Politics and the Imagination

Guess new bookOver a Princeton University Press, from the first chapter of Raymond Geusss's new book here. From the book description:

In politics, utopians do not have a monopoly on imagination. Even the most conservative defenses of the status quo, Raymond Geuss argues, require imaginative acts of some kind. In this collection of recent essays, including his most overtly political writing yet, Geuss explores the role of imagination in politics, particularly how imaginative constructs interact with political reality. He uses decisions about the war in Iraq to explore the peculiar ways in which politicians can be deluded and citizens can misunderstand their leaders. He also examines critically what he sees as one of the most serious delusions of western political thinking–the idea that a human society is always best conceived as a closed system obeying fixed rules. And, in essays on Don Quixote, museums, Celan's poetry, Heidegger's brother Fritz, Richard Rorty, and bourgeois philosophy, Geuss reflects on how cultural artifacts can lead us to embrace or reject conventional assumptions about the world. While paying particular attention to the relative political roles played by rule-following, utilitarian calculations of interest, and aspirations to lead a collective life of a certain kind, Geuss discusses a wide range of related issues, including the distance critics need from their political systems, the extent to which history can enlighten politics, and the possibility of utopian thinking in a world in which action retains its urgency.

From the first chapter:

Traditional philosophy was utterly fixated on the search for a single fundamental concept the analysis of which would allow one to decipher a whole area of human experience, and for a very wide range of human activities philosophers thought they had discovered an Archimedean point in the concept of a “belief” or an “opinion.” I would like to suggest that this traditional approach might in some ways stand in the way of a proper understanding of politics. In contrast to the traditional views, I would like to propose two theses. First, if one thinks it necessary to isolate a single political concept that was purportedly more central than others, one would be well advised to take as basic not “belief” or “opinion” but “action” or the “context of action.” Political judgments are not made individually one by one, but always stand as parts of larger sets of beliefs and judgments, and a political judgment is always embedded in a context of action. A political judgment is itself specifically directed at focusing, guiding and orienting future action; expressing, or even entertaining, such a judgment is performing an action. Second, “context of action” would not be a concept that could serve as an essential definition of politics in the traditional sense in which philosophers have sought such a definition. At best, “context of action” is an open concept with indeterminate contours, and boundaries that can expand and contract depending on a variety of other factors.