The Moral Foundations of Politics

Ian Shapiro

October 2012 | $25.00 | ISBN: 9780300185454 | 304 pages

When do governments merit our allegiance, and when should they be denied it? Ian Shapiro explores this most enduring of political dilemmas in this innovative and engaging book. Building on his highly popular Yale courses, Professor Shapiro evaluates the main contending accounts of the sources of political legitimacy. Starting with theorists of the Enlightenment, he examines the arguments put forward by utilitarians, Marxists, and theorists of the social contract. Next he turns to the anti-Enlightenment tradition that stretches from Edmund Burke to contemporary post-modernists. In the last part of the book Shapiro examines partisans and critics of democracy from Plato’s time until our own. He concludes with an assessment of democracy’s strengths and limitations as the font of political legitimacy. The book offers a lucid and accessible introduction to urgent ongoing conversations about the sources of political allegiance.

“In The Moral Foundations of Politics, Shapiro reaffirms his place as one of the very clearest and most resolute, and most solidly grounded, practitioners of political theory in this generation.”—Adolph Reed, Jr., New School for Social Research 
“Though written in 2003 The Moral Foundations of Politics has special relevance after 2016. In a time when tribalism, ethnic conflict, racial tension, censorial political correctness, and general illiberalism seem to be asserted in many corners the need for a return to Enlightenment principles is all the more urgent.” —Todd Decker
“A deeply valuable book at many levels. Students will find a synoptic, clear overview with an argument to supplement their own courses; faculty can secretly get back up to speed on philosophers they should remember better; specialists will be impelled to put ‘their guy’ into a more comprehensive framework than usual. Shapiro shows an almost unique ability to combine the broad sweep with the telling detail or precise insight—just what a book of this sort needs.”—Jennifer Hochschild, Harvard University
“This is a rigorous and insightful reconsideration of the theories of political legitimacy underpinning the utilitarian, Marxist, social contract, anti-Enlightenment, and democratic traditions, from one of the foremost democratic theorists in America today. Shapiro conveys the reader through a maze of complex moral, economic and political argument surrounding this topic with impressive skill and enviable clarity. It will be of substantial interest to students of moral philosophy as well as political theory, and should reach a broader audience concerned with how to think about the moral dilemmas implicit in contemporary democratic theory and practice.”—Shannon Stimson, UC Berkeley 
“Impressive… . A solid piece of scholarship that is accessible to the nonacademic, intelligent reader. This is a rare combination… . Shapiro’s fine book … is a must-read for anybody interested in democracy and political theory… . The book provides one of the most powerful and eloquent defenses of the moral and political legitimacy of democratic governance that is to be found in recent literature.”—Deen K. Chatterjee, Ethics & International Affairs
“Blending sophisticated political science (including insightful rational choice calculations) with clarity that makes the book’s subject accessible to neophytes, Professor Shapiro distills centuries of political theory into a slender volume.”—Harvard Law Review
“Shapiro … [is] an incisive, clear-headed, stimulating, and impressively learned thinker. Even his excursions are fascinating, highly intelligent, and persuasive.”—David W. Levy, History: Reviews of New Books
“If you want a good overview of competing political theories, Shapiro’s book is ideal.”—James S. Fishkin, Ethics