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Philosophy and Real Politics Hardcover – August 17, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A discipline-altering book."--Glen Newey, London Review of Books

"[Geuss's] intention in Philosophy and Real Politics, his short, sharp new book, is . . . to introduce a note of realism into contemporary philosophical debates about justice, by force if necessary."--Adam Kirsch, City Journal

"A manifesto for a new political philosophy. . . . Geuss's realist proposal brings forcefully to the contemporary political discussion the idea that philosophy is an engaged discipline, both in the sense of engagee, of directly speaking to the political issues of the day, and in the sense of having its own historical cultural commitments firmly in view."--Katerina Deligiorgi, The Philosopher's Magazine

"Philosophy and Real Politics is an impressive and provocative essay on contemporary Anglo-American political philosophy theory."--Christoph Konrath, Law and Politics Book Review

"[G]iven the current trends in political philosophy, Geuss's book is both timely and extremely important. One of Geuss's many virtues as a political philosopher is his ability to effectively confront philosophical complacency, and this superb book is surely successful in this regard."--David Sherman, Social Theory and Practice

"A slim, devastating critique of the flight towards abstraction and pristine idealism in contemporary liberal political thought--a path led by the late John Rawls. Geuss's work deserves to be far better known."--Sunil Khilnani, Outlook India

From the Back Cover

"In this new study, Raymond Geuss mobilizes the strength of analytical philosophy to subvert the theoretical premises of contemporary political philosophy. He replaces its fixation on ideal norms and its abstraction from real confrontations with an orientation toward contexts of action and a rigorous concentration on the importance of political power. It is fascinating to see the result: a political philosophy that is once again a kind of intellectual craft, historically situated and locally engaged."--Axel Honneth, J. W. Goethe University, Frankfurt

Raymond Geuss is the most sophisticated and subtle philosopher who takes seriously the tradition of critical theory. His critique of formal political philosophy--including in neo-Kantian philosophy like that of the late John Rawls--that shuns the crucial roles of power, historical context, and political action is powerful and persuasive. This grand text is an intellectual breath of fresh air."--Cornel West, Princeton University

"Raymond Geuss's short, brilliant, and provocative book forces on political philosophers questions that we often prefer not to raise, let alone answer. Geuss takes seriously the disturbingly untidy character of many political transactions and the dangers of idealized abstractions. His ruthlessness toward Nozick and Rawls is in striking contrast to the attitudes of most of their critics. And Geuss lives dangerously, prescribing remedies drawn from Lenin, Nietzsche, and Weber that may have unpredictable side effects."--Alasdair MacIntyre, University of Notre Dame

"This is a small gem of a book. With his other recent work, it establishes Geuss as a unique voice in political theory. Not everyone will find his arguments persuasive, and some will doubtless take offense, but there is something interesting, perceptive, and thought provoking on every page. It will stir debate."--Glyn Morgan, Harvard University

"There is much to learn from and disagree with here. This book is vigorous in its arguments, displays an impressive historical sweep, and on several occasions gets in the perfect skewering criticism."--Leif Wenar, University of Sheffield


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (August 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691137889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691137889
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,110,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Coleman E. Mcfarland on August 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Geuss' book is a tightly argued appeal for (and demonstration of) realism in political thought, and I'd say it's a good read, too. Other reviewers were disappointed with the short length, but I would argue that the reader will come away from this essay with clearer notions of what politics is, and also what it is not.

In the West that I inhabit, our political discourse is polluted with half-baked stereotypes and cynicism. Guess approaches this dangerous swamp and does what analytic philosophers do best, which is stop and ask, "Hey, what are we really talking about here?" I firmly believe that this is always a useful exercise. Fortunately, Guess also makes it an enlightening and enjoyable one.

Now for a little futurism: I say this book is a sign of the times because I believe that contemporary philosophy (especially political philosophy) is moving into a new era. The long, paralysing, and divisive postmodern era is coming to an end. Anti-Kantian, realist thought is emerging in both Continental and Anglo-American philosophies in response to the pressing realities of politics and the continuing radical evolution in technology and the natural sciences. Now is an excellent time to do just what Guess has done here, which is to attempt to define the terms of the debate.

[Readers should also know that Princeton University Press has posted the introduction from this book online.]
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is difficult for me to review because I agree with almost all of it but can only give it three stars.

I have two basic objections:

1. The book could have been reduced to a long, easy to read essay of twenty or thirty pages instead of inflated into a small book of 102 pages.

2. As it stands, it reads more like a summary of a graduate seminar or political philosophy conference than a book for general readers.

I imagine that the author himself would agree with me and, in fact, that it was the publisher 'who made Geuss do it' in hopes of selling some books.

I wish I could refer the general reader to a New York Review of Books book review of the book but I can't find one.

Guess's ideas are perennial but, unless you have unlimited funds, check this book out of your local university library, and even then be prepared to skim over a lot of ahems and umms.

Still, as I said, Guess makes the only sense out of the modern political scene that (alas?) it is possible to make and I have no criticism of the content, only the form.
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Format: Hardcover
In this book, Professor Geuss from the University of Cambridge ruthlessly criticizes deficiencies of ethics-first approach to understanding politics because ethics cannot be completely universal in its application to all political agents in all historical contexts. What Professor Guess expounds and advocates based on his assumptions of political philosophy is an opposite of ethics-first approach:-

First, politics is not a kind of applied ethics. Political agents have values and beliefs but what they actually act might not mean they act on values and beliefs they hold. There is constant flux and fundamental indeterminacy in values, thought, desire, and action in human life.

Second, politics is an exercise of a craft or an art. Political agents exercise skills or political judgment in a flexible way in response to a given circumstance with the result that action can be enhanced or facilitated. Accordingly, politics should be context dependent and historically located.

Third, politics is about "Who Whom" or "Who does what to whom for whose benefits". It is concerned with agency, power, and interests and the relations amongst these. Studying politics with complete absence of taking the influence of power into account can lead to deficiency and ignorance.

Fourth, there is no single ethics such as justice, equality, and fairness which possesses uncompromising priority and can be universally applied to all political agents. Individuals have intuitions and common sense which consists of constrains on actions and ideal goals to be pursued but they have different priorities over all political and moral values.
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Format: Hardcover
I didn't get as much as I expected (or wanted) from this rather thin volume, though the bitterness and venom -- however carefully and clinically Geuss writes, his anger at the world (he would undoubtedly say "justified" anger at oppression, etc) is palpable -- stayed with me for a while, as did the image of Geuss in his office (?) at Cambridge. Under a mop of gray hair, and behind large spectacles, he looks like an intense man. The book is clear and to the point, but utterly lacking in nuance. If one sets out to be "realist" and correct idealism(s), shouldn't one acknowledge that the real world is messier, that is to say more nuanced, than one assumes? Geuss's turn to realism is laudable, insofar as abstract theorizing IS neither helpful nor practical, but it is also disturbing in that it's a Leninist realism he champions. I should have thought that Lenin's particular "win-at-all-costs, ethics-be-damned" realism should be the last thing dragged out of the dustbin of history given the amount of suffering Lenin helped to bring about. (One saw a lot of broken eggshells at Lenin's feet, but not so many appealing omelettes.) Finally, one wants to ask: what prevents someone from claiming realism from the right, just as Geuss has claimed realism from the left? And what would Geuss do about it? That is, the problem with realism re-emerges, just at a higher level: anyone can claim they are speaking on behalf of the "real" world. My fear is that Geuss would say: in the "real" world, might makes right. So it's off to the Philosophical Steamer for you, if you don't side with Geuss, Lenin and their interpretation of the "real" world, and they have more guns, conviction, and bullies on their side.
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