This is an outstanding book doing a great service to public discourse on socio-political issues, in addition to its importance for political philosophy. Stating that ‘I would like to expound […] a kind of political philosophy based on assumptions that are the opposite of the “ethics-first” view’ (p. 9), the author suggests ‘First, political philosophy must be realist. That means, roughly speaking, that it must start from and be concerned in the first instance not with how people ought ideally (or ought “rationally”) to act, what they ought to desire, or value, the kind of people they ought to be, etc., but, rather, with the way the social, economic, political, etc., institutions actually operate in some society [….] Second […] political philosophy must recognise that politics is in the first instance about action and the contexts of action […] not about mere beliefs or propositions […] politics is historically located: it has to do with humans interacting in institutional contexts that change over time, and the study of politics must reflect this fact [… ] politics is more like the exercise of a craft or art, than like traditional conceptions of what happens when a theory is applied’ (pp. 7-15, passim).
This may be exaggerated. There is scope for both a deductive pure political philosophy and an inductive realistic philosophy of politics. And, while politics is indeed I the main a craft, it is more. It has also to rely on pertinent theories essential for understanding complexity and coping with it.
The book is unusual in contemporary political science in recognizing that ‘Technological change can also make it possible for people to act in new ways toward each other, and sometimes these need to be regulated in ways for which there are no precedents’ (p.4). And, most important of all, the author debunks ideas accepted as obvious, such as concerning human rights; and he shows the complexity of concepts such as ‘justice’ and ‘equality’, demonstrating that nearly of public and much of political philosophy discourse on them are chatter. By demolishing main ideas of John Rawls much needed deflating is accomplished.
I am convinced that the survival of humanity requires radially novel political institutions and processes based on a fresh political philosophy, such as moving from mass democracy to merit democray. I was therefore impressed by the convincing claim that ‘a political theory or philosophy itself played an ideological role in society in that it fostered certain common ideological illusions, made them more difficult to detect, or created new ones, e.g [.,…] all people in every society everywhere aspire before all else to a particular kind of “democratic” political culture. The ideological role can be relatively active or relatively passive; that is, a political theory can actively promote a certain conceptual confusion or an ideological appearance, or, negatively, it can divert attention away from the dependency of some form of consciousness on a particular configuration of power’ (p. 53).
I am rushing to read some more books by the author. Starting with this one is highly recommended to all concerned about the welfare of humanity and the quality of its politics.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem