Political Philosophy

Article excerpt

In this historic time of unprecedented revolutionary change, convulsed by an avalanche of economic, social, ecological, and technological challenges, is political philosophy still relevant? The answer is a resounding yes. For inclusive political institutions are pivotal in achieving sustained prosperity shared by all.

Prosperity is propelled by the incentives and innovations initiated by institutions, and politics is crucial in resolving what those institutions are. For nations to thrive, political institutions must be inclusive in character, diffusing political power widely in a pluralistic and equitable manner - not merely constricting power in the hands of an oligarchy or the privileged elite - and thus, unleashing and empowering the full potential of every citizen in the process of governance and development.

Political philosophers have engaged in intense intellectual discourse on the nature and ramifications of the ideal society and the good life, and they have propounded questions which still dominate modern politics. To more fully understand our political institutions, it is, therefore, essential to peruse the dynamics of political philosophy, from classical antiquity to the present, as articulated by its most innovative thinkers.

Plato. The history of political philosophy began with Plato, who has exerted the profoundest impact on the development of Western political thought with his three seminal dialogues devoted primarily to affairs of state: the Republic, the Statesman, and the Laws. Disillusioned with the demagogic democracy of his native Athens, Plato wrote his magnum opus, the Republic, which is the earliest blueprint of an ideal community, or utopia, ruled by the "Guardians," an elite class of philosopher-kings who united wisdom with power. It has been assailed, however, for its incipient totalitarianism and its abolition of private property and the nuclear family. The Statesman compares forms of government and discusses the qualities necessary for an excellent ruler. The Laws is Plato's final attempt to create a template for a perfect society and, although authoritarian in character, it possesses democratic elements accentuating the rule of law.

Aristotle. Known as the Father of Political Science, Aristotle made the first comparative study of virtually all known political systems and constitutions of the Greek city-states, and his political teachings are primarily available in the Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics. The Politics aims to discover what factors contribute to man's happiness and the types of institutions most conducive to its attainment. He favors the "golden mean," or a balanced course, as his touchstone for evaluating political organizations, and concludes that a constitutional republic, where power is shared by the people and the elite, is the best. For Aristotle, political philosophy embraces the whole of human behavior; hence, ethics and politics are closely intertwined. The Nicomachean Ethics serves as an introduction to the Politics, and links virtue to the common good.

Machiavelli. The founder of modern pragmatic political philosophy, Machiavelli is a highly misunderstood Italian Renaissance political writer. Often condemned as virtually the devil incarnate, he was not as diabolical as portrayed, and was actually idealistic and patriotic. He wrote the most infamous book on politics - The Prince - which has revolutionized political philosophy with its scandalous realism, amoral opportunism, and coldhearted logic of power-politics. Considered the bible of realpolitik (German for hard-nosed politics), it has been the source of the maxim that the end justifies the means. Machiavelli also wrote The Discourses, a learned commentary which expounded on patriotism, civic virtue, and uncorrupted political culture.

Locke. As the architect of liberal democracy, John Locke has been the most influential political thinker. …