Book Review: A Student’s Guide To Political Philosophy

A Student’s Guide To Political Philosophy, by Harvey C. Mansfield

I must admit that I have always been deeply interested in the subject of political philosophy, as soon as I became aware of it [1].  This book is probably not meant for me, but it is certainly a book I can (and do) celebrate because it is written to encourage other people to become more knowledgeable about political philosophy and also more interested in it.  The fact that the author also correctly notes that one can be a political philosopher through the rational (!) observation of political activity, such as is omnipresent in our contemporary world, also means that this subject is a great deal more practical than might first seem the case for some of the book’s readers.  Like the bourgeois merchant in Moliere’s famous play, political philosophy is something that many people do without being aware of what it is, and to the extent that this book and others like it make people aware of how they are already political philosophers whether they realize it or not, this book will do great service in removing the mystery and seeming strangeness that often attaches itself to this field.

In barely over 50 pages, the author manages to cover a broad swatch of the history and nature of political philosophy.  To be sure, this book is not the last word on the subject, but it has no ambitions to be so.  Rather, this book is a very good example of first words on the topic.  The author discusses partisanship, the origin of natural right and the conception that mankind is a political animal.  The author discusses godly politics, an area often neglected in much political thinking, and the importance of the writings of Plato and Machiavelli on the subject.  The author discusses political systems and what might make some ideal, the importance of the bourgeois self to political philosopher, as well as the historical turn of the discipline as a whole.  Perhaps best of all, the book contains a bibliographic essay that urges readers to become familiar with Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Cicero, Augustine, Al-Farabi, Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Burke, Hagel, de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, to become familiar with the conversation that has taken place within the field over the course of the last 2500 years or so.  To be sure, the Bible contains a great deal of discussion about political philosophy but the author does not appear to focus on this element–most books on philosophy have a strong preference for Athens over Jerusalem, after all.

Despite my broader expanse of what I consider to be the most important writings of political philosophy and the fact that I do not come to this field as a neophyte, there is still a great deal to appreciate and enjoy here.  The author has a good grasp of the history of the discipline of political philosophy and shows a willingness to ask questions that might make people, regardless of their own partisan positions, and that willingness to wrestle with deep questions and encourage other to do so is sufficient to make this book worth reading, especially given its short length.  The subject of political philosophy may seem a bit arcane, but with politics so important in our times and so many people bereft of understanding of how to ask or answer deep and serious questions about philosophy and worldview, this book and others like it are definitely necessary to help people become more educated in the tasks of cultural and spiritual warfare that are so inescapable in these dark times.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Book Review: A Student’s Guide To Political Philosophy

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: A Student’s Guide To Psychology | Edge Induced Cohesion

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