I am somewhat reluctant to enter the quagmire of opinionated bickering that is politics, since everyone knows more than me 🙂 ! But I took an interest in it early in my reading and found this book to be one of the best ways to get an overview of the landscape.
As a teen I recall being confused by the variety of opinions surrounding me along with the seeming certainty with which they were expressed. Virtually everyone, from friends to media commentators and of course politicians appeared convinced of their view and that opposing ones were wrong if not evil!
I couldn’t help wondering if there actually is a ‘best’ political arrangement and why so many people believe the one that suits their personal beliefs is the best one. I thought “is there no political idea that is inherently best for all, or is politics really just a clash of self-serving opinions?” I don’t have a problem with self-serving per se as that seemed natural to me (within limits – more on that later). But the tendency of people around me to project their opinions on the world and confidently state that it should conform to their view was perplexing. So I thought I best learn something about the various views.
An Introduction to Political Philosophy served as an ideal introduction for me as I had no background in the subject. It has a nice flowing style with a thought-provoking account of the central questions in political philosophy. For example, it poses the two most fundamental questions with which the entire subject is concerned: 1. who gets what? and 2. says who? When I read that I knew this was going to be a pleasant read rather than a dry, boring explanation of political theory. Here is the description from Amazon:
Why should some have the right to pass power?
What would happen without government?
How much power should the state have?
An ideal introduction for students with no background in the subject, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, Third Edition, combines clarity and a conversational style with a thought-provoking account of the central questions in political philosophy.
Author Jonathan Wolff explores the subject through a series of enduring and timeless questions, jumping centuries and millennia to explore the most influential answers and demonstrate how political philosophy is relevant to contemporary issues.
Interestingly, it does not shy away from the more controversial viewpoints. For example, the author allows space for Anarchism which is thought to be anathema to civilized culture. Yet it comes up several times as a contrast to the challenges posed by views that are built on the use of force no matter how benevolent that use is meant to be. It was hard to tell if the author is truly sympathetic to anarchism or just trying to be as broad as possible in his presentation of political ideas. Either way, it had me thinking more about the importance of questions about freedom vs. totalitarianism which I would never have considered by relying on the opinions in the culture around me.
If you want an excellent introduction to this always relevant topic, I highly recommend this book. It compares and contrasts varying theories without bogging the reader down in details of the effects of implementing the ideas in the real world. That is left up to the reader.
Here are some books on political philosophy. I have not read them so cannot comment. Please comment on any of them if you think they are worthwhile.
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