Blog of The Paradox of Realism Research Group

Political action in realist theory

2016. April 19. 10:32
Political action in realist theory

My name is Gábor Illés, and I am a Junior Research Fellow at the Institute of Political Science, CSS, HAS, and an Assistant Lecturer at the Institute of Political Sciences, Faculty of Law, Eötvös Loránd University. I originally began to work in the Paradox of Realism Research Group when a volume was being prepared about classical realist authors. During my years at the university, I had always been a lay admirer of ancient greek political thought - so I chose to write about the significance of Thucydides for contemporary political realism. This connection to the realism project was extended later: I became interested in looking at my original research topic (political leadership) from the viewpoint of realist political theory. So the topic of my thesis became "The problem of political action in realist political theory".

Political action is an elusive phenomenon. It is often connected to various "god terms" in realist political theory, such as charisma (Weber), creativity (Schabert), or judgement (Dunn). These concepts are often taken to explain everything, while cannot be further interrogated themselves. My aim is to map and contribute to new realist attempts that try to conceptualize political action beyond these boundaries. At the moment I work on the ethical aspect of my thesis, focusing on contemporary realist ways of finding a middle way between political moralism and pure consequentialist analysis of political action, for example through virtue ethics (as done by Andrew Sabl in an Aristotelian, and by Mark Philp in a Machiavellian way). Later, I plan to deal with the epistemological aspect, i.e. with the potential relevance of political theory for political action. Recently, this attempt to find a more moderate version of the scepticism of Oakeshott and Dunn has also gained some prominence in the literature (e.g. in some articles of the Festschrift for Dunn entitled Political Judgment). Finally, I also plan to contribute to the conceptualization of political action on the ontological level, by focusing on various forms of play. Play could be interesting for a realist political ontology because of its autonomous rules (corresponding to the realist claim of the autonomy of politics), agonistic nature (a central feature of politics in several realist accounts), and at the same time its ability to deliver some internal criteria for the evaluation of the players. The notion of play, although treated at some points in the realist literature (for example by Philp), is still a promising field for further analysis. This analysis could open up the possibility of incorporating into realist political theory some thoughts of authors like Arendt or Gadamer (to name two with a special ontological focus), or the later Wittgenstein, thereby enriching contemporary realist political theory.