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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


"...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

“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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