Politics and Vision

Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought (Expanded Edition)

Sheldon S. Wolin
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 784
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Politics and Vision
    Book Description:

    This is a significantly expanded edition of one of the greatest works of modern political theory. Sheldon Wolin'sPolitics and Visioninspired and instructed two generations of political theorists after its appearance in 1960. This new edition retains intact the original ten chapters about political thinkers from Plato to Mill, and adds seven chapters about theorists from Marx and Nietzsche to Rawls and the postmodernists. The new chapters, which show how thinkers have grappled with the immense possibilities and dangers of modern power, are themselves a major theoretical statement. They culminate in Wolin's remarkable argument that the United States has invented a new political form, "inverted totalitarianism," in which economic rather than political power is dangerously dominant. In this new edition, the book that helped to define political theory in the late twentieth century should energize, enlighten, and provoke generations of scholars to come.

    Wolin originally wrotePolitics and Visionto challenge the idea that political analysis should consist simply of the neutral observation of objective reality. He argues that political thinkers must also rely on creative vision. Wolin shows that great theorists have been driven to shape politics to some vision of the Good that lies outside the existing political order. As he tells it, the history of theory is thus, in part, the story of changing assumptions about the Good.

    In the new chapters, Wolin displays all the energy and flair, the command of detail and of grand historical developments, that he brought to this story forty years ago. This is a work of immense talent and intense thought, an intellectual achievement that will endure.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2610-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xxii)
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)

    • CHAPTER ONE Political Philosophy and Philosophy
      (pp. 3-26)

      This is a book about a special tradition of discourse—political philosophy. In it I shall attempt to discuss the general character of that tradition, the varying concerns of those who have helped to build it, and the vicissitudes that have marked the main lines of its development. At the same time, I shall also try to say something about the enterprise of political philosophy itself. This statement of intentions naturally induces the expectation that the discussion will begin with a definition of political philosophy. To attempt to satisfy this expectation, however, would be fruitless, not merely because a few...

    • CHAPTER TWO Plato: Political Philosophy versus Politics
      (pp. 27-62)

      As we have suggested in the previous pages, political philosophy and political nature have a history; each may be said therefore to have a beginning. Questions concerning origins, however, are of antiquarian importance, except as origins may have influenced later developments. In the case of political philosophy, its origins are so significant that one can say, with very little exaggeration, that the history of political thought is essentially a series of commentaries, sometimes favorable, often hostile, upon its beginnings.

      It is to the Greeks that we are indebted for the invention of political philosophy and for the demarcation of the...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Age of Empire: Space and Community
      (pp. 63-85)

      Much has been written by modern scholars about the failure of classical political thought to transcend the narrow unity of the city-state. It has been alleged that the ideas of Plato and Aristotle were so closely bound to the fortunes of this tiny political entity that, when thepolisgave way to the larger empires of Macedonia and Rome, the parochial assumptions of their ideas were exposed: assumptions about the racial homogeneity of the population, the optimum size of the political community, and a social structure that would allow a small part of the population sufficient leisure for political affairs....

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Early Christian Era: Time and Community
      (pp. 86-126)

      The troubled centuries that followed the establishment of imperial monarchy at Rome found the tradition of Western political thought at its most impoverished. There had been failure all along the line: failure to face the implications of concentrated power, failure to indicate ways and means for recapturing a sense of participating membership, and failure to preserve the distinctive integrity of political knowledge. Hellenistic and Roman thinkers had struggled to account for the new magnitudes of politics, the extension of space, the centralization of power, and the unprecedented enlargement of the constituency, but in the end they had confessed to being...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Luther: The Theological and the Political
      (pp. 127-147)

      In its theology and philosophy, the mediaeval mind displayed a fondness for making complex distinctions which later ages have found both admirable and annoying, admirable because of the analytical subtleties that were developed and annoying because of the seemingly trivial subjects that were discussed. What was most impressive about this penchant for distinction-making, as well as what gives it an appeal for many moderns, was that most mediaeval thinkers could assert fine and even sharp distinctions between matter and spirit, essence and attribute, faith and reason, spirituality and temporality, without dissolving irrevocably their connective tissues. Things might be sharply defined...

    • CHAPTER SIX Calvin: The Political Education of Protestantism
      (pp. 148-174)

      The political problem bequeathed by Luther and nourished by the radical sects of the Reformation centered on a developing crisis in the concept of order and in the Western traditions of civility. The criticism of the papacy by the early Reformers had really amounted to a demand for the liberation of the individual believer from a mass of institutional controls and traditional restraints which hitherto had governed his behavior. The mediaeval Church had been many things, and among them, a system of governance. It had sought, not always successfully, to control the conduct of its members through a definite code...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Machiavelli: Politics and the Economy of Violence
      (pp. 175-213)

      The impact of the Reformation on the Western European countries had resulted in a significant alliance, although not always on a self-conscious basis, between the groups advocating religious reform and those intent on furthering national independence. This had been facilitated by the tendency among the religious writers of the last half of the sixteenth century to turn increasingly to consider political theories and problems. Calvin undertook to reintroduce political categories into church theory as the necessary accompaniment to a reintegration of the political and religious orders. In England, Hooker supplied to Anglicanism a philosophy which extolled the intermingling of political...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Hobbes: Political Society as a System of Rules
      (pp. 214-256)

      Machiavelli’s political theory had been oriented towards the order of problems created by the human energies and vitalities which had burst through the mediaeval system of restraints. He had tried to reshape the concepts of political theory so that they might better grasp the reality of individuals, groups, and states jostling for advantage within a determinate space. One result of Machiavelli’s reformulation of political theory was to draw attention to the dynamic element of the uninhibited pursuit of interest and to establish interest as the departure point for most subsequent theorizing. Although he had succeeded in uncovering this new dimension...

    • CHAPTER NINE Liberalism and the Decline of Political Philosophy
      (pp. 257-314)

      If we were to imagine two intelligent readers of Hobbes, each equally distant from him in time, the first representing the middle of the fifteenth century, the other the middle of the nineteenth, we would naturally expect each to make radically different criticisms on some points, but we might be less prepared to find them agreeing on others. Our fifteenth-century reader would be shocked by Hobbe’s sardonic treatment of religion and the ruthless way he divested political philosophy of all traces of religious thought and feeling. The nineteenth-century man, surveying Hobbes from the vantage point of Marx and the classical...

    • CHAPTER TEN The Age of Organization and the Sublimation of Politics
      (pp. 315-390)

      To describe adequately recent and contemporary conceptions of what is political is a risky undertaking, full of the pitfalls that come from standing so close to events and interpretations of events. Accepting the risks, nevertheless, let us begin with some obvious remarks and then try to see what their implications hold.

      Most of us would agree, I suppose, that during the last hundred and fifty years there has been an unprecedented democratization of political life. Democratic political systems have spread throughout the Western world; political rights have been extended to all classes of society; governments are generally expected to be...


    • CHAPTER ELEVEN From Modern to Postmodern Power
      (pp. 393-405)

      Not long ago Western societies celebrated the beginning of their third millennium not as a mere calendar change but as marking a turn into a “new age” that promised to surpass the achievements of the past. In the “advanced societies” of the West the occasion afforded the opportunity to affix a certain collective identity, to say who we are, and declare who is included in “we.”

      Collective identity is not only built of positive assertions but made possible by selective memory loss, a rearrangement of remembrance and forgetting that forms the collective memory. For a new identity to take hold,...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Marx: Theorist of the Political Economy of the Proletariat or of Uncollapsed Capitalism?
      (pp. 406-453)

      During the last quarter of the twentieth century several innovative theories appeared, among them hermeneutics, deconstruction, post-structuralism, neopragmatism, gender studies, radical feminism, and cultural theory. They stood for a bewildering variety of political tendencies and conceptions of politics.¹ To sort out the dramatic, even startling changes that have taken place in the concerns and conceptions of political theory, we may take as useful reference points two of the towering nineteenth-century intellectual giants, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche—near contemporaries, polar opposites, yet curiously joined.

      The contrasts between Marx and Nietzsche mark a seismic shift: from theory as comprehensive and systematic...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Nietzsche: Pretotalitarian, Postmodern
      (pp. 454-494)

      Marx and the classical economists were agreed that the economy provided the substance of the political, of the common good and the well-being of citizens; that in a properly constituted society enjoying a broad consensus on social, economic, and political fundamentals, politics as the contestation for power would be reduced to a minor role; and that the principal activity of the state, or what remained of it beyond warfare and law enforcement, would be administrative. These confluent tendencies had a shared origin in revolution: in the revolutionary character of capitalist production and the French revolution—both of which Marx appropriated....

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Liberalism and the Politics of Rationalism
      (pp. 495-523)

      The ambiguities and tensions between modern power and mid-century liberalism were preserved in two theoretical works, Karl Popper’sThe Open Society and Its Enemies(1945) and John Rawls’sA Theory of Justice(1971), both of which were soon recognized as classics of modern liberalism. Together they provide clues about the evolution of liberalism from its triumph over Fascist statism to its temporary embrace of the Welfare State.

      Although both books were written during wartime, albeit different wars, neither contemplates the domestic implications of war, foreign policy, military establishments, and mobilized populations. Consequently both writers fail to consider the possible deformation...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Liberal Justice and Political Democracy
      (pp. 524-556)

      The sixties caught liberal theorists by surprise, in part owing to a complacency encouraged by a seemingly wide public consensus based upon liberal beliefs and confirmed in the discourse of consensus popular among social scientists and analytical philosophers.¹ The emergence of a non-communist democratic left deeply critical of liberalism presented liberals with a challenge they had not previously confronted. Among the surprises of that challenge was a sustained attack upon the strong and positive conception of the state represented by Kennedy’s New Frontier and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Democracy was being recast in terms of smaller scales and “appropriate technologies,”...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Power and Forms
      (pp. 557-580)

      For centuries most political theorizing assumed that for political life to exist it had to inhabit a structure of governance, a “form” or constitution that embodied certain principles which determined its nature. Accordingly, every constitution was given a name that signified the collective identity embodied in its principles. The archetypal forms were named monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, signifying the predominance of the one, the few, or the many. While a particular form was distinguished by its political institutions, practices and conception of citizenship, the idea of a form also signified a particular way of being in the world expressed in...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Postmodern Democracy: Virtual or Fugitive?
      (pp. 581-606)

      Marx assumed that the material conditions of life and their power relationships were imploding and hence revolutionary change was inevitable. The postmodern theorist, however, sees a world of international economies, transnational bureaucracies, and multinational capitalism where revolutionary change is the achievement of corporate power. In that context political theorists are drawn increasingly to culture as the site from which to engage the new structures of power.

      That choice would entail either rejecting the superstructural status of culture by claiming that culture, rather than economy, was primordial, or accepting its derivative status. In either case culture could be treated as the...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 607-740)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 741-761)