|Graduate Seminar–Political Realism: Social Complexity and the Limits of Political Intelligibility
Normative political philosophy suffers from a lack of attention to the reality to which its norms are meant to be applied. We need, instead, a realist approach to politics that takes due cognizance of the social and political circumstances before we try to determine how to proceed. (“You can’t make decisions in a game, unless you know what game is being played.”) This is what Machiavelli and Hobbes understood. But their versions of political realism are no longer sufficient since contemporary society has undergone dramatic change. An essential feature of contemporary social and political structures is that they are highly complex systems. The first goal of the seminar is to explore the nature of that complexity. Cognitive orientation becomes, moreover, increasingly difficult under conditions of heightened complexity. The second question for the seminar is therefore what the limits of intelligibility are given the complexity of contemporary social reality and what this means for the conduct of politics. How, in particular, are we to conceive of democracy in this situation? In the course of the semester, we will look at Danilo Zolo’s 1992 book Democracy and Complexity. A Realist Approach and John Dunn’s book The Cunning on Unreason. Making Sense of Politics of 2000 as well as his more recent 2014 book Breaking Democracy’s Spell.