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New Left Review 31, January-February 2005

In an era of serial war, Rawls, Habermas and Bobbio as theorists of a perpetual peace. Jurisprudence and force in three parallel philosophical constructions of the present international order, and the unsettled afterthoughts—American, German, Italian—that accompanied them.



Rawls, Habermas and Bobbio in an Age of War

In the final decade of the century that has just ended, three of the most distinguished political philosophers of the time turned their attention to the international scene. In the early nineties, each had published what could be seen as a culminating statement of their reflections on the internal life of Western liberal democracies: Jürgen Habermas’s Faktizität und Geltung (1992), John Rawls’s Political Liberalism (1993), and Norberto Bobbio’s Destra e Sinistra (1994). There followed, focusing now on external relations between states, Habermas’s ‘Kant’s Idea of Perpetual Peace: at Two Hundred Years’ Historical Remove’ (1995) and ‘The Postnational Constellation’ (1998), and Rawls’s Law of Peoples (1999). Bobbio, who had started thinking about international relations much earlier, and anticipated many of their concerns in ‘Democracy and the International System’ (1989), produced more punctual interventions in these years, each arousing major intellectual debates. [1] Bobbio’s essay first appeared in the revised third edition of Il problema della guerra e le vie della pace, Bologna 1989, and in English in Daniele Archibugi and David Held, eds, Cosmopolitan Democracy, Cambridge 1995, pp. 17–41. Habermas’s essays appeared in, respectively, Die Einbeziehung des Anderen, Frankfurt 1996, pp. 192–236, and Die postnationale Konstellation, Frankfurt 1998, pp. 91–169; and in English in The Inclusion of the Other, Cambridge, ma 1998, pp. 165–202, and The Postnational Constellation, Cambridge 2001, pp. 58–112. The apparent alteration in attention of Rawls and Habermas, previously often reproached with lack of concern for global issues, was by contrast striking. In the background to a new set of preoccupations, on the part of all three thinkers, stretched the frieze of world history, as the end of the Cold War brought not pacification of relations between states, but military engagements of a frequency not seen since the sixties, in the Gulf, the Balkans, the Hindu Kush and Mesopotamia. Each philosopher sought to offer proposals appropriate to the time.

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Perry Anderson, ‘Arms and Rights’, NLR 31: £3

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