If all politics is local, then any sensible political theory must be sensitive to the fine-grained features of the political landscape. No one thinks that one form of government is best for every situation, and a theory that fails to accommodate ‘local knowledge’ runs the risk of irrelevance. Yet we also think that political philosophy must rise above the particularities of context and transcend the muck-a-muck of daily politics.
Most theories, however, leave only a secondary role for context. They see it either as the basis for an excuse or merely as the data that must be plugged into a predetermined agenda. On the first view, contexts are only relevant when they prevent a society from achieving whatever the view regards as the best government for humans. If a society lacks the conceptual, technological, or economic resources to attain the best form of government, then its context absolves it from charges of illegitimacy. We find this view reflected in the attitudes of, say, those Americans who think every country should be a liberal democracy, but admit that some places are not yet developed enough to realize such a society.