'An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.' - Plutarch
And it seems to me to be an imbalance too easily justified on economic grounds, or on the grounds that one needs to attract the best people for the job, whilst ignoring the long-term social and political damage it can bring about. Of course, brilliance and productivity should be rewarded, but what is happening today in terms of top salaries, when compared with average incomes, has become inappropriate and quite insane!
National identity in a cosmopolitan world?
Is it possible to be cosmopolitan, think globally, and yet also be patriotiic or at least have a sense of national or social identity? I am exploring some of the issues related to this in my latest blog post.
Just click on my Union Jack cupcake to see my views...
Nigel Warburton's podcasts
These podcasts give extremely useful bite-size introductions to many aspects of philosophy, including Political Philosophy. They have now been organised by theme, so you can scroll down his list to find the section on Politics. Just click here for the link.
Available as free podcasts, this Radio 4 series, chaired by Melvyn Bragg, covers a good number of topics relevant to the study of Political Philosophy, including: Burke, Aristotle's Politics, The Social Contract, Anarchism, Marx and Utopia.
Just click on the image to go to the BBC website page and select topics that interest you.
For both Political Philosophy and Ethics, Michael Sandel is a great communicator, setting out arguments with consumate clarity and always engaging directly with his audience. He has a very popular on-line course on Justice, from Harvard. Just follow this link: www.justiceharvard.org
And, of course, his book Justice has been extremely popular. I'm not sure I always agree with Sandel, but he is very persuasive.
You can also hear him give the Reith Lectures. Follow this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00kt7rg
Some useful titles...
For those who are (or who are thinking about) taking a course in Politics, or taking a Political Philosophy module within a Philosophy Course, there are a good range of books to develop ideas outlined in the Teach Yourself book. Here are some suggestions...
To students coming new to this branch of philosophy, there are some good general introductions. David Miller's very short introduction is readable and a good way of stimulating interest, while Wolff and Kymlicka are rather more substantial as student texts.
Two other useful books for students are Adam Swift's Contemporary Political Philosophy, and Michael White's Political Philosophy: an historical introduction.
Most books on political philosophy head straight into the fundamental concepts, but my preference is for getting a good historical perspective first. Hence I find the Michael White introduction particularly useful.
With all introductions to a subject, however, you get the attempt at a balanced view and a broad overview - that's what they are for. But for me, it is the classic texts that give the best feeling for how philosophers throughout the centuries have tackled political issues. Here you find polemic as well as balanced reason - thinkers who are keen to make a point and address an issue of the day. Like Marx, they wanted to change the world as much as comment on it. Here are some of the all-time greats...
But where do you start with these?
My choice would be to read either Mill's On Liberty
or Machiavelli's The Prince. They are utterly different
from one another, yet both deal with issues that are absolutely
central to an enquiring approach to politics. Machiavelli is
generally portrayed as cynical and as supporting the idea of a
ruler who is quite without moral sensitivity. That's not really
fair. What he is doing is looking at what is required of a ruler
if the defence and integrity of a state is to be his (he
wouldn't have considered a 'her' at that time) primary aim. This
is wry questioning of the real world of power politics - removed
from our own by the centuries that have intervened, but relevant
for all that.