Through a Glass, Darkly: The Vision and Visions of Political Theory

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Abstract

This article assesses the recent history and possible future of political theory in Britain. Part One surveys the difficulties that political theory has faced. In particular, it focuses on the relationship between political theory and three developments in the study of politics: (i) the divorce of Anglo-American and continental political theory; (ii) the rise of the idea of a political science; and (iii) the tendency to narrow the focus of Anglo-American political theory around the themes of liberalism and justice. In Part Two the article focuses on the nature of both seeing and being seen by political theory. In doing so a conception of political theory is developed that views it as the activity of seeing ourselves reflected with others. Such an account of political theory advances it as (i) a social activity; that (ii) focuses on the importance of understanding; and (iii) involves a perspectivism based around a reflective seeing with others. This opens a space for a pluralistic political theory—a pluralism that reflects both perspectives and change, but one that is always limited by the reality, values and value of others, and the possibility of a shared understanding.

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