Dr Alex Latham (University of Sussex), “The Circumstances of Politics: Disagreement, Collective Action and the Sphere of the Political”
31st January 3-5pm. Venue: Rm 1.18, David Hume Tower
Jeremy Waldron has argued that much contemporary political philosophy fails to take adequate account of what he calls the ‘circumstances of politics’, namely: (i) the felt need for a decision on a common course of action, notwithstanding (ii) disagreement about what that course of action should be. While the idea is often cited, Waldron’s actual use of the circumstances of politics has been subject to little analytical attention. This article looks to remedy this deficit. I identify two categories of arguments that Waldron makes from the circumstances of politics: ‘toleration-arguments’ and ‘legitimacy-arguments’. These two types of argument invoke the circumstances of politics differently: the toleration-arguments stress the fact of disagreement, while the legitimacy-arguments emphasise the need for collective action. Armed with this basic typology, I argue that Waldron’s defence of legislation by assembly is an example of a successful combination of the two types of argument, whereas his ‘core case’ against judicial review over-emphasises the significance of disagreement to the exclusion of the felt need for joint action. In the final section I consider whether the analogy that Waldron claims between the circumstances of politics and Hume’s ‘circumstances of justice’ actually holds. I conclude that disagreement about justice can only feature as a basic presupposition of politics if one has a Lockean conception of justice as a ‘pre-political’ virtue, a position those ‘political realists’ who have praised Waldron’s work are unlikely to accept.