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John Dunn, 30 December 1982

The Myth of the Nation and the Vision of Revolution 
by J.L. Talmon.
Secker, 632 pp., £15, October 1981, 0 436 51399 4
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... In The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy in 1952 the late Jacob Talmon offered an influential diagnosis of ‘the most vital issue of our time ... the headlong collision between empirical and liberal democracy on the one hand, and totalitarian democracy on the other, in which the world crisis of today consists’. Empirical and liberal democracy was to be read as including social democracy but totalitarian democracy, at the time, as excluding totalitarianism of the right ...


John Dunn, 5 February 1981

History of the Idea of Progress 
by Robert Nisbet.
Heinemann, 370 pp., £8.50, November 1980, 0 435 82657 3
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... Is there or is there not good reason to believe that the experience of being alive is still on the whole improving for the majority of human beings? And if there is, is there good reason to expect this improvement to persist into the reasonably near, the imaginatively accessible, future? The idea of progress involves the adoption of at least two very different perspectives ...


John Dunn, 2 October 1980

Natural Rights Theories 
by Richard Tuck.
Cambridge, 192 pp., £10.50, December 1979, 0 521 22512 4
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Natural Law and Natural Rights 
by John Finnis.
Oxford, 425 pp., £15, February 1980, 0 19 876110 4
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A Discourse on Property 
by James Tully.
Cambridge, 208 pp., £10.50, July 1980, 0 521 22830 1
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... some of the great political thinkers are commonly seen. His two main heroes are Hugo Grotius and John Selden. In historical range and intellectual suppleness, this is an enormously gifted book. But it is also in the last instance curiously ungenerous to the reader – offhand and introverted, as though by its close the author had simply lost interest in ...

Who should own what?

John Dunn, 18 October 1984

Property and Political Theory 
by Alan Ryan.
Blackwell, 198 pp., £15, August 1984, 0 631 13691 6
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... circumstances even impressive, the mere desire to have seems to many today – just as it did to John Locke – a furtive, even incipiently criminal form of lust. Disputes over property, and over the power which flows from it and flows back into it, are far from being the only major theme (let alone the motor) of human history. But for a number of millennia ...

Grounds for Despair

John Dunn, 17 September 1981

After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory 
by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Duckworth, 252 pp., £24, July 1981, 0 7156 0933 5
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... At one point in Thomas Peacock’s satire Melincourt, the heroine Anthelia offers a spirited sketch of the character traits which she looks for in a prospective husband. ‘I would require him to be free in all his thoughts, true in all his words, generous in all his actions – ardent in friendship, enthusiastic in love, disinterested in both … the champion of the feeble, the firm opponent of the powerful oppressor – not to be enervated by luxury, nor corrupted by avarice, nor intimidated by tyranny, nor enthralled by superstition – more desirous to distribute wealth than to possess it, to disseminate liberty than to appropriate power, to cheer the heart of sorrow than to dazzle the eyes of folly ...


John Dunn, 4 April 1991

by Norman Hampson.
Blackwell, 245 pp., £27.50, January 1991, 9780631162339
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... of human beings were those of independence and equality, that the human species was at first, as John Locke put it, the ‘great and natural community of mankind’, was accepted in some form by virtually every natural-law thinker. But no other natural-law thinker of whom I am aware seriously supposed that this community could be fully reconstituted, even on ...

Unilateralist Options

John Dunn, 6 August 1981

How to make up your mind about the Bomb 
by Robert Neild.
Deutsch, 144 pp., £2.95, May 1981, 0 233 97382 6
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... As with the sword or the bow and arrow, making up one’s mind responsibly about the Bomb is not an easy task. For anarchists or pacifists the exercise of violence by state powers throughout history has been intrinsically regrettable. But any style of political assessment which weights consequences more heavily than these do must recognise practical connections (sometimes of a surprising kind) between the history of civilised social life and that of repressive force ...

The Quest for Solidarity

John Dunn, 24 January 1980

Politics and Letters: Interviews with ‘New Left Review’ 
by Raymond Williams.
New Left Books, 446 pp., £12.75, September 1980, 0 86091 000 8
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... The relation between politics and letters is necessarily a dangerous liaison, and the questions which it raises are huge, blunt and disobliging. Acknowledged too readily, it is apt to highlight the less becoming features in each. But its potential for treachery is probably greatest when its existence is most vehemently denied. If imagination and the exercise of power were ever simple antinomies in human life, the relation could perhaps be avoided in principle ...

Short Books on Great Men

John Dunn, 22 May 1980

by Humphrey Carpenter.
Oxford, 102 pp., June 1980, 0 19 283016 3
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by Anthony Kenny.
Oxford, 86 pp., June 1980, 0 19 287500 0
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by Alban Krailsheimer.
Oxford, 84 pp., June 1980, 0 19 287512 4
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by A.J. Ayer.
Oxford, 102 pp., June 1980, 0 19 287528 0
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by Peter Singer.
Oxford, 82 pp., June 1980, 0 19 287510 8
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... pronouncements transcend comment. On the steps of Turin cathedral on 13 April of this year. Pope John Paul concluded a morose diatribe on the emptiness and malignity of modern capitalist society with a ringing proclamation: ‘But there is Christ and he is sufficient for all time.’ Three centuries or so earlier, Blaise Pascal summarised the theme of his ...

Doing something

John Dunn, 17 March 1988

Politics: A Work of Constructive Social Theory 
by Roberto Mangabeira Unger.
Cambridge, 256 pp., £25, January 1988, 0 521 32974 4
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The Critical Legal Studies Movement 
by Roberto Mangabeira Unger.
Harvard, 128 pp., £15.25, October 1986, 0 674 17735 5
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W.A. Mozart: ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ 
by Tim Carter.
Cambridge, 180 pp., £27.50, February 1988, 0 521 30267 6
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... In the opening act of The Marriage of Figaro the music master Don Basilio twits Susanna with the absurdity of her sexual tastes. How odd not to prefer, as anyone else would do, the favours of a signor liberal, prudente e saggio to those of a giovinastro and a paggio (a callow adolescent and a mere page). The page Cherubino, despite his giddy youth and relatively menial role, is of course a lad of good family ...

Why bother about politics?

Jon Elster, 5 February 1981

Political Obligation in its Historical Context 
by John Dunn.
Cambridge, 355 pp., £14.50, October 1980, 0 521 22890 5
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... and yet falling short of the ideal moral imperatives? These are the questions which occupy John Dunn in the essays that make up this book and which give it a coherence greater than that usually achieved in such collections. They range from reflections on and exercises in the history of ideas, through detailed case-studies of African and Asian ...

The Way Forward

Ian Gilmour, 25 October 1990

The Economic Limits to Modern Politics 
edited by John Dunn.
Polity, 274 pp., £35, July 1990, 0 7456 0827 2
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... Evidently, things have not greatly changed in the last two hundred years. No existing country, John Dunn suggests, manages ‘to combine prudent regard for the economic limits to modern politics with delicate and effective concern for the sorts of human beings whom its economic momentum fashions’. Professor ...


Jon Elster, 15 November 1984

The Politics of Socialism: An Essay in Political Theory 
by John Dunn.
Cambridge, 107 pp., £15, October 1984, 0 521 26736 6
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... that whatever is desirable is possible, and that whatever is desirable and possible is inevitable. John Dunn’s short book is much concerned with the disastrous consequences of this Utopian strand in socialism. He argues that socialists, if they want to be taken seriously, must show that the society they propose is economically viable, and that the ...
Western Political Thought in the Face of the Future 
by John Dunn.
Cambridge, 120 pp., £8.50
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... only because an even more plausible explanation has recently been provided. One source for it is John Dunn’s new book. Let me hasten to say that the explanation of contemporary political behaviour is not the primary task that he sets himself. What he is explicitly concerned with is the exhaustion of the resources provided by traditional Western ...

Sound Advice for Scotch Reviewers

Karl Miller, 24 January 1980

... by the rival needs of literature and politics has long been familiar to modern editors. John Dunn writes about it elsewhere in this issue of the London Review of Books. The present New Statesman has dealt with it by seeming never to have heard of it. It is a problem which, in certain of its relations, may be thought to have been new to the ...

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