Public Reason: Vol. 1, No. 2, June 2009
Political Realism and Political Idealism: The Difference that Evil Makes
Roman Altshuler

According to a particular view of political realism, political expediency must always override moral considerations. Perhaps the strongest defense of such a theory is offered by Carl Schmitt in The Concept of the Political. A close examination of Schmitt’s main presuppositions can therefore help to shed light on the tenuous relation between politics and morality. Schmitt’s theory rests on two keystones. First, the political is seen as independent of and prior to morality. Second, genuine political theory depends on a view of human beings as evil by nature. I will argue that both claims are incomplete. Just as the political sometimes demands that morality be overridden, so morality can demand the overriding of political expediency. Moreover, the view of human beings as evil, which serves as the foundation of political realism, itself depends on affirming that human nature must also be, in some sense, good. Political realism is thus shown to have its theoretical foundation within a normative framework that demands the political pursuit of at least some moral aims.

Key words: evil, Kant, liberalism, political realism, Carl Schmitt.


Altshuler, Roman. 2009. Political Realism and Political Idealism: The Difference that Evil Makes. Public Reason 1 (2): 74-88.