What is political philosophy? Ronald Beiner makes the case that it is centrally defined by supremely ambitious reflection on the ends of life. We pursue this reflection by exposing ourselves to, and participating in, a perennial dialogue among epic theorists who articulate grand visions of what constitutes the authentic good for human beings. Who are these epic theorists, and what are their strengths and weaknesses? Beiner selects a dozen leading candidates: Arendt, Oakeshott, Strauss, Loewith, Voegelin, Weil, Gadamer, Habermas, Foucault, MacIntyre, Rawls, and Rorty. In each case, he shows both why the political philosophies continue to be intellectually compelling and why they are problematic or can be challenged in various ways. In this sense, Political Philosophy attempts to draw up a balance sheet for political philosophy in the twentieth century, by identifying a canon of towering contributions and reviewing the extent to which they fulfil their intellectual aspirations.
Ronald Beiner is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He is the editor of Hannah Arendt: Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy (1982) and the author of Political Judgment (1983); What's the Matter with Liberalism? (1992), which was awarded the Canadian Political Science Association's C. B. Macpherson Prize in 1994; Philosophy in a Time of Lost Spirit (1997); Liberalism, Nationalism, Citizenship (2003); and Civil Religion (Cambridge, 2011).
1. First prologue: horizons of political reflection; 2. Second prologue: Freud, Weber, and political philosophy; 3. Hannah Arendt: the performativity of politics; 4. Michael Oakeshott: life's adventure; 5. Leo Strauss: the politics of philosophy; 6. Karl Loewith: in awe of the cosmos; 7. Excursus on nature and history in the Strauss-Loewith correspondence; 8. Eric Voegelin: modernity's vortex; 9. Simone Weil: the politics of the soul; 10. Hans-Georg Gadamer: philosophy without hubris; 11. Jurgen Habermas: politics as rational discourse; 12. Michel Foucault's carceral society; 13. Alasdair MacIntyre: fragmentation and wholeness; 14. Short excursus on the rise and decline of communitarianism as a political philosophy; 15. John Rawls and the death of political philosophy; 16. Richard Rorty: knocking philosophy off its pedestal; or, the death of political philosophy postmodernized; 17. Epilogue: on not throwing in the towel.