The first great question of political theory was posed by Socrates: "What is justice?" It has been joined by others, such as, "What is liberty?""What is equality?" and "What is political authority?" Anyone with political ideals sooner or later will face these sorts of questions. They also provide perhaps the best entry point for the study of political thought; if you understand these questions, and the answers that have been proposed, you understand the main debates and issues in the history of political theory. This book is intended for both sorts of readers: those who have already asked these conceptual questions and those who seek an introduction to political theory. I have tried to write a book that is interesting to those who have already thought about these matters, as well as accessible for those with little background in political theory.
Academics' writing (including, I confess, my own) too frequently falls into two classes. On the one hand, we write sophisticated and complex works that can only be grasped by graduate students (perhaps only advanced graduate students) and fellow academics and, on the other, we write textbooks for beginning students that are of little interest to anyone else (and perhaps not even to them). In the first sort of book, we present our arguments fortified by all our defenses and qualifications in order to withstand the scrutiny and criticism of our colleagues; in the second, we rehearse the familiar and acknowledged positions. Understandably, we are reluctant to bridge these safe shores. To present our views without their full fortifications, to interest our readers without overwhelming them with defenses, to introduce while challenging our readers and inviting them to disagree--all of these are fraught with obvious dangers. Yet, I think, some of the most interesting political theory occurs in this no-man's-land between the rigorous scholarly book and the elementary textbook. In this book, I seek to present my own view of the analysis of political concepts, one that I hope will be interesting to the expert and useful to the novice.
I have presented much of this material to my students--both first-year and more advanced--at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and the University of Minnesota, Duluth. My thanks to all of them