Through historical studies of some of the work of Montesquieu, Comte, Durkheim, Boas, Morgenthau, Aron and Bourdieu, Derek Robbins examines the changing and competing conceptualisations of the political and the social in the Western European intellectual tradition. He suggests that we are now experiencing a new ‘dissociation of sensibility’ in which political thought and its consequences in action have become divorced from social and cultural experience. Developing further the ideas of Bourdieu which he has presented in books and articles over the last twenty years, Robbins argues that we need to integrate the recognition of cultural difference with the practice of international politics by accepting that the ‘field’ of international political discourse is a social construct which is contingent on encounters between diverse cultures. ‘Everything is relative’ (Comte) and ‘everything is social’ (Bourdieu), not least international politics.

American Anthropology and Political Realism

American Anthropology and Political Realism

The German ‘World’ View

We have seen that Durkheim distrusted Wilhelm Wundt’s dissociation of the ideal from the social in his study of ethics. This distrust corresponded with his opposition to the autonomization of political philosophy and science which Paul Janet was identifying and advocating as the hallmark of the modern situation. Instead of pursuing a sociological critique of the political beyond the observations made in his Latin thesis on Montesquieu, Durkheim analysed religious life as a methodological entry into an understanding of the genetic function of social life in relation to all cultural forms. In doing so, he avoided consideration of whether these forms have separate ideal existences or whether they are all contingent social constructs directly referable to contingent social conditions.

Kant had established a function ...

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