Fifty Major Political Thinkers

Fifty Major Political Thinkers

Fifty Major Political Thinkers

Fifty Major Political Thinkers

Synopsis

Fifty Major Political Thinkers introduces the lives and ideas of some of the most influential figures in Western political thought, from ancient Greece to the present day. The entries provide a fascinating introduction to the major figures and schools of thought that have shaped contemporary politics, including: Aristotle; Simone de Beauvoir; Michel Foucault; Mohandas Gandhi; Jurgen Habermas; Machiavelli; Karl Marx; Thomas Paine; Jean-Jacques Rousseau; and, Mary Wollstonecraft. Fully cross-referenced and including a glossary of theoretical terms, this wide-ranging and accessible book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the evolution and history of contemporary political thought.

Excerpt

The nature of political activity and how it may best be conducted is one of the perennial questions of human existence. In the West alone these matters have been the subject of philosophical discussion for more than 2,000 years, and the discussion is one to which many more than fifty thinkers have contributed. In choosing our fifty we have confined ourselves to Western political thought (with the exception of Mohandas Gandhi, whose ideas were influenced by the West). We have little expertise outside this field, and, besides, non-Western traditions are represented in other volumes in this series. Nor have we been concerned with theoretical debates concerning the ‘scientific’ study of politics. Even so, the business of choosing the best or most appropriate fifty was a difficult one.

Any shortlist of ‘greats’ compiled from such a wide and varied field will contain entries of three kinds. First, there will be those names it would be impossible to exclude: in this case Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke and so on. This part of the list almost compiles itself. Then there will be a penumbra of cases that, though discussable, would probably be included by most knowledgeable people. Finally, there will be a class of substantially controversial entries, where the choice really is a matter of editorial discretion. Anyone who undertakes to draw up such a list will therefore face some difficult decisions, and it is inevitable that the final selection will not be agreeable to everyone. Selection is particularly difficult when we come to the era after the French Revolution: the age of mass politics in which so many movements of political significance have emerged. The Routledge Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Political Thinkers (1998) has 178 entries and does not claim to be exhaustive. It is unavoidable that a volume purporting to deal with major political theorists will be ‘thin’ at its modern end, quite simply because, with some few distinguished exceptions, it is not possible to predict which very recent theorists will come to be regarded as ‘major’ by posterity.

A thinker may be ‘major’ on a number of grounds: power of reasoning, originality, extent of influence and so on. Choices are inevitably based . . .

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