A common view of politics is that it is reducible to applied ethics. If politics, in a classic phrase, is about “who gets what, when, and how,” then the task of normative political theory would simply be to tell us who is morally entitled to get whatever the “what” is in that statement.

This view, however, can easily reduce politics to a dizzying vortex of actions to assess from an ethical perspective. And while the task of moral philosophy may be precisely to articulate principles by which to pass such judgment, the focus of political theory lies elsewhere.

To study and assess politics means attending to the institutional frameworks and structural conditions that enable or constrain human action to begin with. The question for normative political theory, in other words, is whether the organizational structure of a given society—embodied in its decision-making procedures, its distribution of power, and its defining...

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