All human action lies under the shadow of prospective regret, but there are few areas of contemporary life over which that shadow falls so darkly as it does over politics. We hear constantly that Americans are less likely than ever to vote and are increasingly cynical about the ability of politicians to effect change. Why is politics so consistently disappointing?Starting from the premise that the professional study of politics can offer us a way to understand why we have so little faith in the political process, The Cunning of Unreason explores competing definitions of politics, probing the hidden assumptions and implications of each. In energetic and engaging prose, Cambridge political theorist John Dunn makes a convincing case for the ongoing relevance of great political thinkers from Aristotle to Marx. Along the way, he bridges the academic world of political theory and the public world of debate about democracy, corruption, globalization, and the recent trend toward conservatism.A must read for every politician, spin doctor, and professional pundit, The Cunning of Unreason offers a greater understanding of the way politics works in contemporary society and what its promise is for the future.
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John Dunn is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Cambridge. He has taught at a number of American universities, including Harvard, and is a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.From Publishers Weekly:
The promises of the modern democratic republic far exceed its performance, concludes political theorist Dunn in this very abstract discussion of fundamental political questions. Beginning with the basicsAwhat is politics and why does it occur?Ahe outlines the major answers suggested by philosophers, then launches theoretical examinations of the state, political knowledge and the making of political judgments. The limitations of human beingsAespecially limits to knowledge and rationalityAare recognized throughout and become most prominent when Dunn considers post-1979 British politics. When the contemporary democratic republic is "directly encountered," he states, "it is quite obviously (and, in all probability, irreversibly) corrupt and feckless." Yet he does not champion an alternative, for the sometimes disappointing performance of modern states must be cast in the context of the overwhelmingly difficult agenda they face. Politics is "the balance of conflict and cooperation," and there is usually a surplus of conflict; this makes politics "a site of danger," the experience of which is likely to be "irritating" and "all but invariably disappointing." But Dunn argues that we owe these states our loyalty because they have, at least to this point, worked to our advantage. After traversing considerable and difficult intellectual terrain to reach this tepid, almost clich?d conclusion, the reader may very well be disappointed with Dunn's book as well as with politics. (Sept.)
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