The Nature of Political Theory

The Nature of Political Theory

The Nature of Political Theory

The Nature of Political Theory

Synopsis

The Nature of Political Theory is a controversial book which challenges the established nostrums of contemporary political theory. Its major contributions to current scholarship are threefold. It offers, first, a comprehensive, synoptic, and comparative analysis of the major conceptions ofpolitical theory, predominantly during the twentieth century. This analysis incorporates systematic critiques of both Anglo-American and continental contributions. The 'nature' of theory is seen as intrinsically pluralistic and internally divided. Secondly, the idea of foundationalism is employed inthe book to bring some coherence to this internally complex and fragmented practice. The book consequently focuses on the various foundational concerns embedded within conceptions of political theory. The third major contribution of the book is to argue for an adjustment in the way we think aboutthe discipline. Political theory is reconceived as a rhetorically-based, indeterminate subject, which should be more attuned to practice and history. Overall, the book makes a case for a more ecumenical and tolerant demeanor, suggesting that there are different, but still quite legitimate, answersto the question, 'what is political theory?'. Acceptance of this view would involve a supplementation of the standard substantive approaches to contemporary political theory. Students of politics should minimally be made aware of the deeply contested character of the discipline during the twentiethcentury. The book therefore challenges the way we think about political theory as a subject. The book can consequently be read on two levels. First, there are systematic concise expositions of distinct movements and arguments which have characterized the various phases of political theory during thetwentieth century. Secondly, there is a deeper argument, which moves through the whole text, focusing on the theme of foundationalism. This latter theme embodies the contention that we should rethink the manner in which we configure political theory. As such, the book offers a unique andidiosyncratic perspective on our current understanding of political theory.

Excerpt

The original idea for this book started life some ten years ago. At the outset, it was envisaged as a short text, but subsequently it appeared virtually to take on a life of its own. The initial serious research began during a two year fellowship in the Research School of the Social Sciences at the Australian National University, between 1994 and 1996. My thanks go to the Research School, and particularly to Barry Hindess, who then headed the politics section. I am sure Barry's perspective will differ markedly from my own; nonetheless, his independent critical thinking and open, friendly support were great stimuli to my initial reflections on this whole issue. Whilst in the Research School I ran a seminar series over a year, on the theme 'Whither Political Theory?' Many of the papers were later published in an edited volume entitled Political Theory: Tradition and Diversity (1997): however, the seminars themselves were an additional impetus to thinking more deeply about the whole issue of theory. In many ways the series was, in part, a preface to the present study. My thanks go to all the participants in that seminar programme.

After my research period in Australia, I found myself involved in a process of detailed administrative work at Cardiff University which slowed my research momentum. I sought solace in some easier writing projects. But the ideas for the present work kept up their own peculiar underlying intellectual momentum. Between 2000 and 2001, I was fortunate to be offered a sabbatical research fellowship in the Humanities Research Centre in the Australian National University, Canberra. My thanks also go here to my old University in Cardiff for this period of research leave, which allowed me time not only to finish another project on nationalism, but also to return to the present topic under the excellent writing conditions provided by the Centre—I was thus able to complete a large proportion of the present book. It also enabled me to meet up again with old friends and colleagues in Canberra. I am especially grateful to the then Director of the Humanities Research Centre, Iain McCalman and Caroline Turner (Deputy Director) for providing such first class friendly and supportive conditions.

In 2001, I joined the politics department at Sheffield University and have managed over my first couple of years to complete the present book in the midst of new teaching and administrative responsibilities. My thanks go to the political theory group in the department—that is, Mike Kenny, Matthew Festenstein, Andrew Gamble, James Meadowcroft, and Duncan Kelly—for enjoyable political theory conversation and encouragement. Over the last decade, and more, during which I have thought intensively about political theory, I have incurred innumerable intellectual debts. There have been so many interesting conversations from which I have learnt to see political theory issues in a new light. My thanks go to (to name but a few) Ed Andrew, David Boucher, Bob Brown, Maria Dimova-Cookson, Michael Freeden, Maurice Goldsmith, Knud

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