Tagged: Political Theory

Political Philosophy Quotes

“From these things it is evident, that the city belongs among the things that exist by nature, and that man is by nature a political animal” (Aristotle, The Politics, 1253a1–3). Authority implies an obedience in which men retain their freedom. Hannah Arendt Plato: The Republic. Book VII: “Say then, my friend, in what manner does tyranny arise?–that it has a democratic origin is evident. Clearly. And does not tyranny spring from democracy in the same manner as democracy from oligarchy–I mean, after a sort? How? The good which oligarchy proposed to itself and the means by which it was maintained...

Stanley Milgram: Obedience to Authority (1974)

During the years 1960-1963 Stanley Milgram carried out some experiments on obedience while working in the Department of Psychology at Yale University. Years later, in 1972-1973, he was granted a Fellowship and, while living in Paris, he wrote a book about the results and reflections on those experiments that had already been presented in a shorter form in various scientific journals. The following text is an excerpt from chapter one and chapter 15, where he applies his experimental findings to a massacre in Vietnam (My Lai.) It was published in 1974 as “[easyazon_link identifier=”B01LWV0NY3″ locale=”US” tag=”mainacademicsite-20″]Obedience to Authority[/easyazon_link].” Milgram unmasks in...

Jacques Maritain: Man and the State (1951)

The State is not the supreme incarnation of the Idea, as Hegel believed; the State is not a kind of collective superman; the State is but an agency entitled to use power and coercion, and made up of experts or specialists in public order and welfare, an instrument in the service of man. Putting man at the service of that instrument is political perversion. The human person as an individual is for the body politic and the body politic is for the human person as a person. But man is by no means for the State. The State is for man.

Bruno Latour: The Social as Association. 2004

From very early on, since science studies started, I have not considered the social to be at the center of sociology, and from this starting point I slowly developed an argument about the anthropology of modernity. So, it actually goes the other way: because I started in science studies I realized that the social was not at the center of sociology but rather what I call association.

Truth, Power, Self: Interview with Michel Foucault.

What I have studied are the three traditional problems:

What are the relations we have to truth through scientific knowledge, to those “truth games” which are so important in civilization and in which we are both subject and objects?
What are the relationships we have to others through those strange strategies and power relationships? And
what are the relationships between truth, power, and self?

George Washington’s Farewell Address. 1796

Friends and Citizens: The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made. I beg...

Michel Foucault

Foucault (1926 – 1984) was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, and literary critic. He theorized the relationship between power and knowledge, and examined the forms of social control through societal institutions. He is often considered to be a post-structuralist and postmodernist, but he preferred to think of his work as a critical history of modernity. Here is a biographical sketch from the Stanford Encyclopedia article, as well as a timeline of his life. Biographical Sketch “Foucault was born in Poitiers, France, on October 15, 1926. His student years seem to have been psychologically tormented but were intellectually brilliant. He...

Louis Althusser: Contradiction and Overdetermination

Althusser argues in this passage from the 1965 book “For Marx,” that the difference between Marx and Hegel is not just a reversal of the dialectical method from an idealistic to a materialistic use, as Hegelian Marxists like Lukács, Benjamin, and the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory have claimed. Althusser tries to show that Marx’s model of the dialectic is quite different than Hegel’s,  and he argues that Marx’s Opus Magnum, the “Kapital” from 1867, is a decisive epistemological break with Hegelian categories of thought.  In Althusser’s view, Marx tried to conceptualize the ‘social formation’ not in the Hegelian terms of an ‘expressive totality’ (see [easyazon_link...

Louis Althusser: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

In: Louis Althusser, “Lenin and Philosophy” and Other Essays. 1970 First published: in La Pensée, 1970. Translated: from the French by Ben Brewster; Source: Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly Review Press 1971. On the Reproduction of the Conditions of Production I must now expose more fully something which was briefly glimpsed in my analysis when I spoke of the necessity to renew the means of production if production is to be possible. That was a passing hint. Now I shall consider it for itself. As Marx said, every child knows that a social formation which did not reproduce the...

God bless America!

You wake up and realize that a dystopian vision has become reality: America just became Trump University. There is no termination clause in the contract, and the sale is final. What went wrong? Hillary won in terms of absolute numbers, but lost the election. She received 48% against his 46.5%, or around 3 million votes more than Trump, out of 120 million votes cast. This is a replay of Gore versus Bush in the year 2000, when Gore won the vote count, but Bush won the Presidency due to the Electoral College system. Americans love their Constitution, but it has some serious flaws: The...

Cicero

I recently added some texts from the ancient Roman politician and philosopher Cicero (106 – 43 BC) to this blog. Cicero rose to the highest political offices in Rome, and he defended the Roman Republic, a limited version of democracy within an oligarchy, against various attempts by individuals and small groups to usurp power. He saw the rise of Caesar, and was present at his assassination in the Senate, but he was not one of conspirators. In the volatile political situation after Caesars’ death, he gave speeches in which he tried to defend the Senate and the Republican System against the revenge of Mark Antony,...

Cicero on Just War

The conditions for Just War have been debated for centuries: it must be fought by a legal and recognized authority, eg, a government. The cause of the war must be just. The war must be fought with the intention to establish good or correct evil, and there must be a reasonable chance of success. The war must be the last resort (after all diplomatic negotiations have been tried and failed), and only sufficient force must be used. Civilians should not be involved or targeted. One of the first philosophers discussing the conditions for just war is Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43...

Fanon: Reciprocal Bases of National Culture and the Fight for Freedom

Speech by Frantz Fanon at the Congress of Black African Writers, 1959 Source: Reproduced from Wretched of the Earth (1959) publ. Pelican. Speech to Congress of Black African Writers. Here is the text: Colonial domination, because it is total and tends to over-simplify, very soon manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people. This cultural obliteration is made possible by the negation of national reality, by new legal relations introduced by the occupying power, by the banishment of the natives and their customs to outlying districts by colonial society, by expropriation, and by the systematic...

Europe: What now?

When I grew up in West Germany in the 70’s and 80’s, I learned French in High School, and I participated in a student exchange program that sent us young Germans to live during the Summer months with French families, while their teenagers came to our homes. I learned that the Germans and the French belong together, in the words of one of our Chancellors, we are a “Schicksalsgemeinschaft,” a community created by a shared destiny. These experiences were deeply emotional for us, because we had also visited the battlefields of Verdun, and we knew that our grandfathers had fought...

Carl Schmitt on Political Power

Carl Schmitt (1888–1985) is one of the most influential conservative political thinkers of the 20th century. His work remains very controversial, but his ideas allow us to think through some of the old problems of political philosophy in a fresh light. What can we learn from him today, in the midst of the current  transformation of the political sphere? The nature of political power At the core of the political process are always considerations of power. Politicians may have a vision of what should be done, but without the power to affect a change in this direction the vision is useless. So what...

Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph (1809-1865)

Proudhon was from humble origins but had become a well-known French social theorist during the 1840s. A printer by trade, he was an exponent of socialism, with a political preference for anarchism. His most famous book was his second one, Qu’est-ce que la propriété? (1840) (his brief answer it is theft). Before 1848 he also published De la célébration du Dimanche (1839), De la création de l’ordre dans l’humanité (1843) and Système des contradictions économiques, ou philosophie de la misère, (in 2 volumes, 1846). He criticized the French July Monarchy, but he was nonetheless surprised by the outbreak of hostilities in...

Three Perspectives on Political Theory

What is the main task for any state? Providing security, creating a diverse and stable reform-oriented middle class, or unifying the citizenship through education into a strong community? These three views on political theory can be correlated with the names of Machiavelli, Aristotle, and Plato. I will discuss them briefly.

1. Security first: political realism and the role of power (Machiavelli, Hobbes.)
2. Diversity and freedom: stability and reform (Aristotle, Locke)
3. Community, unity, and vision (Plato, Rousseau.)

History of Political Thought – Timeline

Timelines help us to develop a relational view of events, authors, and ideas. It’s especially helpful for political thought. here are some of the important markers. The Ancient World 551 BCE Confucius (551-479 BCE) – Chinese philosopher and educator, ( See the Analects of Confucius) 495 BCE Pericles (495-429) – Athenian statesman and advocate of democracy 469 Socrates (469-384) – Athenian philosopher who is credited with laying the foundations of western philosophy; sentenced to death in Athens for heresy. 450 The Twelve Tables – the first recorded statement of Roman Law 431 The Peloponnesian War (431-404) between Athens and Sparta 428 Plato (428-347) Athenian philosopher, recorder of Socratic dialogue and critic of democracy 427 The...

Plato: Laws. Book 1. Written in 360 B.C.E

This dialogue is about the nature of law. the persons in the dialogue: An ATHENIAN STRANGER (possibly Socrates?); CLEINIAS, a Cretan; MEGILLUS, a man from Lacedaemonia.  Athenian Stranger. Tell me, Strangers, is a God or some man supposed to be the author of your laws? Cleinias. A God, Stranger; in very truth a, God: among us Cretans he is said to have been Zeus, but in Lacedaemon, whence our friend here comes, I believe they would say that Apollo is their lawgiver: would they not, Megillus? Megillus. Certainly. Ath. And do you, Cleinias, believe, as Homer tells, that every ninth year Minos went to converse with his Olympian sire,...