What is the future of political philosophy? The answer is obvious. It will get stupider and more useless. This does not mean it will disappear from the University. Foreign languages may be axed. Music performance may be axed. History of Art may be axed. Even Doctorate level Mathematics may be axed (as is happening at West Virginia State) Indeed, anything requiring a brain but which is expensive to teach or can't be readily turned into a lucrative job offer, may get the chop. Political philosophy will survive because cretins can be politicians. However, PhD dissertations may take the shape of a Tik Tok video if students find finger painting too onerous.
Katrina Forrester takes a different view-
liberal egalitarians tended to insist that what mattered were institutional solutions to current inequalities;
in other words, a Social Security system which would give idlers plenty of money.
past injustices weren’t relevant, and arguments that relied on historical claims were rejected. That meant that demands for reparations for slavery and other historical injustices made by Black Power and anti-colonial campaigns in the late 1960s and 1970s were rejected too.
Not in Africa they weren't. Sadly, getting rid of people of a different, economically more successful ethnicities tended to make things worse for everybody.
It also meant that political philosophers in the Rawlsian strain often read later objections to the universalist presumptions of American liberalism as identitarian challenges to equality, rather than as critiques informed by the history of imperialism and decolonization.
But such philosophers were wholly useless. What mattered was the Bench, on the one hand, and Government Fiscal policy, which is decided by legislators, on the other. Anybody can call for any sort of crazy shit. But if the tax payer won't pay for it, it won't get done.
As the concerns of philosophers were consolidated, facility with Rawlsianism became the price of admission into the elite institutions of political philosophy.
But those elite institutions turned to shit. Smart kids wanted to be like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. They didn't want to teach stupid shite to retards.
Many on the margins
if you are the margin of shit, you are still shitty.
saw that it was only by adopting the form of liberal egalitarianism or its mainstream alternatives that other ideas—Marxian, feminist, critical race, anticolonial, or otherwise—could be considered.
Why consider them? Why not do something fun with your life instead?
Just as often, rival political visions or arguments were not rejected outright, but accommodated within the liberal egalitarian paradigm—often in a way that diffused their force.
If they had force, they didn't bother with philosophy.
When marginalized ideas were taken up by liberal philosophers, they were frequently distorted to cohere with the larger paradigm.
You have to distort crazy in order for it not to be obviously crazy.
Analytical Marxism was engaged insofar as Marxism could be made into a theory of property distribution, and thus compatible with the Rawlsian focus of distributive justice.
Anything can be made into a theory of property distribution. David Icke's theory could justify our taking over desirable properties owned by shape-shifting lizard people. Incidentally COVID vaccination is a conspiracy cooked up by them along with the Illuminati and the Parents Teachers Association.
The same was true for democratic ideas, which had to be made compatible with theories of discussion and deliberation. As the British philosopher Brian Barry made explicit in debates that lie at the origins of global justice theory within philosophy, in order to fit the canons of justice theory one needed to “domesticate” the demands by theorists of the New International Economic Order for the overhaul of relations between Global North and South.
Why bother? Those demands culminated in the Brandt Commission which was utterly useless. That was 40 years ago. Anyway, it turned out that most foreign Aid is counter-productive. China lifted over 700 million people out of extreme poverty by being more fucking capitalist than thou.
The very capaciousness of liberal philosophy squeezed out possibilities for radical critique.
Sadly, this was not the case. We'd gladly subsidize liberal philosophy if it could squeeze out the lunatic fringe. It is they who pose the greater nuisance value.
The political crises of the 1970s largely passed Anglophone liberal philosophers by.
They kept their heads down. The other thing is, back then, smart kids tended to be Leftists and smart kids can do STEM subjects.
Few wrote about crises of legitimacy and the challenges of post-industrial society.
They may have done. Nobody noticed.
Many social theorists were trying to address the collapse of Marxist and liberal grand narratives—by rethinking the subject of the working class, and by moving analyses of work beyond the factory to the school, prison, clinic, and bedroom.
But those studies turned out to be paranoid bullshit. Foucault literally died of ignorance.
Rawlsians did not worry much about these collapses or the social changes these rival theories sought to explain—changes of class, capital, work, the state, or the subject.
They didn't need to. Basically Rawlsianism was just a particularly stupid version of a particular Social Choice theory.
Instead they offered a new grand system at a time when many other systems were rejected.
No. They offered an 'elevator pitch'- people will want to prioritize raising the 'social minimum' if they didn't know if they'd be rich or poor. This was clearly stupid. We don't know if we will be hit by a bus tomorrow or if a Madoff will make off with out pension fund. The solution is 'regret minimizing' which involves buying insurance policies or other hedges of various types. But this already happens.
It was in part because of this refusal to engage these new challenges that liberal egalitarianism survived the undoing of the postwar liberal settlement.
These guys had tenure. They may have survived but nobody was listening to them. True, if they were non-White and non-Male somebody might give them a consolation prize on that basis.
This is not to say that political philosophy was untouched by political change. In the 1980s, a number of liberal and Marxist philosophers developed a rival egalitarianism—“luck egalitarianism,” as it has become known—designed to address the limitations of Rawls’s institutional focus, which they thought let individuals off the hook.
What fucking hook? If people object to your having a penis and money in the bank tell them they smell bad and should kindly fuck off.
The problem with 'luck egalitarianism' is that to stay lucky you need to tell egalitarians to fuck the fuck off.
They explored questions of individual responsibility and control over choices.
Which non-academics understand better than people who teach stupid shit.
Many were leftists, but they took on an individualizing discourse of responsibility, dependency, choice, and market solutions identified with the New Right. Others challenged proceduralism and marketization in the name of community or human rights.
This was a double edged sword. What 'due process' gives, 'due process' can take away.
A school of thought known as communitarianism became the dominant alternative; its advocates prioritized community over the individual and the social self over the atomistic, liberal one (though in practice many communitarians returned to ideas that Rawls had himself begun from and left behind).
I suppose the Iran of the Ayatollah's is 'communitarian'.
The Rawlsian liberal’s focus remained with juridical, legislative and democratic institutions and individuals. What both they and their communitarian critics missed were the larger changes to the administrative state and the rise of neoliberal policies—those that outsourced and privatized public welfare functions, expanded the state’s carceral functions and the reach of public management, and introduced competition, deregulation, and new transnational forms of clientelism and governance.
I don't think even stupid or senile professors were not aware that government bureaucracies and powerful trade unions were utterly shit. Smart people would flee a jurisdiction where they didn't get value for money. Liberty is about having Hohfeldian immunities and entitlements which it is incentive compatible for somebody to provide. That means a type of management which is responsive to the customer not the fucking Trade Union or the idols of the Bureaucracy.
These blind spots didn’t stop Rawls’s theory from remaining the touchstone for both his followers and his critics.
Neither of whom mattered in the slightest. Still, you understood that a guy who did a thesis on Rawls is a dim but nice enough chap. A guy who did a thesis on Trotsky, probably did so while serving a long sentence for armed robbery.
The rise of Rawlsianism is thus a story of triumph—the triumph of a small group of affluent, white, mostly male, analytical political philosophers who worked at a handful of elite institutions in the United States and Britain, especially Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford, and constructed a universalizing liberal theory that took on a life of its own.
No. But it was safe and boring and not the kind of thing which would appeal to serial killers doing PhDs in prison.
They began from where they were, focusing almost entirely on North American and Western European welfare states, except in their imagination of the global. Yet they wanted their political philosophy to have a broader reach; they tried to expand their theories across space to encompass wider communities, nations, the international realm, and ultimately the planet. They also moved across time, drawing on the past to reimagine the future and to make political philosophy as universal and unconstrained as possible. But in the end, they remained within the contradictions of postwar liberalism.
The only contradiction is between wanting the Government to do lots of nice things for you but not wanting to pay any tax.
In recent years, however, aspects of the Rawlsian paradigm have come under pressure as a new generation probes its limits.
The new generation ignores it. They know very well that the age of abundance is over. The boomers may be able to 'triple lock' their pensions but they will have to run down their capital at some point in time. Entitlement collapse will hit the young who haven't been 'grandfathered in'.
Some have extended Rawls’s ideas to corporations, workplaces, labor markets, financial markets, algorithms, borders, and unions as sites for theories of justice.
Sadly, no work will be done in such places if the Social Justice warriors take them over.
Others have repurposed theories of exploitation and domination to supplement distributive principles. Self-described political realists have tried to put the politics back into political philosophy by making theories of democracy more sensitive to the nature of actual political conflict.
Sadly, the 'actual conflict' they believe in, is wholly imaginary.
There has also been a move away from the distributive focus, as well as from the deliberative view of democracy that models politics on a seminar room. In these critiques, the limits of earlier phases of liberal egalitarianism are illuminated. It is perhaps not surprising that a political philosophy that began as averse to ideology, interests, and the coercive power of states, corporations, and unions became a theory of ideal speech unmoored from politics, but today that has been found wanting. Problems that had once been foreclosed by the non-historical nature of justice theory are also now interrogated, as some revisit ethical issues—such as reparations—raised by the legacies of colonialism.
Reparations are a money claim. The problem is that many people have suffered imaginary injuries and if they all get together they can take away what you have.
The study of ideology and the ethics of the oppressed have seen a resurgence, deploying insights from critical race theory, feminism, and Marxism.
But crazy guys with guns who believe the Post Office is a paedophile ring are even more scary than Marxists.
So political philosophers are adapting, constantly extending the egalitarian framework in new directions. But is that enough?
It is pointless. A mechanism which isn't incentive compatible will collapse. It looks as though the economy will be increasingly dominated by knowledge based sectors with Pareto type 'power laws'. This means income and wealth distribution will worsen unless factor mobility can be artificially reduced. The bigger problem is the increase in the dependency ratio. Sooner or later there are going to be 'haircuts' or else entitlement collapse. Fiscal policy matters. Philosophy doesn't.
Whether Rawlsian ideas can help us confront the needs of our own moment is not so clear.
His ideas were stupid- but he wasn't an economist. It is people like Arrow and Sen we should blame.
Like much of the human sciences (and thanks in part to the constraints of a professionalized and increasingly precarious academic system), political philosophy continues to be oriented toward solving particular problems
hilarious! Philosophy found the cure for Cancer!
rather than to building new systematic theories.
Putin is the only politician I know of who subscribes to a political philosophy- apparently it is some crazy shite cooked up by Anna Akhamatova's son.
Even as the substantive concerns of political philosophers have begun to shift as new subject matter enters the philosophical domain, much debate still takes place in the shadow of a set of ideas that reflect the assumptions of a different age. There are benefits to working within an intellectual tradition, but there can also be costs if the tradition struggles to shed light on changing circumstances. After all, radicals in the United States are drawing more inspiration from Marxism than from liberalism.
But the crazy guys with guns are more numerous. God alone knows from where they are taking inspiration. It is important to remember that philosophers don't have the monopoly on stupidity or paranoia.
That is partly because of the ambiguous political legacy of Rawls’s theory.
It had none. Rawls's work came out just afters voters rebelled against redistributive fiscal policy though, in America, because of 'fiscal drag', the thing carried on for a bit.
From our vantage point on the other side of the financial crisis, liberal egalitarianism can now look to have been the perfect left-liberalism for the “end of history” brought by the end of the Cold War.
No. We assumed there would be a 'peace dividend' which should remain in the hands of smart, tech savvy, people. Two bad ideas- one that everybody could get rich off their sub-prime property, and secondly that thickos with degrees would not be thickos- put paid to that notion. The government had to take on the down side risk of the financial system and put money directly in the hands of rich people like Trump. This isn't sustainable more particularly if you also want to fight 'forever wars' to bring democracy and Gay Rights to people who want neither.
In that period of relative calm and liberal optimism, when politics looked technocratic and was characterized by a new consensus, liberal egalitarianism didn’t seem so different—just a step or two further left—from the centrism of Bill Clinton’s or Tony Blair’s Third Way.
Though, what really mattered was immigration- in particular the refugee problem which Blair and Bush did so much to exacerbate.
In setting out his theory, Rawls had wanted to provide a way of judging the incremental reforms of societies moving gradually closer to justice.
We already had it. Focus on the worst off and you learn a lot about a society. When Doctors in Moscow or Madras saw that unemployed people in American ghettoes had a superior material standard of living to their own, they upped sticks and moved there- if they were permitted to do so.
The problem with this type of thinking is that it ignores the fact that a country where the poor are actively being deprived of things might rise much more rapidly.
By the 1990s, liberal egalitarianism—like liberal democracy—appeared hegemonic,
No. Egalitarianism was off the table. Consumerism was fine. Liberal democracy didn't matter. You'd happily take a job in Saudi Arabia or Singapore if it paid lots of money. China was an even better place to get rich though you might be killed if you crossed the wrong Party boss.
and it seemed that Rawlsian philosophy might simply aspire to reform an already successful if imperfect liberalism. From this perspective, liberal egalitarianism can look responsible for a narrowing of the utopian imagination and complicit in the rise of a technocratic neoliberalism—reinforcing rather than helping to dismantle its injustices. Now that the claims of the end of history seem not only complacent but mistaken, the political role of this philosophical liberalism is more uncertain.
No. The big problem we face is a Credentialist crisis. It is clear you can study any old shit at Uni and get a good job- if you could get it anyway because family connections or some trait you possess- like being beautiful or charming. True, there are specific courses you can take which allow you to command a premium on the job market but they have nothing to do with philosophy or the Liberal Arts.
Yet at the same time, Rawls’s theories can also be seen as a welcome throwback to a mid-century welfare statist moment that has now, in the desert of austere neoliberalism, taken on the allure of a kind of utopia. In today’s climate, the distributive arrangements demanded by liberal egalitarianism—from universal health care to free education
which Scotland has. Still it has the same proportion of 'deaths of despair' as America.
and the wide dispersal of capital—are radical. Some argue that those arrangements might offer institutional blueprints for the recent revival of socialist aspirations in the British and U.S. left; Corbynism counts Rawlsians among its theorists.
This was written four years ago. Corbyn has been banned from standing as a Labour party MP.
This utopian allure itself speaks to the extent to which we underestimate the political distance traveled between the postwar liberal consensus that birthed liberal egalitarianism and our own time.
This is misleading. The big post-war redistribution was from the old to the young- from creditors to debtors. This was cool if you were a 'boomer'. There was a time in Europe when to be old meant being poor with the strong likelihood of getting poorer. Rich people ate rich food and died in their sixties.
As the center of gravity pulled right, Rawls and his followers became definitive of left-liberalism.
No. Left-liberals were 'multi-culti'.
These ideas meant something different in the decades after the Depression and Second World War than in the aftermath of the New Right and the successes of neoliberal assaults on democratic state institutions.
what she means is countries like Greece which had to balance their budgets. If you spend more than you earn and nobody will lend to you, Neo-liberalism has assaulted you. Has it also anally raped you? Probably. Neo-liberalism is totes gay.
So we face an ambiguity: if parts of liberal philosophy look bound up in the political structure of technocratic neoliberalism,
they don't. Technocrats are smart and know about computers and rocket ships.
others look well suited to our own moment of dramatic inequality,
how come Beyonce gets so much more money for shaking her booty than I do?
with its longing for universalizing principles.
Like what? 'It's nice to be nice' ?
Liberal egalitarianism certainly remains an unparalleled resource for schemes to organize and justify property distribution and limit inequality;
Nope. Such schemes need experts on Fiscal Policy, not stupid philosophers. The fact is, new technology means there are 'incentive compatible' ways to improve resource allocation by redistributing 'control rights' and reducing inequality.
during the years of the Third Way, inequality was often ignored in politics, but it was never ignored by philosophers.
But everybody ignored philosophers who, as Rockerfeller University discovered in the early Seventies, routinely ignored each other. That why the Philosophy Department was axed though, my memory is, a pal of Godel stayed on. But Godel was a mathematician.
In this respect, the fact that liberal political philosophy did not fully accommodate itself to the post-1970s era is one of its strengths. Anglophone political philosophy has also starkly resisted the denaturalizing, anti-essentializing, and particularizing intellectual movements that gained ground in the second half of the twentieth century.
i.e. stuff about how Society caused me to have a penis when what I really wanted was another asshole so I could fart in stereo.
Rawls’s universalist and normative aspirations outlasted the challenges of poststructuralism and post-Marxist critical theories. For a long time that recalcitrance looked like conservatism, but it could now be a resource.
If something failed decades ago, maybe it has now become a resource? Let's revive the study of Alchemy.
If political philosophers gave up some of their naturalized assumptions and viewed certain forms of argument as bound to a political moment that has passed, they could perhaps do new political work in defense of their far-reaching principles of social justice—not only of justification, but of persuasion.
Justice is a service industry. You get what you pay for. Who will pay for 'social justice'? Not the poor- the thing is shit. Maybe a couple of billionaires will fund propaganda for wokeism but you'd have to change the law in order to plunder the mega Trust Funds of the various virtue signalling Foundations. Kristina teaches at Harvard. It has 53 billion in the bank. Why does it not share some of that wealth with other Universities?
The question remains whether the egalitarian tradition can reckon with the crises of our future, but many aspects of the Rawlsian vision suggest it cannot rise to the challenge. Some of our most pressing concerns lie in its blind spots. In the years since the rise of liberal egalitarianism, the state has expanded, but it has also been privatized.
Which is why it is less shit. If the police force was de-unionized, less Black peeps would get shot by officers in America.
The nature of capitalism and of work has transformed and will continue to do so, likely in dramatic and unexpected ways. The constituency of the least well off has been reconstructed,
New Yorkers are very happy that they have to pay for the housing of migrants.
and both its composition and its place as an agent of change rather than a recipient of goods need to be again interrogated.
Kristina likes interrogating homeless people. Good luck to her.
Politics is changing, as authoritarians, radical movements, and new oligarchs battle in a novel international landscape shaped by unaccountable financial institutions, new media platforms, new technologies, and climate change.
Politics changed when Obama was replaced by a guy who was the same age as Clinton and Dubya. Then that old fuck was replaced by a guy even older.
Liberal egalitarians have some of the tools to deal with these changes,
No. They are too stupid. Mechanism design is reverse Game theory. That's hella mathsy.
but our questions also require new frameworks that depart from one invented in a period of ideological battles quite unlike today.
No. It was invented back when there was a consensus that Great Depression levels of Unemployment must never again be allowed to occur. But working class peeps voted for Thatcher and Reagan and re-elected them even after Unemployment soared to ten percent in America and twelve percent in the UK.
It is time to ask what it would take to have a political philosophy fit for our own era.
You'd need Elon Musk or Vivek Ramaswamy level smart people. But who would rather be a Professor of a shit subject rather than a billionaire who can change the world?