It is said in some quarters that political theory need not, and perhaps should not, be a “historical” enterprise. It should be concerned with discovering and articulating timeless truths or addressing “perennial problems.” Or it should be an ahistorical “analytical” study in which one aims to answer important questions definitively and once and for all. The author argues that these and other attempts to de-historicize political theory are misguided and that, indeed, political theory is inescapably historical in several senses of that term. Firstly, works of political theory are written in particular places and times by authors attempting to address particular questions. Secondly, these works are received and read by audiences in other times. And thirdly, the meanings of these works are interpreted by readers through the medium of one or another interpretive framework, which is itself historically datable. All these considerations point to the conclusion that political theory is necessarily “historical.”
Can This Marriage Be Saved?
The too-often unhappy 'marriage' of political theory and political science has long been a source of anguish for both partners. Should this troubled partnership be dissolved? Or might this marriage yet be saved? Ball answers the former question negatively and the latter affirmatively. Playing the part of therapist instead of theorist, he selectively recounts a number of episodes which estranged the partners and strained the marriage. And yet, he concludes that the conflicts were in hindsight more constructive than destructive, benefiting both partners in heretofore unexpected ways and perhaps paving a path toward reconciliation and rapprochement.
Christian Fuchs and John Collier
Economic logic impinges on contemporary political theory through both economic reductionism and economic methodology applied to political decision-making (through game theory). The authors argue that the sort of models used are based on mechanistic and linear methodologies that have now been found wanting in physics. They further argue that complexity based self-organization methods are better suited to model the complexities of economy and polity and their interactions with the overall social system.
New protest movements have recently occasioned debates about the party form on the left. Jodi Dean contributes to these debates through her theorisation of the party as an organisation for making the egalitarian impulses of the crowd durable. In this endeavour, Dean acknowledges anxiety about the party form on the left, yet she dilutes its complexity through recourse to generalities and abstractions. This article seeks to reclaim the complexity of anxiety about the party form on the left through the reflections of three major thinkers in radical political theory: Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault and Alain Badiou. These thinkers suggest that anxiety about the party can spring from highly variegated sources and lend itself to equally variegated positions. These sources and positions capture the complexity of sources of anxiety about the party on the left. They also enable us to take stock of the forms of the betrayal of radical politics by the party.
An Interview with John Dunn
Benjamin Abrams and John Dunn
John Dunn, FBA, is emeritus professor of political theory at King’s College, University of Cambridge. His work on revolution began in 1972 with the publication of his landmark volume, Modern Revolutions: An Introduction to the Analysis of a Political Phenomenon. A second edition was published in 1989, and the volume has since been translated into several foreign languages. Alongside revolution, Dunn’s thought has examined questions of regime collapse, reconstruction, the political trajectories of modern states, and the emergence and significance of democracy. His work lies at the intersection of history, political theory, and sociology. In the interview, Dunn offers a categorization of revolution as a distinctly bounded historical phenomenon that has not persisted into the twenty-first century. “The Epoch of Revolution,” he argues, begins with 1789 and had definitively ended by 1989. After the Epoch of Revolution, Dunn argues, we now confront a more enduring and generic phenomenon: regime collapse.
Reel to Real: race, sex and class at the movies by bell hooks. New York and London: Routledge, 1997.
Seeing a Colour-Blind Future: The paradox of race. The 1997 Reith Lectures by Patricia J. Williams. London: Virago Press, 1997.
Newtonian science and mechanics left an important imprint on the Scottish Enlightenment. Even though the usage of mechanical metaphors, especially that of a “state machine” per se, were rare in Scottish philosophy, its conception of the human, animal and political bodies as mechanisms that function according to regular principles, or laws, helped to shape many of the theories that have now become popular in various fields of Scottish studies. Most research in these fields focus on the conceptions of history related to theories of economic advancement. In this article the author suggests that the theories produced in the Scottish Enlightenment were also nuanced attempts to describe how historical mechanisms operate.
Responding to Hugo Slim’s critique, John Dunn defends his notion of the “Epoch of Revolution.” The response advances that this protracted epoch was defined by the unique way in which the category of revolution itself defined key possibilities for collective political, social, and economic transformation. In doing so, Dunn argues, this category transformed the conditions of political action across a large part of the world. Dunn classifies Slim’s cases as instances of rebellion that, though significant and important, do not share the teleological character of revolution.
Processual and Programmatic Approaches to Revolution in the Epoch of Revolution Debate
In Contention volume 5, issue 2, Benjamin Abrams interviewed the political theorist John Dunn on the topic of modern revolutions. In the interview, Dunn advanced the view that the “Epoch of Revolution” had ended by 1989 and that what many scholars called revolutions today were simply instances of regime collapse. The interview received a lot of attention from scholars and practitioners including Hugo Slim. Slim challenged Dunn’s concept of revolution in this issue, and Dunn responded defending his ideas. This article attempts to tease out the differences underlying the two scholars’ disagreement as to whether the Epoch of Revolution has truly passed. The article proposes that while processual approaches (such as Slim’s) conceive of revolution primarily as a political means, Dunn’s “programmatic” approach to revolution conceives of it as not only a means but also a political end. The article also considers the implications of Dunn’s theory of revolution, and the representative challenges of academic interviewing.
Defining Politics in the Emerging Global Order
In the wake of globalisation different social science disciplines have found themselves entering into similar terrains of inquiry. However, each discipline tends to draw on different and often contradictory understandings of the political, and of related notions such as power. The lack of a shared notion of politics may prevent social scientists from gaining important insights from other disciplines. In this paper I therefore seek to demonstrate that seemingly contradictory notions of politics are better seen as different forms of political interaction. I define politics as activities through which people and groups articulate, negotiate, implement and enforce competing claims. By distinguishing different types of claims made within different institutional circumstances, I outline three basic forms of political interaction: governance, stalemate and social dilemma, and give examples of how each of these forms of political interaction has emerged in response to the global integration of market in different circumstances and areas of the world.