On What Political Normativity Is

Political Studies Review (forthcoming)
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Realists in normative political theory aim to defend the importance of “distinctively political thought” as opposed to the applied ethics they believe characterizes much contemporary political theory and causes it to misunderstand and make mistakes about its subject matter. More conventional political theorists have attempted to respond to realism, including Jonathan Leader Maynard and Alex Worsnip, who have recently criticized five supposedly realist arguments for a distinctive political normativity. However, while Leader Maynard and Worsnip's arguments are themselves less decisive than they suppose, the problem with their response may lay elsewhere. Their response supposes that more conventional political theory could, in principle, be defended at an abstract general level. This may not be possible though, given the difficulty of arriving at agreed interpretations of the concepts involved and the desiderata for a successful normative political theory. It also risks missing the point of realism, which is to use different forms of normative inquiry to explore questions which have not always been central to conventional normative political theory. Judith Shklar's excellent work on vices and the liberalism of fear nicely illustrates this problem.
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