Kiss goodbye to freedom

Raymond Geuss foresees a future of strict controls or war over resources. Matthew Reisz meets the radical philosopher and traces his intellectual development.

Matthew Reisz in The Times:

Philosophy_and_Real_PoliticsRaymond Geuss would like his fellow philosophers (and many of his fellow citizens) to think about politics in a radically different way. His latest book, Philosophy and Real Politics, is a quietly ferocious broadside against much received wisdom.

Among its targets are “the highly moralised tone in which some public diplomacy is conducted, at any rate in the English-speaking world, and … the popularity among political philosophers of the slogan 'Politics is applied ethics'.” What this slogan usually means in practice is starting off with abstract general principles or intuitions about fairness, justice, equality or rights, and then applying them to specific political situations. Such an approach, Geuss believes, is unlikely to tell us anything much about the real world of power struggles and messy compromises.

Some of his arguments have their roots in his earliest educational experiences. In a tribute to the philosopher Richard Rorty, Geuss offers an entertaining account of his Roman Catholic upbringing and how it had granted him “relative immunity to nationalism” – and in particular the “patently absurd” notion that there was something “special” about the United States.

For the Irish and Irish-American nuns who taught him from the ages of five to 12, only the Roman Catholic Church was truly universal and international. They knew that all the popes had been Italian, but that was for purely fortuitous reasons. “Only an Italian could stand to live in Rome: it was hot, noisy and overcrowded, and the people there ate spaghetti for dinner every day rather than proper food, ie potatoes, so it would be too great a sacrifice to expect someone who had not grown up in Italy to tolerate life there.”

More here.