Castles Made of Sand: The Futility of a Realist Critique on Idealism

James Waller

Abstract


Political realists have long criticised political philosophy for its abstract nature and inattentiveness to the objective world. Despite this, theory has continued to inform the political culture & decision-making of the U.S. and elsewhere. In this paper I focus on the main aspects of the realist critique, namely the inverse relationship of ethics to politics and the priority of legitimacy over justice, and assess the extent to which John Rawls’s Theory of Justice’s is weakened by it. I argue that Rawls’s theory needn’t be ‘realistic’ to hold value, despite it being so, and that the realist misconstrues the possibility of an autonomous political sphere separate from theory. Indeed, it is postulated that realism’s political principles are themselves hostage to the same subjective value judgement for which Rawls’ liberalism is so condemned.

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