A Case for Socialism:
On the Use of Philosophy in Political Theory
Parliamentary elections in June 1987 in the United Kingdom, won by Margaret
Thatcher for the third time in a row, completely confused our conception of
Isaiah Berlin marked the other day that this was the first time since the French
Revolution that there is no project on the Left among the Parisian
Beloff noted that socialism in the strict sense has become unacceptable save to
the very young or very naive. Various models of the ‘post-socialist era,’ of
the ‘post socialist twenty first century’ were advanced.
end of socialism euphoria was so unanimous and its reasons so ‘clear’ that,
I believe, it is now time for philosophers to show how problematic it was. The
first aim of this paper is to make a philosophical analysis of the present
political realities and on its bases, to give a defense of socialism, nowadays
so much maligned.
Socialism on the Map of Political Life Today
(a) Socialism as a Relational Concept.
Although we tacitly accept that socialism
is one thing, which is well-known to all, almost every political writer has his
own definition of it. Four examples:
to Paul Jenkins, ‘the distinctive idea of socialism is that economic
organization is the key to liberty, equality, and human happiness.’
to Paul Jenkins, ‘the distinctive idea of socialism is that economic
organization is the key to liberty, equality, and human happiness.’
the eighth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica (1968), socialism is described as defending
‘the idea of world wide human brotherhood and liberty. So it is essentially a
movement of the promotion of the well-being and happiness of individual men and
women, akin to utilitarianism in that it seeks the “greatest happiness of the
greatest number” and not only a metaphysical entity such as the state.’
to B. Russell, who strongly sympathized with socialism at the beginning of the
twentieth century, ‘we shall come nearest to the essence of Socialism by [PS1] defining
it as the advocacy of communal ownership of land and capital.’
writers laid stress on the fact that socialism was organized as a further
development of the program of the Enlightenment philosophers to rationalize
social life and to bring social spontaneity under control, much in the same way
in which the nature was brought under control.
an effort to find the most general characteristic to which all these four
conceptions subscribe, we shall refer to socialism as a relational concept; as one among the three leading political
ideologies, the other two being conservatism and liberalism; these form a real
Hegelian triad. It is widely accepted that these three political doctrines take
different places on one axis, wh[PS2] ere
socialism is on the left, liberalism in the center, and conservatism on the
right. Some political writers, however, have criticized this picture, and we
agree with them here. So Friedrich Hayek in The
Constitution of Liberty: ‘If we want a diagram, it would be more
appropriate to arrange them in a triangle with the conservatives occupying one
corner, with the socialists pulling toward the second and the liberals toward
Political Terminology. Here we touch a problem that is of concern to many
who deal with political issues: the terms used in the sphere of politics do not
correctly describe the political reality they intend to describe. Some authors
assert that this is so because ‘the world is now changing so fast that we all
have a tendency to see it in terms that have been left behind by events and are
Others have stated that not only is the political vocabulary of today
out of date, but no vocabulary can, as a matter of principle, rightly name
political facts and events which are so complicated and interwoven one with
another that it is an illusion to expect they can be adequately conveyed by a
handful of terms. This is shown very well in some specific failures of political
terminology to cope with phenomena of political life: ‘A Liberal in today’s
England, for instance, has no more in common with a Liberal in Australia or the
USA than with a Liberal in Italy.’
Another problem is that it is difficult, on the basis of this, or some other
similar classification, to give a reasonable definition of either reformists or
conservatives in the East European countries of 1988–9.
opposition to the latter argument, some political writers believe that the right
antidote to these terminological problems is the creation of a new terminology
that will depict the political life of today more correctly. In this connection
it is stressed that the terms ‘conservatism’ and ‘socialism’ were
introduced in English in one and the same year, in 1835, and the term
‘liberalism’ in 1819; so they were designed to describe the political life
of the beginning of the industrial era. Today, however, when we are on the
threshold of a new information revolution, riding on the crest of the ‘third
wave’ of an over-all change in human life, to use Alvin Toffler’s apt
expression, we badly need a new political terminology. As put by one writer
recently, ‘what we are waiting for, in suspension, is the next great political
philosopher’ who will introduce this terminology.
Theoretical Philosophy as Method of Political Philosophy
The Problem. The author of these words, Bryan Magee, is well-experienced
both in politics—he has been a Member of Parliament in the UK, as well as in
philosophy—he is the author of more than ten books on the subject, and has
brought philosophy into people’s lives through popular television programs for
the BBC. On reflection, the source of his criticism of the contemporary
political vocabulary is not difficult to identify: the Oxford school of analysis
of ordinary language.
starting from the beginning of the 1960s, this latter school lost its influence;
as a matter of fact, today it is only of historical importance. This point
brings us to the fact that in their analyses of political life, political
theorists often spontaneously (unconsciously) follow some philosophy of their
preference. The effect of this practice is that they seldom make use of some
well-established and widely discussed philosopher of the time. On the contrary,
at the back of their mind, they seek support in philosophy which, as a rule, for
contemporary theoretical philosophers of today, is obsolete and sterile. The
reason for all this is the belief, widespread today, that the time when a
philosophical theory could shape political philosophy, as was the case in the
times of Plato, Hobbes, Locke, or Hegel, is gone.
Instead of following a theoretical philosophy, political theory pursues projects
in ‘piecemeal engineering’ (Popper).
second aim of this paper is to demonstrate that, when properly applied,
theoretical philosophy can be useful for political theory. In order to make this
point clear, we shall try to clarify the present political reality with the help
of a powerful and widely known philosophy, that of Wittgenstein, with the
expressed stipulation that some other really great philosopher could equally
well be used with the same success for this purpose.
What Is Philosophy? In several places, Aristotle defines political knowledge
as ‘the most excellent of all’ arts and sciences (Pol.
He writes further that ‘the knowledge of it must have great weight... It
is the End of that which is most commanding and most inclusive’ (Eth.Nic.,
1094a25). In some other places, however, Aristotle specifies that political
philosophy is most important only among the arts, among the practical
disciplines; the sublime virtue, however, can be contemplated only by
theoretical philosophers, not by political scholars: ‘A master-artist is
wiser than a manual worker, and theoretical sciences have a wisdom to a higher
degree than productive sciences.’ (Met.
982e3) How is this discrepancy in Aristotle to be explained? In an effort to
answer this question, I shall, first, ask what philosophy, as such, is.
is hardly any other philosopher who has explored this question as persistently
as Wittgenstein. As we know, however, the question: What does Wittgenstein
understand under philosophy? has no unequivocal answer. Here I shall use an
interpretation of his explicit conception of philosophy — that it is not a
theory but an activity (see his Tractatus,
4.112) — according to which philosophy, or more precisely, philosophical
training, teaches good taste in reasoning/judging, or what Descartes once called
A philosopher is nothing more than a (wo)man who possesses such a taste. After
all, it is well-known ‘that some people had an acuter sense of judgement, just
as some people can judge a vintage port and others cannot.’
This taste is just a kind of a skill — of intellectual skill or art. The
philosopher’s activity is a skilled
activity of assessing different forms of life, social forms, political forms,
etc. with which we are confronted in our vie
quotidienne. What the philosopher can
do better than the layman is simply to reason — in the same way in which someone
may be able to ski or swim better than others.’
with this conception of philosophy, we can now see why politics, according to
Aristotle, is the most difficult science — one which, in spite of the fact that,
like every other science, it aims at predicting future developments, at its best
only advances elucidation, comparisons, etc. The point is that philosophy
differs from all other sciences — from physics, geography, or biology — in its
being both a science, as long as it operates with truths, and an art, as long as
it develops good taste for reasoning/judging
(bona mens). Because it is an art, it
does not have its own subject of investigation. And because it fixes truths, it
develops in progress. At the same time, its progress develops not according to
the linear model characteristic of progress in science, but has its specific,
non-Euclidean, form, similar to that found in other arts.
Political Theory and Theoretical Philosophy. Political theory, on the other
hand, is so difficult just because it is nothing but applied theoretical
philosophy. At the same time, since in it the good taste in reasoning/judging is
applied in its pure form — that is, unmixed with any particular subject — theoretical
philosophy develops here much more successfully than in the ‘natural
philosophy,’ once promoted by Schelling and Hegel,[PS3]
i.e., the good reasoning applied in sciences — astronomy, physics, etc.
fact that political theory is nothing but applied theoretical philosophy
explains, on the one hand, why the rapid development of so called ‘applied
philosophy’ in recent years was connected mainly with political issues, or
more precisely, with issues of policy. In this direction some programs for
‘progressing philosophy’ were advanced, say, that of Kay Nielsen, according
to whom philosophy can progress only as a piecemeal social criticism.
the other hand, this point also explains why politics is repeatedly compared
with art: it is compared with art since theoretical philosophy is an art. Here
we can refer to Jacob Burckhardt, according to whom people of rinascimento
Italy considered the state as a well-calculated and deliberately built
construction — ‘as a work of art.’
Many political philosophers compare politics with the natural art of medicine,
and often use metaphors of medicine. Thus Dante Alighieri once compared Florence
with a sick man who ceaselessly changes his position in order to diminish his
pains: in the same way this town permanently corrects its legislation. In more
recent time, reflecting on politics, Ludwig von Mises also used metaphors from
Comparing the Modernization in Theoretical Philosophy and Political Philosophy.
This understanding of the relation between theoretical philosophy and political
theory can be supported by comparative analysis of their development in the last
four centuries. In this we shall follow the discussion of the problem of
modernity and post-modernity of Jean-François Lyotard and Richard Rorty.
first thing that deserves notice here is that whereas the hallmark of modernity
in social life is its secularization, the hallmark of theoretical philosophy is
its discarding of tradition — Descartes was the first who did this in regard of
medieval scholastics. We can describe post-modernity in philosophy in
terms of a similar revolution that took place in it some 100 years ago in
Britain; the case in point is the revolution in philosophy stirred up by Moore
and Russell which set out the beginnings of what today is known as ‘analytic
philosophy.’ It discarded — in a way rather similar to that in which Descartes
had done this some 270 years before them — the old tradition in philosophy of
ceaseless attempts to settle, with a quasi scientific precision, what exactly
the relation between mind and matter is.
see that both modernity and post-modernity in theoretical philosophy had
gone through the same process of changing the paradigm of philosophy’s
development. Both started a new type of philosophical investigation, realistic
and sincere, thus trying to demonstrate that there was no real philosophy so
far. Indeed, enmeshed in the ‘labyrinth of thought/language,’ the old
philosophy had reached a dead-end.
modernity and post-modernity in political theory haven’t the clear shape
of modernity and post-modernity in theoretical philosophy. In addition,
they began to develop considerably later. This can be explained with the
peculiar complexity of political knowledge, as well as with the fact that its
connection with theoretical philosophy remained unrealized thus far. Be this as
it may, modernity in political philosophy only began in what can be called the
‘long eighteenth century’ — with John Locke and David Hume, in Britain, and
Charles de Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France, and reached its peak
with Karl Marx’s doctrine of socialism, which tried to envision public life
under rational, ‘scientific’ control. In fact, the enrichment of our
political vocabulary with the concepts of ‘conservatism,’ ‘liberalism,’
and ‘socialism’ was a result of just this development.
beginning of post-modernity in the sphere of political theory was also
delayed for a considerable period of time. Its beginning was marked by the
publishing of John Rawls’s Theory of
Justice (1972), with its renewed interest in justice; but was developed in
its entirety only in the last ten years in the writings of the already-mentioned
J.-F. Lyotard, R. Rorty, and K. Nielsen. Characteristic for it is a renewed
interest in detailed political analyses; it developed towards criticism and
distrust of metanarratives, such as the ‘Absolute Spirit of Proletariat’
(Karl Marx), or ‘Emancipation of Humanity’ (of the philosophers of the
Enlightenment), which ‘are stories which purport to justify loyalty to, or
breaks with, certain contemporary communities.’ In this way the recent post-modern political
theorists advanced political philosophy without entities — in the same way in
which more than 90 years ago B. Russell, with his theory of descriptions,
eliminated Meinong’s theory of ideal logical objects with the help of network
misfortune of this movement was that whereas it, on the one hand, spontaneously
(and unconsciously) follows the analytic tradition, especially Wittgenstein,
this influence, on the other hand, remains unrecognized and unacknowledged. As a
consequence, post-modern political philosophers failed to outline a powerful,
and thus convincing, program for analyzing political realities.
The Axis/Triangle of Political Ideals/Ideologies and Its Logic
Political Metanarratives and Political Ideals. From hoary antiquity up to
present times, political moods crystallize in ideals for different forms of
governing, around which different political ideologies were grouped. In contrast
to the political metanarratives, such ideals are not spurious. What constitutes
this difference between political metanarratives and ideals?
metanarratives are important only as organizers of the political thinking of now.
They are an expression of our resentment against the political states of affairs
of today. This explains why they are ephemeral: they change over years, with the
change of the politically relevant states of affairs.
are absolutely different with political ideals. These are products of the
natural inclination of the political reason which, in modernity at least, was
organizes in the triangular form: socialism, conservatism, liberalism. They have
some lofty connection with the metanarratives which connection, however, as
already seen, is often misleading.
The Logic of Politics. The problem of classification of all possible kinds
of political ideals has been an object of investigation from the time of Plato
and Aristotle until today. The latter, for example, listed six types of
governing. Of them three are positive: monarchy, aristocracy, and politeia,
with the other three, tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy, being only their
negative counterparts (see Pol.
we can easily recognize that the three-part classification of the modern
political forms into conservatism, liberalism, and socialism roughly corresponds
to the ancient classification of political forms in monarchy, aristocracy, and politeia,
respectively. This state of affairs suggests that the three-part division
of the political realities of today has roots that lie deep in the natural
inclinations of the political mind as such; that the two classifications of the
possible political forms — that of antiquity, and that of modernity — are only
two examples of the logical taxonomy
of the different kinds of political governing.
the aim of testing this hypothesis, we are going now to discuss the logic of
politics. Political life is, above all, based on a kind of dialog, on agonism
between the natural inclinations of the political reason.
The agonic character of political life is fixed logically on ‘yes’ and
‘no,’ creating in this way a united dialogical whole, with its own logical
multiplicity. This point was already discerned by Aristotle, who wrote in Politea:
must therefore necessarily be as many different forms of governments, as there
are different situations. And these seem chiefly to be two, as they say of the
winds: namely, the north and the south; and all the others are declinations from
these. And thus in politics, there is the government of the many and the
government of the few or a democracy and an oligarchy.’ (1290a15)
modern political life, its bi-polar logic finds expression in the division of
political ideals and parties into left and right.
what is that very characteristic of society which can serve as a criterion for
its ‘positivity’ or ‘negativity’? Here we remember immediately that both
Plato and Aristotle accepted justice as basic characteristic of social life.
Recently, John Rawls gave it a felicitous definition: ‘Justice is the first
virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.’
We read this definition[PS4]
of Rawls’s so: In the same way in which ‘the proposition determines reality
to this extent that one only needs to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to it to make it
agree with reality’ (Tractatus,
4.023), political reality is fixed on left or right, on two poles by the
attitude of the people towards the justice of any particular political states of
the two types of classification of political states of affairs, the first
resulting in triads, the second resulting in two poles, follows two different
kinds of logic. Whereas the first uses an extensional syllogistic, the second
makes use of the truth-functional logic. In the next sub-section we
shall show how political life can be successfully described with the help of
these two types of logic.
Political Ideologies as Agonistic Language-games.
We can conclude that modern political ideologies — conservatism, liberalism,
and socialism—are build up not around political metananarratives but, as
Lyotard put it, something like ‘language games.’ Historically, they were
advanced in reaction to one another, creating in this way a homogeneous whole
with, as we have already said, its own ‘logical multiplicity’ and which can
be described as the ‘form’ of this specific society.
the socialism of the nineteenth century, to take it first, was a mere
continuation of the liberal program for the rationalization of the social life
of the Enlightenment. The birth of the contemporary liberalism of L. von Mises
and F. A. Hayek, the pupils of whom are now in fashion, was also reactionary.
Indeed, it emerged not as a continuation of the old liberal tradition, but as a
reaction against the overwhelming advance of socialism in the years after the
World War II. The same with the New Wave conservatism of the 1970s and 1980s. It
did not emerge as a rival of the old conservatism, but as a reaction to the
liberal consensus of the 1960s.
fact, what was reactionary par excellence
was only conservatism, which, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, came
into being not as a political movement with its own theory, but as an outright
retort, at first to liberalism, and later, but especially nowadays, to socialism.
In the apt expression of G. Watson, ‘the New-Right since 1975, has been
an answer to the New-Left; anything the New-Left wanted, you may be
sure the New-Right does not want. Neo-Conservatism is a classic case
of the adversarial principle in politics... It is too eager to pay off old
scores from the ’60s.’
the single objective of this form of conservatism was only to be on the
‘right’ side of the agonal political whole. Following this ‘regulative
idea,’ the conservatives of the 1960s–1980s embraced various, often
controversial, political ideals. So ‘we are often told nowadays [in 1987] that
private and competitive enterprise is conservative. But we are never told why.’
In fact, the concept of ‘competition’ is typical for liberalism, not for
conservatism. Indeed, ‘the positivist nineteenth-century Conservatives
were for centralized powers of Church and State. . . . No wonder that Socialists
like Sidney and Beatrice Webb, by the end of the century, saw the Tories as
their natural allies.’ Conservatism, depending on the concrete political
situation, identifies itself either with socialism, or with liberalism, with the
intention of staying on the right of the political scale, devoted to its own
standard of justice.
fact, this very agonistic character of political life is the reason why we
cannot find some simple, linear, or even two-dimensional (triangular) scheme in
which the conservatism occupies one place, liberalism the other, and socialism
the third. Their places in the political triad are undetermined (in a Quinean
manner, one might say), and any ‘reification’ of the scheme of their
interrelation is doomed to failure.
The Dilemmas of Political Philosophy
have already shown two philosophical approaches in drawing a more authentic map
of political life. Now we shall advance a third one. Whereas the first two were
negative — we have actually used them in order to demonstrate some hidden
characteristics of contemporary political life, (i) revealing the logic of
political life and (ii) revealing the agonism of political life — the third will
be positive: with its help we shall try to advance means for resolving political
controversies. Following this approach we again shall call on Wittgenstein and
his friends for help.
present approach to political reality is based on the assumption that the
solution of some important political controversies is to be achieved in a way
similar to that of some theoretical philosophical paradoxes: they are dissolved
through analysis. A masterpiece in applying this approach is Ryle’s Dilemmas;
its vitality was recently demonstrated in Strawson’s Skepticism and Naturalism.
In both books it was shown that some political controversies, which are commonly
considered ultimate dilemmas, in fact are not.
since political life develops agonistically, in a struggle of quasi
contradictory ideals, ideological dilemmas play a decisive role in it. Indeed,
ideological dilemmas are, to paraphrase Karl Marx, the ‘locomotives of
political life’; they shape every modern society. In each of them two
political ideals compete.
political dilemma we are going to discuss here, and which occupies a special
place in the conservatism – liberalism – socialism contest is: liberty or
justice. Usually, political ideologists embrace either the first or the second
horn of this dilemma. A prominent example: Whereas I. Kant praises the ‘principle
of liberty’ as the first principle of republican constitution,
according to Aristotle, ‘justice is [the . . . ] political virtue, by the
rules of which the state is regulated, and these rules are the criterion of what
is right’ (Pol. 1253a35). Different
political ideologies usually pay attention, as already indicated, to one of the
horns of this dilemma, neglecting the other. So, whereas socialism lays stress
mainly on justice, liberalism lays stress on freedom.
point is that these two political notions are not as controversial as may appear
at first glance. This is shown in the fact that whereas freedom is an ideal,
justice is a principle. This means that freedom and justice are concepts of
different logical types. Unfortunately, such confusion of the logical type of
political concepts happens often in political discourse. Here we will recall
Aristotle’s remark that various types of government lay stress on different
values. Thus, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy lay stress on, respectively,
virtue, wealth, and freedom (see Pol.
1294a20). This means that these forms of government do not contradict one
another; rather, they apply to public affairs alternative, mutually independent
(and heterogeneous) principles.
support of the thesis that in the litigation between freedom and justice,
socialists and liberals operate with political concepts of different logical
type, another argument from theoretical
philosophy can be presented. It is a well-known fact from the history of
philosophy that whereas Aristotle held on objectivism in philosophy, Descartes
changed this objective paradigm, putting epistemology at the center of
philosophical research. Similarly, whereas modern political philosophy paid
attention, above all, to (subjective) liberty, post-modernity, which in
theoretical philosophy came with the objectivism of Brentano and Frege, came
into political philosophy with a renewed interest in (objective) justice: Here I
refer to John Rawls’s already mentioned seminal book Theory
of Justice (1972), and the developments that followed it. From this example,
it is easy to see that at different times, different horns of the justice – freedom
dilemma came to the fore. In fact, there was no real encounter between them in
history, although all people were always inclined to believe that there was.
dilemmas on whose horns political ideals are grouped can be named: that of
rationalism – irrationalism, for example, with conservatism on the one horn and
socialism and liberalism on the other, or the dilemma of private or public
property. Our aim here, however, is not to advance a taxonomy of political
dilemmas, or to point to their solution; it is rather to elucidate the structure
of political life by philosophical means. For this purpose, we are now going to
make another step in our politico-philosophical analysis.
Political Ideals and Metanarratives as Product of the Natural Inclinations of
have already mentioned that political ideals are a product of the natural
inclination of the political reason which, in the last two centuries, at least,
was organized in the triad of socialism – conservatism – liberalism. This point
explains why socialism, liberalism, and conservatism were described and defined
both by their adherents and critics as tendencies,
as disposition of political mind, not as metanarrative. What ideologists
typically do is to organize such a tendency around a metanarrative. Take for
example these three authors.
Russell writes: ‘Socialism, like everything that is vital, is rather a
tendency than a strictly definable body of doctrine.’
von Mises, on his part, wrote: ‘Liberalism is not a complete doctrine or a
fixed dogma. On the contrary: it is the application of the teaching of science
to the social life of man.’
Watson: ‘Until just the other day, conservatism was a disposition of mind
rather than an active and exploring idea.’
We have also seen that modern political life exists and develops on the
basis of partial ideals that serve as its ‘regulative idea.’ These are one-sided
in principle, just because they are specific visions
of the political situation. Besides, as already seen, the very nature of social
life requires it to be built in a dialogical form. This means that ideologies
appear most often in the form of a contest: for example, conservatism or
socialism, as was the case in Britain of the last decades, or socialism or
liberalism, as was the case in Eastern Europe in the 1980s.
we shall turn our attention to something different: to the fact that the support
of a horn of any political dilemma is accompanied by, or better, is immersed in,
an emotional attitude which is rather difficult to bring under control. No
wonder that in certain periods of human history, in Byzantium of the ninth and
tenth centuries, for example, not the ideological differences between the
political parties but their colors were in the foreground: in these cases
political life ceased to be an art, and turned to a simple emotional group
agonism, which is well-known to us nowadays from sport: we love one team,
and its color, and hate the other, despite the fact that when asked the
philosophical question why we do this, what are our grounds for this, we have no
our thesis is that however remote the political life of ninth and tenth-century
Byzantium, and the trecento Florence
of Guelphs and Ghibellines, on the one hand, and the total renunciation of
socialism in Britain in 1987, on the other, seems to us today, they have one and
the same epistemological roots: emotional group agonism.
by emotional passions and partiality, on the one hand, and by its agonic
character, on the other, no wonder that political life of today is guided more
by the fashion of the political slogans (metanarratives) than by reason. In many
cases, this fashion changes as if according to the dialectical law of
‘negation of negation’ of Hegel – Marx. So whereas ‘[t]he pre-socialist
notion was that there were natural rights which could be advanced independently
of economic condition . . . [i]n the post-socialist age, liberty, equality
and justice may come to be reinstated as intrinsic virtues.’
Whereas the liberals of modernity insisted on the natural law, and later, on a
theory that must gain a command over the ‘social spontaneity,’ now the New
Wave Liberalism says: let things go their own way spontaneously; the things
themselves will find their way; any interference in their progress can only
destroy the web of political life — in the same way in which when we try to mend
a spider web, we destroy it. The ‘cunning reason’ of history (Hegel)
manifests itself here in the fact that some 15 years ago this slogan was the
slogan of the New-Left (of the 1970s).
Reformulating the Task of Political Philosophy
newly revealed characteristic of political life urges us to reformulate the task
of the political philosopher. We shall define it now as, first of all, observing
and criticizing the balance between political ideologies and ideals.
be sure, that task is not an easy one. This can be seen again from the example
of the theoretical philosophy of Wittgenstein, who often insisted that doing
philosophy requires putting our intellectual emotions under control. The task of
the theoretical philosopher is to divert, with the help of the will, the most
convenient of the positions, attitudes, decisions — in everyday life, in science,
in art. ‘Philosophy demands a renunciation, but a renunciation of feelings,
not of understanding. Perhaps that is what makes it so hard.’ (Wittgenstein,
MS 213, p. 406).
task of political philosophers is to show how political ideals are to be used as
means for introducing better policies in political life, not as reified
metanarratives. The advantages of this approach were pointed out already by
Aristotle, as follows: ‘Those propose what is much better, who blend many
kinds of government together.’ (Pol.
so defined task of contemporary political philosophy is not thus difficult,
since it goes together with a trend in political life of today. So according to
N. O’Sullivan, the blending of the three main political conceptions in
contemporary political life is ‘symptomatic of the consequence of a deep
social consensus which naturally carries with it a blurring of traditional
political identities and concepts.’
I believe, have already demonstrated the ineradicable character of socialism as
a natural inclination of political reason. It is true that in recent years the
third wave of the industrial revolution tipped the balance towards liberalism
and conservatism; this however was only a new turn of the spiral of the
political (triadic) agonism, not its death.
The latest success of the conservatives (in 1987) does not mean that socialism
was overthrown, or refuted. Socialism merely needs a reconstruction (‘perestroika’,
in Russian) of its ideology.
if conservatism changes its face thus quickly, so that now [in 1988–9] it
lays claim to a great part of liberalism’s main contentions, why should
socialism not do the same? Indeed, it is often argued that, unlike the two other
political attitudes, liberalism and conservatism, socialism alone originated as
(The opposite pole is conservatism, which ‘by its very nature cannot offer an
alternative to the direction in which we are moving.’)
In this paper, however, we have, I hope, advanced convincing arguments which
demonstrate that irrespective of how everyone of these three political
ideologies has originated — consciously, as a theory, or as an emotional
answer to changes in political life — it is an ineradicable part of the
Authors in antiquity advised not to publish a manuscript before nine years had
elapsed since its composition. Unfortunately, in the dynamic world of today,
scarcely anyone takes this instruction seriously. Academic writers do all to
publish their works right away — and I am hardly an exception in this.
The paper I present here
is different. I wrote it in the winter of 1988/89, when I lived in a Soviet
bloc country, Bulgaria. It so happens that shortly after I wrote it, I left
Bulgaria for Germany, where I have lived and worked for nearly 12 years now.
This led to changes in my theoretical interests, which were concentrated mainly
in writing a history of Philosophy in England in the twentieth century in book
form (see my Biographical note).
My objective in the paper,
to return to it, was to disprove those authors who believed that after the
third victory in a row of Margaret Thatcher in the 1987-Parliamentary
elections in the United Kingdom, socialism had been well and truly vanquished.
My thesis was confirmed in life. After 17 years of conservatism in politics,
1979–1996, a new perspective for social-democracy was opened five years ago.
In France, Britain, and Germany, the Left awoke in a new form (see for
theoretical discussion of this phenomenon Anthony Giddens, The
Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy, Cambridge: Polity Press,
1999). These developments were convincingly demonstrated in Tony Blair’s
second Parliamentary election victory for the Labour Party in a row this June
This political development
confirmed the main thesis of this paper, which is that the three main
political ideologies that have led the Western world since the beginning of
the nineteenth century—socialism, liberalism, and conservatism—are nothing
but expressions of three natural inclinations of the political mind. This
means that despite hese three ideologies often being badly defeated in their
incarnations in political parties, they rear up again, transformed, in a new
It was exactly this
predictive success of the paper’s thesis that motivated me to propose it for
publication in Labyrinth.
P. Jenkins, ‘The Politics of the Post-Socialist Era,’ Encounter
69 (Sept.–Oct. 1987), p. 6.
ibid., p. 7.
Encyclopedia Britannica, 8th ed.,
London, 1968, vol. 12, p. 376.
B. Russell, Roads to Freedom, 2nd
ed., London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966, p. 21.
F. A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,
1960, p. 398.
B. Magee, ‘The Language of Politics,’ Encounter
66 (May 1986), p. 20.
M. Beloff, ‘Where Bryan Magee Goes Astray,’ Encounter
68 (Feb. 1987), p. 62.
B. Magee, op. cit., p. 26.
See P. H. Partridge, ‘Politics, Philosophy, Ideology,’ In: Anthony Quinton
(ed.), Political Philosophy,
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967, pp. 33 ff.
The works of Aristotle are cited according to the editions: (i) Aristotle, A
Treatise on Government, trans. W. Ellis, London and Toronto: J. M. Dent
and E. P. Dutton, 1912; (ii) Aristotle, The
Nicomachean Ethics, trans. by D. P. Chase, London and Toronto: J. M. Dent
and E. P. Dutton, 1911; (iii) Aristotle, Metaphysics,
trans. by H. G. Apostle, Bloomington and London: University of Indiana Press,
 I developed this understanding in N. Milkov, ‘Der “Echte” Wittgenstein über das Wesen der Philosophie,’ in Herta Nagl-Docekal (Hrsg.), Ludwig Wittgenstein und die Philosophie des 20. Jahrhunderts, Wien: Verein ‘Freunde des Hauses Wittgenstein,’ 1989, pp. 123–37.
J. M. Keynes, ‘My Early Beliefs,’ in The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, 30 vols., London:
Macmillan, and St. Martin’s Press; 3d ed., vol. 10, p. 437.
See also a something similar conception in philosophy in Todd Moody,
‘Progress in Philosophy,’ American Philosophical Quarterly 23 (Spring 1986), p. 35.
See K. Nielsen, ‘Can There be Progress in Philosophy?,’ Metaphilosophy 18 (1987),
 J. Burckhardt, Kultur der Renaissance in Italien, 13. Aufl., Leipzig: Reclam, 1922, p. 2.
See L. von Mises, Free and Prosperous Commonwealth, trans. R.
Reice, Princeton: Van Nostrand, 1962, p. 6.
R. Rorty, ‘Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism,’ The
Journal of Philosophy 80 (Oct.
1983), p. 585.
For the role of agonism in human culture see: J. Huizinga, Homo
Ludens, 7th ed., Groningen: H. D. Tjeenk Willink bv., 1974, Ch. III.
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972, p. 3.
See J.-F. Lyotard, La condition postmoderne, Paris: Minuit, pp. 20 ff.
G. Watson, ‘The Conservative Contradiction,’ Encounter
69 (Nov. 1987), p. 71.
ibid., p. 67. On the political ambiguity of Thatcherism see also A. Gamble, The
Free Economy and Strong State, London: Macmillan, 1988.
ibid., p. 68.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954.
London: Methuen, 1985. On the relatedness of Ryle’s Dilemmas
and Strawson’s Skepticism and
Naturalism see N. Milkov, ‘Philosophers and the Fashion,’ Filosofska
Misal, 1988/2, pp. 112–18 (in Bulgarian).
 See I. Kant, Zum Ewigen Frieden, Hrsg. von M. Buhr und S. Dietzsch, Leipzig: Reclam, 1984, S. 15.
B. Russell, op. cit., p. 21.
L. von Mises, op. cit., p. 3.
G. Watson, op. cit., p. 69.
P. Jenkins, op. cit., p. 7.
A. Kenny, ‘Wittgenstein on the Nature of Philosophy,’ In: B. F. McGuinness
(ed.), Wittgenstein and his Times,
Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1982, p. 16.
N. O’Sullivan, ‘Words Splurge, Ideas Urge,’ Encounter
68 (March 1987), p. 66.
For the cyclical character of human history see e.g. A. M. Schlesinger, Cycles
of American History, New York: Pluto, 1986.
See J. Waldron, ‘Theoretical Foundations of Liberalism,’ The
Philosophical Quarterly 37 (Apr.
1987), p. 127.
Hayek, op. cit., p. 398.