Political Theory: The Foundations of Twentieth-Century Political Thought

Political Theory: The Foundations of Twentieth-Century Political Thought

Political Theory: The Foundations of Twentieth-Century Political Thought

Political Theory: The Foundations of Twentieth-Century Political Thought

Excerpt

If today, rapidly advancing into the second half of the twentieth century, we try to recapture some of the characteristic traits that distinguished nineteenth-century political theory (or "theory of the state" as it was then generally called) from our own, we naturally become aware of a great variety of problems examined and approaches used in either period. All major contributions, however, up to the beginning of our century had one feature in common that is less frequently encountered in typical scientific writings thereafter. They focused attention on questions such as these: What are the ends of state and government? What are the proper means toward these ends? and, above all, What is the best form of government?

In asking and answering questions of this kind -- and scholars would feel it their professional duty to answer them -- pronouncements were freely advanced on good and evil, just and unjust, morally right and wrong, worthy and unworthy (detestable or wicked), laudable and reprimandable, desirable and undesirable, valuable and nonvaluable. In support, the writers would refer to a number of "first principles," derived in various ways -- sometimes from religion, sometimes from nature, sometimes from philosophical speculations, sometimes forwarded as self-evident postulates, sometimes distilled from the history of political ideas, sometimes based on the historical evolution of Western civilization, and not infrequently taken, directly or indirectly, from the positive law, in particular the constitution, of the respective country or countries.

Among the sources of such principles, Christianity and the Law of Nature played an especially important role. They continued to do so in political science at a time when other branches of the sciences had learned to distinguish more carefully between scientific and religious sources, and when Natural-Law doctrines had been all but crushed under the blows suffered at the hands of critical philosophers, utilitarians, historians, and positivists.

As a result, publications in the field of political theory up to the turn of the century, if not beyond it, included many statements, meant to be scientific, as to what were the proper ends and means of organized human life; for example, states and governments ought to serve the interests of the individuals or of the greatest number of them; all men should be treated as equal because they were born equal; everyone . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.