Chapter Nine: Liberalism and the Decline of Political Philosophy

1.  Wolin begins the chapter with a description of a broad trend: “the erosion of the distinctly political.”  (p. 260)  In these first few pages, what does he say that Hobbes ‘missed’?  What did Hobbes ‘get’?  He repeats this comparison with a description of how the social sciences are commonly with respect to traditional political theory.  What is this distinction? 

2.  One interpretation of the central argument of this chapter: it is about how liberals killed political philosophy.  (see p. 261)  What, for example, was the contribution of Adam Smith in the diminution of political philosophy? 

3.  Wolin tells us (262-3) that it is not just political philosophy that has been encroached upon by other disciplines.  This happened to philosophy, as well.  He suggests that Locke was the pivotal figure in this shift.  How so? 

4.  Wolin describes an important liberal notion of the limits of reason (pp. 266-8).  How do liberals differ from more radical democrats?  What is Wolin’s claim that Calvinists underwent a similar shift (to that of liberals) in focusing attention to the practical details of living in the here and now?  (He describes this, at p. 268, as “turning philosophy outwards”. 

5.  What, according to Wolin, was truly radical about liberalism?  (p. 270)  Note a point of emphasis a little further down on the page, a favorite quote:  “[I]t is not justice which has a real existence, but injustice.” 

6.  Why does the new emphasis on the central role of economic activity reduce the scope of (or even eradicate) political concepts?  (pp. 271-3)

7.  How does Locke’s “state of nature” argument depreciate the status of the political?  (pp. 274-7)  What is the significance of claiming that the society and a majority within it are prepolitical? 

8.  Very significant section:  According to Locke, what is the importance of the institution of property in liberalism?  (pp. 278-81)

9.  The section from pp. 282-292, “Liberalism and Anxiety,” deserves to be considered as an argument all on its own.  Write an abstract of the argument.  When going through the argument, consider the basic assumptions about the relationship between humans and “nature.”  What did people like Malthus, Dewey, Freud and Mill have to say about this relationship?  Note that liberals need to find a way to soften the consequences of scarcity (288-9).  What, according to Wolin, are the main avenues for this? 

10.  In the section on “the problem of pain” (292-7) Wolin claims that liberals worried a great deal about uncertainty (uncertainty about pain, and about status), and not so much about equality.  Why?  From a different perspective, one could say that this feature of liberalism is about turning away from the suffering of others, and emphasizing the possible suffering of the self.  Is that a fair judgment? 

11.  An enduring theme in western political philosophy, as the tradition is usually conceived, is that “desire is the enemy.”  (Please recall the chant.)  Liberals generally acknowledge that human passions play a large and usually dominant role in our thinking.  How does this idea emerge in Locke?  (pp. 297-300)  What are the consequences of the Lockean position that human reasoning is, for most of us, corrupted?  (see note 157 on p. 300; and remind yourself of Locke’s Second Treatise, paragraphs 124-5, 136)

12.  What does Wolin mean when he says that conscience became social, rather than individual?  (near the top of 303.  The argument runs from p. 301-7.)

13.  Wolin describes three elements of liberal conformity (on p. 307).  What are they?

14.  Conformity becomes, for liberalism, a way to make sense of authority and legitimacy.  How so?  (p. 308-11)

15.  Wolin closes the chapter by describing Mill’s encounter with social conformity, and his inadequate response to it.  For those of you familiar with the communitarian approach to political philosophy, the charge is often made that ‘liberals don’t do community.’  Wolin suggests that if Mill could not adequately confront the problem of social conformity, we should not expect others to do it very well.  What does Wolin mean by his charge that liberals have lost a sense of community?  (314) 


Chapter Ten: The Age of Organization and the Sublimation of Politics

1.  Wolin begins the chapter with a warning.  What is it? (315)  Considering claims in section I, we see he hit some (social classes and equality not important to us, 317 & 319) and missed some (close collaboration of administrators and scientists, 317; a wholesale reaction to the politics of interest, 319).  Remember this chapter was written before the development of the conservative reaction to activist government, among other developments (a reference to the theme of Pierson and Skocpol, The Transformation of American Politics, Princeton 2007).  Wolin does address these many themes in the new chapters.

2.  How do ideologies keep us from seeing?  (320)  In section II, list the ways that the concept of “society” was “glorified.”  What did this keep people from seeing?  (319-325)

3.  Theorists of very different persuasions have focused on the importance of “organization.”  Why?  (325-9)  Note, in the middle of p. 329, that this presents a theoretical problem remarkably similar to the one Calvin tried to resolve.  (See chapter 6 question 4, above.) 

4.  Rousseau (and later, others) is used by Wolin to show that in the modern era theorists are concerned that the moral person is not the individual.  What is it? What does that mean?  (330-4) 

5.  Wolin describes what Rousseau meant by ‘freedom.’  What is it?  334-6.  What is the problem of freedom for which this is an answer? 

6.  Wolin notes that a tight focus on organization is a shift away from the then-current preoccupation of Western political theory with equality.  (337-8)  Why?  (up to 341)

7.  This new answer to an old question (about that it means to be rational, pp. 341-2) appears to be similar to the point raised back in chapter 9, at p. 303.  Do you agree? 

8.  Section VII (342-7) invites you to consider the similarities between organization theory and social science methodology.  What does methodology do to our thinking?  (344)  Note he claims, p. 345, that one feature of methodology “might not appear at all odd” (start of last full paragraph).  Should this seem odd?  Why?  One consequence of the approach is what Wolin calls, at 347, an “Olympian ruthlessness.”  Is this an essential part of the theorists he refers to? 

9.  According to Wolin, what do constitutions do?  Which of these elements is the main focus of modern theories?  (348)

10.  What is missing from modern theories of constitutionalism, according to Wolin?  Why?  (349-52)

11.  You can tell that Wolin finds some theorists more persuasive than others.  What does he mean by referring to Utopian Socialists’ “pathetic attempts to unite the incompatibles of power, desire, and community”?  (353)  You can see the importance of the point when he describes the modern direction of coping with these ‘incompatibles,’ mainly through a focus on using power over people to promote stability.  (356-9)  [And, the first typographical error I found is on page 359, at the end of that first paragraph. ]

12.  Section X describes a shift from a focus on economic rationalism to one of social systems.  How are individuals and organizations viewed in these two concepts?  (360-4)

13.  Section XI and XII (364-76) are focused on an issue that seemed more at the forefront in the political theory of 1960.  You will perhaps see that the tendencies Wolin describes (a Hobbesian view vs. an organic view of authority) is still alive in organization theory, although its connections to political theory have faded.  The last chapters of the book shows a different view of organizations.  An important part of it is the observations on a retreat from political categories, without much concern for how this would dramatically increase the power of the state.  (372-4)

14.  Wolin suggests the importance of the connection between organization theory and political theory in the penultimate section (376-84).  The leading organization theory of the time seemed “post-Marxian” in the sense that the view of regular people is more Leninist than Marxist.  What does that mean?  (376-9)

15.  What is the “nostalgia” in Weber that Wolin refers to?  (380)

16.  Wolin suggests that modern organization theory, at least in Selznick, is Lenin turned upside down.  What does that mean?  (383)

17.  The themes in previous 50 pages are summarized on pp. 384-9.  Read through this section and keep a list of items that seem to have been overcome by history—things that, 50 years later, just don’t ring true.  We will discuss the patterns in our lists.