The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann has provided one of the most elaborate theories of society available, as well as numerous works on specific aspects of society. Commonly labeled as “systems theory,” this is but a shorthand description of Luhmann’s theory. In fact, the theory rests on at least three main theoretical pillars. In addition to systems theory, a theory of social evolution and a theory of social differentiation play important roles. The present article introduces these three pillars and describes Luhmann’s theory of politics in this context. It outlines the crucial difference between a theory of politics as part of a theory of society on the one hand, and political theory as a reflective theory within the political system on the other hand. More specifically, it introduces Luhmann’s accounts of the notions of “political power,” “differentiation,” “the state,” “political steering,” and “the self-description of the political system.” The contribution concludes with some observations on the fact that Luhmann’s theory has tended to overlook the dimension of international politics, but that his theory provides opportunities to account for it in innovative ways.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Multiculturalism has been used both as a descriptive and a normative term, as well as a term referring to particular types of state policies. As a descriptive term, multiculturalism refers to the state of affairs present in contemporary societies: that of cultural diversity. As a normative term, multiculturalism affirms cultural diversity as an acceptable state of affairs, and provides normative grounds for the ways of responding to this diversity. As a policy oriented term, multiculturalism refers to a variety of state policies that aim to accommodate people’s cultural differences—most notably, different types of culturally differentiated (or, minority) rights.
The main focus of the debates on multiculturalism within political philosophy has been on normative multiculturalism, and the broader normative questions relating to the appropriate grounds for responding to people’s cultural differences. The debates on descriptive multiculturalism and on particular multicultural policies, however, feed into the debates on normative multiculturalism. One’s views on the nature of culture, the value of culture, and the appropriate means of demarcating group boundaries have implications on the ways in which one understands the proper objects of cultural accommodation, as well as the extent to which such accommodation should be applied. The different types of multicultural policies—including rights of indigenous groups, immigrants, and national minorities—incorporate slightly different sets of normative considerations that must be independently assessed, and that also feed into the more general debates on the normative foundations for cultural accommodation.
Equality-based and identity-based arguments for cultural concern provide strong grounds for the state to be concerned about people’s cultural differences and to aim to alleviate culturally induced disadvantages. The case for (or against) minority rights as a means for responding to these disadvantages may, however, come from several sources, including approaches to cultural diversity based on equality, autonomy, toleration, and diversity. While there is relative agreement among multicultural theorists that differentiated rights are acceptable, though not always required or even desired, responses to cultural diversity, disagreements about the normative bases, and extents of application, remain complex.
Søren Flinch Midtgaard
In the standard view, A acts paternalistically toward B if and only if: (i) A restricts B’s liberty, (ii) A acts against B’s will, (iii) A acts for B’s own good. For example, the state may tax or prohibit smoking in the interest of citizens’ health in circumstances in which such measures are resisted by them or some of them. Telling counterexamples have been produced to each of these conditions. In the revised view, A acts paternalistically toward B if and only if: (i) A acts so as to influence B by the use of means other than rational persuasion; (ii) A does not regard B’s will as structurally decisive (i.e., A takes the prevention of voluntary self-regarding harm to constitute a reason for influencing B); (iii) A does so for B’s good or to affect matters within B’s legitimate sphere of control; (iv) A’s act cannot be justified without counting its beneficial effects on B in its favor. The wrongness of paternalism lies in the way in which a paternalistic act by A toward B infringes B’s autonomy: A does not consider B’s will authoritative in determining how A should treat B in B’s self-regarding matters―A subjects B’s will to his in this sense. Hard paternalism as thus understood should be distinguished from soft paternalism or anti-paternalism. According to the latter, the prevention of voluntary self-regarding harm is never a good reason for interference. The latter is justifiable only to prevent involuntary self-regarding harm―harm pertaining to acts that are not his or do not represent his values or preferences. Hard paternalism may, pace what soft paternalism or anti-paternalism claims, sometimes be justifiable. This is particularly so when the voluntary self-regarding harm involved is significant and the infringement of liberty required to prevent it limited or acceptable given the harm at stake. The question of when a good or an advantage is profound and when an infringement of liberty is limited is, however, difficult and worthy of further investigation. Paternalistic justifications should be distinguished from other liberty-limiting principles. That is, they should, first, be distinguished from moral paternalism focusing on improving the person’s moral character and hence his moral well-being or on making the person better (as opposed to the improvement of the person’s physical and psychological condition focused on by ordinary or welfare paternalism). Second, it should be distinguished from legal moralism concerned with barring conduct that is intrinsically morally bad (that is, bad for reasons independent of how it affects people’s character or their physical or psychological condition).
Prioritarianism is a principle of distributive justice. Roughly, it states that we should give priority to the worse off in the distribution of advantages. This principle has received a great deal of attention in political theory since Derek Parfit first introduced the distinction between egalitarianism and prioritarianism in his Lindley Lecture, published in 1991. In the present article, prioritarianism is defined in terms of a number of structural features of the principle. These structural features are also used to distinguish between this principle and other distributive principles such as utilitarianism, egalitarianism, and leximin. Prioritarianism is mostly discussed as an axiological principle that orders outcomes with respect to their (moral) value, but it is also clarified how it can be incorporated in a criterion of right actions, choices, or policies. Furthermore, different aspects of the principle that need to be further specified to arrive at a full-fledged distributive theory are discussed, including the weights that give priority to the worse off, currency (what kind of advantages should be distributed), temporal unit (the temporal span in which one has to be worse off in order to be entitled to priority), scope (whether the principle applies globally or only domestically, and whether, for example, future generations and non-human animals are covered by the principle), and risk. For each aspect, different possible views are distinguished and discussed. Finally, it is discussed how prioritarianism may be justified, for example, by outlining and discussing the argument that, unlike certain other distribution-sensitive principles such as egalitarianism, prioritarianism is not vulnerable to the so-called “leveling down objection.”
The punishment of criminal offenders constitutes a topic that has for many years received comprehensive attention, both in narrower academic circles and in broader public debate. This is not surprising. State-mandated infliction of death, suffering, or deprivation of freedom on citizens should from the outset be met with hesitation, and constitutes a practice which clearly calls for more profound considerations. Though the theoretical discussion of punishment has dealt with many conceptual and ethical issues, from an overall point of view, it is dominated by two questions.
The first question, as indicated, concerns the justification of legal punishment. Why and under what conditions is it justified for the state to impose punishment on perpetrators? The traditional answers have been split between the utilitarian approach, according to which punishment can be justified in terms of its future desirable consequences, mainly crime prevention, and the retrospectively oriented retributivist approach, which justifies punishment in terms of just deserts. In the modern discussion, the picture has become more diverse. Consequentialist and retributivist justifications have been developed in many different versions and several attempts have been made to combine forward- and backward-looking considerations into coherent schemes. Moreover, genuinely new accounts of penal theories have also been presented.
The second question concerns the issue of how different crimes should be punitively responded to. Though this question is obviously theoretically closely related to the first, it is also clear that the question of how individual offenders should be punished for their respective misdeeds prompts a plethora of more detailed challenges such as: What should determine the gravity of a crime? How should one determine the severity of a punishment? Are there types of punishment that should never be used in the criminal justice system (e.g., capital or corporal punishment)? Much of the contemporary discussion within penal theory is devoted to the task of providing principled solutions to these detailed challenges.
Rational choice theory may seem like a separate theoretical approach with its own forbidding mathematics. However, the central assumptions of rational choice theory are very similar to those in mainstream political behavior and even interpretive sociology. Indeed, many of the statistical methods used in empirical political behavior assume axiomatic models of voter choice. When we consider individual voting behavior, the contribution of rational choice has been to formalize what empirical political scientists do anyway, and provide some new tools. However, it is when we consider collective voting choice—what elections mean and what kind of policy outcomes result—that rational choice leads to new, counterintuitive insights. Rational choice also has a normative dimension. Without voter rationality the traditional understanding of democracy as popular choice makes little sense.
We can distinguish between three moral approaches to war: pacifism, realism, and just war theory. There are various theoretical approaches to war within the just war tradition. One of the central disputes between these approaches concerns whether war is morally exceptional (as held by exceptionalists), or morally continuous with ordinary life (as held by reductive individualists). There are also significant debates concerning key substantive issues in the ethics of war, such as reductivist challenges to the thesis that combatants fighting an unjust war are the moral equals of those fighting a just war, and the challenge to reductivism that it undermines the principle of noncombatant immunity. There are also changing attitudes to wars of humanitarian intervention. One under-explored challenge to the permissibility of such wars lies in the better outcomes of alternative ways of alleviating suffering. The notion of unconventional warfare has also come to recent prominence, not least with respect to the moral status of human shields.