Political Philosophy, History of

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The history of political philosophy is the succession of notions about the actual and proper organization of people into collectivities and the discussion of those notions. It is philosophical in character, because it is concerned with obedience and justice as well as with description; the persistent preoccupation of political philosophers has been the definition of justice and of the attitude and arrangements that should create and perpetuate justice.

A distinctive characteristic of political philosophizing is that it has usually been undertaken in response to some particular political event, or possibility, or threat, or challenge. This has led to a raggedness, even an incoherence, in works devoted to it and to an emphasis on intuitive argument which compares unfavorably with the content of other philosophical literature. Political philosophy has sometimes been supposed to confine itself to a particular entity called "the state," but in fact political philosophers have always concerned themselves with the collectivity as a whole, even when they have drawn a distinction between "state" and "society."

Problems of definition and description might appear to be prior to problems of analysis and prescription in political philosophy. In fact, however, ethical doctrine has always had a powerful effect on the view that a political thinker takes of the collectivity; he has tended to see it in terms of what he thinks it ought to be. Nevertheless, it has become usual to separate the empirical element from the normative. Empirical study has been further divided into sociology and political science. These definitions and divisions are no more satisfactory than others devised for similar purposes, and although we talk with some confidence of "sociologists," "political scientists" have only very recently emerged as an independent class of thinkers.

It is often useful to look upon political philosophy as in some sense systematic, proceeding from a view of reality and knowledge (ontology and epistemology) to a view of the individual (psychology) and a view of the social bond (sociology), and so to a general ethic, a political ethic, and finally to a set of recommendations about the form of the state and about political conduct. The expression "political philosophy" will be used in this sense here, and it will be considered solely in terms of the Mediterranean-European tradition.

Critique of the Subject

There are several ways in which the history of political philosophy has been found important. Every thinker who engages in speculating about state and society and in formulating principles concerning them is anxious to know of the performance of his predecessors, to learn from them and to share their minds. Every thinking citizen is in this position too, to some extent, at least in the democracies: The questions raised in political life are frequently philosophical questions. Both thinkers and citizens, moreover, have good reason to believe that the intellectual and cultural life which they share with their contemporaries, together with the institutions which make political and social life possible for them, in some sense embody notions inherited from past political philosophy and philosophies. Certainly neither political attitudes nor political behavior nor political machinery can be understood without knowledge of this kind.

These various requirements have led to differing standards for the study. Insofar as it is the record of thought about state and society, its level of accuracy has to be as high as possible. For academic historical purposes, every word of the text of Aristotle, or Marsilius of Padua, or Jefferson must be correctly registered, his intentions known, the circumstances of the writing and publication of his work discovered and recorded. But neither the conscientious citizen nor the inquiring political theorist need be much affected by the particular version of a given work which he reads, even if it is an indifferent version, clumsily translated and abbreviated perhaps, or a brief and tendentious summary in a general history. The complete book need not be known, nor the attitude of its author. It may even help if little fables are allowed to grow up around such works. The misunderstanding of one political philosopher by another, or the misreading of authoritative books by citizens and constitution makers, has often been fruitful.

Moreover, historians of thought and of society have not been content with the role of annalists or of mere recorders of what was once written. They have sought to discover why the works were composed at all, to trace interconnections and influences covering whole generations, whole centuries of intellectual development. More recently they have been concerned to study literature in the light of ideology and to see in the writings of political philosophers especially the "reflection" or "expression" of the social structure at the time of writing, with its discontinuities, inconsistencies, and ambivalencies. Classics have come to be regarded not only as determined in this way but also as instruments in the social process, intellectual weapons in the hands of interested men and groups of men.

Although these differing motives can be distinguished in the historiography of political philosophy, individual commentators are seldom moved by one alone and often fail to see them as distinct. To this confusion must be added the unfortunate consequence of confining attention to a particular selection of authorities, a selection perhaps made originally for good philosophical reasons but which persists for reasons of convenience, curriculum, or plain conservatism. This, which is itself an example of a confusion between the interests and outlook of the historian and of the philosopher, has led to the creation of a canon of "classics" which alone go to make up "the history of political philosophy." Taken together, these circumstances are responsible for a number of persistent weaknesses in the study of this subject, some of which are listed below:

(1) The scripturalist tendency to criticize works as if their authors should have written out the final truth with complete coherence and as if, therefore, their failure to do so, their incoherencies and inconsequences must conceal some inner truth to be unraveled.

(2) The philosophizing tendency to relate the select thinkers to each other and to no others, as if contrasts between them and them alone are significant and as if they can be thought of as addressing each other. The reader's task becomes that of welding the various works into some philosophic whole.

(3) The tendency to mistake the theoretical interest of a work for its significance in other directions. This tendency is the general form of the failure to distinguish the separable interests and objectives of historians (as annalists and explainers), of philosophers, and of citizens.

(4) The tendency toward what might be called "naive sociologism": The particular circumstances of a thinker are seen as expressed in his thinking in a literal and unconvincing way, and the dominant social conditions of the present are read almost unchanged into apparently analogous conditions of the past.

Each of these tendencies can be disabling enough in itself; when they are present in combination, the results can be strange indeed. The search for Hobbist elements in John Locke, for example (tendency 2), can become an attempt to prove that he was really a Hobbist altogether and that his work on government must be examined for cryptic signs of those elements. More familiar are the exaggerations that come from stressing the relations of influence between the canonical works (tendency 2) and seeing all other intellectual elements as "anticipations" and "derivations" of these to such an extent that the relationships between bodies of thought and past societies are entirely distorted (tendency 3). Worst of all, perhaps, is a commentator who allows his thought to be so dominated by his experiences as a citizen in his own day that he betrays himself into an extreme form of the fourth tendency. When this happens, not only do Plato's or Rousseau's politics appear "totalitarian," but they are also made distantly responsible for the totalitarian proclivities of the twentieth century.

Weaknesses of this kind, however, do not necessarily deprive the commentaries concerned of their interest. In the historiography of political philosophy, as in many other inquiries, the intrusion of obvious but stimulating fallacies helps to maintain the enterprise.

Greek Political Philosophy

The Greek city-state, or polis, gave us the word political and is usually supposed to have been the social organization which provided the necessary conditions for men to take for the first time a rational-critical view of the relation of the individual to the collectivity. The claim might be made that only in completely autonomous, small-scale, urban societies, like those of the Mediterranean area from the tenth century before Christ on, could an attitude of this kind develop. Because of the small size of these political entities, deliberations could take place, and decisions be made, in face-to-face discussion among all citizens, who could also see their collectivity as parallel with numerous other collectivities of the same character. It is certainly the case that the mold in which political philosophy has been set ever since is patently recognizable as Greek, and the assumption of face-to-face discussion and decision persists to this day, with not entirely fortunate results.

socrates and plato

The issues of freedom versus tyranny, of the various forms of the state (monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy), and of the nature and operation of law are not certainly known to have been debated until very close to the time of Socrates, who was born about 470 BCE, well into the famous fifth century. The Sophists, or teachers of the art of rhetoric and persuasion for use in the law courts and in Greek public life generally, are usually credited with initiating political discussion properly defined. Although he was unsparing in his criticism of these professionals in the techniques of influence, of sophistry in fact, it is hard not to classify Socrates himself as a Sophist.

A determined effort has been made, by Karl Popper and others, to separate the political doctrine of Socrates, the champion of the critical discussion of dogmas and of institutions, from that of Plato, "the enemy of the open society," and their thinking has been related to the political events of late fifth-century Athens in a way which betrays many of the weaknesses described above. It seems best, however, to take Socrates and Plato as the dual spokesmen in the first known critical inquiry into the nature of the collectivity, with the peculiarity that one of them, Plato, did all the recording. The point at issue was the perennial point of how justice can be secured between men, organized as they have to be for the purposes of making a livelihood, propagating their kind, and cultivating the humane arts and accomplishments.

The answer given in Plato's Republic, probably composed about 365 BCE and the most powerful of his dialogues, is straightforward enough in principle, perhaps even a little banal, but it is argued on the very loftiest plane. Justice is secured only when every member of the polis is doing what he is best suited to do, and those who are best suited to do the ruling are the philosophers themselveslovers of wisdom, those who really know. "Unless," says Socrates at the end of Book V, "either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call kings and rulers take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence, there can be no cessation of troubles for our states, dear Glaucon, nor I fancy for the human race either."

The steps of the argument before and after this passage are by no means a matter of formal political-theoretical demonstration, and the Republic is at one and the same time many different treatises, a characteristic which it shares with most of its successors as classics of political philosophy. What has probably sunk deepest into the European political imagination is its utopian element, the description of an ideal condition of the collectivity when it is ruled by a select society of guardians.

The famous Platonic guardians were to be brought into the world in accordance with premeditated principles of eugenics and were not to know who their parents were. They were to live in conditions of complete communism and poverty, without privacy and outside the family; both men and women were to spend their whole lives in the service of the polis and to undergo thirty years of educationgymnastics and military training to prepare the body, music and philosophical instruction to prepare the mind. Although it is implied that the guardians would be a small minority of the whole population, and that their undisturbed rulership would ensure justice, their actual relationship with the other two elements in the polis, the soldiery and the consumers (by which term Plato presumably meant the mass of handicraftsmen and peasants, producing and consuming), is never specified. These divisions of the polis are presented as analogues of the divisions of the soul; indeed, the polis is the soul writ large. Insofar as there is a positive political doctrine in this most famous of all works of political philosophy, it seems to be hypotheticalif the polis-soul could be constructed in this way, then all problems would be solved.

Several other Platonic dialogues are concerned with political issues, and the last of them, the Laws, can be looked upon as the complete recasting of the Socratic-Platonic political philosophy in the light of a lifetime's reflection and experience, some of it Plato's own practical experience in advising a pupil of the Platonic Academy in the administration of the polis at Syracuse, in Sicily. But although Plato's Politicus (otherwise called the Statesman ) presents an account of political life and political ideals rather different from that of the Republic, and although his Laws clashes at certain points with the Politicus, the ideal state of the Republic is that element of the political thought of Socrates and Plato which has interested posterity and influenced its thinking, almost to the exclusion of their other views.


Aristotle, Plato's pupil, was the first of many later philosophers and thinkers who addressed themselves to the Platonic utopia, and he rejected a great deal of it. Aristotle was even more of a synoptic thinker than Plato and was much more interested in the amassing and classification of knowledge. The gathering of information about politics and political organization was, therefore, only one of the many tasks on which Aristotle spent his extraordinarily industrious life (384322 BCE), along with his Herculean studies of logic, psychology, biology, literature, economics, physics and other subjects. But there is evidence to show that, like Plato and other Greek thinkers, Aristotle considered politics the most important subject of all.

The Aristotelian treatises on political philosophy, the Eudemian Ethics and Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics itself, appear to have been based on a monumental assemblage of material of a political-scientific character, including a record of no fewer than 158 constitutions of Greek poleis. These writings had even more impressive experience behind them, because Aristotle, a Macedonian by birth, had actually been tutor to Alexander the Great, who in Aristotle's lifetime subjugated Greece and Athens. Nevertheless, Aristotle's political theory was properly philosophical, that is, it proceeded from a general view of the world and of knowledge.

He was no more disposed than any other citizen of the polis to see the individual as a reality apart from the collectivity, but he did provide a critique of the reasons why human life implied compulsory association. Man, he claimed, is a species of animal that possesses intelligence and is found in intelligently collaborative groups; therefore "man is a political animal." The natural unit of the human family forms part of the natural unit of the village, which in turn forms part of the natural unit of the polis; but the polis is not merely the family enlarged, it is an association for leading the good life, which is otherwise incapable of realizationand this means a difference in classificatory, in logical, order. States (poleisAristotle significantly dismisses all larger organizations as capable of ordered living only by religious means) must be judged by the extent to which they enable citizens to become virtuous and to live the good life, a life of moderation, the mean. This line of argument led Aristotle to sketch his own ideal state, but it also led him, in the Politics, to raise a series of crucial issues which have endured almost unchanged as decisive questions for political science as well as for political philosophy.

Probably the most conspicuous are the claims of fundamental inequality between humans: Slaves and barbarians are by nature inferior to Greeks and to citizens, although Aristotle conceded that inequality in some respects does not mean inequality in all respects. Within every collectivity, however, quite apart from the division between citizens and those incapable of citizenship, there are three classes: an upper class of aristocrats; a middle class of substantial men, mainly merchants, craftsmen, and farmers; and a lower class of laborers and peasants. The interests of these classes conflict: in sharp contrast with Plato and his anxiety for a harmony, a unity, in the polis-soul, Aristotle recognized politics as a conflict-defining, conflict-resolving activity. The actual distribution of political power among these classesAristotle himself insisted on the political virtue of the middle classtogether with the web of manmade laws, goes to make up the particular constitution (politeia, the same word as the Greek title of Plato's Republic ) of that polis. In spite of his fundamental inegalitarianism and his Greek inability to conceive of consent or representation as relevant to politics, Aristotle has often been hailed as the initiator of constitutionalism, as "the first Whig."

Judaic and Christian Political Philosophy

It is conventional to reckon the death of the polis at the death of Aristotle in 322 BCE and to believe that nothing new of importance to political philosophy appeared until the Roman Stoics evolved the universalistic dogmas of natural law. It is undoubtedly true that no systematic philosophical discussion of political principles can be traced in Judaic thought or in early Christian thought. But it is important to recognize that the symbols and the symbol system of subsequent political thinking derives from Judaic as well as from Greek sources and that its psychological assumptions are deeply tinged with Christian revelationism.

The three social institutions of the ancient Hebrews, whose significance for the history of political thinking has only recently come to be recognized, are patriarchalism, the sense of the people, and kingship. The text of the Old Testament that proclaimed the duty of obedience as the basis not only of political discipline but of all social order, including economic order, was the commandment "Honor thy father and thy mother." Throughout the Christian centuries, therefore, all questions of obedience were seen in a patriarchal context, and the political power of the Hebraic patriarch (Judah, who condemned his daughter to death for playing the harlot, or Abraham, with his fighting army of servants) was the model for the power exercised by kings and ministers. Quite as significant was the Judaic sense of the chosen people, the people led by the hand of God through the wilderness because they had an enduring purpose and being. Whenever Christian political theorists thought of the people as having a voice in the appointment of a king or a regime, or of the king as having a duty to his people, their model was the peculiar people of Israel. European kingship was also conceived in biblical terms, and the tribal hero-king whose actions committed the people before God and whose power came from God can be seen behind the western European dynastic regimes.

Even more authoritative, of course, were the words of Jesus himself on political matters, and the few texts which could be made to bear at all upon them have been perpetually cited throughout the Christian era. Christ's submission to the Roman authority, his use of an inscription on a Roman penny ("Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's"), and his repeated insistence that his kingdom was not of this world made it difficult to find authority in the New Testament for any doctrine of resistance. Saint Paul's sayings pointed in the same quietist direction ("The powers that be are ordained of God"). But more interesting to the twenty-first century are those fragments of evidence from the apostolic era that make it possible to believe that Christ's immediate followers lived a communistic existence.

Roman Stoicism and Natural Law

The belief that there is a universal and eternal moral ordering which is common to all men and which therefore carries weight on certain issues in every collectivity is a widespread ethical and religious notion, and it need have very little specific content. Its origins have been sought in Plato's immutable Ideas and, further back, in Greek poetry. The source most often favored, however, is the religious-philosophical sect of the Stoics, who took their name from the stoa, or porch, before which Zeno, their reputed founder, preached and taught in Athens soon after the time of Aristotle, about 390 BCE. Stoicism was brought to Rome during the classical generations of Roman republicanism, and it continued to be a system widely accepted, although changing in content, from the time of the Scipios (about 100 BCE) until about 200 CE, when even the great Roman political families began to feel the attraction of Christianity.

The orator-statesman Cicero, although eclectic in his intellectual outlook and not usually thought of as a philosopher, wrote probably the most widely read of all works in political philosophy until recent times, On the Laws (De Legibus, c. 46 BCE) and On the Duties of the Citizen (De Officiis, a year or two later). The Laws was composed in deliberate imitation of Plato and was intended to complement Cicero's De Re Publica (his Republic of a year or two before), a work that was lost until 1820. De Re Publica contains, however, the classic text for the universalistic theory of natural law as it entered into political philosophy:

True law is right reason in agreement with Nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and one ruler, that is, God, over us all, for He is the author of this law, its promulgator and its enforcing judge. (Book III, Ch. 22, Sec. 33)

The cosmopolitan character of this doctrinea society of all humanity ruled by one Godis in sharp contrast with the earlier Greek outlook, which assumed that only the small-scale polis could embody political good. The individual is recognizably the unit of this universal society and is the subject of the rights conferred on all citizens, all Roman citizens, by the Roman law. The identification of law with reason must be noticed in this process; reason carries its own claims to the individual's obedience. The final sanction of law and authority is placed here outside the collectivity altogether, in the Deity. Nevertheless, nothing in Stoicism could be taken as an argument against the deification of the later emperors, and one of them, Marcus Aurelius, was himself a Stoic thinker. So also was Epictetus, who began life as a slave. A rough doctrine of original freedom and equality, even the use of the contractarian model for the collectivity, has been read into Stoic texts"All seats," so the Stoic proverb went, "are free in the theatre, but a man has a right to the one he sits down in"but it was religious rather than specifically social equality. Much of the intellectual groundwork, in fact, of subsequent political philosophy can be sighted in the intellectual-religious tradition of Stoicism, and it is only the philosophizing tendency of historians which has prevented its attracting more attention than it has done.

St. Augustine

The City of God (De Civitate Dei ), written between 410 and 423 by St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in north Africa (354430), traditionally occupies an important place in the canon of great works on political philosophy. This extraordinary treatise raises in an acute form the problem of the historical reputation and effect of a body of thought in contrast with its actual content and the intention of its writer. The City of God was undoubtedly read in medieval times and afterward as the authoritative statement of the superiority of ecclesiastical power over the secular, because it was believed to identify the visible Christian church with the mystical city of God, thought of as the bride of Christ or, even more mystically, as the body itself of the Christian Saviour. But it is very doubtful whether this was St. Augustine's intention or is even implied by his text. What is more, the conscientious political scientist finds it very difficult to decide whether The City of God contains any positive political doctrine at all, theoretical or otherwise.

Very recent political philosophy might, therefore, justifiably claim this work as an antipolitical classic, stating in very different terms the position sketched out by Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin as "the withering away of the state." There is the same tendency to identify all arrangements in the collectivity with evil, with the unjustifiable exercise of naked power, and the same confidence that in the fullness of time this monstrous regimentation will disappear. Moreover, Augustine was a historicist: He sought to show how God's plan to fill up the places left in Heaven when Satan and his angels revolted was being fulfilled. The creation of man and the world was intended to reveal candidates for the heavenly choir, and some few men on earth at any one time, the pilgrims (peregrinati ), were destined at the last trumpet to be among them. They and they only were the living members of the City of God, but no one would know who constituted this select few until the judgment. It seems to have been a matter of almost complete indifference to St. Augustine how those who were to be saved behaved toward society, secular or spiritual, or what was the nature of political arrangements.

The occasion of Augustine's beginning The City of God was the sack of Rome by Alaric the Goth in 410, and the fall of the Roman Empire, which this event presaged, could not possibly affect the Christian who held such views about history, state, and society. The complement of the City of God was the city of the devil (civitas diaboli ), and although it seems unjustifiable to identify the one city with the church, it seems that Augustine did quite often refer to the Roman Empire as the other. Since the heathen Romans could not possibly do justice to God and since kingdoms without justice are but great robberies (Remota itaque justitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia? Ch. 4, Bk. 4), what could the Roman Empire be but thievery on a colossal scale? If by the Roman Empire Augustine implied all possible forms of the collectivityand there are passages to confirm this assumptionthen he must indeed be supposed to have had a completely negative political philosophy. Justice could never be found in any of them. In this final work of ancient political theory, then, the overriding concern is with justice, just as it had been with Socrates at the very beginning, but in it justice is viewed from an anarchist, antipolitical outlook.

Medieval Political Philosophy: Pope and Emperor

Apart from the development of natural law in Christian form, the Middle Ages did not give rise to much speculation about the nature of the collectivity that has affected subsequent attitudes, nor to any great body of specifically political philosophy. Before the time of St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, what little critical analysis there was seems to have been dominated by the Church Fathers and especially by Augustine. Although these early medieval thinkers knew of the great Greek philosophers, the actual treatises of Plato, Aristotle, and others had been lost in the West. There seems to have been a certain amount of political awareness among the subjects of the Germanic kingdoms which had come to spread over Europe, and during the nineteenth century a great deal was made of the primitive Germanic sense of community (Gemeinschaft ), people (Volk, folk), and corporation (Gesellschaft ). But unless jurisprudence is counted a part of political philosophy, neither these arrangements nor the universal social institutions associated with feudalism seem to have been the subjects of much corresponding theorization. It is remarkable how little headway the analysis of political theories in ideological terms has made with the Middle Ages.

st. thomas

John of Salisbury's Policraticus (1159) was still Ciceronian and Augustinian in content, in spite of the fact that by his time the text of Aristotle had already reached the Latin West from the Arabs. It was left to St. Thomas to arrange the enormous access of Aristotelian information and principle in a form acceptable to a Christian Europe, which he did in his great Summa Theologiae. The frank acceptance of natural manman as revealed by Aristotelian science; man not incurably maimed by sin and therefore indifferent to social-political arrangement; man whose nature is perfected, not taken away by the grace of God (gratia non tollit naturam, sed perfecit )distinguished the sociology of Thomas from that of his predecessors. But although of enduring importance for politics, indeed still the final authority for the Thomist thinkers of our own day, the Summa and its Christian doctrine of natural law contains no developed political philosophy. For this we must turn to the De Regimine Principum (Of the Rulership of Princes ) and other works, including Thomas's commentaries on Aristotle's Politics and Ethics.

In these works St. Thomas presented his theory of the relationship between pope and emperor, which had already preoccupied Christian Europe for centuries and would continue to do so until the end of the medieval period. He developed the traditional distinction of regnum and sacerdotum (secular and spiritual jurisdiction) in Aristotelian terms, in terms of ends, the ends of humanity. "We are confronted," as A. P. d'Entrèves says, "with the doctrine of the distinction and interrelation of two great spheres of human life within one single societythe Christian society, respublica christiana. " But although Thomas is moderate in his claims for the pope against the emperor, although he never talks of the direct sovereignty of the pope, he is firmly convinced that all kings in Christendom should be subject to the Vicar of Christ as to Christ himself. Yet willing as he was to temper Aristotelian inegalitarianism with Christian grace, anxious as he was to give every Christian his share in the affairs of the collectivity, Thomas was absolutely intolerant of the Jew and the infidel: They remain outcasts in the Christian community.

Authority in St. Thomas's system must be legitimate, otherwise it may be resisted. An evil ruler exceeding his powers and burdening his subjects must be resistedresisted not by the individual citizen in virtue of his individual rights (Thomas had no room for such rights) but presumably by the church. This is the sense in which Thomas's thinking has been hailed, like that of Aristotle, as the forerunner of constitutionalism.

dante and marsilius

The other two medieval thinkers usually accorded a place in the history of political philosophy are Dante Alighieri, the supreme poet of the city of Florence, whose political essay Monarchia was composed between 1310 and 1313, and Marsilius of Padua, whose Defensor Pacis (Defender of peace) was completed in 1324. Both were imperialists, on the opposite side of the pope-emperor controversy from St. Thomas, but both were Aristotelians. Dante's work was an idealization of the position of the medieval European emperor, who was in fact a ruler of Germany to whom the traditional trappings of the Western Roman emperor still attached as the secular ruler of all humanity, whose powers were derived directly from God and not indirectly through the pope. Marsilius approached somewhat closer to realism and had a recognizably empirical sociology: He insisted on the Aristotelian class analysis of political society and regarded the clergy as one among the classes, and therefore not in the privileged position which papal theory claimed.

The twenty-first-century observer is far more at home in the Greek polis or in a Roman province than at the papal curia or the court of a feudal king. So much was the medieval collectivity a religious whole, embracing not only all the territory occupied by Christians but also the whole of intellectual and cultural life, that it may be doubted whether there existed anything which corresponds to the term state as political philosophers ordinarily use it. Apart from the metaphysics of the papal-imperial argument, most "political thought" of the European Middle Ages is recognizable as advice to a ruler, wise reflections on commonplace situations that are entirely traditional in context and object and show no trace of the analytic attitude. Nevertheless, the medieval collectivity and the reflections of medieval theologians upon it can be appreciated under more headings than that of record.

Apart from the paradigm for the metaphysical approach to the final problem of ethics and politics provided by Thomas, the medieval situation provides the extreme example of territorial political relationships, in which the psychological mechanism usually called religious can be seen most clearly at work in providing the consensus on which such collective action as went forward had to rely. Any properly empirical account of how a collectivity in fact works, at any time, has to recognize that this mechanism is still very much in operation and that the mistake of supposing it to be replaced by rational-technical cooperation has still to be properly appreciated.

Machiavelli and Realpolitik

Although the polis began to lose its independence of policy as early as the lifetime of Aristotle, the towns of the Roman Empire continued to maintain a collective life that differed very little from the life of the classical polis. The decline of the cities was the outstanding feature of the fall of the empire, but they never entirely disappeared, at least in Italy. By the time of Dante and Marsilius such cities as Florence, Venice, and Milan were again in the formal position which Athens had occupied: They were independent urban communities having diplomatic relationships with each other and with the territorial monarchies. The cities possessed their own hinterlands, too, and colonies. It is not surprising, therefore, that the rational-critical attitude reappeared and that a consuming interest in ancient culture, in Plato and Aristotle, in Rome and Greece, led to an appreciation of classical political philosophy on something like its own terms.

Nevertheless, Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince (written 1513, first printed 1532), in some ways the most effective and interesting of all works of political philosophy, was in form merely one more piece of advice to a ruler. It was not presented as a philosophical work, and it contained neither abstract argument about politics nor any systematic discussion of the nature of state and society. Its analysis is confined to situations between a prince and his people and between princes (or cities) themselves. Its method is historical, the citing of significant instances. The outcome of discussion is advice, with occasional reflective aphorisms. Some of these aphorisms have become famous, and all of them show an astonishing realism and insight: "Above all a prince should abstain from the property of others; because men sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony." "Whoever is responsible for another becoming powerful ruins himself." "Fortune is a woman and if she is to be submissive it is necessary to beat and coerce her." The headings of the twenty-six brief chapters of The Prince are even more significant than the sayings; Chapter 17 is titled "Cruelty and Compassion, Whether It Is Better to Be Loved Than to Be Feared."

Machiavelli's well-known answer is that it is far better to be feared than to be loved, if you cannot be both. His cool discussion of the effects of cruelty and unscrupulousness, his detached attitude toward Christianity and the traditional virtues, and his professed admiration for men of his time who are known to have been villainous and contemptible, especially the political gangster Cesare Borgia, have given Machiavelli the reputation of being the theorist of power politics, deliberate immoralism, and irresponsible, tyrannical government. But the contents of his major work on politics, the Discourses on Livy, have been cited to show that he was a believer in republican, not monarchical, government, and they have been used with the famous last chapter of The Prince itself to demonstrate that he was in fact a virtuous, patriotic Italian, worthy of the reputation he enjoyed among the English Whigs, for example, for political probity and insight. It has even been suggested, not for the first time in our generation, that The Prince was a satirical work. But there can be no doubt that from the time of its appearance this book was regarded as a textbook for tyrants and an exposition of the principles of power politics.

The Reformation and Secular Natural Law

If Machiavelli's writing is looked upon as philosophical in intent, its most remarkable feature is its failure even to mention the doctrine of Christian natural law, which since the time of Thomas had dominated discussion of the nature of the collectivity and of the duties of citizens. The arrival of Protestantism raised the question of political obligation in an acute form for the first time in the history of political philosophy. It challenged a believing Lutheran or Calvinist to decide whether he should go on obeying a Catholic prince, and a Catholic subject to make the same decision about a Protestant prince. This had the effect of emphasizing, crystallizing, and codifying natural-law doctrine, since it was only under a legal or quasi-legal system of natural law that most citizens felt that they could claim a right to disobey and ultimately to resist political authority which commanded actions against their faith. Once this codification was made, systematic reflection on the philosophical problems raised by political allegiance began in earnest, and in the process natural law began to lose its exclusively religious sanction and become secularized.

It took a long time for the breakdown of universal religious consensus to have effects of this kind, even though many other influences going far back into the Middle Ages tended toward the secularization of political life. Martin Luther himself offered no systematic political teaching, certainly no doctrine of the right to resist princes for conscience sake'. In fact, in his treatise Of Good Works (1520) Luther wrote out traditional patriarchal rules for submission in a particularly emphatic form. John Calvin preached nonresistance too, but the religious wars in France in the later sixteenth century gave rise to a multitude of theories of the social contract that provided justification for disobedience and even for revolution on the basis of natural law. In England the Calvinists went even further, or so it seemed to the great doctor of the English Reformed church, Richard Hooker, when he sat down to write The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (written in the 1590s, first four books published in 1594 but not in print complete until 1662). Hooker believed that the claims to inspiration made by the extreme Puritans amounted to a denial of the efficacy of reason itself and to a complete rejection of natural-law principles. His response was a majestic reformulation of Thomas's natural-law philosophy that took account of the changes brought about by the Reformation, particularly of the doctrine of the final sovereignty of each individual state and its ruler, which had come to replace the ultimate authority of emperor or pope in Christendom. The absolute sovereignty of the secular ruler, from whose decree there was no appeal, a doctrine which might be called that of ethical self-sufficiency of every political system, was given its classical expression in the Six Books of the Republic, published by the eminent French lawyer Jean Bodin in 1576.

Along with these developments went another that can be seen very clearly, as early as Machiavelli. This was the recognition that the body politicthe people and their political instruments, such as their parliament or their local institutionsmight itself be an object of governmental action, worked on and molded by an enlightened ruler, just as the body politic might in its turn take action against government, rebel against it, replace and change its constitution. Meanwhile, secular natural law was providing a framework within which such processes could go forward and within whichas a code of international lawthe various sovereign states could negotiate with one another. By the time that Hugo Grotius came to write that source book of all subsequent international law, De Jure Belli ac Pacis (The law of war and of peace; 1625), these relationships had come to include Islamic and Buddhist societies and societies entirely alien to the Christian point of view, even societies with no apparent belief in a deity. Natural law therefore had to become independent of Christian revelation, and Grotius stated that his principles would endure even if God did not exist. The stage was set for the first great classic of modern European, as opposed to classical ancient, political philosophy, the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes (1651).


Although Hobbes is rightly regarded as above all a philosopher, with his own view of knowledge and of the nature of the physical world, his point of departure was political, as much as Plato's or Aristotle's was. Hobbes's declared object was "to set before men's eyes the mutual relation between protection and obedience, of which the condition of human nature, and the laws divine require an inviolable observation." This relation required the absolute submission of each individual to the dictates of an arbitrary sovereign, of "That great LEVIATHAN, or rather (to speak more reverently) of that Mortal God, to which we owe under the Immortal God, our peace and defence" (Leviathan, Ch. 17). Political sciencethough Hobbes did not use the phrase itself, he insisted that the proper name for the knowledge he was examining was in fact "science," on the geometrical model then beginning to take hold on men's mindsimplied absolutism, despotism.

But Hobbesian political doctrine was no doctrine of the divine right of kings, nor even of one-man rule, for in this system democracies, aristocracies, and monarchies should all equally be absolute sovereigns, whose every dictate is law. Monarchy was to be preferred, as might be expected, and democracy, "the government of a few orators," was least desirable. The power of government is a part of the divine providence, but its sanctions are much more tangible. They rest on the unqualified alienation of all the rights of every individual into the hands of the sovereign at the time of the making of the social contractof compact, as Hobbes called itand thereafter every attribute of every citizen, even his property, depended on the sovereign's will. So anxious was Hobbes to remove any possible grounds that might be used to justify resistance to authority that he advanced two positions entirely unacceptable to most of his contemporaries. One was the reformulation of natural law in a form that gave no rights to the citizen and the other was to confer on the sovereign the function of pronouncing on the interpretation of Scripture itself.

Perhaps the most famous element in the Hobbesian system was the account of the state of nature, and the best-remembered passage reads:

during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war, as is of every man against every man. In such condition, there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instrument of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. (Leviathan, Ch. 13)

If this fighting anarchy is in fact the natural state of man, then it does seem to follow that the only possibility of cooperation in the collectivity is by absolute submission, and every human value must depend on the existence and efficacy of "the great Leviathan." The law, or rather the laws, of nature did exist at that repulsive stage of human development but only as rules of prudence, for "Reason suggesteth convenient articles of peace, which otherwise are called the laws of nature." Whatever the status of these principles, they could not possibly be used to justify resistance to the sovereign, although Hobbes did provide for the transfer of allegiance to another sovereign when the one established can no longer provide protection. He also allowed to the individual the right to refuse to confess to a crime or to take his own life. The appeal to revelation and to conscience, which Hobbes believed was responsible for the political instability of his own time, and especially for the Puritan rebellion in England, was completely precluded by his interpretation of the claims of his sovereign.

In spite of Hobbes's confident belief that his elucidation of the true principles of political science would resolve conflict, his work aroused immediate opposition and has given rise to unending controversy. There is first the question of whether his state of nature, succeeded by a covenant, or social contract, was intended to be taken literally as a historical and anthropological claim, or whether it was simply hypothetical. A recent ideological interpretation has claimed that the state of nature was hypothetical but that the aggressive, competitive emphasis arose from Hobbes's observing the possessive individualism informing the increasingly capitalist society in which he lived. The second question concerns the continuity between his state of nature and his state of society. How could men with the characteristics Hobbes gives them ever form themselves into a collectivity? A third question is whether he ever intended men to be morally obliged to obey the sovereign, or, if this was his intention, whether he succeeded in tying them down ethically. A further question is how far he was indeed abandoning the whole natural-law position and advancing an entirely utilitarian political ethic; men obey always and only because they see it is to their advantage.

Whig Constitutionalism and Locke

Hobbes was not the first writer to invoke what came to be called the "pleasure-pain principle" in political discussion, and his radical contemporaries, the Levellers of the English Civil War, also made claims which seemed to rest on strictly utilitarian grounds, although in an unphilosophical and unsystematic form. The appearance of writings of this character, which have claims to be the first emanating from the common man, raises an important issue about the career of political philosophy from the seventeenth century on. The Levellers were democrats, and the political rights they claimed were meant to be exercised by a far greater proportion of the population than ever had been previously contemplated, even by the English Parliamentarians locked in their struggle with the house of Stuart. It has been recently and justifiably questioned whether all individuals were intended to be covered by Leveller declarations, or even all male householders, but from that time on, there is a recognizable class content in the doctrines of the political philosophers. Until the late eighteenth century most thinkers continued to share the universal assumption that "citizen" must be confined to the fully literate, propertied, elite minority, but they showed an increasing awareness that this was a tiny minority and that the right of this minority to stand for the whole might need justification.

Paradoxically enough, this crucial question was raised in an awkward form by one of Hobbes's exact contemporaries, Sir Robert Filmer, a traditionalist rather than a progressive. Sovereignty is a patriarchal matter, Filmer claimed, a matter of natural subordination, and unless this is recognized, the inequality of distribution of property and the subjection of poor men, men without the vote, servants, and women could never be justified. Much of Filmer's thinking, and that of the commonsensical Englishmen who came to accept his authority, is present in the writing of Hobbes. Nevertheless, for historical reasons it was against Filmer rather than against Hobbes that in the years 1679 and 1680 Locke wrote out the classic statement of Whig constitutionalism and government by consent, Two Treatises of Government (revised and published in 1689).

This modification of the accepted account of the relation of Locke to Hobbes is due to very recent scholarship, and the same evidence goes to show that the work of Benedict de Spinoza, the only immediate follower Hobbes had among philosophers, was more of an intellectual preoccupation for Locke than Hobbes ever was. Spinoza (Tractatus Theologicopoliticus, 1670; Tractatus Politicus, 1677), if easily the least influential, was in some ways the most engaging of all the political thinkers of the early modern age in Europe. Unfortunately, we cannot dwell here on his modification of the Hobbesian system; his overt insistence that the contract was hypothetical; his specific insistence that all obligations had to be utilitarian, based on self-interest; or his attempt to ensure that the enlightened sovereign must seek the welfare of his people.

Locke's Second Treatise, with its subtitle Of Civil Government, seems to have been the first composed of the two, and it begins with the following assertion against Filmer's claim that all men are born unfree, unequal, and in patriarchal subjection:

To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions, and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending on the will of any other man. A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another. (Sec. 4)

The law of nature, then, was real, and it governed all men in the peaceable condition which preceded the foundation of the collectivity, when order was maintained by what Locke called "the executive power of the law of nature" in the hands of every man. This law of nature gave men tangible rights, even before the contract. It ensured them the right to their religious opinions (not argued for, or even mentioned, in the work on government but in a succession of Letters on Toleration, the first published in 1689); it guaranteed them the right to property, whose acquisition was brought about by men "mixing their labour" with the goods of nature; it made it legitimate for every person to take some political responsibility and in due course to act as sovereign himself or as part of the sovereign power, for the vital political right was that of insisting that government rested on the consent of the governed, the consent of the majority expressed constitutionally through representation. The stage of contract came about because the predominantly peaceful state of nature was liable to war and because property was insecure under it. When it arrived, political power was "a right of making laws for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in defence of the commonwealth from foreign injury, and this only for the common good" (Second Treatise, Sec. 3).

Contract, to Locke, was an agreement to pool the natural political virtue of individuals and to establish a sovereign power thereby which was in a perpetual trust relationship with the people. If the trust was broken, the people had a right to cashier their governors and put others in their place or, if necessary, to alter the constitution, and all this without the return of the state of nature. In this sense, and in allowing a final appeal to God if the compact itself was dissolved, Locke can be said to have held to a doctrine of the sovereignty of the people and to a perpetual reserved right of revolution. He believed in a form of the separation of powers and in the rule of majorities, but he shows little sympathy with representative democracy.

Recent studies have shown that Locke's political philosophy, as contrasted with his general philosophy, was much less influential in the eighteenth century than had been supposed. Nevertheless, the Lockean outlook, along with that of his friend and contemporary Sir Isaac Newton, must be counted as the point of departure of the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment and Montesquieu

Locke could not deal adequately with Newtonian mathematics, but in spite of the intellectual barrier between them, the two men shared one passionate curiosity: to know all that could be known about societies, customs, and religions outside Europe. Confidence in the efficacy of mathematico-physical methods to solve all problems, including those of social and political organization, and cultural relativism leading to doubt about religious revelation and the necessary value of any familiar institution underlie much Enlightenment thought. Meanwhile, the steady spread of literacy and the consequent growth of the size of the politically conscious, curious, and ambitious community, especially in France and England, was changing the conditions of political and social speculation.

The result was a proliferation of works of political philosophy which from now on defeats the summary historian. Sir Isaiah Berlin has said that "the conflict of the rival explanations (or models) of social and individual life had by the late eighteenth century become a scandal." Except as a critical movement, compelling all established dogma to give an account of itself, the Enlightenment cannot be called a uniform current of thought at all. Of the multiple works of Voltaire, Baron de Montesquieu, David Hume, Claude-Adrien Helvétius, Adam Ferguson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, D'Argenson, Richard Price, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Burke, and their successors, we can comment here on only one or two that find a place in the traditional canon.


Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, may serve as the example of the early sociological attitude, presented with great literary skill and at considerable length in his Esprit des lois (in preparation from 1734, published 1748). To Montesquieu, who sought to examine and record social uniformities, natural laws describe necessary human behavior, and because they are necessary, they also oblige men ethically, or, rather, they are the basis of legal systems which men are morally obliged to obey. At this point it is usual to say that Montesquieu's attitude touches that of Hume in his Treatise of Human Nature (1739), containing his famous aphorism about all systems of morality imperceptibly changing from propositions containing "is" and "is not" to propositions containing "ought" and "ought not." But the French author's interest was not in obligation as such; rather, it was in the structure of the collectivities which men find themselves obeying and in the ways in which these structures or their "spirits" (esprits ) express environment.

rousseau and the general will

Montesquieu is scarcely representative of the most characteristic feature of the political philosophy of his age, at least when viewed from the somber century we now inhabit, because he was neither an optimist nor a believer in the perfectibility of man. Rousseau was skeptical of progress too, for in some moods he seems to have believed that human nature had once been perfect but had been corrupted by society. This was the position which he defended in his first Discourse (1751). In his second Discourse, the Discourse on Inequality (1755), not society but property was the evil attacked.

Neither of these works contained Rousseau's specific contribution to political philosophy. In the Social Contract (Du contrat social, 1762) Rousseau elaborated a doctrine that was both original and potentially revolutionary; the relation of the individual to the collectivity was seen as a matter of will, not of agreement, and the solution of the problem of obligation was the discovery of a general will directed to universal moral ends, which the individual had only to obey in order to secure justice. Rousseau presented the general-will model in individualistic, contractarian terms:

Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains. What is it that can make this legitimate? The moment men leave the state of nature and set up society, that act of association brings into being a moral, collective body in the place of the particular persons of each contracting party, composed of as many members as there are voices in the assembly, which from this same act receives its unity, its common personality (moi commun ), its life and its will. This passage from the state of nature to the state of society produces a very remarkable change in man, in substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving to his actions the morality which before they lacked. (Du contrat social, Book I, Chs. 1 and 6)

In spite of the care that Rousseau took to effect a moral reconciliation of the will of the individual and that of society, the collectivist possibilities of his approach to political obligation are evident. Since he insisted that a collectivity which has no general will is unworthy of the obedience of its citizens, its revolutionary potentialities are also obvious. The most conspicuous element supporting the interpretation that the Social Contract is a statement of tyrannical revolutionary nationalism is its final chapter, "The Civil Religion," which can be interpreted as justifying the condemnation to death of anyone who flouts Rousseau's own dogmatic statement about the relation of the individual to the state.

the federalist, burke, and paine

The supposed direct relationship of Rousseau's thinking with the revolutionary movements of the late eighteenth century, particularly with the American and French revolutionseven with the Reign of Terror and the despotism of Napoleon Bonaparteis a conspicuous example of that interplay between intellectual speculation and political movement in which both citizens and historians seem to want to believe. It is of course doubtful whether any element from the multifarious theorization about politics which went on during the Enlightenment could ever be shown to be causally related to what happened in France after 1789, and it is certain that the rebelling American colonists took little trouble to justify their actions in philosophical terms. Nevertheless, the foundation of the American political attitude is of importance to political philosophy, and The Federalist (written jointly by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay in the form of a collection of papers published in the New York press in 1787 and 1788) is an outstanding instance of a book's being taken as a compendium of the theoretical content of a nation's political outlook. Max Beloff has said that the sociology of this work was static; in their day there had been founded in America a society, a prefabricated, premeditated structure that would endure unchanged forever. It had the characteristic common to all ethically justified institutions: "Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued, until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit." But justice is not the imposition of equalityit is the protection of the weak against the stronger. Government will otherwise be content to hold the ring, and liberty will be ensured by the separation of the powers and by the balance between the state and federal governments.

Edmund Burke was a champion of the Americans against the arbitrary powers of the British crown, and he must have approved of much of the argument of the Federalist, especially that concerning the benefits of unequal distribution of property. The exercise of political power was the greatest challenge to the wisdom and responsibility of an individual and to his capacity to decide weighty issues on behalf of others. Where were such men to be found but among those experienced in the proper administration of great possessions and of the people who went with them?

Each of Burke's voluminous writings on politics, which occupied his whole life, contains a remark or two of importance to the philosophy of politics. But the work that has caught the eye of posterity is the one he wrote in horrified protest against the actions of the French revolutionaries, Reflections on the Revolution in France (published in 1790). The famous passage remembered from this book goes as follows:

Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasurebut the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked upon with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and moral natures each in their appointed place. (pp. 163164)

The extravagance of the language and the lamentable vagueness of the statements are typical of Burke, and typical also of the uncritical acceptance of the contractarian model long after it had become unnecessary. Indeed, Burke's account of obligation, insofar as he presented one at all, was far closer to Rousseau's general-will argument than he would have admitted.

But the phrases that have interested posterity are those that limit the freedom of each generation to act against the expectations of the past and the interests of the future, and those in which he condemns as immoral the action of any society which allows fundamental revolution. It was an offense against all humanity to act as the French revolutionaries were doing. The very language of abstract natural right was excoriated by Burke, and he challenged all subsequent political thinkers with the problem of the status of political principles in relation to political action and practice.

Burke's effusive, skeptical conservatism was too much for Thomas Paine, his acute Anglo American contemporary, whose The Rights of Man (Part I, 1791, a direct answer to Burke) is often acclaimed a minor classic of political philosophy. There has been no writer more optimistic about the effects of violent political action, or more indifferent to the existence of established government. "The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act. A general association takes place and common interest produces common security." But in the second part of The Rights of Man (1792) Paine identified himself with the nascent working class, and added to the responsibilities of government policies that were hitherto scarcely contemplated and are hailed in our day as the first discernible sign of welfare legislation, even down to family allowances and maternity benefits. The talk of property, representation, and the will and wants of all, which had increased steadily since the time of Hobbes, had issued at last into something like universalistic claims for participation in political activity, into that "numerical democracy" which has characterized the industrialized world ever since.

The Utilitarian Tradition


"It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong." This famous tag appears in the second paragraph of Jeremy Bentham's Fragment on Government (1776) and may be looked upon as the original formulation of the utilitarian principle for specifically political purposes, although Bentham had the law in mind. (Utilitarian ethics of course goes back as far as Hobbes, and Bentham's use of it may be directly referred to Hume.) Bentham went on to offer a definition of the collectivity which was followed more or less faithfully by all his successors in the utilitarian tradition: "When a number of persons (whom we may style subjects) are supposed to be in the habit of paying obedience to a person, or an assemblage of persons, of a known and certain description (whom we may call governors) such persons altogether (subjects and governors) are said to be in a state of political society."

The unsatisfactory character of crude utilitarian ethics is plain in Bentham's best-known book, the Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789). "It seems to me," John Plamenatz has said of this work, "that Bentham, without quite knowing what he is doing, is trying to reconcile two couples of irreconcilable doctrines; egoistic hedonism with utilitarianism on the one hand, and a psychological with an objective theory of morals on the other." But in clarifying legal principles and in giving directions to lawyers and politicians, Bentham was much more effective, perhaps the most effective writer of principle for the purpose of advice. So anxious was he to make it crystal clear what men should do tomorrow that he went so far as to proclaim that the motives from which men act are morally irrelevant; only the consequences matter. Carrying out this advice made Bentham into an advocate of the doctrine that government is a necessary evil, since all that government can do is to coerce, and coercion must be kept to that minimum (Bentham's coinage) which will prevent even greater pain. In this way, with Paine as well as with Bentham, utilitarianism was used to justify equality between citizens and representative democracy.

j. s. mill

The logical difficulties of utilitarian ethics and the possible dangers of numerical democracyleaving every man to make up his mind about his own and the general happiness and giving him an equal right to a part in decisions about themare also evident in the classic statement of liberalism, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (written 1854, published 1859). It was followed in 1861 by Utilitarianism and Representative Government.

Mill's On Liberty shares some of the social unreality that is so evident in Bentham's definition of the collectivity, but to a very much smaller degree. "Wherever," says Mill, "there is an ascendant class, a large portion of the morality of the country emanates from its class interests, and its feelings of class superiority." In his later life Mill might well have described himself as socialist. But the doctrinal legacy of his text is very different:

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection, to prevent harm to others. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs. (On Liberty, Ch. 1)

This principle of other-regarding actions being distinguished from self-regarding actions, and being alone amenable to control from outside, is one of extreme difficulty in practice but of great convenience in argument. With it goes a deep suspicion of the "tyranny of the majority," not simply as expressed in governmental action but even more in the form of intolerant conformism of opinion. Mill is at his most persuasive when he argues that "all silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility" and when he insists that it is to the universal advantage that the truth should be known. His book may be regarded as the most forceful of all pleas for freedom of thought and expression. He ends it by insisting on three very general reasons against "government interference." States should not do things better done by individuals, things which it is better for the individuals to do themselves, and things which might unnecessarily add to governmental power.


Mill was by no means the last of the utilitarian thinkers, although the positive grounds for freedom and justice put forward by the idealists were already beginning to replace the negative arguments summarized above. Henry Sidgwick's Elements of Politics (1891) may be taken as the final statement of political utilitarianism, although in its later editions it is marked by repeated concessions to socialism, always referred to in quotes. Sidgwick's definition of the collectivity is still Bentham's, although he admits that the principles of politics are not absolutely true but are based on psychological propositions approximately true of civilized man. He adopts from the great utilitarian jurist, John Austin, the claim that in every state the legislature must be legally unlimited, but he also qualifies this. He comes down emphatically on the side of individualism, "which takes freedomthe absence of physical and moral coercionas the ultimate and sole end of governmental interference."

German Idealism


The general-will model associated with Rousseau underwent some development at the hands of the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant in various works written in the 1780s and 1790s. His idea of a "general and public will" is not a particularly lucid concept, but it does express for political purposes the supreme ethical principles of the Kantian philosophy that each man should treat each other man as if he were an end, never as a means, and that each act should be such that it might become a universal law. V. F. Carritt has also praised him highly for the recognition that obligation is a condition of political societies, not a product of them. More influential for subsequent political philosophy, however, was Kant's theory of history. In the course of this complex argument he proposes that the attainment of political society which shall enforce justice requires that man have a master to force him to be free and that this master be the will of the community.


Most philosophers have tried to bring to bear on the problems of political philosophy an overall view of the world and of knowledge. No philosopher has been so devoted to system and the whole as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Political philosophy has its appointed and necessary place within the dialectic exposition of reality. Reality is spiritual, the Absolute, and collectivities have their part to play in the teleological "unfolding" of the Absolute. Collectivitiesthe family, "civil society," and the stateare manifestations of objective spirit, and the state is the culmination of objective spirit. Collectivities arise when the manifestation of objective spirit in the individual reveals itself as inadequate. The individual can be truly himself only in some society. Formal ethics is bare and empty, and it must be made concrete. Concrete ethics can only be social. Thus the family is a dialectical necessity.

But the family is not a permanent institution; although the members of the family are united in the family and hence are one, the children grow up and leave the family. This "negation" of the family is negated in a new collectivity, civil society. Civil society embraces the economic order and the economic organizations and institutions through which it is expressed, as well as the legal system and the enforcement facilities necessary to it. But the legal system implies something over and above civil society, namely, the state, without which a legal system is impossible. Family and civil society are both embraced within the state; they are at the same time fulfilled by it and manifestations of it. The same is true of the individual. In the state the individual rises above his mere particularity to become a person and truly free.

What the concept of a state fully embraces can be known only through the historical development of actual states. Among the many possible forms of the actual state, the most rational is a monarchy. A corporative state, in which individuals participate in governmental affairs by virtue of their standing in the corporative bodies of civil society rather than as individuals, is more rational than representative democracy, in which individuals are represented merely as individuals. Nevertheless, the constitution which is best for any particular state is that one which has developed slowly in that state over the course of centuries. A constitution imposed artificially is bound to fail.

It might seem that Hegel's conceptual scheme would require that the state be embraced in some other form of collectivity, but this is not the case. The state is the highest form of objective spirit, and, at this point of the dialectic, objective spirit is negated by absolute spiritthe realm of art, religion, and philosophy. Thus Hegel rejected the Kantian notion of a federation of states and regarded war as not only natural but the motive force of history.

Green and Bosanquet

The meaning and implications of Hegel's political philosophy provoked immediate and lasting controversy. The central points of discussion have been the relation of the individual to the collectivity, whether state, society, race, or nation; the meaning of the notion of state; and the application of dialectic to the discovery of a necessary pattern in political history. The first point was the dominant problem of the social thought of the British idealist philosophers of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In political philosophy the two chief figures, with rather opposed views, were T. H. Green and Bernard Bosanquet. Green undertook the task of updating British liberalism to meet the changing circumstances of a rapidly industrialized society. To do so, he sought to divorce liberalism from the ethical egoism of utilitarianism and the laissez-faire economic doctrines of David Ricardo and to replace them with an idealist theory of society based broadly on Kant and Hegel.

For Green, as for earlier liberals, the effect upon freedom was the criterion by which a piece of legislation was to be judged. Did it tend to enlarge or to restrict freedom? Green held that Benthamite liberals had arbitrarily identified freedom with absence of legal restraint, implying that any piece of legislation must necessarily restrict freedom. Green pointed out that it had become evident that a person could be legally free and still not have the power to act for his own benefit. Where one party to a contract has all the powers of coercion on his side and the other party cannot help but agree to the terms proposed by the first party, then the state has the right and the obligation to interfere to restore the original freedom. There are other restraints on freedom than those imposed by the state.

Nevertheless, freedom was not, for Green, a natural right, for he held that there are no natural rights in the eighteenth-century sense. No one possesses abstract rights independent of his membership in a society in which the members recognize some common good as their own ideal good. Thus Green, more a Kantian than a Hegelian, held that the basis of all political obligation is the moral obligation to treat the other members of one's own society as ends in themselves, as having wills whose realization should not be interfered with. The state, on Green's view, has the duty to foster the conditions that permit each member so to act, and to lead him to regard and treat the other members as ends. The members in turn obey the state because they recognize it as the embodiment of their common right.

Green's liberalism stressed the positive function of the state in supporting the moral well-being of all its citizens, and it was not far from the Fabian conception of a national minimum of physical well-being below which the state should not allow any of its citizens to fallfor otherwise they could not participate fully as moral and political beings in society. The liberal side of Green's thought has greatly influenced British political philosophy, which has tended to remain idealist or partially idealist long after idealism passed out of fashion in other areas of British philosophy. But it has been certain antiliberal tendencies which have come to be generally thought of as most typical of idealist political thought, especially since the publication of L. T. Hobhouse's The Metaphysical Theory of the State (London and New York, 1918). This work was a direct attack on Hegel and on Bosanquet's Philosophical Theory of the State (London, 1899).

Bosanquet developed the notion of the relation between individual and society beyond Green's claim that individuals are individuals only insofar as they are social. He claimed that society itself is more real and more of an individual than any of its members can ever be. And within each member of society it is the social self, rather than any purely individual desires or aims, that is most real. The social self is somehow identical with society, and thus social coercion is coercion by the higher, social self of the lower, individual self. In short, social coercion is self-mastery and true freedom.

Hobhouse charged that this revival of Rousseau's (and Locke's) notion that a man can be forced to be free is in itself dangerous and illiberal. He further charged that this notion, combined with Bosanquet's failure to distinguish properly between society and the state, or indeed to give any clear or unambiguous definition of the state, leads to the doctrine that the state can do no wrong, and hence to the justification of almost any action on the part of the government in power. There is no doubt that idealist claims have in fact so been used; however, Bosanquet held not that individual governments can do no wrong but that they can do wrongs of a kind totally different from those which individuals can commita government can confiscate property, but it cannot commit theft. And individual states can be judged by how well or poorly they fulfill the functions of a state.

Marx and Marxism

The Marxian development of Hegelianism is of an entirely different order from the academic philosophies of Green and Bosanquet. The difference is epitomized in Marx's famous eleventh thesis on Ludwig Feuerbach: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."

Karl Marx, the great theoretician of socialism, applied the Hegelian dialectic of history to the Hegelian analysis of collectivities. Hegel's family, civil society, and state are not three eternal ideas partially or imperfectly manifested at all periods of history. Rather, they are abstractions from the particular socioeconomic arrangements of the period in which Hegel and Marx lived. Hegel was right in stressing the central role of the economic function in civil society and in holding that, as now constituted, civil society requires a police power and hence a state. But he failed to see that civil society is not necessarily the same as capitalist, bourgeois society (civil society and bourgeois society are designated by the same phrase in German), and he did not see that those who determine the economic arrangements of society are not abstract individuals but are those who exercise control over the economic resources and forces available at the time. Since all others are excluded from having a voice in these economic arrangements, the result is class divisions and the need for the dominant class to defend its economic and political position against the other classes. Thus, as Hegel said, the state is necessary, but it is necessary as an instrument of the oppression of one class by another and not as something inherent in the very notion of social life. If class divisions were done away with, then there would be no one to oppress and the state would disappear. Civil society would be all that there was.

Marx, of course, believed that although in all previous periods (except for an initial period of primitive communism) the state had been necessary, the economic forces of capitalism had so developed that it was not only possible but also necessary for the state to disappear. The complexity of previous class divisions was becoming polarized into two antagonistic classes: the bourgeoisie, who controlled the instruments of production, and the proletariat, who had no choice but to work for the bourgeoisie at subsistence wages. Once the proletariat rises up and takes over the means of production from the bourgeoisie, there will be no more classes to oppress. In the classless society the state, the government of persons, will be "replaced by the administration of things and by the conduct of processes of production" (Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring, Moscow, 1962, p. 364).

Three intellectual tasks emerge from this view of the historical situation: a study of the laws according to which one era passes into another; a study of the present bourgeois era to discover in it those forces and movements tending toward its breakup and the emergence of the inevitable next era of the classless society; and some sort of preparation and anticipation, however blind, of the period of transition and its aftermath. Thus, economic history and political sociology become pressing practical subjects, and the central problem of politics becomes that of revolution.

The problem of justifying revolution had often been raised before. For Marxists, justification is no longer in question; revolution is inevitable, and only its date is unknown. Marxists must know how to bring about a revolution, whether it must be violent, and whether the revolution can be hastened if the productive forces are not yet ripe. Marx was sure that the bourgeoisie would not yield power without a struggle and that the revolution must be violent. He also held that it could not be hastened: "No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed" (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, translated by N. I. Stone, Chicago, 1904, preface).

Those later developments of Marxist thought that have been serious and not merely propagandistic justification of a position have generally been attempts at adjusting or revising the theory of revolution to changing historical situationsthe growth of mass socialist parties with the apparent possibility of their coming into power by peaceful means; abortive revolutionary governments like those of the Paris Commune of 1870 and the soviets of workers and peasants of the Russian revolution of 1905 (both as interpreted somewhat mythically by Marxist writers); the rapid succession in 1917 of a bourgeois revolution in Russia by a proletarian one before all the possibilities of the bourgeois era could come to flower; the conspiratorial character ascribed to that proletarian revolution; the imposition of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe by Soviet intervention; and the greater or lesser success of Marxist-inspired revolutions in countries, notably China, where modern bourgeois capitalism had only the most tenuous foothold. These revolutions in countries with precapitalist economies were totally inexplicable on classical Marxist grounds, and interpretations of them generally rely on some variant of Lenin's doctrine that in the latter part of the nineteenth century capitalism developed into a higher, final phase of international imperialism, with a corresponding internationalized proletariat and an interaction between the proletariat of the imperialist states and of the populations of the colonies.


Socialism, both Marxist and non-Marxist, has since the time of Marx generally favored some sort of centralized control at least of economic life, despite the Leninist prominence given to Friedrich Engels's phrase "the withering away of the state." Although in general it has been held impossible to predict the exact character of a communist society, it has not been claimed that there would be no central authority. In opposition to this collectivist view were most of those early socialists whom Marx classified as utopian, as well as the anarchists and the later guild socialists, such as G. D. H. Cole.

The anarchists differed enormously in their attitudes toward social and economic arrangements, especially in their attitudes toward the institution of private property, but they were united in their opposition to the state, and hence to any centralized authority and to any participation in governmental functions. Engels expressed the Marxist's difference with the anarchist ideal succinctly:

In this society there will, above all, be no authority, for authority = state = absolute evil. (How these people propose to run a factory, operate a railway, or steer a ship without a will that decides in the last resort, without single management, they of course do not tell us.) The authority of the majority over the minority also ceases. Every individual and every community is autonomous, but as to how a society of even only two people is possible unless each gives up some of his autonomy Michael Bakunin again maintains silence. (Letter to Theodor Cuno, January 24, 1872)

The anarchists see the primary fault of the present economic order not in the economic arrangements, as do socialists, but in the existence of the state. The state is to be overthrown (although many anarchists, despite the popular identification of anarchism with terrorism, would stop short of violence), and then society will take care of itself. The actual order that will emerge is variously pictured as anything from an extreme individualism to voluntarily cooperating groups of various sizes. Marxists deny this primacy to the state, which, they hold, will collapse when the economic order of which it is the instrument collapses.

Ideas resembling the doctrines of the anarchist thinkers can be found in writings of various periods from Greek times onward, but the first fully articulated anarchist theory is to be found in William Godwin's Enquiry concerning Political Justice (1793). Like later anarchists, Godwin was as much an ethical writer as a political theorist. All social organization, and especially all governments, are necessarily corrupting. Society creates prejudicespreconceived ideas. We see people in terms of their social function and status rather than as individuals, and we judge in terms of false idealshonor in a monarchy and public-spiritedness, a concern for the good of the state rather than of the individual, in a republic. Neither is a substitute for the ideal of benevolence. Godwin's solution is a small, classless community without rules in which individuals cooperate without compulsion, out of friendship, understanding, and benevolence.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a self-educated Besançon printer, was the first theorist to describe himself as an anarchist. Despite his famous definition, "Property is theft," Proudhon was not against property as such but only against its unequal distribution. His ideals were equality and independence. As political science discovers the natural laws according to which society functions, then the arbitrary laws of governments become unnecessary. Proudhon favored individual ownership of the means of production by peasants and artisans. As political science revealed their mutual interests to them, they would freely join together in an ever-widening system of interlocking economic contracts that would make government unnecessary. Only in the case of some large-scale industries and public utilities would workers' syndicates be necessary.

With Bakunin anarchism became associated with the nineteenth-century revolutionary tradition. The son of a Russian nobleman, Bakunin was involved in a number of revolutionary movements from the 1840s on, took part in abortive revolutions in France, Prague, Dresden, and Bologna, and was imprisoned in Saxony, Austria, and Russia. Bakunin was influenced by Proudhon but also by Hegel, Comte, Arnold Ruge, Charles Darwin, and Marx. Like Proudhon, he held that what is produced should be distributed according to the amount of labor the recipient has provided, but he differed in advocating public ownership of the means of production. He differed from Marx in advocating the early destruction of the state rather than its seizure by the workers.

Another Russian writer, Prince Peter Kropotkin, was also influenced by Proudhon. His chief differences from Proudhon and Bakunin were that he favored the small local community as the unit of social organization and argued that goods should be distributed on the basis of need rather than on the basis of what the recipient had produced. Thus he envisaged warehouses where goods would be distributed freely rather than earlier schemes of distribution based on some measure of the recipient's production. Kropotkin also tended to stress the notion that man is naturally social, which was a factor in earlier anarchist theories, even going so far as to find that cooperation, and not merely competition, is a factor in animal evolution.

Far too complex in his views to be classed merely as an anarchist is the French philosopher Georges Sorel. Sorel is important less for his programmatic views than for his analysis of social systems into consumers' and producers' societies, each with its own system of morality, and of the roles of violence and of political myths in revolutionary movements. In a consumers' society the good is things to be obtainedwelfare, prosperity, distributive justice, or the classless society. The consumers' society is based on envy. A producers' society sees the good in the cooperative creative endeavor of self-reliant individuals. But this creative endeavor tends in the end to decay into a consumers' society. Violence is a sign of moral health in a revolutionary movement. It ranges from a violence of principles to, occasionally, physical violence. It is intended as much to discourage the "reasonable" sympathizer who feels the time is not ripe for revolution and the man of good will seeking reconciliation as it is to intimidate the enemy. A myth is the revolutionary morality stated in terms of a hoped-for future. Thus, the notion of the general strike may be self-contradictory, but this is beside the point. It is not scientific prophesy but the expression of the aspirations of the revolutionary masses.

Fascism and National Socialism

Marxism and anarchism are representative of a modern tendency to see political arrangements in terms of a program and often of one dominant idea. There have been others, notably racism and the various forms of nationalism, but only two can be mentioned here. Like Marxism, fascism and national socialism were official philosophies, justifications of particular revolutions and of the regimes that ensued from them. Unlike Marxism, they were not coherent doctrines, and their proponents never made more than a pretense of reconciling theory and practice. New situations called out new theoretical pronouncements in diametrical opposition to earlier onesbut the earlier pronouncements were deliberately allowed to remain as part of the doctrine, with no attempt at harmonizing them with the new claims. Complicating any systematic interpretation is their deliberate irrationalism. Benito Mussolini tended to glorify actionany action; Adolf Hitler relied on his own intuition.

Of these two ideologies, fascism had the twin advantages for clarity and consistency, if not for ideological use, of being largely confined to a conception of the right arrangement of politico-economic life and of having an official formulation compiled by a philosopher, Giovanni Gentile (although Gentile's formulation was worked over by Mussolini himself). Both fascism and national socialism pretended to be nationalist and socialist. In Italy this meant the corporative state and the denial of class antagonisms. Political power was supposed to pass upward through organizations embracing all those who worked in an industry, workers and owners alike, but these organizations would naturally merge their own interests in the national interest. In practice, although not as efficiently as in Germany, this meant totalitarian political control. The fascist glorification of the leader and the attempted revival of the glories of the Roman Empire seem peripheral to fascism when compared with the role played by similar claims in national socialist doctrine.

The tenets of national socialism, unlike those of fascism, were purposely left vague and were allowed to shift as circumstances warranted. The actual doctrines could only be what Hitler said they were, yet he deliberately tolerated or encouraged conflicting outlines of national socialism by Alfred Rosenberg and others. Even statements by Hitler himself were authoritative for the doctrine only at the time they were made. What can be said is that national socialism, like anarchism, was an antipolitical doctrine, but at the same time it was paradoxically a doctrine that aimed at total control. It was antipolitical in that this control was centered outside the state even though it might work through the state. The authority of the governmental workers and even of national socialist party leaders was diffused, indistinct, and broken on the lower levels so that it could be centered at the top. Hitler's own authority was held to derive not so much from his political position as chancellor of the Reich as from his being the Führer, or leader, of the people. He somehow embodied, and knew nonrationally, their strivings and desires; his will was theirs.

Of the various doctrines of national socialism, the central one was undoubtedly that of the racial war between Aryans and Jews. In this war the Jews were seen as the aggressors. They were guilty of constant and unceasing conspiratorial attacks on the superior Aryan race, which in self-defense was forced to undertake their extermination. All other violence instigated by Hitler, both against other nations and against the Germans themselves, was an incidental means to the strengthening of the Aryan race in its main battle. Nevertheless, even the race doctrine could have been dropped unceremoniously, or aimed at some other target, if circumstances had seemed to warrant, just as, for expediency, Hitler dropped first the anticapitalist claims of national socialism and then its anti-Bolshevist ones.

Twentieth-Century Political Thought

With the growing professionalization of political thought into political science and its various branches, and the development of related sociological disciplines, there has been a decline in the Anglo-Saxon countries of political philosophy in the tradition with which Hobbes, Locke, Burke, Mill, and Green are identified. Books of traditional political philosophy have continued to be written, but not generally by those who are writing the most vital works in the more central areas of philosophy, and the new works have not generally been regarded as major contributions to philosophy by those working in the newer analytic modes of philosophy. Perhaps only the subtle and persuasive Burkean traditionalism of Michael Oakeshott has attracted the continuing interest, if not the agreement, of contemporary analytic philosophers.

The dearth of major systematic treatises of the nineteenth-century kind written by contemporary philosophers does not mean that they have completely neglected political philosophy. Despite the recent claim that political philosophy is dead, contemporary philosophers have applied new techniques developed in other fields to the study of the political realm. The apparent death of one tradition of political philosophizing has perhaps been confused with the death of political philosophy. Two main contemporary trends, which overlap to some extent, can be distinguished.


The first trend consists in the application of the insights gained by the logical positivists and other philosophers of science into the logical status of laws, theories, and concepts in the physical sciences to the problems of political philosophy and to the methodology of political science. The most eminent representative of this trend was Karl Popper. Popper's conception of politics depended on his conception of scientific research, and its exposition is closely intertwined with his critique of earlier political philosophies. It is thus difficult to do justice to his view on how politics should be practiced without explaining his scientific methodology and his reasons for holding that the notions of historical development held by Hegel, Marx, Comte, and Mill are mistaken, and that therefore their notions of what the aims and methodology of the social and political sciences should be are fallacious. But in general he took a cautious attitude toward social change. He used the analogy of scientific investigations to advocate what he terms "piecemeal engineering"; small-scale social changes are to be preferred, because our predictions are always fallible, and mistakes on a small scale are more easily rectifiable than large-scale ones. A total change of society, or the prophecy of the results of a total change, is logically impossible; but the broader the change, the more factors which we must predict and which may go wrong or be overlooked. Connected with this viewpoint is his limited utilitarianism: It is better to attempt to alleviate pain by rectifying an existing evil than to try to increase pleasure by initiating some apparently beneficial change.

The writings of Popper and others on the logic and methodology of the social and political sciences has pioneered in a field that was little more than discovered in the nineteenth century by Mill, Comte, and Spencera field in which there is much important work to be done. For example, philosophers have begun to study the logic of political decision making, a subject that has heretofore been left largely to the political scientists themselves.

analytic political philosophy

The other main trend in contemporary political philosophy consists in the manipulation of the methods of philosophical analysis developed in the English-speaking countries in the middle decades of the twentieth century. However, neither the variety of philosophical tasks undertaken nor the results achieved present a unified picture, since the approach analytic philosophers take to political philosophy is no more unified than their approach to other groups of philosophical problems.

The first full-scale analytic treatment of the problems of political philosophy, T. D. Weldon's The Vocabulary of Politics (Harmondsworth, U.K., 1953), is popularly supposed to have proclaimed the death knell of political philosophizing. Weldon claimed that the various philosophical theories put forth as foundations for liberal democracy, communism, and authoritarianism cannot do what they are held to do. Either they are logically empty and thus have no consequences, or they are mistaken and harmful empirical generalizations open to refutation. Thus Weldon made short work of the social contract theory. Assume, he said, that the Mayflower Compact was shown to be a forgery and that the laws of Massachusetts are held to be based on it. If the citizens of Massachusetts then claimed that because the compact was a forgery, they had lost faith in their democratic institutions, we would feel that this reason was a cover for some other reason.

But despite his denial of the usefulness or the possibility of providing foundations for a political viewpoint, Weldon's alternative description of the political process is a good example of philosophizing about politics, and he himself claimed that "a great deal needs to be done about the language in which discussions of political institutions are conducted" (p. 172).

Other contemporary philosophers have not taken as negative an attitude toward traditional philosophizing about politics as Weldon's. Rather than rejecting out of hand notions like the social contract or general will, they have sought to give new interpretations of such notions, regarding them, for example, as models of the political process. When so interpreted, new sorts of questions arise, questions appropriate to the relation between a model and reality rather than to the analysis of an empirical description. Many other new analyses of traditional political problems and of earlier answers to them are being given, particularly of such problems as sovereignty and natural law, on the borderline between philosophy of law and political philosophy. But the variety of work being done precludes any overall description.

See also General Will; Natural Law; Social Contract.


general histories

The standard work is still G. H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory (New York, 1938, and revisions). More recent inclusive works, such as John Plamenatz, Man and Society, 2 vols. (London: Longman, 1963), tend to be much more restricted in range.

critique of the subject

No reasoned survey has yet appeared, but in such works as Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (Vol. I, The Spell of Plato, Vol. II, The High Tide of Prophecy, Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath ; London: Routledge, 1945; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950), and C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), examples of contemporary critical attitudes will be found. They are themselves instances of an approach criticized in the first part of the article; for works sharing the view taken there, see the continuing collections titled Philosophy, Politics and Society, edited by Peter Laslett, W. G. Runciman, et al. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1957).

ancient political philosophy

Ernest Barker's books are the most useful for the ancient period: Greek Political Theory, Plato and His Predecessors, 3rd ed. (London: Metheun, 1947), The Politics of Aristotle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946), and From Alexander to Constantine (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956). The editions of the ancient classics are innumerable, but the student is recommended to use the Loeb editions if he possibly can, with the original and its English translation on facing pages. All the relevant works (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, etc.) are now in print, although the edition of The City of God has yet to be completed.

medieval political philosophy

The great works on medieval political philosophy are those of R. W. Carlyle and A. J. Carlyle (A History of Mediaeval Political Theory in the West, 6 vols., London: Blackwood, 19031936) and of Ernst Troeltsch (The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, translated by Olive Wyon, 2 vols., New York: Macmillan, 1931). The books of Walter Ullmann, beginning with The Medieval Idea of Law (London: Methuen, 1946), contain a stimulating if highly individual interpretation. The important texts are available in Thomas Aquinas, Selected Political Writings, edited by A. P. d'Entrèves (Oxford: Blackwell, 1948); Marsilius of Padua, Defensor Pacis, translated with an introduction by Alan Gewirth as Vol. II of his Marsilius of Padua, Defender of Peace (New York: Columbia University Press, 1956); and Dante, De Monarchia, translated and annotated by P. H. Wicksteed (1896).

machiavelli and the sixteenth century

The Prince was edited in Italian by L. H. Burd (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1891), but there is a more recent critical edition in English of the Discourses (by L. J. Walker, London: Routledge and K. Paul, 1950) which is valuable for Machiavelli generally. A useful if uninspired book is J. W. Allen, A History of Political Thought in the 16th Century (reprinted, London, 1957). Jean Bodin's Republic has been edited in English by K. D. Macrae (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962). Hooker is still best read in John Keble's Victorian edition of his Works, 3 vols. (London, 1836).

the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

The general authority on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is Otto von Gierke, Natural Law and the Theory of Society, translated by Ernest Barker (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1934). Hobbes's Leviathan has been edited by Michael Oakeshott (Oxford, 1947); Spinoza's Political Works by A. G. Wernham (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958); Locke's Two Treatises by Peter Laslett (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1960); and Robert Shackleton has written a standard work on Montesquieu: Montesquieu, a Critical Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961); Montesquieu's De l'esprit des lois is available in English, edited by F. Neumann (New York, 1949). Rousseau studies are still dominated by C. E. Vaughan, The Political Writings (1915; reprinted, Oxford: Blackwell, 1962); there is also a translation of the Social Contract by F. M. Watkins (London, 1953). There are many reprints, but so far no critical editions, of the books of Burke, Paine, Bentham, Mill, and Green quoted in the text.

the enlightenment and utilitarianism

Ernst Cassirer wrote a definitive work, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, translated by F. C. A. Koelln and J. P. Pettegrove (1932, English ed., Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951), and J. L. Talmon one with a more tendentious if stimulating thesis, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (London: Secker and Warburg, 1952). John Plamenatz prefixed a brilliant essay, "The English Utilitarians," to his reprint of Mill's Utilitarianism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1949). Élie Halévy, The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism, translated by Mary Morris (London: Faber and Gwyer, 1928), is still important.

hegel and german idealism

Hegel's main work on political philosophy is Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse (Berlin, 1821), 2nd ed. edited by E. Gans as Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (Berlin, 1833), translated by T. M. Knox as The Philosophy of Right (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1942). His Phänomenologie des Geistes (Würzburg and Bamberg, 1807), translated by J. B. Baillie as Phenomenology of Mind (London: S. Sonnenschein, 1910), and Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte, edited by E. Gans (Berlin, 1837) and translated by J. Sibree as Lectures on the Philosophy of History (London: Bohn, 1857), should also be consulted. See also Hegel's Political Writings, translated by T. M. Knox with an introductory essay by Z. A. Pelczynski (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964). On Hegel's political thought, see M. B. Foster, The Political Philosophies of Plato and Hegel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935); Franz Rosenzweig, Hegel und die Staat, 2 vols. (Oldenburg, 1920); Eric Weil, Hegel et l'état (Paris: J. Vrin, 1950), and the works by Popper and Plamenatz cited above.

Hermann Lübbe, ed., Die Hegelsche Rechte (Stuttgart and Bad Canstatt, 1962), and Karl Löwith, ed., Die Hegelsche Linke (Stuttgart and Bad Canstatt, 1962), contain selections from right-wing and left-wing German successors of Hegel, respectively. The second is more directly relevant to political philosophy. From the voluminous writing on this period, see Sidney Hook, From Hegel to Marx (New York: Humanities Press, 1950); Georg Lukács, Die Zerstörung der Vernunft (Berlin: Aufbau, 1954); and Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, 2nd ed. (New York: Humanities Press, 1954). Johann Gottlieb Fichte was an idealist contemporary of Hegel whose writings are of considerable political interest. See especially his Der geschlossene Handelsstaat (The closed commercial state; Tübingen, 1800).

british idealism

Green's Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation were first published in The Works of Thomas Hill Green, edited by R. L. Nettleship, 3 vols. (London, 18851888). See Melvin Richter, The Politics of Conscience: T. H. Green and His Times (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964). On Bosanquet, besides Hobhouse, see F. Houang, Le néo-Hegelianisme en Angleterre: La philosophie de Bernard Bosanquet (Paris, 1954). For a general account of British Neo-Hegelian political and social thought, see A. J. M. Milne, The Social Philosophy of English Idealism (London: Allen and Unwin, 1962). The Philosophy of Loyalty (New York: Macmillan, 1908) by the American idealist Josiah Royce shows a related development. On Royce, see J. E. Smith, Royce's Social Infinite (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1950). Other works by Hobhouse are Liberalism (London: Williams and Nirgate, 1911) and The Elements of Social Justice (London: Allen and Unwin, 1922). See J. A. Hobson and Morris Ginsberg, L. T. Hobhouse, His Life and Work (London: Allen and Unwin, 1931). Of the many British political writings broadly following in the tradition of Green, the following may be mentioned: Ernest Barker, Reflections on Government (London: Oxford University Press, 1942); A. D. Lindsay, The Modern Democratic State (London: Oxford University Press, 1943); and J. D. Mabbott, The State and The Citizen (London: Hutchinson's University Library, 1948). A curious wartime idealist work with an intent similar to that of Hobhouse's Metaphysical Theory of the State is R. G. Collingwood's The New Leviathan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1942).


Almost any writing of Marx or Engels is relevant to their political philosophy. See especially Marx's Das Kapital, 3 vols. (Hamburg, 18671894), translated by Samuel Moore, Edward Aveling, and Ernest Untermann as Capital, 3 vols. (Chicago, 1915); Marx and Engels's Die deutsche Ideologie, edited by V. Adoratsky (Vienna, 1932), translated as The German Ideology, edited by S. Ryazanskaya (Moscow: Progress, 1964); Marx and Engels's Manifest der kommunistischen Partei (London, 1848), translated as The Communist Manifesto, edited with an introduction by Harold Laski (London: Allen and Unwin, 1948); and Engels's Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigentums und des Staat (Zürich, 1884), translated by Ernest Untermann as The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (Chicago: Kerr, 1902). Two convenient anthologies are Lewis S. Feuer, ed., Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1949), and T. B. Bottomore and Maximilien Rubel, eds., Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy (London: Watts, 1956). Of the writings of Lenin, see especially Chto Delat? (What Is to Be Done? ; Stuttgart: Dietz, 1902), Shag Vperyod, Dva Shaga Nazad (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back ; Geneva: Partii, 1904), Imperializm, kak Vysshara Stadiya Kapitalizma (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism ; Petrograd: Zhizn' i znznie, 1917), and Gosudarstvo i Revolutsiya (State and Revolution ; Petrograd: Zhizn' i znznie, 1918). There are various English editions of all of these. Of the many other Marxist writers on political philosophy, one of the most interesting is Antonio Gramsci. See his Opere, 6 vols. (Turin, 19471954), and The Modern Prince and Other Writings, translated by Louis Marks (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1957). For other Marxist writings and for writings on Marxism, consult the bibliographies to the entries Dialectical Materialism, Historical Materialism, and Marxist Philosophy.


Among the chief anarchist works are William Godwin, An Enquiry concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (London: GGJ and J. Robinson, 1793); the writings of Michael Bakunin, translations of which appear in The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1953); Prince Peter Kropotkin's The State, Its Part in History (London: Freedom office, 1898), Mutual Aid, a Factor of Evolution (London, 1902), and Modern Science and Anarchism (Philadelphia, 1903); Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's Qu'est-ce que la Propriété? (Paris, 1840), translated by Benjamin R. Tucker as What Is Property; An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government (New York: Humboldt, 1890); Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience," in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, Vol. X (Boston and New York, 1863); Benjamin R. Tucker, Instead of a Book: A Fragmentary Exposition of Philosophical Anarchism (New York, 1897); and Georges Sorel, Réflexions sur la violence (Paris: Librairie de "Pages Libres," 1908), translated by T. E. Hulme and J. Roth as Reflections on Violence (New York: Huebsch, 1914). On anarchism, see George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (Cleveland, OH: World Publishing, 1962); James Joll, The Anarchists (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1964); and Alexander Gray, The Socialist Tradition (London: Longmans, 1946).

national socialism and fascism

For further pronouncements by national socialists, see Josef Goebbels, Goebbels Tagebücher, edited by Louis Lochner (Zürich, 1948); Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 2 vols. (Munich, 19251927), and Hitler's Secret Conversations 19411944 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Young, 1953). German Philosophy and National Socialism contains an extensive bibliography of relevant works, which may be supplemented by bibliographies in many of the works cited there. On fascism, consult Benito Mussolini, Scritti i discorsi, 12 vols. (Milan, 19341939) and The Doctrine of Fascism, translated in Social and Economic Doctrines of Contemporary Europe, edited by Michael Oakeshott, 2nd ed. (New York, 1942); and Giovanni Gentile, Che cosa è il fascismo (Florence: Vallecchi, 1925) and Origini e dottrine del fascismo (Rome: Libreria del Littorio, 1929).

contemporary political thought

The best picture of contemporary analytic political philosophy can be gathered from the series of collections titled Philosophy, Politics and Society, edited by Peter Laslett, W. G. Runciman et al. (Oxford, 1957). Popper's main works on political philosophy are The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism (London: Routledge, 1957). Weldon also published States and Morals (London: J. Murray, 1946). On Oakeshott, consult his inaugural address in the first volume of Philosophy, Politics and Society and his Rationalism in Politics (New York: Basic, 1962). Other examples are H. L. A. Hart, "The Ascription of Responsibility and Rights," PAS 49 (19481949): 179194, reprinted in Essays on Logic and Language, edited by A. G. N. Flew (Oxford: Blackwell, 1951); Margaret Macdonald, "The Language of Political Theory," in PAS 41 (19401941), reprinted in Flew, op. cit.; J. W. N. Watkins, "Epistemology and Politics," in PAS 58 (19571958): 79102; and S. I. Benn and R. S. Peters, Social Principles and the Democratic State (London: Allen and Unwin, 1959).

Peter Laslett (1967)
(Introduction through Kant)

Philip W. Cummings (1967)
(Hegel through recent political thought)

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