Political Philosophy

Political Philosophy

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Political Philosophy
    Book Description:

    Who ought to govern? Why should I obey the law? How should conflict be controlled? What is the proper education for a citizen and a statesman? These questions probe some of the deepest and most enduring problems that every society confronts, regardless of time and place. Today we ask the same crucial questions about law, authority, justice, and freedom that Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Tocqueville faced in previous centuries.

    In this lively and enlightening book, Professor Steven B. Smith introduces the wide terrain of political philosophy through the classic texts of the discipline. Works by the greatest thinkers illuminate the permanent problems of political life, Smith shows, and while we may not accept all their conclusions, it would be a mistake to overlook the relevance of their insights.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18913-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Texts
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Why Political Philosophy?
    (pp. 1-9)

    Custom dictates that I say something about the subject matter of political philosophy at the outset of our course. This may be a case of putting the cart before the horse—or before the course—because how is it possible to say what political philosophy is in advance of having studied it? Nevertheless I will try to say something useful.

    In one sense political philosophy is simply a branch or a “subfield” of political science. It exists alongside other areas of political inquiry like American government, comparative politics, and international relations. Yet in another sense political philosophy is the oldest...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Antigone and the Politics of Conflict
    (pp. 10-19)

    The problem of conflict—what it is, what its causes are, how to control and contain it—is one of the oldest issues of political life. As America’s greatest political scientist, James Madison, wrote: “But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”¹

    Madison’s point is that if cooperation and agreement came naturally to us, we would not need the instrumentalities of law, the state, and political institutions to impose order. That we are beings whose natural condition is one of competition, envy, disagreement, and conflict...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Socrates and the Examined Life
    (pp. 20-36)

    Plato was an Athenian. He was born around the year 427/28 b.c.e. He was a young man during the waning years of the great war between the Athenians and the Spartans known as the Peloponnesian War. He was born around the same year as the death of the great Athenian statesman Pericles. So he lived at the very end of what has been considered the golden age of Athens. It was during his teens or early twenties—around the age of a college undergraduate—that he made the acquaintance of Socrates. Plato came from a leading family of Athens. He...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Plato on Justice and the Human Good
    (pp. 37-66)

    TheRepublicis the book that started it all. Every other work of philosophy is a reply to theRepublic, beginning with Aristotle’sPoliticsand extending up to our own day with John Rawls’sA Theory of Justice. The first and most obvious thing to note about theRepublicis that it is a long book, not Plato’s longest work, but long enough. It will not reveal its meaning on a first reading, perhaps not even on a tenth reading unless it is approached in the proper manner with the proper questions. So we must ask, what is theRepublic...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Aristotle’s Science of Regime Politics
    (pp. 67-88)

    There is a story about the life of Aristotle the essentials of which run something like this: Aristotle was born; he spent his life philosophizing; and then he died. There is probably more to the life of Aristotle than these facts admit, but to some extent this captures the way in which he has been perceived: as the ultimate philosopher.¹

    Aristotle was born in 384 b.c.e. in Stagira in the northern part of Greece in what is now Macedonia. At the age of about seventeen—approximately the age of an undergraduate—he was sent by his father to study in...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Politics of the Bible
    (pp. 89-108)

    Why would a course on political philosophy include a section dealing with the Bible? This question is both necessary and proper. Political philosophy is a part of the Western intellectual tradition, and this tradition is composed of two elements. One part derives from the philosophical tradition of Greece, but the other derives from the Bible, from the East. The influence of the Bible is evidence of the influence of the East on the West. We might call these two elements or two strands of thought Athens and Jerusalem. Neither of these alone is sufficient to characterize the West. The West...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Machiavelli and the Art of Political Founding
    (pp. 109-139)

    Machiavelli was a Florentine. To know that is to know virtually everything you need to know about him. I exaggerate, of course, but the point is that Florence was a city-state—a republic—and Machiavelli spent his life in the service of the republic. Living in Florence, the center of the Renaissance at the height of the Renaissance, he hoped to do for politics what his contemporaries Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo had done for art and sculpture. He hoped to revive the spirit of the ancients, of antiquity, but to modify and correct it by the light of his...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Hobbes’s New Science of Politics
    (pp. 140-164)

    Thomas Hobbes was the author of the first and still the greatest work of political philosophy in the English language. His work virtually created the idiom of Anglophone, political theory. One could compareLeviathanwith other English-language works like Locke’sSecond Treatise of Governmentand theFederalist Papers, but only Hobbes, as a writer, can be compared with writers such as Milton and Spenser without seeming manifestly foolish. He was a master of English prose, and his work ranks among the greatest achievements in this or any other language.Leviathanis an almost perfect book, and as Dr. Johnson said...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Locke and the Art of Constitutional Government
    (pp. 165-188)

    John Locke gives the modern state the expression that is most familiar to us. His writings seem to have been so completely adopted by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence that Locke is often thought of as almost an honorary member of the American founding generation. Among other things, he advocates the natural liberty and equality of human beings; the individual’s right to such things as life, liberty, and property; government by consent; limited government with a separation of powers; and a right to revolution. In addition, Locke was an advocate of religious toleration. His name is forever linked...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Rousseau on Civilization and Its Discontents
    (pp. 189-213)

    Rousseau is commonly regarded as a critic of liberalism, of the kind of property-owning society based on rights and limited government given expression by Locke. But to see Rousseau as a critic of Lockean liberalism would be short-sighted. He was a product of the ancien régime. He was born in 1712, two years before the death of Louis XIV, and died in 1778, a decade before the outbreak of the French Revolution. His life was lived entirely in the waning years of the age of absolutism. Rousseau was aware that he lived in an age of transition, but what precisely...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Tocqueville and the Dilemmas of Democracy
    (pp. 214-242)

    In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the ideas of freedom and equality walked confidently hand in hand. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau all believed that in the state of nature men were born free and equal. As long as the enemy appeared to be entrenched hierarchies of power and privilege, freedom and equality were taken as mutually reinforcing aspects of the emergent democratic order.

    It was not until the new democracies or proto-democracies began to take shape at the beginning of the nineteenth century that political philosophers began to wonder whether equality and liberty did not in fact pull in different...

  16. CHAPTER 12 In Defense of Patriotism
    (pp. 243-258)

    The great tradition of political philosophy regarded patriotism as an ennobling sentiment. It was often thought to be the task of political philosophy to teach or to give reasons for the love of country. Consider just a few of the following thoughts from different writers in different historical periods:

    Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (first century b.c.e.).¹

    Cicero: “Why am I speaking of Greek examples? Somehow our own give me more pleasure” (44 b.c.e.).²

    Machiavelli: “I love my country [mia patria]...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 259-270)
  18. Index
    (pp. 271-282)