Is ideal theory practical?

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Abstract

This article examines how the exemplars of ideal theory have addressed what I term 'the problem of preservation'. The 'problem' in question is not so much that a political community must make provisions for its self-preservation, but rather that its provisions must correspond to the intentions and capabilities of its neighbours. This constraint implies that the ability of a political community to pursue ideals rather than power depends heavily on who its neighbours happen to be. This article shows how Aristotle, Rousseau, Kant, and Rawls address this problem by recommending measures such as defensive fortification, collective security, and democratic peace, which, they claim, will dampen the anarchic nature of the international system. It argues that the implausibility of these measures renders the ability of political communities to heed the moral guidance offered by ideal theory contingent at best and impractical at worst. If proponents of ideal theory wish to resist this conclusion, then they must offer a more persuasive answer to the problem of preservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1949-1965
Number of pages17
Journalreview of international studies
Volume37
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

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