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Value, Conflict, and Order

Berlin, Hampshire, Williams, and the Realist Revival in Political Theory

Value, Conflict, and Order

Berlin, Hampshire, Williams, and the Realist Revival in Political Theory

Is the purpose of political philosophy to articulate the moral values that political regimes would realize in a virtually perfect world and show what that implies for the way we should behave toward one another? That model of political philosophy, driven by an effort to draw a picture of an ideal political society, is familiar from the approach of John Rawls and others. Or is political philosophy more useful if it takes the world as it is, acknowledging the existence of various morally non-ideal political realities, and asks how people can live together nonetheless?

The latter approach is advocated by “realist” thinkers in contemporary political philosophy. In Value, Conflict, and Order, Edward Hall builds on the work of Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire, and Bernard Williams in order to establish a political realist’s theory of politics for the twenty-first century. The realist approach, Hall argues, helps us make sense of the nature of moral and political conflict, the ethics of compromising with adversaries and opponents, and the character of political legitimacy. In an era when democratic political systems all over the world are riven by conflict over values and interests, Hall’s conception is bracing and timely.

256 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Philosophy: Political Philosophy

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


"Edward Hall’s Value, Conflict and Order: Berlin, Hampshire, Williams, and the Realist Revival in Political Theory is a major contribution to this ongoing conversation about the meaning and value of realism in political theory. It stands out for its nuanced treatment of the ideas of these three post-war British philosophers, whose writings have helped to inspire the recent realist turn. Hall skilfully weaves together detailed interpretive work with his own critical interventions in the realist-moralist exchange."

Journal of Social and Political Philosophy

"Value, Conflict, and Order is an admirable book, one that those interested in the revival of realist political theory ought to read. I suspect it will become required reading for those interested in Williams’s political theory, as well as those interested in twentieth-century British political theory."


"In his highly accessible and rewarding new book, Edward Hall... addresses some of the essential themes of political realism (such as the untidy nature of political affairs) and some of the challenges it faces (for example, how realists can affirm pluralism without falling into relativism). This makes it required reading for those engaged with realism in political theory and a good starting point for everyone interested in the realist way of thinking about politics."

LSE Review of Books

"Berlin, Hampshire, and Williams's 'political realism' offers neither the certainty of systematic morality or political science, nor a guarantee of political success. There is little consolation in this philosophy - save perhaps the reassurance, for humanists who cannot brig themselves to be utopians or cynics, that their doubts and anxieties are valid. There is, however, considerable intellectual illumination to be derived from accompanying Hall on his journey through the ideas of these idiosyncratic, imperfect, but wise thinkers."

The Review of Politics

"...Hall has written a terrific book on the realist revival in political theory, one that will establish him as one of the leading ‘new political realists’. It is, quite simply Hall’s analytical brilliance, paired with admirable lucidity and creativity, that allows him to develop critical – but remarkably fair – accounts of Berlin, Hampshire, and Williams, and, ultimately, to make a major contribution to the realist revival in political theory."

Contemporary Political Theory

"By showing how much potential still lies within [the] liberal strand of realism and how much more it can actually tell us about politics than a statusquoist fear of disorder and tyranny, as well as how we can remain modest in our expectations about what we should get from a realist political theory, Hall does a great service both to realism in general and to its liberal strand in particular. His book does not conclude but fosters discussion about these issues, and that is why I am confident that it will come up in every serious conversation about realism, and for good reason."

European Journal of Political Theory

"Values, Conflict, and Order not only recovers a tradition in political thought that has been neglected but revives it in a way that directly engages in how political theory is done and how we should think about politics…It should be read by those who aspire for politics to be something other than what it perhaps is."


“Hall offers a lucid and wide-ranging account of three leading philosophers who provided the impetus for the realist movement in contemporary political philosophy. He argues that the realism they sparked represents not only a negative critique of the dominant Rawlsian paradigm, as others have claimed, but also the foundation for an affirmative alternative to it.”

William A. Galston, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

“Over the last fifteen years, the revival of political realism has produced a sharp methodological critique of ‘ethics-first’ theorizing. But that is all this revival has produced so far. Can political realism be grounded on firm philosophical foundations? Can it offer a substantive alternative to the moralisms it criticizes? Hall’s deep and challenging book gives us grounds for optimism on both fronts. Through a sympathetic but clear-eyed reading of Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire, and Bernard Williams, Hall shows us the promise and limits of a realist ethics and politics. What emerges is a compelling vision of skepticism without despair, disenchantment without nihilism, and humility without paralysis. This book is a terrific achievement.”

Alison McQueen, Stanford University

Table of Contents



Part One: Isaiah Berlin
1.         Pluralism, Relativism, and the Human Horizon
2.         The Sense of Reality

Part Two: Stuart Hampshire
3.         The Vitality of Conflict
4.         From Conflict to Compromise

Part Three: Bernard Williams
5.         Standing Up to Reflection
6.         Legitimacy and Liberalism


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