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Butler, Judith, and Athena Athanasiou. The Political Promise of the Performative

2013, In: Dispossession: The Performative in the Political. London: Polity. 140-148.

Summary: In this conversation Butler and Athanasiou explore the parameters of the public performance of political dissent. They discuss instances of political protest that link up to Butler and Athanasiou’s shared sense of performativity. For the two of them, performativity is the aspect of our social life that manifests surprise, challenge and urgency through the human body. This makes the performative an especially effective instrument against the disparity, dispossession and desperation the better part of humanity is forced to endure.

Comment: This text is best used as a further or specialised reading in classes on political dissent and subversion of social norms. It can inspire interesting discussions on ways to express dissent and protest, and can be very useful in discussions of politically involved art.

Chambers, Clare, and Phil Parvin. Teach Yourself Political Philosophy: A Complete Introduction

2012, Hodder & Stoughton

Publisher’s Note: Written by Phil Parvin and Clare Chambers, who are current political philosophy lecturers and leading researchers, Political Philosophy – The Essentials is designed to give you everything you need to succeed, all in one place. It covers the key areas that students are expected to be confident in, outlining the basics in clear jargon-free English, and then providing added-value features like summaries of key thinkers, and even lists of questions you might be asked in your seminar or exam. The book’s structure follows that of most university courses on political philosophy, by looking at the essential concepts within political philosophy (freedom, equality, power, democracy, rights, the state, political obligation), and then looking at the ways in which political philosophers have used these fundamental concepts in order to tackle a range of normative political questions such as whether the state has a responsibility to alleviate inequalities, and what interest liberal and democratic states should take in the cultural or religious beliefs of citizens.

Comment: 'Phil Parvin and Clare Chambers have produced a state of the art textbook, which provides students with a comprehensive and bang up-to-date introduction to contemporary political philosophy. Topics are introduced in a clear and eminently readable fashion, using accessible real world examples whilst drawing on sophisticated scholarly literature. There is no comparable book which covers such a wide range of topics in such a student-friendly manner.' (Dr Daniel Butt, Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Bristol.) 'A lively, accessible and engaging read. Comprehensive and well organized, it provides an updated account of key concepts in contemporary political philosophy, and highlights their relevance to political life in the 21st century. A valuable book for anyone taking their first steps in the world of political philosophy, or anyone who seeks to understand the normative challenges faced by our society today.' (Dr Avia Pasternak, Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Essex.) 'Written in a clear and accessible style, it is an engaging introduction for those who are new to political philosophy and wish to think through some of its most important questions. In addition to offering outlines of key arguments, each chapter also contains a summary of main concepts, self-test questions, a wonderful selection of quotations and some attention-grabbing 'nuggets'' (Dr Zosia Stemplowska, University Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Oxford)

Finlayson, Lorna, and . The Political is Political: Conformity and the Illusion of Dissent in Contemporary Political Philosophy

2015, London: Rowman and Littlefield International

Publisher’s Note: Nobody should really have to point out that political philosophy is political. Yet in this highly original and provocative book Lorna Finlayson argues that in fact it is necessary to do so. Offering a critique of mainstream liberal political philosophy through close, critical engagement with a series of specific debates and arguments, Finlayson analyzes the way in which apparently neutral methodological devices such as ‘charitable interpretation’ and ‘constructive criticism’ function so as to protect against challenges to the status quo.
At each stage, Finlayson demonstrates that political philosophy is suffering from a complex process of ‘depoliticization.’ Even in cases where it appears that the dominant framework of liberal political philosophy is being strongly challenged – as, for example, in the case of the ‘realist’ critique of ‘ideal theory’ – this book argues that the debate is set up in such a way as to impose strict limits on the kind of dissent that is possible. Only by dragging these hidden presuppositions into the foreground can we arrive at a clear-eyed appreciation of such debates, and perhaps look beyond the artificially constricted landscape in which they seek to confine us.

Comment: Good further or advanced reading on the methodology of political philosophy. Finlayson provides an interesting and challenging critique of liberal presuppositions that are widespread in political philosophy. Individual chapters would also make very good further or advanced reading in their own right, especially the chapters on Rawls, the norm of philosophical charity, speech acts and silencing, and political realism.

Hampton, Jean, and . Political Philosophy

1996, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Publisher’s Note: Political philosophy, perhaps even more than other branches of philosophy, calls for constant renewal to reflect not just re-readings of the tradition but also the demands of current events. In this lively and readable survey, Jean Hampton has created a text for our time that does justice both to the great traditions of the field and to the newest developments. In a marvelous feat of synthesis, she links the classical tradition, the giants of the modern period, the dominant topics of the twentieth century, and the new questions and concerns that are just beginning to rewrite contemporary political philosophy.Hampton presents these traditions in an engaging and accessible manner, adding to them her own views and encouraging readers to critically examine a range of ideas and to reach their own conclusions. Of particular interest are the discussions of the contemporary liberalism-communitarianism debates, the revival of interest in issues of citizenship and nationality, and the way in which feminist concerns are integrated into all these discussions. Political Philosophy is the most modern text on the topic now available, the ideal guide to what is going on in the field. It will be welcomed by scholars and students in philosophy and political science, and it will serve as an introduction for readers from outside these fields.

Comment: Many of the chapters would make for good introductory readings to standard topics in political philosophy, including: social contract theories, political authority, distributive justice, liberalism vs communitarianism, nationalism.

Lafont, Christina, and . Alternative Visions of a New Global Order: What Should Cosmopolitans Hope For?

2008, Ethics and Global Politics (1).

Abstract: In this essay, I analyze the cosmopolitan project for a new international order that Habermas has articulated in recent publications. I argue that his presentation of the project oscillates between two models. The first is a very ambitious model for a future international order geared to fulfill the peace and human rights goals of the UN Charter. The second is a minimalist model, in which the obligation to protect human rights by the international community is circumscribed to the negative duty of preventing wars of aggression and massive human rights violations due to armed conflicts such as ethnic cleansing or genocide. According to this model, any more ambitious goals should be left to a global domestic politics, which would have to come about through negotiated compromises among domesticated major powers at the transnational level. I defend the ambitious model by arguing that there is no basis for drawing a normatively significant distinction between massive human rights violations due to armed conflicts and those due to regulations of the global economic order. I conclude that the cosmopolitan goals of the Habermasian project can only be achieved if the principles of transnational justice recognized by the international community are ambitious enough to cover economic justice.

Comment: This article addresses topics that may be covered by a wide variety of courses. Lafont addresses both a Rawlsian and a Habermasian theory of global justice and international law, making this a good text to supplement a course that covers institutional proposals for global justice and fulfilling other cosmopolitan obligations.

Stemplowska, Zofia, and . What’s Ideal about Ideal Theory?

2008, Social Theory and Practice 34(3): 319-340.

Introduction: One of the main tasks that occupies political theorists, and arouses intense debate among them, is the construction of theories—so-called ideal theories—that share a common characteristic: much of what they say offers no immediate or workable solutions to any of the problems our societies face. This feature is not one that theorists strive to achieve but nor can it be described as an accidental one: these theories are constructed in the full knowledge that, whatever else they may offer, much of what they say will not be immediately applicable to the urgent problems of policy and institutional design. Since this may seem puzzling, and has been subjected to severe criticism, the main task of this paper is to ask what is the point of ideal theory and to show the nature of its value. I will also argue that, while the debate over the point of ideal theory can be productive, it will only be so if we avoid treating ideal and nonideal theories as rival approaches to political theory.

Comment: Does a good job of defending ideal theory from prominent criticisms and setting out an account of ideal and non-ideal theory in which they complement one another. Would work as a main text for a lecture or seminar developing the ideal/non-ideal theme, or as further reading for anyone writing about it.

Valentini, Laura, and . Ideal Vs. Non-Ideal Theory: A Conceptual Map

2012, Philosophy Compass 7(9): 654-664.

Abstract: This article provides a conceptual map of the debate on ideal and non-ideal theory. It argues that this debate encompasses a number of different questions, which have not been kept sufficiently separate in the literature. In particular, the article distinguishes between the following three interpretations of the ‘ideal vs. non-ideal theory’ contrast: (i) full compliance vs. partial compliance theory; (ii) utopian vs. realistic theory; (iii) end-state vs. transitional theory. The article advances critical reflections on each of these sub-debates, and highlights areas for future research in the field.

Comment: Useful overview article of the ideal vs non-ideal theory debate. Lays out the territory and major concerns and offers several helpful distinctions. Would work as either a good main text for a lecture or seminar on this topic or as further reading for anyone working on it.