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The Moral Foundations of Politics

The Moral Foundations of Politics

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Moral Foundations of Politics
    Book Description:

    When do governments merit our allegiance, and when should they be denied it? Ian Shapiro investigates this most enduring of political dilemmas in this innovative and engaging book.Shapiro discusses the different answers that have been proposed by the major political theorists in the utilitarian, Marxist, and social contract traditions over the past four centuries. Showing how these political philosophies have all been decisively shaped by the core values of the Enlightenment, he demonstrates that each one contains useful insights that survive their failures as comprehensive doctrines and that should inform our thinking about political legitimacy. Shapiro then turns to the democratic tradition. Exploring the main arguments for and against democracy from Plato's time until our own, he argues that democracy offers the best resources for realizing the Enlightenment's promise and managing its internal tensions. As such, democracy supplies the most attractive available basis for political legitimacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12869-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    When do governments merit our allegiance, and when should they be denied it? This most enduring of political dilemmas motivates our inquiry. Socrates, Martin Luther, and Thomas More remind us of its vintage; Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi underscore its continuing force. They are moral heroes because they faced down wrongful political authority, just as surely as Adolph Eichmann was a moral villain for his failure to do so. His motivation and behavior as a middle-level officer in Nazi Germany exemplify obedience to a technically legitimate authority. Yet his actions in sending countless thousands to Nazi...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Enlightenment Politics
    (pp. 7-17)

    The philosophical movement known as the Enlightenment was really several distinct, if overlapping, intellectual movements. Its roots can be traced at least to the 1600s, and its influence has been felt in every walk of life. From philosophy, science, and invention, to art, architecture, and literature, to politics, economics, and organization, every field of human activity bears the indelible stamp of one aspect or another of the Enlightenment. Despite innumerable assaults that have been leveled against different aspects of its philosophical assumptions and practical consequences from the beginning, the Enlightenment outlook has dominated intellectual consciousness in the West for the...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Classical Utilitarianism
    (pp. 18-36)

    Jeremy Bentham was nothing if not bold. On the first page of his only systematic treatise about politics he reduced his doctrine to a single paragraph:

    Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters,painandpleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Synthesizing Rights and Utility
    (pp. 37-70)

    Classical utilitarianism was beset by two profound difficulties. One is that the amount of information needed to implement it is staggering. Bentham’s optimism and self-confidence notwithstanding, it is far from evident that the kind of utilitometer he had in mind could ever be constructed. For any government to aspire to delve into the psyches of individuals, get the relevant data, and compare it across people seems excessively ambitious, leaving aside the troubling issues relating to the incentives facing those empowered to wield the utilitometer just discussed. The second difficulty concerns the reality that the classical utilitarian scheme is insensitive to...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Marxism
    (pp. 71-108)

    What if corn-dealers really are starvers of the poor and private property really is robbery? Enter Karl Marx, for whom both propositions must be taken with deadly seriousness. Marx would take the view that, far from legitimating the political order, the Pareto principle and Mill’s harm principle provide ideological smoke that obscure its lack of legitimacy. This derives from the fundamental injustice of the status quo that they protect. As Marx’s view is so diametrically opposed to theirs, one might think that they share nothing in common. Reflecting this, some commentators contend that Marx and Mill worked from fundamentally opposed...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Social Contract
    (pp. 109-150)

    We can recast the structural critique of transactional views of freedom by saying that they are myopic: procedural conceptions that lack attention to the contexts within which transactions, such as the exchange of labor-power for a wage, occur. One reason why there has been a revival of interest in the social contract tradition in recent decades is that it seems more satisfying on this front. As one influential theorist in this tradition, Robert Nozick, puts it, any fully adequate theory of justice must comprise a theory of justice in acquisition, a theory of justice in transfer, and a theory of...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Anti-Enlightenment Politics
    (pp. 151-189)

    Every current has its undertow, and it would be surprising had the political projects of the Enlightenment not bred trenchant opposition. From the various antediluvian movements Christopher Hill describes inThe World Turned Upside Down,to the Luddite machine-breakers and the anarcho-syndicalist followers of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in the nineteenth century, to the critics of the American Progressives such as Reinhold Niebuhr whose story has most fully been told by Christopher Lasch, to the Greens and other environmentalist groups of our own day, the Enlightenment political undertaking has always had its detractors. Sometimes religiously motivated, sometimes secular, these detractors do not...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Democracy
    (pp. 190-223)

    Some will be surprised that our discussion has proceeded to this point without engaging democracy as a normative ideal. Given the prevalence of democracy in the contemporary world, any inquiry into the moral foundations of politics must surely attend to democracy’s role in legitimating political regimes. That governments of all ideological stripes in every region of the world try to shroud themselves in the mantle of democracy is further evidence, were it needed, that a commitment to democracy is a necessary component of political legitimacy. Aspiring political leaders can be liberals or conservatives, meritocrats or egalitarians, nationalists or cosmopolitans, multiculturalists...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Democracy in the Mature Enlightenment
    (pp. 224-230)

    Arguments in the democratic tradition over the past several centuries, like the other traditions examined in this book, have been centrally shaped by the characteristic Enlightenment preoccupations with science and individual rights. To be sure, these concerns enjoy a lineage that predates the Enlightenment. Plato’s discussion of democracy reminds us that political philosophers had been concerned both with potential tensions between democracy and the truth for over two millennia and with the possibility that, in a democracy, respect for individual freedom might be threatened by mob tyranny. This underscores the reality that there is nothing entirely new under the modern...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 231-266)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 267-290)