Politics and the Imagination

Politics and the Imagination

Raymond Geuss
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 216
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Politics and the Imagination
    Book Description:

    In politics, utopians do not have a monopoly on imagination. Even the most conservative defenses of the status quo, Raymond Geuss argues, require imaginative acts of some kind. In this collection of recent essays, including his most overtly political writing yet, Geuss explores the role of imagination in politics, particularly how imaginative constructs interact with political reality. He uses decisions about the war in Iraq to explore the peculiar ways in which politicians can be deluded and citizens can misunderstand their leaders. He also examines critically what he sees as one of the most serious delusions of western political thinking--the idea that a human society is always best conceived as a closed system obeying fixed rules. And, in essays onDon Quixote, museums, Celan's poetry, Heidegger's brother Fritz, Richard Rorty, and bourgeois philosophy, Geuss reflects on how cultural artifacts can lead us to embrace or reject conventional assumptions about the world. While paying particular attention to the relative political roles played by rule-following, utilitarian calculations of interest, and aspirations to lead a collective life of a certain kind, Geuss discusses a wide range of related issues, including the distance critics need from their political systems, the extent to which history can enlighten politics, and the possibility of utopian thinking in a world in which action retains its urgency.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3213-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. I Political Judgment in Its Historical Context
    (pp. 1-16)

    In his recently published memoirs¹ the former British ambassador to the United States, Sir Christopher Meyer, describes a dinner party which he attended in Washington in early February 2001. George W. Bush had just been elected—or at any rate, inaugurated as—president of the United States, and the members of his new administration were awaiting the first visit of the British prime minister Tony Blair.² Present at the dinner were several close advisers of the new U.S. president, figures strongly associated with the Republican Right, so-called “neoconservatives” such as Richard Perle and David Frum. The conversation quickly moved to...

  6. II The Politics of Managing Decline
    (pp. 17-30)

    The last twenty years have seen very significant changes in the pattern of economic activity around the world, including major increases in the manufacturing capacity of various countries in Asia. In addition, the collapse of the Soviet Union initiated a process of political restructuring in Europe which has not perhaps yet reached its final stage. For citizens of the European Union it might seem timely to think again about what attitudes we wish to adopt toward some of the new political constellations that seem to be emerging in the world. For those of us who live in the UK, two...

  7. III Moralism and Realpolitik
    (pp. 31-42)

    Philosophers are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to understanding politics, and it is a disadvantage that results from the very peculiarity of their special vocation and training. From almost the very beginning of its existence as a distinct activity, Western philosophy has been committed to certain principles of at least minimal self-awareness, clarity, coherence, and consistency of thought, speech, valuation, and action. Socrates, who notoriously took no part in city politics beyond what was strictly required of him by his obligations as a citizen, also started philosophy down the path of exhortation toindividualsas the focus of...

  8. IV On the Very Idea of a Metaphysics of Right
    (pp. 43-60)

    Since the very idea that there could be a “metaphysics” of “right” is by no means self-evident, what would motivate someone to think it was possible, advisable, or necessary to develop such a thing? One suggestion is the following: We notice that conceptions of “right” change dramatically from one society and era to another. Thus Roman law was based on a distinction between free persons and slaves. Slaves were considered to be “in the power” of their owners: they had no legal personality at all (nullum caput habent), and could be killed by their masters with impunity. The way this...

  9. V The Actual and Another Modernity Order and Imagination in Don Quixote
    (pp. 61-80)

    Two strange figures confront one another in one of those barren, timeless, imaginary landscapes in which gross anachronism is admissible. An elderly Spaniard, his hand resting on the hilt of his rusted sword, is undecided: who is the elegantly clad young man who bars his way? This unfamiliar young man is also armed with a sword. On his head he wears a plumed hat of black satin, with a white feather and gold embellishments. Nonetheless, there is a decidedly clerical look about him. Is he a nobleman? Or perhaps a cleric of some considerable standing? The Frenchman wipes his face,...

  10. VI Culture as Ideal and as Boundary
    (pp. 81-95)

    Nietzsche, as is well known, was trained as a classical philologist, but it is, I think, often insufficiently appreciated that he remained intellectually true to this original choice of professions, albeit in his own highly idiosyncratic way, to the very end of his life. To be sure, from very early on Nietzsche understood “philology” as a discipline that was distinctively “philosophical” both in its method and in its content. The philologist cultivates an art of interpreting ancient monuments of civilization through the exact and subtle reading of obscure and difficult texts, and such practice is the best possible preparation for...

  11. VII On Museums
    (pp. 96-116)

    The collecting and exhibiting of natural objects and of artifacts has a long history. There are different kinds of collections, and they have varying origins, and serve a wide variety of different human purposes. Thus, for instance, in the ancient world temples sometimes served as repositories of various offerings, some of which were durable objects, such as the bloody armor of successively defeated opponents. The reasons the victors had for depositing these trophies are probably very complicated; the desire to thank a divine patron and commemorate a signal success may have played an important role, but also perhaps the desire...

  12. VIII Celan’s Meridian
    (pp. 117-141)

    In October 1960 the German Academy for Language and Literature in Darmstadt made what might seem to be a highly peculiar decision. It presented the prestigious Georg-Büchner-Preis¹ for literature to the forty-year old poet Paul Celan, a man who had never spent any appreciable amount of time living in an officially German-speaking country. Celan was born in 1920 over a thousand kilometers east of Darmstadt in the city of Czernowitz in the Bukovina. Bukovina had been the most easterly province of the Austro-Hungarian empire between the late eighteenth century and the end of World War I. In 1918 it was...

  13. IX Heidegger and His Brother
    (pp. 142-150)

    The small town of Meßkirch lies in the extreme south of the present state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, roughly halfway between Lake Constance and the Swabian Alps. During the first half of the twentieth century, this region was still overwhelmingly rural and Catholic. Politically Meßkirch and its surrounding villages were a bastion of the (Catholic) Center Party, which, together with the SPD, formed one of the central components of the continuing coalition of parties that kept the Weimar Republic in operation during the 1920s. In the elections of 1932 the Center Party received an absolute majority of the votes cast in...

  14. X Richard Rorty at Princeton Personal Recollections
    (pp. 151-163)

    When I arrived in Princeton during the 1970s my addiction to tea was already long standing and very well entrenched, but I was so concerned about the quality of the water in town, that I used to buy large containers of allegedly “pure” water at Davidson’s—the local supermarket, which seems now to have gone out of business. I didn’t, of course, have a car, and given the amount of tea I consumed, the transport of adequate supplies of water was a highly labor-intense and inconvenient matter. Dick and Mary Rorty must have noticed me lugging canisters of water home,...

  15. XI Melody as Death
    (pp. 164-166)

    Human memory is a tricky phenomenon. We remember so easily what we take pleasure in recalling, and also what we most definitely donotwish to recall. Sometimes if one is quick and nimble enough, one can even catch the process of “reconstructing” one’s past in memory on the hop, that is, one can recall the original impression and also the gradual way in which it began to fade, shift, and be transformed. Very occasionally, the original experience is so vivid, one cannot help thinking it is preserved in the mind in a form that excludes serious error or uncertainty...

  16. XII On Bourgeois Philosophy and the Concept of “Criticism”
    (pp. 167-186)

    At some point in 1931 Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote a note about his colleague Frank Ramsey, who had died the previous year at the age of 27.

    This note reads:

    Ramsey war ein bürgerlicher Denker. D.h. seine Gedanken hatten den Zweck, die Dinge in einer gegebenen Gemeinde zu ordnen. Er dachte nicht über das Wesen des Staates nach—oder doch nicht gern—sondern darüber wie mandiesenStaat vernünftig einrichten könne. Der Gedanke, daß dieser Staat nicht der einzig mögliche sei, beunruhigte ihn teils, teils langweilte er ihn. Er wollte so geschwind als möglich dahin kommen, über die Grundlagen—diesesStaates...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-192)
  18. Index
    (pp. 193-198)