Political Concepts and Political Theories

By Gerald F. Gaus | Go to book overview

CONCLUIDING REMARKS:
FROM POLITICAL CONCEPTS TO POLITICAL THEORIES

Throughout Part II of this book, I have tried to show how liberal, conservative, and socialist interpretations of political concepts are shaped by, first, the analysis of other political concepts, as well as by, second, commitments to rationalism or pluralism, collectivism or individualism, and views of human nature. We have seen, for example, how a classical liberal analysis of negative liberty supports classical liberal suspicions about most forms of equality, how the notion of equally free people is the basis of its theory of justice, and how this leads to a certain view of political authority. We have also seen the way in which much socialist thought endorses interlocking conceptions of liberty, equality, justice, authority, and democracy, which stress how all these political ideals, if properly understood, can be harmoniously achieved, without the conflicts and tradeoffs that are so central to classical liberal thought. I have also stressed how a great deal of conservative thought focuses on the themes of inegalitarianism, antirationalism, and the historical and customary dimensions of human life. We have, then, developed some rough conceptual maps of our enduring political theories, which have related the analysis of one concept to that of others, as well as to their differing views on some of the fundamental issues in political theory.

Think back to our starting point: Plato's query, "What is justice?" This looked at first as if it was a request for a definition or an essence. By now, we can appreciate that Plato was proposing a rationalistic and collectivist political theory. For Plato, justice involved the proper ordering of the collectivity, with one's rights and duties related to one's place in that collectivity; naturally enough, political authority ought to be invested in those who have the expert political knowledge. Equality, of course, has little

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