Nicholas Lemann discusses a book by Arthur Fisher Bentley on political theory that came out one hundred years ago.

Under Bentley’s rules, you can’t talk about public opinion, because there is no such thing as “the public” (there are only groups) and opinions don’t matter, only actions do. Abstractions like “the people” and “popular will” have no real content, either. “The public interest” is a useless concept, he says, because “there is nothing which is best literally for the whole people.”

I always thought that this was standard political theory. It was what my father taught me. Once, when I used the word “public interest” in one of my essays, he chided me that there is no such thing. It was his way of saying, “Lose the ‘we.'”

A pluralist does not credit any single political view as having absolute moral clarity. As Lemann points out, pluralism was most popular in the two decades following the second World War, when absolutist ideologies were in lowest repute.

Thanks toRoss Douthat for the pointer.