top of page

The Philosophers' Cold War

Peter Laslett’s 1956 introduction to a collection of essays on Philosophy, Politics and Society begins by reflecting on the contemporary situation of political philosophy in Britain.[1] He writes:

It is one of the assumptions of intellectual life in our country that there should be amongst us men who we think of as political philosophers. Philosophers themselves and sensitive to philosophic change, they are to concern themselves with political and social relationships at the widest level of generality. They are to apply the methods and the conclusions of contemporary thought to the evidence of the contemporary social and political situation. For three hundred years of our history there have been such men writing in English, from the early seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, from Hobbes to Bosanquet. Today, it would seem, we have them no longer. The tradition has been broken and our assumption is misplaced, unless it is looked on as a belief that the tradition is about to be resumed. For the moment, anyway, political philosophy is dead.[2]

The statement that “political philosophy is dead” became, as Laslett and his co-editor W. G. Runciman wrote in the introduction to the second series of Philosophy, Politics and Society in 1962, "the text most cited from the volume as a whole."[3] It was surely in part a self-conscious dramatization—that is, a way of overstating a crisis in order to give greater weight to the solution to it that Laslett sought to provide. The peculiar qualification “for the moment” implied that this death need not be final.

There are elements of both hyperbole and truth to Laslett's announcement. A conception of political philosophy that had prevailed for centuries had indeed come to a decisive end and could no longer be restored. This paper examines the crisis faced by political philosophy in mid-century, initially in the Anglo-American context, and the way in which the discipline was reconfigured in response to this crisis. It examines these questions from an interpretive standpoint that emphasizes the global context of Western political thought in the aftermath of the Second World War—the context of U.S. global supremacy, Cold War, decolonization, and the emergence of national liberation struggles in the Third World. To a greater extent than we realize, that reconfiguration determines the shape and prospects of the discipline of political philosophy today.


In his 1956 introduction, Laslett goes on to speculate on the possible causes of the death of political philosophy. He considers, not altogether seriously, the possibility that events in the political arena, after Auschwitz and Hiroshima, “have become too serious for philosophical contemplation.” Then he turns to the argument that the rise of sociology—and Marxist sociology in particular—has put an end to the perennial debates that characterize the history of political philosophy. Finally, in answer to the question, “Who killed Cock Robin?,” he comments on developments within philosophy itself:

The Logical Positivists did it. It was Russell and Wittgenstein, Ayer and Ryle who convinced the philosophers that they must withdraw unto themselves for a time, and re-examine their logical and linguistic apparatus. And the result of this re-examination has been radical indeed. It called into question the logical status of all ethical statements, and set up rigorous criteria of intelligibility which at one time threatened to reduce the traditional ethical systems to assemblages of nonsense. Since political philosophy is, or was, an extension of ethics, the question has been raised whether political philosophy is possible at all.[4]

This account of the crisis of political philosophy is developed further in the collectively written introduction to the fourth series of Philosophy, Politics and Society, published in 1972. By that time the editors felt confident that the crisis was over and that such “pathological metaphors” as had occupied them in their previous surveys may have been mistaken. Laslett, Runciman, and Quentin Skinner argue there that a “strongly positivist style” of analyzing moral and political concepts, exemplified by T. D. Weldon and R. M. Hare, allowed “the comforting illusion that ideological debate was at an end, while allowing [proponents of this view] at the same time, under the guise of offering value-free political analysis, to insist on the overriding value of a set of conservative political principles.” In this positivist view, human agents were seen as holding a set of moral or political principles which, once brought into relation with the relevant facts, yielded “the appropriate choice—the rational, unideological choice—of the appropriate course of action to adopt. The whole business of inculcating this sense of the proper relationship between principles and action is seen, as Hare put it in The Language of Morals, as very like the business of ‘teaching African soldiers to drive.’”[5]

The series continued with its original task of providing an ongoing assessment of its chosen field as a whole until 1979, when the fifth volume appeared. Thereafter, further volumes turned instead to specific topics. In all those years, Laslett and his collaborators never considered whether this positivist style had its roots in the larger historical context to which Anglo-American political philosophers of their generation responded. Although they were conscious of their survey being restricted to Anglo-American political philosophy—the first series draws only on British contributors, but the balance shifted rapidly toward the United States thereafter—they never considered their own relation to a specifically Western tradition of political philosophy nor the changing global role of the West after 1945.

But a significant change had taken place in the role of the West in the global political order, with major implications for a discipline like political philosophy. The period which Laslett described in 1956 as having come to an end—a period extending from Hobbes to Bosanquet in Britain, and for the Western tradition from ancient Greece to the recent past—was one in which Western philosophy simply took its universality for granted. From Plato onward, the discipline of philosophy implied this universality of outlook.

After 1945, however, the universality of Western views could no longer be imposed or taken for granted in the same way as before. Indeed, resistance to colonial rule in Asia and Africa had been growing since the beginning of the twentieth century. The idea of the “civilizing mission” of European imperialism was becoming increasingly threadbare, and was being turned against its proponents with great effect by Gandhi and others. Moore, Russell, Wittgenstein and the other pioneers of analytical philosophy, or those who followed their lead in political theory, may not have been consciously motivated by these factors in their efforts to establish a new and more restricted conception of philosophy. But it is hard to ignore the ways in which the reshaping of Western political thought since 1945—including Laslett’s announcement of the “death of political philosophy”—also served to align their disciplines with the new global realities, at the end of many centuries in which the expansion of Western power was unchecked by ideas of formal equality between peoples and races.


For much of the history of the modern West, the growth of liberal institutions in the West was accompanied by rejection of their spread to what were considered backward societies. Mill’s famous essay On Liberty held that “Despotism is a legitimate mode of dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement.”[6] In his Consideration on Representative Government he made clear that “the great majority of the human race” remained in such a “savage or semi-savage state,” requiring that they be ruled by “the more advanced.”[7] A similar conception of colonial rule as a means of preparing the colonized people for freedom and self-government informed the idea of trusteeship adopted at the Treaty of Versailles.

The assumptions of racial hierarchy remained dominant in the West until the end of the Second World War. Then, quite rapidly, they were displaced by an ideology of racial equality—that is, an idea of the formal equality of individuals, races, and nations, which was easily compatible with continued and even increasing material inequality.

The war ended with Europe in ruins, and with the United States economy responsible for half the world’s economic output. The Cold War set in motion a contest for influence among colonial and formerly colonial nations. A world remade according to the needs of the only Western power with no colonial possessions of its own was not hospitable to European claims to their colonies in Asia and Africa.

The Atlantic Charter of 1941, which initially established the terms on which U.S. economic aid would be extended to Britain and was later adopted as a statement of allied war aims, included a clause stating that the allies “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and that they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them." Churchill understood this clause to refer only to the German-occupied countries of Europe. But once the principle of self-government aligned with resistance to colonial rule, the exhaustion of the former colonial powers, the needs of the Cold War, and U.S. global interest, the global political order began to accommodate it. By 1960 the process of decolonization had become irreversible.

One of the major paradoxes of global intellectual history since 1945 is that the same period that saw specifically Anglo–American ideas and institutions cement their global domination also saw Anglo–American political thinkers carrying out a sustained retreat from the globalizing assumptions of their disciplines, rather than any vigorous or even explicit attempt to reformulate them. I believe the specific character of the Anglo-American response can be made clearer by beginning with a very different response made from a different context. For the project of rethinking the discipline of philosophy, its history and prospects was to be undertaken initially by a philosopher who experienced this change in the context of Nazi persecution and German defeat: Karl Jaspers.


Jaspers’ standing as a leading figure among the younger generation of German philosophers was confirmed by his appointment as a professor at Heidelberg University in 1921. The degree to which German intellectual life was then still unified is shown by the close association Jaspers formed with Martin Heidegger. In 1922 they discussed plans to establish a philosophical journal together.[8] But the divisions brought about by the rise of Nazism were felt throughout German society, and Jaspers and Heidegger grew ever further apart. Heidegger was appointed rector of Freiburg University by the Nazis in 1933, while Jaspers was forcibly retired from his chair at Heidelberg in 1937, on the grounds that his wife was Jewish.

Jaspers’ response was to seek a point of orientation outside of the German—and indeed the Western—philosophical tradition. He wrote to his sister in 1938: “For some time, I have felt such a strong need for humanity from far away, if the source shares our roots and is indeed related to us—and I have always the globe in front of me on my desk.” Aided by the Indologist Heinrich Zimmer, and pretending a naïve lack of interest in current events, he began to study the ancient philosophies of China and India.[9]

Jaspers continued with this study throughout the war, working towards what he called a universal history of philosophy. After the war ended in German defeat, Jaspers was restored to his chair at Heidelberg and acclaimed for his resistance to Nazism. Jaspers set out his new conception of world history at an international conference held in Geneva in September 1946, bringing together Europe's leading intellectuals. He argued that the European idea was "a weak product of the culture of the upper classes," which could not be continued in the same way as before. Instead, "if we wish to live on a European basis, we must allow a deeper origin to take effect."[10] That deeper origin was to be found in an "axial age"—the period from about 800 to 200 B.C.E., roughly from Homer to Archimedes, in which parallel and independent philosophical developments in Europe, India, and China had transformed the human condition and at the same time provided the basis for the now-outworn "European idea."

In 1949 Jaspers published The Origin and Goal of History, his fullest account of this conception of world history, presenting it as the foundation for a program of political and ethical renewal. "Our age" has so thoroughly transformed human life, Jaspers claims, that "it requires the whole history of mankind to furnish us with standards by which to measure the meaning of what is happening at the present time."[11] What is historically new about the present is “the real unity of mankind.” At one time Europe could regard the rest of the world as “colonial territory, of secondary importance, destined as a source of booty for Europe.” But world history had become a single interconnected process since World War II and “all the crucial problems have become world problems” (pp. 126–27).

Although the West has “given its imprint to the whole world” during the last few centuries, he argues, our understanding of history cannot be limited to the West if we are to confront the problems of this interconnected world. “The self-evident equation of a closed circle of Western culture with world history as such has been broken through.” In particular, it now becomes necessary to integrate into our historical understanding the achievements of Asia. This requires that Chinese and Indian philosophy be treated not merely as a historical curiosity but as “something that directly concerns us because it appraises us of human potentialities that we have not yet realized” (pp. 68–69).

Jaspers’ conception of the axial age in world history is intended to provide a basis for a genuinely global understanding of the present. But he goes further, arguing also that our conception of history needs to take account of the future, “for to renounce the future is to render the historical picture of the past final and hence to falsify it.” Although the future is not accessible to research, it will be formed by the hopes and concerns of the present; “the soul shaken by hope and concern renders us clairvoyant” (p. 141).

According to Jaspers, a concern for the future of humankind that has never been felt before has made its appearance in the world: a concern that “Man might lose himself, mankind might slip, partly unnoticed and partly as a result of stupendous disasters, into a leveling down and mechanization, into a life without liberty and without fulfillment, into a somber malignancy destitute of humanity.” The cause for this concern is all too evident:

What man may come to has today, almost in a flash, become manifest through a monstrous reality that stands before our eyes like a symbol of everything unspeakably horrible: The national-socialist concentration camps with their tortures, at the end of which stood the gas-chambers and incinerators for millions of people—realities that correspond to reports of similar processes in other totalitarian regimes, although none but the national-socialists have perpetrated outright mass murder by the gas-chamber. A chasm has opened up. We have seen what man can do. . . . The dehumanization perpetrated in the concentration camps . . . can become universal (p. 147).

The great tendencies of contemporary society which stand against this fearful prospect all converge in the goal of liberty, and Jaspers accordingly turns to a philosophical exposition of liberty. With complete unanimity, he claims, all peoples, individuals and regimes demand liberty; it is “the one single common possession without which man would cease to be man” (pp. 152–53).

The main features of his concept of liberty can be briefly stated. First, it is the overcoming of the external—that is, it comes into being where the other ceases to be alien to me, and where I recognize myself or any element of my existence in the other. It is also the overcoming of one’s own arbitrariness; the demand upon liberty is “to act neither from caprice nor from blind obedience but from judgment.” Arbitrariness easily re-establishes itself as “the claim to the right to hold my own opinion, with the pre-assumption that every opinion is justified by the fact that someone advocates it.” Opinion is overcome only in our relationships with others, and in this sense “liberty is realized in community. I can be free only to the extent that others are free” (p. 154).

A freedom of this kind is necessarily fragile and impermanent. It develops only with “the transformation of man. . . . To bring men to liberty is to bring them to converse with one another.” Their conversation will be full of conflict, interruption, and misunderstanding. At its best, however, it will be a “loving struggle,” characterized by openness and the desire for truth (pp. 155–57). This process of open-minded exchange and contestation enables the diverse parts of a world already unified by technology to contribute collectively and consciously to shaping their common destiny.

The provisional nature of this conception is of a piece with Jaspers’ entire project. The Origin and Goal of History is not intended to show an inevitable course that history will take nor to reveal its hidden dynamics, but rather to enable the individual reader to decide “where he stands and for what he will work” (pp. 228, 276). But the collective context in which the individual could take this stand never came into view, except perhaps insofar as this context was provided by collective inheritance of the cultural legacy of the West.

Jaspers’ project was limited from the outset. Its almost exclusive focus on philosophical ideas prevented it from grasping the inequalities of global power that underpinned the Eurocentrism it sought to challenge. Its conception of three cultural formations of global reach—belonging to India, China, and the West—was essentialist and somewhat static. And its proposal for conversation, exchange, recognition of common values between cultures inevitably provided a kind of meta-culture, drawn from Jaspers’ own existential philosophy.

The project was formed by Jaspers’ isolation in Nazi Germany, in forced retirement in Heidelberg with “the globe always in front of me on my desk.” It aspired to a global inclusiveness, but from the rubble of German defeat it could do little more than present the idea of Europe as a call for ethical action—an aspiration to be lived up to, rather than a claim to authority. It was deeply rooted in the Western philosophical tradition—a recasting of Kant's Idea for a Universal History, but one which set aside Kant's confidence that Europe would spread its laws to the rest of humankind.

It is hard to imagine that Jaspers’ project, or a project of a similarly cosmopolitan intent, could have made any headway without collaboration between initiatives attempted from many regions of the world, undertaken in conscious support of a political movement aimed at a world order of greater equality. There may have been moments when a Third-Worldist Marxism aspired to a role of this kind—when Che Guevara called to “two, three, may Vietnams,” perhaps.[12] But this was not the path that political philosophy would take in the West after 1945.


Jaspers’ now-forgotten project provides an illuminating lens through which the actual trajectory of political philosophy in the West since 1945 may be viewed. The contrast between that project and the direction taken by political philosophy in the Anglo-American context stands out with particular sharpness.

The historical context of Anglo-American intellectual life was, of course, markedly different. Philosophy became a relatively autonomous academic discipline much later in Britain than it did in most European countries, and it was for that reason more rapidly professionalized and more prone to emulate the procedures of the natural sciences, focusing on its own technical problems rather than addressing a larger educated public.

In the 1950s, British philosophy also began to establish a clear distinction between analytical and continental philosophical approaches, treating them as mutually exclusive and depicting continental philosophy as “the epitome of the intellectual habits that [the analytic] revolution was meant to eradicate.”[13] This distinction was buttressed by the invention of a tradition of British empiricism, claiming Moore and Russell as the rightful successors to Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. It required also an angry rebuff of attempts by their colleagues from the continent to exchange ideas, most conspicuously at the conference held in Royaumaunt, France, in 1958.[14] The post-war contemporaries of British philosophy were not to be found in Europe, but in the United States.

The impulse to restrict the sphere of argument and insist on a narrow sphere in which its conclusions were applicable was not limited to the analytical philosophers or to political philosophers much influenced by the analytical movement. Michael Oakeshott’s 1951 inaugural lecture, which opens the first series of Philosophy, Politics and Society, is driven by such disclaimers. Because politics manifests itself in traditions of behavior, developed over many generations and always falsified by abridgment into ideology, Oakeshott is wary of “transplanting” ideas and institutions to new societies. The transplant might be carried out by the original workmen over generations in their turn, as was done by the British Empire. But if “the English manner of politics” is “abridged into something called ‘democracy,’” then “the arrangements of a society are made to appear, not as manners of behaviour, but as pieces of machinery to be transported around the world indiscriminately.”[15]

In politics, according to Oakeshott, “the knowledge we seek is municipal, not universal” and we gain that knowledge only by learning to participate in the conversation of tradition.[16] The metaphor of open-ended conversation is used here for purposes diametrically opposed to those of Jaspers’ Origin and Goal of History, written only two years earlier. For Jaspers it is the route to global understanding across the cultural barriers once enforced by colonial rule; for Oakeshott it is reason to withdraw within the boundaries set by local tradition where intimation takes the place of argument.

Similar restrictions of the claims of political philosophy are to be found throughout the early volumes of Philosophy, Politics and Society, with T. D. Weldon perhaps most forceful in rejecting the “silly view” that political philosophers are concerned with “the establishment and demolition of political principles” and can therefore be expected to comment on “actual plans for the framing of legislation, the reform of electoral systems, the government of colonial empires and so on.” The purpose of philosophy, according to Weldon, is no more than “to expose and elucidate linguistic muddles.”[17] Many of his co-authors did not share so narrow a view of the philosophical enterprise. But they were similarly concerned to warn against the traditional conception of philosophy as related to the good life for man.


The iconic Anglo-American response to Jaspers' proposal of a cosmopolitan liberalism for an age ostensibly committed to global equality was surely to be found in Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts of Liberty,” first presented as an inaugural lecture at Oxford in 1958. At no stage does Berlin argue for inequality on the grounds of race or nationality. But the defense of negative liberty mounted by Berlin serves at the same time as an implicit justification of global inequality.

Berlin was born in Riga, Latvia, and emigrated to England with his family as a child. He was elected a fellow of All Souls College at Oxford in 1932, the first Jew ever to be accorded this honor. In 1940 he took up a position in the British Information Services in New York, where "his job was to get America into the war."[18] Once the United States entered the war, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Berlin moved to Washington, where he had the task of reporting to the British government on developments within U.S. politics. After helping to cement the Anglo-American wartime alliance, he played an important role in extending it into the realm of political philosophy.

Berlin’s concept of negative liberty is defined by the principle of non-interference; “the wider the area of non-interference the wider my freedom.”[19] This concept of liberty makes no judgment about the ends of the individual exercising that freedom, except that these are necessarily diverse. Positive liberty depends by contrast on an ethical or political purpose; on some conception of the good life for man which guides the individual (or group) to self-realization, as conceived by the political or ethical outlook involved. According to Berlin, the positive conception lends itself to a “splitting of personality into two”—the empirical self with its desires and passions, and the ideal self, established and potentially manipulated at the level of theory. He argues: “Enough manipulation of the definition of man, and freedom can be made to mean whatever the manipulator wishes” (p. 206). In this way, the positive conception can be made to serve the needs of “every dictator, inquisitor and bully who seeks some moral, or even aesthetic, justification for his conduct” (p. 222).

Berlin never asks whether some conceptions of the good life are more amenable to the needs of “every dictator, inquisitor and bully” than others. Nor does he ask whether there are ways in which a free citizenry might resist the manipulation of definitions central to their collective purposes, or might contribute to shaping those definitions themselves. Unlike Mill, Berlin says not a word in defense of colonialism. But it emerges from “Two Concepts of Liberty”—sometimes from passing remarks, but also from the logic of the larger argument—that the freedom supposedly promoted by colonialism, as expounded by Mill, is itself an instance of the illusion of positive freedom. Rationalism in politics, according to Berlin, leads to the conception that the truth liberates, and one learns the truth by following those who know better. This argument was employed by “defenders of authority, from Victorian schoolmasters and colonial administrators to the latest nationalist or Communist dictator” (p. 223). Even if Berlin has not included the colonial administrator in his list of archetypical proponents of positive liberty, one has only to recall Mill’s arguments for colonialism to see that it falls within Berlin’s category of despotism disguised as liberty.

Insofar as anti-colonial struggles are necessarily collective, and insofar as it require some collective goal other than noninterference with individual rights, these struggles cannot escape the pitfalls of positive liberty either. The demand for collective liberation characteristic of anti-colonial struggles, according to Berlin, is in reality a demand for recognition. In pursuing it, “I may, in my bitter longing for status, prefer to be bullied and misgoverned by some member of my own race or social class . . . to being well and tolerantly treated by someone from some higher and remoter group, someone who does not recognize me for what I wish to feel myself to be.” This desire for recognition “leads the most authoritarian democracies to be, at times, consciously preferred by their members to the most enlightened oligarchies, or sometimes cause a member of some newly liberated Asian or African State to complain less today, when he is rudely treated by members of his own race or nation, than when he was governed by some cautious, just, gentle, well-meaning administrator from outside.” (pp. 228-29).

Colonial administrator and anti-colonial militant may both be misled by the idea of positive liberty, but it is clear that Berlin’s sympathies are more easily aroused by the “cautious, just, gentle, well-meaning administrator from outside” than by the “bitter longing” of the colonial subject to be recognized “for what I wish to feel myself to be.” But equally significant is the way in which the scope of Western political theory is narrowed down. Its norms, or the norms of Western liberalism, are presented as a universal standard, but at the same time implicitly restricted to the bastions of liberal capitalism. Berlin’s theory of freedom has the effect of placing the real struggles of the majority of humankind outside of the sphere of freedom, as it can be coherently understood within political philosophy. The real workings of the global capitalist system are left untouched and untouchable by Berlin’s analysis. The pluralism of values, on which Berlin’s entire argument rests, conceals the relations of domination and inequality which keep the majority of humankind outside the sphere of coherent consideration in the discipline of political philosophy.

It is not hard to see how Berlin’s argument, with its silent conflation of the ideologies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, served the cause of the Cold War. Among the many commentators on “Two Concepts of Liberty,” only Berlin’s biographer, Michael Ignatieff, notices how the text was “consciously crafted for an era of decolonization.” Ignatieff remarks that national liberation struggles, by mistaking their own motives, “guarantee disillusion when they fail to deliver the emancipation they promise.”[20] This cryptic comment wrongly suggests that Berlin’s framework offers a route to freedom without such disillusion. Instead his argument affirms that any struggle against an unequal global order outside the liberal heartlands is doomed to failure.

Against the background of Jaspers’ project to rethink the global context of political philosophy in the aftermath of the Second World War, Berlin’s argument can be seen as establishing a different kind of globalism. Berlin’s project preserves the universality of outlook of Western political philosophy without bringing it into conflict with the actual order of Western global domination, now encoded mainly in a nonracial liberal ideology. It shares with Jaspers’ project a primary focus on freedom, but severs the link Jaspers sought to strengthen between freedom and its ethical purpose.


Each of these projects had its sequels, with Jaspers’ Origin and Goal of History providing a first outline for the idea of world philosophy, and Berlin’s “Two Concepts” preparing the ground for John Rawls’s Theory of Justice—heralded by Laslett and his co-editors in 1979 as the commanding work that had been awaited all along.[21] There is no doubting which of the two projects has been most influential. The reconfiguration of Western political philosophy announced by Peter Laslett in 1956 has become global in its impact.

The results of this reconfiguration can be briefly summarized, by identifying four of its major features, which cumulatively shift the ground of political philosophy in the second half of the twentieth century.

First, political theory comes to focus mainly on conceptual questions, and to treat conceptual clarity as a significant goal in its own right. From this perspective, conceptual confusion or even ambiguity comes to be seen as the main obstacle to political ends, and the proper ends of of political life are distinguished by their conceptual clarity.

Second, conceptual clarity is treated as unity and distinctness of meaning; diversity of meaning is seen as the sign of conceptual confusion. Collective goals, which are inherent, often necessarily, capable of more diverse meanings, are easily dismissed as unclear, subject to emotion and easily manipulated. The social process that produces collective political meaning is is neglected and the distinctness of meaning sought by the individual author preferred.

Third, in this context, Anglo-American liberalism can easily be equated with the defence of liberty, simply by virtue of its focus on individual goals against collective, as in Berlin’s defence of negative liberty or Rawls’s arguments for a concept of justice as the choice of a rational individual, made from behind a veil of ignorance.

Fourth, in practice, this kind of political theory lends itself all too. Easily to a philosophical endorsement of the regime of individual rights characteristic of the capitalist West and an implicit rejection of the collective projects that might challenge Western hegemony or domination. It does not need to defend colonialism or global inequality explicitly; it can defend its legacy by treating any challenge as theoretically incoherent.

With hindsight, we can now see this project and its effective evacuation of the field of the ethical from politics as preparing the ground for a more recent globalism that has become a major force since the end of the Cold War—a globalism which assumes the rightness of Western domination, and pursues it in such projects as the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, the “war on terror” and the project of making all human goods subordinate to the imperatives of the global search for capitalist profit.

As new forms of imperialism are challenged and resisted, so this reconfiguration of political philosophy will become more difficult to maintain. The next death of political philosophy may not be so far away.


[1] Revised version of a paper presented to the annual conference of the Canadian Political Science Association, York University, Toronto, 1 June 2006. [2] Peter Laslett, ed., Philosophy, Politics and Society (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1956), p. vii. [3] Peter Laslett and W. G. Runciman, ed., Philosophy, Politics and Society, second series (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962), p. vii. [4] Laslett, ed., Philosophy, Politics and Society, p. ix. [5] Peter Laslett, W. G. Runciman, and Quentin Skinner, ed., Philosophy, Politics and Society, fourth series (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1972), p. 2. [6] J. S. Mill, On Liberty and other writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 13 [7] J. S. Mill, Considerations on Representative Government, in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977), vol. 19, p. 410; cf. p. 568. [8] Suzanne Kirkbright, Karl Jaspers: A Biography (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), pp. 129-30. Biographical information on Jaspers is taken mainly Kirkbright’s book. [9] Ibid., pp. 173-74. Jaspers wrote around this time: “What we had to do was to act naively, to pretend no interest in the affairs of the world, to preserve a natural dignity . . . and if need be lie without scruples” (ibid., p. 168). [10] Ibid., p. 210. For Jaspers' exchange with Lukacs at the Geneva meeting, cf. Arpad Kadarkay, Georg Lukacs: Life, Thought, and Politics (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1991), pp. 382-86. [11] Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), p. xiii. Further references to this source will be given in brackets in the text. [12] Cf. Andrew Nash, “Third Worldism,” African Sociological Review 7:1 (June 2003), pp. 94-116. [13] Jonathan Rée, “English Philosophy in the Fifties,” Radical Philosophy 65 (Autumn 1993), p. 13. [14] Ibid., p. 15. [15] Michael Oakeshott, “Political Education,” in Laslett, ed., Philosophy, Politics and Society, p. 11. [16] Ibid., p. 17. [17] T. D. Weldon, “Political Principles,” in Laslett, ed., Philosophy, Politics and Society, pp. 22-23. [18] Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life (New York: Henry Holt, 1998), p. 101. [19] Isaiah Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty,” in Berlin, The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays, ed. by Henry Hardy and Roger Hausheer (London: Pimlico, 1998), p. 195. Further references to this source will be given in brackets in the text. [20] Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin, p. 227. [21] Peter Laslett and James Fishkin, ed., Philosophy, Politics and Society, fifth series (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 1-2.


bottom of page