Raymond Geuss, (professor in the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Cambridge) is one of the key figures of Political Realism in Anglophone political philosophy.


Geuss refers to the “normative turn” in political philosophy which took place in the 1970s, “since philosophy in the English-speaking world (…) increasingly turned to Kant”.



Instead of studying human societies, their needs, technologies, specific institutions, cultural forms, and history, as the basic starting point and continuing framework for understanding and evaluating them and for orienting potential political action, most contemporary political philosophers in the English-speaking world turned their attention to a purportedly pure normative realm that could be studied in relative isolation from the messy facts of history and the empirical study of human society. (Geuss, 2016, p. viii)



What is the essence of opposition between Kantian normativity and realistic approach?



With Kant, however, man (or “the finite rational agent”) goes back into the middle as the first and most important object of philosophical attention. So also the “normative turn” is best understood as a counterrevolution against historically and sociologically sophisticated views about ethics and politics developed in the period of Herder and Marx (that is, roughly 1770 to 1850), which continued to represent an important strand of thinking until the normative deluge of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The followers of Herder (as one might call them for the sake of convenience) held that “normative ethical and political conceptions” did not arise from nowhere, as divine commands or ahistorical imperatives of pure reason, and that their origins in historically constituted societies were not always politically and ethically irrelevant. (Geuss, 2016, p. ix)



According to Geuss, success of normativism was due to the request for stability after troubled and revolutionary sixties.



…the normative (counter) revolution has been an unmitigated catastrophe for ethics, politics, and the humanities in general. The reasons for the success of “normative approaches” include the failure of the movements for political, social, and economic change of the 1960s, and the especial suitability of normativism as an ideology for the established economic and political structures that, after the challenge of the 1960s, were able to entrench themselves even more firmly than before. It is a constituent part of the view that I am proposing that I can assert this while also claiming that normativism is a cognitively distorting way of looking at society, and also morally and politically reprehensible. (Geuss, 2016, p. ix)



Gueuss is defending two theses:



The negative one, crudely speaking, is that there is no pure, and certainly no purely philosophical, ethics in the traditional sense. (…) However, the different “oughts” do not form a single rational system of the traditional type, and there is no interesting general concept of “normativity” from which any substantive conclusions about human action could be drawn. In particular, there is no fully autonomous, closed, fully rationally grounded doctrine that prescribes for us in all important cases how we ought to act. If one likes to put it this way, one could say that a certain “normative dimension” runs through all of human life, or that all human life has a (number of ) normative aspect(s), but that you cannot isolate it (or them) and make it (or them) the object(s) of a coherent, unitary, separate rational study. This means, among other things, that the “normative turn” in political philosophy which started with Rawls is a mistake. It is a turn toward something that does not exist, the purely normative.

The positive thesis I favor states that it does not matter that there is no unitary and separate “normative ethics” because political philosophy is always in itself already praxis- orienting and potentially interventive. Even political philosophy that takes itself to be simply descriptive and enjoins abstention from action is already intervening, because taking any position at all is intervening. There are, to be sure, situations in which not doing anything concrete or refusing to take sides or act is the best course, but it is a course of action. A political philosopher cannot, however, appeal to this fact to justify a general disinterest in the effects of his or her own theoretical activity. (Geuss, 2016, p. 17-18)



Geuss Raymond (2016): Reality and its dreams, Harvard University Press


 A legitimate ruler who has to perpetrate an immoral act to protect the lives and the liberty of the women and men who have entrusted upon him political authority is justifiable and even praiseworthy. By Christian standards he cannot be absolved, but the after-life of the soul is uncertain while present life of living individuals and the life and the liberty of futur...