Political Thought

The Ancient Political Thought

Western political philosophy is a conversation about the best way to live a good life. The conversation began with the ancient political philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In 1989, with the fall of the Soviet Union, it appeared that the conversation might be over, that the question of the good life had been answered—the good life was the life of liberal democratic capitalism enjoyed by the United States and the other developed nations. Most people around the world seem to accept the justice of a democratic government and the goodness of a capitalist lifestyle. Still, one must wonder whether other people at other times also thought that their style of government was just and that the life they were living was the good life. The ancients did not write in English; they wrote in ancient Greek or Latin. Most students (and most professors) do not read ancient Greek and Latin, so we have to rely on translations by other people, but how can we be sure that they are translating the work correctly? If you ever played the game in which you sit in a circle and whisper a sentence from one person to another, you know that meaning is often lost in translation. See Research Paper on Ancient Political Thought.

Asian Political Thought

Scholars of Western political thought have not disputed the fact that there is a rich body of political thought in Asia. They have just not bothered to incorporate it into their corpus. This research paper seeks to provide long-overdue recognition to this body of thought by calling attention to the fact that despite its heavy religious content (until modern times), the encounter with political ideas in Asia is just as profound as it is in the West. In fact, since these ideas in Asia are heavily fertilized by their Western colonial legacy, the West has much to learn about itself from these Asian borders to the West’s material and intellectual reach. In this presentation of Asian political thought, what will emerge is that such central ideas as democracy, freedom, and equality were formed in a historical context different from the West. In the West, these ideas were expressed and then refined through a prism of small city-states in Greece, the universal empire of Rome, the subsequent collapse of this imperium politically but its persistence intellectually in the Thomist medieval synthesis, the smashing ferment (both intellectually and institutionally) of the Renaissance and the Reformation, and the birth of the modern nation-state in the twin crucibles of the Thirty Years’War (1618–1648) and the French Revolution (1789–1795). In Asia, these same ideas have been definitionally filtered through a different historical stage in a play of three acts. See Research Paper on Asian Political Thought.

Islamic Political Thought

Islamic political thought has found numerous expressions from its very beginnings through modern times. As such, presenting an overview of its development and essence is not an easy task as one must include not only the contributions of key Islamic political philosophers (e.g., al-Farabi, Ibn-Khaldoun, and Avicenna), but also the religio-political credos of main Islamic schools of thought (i.e., the Sunni, the Shi‘a, and the Kharijites), as well as an overview of main Islamic political concepts (i.e., the question of succession and leadership, or the khalifah versus the imamah precepts). Although some have argued that Islamic political thought has been neglected by all but a few specialists, several scholars have undertaken the arduous task of exploring, discussing, and summarizing the milieu, meaning, and significance of Islamic political thinkers, ideas, and developments. Through philosophers, concepts, and religious movements, Islamic political thought has impacted religious, secular, and academic communities. See Research Paper on Islamic Political Thought.

Christian Political Thought

The classical paradigm of political thought— consisting of Greek and Roman, as well as early Christian, philosophers—is distinct from later philosophical eras because of its communitarian perspective of the state and transcendent source of ethics and morality. Writers in this paradigm argue that the state and political society are necessary for the full development of the individual. For instance, Plato perceives that the state can help men achieve the virtuous life. As with Aristotle, this means that justice and virtue exist only when individuals are fulfilling the societal role for which they are best suited; for Plato in the Republic, this occurs when the state assists in such placement. Aristotle also asserts that the state aids in this development through the enforcement of laws. By being forced to behave legally, people become habitually virtuous. Many of these beliefs and values are sustained throughout the Christian phase of the classical era; for such key Catholic writers as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, the state acts in conjunction with the church for the purpose of sanctifying a sinful and fallen humanity. The state forces the Christian to curb an inherent sinful nature and rest content until the Kingdom of God is fulfilled, even if this control requires the coercion of the heretical into orthodox belief. For classical thinkers, the individual can be fulfilled only within the context of a community. See Research Paper on Christian Political Thought.

Early Moderns and Classical Liberals

Modern political thought is punctuated by five major revolutions, each of which helped forge a break from the ancient and medieval worlds and which have shape politics and society into the 21st century. These revolutions are the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the Copernican scientific revolution of the 16th century, the French Revolution of 1789, the Kantian revolution in philosophy (marked by the publication of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in the 1780s), and perhaps most important for politics, the English Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the publication of John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government in 1689–1690. Collectively, these five revolutions ushered in a world politically far different from the one that preceded it. The politics of the ancient and medieval eras was marked by an emphasis on absolute governments that expressed little concern for individual rights and vested unchecked authority in monarchs who often invoked claims of superior knowledge, religion, or appeals to familial metaphors to justify their authorit. But the world of modernity was a secular one that constructed limited governments based on individual consent and respect for rights as the cornerstone of political power. See Research Paper on Early Modern and Classical Liberal Political Thought.

Neoclassical Liberals

In the 19th century, liberals responded to the changing economic and social conditions associated with industrialization and urbanization in a variety of ways. One group of liberals argued for the continuing relevance of classical liberalism’s emphasis on limited government whereas another group of liberals began to make the case for an expansive role for government. Although both groups championed the importance of individual liberty (and thus firmly insisted on their own philosophical legitimacy as the “true” liberals), the two groups increasingly diverged on such matters as the role of the state in promoting liberty, the optimal reach of government intervention in the economy, and the appropriate governmental response to social problems such as poverty. The “new” classical liberals, that is, the neoclassical liberals, argued that the liberalism that Locke had envisioned in his 1690 Second Treatise, as they interpreted it, continued to be the best guide for evaluating and directing political practice, but the second group— which came to be known as welfare liberals and which included writers such as T. H. Green (1836–1882)— called for a more broadly regulative government than Locke’s limited “umpire” state. See Research Paper on Neoclassical Liberal Political Thought.

Modern Democratic Thought

Democracy is a venerable idea. Invented in ancient Greece more than 2,500 years ago, the idea of democracy continues to exercise a powerful influence over the modern mind. The theories and practices potentially included in the expansive category “modern democratic thought” are numerous. In this research paper, no attempt is made to be comprehensive. Rather, the field of inquiry is strategically narrowed to present a concise overview of modern democratic thought. The assumption that guides the organization of this research paper is that the reader is interested in academic political science and possibly curious about pursuing that interest further. Therefore, in this research paper, the ostensibly overwhelming topic of modern democratic thought will be tackled first by situating the concept of democracy within the context of American political science. Once our subject has been so contextualized, the functional distinction between democratic thought and democratic theory will be introduced. Next, the category of democratic theory will be subdivided into five categories, each representing one of the major theories of democracy extant today. The often fuzzy relationship between democratic theory and practice will be touched on and followed by some pertinent avenues for future research. See Research Paper on Modern Democratic Political Thought.

Modern Liberalism, Conservatism, and Libertarianism

Liberalism and conservatism were the original rivals in modern Western political theory beginning in the latter half of the 18th century. Since then, there have been many important theoretical developments. For example, other important political theories have emerged, most notably socialism, and the liberal tradition has branched into two competing wings, modern liberalism and libertarianism. Even with these changes, however, the debate between liberalism and conservatism remains a fundamental feature of political theory and practice. This research paper provides an introduction to modern liberalism, libertarianism, and conservatism. It discusses the basic features of these political theories, focusing on their views of human nature and understandings of fundamental political values. It also provides a survey of important classic and contemporary works of modern liberal, libertarian, and conservative political thought. Last, this research paper discusses the perennial questions that characterize these theories and examines their future prospects. See Research Paper on Modern Liberalism, Conservatism, and Libertarianism.

Anarchism

Anarchism, like political science, seems to be both a concept and a practice. As concepts, each has been the subject of a nearly endless series of stipulated definitions. Anarchists and political scientists often appear to be more engaged with defining their approach than with actually doing it. When viewed as practices, though, it is evident that both anarchism and political science have long, convoluted histories in which the past never entirely disappears but is simply rediscovered and revived from time to time. Defining anarchism, and describing its varieties and folkways may seem odd to do so. After all, you will not find anarchist theorists represented in the conventional canon of political philosophers commonly studied in universities. If anarchist thinkers are studied at all, they are addressed largely in courses on political ideologies or occasionally in courses on feminist theory. As carriers of an ideology, either they function as prescient critics of totalitarianism or they appear as unrealistic utopians. At best, anarchism emerges as the solution to an ideological puzzle—one that turns the linear continuum of the left–right spectrum into more of a Möbius strip. At first glance, though, anarchists seem to have little to offer to the academic student of politics. You have to be rather quirky, if not a little defiant, to show any serious interest in their political thought and practice. See Research Paper on Anarchism.

Nationalism

Nationalism is a modern ideology that tries to explain the individual’s devotion to the nationstate by neglecting other interests. It has taken many different shapes in various geographies, cultures, histories, and political systems. Even in a particular location, nationalism has transformed from one form to another throughout history. The core of nationalism is nation. What constitutes a nation is a question scholars are still trying to clarify by using approaches developed throughout the ages. Not only political science but also other branches of the humanities are trying to understand the concepts of nation and nationalism. The current technological innovations and rapid globalization have added new dimensions to nationalism and its movements. Each day brings a new peculiarity of nationalism. The various definitions recall the story in which a group of blind men touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one touches a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes on what they felt and learn they are in complete disagreement. All attempts to define nationalism are similar: They come from the perspective of the scholars’ disciplines, and like the blind men, each discipline touches only one aspect of nationalism. As a result, a remarkable amount of research has been published regarding nationalism, but theoretical progress has been limited. See Research Paper on Nationalism.

Fascism and National Socialism

The Great War, also known as World War I or the “war to end all wars,” brought the concept of total war to the battlefield, unleashing unprecedented destruction and leaving millions of victims in its wake. After such devastation, it might have been reasonable to expect those affected to be pacified by a feeling of war weariness, but instead we saw the rise of a political ideology whose followers advocated perpetual conflict. Fascism is a quasi-religious political ideology that is anticommunist, antiliberal, anticapitalist, anti-intellectual, antipositivist, anti-internationalist, anti-Christian, anticonservative, antirationalistic, antiproletarian, antibourgeois, anti-individualistic, and antidemocratic. Although it may appear that the above litany of negations encompasses everything, fascism demanded cultural and ideological unity among all within the nation by forcing the creation of a new society, a new way of thinking, and a new man. Thus it was a totalitarian ideology. It was fiercely nationalist and jingoistic once in power, employing myth in order to stimulate nationalist fervor among its followers and seeking to eliminate all political opposition through violence. See Research Paper on Fascism and National Socialism.

Marxism

Socialist political philosophy has existed since the beginning of recorded history. It has also taken on a great number of forms since its emergence in antiquity. However, no theory of socialism has had a greater impact on the modern world than the philosophy constructed by the 19th-century German thinker Karl Marx. Marx’s theory of socialism originated from (and was a direct response to) the capitalist mode of production. Marx, particularly, focused on the relationship between capitalism as an economic system and industrial development in Western Europe during the middle of the 19th century. Along with his lifelong collaborator, Friedrich Engels (1820–1895),Marx wrote several epic volumes that impacted almost all Western political thought from his time through the present. Some of Marx’s most influential works, such as the first volume of Capital and The Communist Manifesto, were published during his lifetime. However, many of his significant writings, such as two subsequent volumes of Capital, the German Ideology and the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, were published posthumously. In those volumes and in many more pieces, Marx developed an analysis of industrial capitalism that was both complex and comprehensive. After his death in 1883, Marx’s theory was repeatedly expanded on by devotees and detractors alike. Whether they offered a new interpretation of a particular aspect of Marxian thought or a rigorous critique of his ideas, all those who responded to Marx ensured that his ideas will continue to live far beyond his corporeal existence. More than a century after his death, Marx remains the unequivocal “father” of modern socialist thought. See Research Paper on Marxism.

Revisionism and Social Democracy

Even by contemporary standards, the 19th century witnessed dramatic changes in Europe’s political, social, and cultural life. Revolutionary upheavals, the slow advance of democracy, scientific breakthroughs, and new ideologies challenged the status quo. But the most dramatic change resulted from the steady advance of capitalism in what Polanyi (1944/1962) called The Great Transformation. What was most revolutionary about capitalism was the creation of a market for human labor that subjected workers and their livelihood to the law of supply and demand. Stripped of the protections that traditional communities, with their networks of obligations and duties, had provided, workers were now compelled to become wage laborers in factories, mines, and farms, where harsh working conditions, low pay, and frequent unemployment clashed with capitalism’s promise of progress and prosperity. The widespread adoption of Marxist socialism by labor unions and political parties is due in large part to the important role that the German Social Democratic Party (SDP) played in Europe’s working-class movement. With close to 20% of the vote in 1890, it was the largest party in the Second Socialist International, a loose alliance of more than 20 labor and working class parties that was active from 1889 to 1916 throughout Europe. The SDP’s leaders, August Bebel and Karl Kautsky, did much to adapt and popularize Marxist ideas for a larger audience. In fact, by the 1890s, their interpretations of Marxism were read more widely than Marx’s own works, and they were translated into many languages. They also closely collaborated with Friedrich Engels, who had become the guardian of Marxism after Marx’s death in 1883. So it is ironic that the major challenge to the Marxist theory of socialism—Revisionism— came from the inner circle of the very party that had done so much to promulgate Marxism in Germany and in Europe. See Research Paper on Revisionism and Social Democracy.

Leninism, Communism, Stalinism, and Maoism

Communist ideology, in the form of its various “brands” (Leninism, Stalinism, and Maoism), has had a powerful impact on shaping political realities throughout the 20th century. In fact, the most consequential political events of the past century can neither be explained nor understood without a clear reference to communist ideas and the most significant attempts at their implementation. It is important to understand that the political slate was not just wiped clean with the turn of the millennium. The need for furthering scientific analysis of the communist ideology and the variety of its implementations certainly warrants including this research paper on communism in the political science category. Today, the term communism is most often used with reference to either the theory by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels or the politico-economic regimes that claimed to use Marxian theory as their foundation. This research paper has four objectives. The first is to briefly summarize the most essential principles and concepts of the original theory as developed by Marx and Engels. The second objective is to outline two interpretations of the Marx–Engels theory, one by Lenin and one by Stalin. The third objective is to compare and contrast the teachings of Mao Zedong1 with the Leninist ideology. Fourth, some of the theoretical lessons from the Soviet and Chinese experiences with communism will be discussed, along with their possible implications for the international political landscape of the 21st century. See Research Paper on Communism.

Socialism in the Developing World

Socialism, according to Baradat (1997), is defined as a system that grants the ownership of production to the public and provides the public with a social welfare system while pursuing material abundance, equality, and sharing for its people. The third world refers to the countries that were “peripheral to the center of world capitalism and subordinated to [it] through colonialism or various forms of imperialist or ‘neo-colonial’ control and penetration, and where indigenous capitalism was weakly developed” (White, Murray, & White, 1983, p. 4). Various scholars have investigated the reasons socialism was adopted by the developing world. Generally, the reasons can be divided into four categories. First, the nature of socialism emphasized immediate economic growth, which could help the third world develop within a relatively short period. Second, the nature of socialism was anti-imperialism and antiexploitation. This reflected the third world’s radical response to hostile threat and even military aggression from the global imperialists and its economic dependence on the developed world. The third reason is a political-cultural argument that claims that the traditional societies in the third world were more compatible with socialism. Fourth, the Soviet Union’s efforts to influence developing countries led to the development of socialism in such countries. See Research Paper on Socialism in the Developing World.

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