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The distinguished political philosopher Raymond Geuss examines critically some of the most widely held and important preconceptions about contemporary politics held in advanced Western societies. In a series of analytically focused chapters Dr Geuss discusses the state, authority, violence and coercion, the concept of legitimacy, liberalism, toleration, freedom, democracy, and human rights. He argues that the liberal democratic state committed to the defense of human rights is a historically contingent conjunction of disparate elements that do not fit together coherently. One of Geuss's most striking claims is that it makes sense to speak of rights only relative to a mechanism for enforcing them, and that therefore the whole concept of a 'human right', as it is commonly used in contemporary political philosophy, is a confusion. This is a profound and concise essay on the basic structure of contemporary politics, written throughout in a voice that is sceptical, engaged, and clear.