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Liberal Political Theory

A group for people to discuss political theory and political science with the goal of using such philosophical ideas to benefit the population.

Members: 30
Latest Activity: Aug 27, 2013

What can we do

I am thinking what a political theory group could contribute. several ideas come immediately to me. Firstly there is always a need to understand what politics can be and how it can serve the population. I suppose this means having a growing understanding about what people are and how best we are served as individuals and part of society. Another important aspect could be how to educate the population into understanding liberal philosophy while at the same time being able to teach self protection from political manipulation. We could also talk about topics which are just personally interesting to ourselves. For example ,I am very interested in social construction and the different ways people come to make sense of reality. Another personal interest is to try and understand why educated people understand the political world in such different ways. Is everything really relative where anything goes or have some people got it wrong while others have got it right - And if everything is relative is there any underlying absolutes at all which should drive policy.
I think the overall direction of the group should driven by its active members and I'm anticipating if the group gets going it may travel in different directions at different times. I also believe that the group should be open to all and so there are no preconditions at all on membership (accept being a Lib Dem member of course).

Discussion Forum

Rawls et al

The largest contribution to political theory of a liberal kind in recent years has been from John Rawls, the US writer who recently died, particularly in his works A Theory of Justice and Political…Continue

Started by Gary Banham Jun 1, 2010.

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Comment by ian philip james on August 6, 2010 at 8:47

I agree with your latest post however I believe that action can be split into 2 sections.

1) Communicating your Vision to inspire others

2) Making the changes to bring the vision into reality.

It is not possible for one person to change the world on their own, instead they have to persuade others that the vision has the potential to change things/make things better and then work together as a group to implement the ideas.
Comment by Dave Thawley on August 4, 2010 at 12:11
@Salim - thanks for your great and deep comments. I totally agree with your sentiments. We need policy based on 'fairness' which I believe comes from getting out of the box we are living in. For me intuition and feeling are the drivers but from my perspective we need to be able to rationalise out thoughts so that others can share them :-). I do love your comments which I find are educational to me so please keep posting :-)
Comment by Dave Thawley on August 4, 2010 at 12:05
I Adam

Hi Andy 'A Theory of Justice' is a good starting place. I found the book a little difficult to digest to start with. I am going through it in more detail now though. The book is over 500 pages but Rawls gives a pointer to the most important areas in the introduction which cuts the book down a lot. If you have an interest in social construction then the original book 'the social construction of reality' seems a good starting position. I've also part read 'Political Theory - An Introduction' by Andrew Heywood. This gives an overview of political theory/philosophy in general so it is not just Liberal. After reading the parts I have though I am still convinced that Liberal ideals are the best. For social construction – Plato’s ‘apology’ is classic and opened my eyes to knowledge in general. (The gods say that no one is wiser than Socrates but he doesn’t know understand this because he knows he doesn’t know very much :-),only to find that the ‘experts’ don’t know it all as well yet think they do ). I think this directly relates to politics in general and hence my view that social constructions (people knowing something but not really) needs to be replaced with evidence based policy with a view on fairness. – Plato’s apology can be downloaded free of charge from the internet. Another good resource is Wikipedia. If you do a search on a theory of justice this link should come up. I am not sure of what the legitimate issues are as yet. I’ve read some critics and at least some are based on a misunderstanding of what Rawls was trying to get at., the others are more complex so I don’t fully understand what Rawls was trying to say so I can’t really comment. There may be some more legitimate ones lurking though so I am hoping that the group will find and debate these as time goes by. From a psychological perspective doing a search for 'social identity theory’, 'transactional analysis’, ‘object relations’ and ‘Wilfred Bion’ are good views at how people and groups of people work. After reading this it was easy to predict that our 'war on Terror' would have the negative consequences that it did - and if it was obvious to someone with a BSc then those policy makers must have understood what was going on - but this is another discussion I suppose.

Can anyone else recommend anything ?
Comment by Dave Thawley on August 4, 2010 at 11:40
Hi Gary. I understand the world as a social constructionist and from a psychodynamic perspective which lead me to the liberal democrats. I could start typing and not finish on this but from my view people in the main don't see the world as it really is but through an interpretive lens which is generated by the culture we live in. This is not based on fairness and we must attempt to break the lens (just my view). The way people view the distribution of power is socially constructed and people accept implicitly that the poor produce stuff and the rich don't do anything apart from live off the poor. For instance drug policy has nothing at all to do with fact, just a distorted view which people in society have, for instance the only way forward is for people to grab what they can for themselves 'because everyone else is doing it', for instance going around the world bombing less developed countries is required. All of these things make no sense at all if viewed outside of the box but the discourse around them (as long as it is limited) can make sense. Rawls argues that society needs a justice which is 'fairness' and the way we are to come to rules which goven fairness we need to use a 'vail of ignorance' in which the rules are set as if people do not know their own position or ability in society. Rich people would not set rules in which they live off poor people if there was a chance they would be on the other end of the bargain. In a way I think Rawls had thought through social constructionism to some extent before psychologists had started to talk about it. To be fair we need to stand outside the box and set up society to be fair in a way which everyone would agree on from a neutral position - this is difficult but its a good starting point (or end point I suppose). I am very much anti war for wars sake. I know that when people get scared (i.e. because a terrorist is going kill them) people tend to stop thinking and fall back into pre-programmed ways. Liberal Democrats on the other hand try to challenge peoples' views which cause them to think. We also want people to have an equal say in the running of the country which will give them more impetus to think - and from psychological studies should make us all happier and contented. The policies I can think of off the top of my head fit in with Rawls's view as well as my view that social constructions need to be broken down. Our electoral reform policy is vital. If we get what we want, the power will start to move from the rich to everyone else. Our drug policy is based on science and pragmatism rather than an ineffective social construction. Again Rawls thinks people should be able to run their own lives as long as it is done in a fair way. People taking drugs is a dilemma - what about addictive substances etc in which people are not really doing it out of free will - but then again alcohol and tobacco is legal etc. The way forward needs to be constructed ( I think) using Rawls's principles of justice as fairness from a neutral starting position. Our policy for income redistribution seems to be very much along liberal philosophy lines as well with the intention of making the country fairer, as are our immigration policies- the 10 year rule makes total sense from a fair point of view - get people who are are living in the country to join in - wishful thinking and party political bias won't change the fact they are here so let them contribute and get the full benefits from society in return. I think then our policies are based on liberal philosophy. The big problem for the country is though that our policies are not being let out of the bad. In the coalition we seem to be knocking the sharp edges of Tory policy rather than having ours flourish. This could be dangerous because people may start to think we actually support all of the policies which are being put in place when in fact many of them are not liberal at all. There are some overlaps in Camerson’s communitarianism and Liberal philosophy so I can see why Clegg went for it but unless this is fitted into a totally liberal set of policies it could become another way of confusing inequalities rather than distributing social justice and liberty equally amongst our population. What do other people think about this?
Comment by Dave Thawley on July 27, 2010 at 17:05
Hi Salim. Sorry for not getting back sooner, I went away on holiday to Wales for the weekend and then got snowed under yesterday. I would like to give a lecture sometime but at the moment I don't think I know the subject well enough myself. I am learning all the time though so this will change. I came to Liberal thinking from a psychological background and my main understanding of political reality is based from this perspective (or perspectives – mainly social construction and psychodynamics). I have read some of Rawls – but too quickly to gain a very detailed view - but I do like Gary's idea about discussing how our current view fits into the framework set out in 'A Theory of Justice'. To this end I am currently re-reading this book but taking time so that I can fully understand the implications. Instead of reading it as an interesting novel I am treating it as an academic text and processing it as such which (for me) takes a long time. I think to get the group going I may start to post a few salient thoughts in relation to Gary's question as I read. I am taking notes as I read (which is a way I can absorb the information at a lower level) and I am also thinking of posting these to a blog in case anyone else is interested. Rawls has constructed the book around 88 (what I assume are) lectures. I may post one blog entry per lecture. This may also spark some conversation – especially my misunderstandings lol.
Going back to your original point, I think once I have processed this book fully (i.e. read, understood, juggled it with my current thought and can criticize it sufficiently) I would be more than happy to give a lecture. I find the subject fascinating with massive practical potential.
If anyone hasn’t read this book I would really recommend it. I’ve only put one entry in my blog at the moment and for me it shows the quandary of politics – what is the right way to do things. Very often those who are powerful dictate what social justice is and how the product of society is distributed. Rawls attempts to think through this problem and looks at a way that society can be fair. This of course is the cornerstone of our Liberal thinking which is why I do very much agree with Gary’s discussion theme. It would also be good to look at how close the coalition agreement can be seen as fair which could be an extension to the discussion.
Comment by Dave Thawley on June 2, 2010 at 21:43
Hi friends. I want to apologise for my science over the last couple of days. Its great seeing that there are a few of us with a similar interest. I'm taking a few days off because unfortunately my grandmother died a few days ago and I need t sort things out before I come back and participate. I will be back on very soon though and I want to contact you all personally to say hello properly and to see what we all want out of the group so we can set it going in the direction of most benefit to all our needs. I'll catch you all in a few days, kind regards, Dave

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