“Political philosophy is inevitable for us to know and explore the truth about politics, to guide us in our efforts to improve upon the existing conditions of political life and to inspire social change for good.”
BY HEIGRUJAM PREMKUMAR
Human beings have social life and the capacity to organise it effectively for survival purposes. Political philosophy is quite simply mankind’s attempts to consciously understand and solve the problems of his groups life and organisation. Political philosophy as such is an intellectual tradition and its history consists of the evolution of mankind’s thoughts about political problems over time. If we were to define political philosophy as broadly as any thinking about politics or relevant to politics, we would come close to including all human thinking for all time.
The fair answer to the need of political philosophy can be drawn from the idea of good government explained by David Miller. He tries to explain the nature of good and bad government, the qualities that rulers ought and ought not to have, and the effects of the two kinds of government on the lives of ordinary people. He views political philosophy as an investigation into the nature, causes and effects of good and bad government.
Miller identifies certain ideas which are of important concerns to political philosophy. First, good and bad government profoundly affect the quality of human lives in their respective ways. The rule of justice and other virtues allow people to enjoy liberty, equality, democracy and generally all those things that enrich human existence, while the rule of tyranny breeds the restriction on these values. Second, the form our government takes is not predetermined- we have a choice to make. There is equal responsibility and duty between the ruler and the ruled. Different forms of government are the direct causes of prosperity and poverty, life and death.
The purpose of political philosophy is to help us choose the best form of government. The final idea is that political philosophy enables us to know what distinguishes good government from bad. We can trace the effects of different forms of government, and learn what qualities go to make up the best form of government. The rulers should be politically, socially, economically and ideologically sound and knowledgeable, and the people should also be vigilant and aware of their political arena to achieve the kind of life they want.
Political philosophy also deals with issues that are of vital importance to all of us and issues over which we have real political choices to make. It discusses about what we ultimately value in our lives and how we can achieve these. The need for political philosophy is never-ending especially perhaps at moments when we face new political challenges that we cannot deal with using the conventional wisdom of the day. At these moments, we need to did deeper, to prove the basis of our political beliefs, and it is here that we may turn to political philosophy, not perhaps at source, but as filtered through pamphlets, magazines, newspapers and the like. Political philosophy can cast light upon the way we think about politics without making claims to a special kind of truth that is inaccessible to the ordinary person.
Political philosophy gives us the universal truth of political issues– the truth that applies to all societies and in all periods of history. It is also true that political philosophers have glorified the state. Yet, political philosophy has stood for a rational spirit of enquiry and it has not refrained from challenging the foundations of political and social order. In any development regarding the conditions of human lives, any change in the society, any development in human value, the study of the state and government, liberty, justice, democracy etc., we cannot deny the importance and relevance of classics such as Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Hobbes’ Leviathan, Machiavelli’ Prince, Rousseau’s The Social Contract, Locke’s Treatises on Civil Government, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, Mill’s On Liberty, Kautilya’s Arthasashtra etc. These timeless works considerably influence and affect our lives and society. Rousseau’s The Social Contract brought French Revolution in 1789 declaring liberty, equality and fraternity to humanity. Marx’s Communist Manifesto created a communist revolution in the world. These are few examples.
The relevance of political philosophy in today’s contemporary world also reflects the need of it. The various developments in the field of voting studies, attitude measurement, opinion surveys etc. which are important adjuncts of modern democracies are owed to political philosophy. Political philosophy- which in several of its phases has been discussing the emotional and moral transformation of man, the dynamics and fluctuations of his temporal development, the laws of his progress, and the nature and significance of the different stages and periods of historical growth- has to come to the front and provide an understanding of the contemporary crisis. Political philosophy can provide vital aid in the understanding of the human spirit. Whenever we face a political problem and any social and human civilisational crisis, political philosophy can guide us.
Problems of Political Philosophy
The problem of political obligation- why should anyone obey the state or why do anyone obey the state– has always been the fundamental problem of political philosophy. The other question- which is often confused with the justification of obedience- is how the state and its laws came into existence. It has been repeatedly debated how a citizen is under the moral obligation to obey the state, and what makes it reasonable, sensible and prudent for one to obey the state. What makes it a generally good and desirable thing for me or anyone else to obey the state?
One widely accepted answer to the above is that the citizen is obliged to obey the laws of the state because the state has sovereign authority. The state has the authority to issue orders to its citizens and the right to receive obedience from them- the citizens are obliged to obey those orders. There is the question of moral obligation too. The laws of the state are intended to protect one’s interest along with those of other people.
Moreover, the state rests on social contract, on consent, represents the General Will, secures justice and pursues the general interest or common good. According to D. D. Raphael, state has the justifying function to serve. Obeying the state may also suggest that we are obeying the individuals who make up it at a certain time.
Anthony Quinton, Political Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1967).
David Miller, Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2003).
D. D. Raphael, Problems of Political Philosophy (Palgrave, 2010).
George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory (Oxford University Press, 1973).