Modern Political Philosophy

Does the government have the right to watch me watching my favorite sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond at three in the morning while I stuff cheese balls down my throat? Does my neighbor? Political philosophy focuses on the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of laws by authority. It also poses the question of what constitutes a right. Take for instance, free speech. Do I have the right to slander anyone that doesn’t think Everybody Loves Raymond is the greatest show to ever exist?

Modern political philosophers were really into thinking about the world before we got civilized, which they called the “state of nature.” There was Thomas Hobbes, who was kind of a downer. He thought humans were born little Thanoses. He thought they were blood-sucking, murderous, villainous, juul-smoking fiends (but maybe not that last part). Humans were so bad, Hobbes thought, that we needed a Godzilla-type monster called a Leviathan to keep us chillax. Only it wasn’t a literal monster of course, it was a metaphor for government! He thought we needed a monarch who would have ALL the power. Then there was Locke, who was thought that humans were like an Adam Sandler movie, yeah they’re a little rough around the edges, and kind of creepy, but there is some serious potential there. Locke thought that we still needed a government (think Godzilla but a bit smaller and friendlier, like Ray Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond) to keep us in line.

But as humans, we have a set of rights that could not be taken away from us. Think of humans as bedrock in Minecraft and the government is a diamond pickaxe, you could sit there all day and mine it, but it will never break. Additionally, if the government somehow breaks us (takes away our rights or property) then for Locke, it is justifiable to fight back. Then, finally, there was Rousseau, who believed humans were like the Pillsbury Doughboy, cuddly, warm, and delicious, from birth.

He thought that Ray Barone (the government) was the thing that drove humanity crazy. To be fair, he was right, who could resist that Italian charm?

Podcasts

  • Rousseau Government

    Philosophize This!

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  • Rousseau pt. 2: Democracy, Aristocracy or Monarchy

    Philosophize This!

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  • Rousseau pt. 3: The General Will

    Philosophize This!

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Questions to Think About

  • How should we structure society?

  • What is the individual’s role in society?

  • How much government is too much government?

  • What should a government’s main purpose be?

  • How does a government justify its authority?

  • What justifies rebellion against a government?

Key Thinkers

  • John Dewey

  • Thomas Hobbes

  • David Hume

  • John Locke

  • Niccolò Machiavelli

  • Karl Marx

  • John Stuart Mill

  • Charles-Louis Montesquieu

  • Jean-Jacques Rosseau

  • Mary Wollstonecraft

Key Texts

Key Concepts

  • inalienable rights
    basic entitlements that cannot be taken away
  • social contract theory
    the belief that our political responsibilities come from an agreement between all of us to create the society in which we live
  • state of nature
    original condition in which people lived or a fictitious state in which people originally lived before the creation of government

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