The Evolution of Political Thought

The Evolution of Political Thought

The Evolution of Political Thought

The Evolution of Political Thought

Excerpt

Most universities offer courses of lectures in what is called the History of Political Thought. The nature of these courses is fairly reflected in the books compiled on this subject; books written or edited by the lecturers and recommended without hesitation to their pupils. While the titles catalogued are numerous and varied, the books themselves are not dissimilar in content. Fluttering the pages of any volume, chosen at random, the reader will not fail to glimpse successively the names of Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Machiavelli, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Bentham and Mill. On adjacent shelves he will find editions of the works from which the compiler has drawn-- More Utopia, Machiavelli Prince, Bacon in person and Halifax himself. A study of these books, both texts and commentary, is held to constitute a sufficient grounding in political theory, useful to the student of history and of interest indeed to anyone.

While the value of these works (or, at any rate, of some of them) is beyond question, their general tendency is not without its dangers. The reader is left with fallacies as well as facts. These fallacies are neither stated nor upheld nor even perhaps deliberately implied. They arise indeed less from the study of any given work than, as a general impression, from all. They are none the less fallacious for that and their refutation is more than overdue.

First of these implicit fallacies is the idea that political thought is confined to authors and denied to everyone else. By this reasoning we must learn the ideas of Plato and Laski and can safely ignore those of Pericles and Churchill. This is surely to give an absurd weight to the accident of authorship. The idea expressed verbally or in action may be at least as novel and potent as the idea expressed with pen and ink. Closely connected with this fallacy is the idea that political theory has its origin in ancient Greece. The classically-educated historian has rarely thought it necessary to go either further back or further afield. He may have been misled by the derivation of the words in use; and yet the absurdity of this would seem obvious enough. To deny that there were politics before the Greeks invented the word is no more reasonable than to assume that the Greeks were uncivilised until the Romans had taught them Latin.

If it is wrong to conclude that all political theory began with Plato, it is at least equally wrong to suppose that all political thinking has been done in Europe and America. Of nearly every basic political . . .

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