Is political realism barren? normativity and story-telling

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Political realism has been criticised for its methodological claims about normativity and for its criticisms of moralism. Realists themselves should be more concerned that for all its methodological wrangling, realists have struggled to produce much positive theorising, rendering realism barren. I argue that realism, in both its liberal and radical forms, is currently barren in the sense of being unproductive, and show how the two dominant forms of realism are barren in different ways. Bernard Williams’s liberal realism exclusively derives its normative resources from existing political practices, values, and institutions, which leads it to replicate the status quo and precludes external criticism. Radical realism, represented here by Raymond Geuss, is barren because the fear of succumbing to moralism or ‘normativism’ leads radical realists to wrongly abjure normativity altogether. Having shown that both forms of realism are barren I argue that radical realists should adopt a method of political theory as story-telling as a way to avoid both moralism and barrenness. While realists are right to be wary of normative prescription, I argue that realists need to tell a story about which political transformations are desirable and why or else risk succumbing barrenness. I give a brief illustration of story-telling in practice then address some objections to story-telling as a productive method.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)398-417
Number of pages20
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (CRISPP)
Issue number3
Early online date6 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023


  • Realism
  • Geuss
  • Normativity
  • status quo

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