Public Policy and the Public Good

Public Policy and the Public Good

Public Policy and the Public Good

Public Policy and the Public Good

Synopsis

This work deals with the lack of attention that the policy sciences have paid to the history of Western political philosophy. A group of ten essays, written by some of the most respected political theorists, explain how knowledge of a specific historical thinker or school of thought can lead to a clearer appreciation of a particular contemporary American policy issue. Among the thinkers and topics covered are Plato and the media, Aristotle and public education, Hobbes and interest-group pluralism, Marx and computers, Locke and Native Americans' land claims, and Martin Luther on political leadership.

Excerpt

Benjamin R. Barber

It is a tragic if telling tribute to the specialization and consequent fragmentation of modern thought that the theory of the public good and the practice of public policy--once sisters in political philosophy's extended family-- are now so estranged that a book must be written to demonstrate, in the hands of competent political theorists, how intimately they might be related.

They have always been on intimate terms. the great cycles of Western political theory have been regularly catalyzed by periods of crisis in the development of political institutions and public policy. Political theory was never an esoteric graft on policy, but always a critical response to its dilemmas. Socrates responded with antidemocratic ardor to the vices of Athens's democratic policies in the Peloponnesian wars (his advice was deemed practical--that is, pernicious--enough to cost him his life) while Plato and then his pupil Aristotle answered the decline of Athenian institutions with insistent constitutional and policy recommendations. Plato spoke abstractly of a republic built of words, but there was little question that the disorder of popular passions and what he took to be democratic mob rule (ochlocracy) was his target. Aristotle deployed a more palpable practical language, surveying constitutions, assessing the impact of social and economic structure on regime forms, and issuing advice of immediate relevance to policymakers in the polis. He did not shirk from the pedagogical task of educating tyrants in what he hoped might be a moderating wisdom.

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