Reason, necessity and genocide

Lancaster, Philip Charles.   University of Ottawa (Canada) ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  2000. NQ57050.

Abstract (summary)

This work examines core assumptions of the rationalism that underlies liberal political theory by placing it against the background of a dramatic historical phenomenon—genocide. An attempt is made to draw on historical accounts of two genocides to develop a critique of liberal political theory as it has been articulated during the latter years of the 20th Century by John Rawls. Ultimately, this thesis attempts to sort out the conceptual problems arising at the junction point of normative and descriptive theories of politics and argues that the basic elements of both kinds theories would benefit greatly from closer attention to history.

The first chapter is devoted to a discussion of the ways in which political reason can be adapted to the needs of state and suggests that there are problems associated with the attempt to universalize the notion of human rights across a community of nations lacking the basic contextual requirements for rights.

Chapter two considers the uncomfortable fit between political structure and value in liberal political theory. It argues that the administrative structure of states now exists as an important part of contemporary formal reality and thus ought to be a critical element in any serious study of politics. An argument begins here that works towards the final conclusion that states constitute an arena within which individualist and collectivist values collide.

The third chapter examines the relationship between liberal values and rationality. It includes a technical discussion of Max Weber's theory of rationality but limits the discussion to political applications. This chapter raises a series of questions about the concept of rationality used in the construction of political theory.

Chapters four, five and six examine the complications that arise when a liberal perspective is taken to issues of ontological existence, community values and the powers inhering in states to shape identity frames in the interests of administrative efficiency. This leads into a more technical discussion of rationality as represented in the theories of John Rawls and Alan Gewirth that is contained in the seventh chapter.

Chapters eight and nine are devoted to discussions of elements of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide respectively. Both examples are used as a means of illustrating the complex power relations arising out of the various forms of collective agency needed to sustain state sovereignty and which complicate political theory far beyond the explanatory power of liberal rationalism. The examples are used to argue that theories based on notions of disassociated rational persons just fail to support their normative conclusions.

The final chapter argues for a re-examination of the way in which political theory is read and suggests that liberal theory, in particular, tends towards abstraction in ways that limit its usefulness as either explanatory or normative theory.

Indexing (details)

Political science
0422: Philosophy
0615: Political science
Identifier / keyword
Philosophy, religion and theology; Social sciences; Genocide; John Rawls; Liberalism; Necessity; Politics; Rawls, John; Reason
Reason, necessity and genocide
Lancaster, Philip Charles
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 62/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Armour, Leslie
University of Ottawa (Canada)
University location
Canada -- Ontario, CA
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL