motivate social and political progress … the motivational force [of social movements] has never required that they form a coherent philosophical system” (Sabl, 2017, 368). Instead, we should see liberal institutions as operating by “managing conflict and diversity rather than assuming (or seeking) ethical agreement” and “involves steady improvement, either through experimental learning within a given society or – more commonly – through a tendency to borrow best practices from elsewhere” (Sabl, 2017, 370-371). We should see liberal institutions drawing their value in theory and practice “from [their] ability in a rough sense to promote the interests of all members of society” and whether it promotes “indefinite and multiple values and purposes rather than giving exclusive priority to any one” (Sabl, 2017, 371). To the extent that it fails to do so, there should be “demands for reform, on that basis” (Sabl, 2017, 371). In this sense, political realists tend to see institutions as not being “produced by a deliberate plan, nor supported by an ex-post consensus regarding its purpose. [They] often though not necessarily, arise as the consequences of acts by agents who would not have favoured the way the institution ends up working” (Sabl, 2017, 372). This is one of the reasons why we should be so careful when engaging in reform and criticism of these institutions. It is possible that the origins and persistence of existing institutions are for counter-intuitive reasons in the sense that “they initially seem to endanger a variety of human interests that experience later shows them to promote” (Sabl, 2017, 372). A theorist who is not careful and has no historical knowledge of how these institutions emerged (and why they persist) will act irresponsibly when recommending reform of existing institutions based on their preferred theory of justice.
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The Vocabulary of Realism: A Contextual Critique of the Epistemology of Classical Realism in International Relations Theory

The Vocabulary of Realism: A Contextual Critique of the Epistemology of Classical Realism in International Relations Theory

Despite the weight afforded to each of these theorists generally, their contributions to international relations are of little interest relative to their usually considered topics – Hume’s characterisation of the balance of power, for example, contains little “intellectual nourishment” 27 given the influence and interest garnered by the Treatise of Human Nature, or the various Enquiries. Similarly, Rousseau is known primarily for his The Social Contract, rather than the Project for Perpetual Peace, and Kant for the three Critiques, most notably the Critique of Pure Reason, as opposed to Perpetual Peace. This is apparent given the relative weight afforded to political theory and IRT respectively; that works including Perpetual Peace have historically been seen as subservient to Kant’s contributions to epistemology, metaphysics and moral philosophy. Even those theorists and texts that make explicit reference to international relations are similarly characterised as ‘scattered and unsystematic’. Grotius, for example, despite being considered one of the more authoritative theorists of international law, 28 “has to be read at large to be understood”. 29 Similarly, Wight believes that “[s]tudents cannot be expected to tackle” 30 Pufendorf’s De
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Political Theory in an Ethnographic Key

Political Theory in an Ethnographic Key

I n 2002, Ian Shapiro issued a challenge to political theorists — and the discipline more broadly — to stop “navel-gazing.” The problem, he claims, is speciali- zation and the division between normative and positive thinking, which leaves political theorists increasingly unmoored from the empirical world and thus unable to comment critically on it, and political scientists in- centivized to chase questions that are methodologically expedient rather than meaningful on their own. To correct for this he suggests we refocus research around problems, rather than methods and theories, which predetermine the problems we look for (and the solutions wefind)—or as he puts it, “ if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything around you starts to look like a nail” (Shapiro 2002, 598). More than 15 years later, while political theorists are embroiled in methodological debates over realism and ideal versus nonideal theory, something appears to be brewing in political science that speaks directly to Sha- piro’s challenge. After being out of favor for decades, ethnographic methods are making a comeback in the discipline, with a recent symposium inPS even speaking of an “ ethnographic turn ” (Brodkin 2017). One of the key promises of ethnography, according to its proponents, is to bring researchers “ closer to the people, events, processes,
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Neoclassical Realism: Its Promises and Limits as a Theory of Foreign Policy

Neoclassical Realism: Its Promises and Limits as a Theory of Foreign Policy

Structural realism‘s theoretical novelty – in Lakatos‘s terms – is that it identifies international structure as the independent variable which forces states to act as self-regarding units seeking survival; any change at structural level is accompanied by changes in the behaviour of the units. The result of such behaviour at the level of international system brings about the balance of power; this is not to say that countries act to create balance of power, this is the unintended consequence of the units interaction. Waltz theory has very limited use when it comes to explain specific foreign policies. Waltz has clearly stated that his theory is not a theory of foreign policy. ―Neorealist theory of international politics explains how external forces shape states' behavior, but says nothing about the effects of internal forces. Under most circumstances, a theory of international politics is not sufficient, and cannot be made sufficient, for the making of unambiguous foreign-policy predictions. An international-political theory can explain states' behavior only when external pressures dominate the internal disposition of states, which seldom happens. When they do not, a theory of international politics needs help‖ (Waltz 1996, 57).
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Political realism and American foreign policy

Political realism and American foreign policy

Morgenthau's six principles of realism offer a guide to how political realism has been conceptualised through history, given the works of Hobbes, Machiavelli and Thucydides. Morgenthau, writing after the Second World War, believed that objective laws that have their roots in human nature governed society, a nature that has not changed since classical times (Morgenthau 1948:4). For Morgenthau, realism consists of ascertaining facts through experience, 'hence novelty is not necessarily a virtue in political theory (Morgenthau 1948: 4). Secondly, according to Morgenthau we can trace the steps a statesman has taken or will take on the political scene, as their actions through history suggest that statesmen act 'in terms of interest defined as power' (Morgenthau 1948:5). This second point relates to America's war in Afghanistan and Iraq, whereby it has acted in an interest - whether it is an
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Why Žižek for Political Theory?

Why Žižek for Political Theory?

As it emphases the object conditioning the subject, Žižek’s discussion of enjoyment as a political factor draws our attention to a certain fixity on the part of the subject. Far from the malleable self-creating subject championed by consumer capital, the Žižekian subject finds itself in a place not of its choosing, attached to fantasies of which it remains unaware that nevertheless structure its relation to enjoyment thereby fastening it to the existing framework of domination. Žižek often develops this last point via examples of the forced choice, such as “your money or your life!” In such a choice, each side precludes the other. If we choose money, we actually don’t get to live. If we choose to live, we actually don’t even get the security of living because we can’t trust the person who just forced us to choose. To the extent that we accept the terms of a forced choice, then, we remain trapped, confined, fixed by a fundamental loss (Žižek 1996: 211). At the same time, refusing the forced choice is, for Žižek, a choice for the worst, a choice for unclarity, uncertainty, the unknown, indeed a choice for subjective destitution in the sense that the subject has to give up the very symbolic coordinates that tell it who it is.
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A theory of the allocation of political time

A theory of the allocation of political time

Voting [table 3]: Age, Gender and Education are all statistically sig- ni…cant at the 1 per cent of the C.I. in the …rst speci…cation, whilst in the second speci…cation Age, Gender, Education, Labour unions membership are signi…cant at the 1 per cent of the C.I., farmer and professional association membership at the 5 per cent of the C.I., whilst business associations membership is not signi…cant. A negative coef- …cient means that the likelihood to have voted in 2005 elections in- creases and thus, we can say that an elder, male, member of labour union, farmer or professional association is more likely to have voted. Time of decision [table 4]: Age and Gender are all statistically sig- ni…cant at the 1 per cent of the C.I. and Education is statistically signi…cant at the 5 per cent of the C.I., in the …rst speci…cation, whilst in the second speci…cation Age and Gender are signi…cant at the 1 per cent of the C.I., Education at the 5 per cent of the C.I., whilst Labour unions, business, farmer and professional associations membership are not signi…cant. A negative parameter increases the likelihood that the decision of vote has been taken long time ago rather than during the campaign. Thus, this can be seen as a proxy for a "strong minded- ness" of the vote. Results con…rm that an elder, male individual is less prone to take his decision subjected to the political campaign, whilst he seems more prone to having decide before the electoral campaign took place.
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Deepening EMU: Ambition and Realism  Bruges Political Research Papers 63 / 2017

Deepening EMU: Ambition and Realism Bruges Political Research Papers 63 / 2017

I believe citizens have recognized that. Not only because of the outcome of national elections this year. But also because of the popularity of the euro, which is at record heights. It shows that Europeans believe in the benefits of pragmatic international cooperation. That belief gives politicians a mandate to continue with their reforms of the euro area - to make it more robust and more resilient. And that is why I think that after a period of realism, Europe should today allow itself to be more ambitious.

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“By Sovereignty of Nature”1: The Influence of Political Realism on the U.S. and the International Criminal Court

“By Sovereignty of Nature”1: The Influence of Political Realism on the U.S. and the International Criminal Court

exceptionalism demands the promotion of democracy and historically, the U.S. has chosen force over law in order to secure a strategic goal relative to democracy. Often, however, the U.S. has also made an effort to maintain a policy of assisting other nations to secure rule of law; the U.S. maintains its level of power and influence abroad as a "friend" to many while also sustaining its contemporary national security agenda. The conclusion of the Cold War and the shift toward a more unipolar balance of power system reinforced political realism for the U.S. and enhanced the American perception of exceptionalism. This, in turn, influenced the American decision to deny ratification of the Rome Statute and the creation of the ICC - a direct result of historical and evolving dynamics in global relationships and their influence on U.S. power and security. In the last decade, the U.S. has firmly continued to avoid ratification of the Rome Statute. This does not mean, however, that the U.S. has not worked in concert with the ICC and vice versa, in a grudging bur effective relationship. Within four years of the Rome Statute being entered into force, Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had dismissed "hundreds of petitions" against the U.S. due to "lack of evidence, lack of jurisdiction, or because of the United States' ability to conduct its own investigations and trials." 73 Realism is
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A Theory of Political Accountability and Journalism

A Theory of Political Accountability and Journalism

On the other hand, the variable e can also be interpreted from a rent-seeking perspective. Alesina and Tabellini (2007) or Gehlbach (2007), for example, show that our ‘effort story’ can easily be transformed into a rent-seeking model. The basic idea in both variants is that politicians can influence policy outcomes via a costly action. In a rent-seeking context, politicians typically would decide how much money they divert from productive purposes to rents which may include opulent amenities and salaries, payments to political parties or inefficient contracts with cronies. Then, less rent-seeking increases public good production while it reduces the immediate benefits of politicians. Thus, e can also be interpreted as foregone rent extraction which results in reduced benefits for the incumbent of γ(e). So whenever we argue in terms of higher or lower levels of effort there is a corresponding interpretation in terms of lower or higher levels of rent-seeking.
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Beyond Divine Command Theory: Moral realism in the Hebrew Bible

Beyond Divine Command Theory: Moral realism in the Hebrew Bible

(Ex 33:14) A scenario like this may be crude to the modern philosophical theologian and indeed apologists, as since the times of the Hebrew Bible itself they have sought to re-interpret the idea of YHWH changing his mind. My concern here is not divine immutability or its opposite, but rather the implication of the text that disobedience to the Divine Command can be a good thing for both the deity and for his subjects. On DCT, Moses definitely acted immorally However, if we presuppose that the metaethical assumptions of this text operated with a form of moral realism and a belief in a moral order independent of the deity, then the allowance for disobedience and debate with an implicit appeal to what is the right thing makes good sense. Another good example of similar pious ‘back-chatting’ with fortuitous consequences can be found in Amos 7:1–3.
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Political relativism : implicit political theory in Herodotus' Histories

Political relativism : implicit political theory in Herodotus' Histories

Spartans do have a master, but that master is the law (despotes nomos), and that the law always bids them to fight whether they can win or not. This passage is tricky because Demaratus may be translating a Spartan attitude toward the law into Persian usage with the use of despotes. His intent, however, is clear: he claims a Spartan political custom in order to establish a political difference (although Xerxes shows a continuing lack of understanding about what that political difference means). This nomos distinguishes the Spartans from the Persians because it indicates a relationship to the law different from the Persians own. In Persia, the king is nomos and the king is despotes. The king is the nexus of obedience. In Sparta, nomos is despotes; there is no need for a mediating figure. The nomoi that create and express political difference often influence other tangentially related nomoi. Just as certain cultural attributes can dictate other customs, such as attitudes toward borrowing customs, so political customs can dictate both customs and laws. For example, the Spartans have a custom of diarchy, but they must restrict their kings through legislation in order to keep the diarchy stable. Political structures or constitutions, like political attitudes, can have their own set of nomoi. This constellation of nomoi can help ensure the lasting hold of a constitution. For example, as discussed in Chapter 1, Darius argues that the monarchy is a Persian nomos, and so they should continue to have one (3.82.5). 31 Persian society is accustomed to monarchy and thus amenable to its return.
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Contract Theory and Some Realism about Employee Covenant Not to Compete Cases

Contract Theory and Some Realism about Employee Covenant Not to Compete Cases

Contract Theory and Some Realism about Employee Covenant Not to Compete Cases SMU Law Review Volume 65 | Issue 1 Article 5 2012 Contract Theory and Some Realism about Employee Covenant Not to Compete[.]

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Methodological Nationalism, Migration, and Political Theory

Methodological Nationalism, Migration, and Political Theory

Similar points apply when we try to determine what a fair distribution across borders would look like. For example, consider Ryan Pevnick’s argument that collective property rights can be mobilized to restrict immigration. An entitlement to property and the cluster of rights that determine how it can be acquired, distributed, and used depend on many facts, such as how the goods and services are generated, the function of property rights in sustaining them, and how laws and policies correct market failures, boost efficiency, and correct inequities. Property regimes are social constructions realized through the rise of institutions including coercive states and legal regimes. Normative criticism demands an adequate empirical analysis. I am not claiming that there is a straightforward path from empirical theories about property regimes and their causes to a normative theory – there is not. But until we understand how agents and structures exercise power over or shape people’s mobility and how this, along with other factors (e.g., capital flows, domestic policies), influences opportunities, we are not in a position to declare what property rights are relevant to the regulation of migration.
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Reasonable agreement: A contractualist political theory

Reasonable agreement: A contractualist political theory

Consider now the second example. Scepticism has been adopted by the political 'Right' in the realm of international relations to justify the status quo. In the discipline of international relations those who call themselves 'realists' appeal to moral scepticism to justify three inter-related claims: (1) the image of a Hobbesian global state of nature, where all nations are moved exclusively by self-interest; in fact it is claimed that a ruler has an obligation to follow the interest of its nation; (2) the absence of moral norms governing relations between states and, dulcis in fundo; (3) the claim that might makes right. 'International moral scepticism' refers to the idea that there is no room for morality in international matters. Scepticism is thus used in this second case to inflict doubt, or even denial, concerning the validity of moral arguments. Scepticism justifies the present amoral status quo in international relations^.
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An Act-Focused Theory Of Political Legitimacy

An Act-Focused Theory Of Political Legitimacy

norms governing the permissibility of coercive power. I will discuss one view that is somewhat similar to this position in the following section on public justification and Gerald Gaus. Other views that fall into this category arguably include (O’Neill 1989), and, perhaps most notably, (Scanlon 1998). T.M. Scanlon argues that while there are reasons to perform various actions, principles of morality—what we owe to each other—are constructed from these reasons. Accordingly, one might argue, idealized counterfactual consent is needed to construct or justify substantive moral norms, not merely to discover them. In reply, however, Scanlon’s view runs into a similar difficulty to the one I have outlined for views that treat idealized consent as a heuristic. In particular, Scanlon grounds principles or rules on the basis of reasons we have. Scanlon is an externalist about these reasons; he would not allow that the cold-hearted person who could profitably murder has reason to commit murder. (For the externalism/internalism distinction see, e.g. (Williams 1981) or (Parfit and Broome 1997).) Accordingly, constructing principles on the basis of an externalist conception of reasons merely moves the problem of disagreement to a debate about what reasons we have, rather than what principles ought to regulate our society. That is, we disagree about what external reasons we have, just as we disagree about substantive, will-independent values and norms. A counterfactual will- based theory resting on an internalist conception of reasons would not encounter this difficulty— although, as will become apparent in the next section on Gaus, such theories are subject to
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Getting political theory pregnant : conceiving a new model of political personhood

Getting political theory pregnant : conceiving a new model of political personhood

for carework, or dependency for that matter, as a mere preference or as an exception to the rule of autonomy. The ability to flourish depends on the care we receive from others, as well as the care we give to others, such that plans of life are inevitably in- tertwined. In a sense, we might say, there exists a shared plan of life in the pregnant subject. In the liberal tradition, communities and associations are often seen as ra- tional choices we, as autonomous human beings, make about our lives. But we might also think of the pregnant body as a kind of community that, beyond the particular circumstances of conception, represents a more fundamental sociality. We begin to take form as human beings within a community of sorts, or in a kind of sociality. Given this fact, and the fact that pregnancy is a common experience for many people in the world, it doesn’t seem preposterous to suggest that we are all relatively defined. Indeed we all begin life as a participant in the sociality of pregnancy. What is important here is that this is true by virtue of our corporeality, as well as the social conditions in which we live. If we incorporated this into a model of political personhood, the pregnant body could help us to rethink caring as an element of our humanity. The act of caring might then become more difficult to refuse; it would certainly be more difficult to devalue because it would be seen as a basic characteristic of what makes us human, rather than something we must do for those people who are somehow deficient and not able to care for themselves. By failing to take into account bodily knowledge and by requiring that all subjects be rational, autonomous, and mutually disinterested Rawls has necessarily placed a nonpregnant subject in the original position, thus obscuring certain (partly biological) human relationships of care and dependency that are fundamental to all persons in constitutional democracies.
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The ‘Truth’ Between Realism and Anti-Realism

The ‘Truth’ Between Realism and Anti-Realism

Closely linked with this and to the argument presented by Worrall’s structural realism, other arguments provoked, among them is Chakravartty’s attempt 21 to defend Scientific realism by connecting it to the metaphysical conception of the world, Chakravartty argument is to capitalizes structural realism and entity realism. Thus, mainly by claiming that both of the entity realism and structural realism embrace the same epistemic and ontological commitment. Further, Semirealism which is a kind of selective scepticism that restricts epistemic commitment only to theories that has detection properties, this is seen to provide the ground for the structures to be preserved with the truth of the empirically successful theories. Given that, Semirealism is committed to the restricted truth or a “restricted subset of claims made by particular theories.” 22 which has a detection property. This is in addition to the Corroboration which gives an extra “independent reasons for believing in the existence of entities, and with this much in hand, structures representing relations between detection properties of these entities are likewise substantiated.” 23
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