A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 21
Political Theory:
Traditions in Political
Philosophy
Bhikhu Parekh
I Background
IN much of the discussion of post- Second World War political philosophy, it is often argued:
1. that the 1950s and 1960s marked the decline or even the death of political philosophy, and the 1970s and 1980s its resurgence;
2. that the resurgence was caused, or at least stimulated, by a sharp rise in the level of political and ideological struggle brought about by such factors as the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement in the United States, the disintegration of the post-war consensus, and the emergence of the New Left; and
3. that Rawls A Theory of Justice (hereafter TJ) symbolized the rebirth of political philosophy. (See, e.g., Barry 1991; Miller 1990; Held 1991.)

Propositions (2) and (3) presuppose that (1) is true. If (1) were shown to be false, we would not need (2) to explain it. And as for (3), we would not then see TJ as a historical benchmark, although of course it would still remain a major work in post-Second World War political philosophy. Although the images of death and resurrection have a deep emotional appeal to those shaped by Christianity, there is little evidence to support (1). Furthermore if the Vietnam War and other events were able to breathe new life into a dead or dying discipline, it would be extremely odd if, other things being equal, such infinitely more cataclysmic events as the Second World War, the Nazi and Communist tyrannies, and the Holocaust could not throw up important works in political philosophy. If (2) is true, (1) cannot be true.

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