This article takes up Peter Winch’s remarks concerning ‘the “fragility” of the conditions under which ethical conceptions can be active in social life’. It explores Winch’s discussion of political concepts and his account of the nature of politics. There are two related themes: a concern with the nature of political concepts; and a recognition (a reminder?) of the way in which disagreement belongs to our idea of politics.
Stuart Hampshire's political thought is an important but often overlooked contribution to contemporary debates concerning the nature and permanence of plural and conflicting values. In its combination of a pessimistic view of the limits of politics with a deep respect for pluralism and disagreement Hampshire's thought can be regarded as a significant version of 'the Liberalism of fear'. This is grounded in a belief that the inherited innocence of moral and political thinking has been undermined by our experience of the (...) horrors of the twentieth century. Hampshire's response is to propose a minimal form of proceduralism that contrasts with Rawls's political liberalism. Hampshire offers a criticism of the moralism that characterizes much modern political philosophy without advocating a stark realism. (shrink)