Perry Anderson on Rawls, Habermas, and Bobbio, and, while he’s at it, Kant, Hegel, Empire

In the recent New Left Review, Perry Anderson offers a harsh assessment of John Rawls, Jurgen Habermas, and Noberto Bobbio’s takes on international relations and war.

“In these touchingly incoherent sentences, Rawls’s philosophy breaks down. Our society may be corrupt, but the world itself is not. What world? Not ours, which we can only wish might have been different, but another that is still invisible, generations and perhaps continents away. The wistful note is a far cry from Hegel. What the theme of reconciliation in Rawls expresses is something else: not the revelation that the real is rational, but the need for a bridge across the yawning gulf between the two, the ideal of a just society and the reality of a—not marginally, but radically—unjust one. That Rawls himself could not always bear the distance between them can be sensed from a single sentence. In accomplishing its task of reconciliation, ‘political philosophy may try to calm our frustration and rage against our society and its history’. Rage: who would have guessed Rawls capable of it—against his society or its history? But why should it be calmed?”

Chris Bertram over at Crooked Timber turns the tables on Anderson’s review.

“The article has all the classic Anderson hallmarks — the arrogant pronouncement of judgement from on high, the frequent lapses into Latin, a will to the most unsympathetic reading possible. Typically, Anderson is incapable of reading his targets in any other way that as providing pragmatic cover for the American hegemon. On the one hand he seems to adopt the stance of high principle against the unwitting tools of US power whose every argument is accounted for in terms of their personal history and psychology, but on the other it seems hard to know where the critical principles can be coming from since it is hard to see how, on Anderson’s world-view, principles can ever be anything other than the residue of power politics as false consciousness.”