The a-theoretical core of political realism
This paper aims to advocate a Williamsian approach to political realism and contends that contemporary realist political theory is built on an ‘a-theoretical core’ that the paper will call ‘political realism’ in the broader sense (for a very different approach to Williams, see Hall, 2013). The central tenet of this thesis is that contemporary realist political theory fundamentally differs from mainstream political theory not only in its political outlook, but also in its views about the tasks and prospects of theorizing. In other words, ‘political realism’ imposes severe constraints on theorizing in a realist key and makes contemporary realist political theory especially vulnerable to criticisms coming from mainstream political theory. This paper contends, however, that the inherent limitedness of contemporary realist political theory is a fair price that is worth paying for a more realistic understanding of politics.
The argument of the paper is built on the Williamsian assumption that mainstream political theory is ultimately a sort of ‘applied morality’ and that the fundamental problem with mainstream political theory as ‘applied morality’ is not so much its strong commitment to pre-political moral principles as its being fundamentally shaped by an ethical theory.
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