The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Fourth Edition of "Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker"
I have finished writing the fourth edition of Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker, which will be published by Waveland Press. I do not yet have the production schedule. But I assume that the book should be published sometime late this spring or early in the summer.
Here's the Prologue and the Table of Contents. You can see that it incorporates a lot of material from this blog.
In this fourth edition,
I have changed and added material throughout the book. I have added new
chapters on Adam Smith, Leo Strauss, and Steven Pinker.
I have written
this book both for students, who might be studying the history of political
philosophy for the first time, and for scholarly experts in political
philosophy, who might find something here to stimulate (if not provoke) them.
I hope that both
novices and initiates can benefit from the way this book combines four major
features: (1) a reliance on disputed questions, (2) an emphasis on primary
texts, (3) references to issues in American political history, and (4) a
multidisciplinary approach to political philosophy.
stimulate readers to think for themselves, I raise a series of enduring
political questions, and I leave the readers free to work out their own
answers. As much as possible, I avoid imposing my own point of view.
there is no good substitute for reading the original works of political
philosophy, I tie my questions to specific texts. This book is only
supplementary to reading the primary sources. The best use of this book is to
read it while reading some of the primary texts.
it is important for students to see how the study of political philosophy can
illuminate their political experience, I indicate how the questions raised by
political philosophers clarify issues in American politics. In particular, I
draw out some of the philosophic implications of the Declaration of
philosophers make empirical claims about human nature, human culture, and
political history.To assess those
empirical claims, I argue in this book, we need to draw from relevant knowledge
gained from all of the intellectual disciplines in the natural sciences, the
social sciences, and the humanities. So,
for example, in my surveys of disputed political questions, I bring up
pertinent ideas from anthropology, biology, economics, history, psychology, and
theology. Political philosophy is best
studied as part of a multidisciplinary liberal education that aims for a
comprehensive science of nature and of human beings as part of nature.
Table of Contents
Introduction: From the
Declaration of Independence to Political Philosophy
and Political Power: Plato’s Apology, Crito, and Republic
1. What is the political lesson of the trial of Socrates?
2. How far is a citizen obligated to obey the
3.In defining justice, how do we move from
opinions to knowledge?
4. Is justice the interest of the stronger?
5. Is justice the fulfillment of natural
6. Is justice conventional rather than
7. Is the rule of philosopher-kings meant to be a
realistic political goal?
8. Why does Socratic statesmanship require a
9. Is there any justification in nature for the
hierarchical ordering of the city and soul into three parts?
10. Must a good political order depend on a
cosmic order of divine law?
2Political Science as
the Study of Regimes: Aristotle’s Politics
1. Is the best regime good enough?
2. Does political life fulfill a natural human
3. Are human beings the only animals with the
capacity for symbolic speech?
4. How do selfishness and aggression influence
5. Does Aristotle show the prejudices of his
culture in his views of slaves and women?
6. Does Aristotle’s understanding of citizenship
illuminate modern democratic politics?
7. Does Aristotle’s regime suppress individual
8. Can we settle the conflict between oligarchic
and democratic views of justice?
9. How does the Aristotelian leader handle a
regime that is less than the best?
10. Why does Aristotle teach tyrants how to
preserve their regimes?
3The Political Realism
of Christian Theology:
Augustine’s City of God
1. Was Augustine the first political
2. Does Christian faith perfect our reasoning
3. Is nature apart from God a reliable standard
4. Must earthly political rule always be
5. Must Christians be Machiavellians?
Thomas Aquinas’s “Treatise on Law”
1. What is natural law?
2. Is law the command of the sovereign backed by
3. How do human beings discover natural law?
4. Does the fact-value distinction refute the
idea of natural law?
5. Is law the joint product of nature, custom,
6. Does cultural diversity contradict the idea of
7. Must we legislate morality?
8. Is Thomistic political thought compatible
with liberal democracy?
9. Does the application of natural law to
sexual conduct, abortion, and marriage threaten individual liberty?
10. Can government rightly promote our
pursuit of the complete happiness that comes only with eternal life in
Machiavelli’s The Prince and Discourses
1.Is Machiavelli evil?
2. What is Machiavellian virtue?
3.In politics, does the end justify the
4. Does political order require “cruelty well
5. Are democratic leaders just as selfish as
dictators in their pursuit of power?
6.Does Machiavelli elevate political power over
Descartes’s Discourse on Method
1. Can the scientific method of Descartes lead us
to a free and rational society?
2. Is Cartesian reason unreasonable?
3. Does Cartesian science promote nihilistic
4. Does Cartesian science promote technocratic
5. If machines can think, do they have
7Individual Rights and
Absolute Government: Hobbes’s Leviathan and
1. Are human beings too selfish to be naturally
2. Can selfish human beings create political
order by consenting to a social contract?
3. Why should we obey an absolute
4. Can only an absolute government protect
5. Does the right to revolution subvert good
6. Is anarchy better than a predatory
7.Is the founding of political authority on
rational selfishness too idealistic?
8.Is the American government a Hobbesian
the interpretation of the Bible and the Koran a political question?
10.Does the English Civil War show how political history can be a natural
laboratory for testing political philosophy?
8 Classical Liberalism:
Locke’s Second Treatise of Government and letter concerning toleration
1. Are human beings entitled to equal liberty as
being the workmanship of their Creator?
2. Are human beings entitled to equal liberty s
members of the same human species who claim self-ownership?
human beings equal and free in the state of nature?
all human beings entitled to equal liberty in acquiring property?
5. Can liberal government combine individual
freedom with political authority?
6. Can Lockean government secure the consent of
7. By what right does the majority rule?
8.Does the protection of minorities require a minority veto in a consensus
9. Can the rule of law and the separation of powers
secure individual rights?
10.Must the executive have the prerogative
powers of a dictator?
11.Does the right to revolution mean that might
12. Should women have equal rights?
13.Are there good arguments for religious
toleration and the separation of church and state?
14.Is a society of atheists possible?
Democracy: Rousseau’s First and Second Discourses
and Social Contract
1. Does popular enlightenment subvert political
2. Were human beings naturally good as solitary
animals in the state of nature?
3. Has the evolution of civilization deprived us
of our natural freedom and happiness?
4. Does participatory democracy promote or threaten
5. Does a participatory democracy require a
6. Is representative democracy disguised
7. Does democracy need a civil religion?
8. Is a true democracy impossible?
10MORALS AND MARKETS IN THE COMMERCIAL
SOCIETY: SMITH’S THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS AND WEALTH OFNATIONS
1.Is Smithian moral sentimentalism rooted in
selfishness, vanity, conformism, and emotivism?
2.Do evolutionary science and experimental game
theory confirm Smith’s moral theory?
3.Does religion make people moral?
4.Do markets degrade morals?
5.In the commercial society, does commerce take
the place of virtue?
6.Does the commercial society promote the
7.Is Smith a man of the left, or even a
proto-Marxist, in supporting distributive justice for the poor?
8.Does the system of natural liberty require
private property anarchism?
9.Does the recent history of economic and
financial crises show the failure of Smithian free-market thinking?
11History and the Modern
State: Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and Philosophy of History
1. Does history have an ultimate meaning?
2.Is every political philosopher “a child of
3. What is freedom?
4. Can the modern state unite individual rights
and political duties?
5. Does war preserve the health of the state?
6. Is the United States a state?
7. Have we reached the end of history?
12Socialism: Marx’s Communist Manifesto
1. Do economic interests determine history?
2. Must capitalists exploit their workers?
3. Does capitalism prevent workers from finding
joy in their work?
4. Does capitalism inevitably create an
unjust inequality, with wealth concentrated in the hands of the richest 1
percent of the capitalists?
5. Would socialism emancipate human beings?
6. Can a socialist economy work?
7. Can we have Marx without Stalin?
8. Can socialism be democratic?24
social democracy combine the best features of capitalism and socialism?
10.Do we need a new communism?
11.Is socialist anarchism more liberating than
13The Death of God and
the Will to Power: Nietzsche’s The Birth
of Tragedy; Human, All Too Human;
Thus Spoke Zarathustra; and Beyond Good and Evil
1. Do we need the mythic illusions of music and
drama to conceal the meaningless chaos of the world?
2. Can a free-spirited science of Darwinian evolution
give us “humble truths”?
3. Can human beings live without transcendent
4. Is a free-spirited science compatible with
modern liberal democracy?
5. Who is Zarathustra?
6.Can life be explained as will to power and eternal return?
Nietzsche too pious?
8.Does going “beyond good and evil” lead us to
a new nobility or a new barbarism?
Nietzsche’s Darwinian aristocratic liberalism superior to his Dionysian
14RELATIVISM AND NATURAL RIGHT IN THE
CRISIS OFLIBERALISM:STRAUSS’S PERSECUTION
AND THE ART OF WRITING AND NATURAL
RIGHT AND HISTORY
1.Is esoteric writing necessary to protect
philosophy and politics from mutual harm?
2.Can philosophers refute modern relativism and
nihilism by proving the truth of natural right?
3.Can modern biology support the natural
teleology required for natural right?
4.Is the unnatural character of slavery an
example of natural right that can be defended against historicist and
5.Is the philosophic life of the few naturally
superior to the moral, religious, and political lives of the many?
6.Does Lockean natural right teach hedonistic
relativism, in which “life is the joyless quest for joy”?
7.Was Strauss a Jewish Nazi?
8.Does liberalism allow for human excellence
and the philosophic life through liberal education?
15the social justice of
equal liberty: Rawls’s A Theory of
1. Are the principles of justice those we would
choose under impartial conditions of fairness?
2. Should we force the more fortunate people of
our society to help those less fortunate?
3.Does justice require socialist equality?
4. Does justice require capitalist liberty?
5. Should we seek equality of opportunity but not
equality of result, even when this allows a cognitive elite to become the
an instinctive moral grammar of justice part of our evolved human nature?
7.Does a liberal conception of justice require
the coercive enforcement of a liberal way of life as the best life for human beings?
16THE CLASSICAL LIBERALISM OF DECLINING
VIOLENCE:PINKER’S THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE
1. Were prehistoric human foragers
ignoble savages with a naturallyevolved propensity for war?
2.Does history show declining violence?
3.Does religious ideology promote violence?
4.Is capitalist ideology more likely to promote
violence than is communist ideology?
5.Does the liberal peace require a world of
flat souls without manly virtues?
6.Can declining violence arise from a genetic
evolution towards the bourgeois virtues through survival of the richest?
7.Are the more intelligent people classical