Key Aphorisms

Linocut "The Owl" by S. Gliwa from WJS's A Guide to Democratic Jargon
Linocut "The Owl" by S. Gliwa from WJS's A Guide to Democratic Jargon

Relativism is a denial of rationality in man.

Relativism makes no assumption about man's nature but only about the nature of his normative views.

Relativism is that attitude to norms which enables us to act as if egalitarianism were the fundamental 'norm' of the 'good' society.

Relativism is itself a 'normative' attitude to norms.

Modern relativism is a variation of the theory of natural law in which 'law' reflects the shifting ephemeral desires of man.

Relativism is dangerous in a very basic sense. By rejecting the hierarchy of values it insists on treating ideas separately, thus ignoring their interrelationship.

Primary Personal Philosophy

I think it is important to believe in a hierarchy of values; to eschew what is merely practical or popular; to shape one's thoughts into a coherent system of ideas reflecting a Weltanschauung; to pursue long-range goals; not to commit oneself to secondary objectives; to see a project through all its stages; to avoid the distinction between working and living; to preserve a sense of the joy of life.

Professional Philosophy

As a political philosopher I seek to establish principles relevant to the public good and to uphold the tradition of the public philosophy of civility.

On the Role of Political Theory

The neo-classical political philosopher speaks primarily to his contemporaries but they do not understand that this is the case (believing that his ideas refer to the past, to the 'dead' philosophers) and they are not prepared to listen.

Political theory is not merely a history of political ideas: it includes the latter but goes far beyond it. Traditionally, political theory has been defined by an ethical component: its preoccupation with the conception of the common good and the ends of the State. In the twentieth century, a deviation from this high purpose came from two groups: linguistic analysts, who studied the language of politics, ending in a philosophic cul-de-sac; and behaviouralists, who, emulating hard science, tried to build viable models of analysis while pursuing the ever-receding goal of discovering general laws of political behaviour. When the 'post-behavioral' era was announced some two decades ago, the event took place in an aura of self-congratulations: behaviouralists of the time claimed that they in fact had 'won the day'. All this had occurred before the recognized advent of Grand Theory in the 1980s. Political theory is now reasserting itself, although many political scientists in North America are acting as if they were not aware of this. (Nor, for that matter, do they seem to realize that their professional orientation is irrelevant outside the groves of Academe). Professional ideologies—like empirical behaviouralism—have a long staying power, although members of the academic establishment in each discipline (like Marxists in post-Communist countries) appear reluctant to discard the tools with which they had built their careers, hence they are painfully slow in changing their outlook. Yet both groups will pass. Philosophically oriented political theory has never lost its relevance.

Its ultimate relevance comes from what I would call the ontological imperative: the destiny of fundamental principles to reassert themselves—to create a new mental climate, a world-outlook, countering the paralysing power of relativistic thinking and throwing off its deadly ballast. The role of the political theorist/philosopher goes beyond scholarship, beyond academic concerns; his role is not merely to analyse the world but to affect the future—indeed to try to change it. Such is his message for the next century.