The Introduction to Raymond Geuss’ Philosophy and Real Politics

J88091 Over at Princeton University Press:

A strong “Kantian” strand is visible in much contemporary political theory, and even perhaps in some real political practice. This strand expresses itself in the highly moralised tone in which some public diplomacy is conducted, at any rate in the English-speaking world, and also in the popularity among political philosophers of the slogan “Politics is applied ethics.” Slogans like this can be dangerous precisely because they are slickly ambiguous, and this one admits of at least two drastically divergent interpretations. There is what I will call “the anodyne” reading of the slogan, which formulates a view I fully accept, and then there is what I will call the “ethics-first” reading.

The anodyne reading asserts that “politics”—meaning both forms of political action and ways of studying forms of political action—is not and cannot be a strictly value-free enterprise, and so is in the very general sense an “ethical” activity. Politics is a matter of human, and not merely mechanical, interaction between individuals, institutions, or groups. It can happen that a group of passengers in an airplane are thrown together mechanically when it crashes, or that a man slipping off a bridge accidentally lands on a tramp sleeping under the bridge. The second of these two examples is a salutary reminder of the role of contingency and of the unexpected in history, but neither of the two cases is a paradigm for politics.