Reflections on the relationship between political theory and political practice: assessing realist challenge to liberal-normative political theory
Embargo Lift Date: 2020-01-31
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This thesis is a study of value of theorizing for the practical world of politics. It addresses the question of how it is advisable to conceive the relationship between political theory and political practice. It does so by focusing on contemporary discussions about realism and moralism in political theory. Realism is a contemporary theoretical approach that poses a challenge to the dominant liberal paradigm, which allegedly bases its understanding of politics on the primacy of the moral over the political. The meaning and implications of such moralized understanding are explored, in this dissertation, in relation to John Rawls. After presenting a reading of Rawls’s major works in relation to the relationship between political theory and political practice, I specify general principles guiding the recent realist revival in political theory. This account suggests that realism encompasses a wide variety of non-moralizing positions whose critical purchase on dominant political theory varies. More critically, it illustrates how some varieties of realism invite moralism through the back door, primarily due to their insistence on some form of foundationalism for a political theory to be action-guiding. I single out John Dunn’s sceptical activist realism and Raymond Geuss’s critical activist realism as two alternative candidates that exhibit the possibility of political theory, centred on the notion of political judgment, to be action-guiding without having foundational commitments of the kind typically presupposed. This account essentially presents an alternative conceptualization of the relationship between political theory and political practice to that of mainstream liberal political theory.