“[Analytical] criticism has, right up to its latest efforts, never quitted the realm of philosophy. Far from examining its general philosophic premises, the whole body of its inquiries has actually sprung from the soil of a definite philosophical system, that of [Rawls]. Not only in their answers but in their very questions there was a mystification. This dependence on [Rawls] is the reason why not one of these modern critics has even attempted a comprehensive criticism of the [Rawlsian] system. Their polemics against [Rawls] and against one another are confined to this – each extracts one side of the [Rawlsian] system and turns this against the whole system as well as against the sides extracted by others. To begin with they extracted pure, unfalsified [Rawlsian] categories such as [‘Original Position’] and [‘Justice’], later they desecrated these categories with more secular names such as [‘overlapping consensus’], [‘political liberalism’]”

Contemporary as it sounds, ladies and gentlemen, I didn’t find this text in the latest Philosophy & Public Affairs; it is, of course, The German Ideology, with Rawls playing Hegel’s role. And how familiar it sounds (perhaps I’m being unfair; perhaps this is just what it is to be a “philosophical school”).

But I suppose the more interesting question is about political philosophers, and how they see their work and the work of others. Chris Brooke was telling us yesterday that the Young Hegelians themselves saw their relation to Hegel as a mere echo of the Greek schools’ relationship to the other great system builder, Aristotle. And how they orientated their research (for example, Marx’s doctoral thesis on “The Difference Between the Democritean and the Epicurean Philosophy of Nature” ) as a function of this self-understanding.
Then after Cohen and Ryan’s Hegel seminar today I was talking with Ben about how Hegel was the Owl of Minerva to Bonaparte’s world-historical individual, and wondering about (what else?) where Rawls stood in all this. Had we finally cracked the secret behind those cryptic remarks on America, land of the future?

We parted on the conclusion that Dworkin must have been the Owl to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s world-historical individual…

But this just opens up a whole can of worms: who was the Twentieth Century’s Kant? (Rawls, I suppose) Who is the Feuerbach, who is the Marx? Where does Nozick fit? How do we describe the late Rawls’ relation to his own earlier self, in the terms of this particular historical looking-glass? And how does one go about turning Dworkin on his head?

(Then again, maybe I’ve got all of this wrong, and Bernard Williams was on more of the right track with his ideas about Wittgensteinianism and Left-Wittgensteinianism, or even, in the same article: “These critics [Taylor, MacIntyre, and Sandel] stand to Rawls much as Hegel and his followers stood to Kant.”)

But if the Young Hegelians themselves thought of themselves in roughly this way, as some sort of post-Aristotelian philosophical fall-out, perhaps we need to add to the aphorism: [history repeats itself], the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, the third time as a spaghetti Western.