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Branch of philosophy that studies the nature of social organization and the proper functions of government

Political philosophy, also known as political theory, is the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law and the enforcement of laws by authority: what they are, why (or even if) they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it should take and why, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.


Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand, by Edmund A. Opitz, The Freeman, Jun 1976
Explains mercantilism, the rationales for political power, government's proper role, Smith's "invisible hand" metaphor, his concept of "equality, liberty and justice" and how a free society allocates economic goods; from a lecture given 17 Feb 1976
The actions of the redistributive state—call it the welfare state if you prefer—are political actions. From ancient times to the present, every political theorist—except the Classical Liberals—tried to frame answers for three questions ... these three questions ... provide an apt key to many political puzzles: Who shall wield power? For whose benefit? At whose expense? One might put this in a formula: Votes and taxes for all; subsidies and privileges for us, our friends, and whoever else happens at the moment to pack a lot of political clout. The American system was to be based upon a different idea.
Aristotle (382-322 B.C.), by Fred Miller, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical and bibliographical essay
Although the city-state represents, in Aristotle's view, the outgrowth and perfection of human nature, it also requires a lawgiver whose function it is to apply the science of politics in order to fashion a constitution, laws, and system of education for the citizens. The Politics expounds this theory, distinguishing between just constitutions that promote the common advantage of all citizens and unjust constitutions that seek the private advantage of the ruling class. The best constitution will assign political rights on the basis of civic virtue.
Related Topics: Aristotle, Ethics, Libertarianism, Logic
The Bastiat Solution, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 29 Aug 2008
Analyzes segments of Bastiat's The Law (Dean Russell's translation) as "the best antidote for the toxic demagoguery" of the election season
This principle—that a group can have no rights not possessed by the individual members—is consistent and simple. It defies all challenges. Yet it is radical in its implications for political systems throughout the world ... But what if it only looks like plunder? If people have voted for the political officeholders who distribute others' belongings by force, doesn't that make it different from crime? How could it? If individuals and the groups they join have no right to take people's belongings by force, then they cannot logically delegate to someone else a right they don't have.
The Crazy Arithmetic of Voting, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 8 Feb 2008
In the wake of Super Tuesday 2008, reviews the "Voting Versus the Market" chapter of Bruno Leoni's Freedom and the Law (1961)
A large literature in economics has looked for ways in which behavior in the political arena and behavior in the marketplace are alike. If political choice really resembles market choice, one might say the political process respects individual preferences. Leoni, however ... writes: "No procedural rule seems able to allow voters to act in the same flexible, independent, consistent, and efficient way as operators employing individual choice in the market ... we are compelled, however, to conclude that voting is a kind of individual action that almost inevitably undergoes a kind of distortion in its use."
Related Topics: Democracy, Voting
Don't Get Out the Vote, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 14 Feb 2014
Examines the writings of Bryan Caplan and Michael Huemer to determine whether get-out-the-vote campaigns are beneficial in any way
Huemer adds, "These campaigns are a terrible idea. Most voters have no idea what is going on — they may not even know who their leaders are, and certainly do not know who is the best candidate. Imagine that someone asks you for directions to a local restaurant. If you have no idea where the restaurant is, you should not make it up ... Ignorant voting is even worse than ignorant giving of directions, because voting is an exercise of political power (albeit a very small one) — to vote for a policy is not only to make a recommendation, but to request that the policy be imposed on others by force."
Related Topics: Democracy, Voting
Epistemology and Politics: Ayn Rand's Cultural Commentary, by David Kelley, Navigator, Dec 2004
Discusses the continued currency of Rand's 1960-1970s writings, citing as examples "Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World", "Racism", "The Age of Envy" and "The Anti-Industrial Revolution"
[A]ltruism ... pushes a society toward collectivism. If self-sacrifice is an ideal—if service to others is the highest, most honorable course of action—why not force people to act accordingly? This is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany, where people were compelled to serve the German Volk, and in the Soviet Union ... In the United States, the impact of altruism is blunted by the spirit of individualism and by a political system based on individual rights; nevertheless, appeals to sacrifice and service are the primary cultural cause for the growth of government, especially the welfare state.
Murray Rothbard's Philosophy of Freedom, by David Gordon, The Freeman, Nov 2007
Examines the arguments made by Rothbard that, given the premise that slavery is wrong, self-ownership, private property rights and a free market without government interventions follow
"[A] truly free market, a truly libertarian society devoted to justice and property rights, can only be established there [in the underdeveloped world] by ending unjust feudal claims to property. But utilitarian economists, grounded on no ethical theory of property rights, can only fall back on defending whatever status quo happens to exist," Rothbard writes in Ethics of Liberty. Rothbard's book is in one sense mistitled. He sharply distinguishes political philosophy from ethics as a whole, and his book is addressed only to the former topic.
Personal 'Freedom': Review of Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World [PDF], by Roy Childs, The Libertarian Forum, Apr 1973
While admitting that the book has many valuable insights, Childs chastises Browne on his definition of freedom and his views on morality and natural rights
[The] response ... amounts to a defense of philosophy in general, and of political philosophy and responsibility in particular: the reason why man needs political philosophy, a theory of rights, and political involvement is because men have the same basic natures and live in the same objective reality, the same world. He needs them because his life is not affected, for better or worse, by his own choices and actions alone, but by the society and political system in which he lives. Man needs to associate with other men in order to live and prosper, and he needs to choose and define the proper way of relating to men.
Related Topics: Harry Browne, Ethics, Liberty, Rights
Political Science, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 18 May 2007
Reviews Frank Van Dun's 1986 paper titled "Economics and the Limits of Value-Free Science" and its implications for making an objective case for ethics, freedom and private property
This brings us to political theory and the objective case for freedom. The bridge from what is stated above to politics is the fact that science—truth-seeking—is a social process ... This has serious implications at the social and political level because "a scientifically or philosophically defensible political system must be one in which science and philosophy can come into their own ..." In other words, a truth seeker cannot advocate any political system that imposes limits on peaceful action and thought—that is, which sanctions the initiation of force—without implicitly contradicting herself.
The Political Thought of Étienne de La Boétie, by Murray N. Rothbard, 1975
Introduction to The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (Free Life Editions, 1975), translated by Harry Kurz; summarizes the key insights of La Boétie's work
In his abstract, universal reasoning, his development of a true political philosophy, and his frequent references to classical antiquity, La Boétie followed the method of Renaissance writers ... This ... becomes for La Boétie the central problem of political theory: why in the world do people consent to their own enslavement? La Boétie cuts to the heart of what is, or rather should be, the central problem of political philosophy: the mystery of civil obedience. Why do people, in all times and places, obey the commands of the government, which always constitutes a small minority of the society?


Essays in Religion, Politics, and Morality: (Selected Writings of Lord Acton)
    by John Dalberg-Acton, 1988
Third volume of collection; includes the essays "Human Sacrifice" (1863), "George Eliot's Life" (1885) and "Buckle's Philosophy of History" (1858)

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Political philosophy" as of 10 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.