5 Questions in Political Philosophy

by Harry on September 3, 2007

I’m not a big fan of the academic interview, perhaps having been put off it by attending “A conversation with Jacques Derrida” while I was in graduate school (better, perhaps, than the “Rudolph Bahro interviews Himself” that’s in one of the Socialist Registers in our downstairs loo). So I only read Political Questions: Five Questions in Political Philosophy (UK) because Adam Swift twice told me to do so (three times including his enthusiastic blurb on the back of the book). It’s really very interesting: 18 political theorists and philosophers of varying eminence give their answers to 5 questions:

Why were you initially drawn to political philosophy?

What do you consider your most important contribution to political philosophy and why?

What is the proper role of political philosophy in relation to real, political action? Can there ever be a fruitful relation between political philosophy and political practice?

What do you consider the most neglected topics in late 20th century political philosophy?

What are the most important unsolved questions in political philosophy and/or related disciplines, and what are the prospects for progress?

Obviously the responses vary in their level of interest. There are no shocking revelations – William Galston doesn’t renege on his pluralism; Amy Gutmann doesn’t come out in favour of dictatorship. And there is an unevenness in how fully people answer the questions; some are too lengthy and others, frankly, too terse (I’d have liked to hear more from Allen Buchanan and Phillippe Van Parjis in particular). And there are missing characters – I’m not going to propose anyone for elimination, but it would have been nice to hear from Elizabeth Anderson, Loren Lomasky, and Norman Daniels. (I presume that some people refused to be interviewed — how else to explain the absence of G.A. Cohen, for example?).

I was most interested in what people had to say about question 3.

[click to continue…]

The man who went into the west

by Chris Bertram on September 3, 2007

I have very little time for blogging at the moment, so I’m going to abandon a plan I had to write an extended post about Byron Rogers’s “The Man who Went into the West: The Life of R.S. Thomas”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1845132505?ie=UTF8&tag=junius-21&link_code=as3&camp=2506&creative=9298&creativeASIN=1845132505 . Thomas, referred to by Larkin as “Arsewipe Thomas” was, as most of you probably know, one of the very best poets in the English language in the twentieth century. He was also an Anglican vicar in a Wales where most of the population was chapel and a fierce advocate for the Welsh language despite speaking a variant so academic that his parishioners struggled to understand him. He sometimes refused to speak English at all (except through an interpreter), yet he wouldn’t let his own family learn Welsh and couldn’t write a decent poem in his adopted language. His son tells of being packed off to boarding school in the hated England and of listening to sermons in which Thomas denounced fridges and vacuum cleaners as the paraphenalia of modernity. He barely showed any affection for his talented artist wife but after he death composed supremely tender love poems. With her he lived a life of dour austerity in sub-arctic temperatures, but then he remarried a fox-hunting reactionary and was seen queuing for lottery tickets at Tescos. He was a priest with distinctly unorthodox views about the nature of the deity (of whom he had an almost Newtonian conception). He carried out the duties of a vicar with conventional conscientiousness, but felt awkward talking to parishioners and once vaulted over the churchyard wall after a funeral service to avoid conversation with the bereaved. He had a reputation for grim humourlessness with some, but at least one person compared him to Lenny Bruce and Ken Dodd. And then there’s his feeling for nature and landscape … I could go on and on about this extraordinary man with many many personas and a capacity for repeated personal reinvention. But you should buy the book, you really should.