The Pathos of Politics (12) Political Philosophy

Political Philosophy

Ideas shape the course of history. ~ John Maynard Keynes

The history of political thought pivots on a single concept: the relationship between government and the governed. That simple summarization masks the fundamental drivers behind political philosophy, which are idealistic beliefs founded upon fantasy.

Political theory has invariably been intertwined with thoughts on the human condition, particularly the nature of man. The penultimate concern is how morality may be maintained in a societal context.

Unsurprisingly, the writings of political theorists have often been in reflection of the times in which they lived. It may be a negative reaction, as it was in Plato’s Republic (380 BCE). Other times, such as John Locke’s Treatises on Civil Government (1689) and John Rawl’s A Theory of Justice (1971), there are justifications for extant political machinations.

Political philosophers typically put forth arguments to rationalize their own biases. With exception, political beliefs are typically premised upon simplistic or even fictive assumptions about human nature and sociality. Machiavelli was exceptional in appreciating that political men are creatures of cunning, their capacity for reason warped by passion and materialism.

Hobbes and Locke – at opposite ends of the political spectrum as well as on the nature of man – are exemplary in having facilely extreme views on the savagery or sociality of mankind; yet such wildly simplistic conceptions have served as the foundations upon which the world’s political systems have been built.

Idolatry of words plays a large part in the history of all ideologies. ~ French political philosopher Georges Sorel


A people’s active sense of fairness is strongly swayed by culture. The more materialistically oriented a society, the greater the degree that inequality is tolerated, and corruption a virulent societal infection.

Regardless of culture, virtue is never extinguished, nor vice, for that matter. Selfishness and propensity to exploit others are as innate as a sense of fairness and willingness to share. Hence, polity is less important than the cultural soil in which it is planted. Civilizations have thrived or collapsed depending upon their leadership, regardless of how leadership was obtained or maintained.