Western Political Thought: Philosophy has always been defined as the basic questions that a human puts forth in life. Political philosophy is simply the study of those questions. The below list of political thinkers from the west, have gone a step forward to just asking questions and have influenced people and made them rethink their thoughts.
10 Western Political Thinkers
Plato is one of the greatest philosophers. He is from Athenia, Greece. Being in a great family with a wealthy background, Plato devoted his whole life to a single goal, helping people to reach the state of fulfillment, which he termed as Eudaimonia. His four main ideas to march towards fulfillment were:
- Think More – Give time for yourself to make logical decisions.
- Let Your Lover Change You – You and your partner must help each other think and grow better.
- Decode The Message of Beauty – Beautiful things are always whispering something about the good life, it is important to pay attention to them.
- Reform Society – It is a must that a government should concentrate on the fulfillment of the people’s basic needs.
In fact, his ultimate goal was that politicians should also become philosophers so that they would be able to empathize and work towards the needs of people.
Aristotle was born around 348 BC in Macedonia, a part of the ancient Greek Kingdom. He is well known for his contributions to psychology, logic, mathematics, metaphysics, physics, biology, ethics, politics, and also criticism. Being a student of Plato, he always rejects Plato’s theories. His philosophies were mostly about practical wisdom. Here are the four big philosophical questions he asked:
- What makes people happy?
- What is art for?
- What are friends for?
- How can ideas cut through in a world that is so busy?
Aristotle always observed how often people make logical decisions. He invented the art of getting people to agree with you, Rhetoric. He drew limitations and practises to be more persuasive so that other people could see through your eyes.
Nicolo Machiavelli is well known by people as the father of modern politics. He is also known for his political and philosophical works. Being all that, he is also an accomplished writer. He was born and brought up in Italy. He worked in different areas for the local government. He was in charge of internal affairs and was involved in many diplomatic issues across Europe. His theory is that a good politician need not be good, friendly, and remarkable. Instead, good politicians who defend, enrich and bring honor to the state. Being nice is always ruled out by effectiveness. He strongly believed that a ruler should be able to manage the external and internal threats, know the people against him and around him and attain stable governance. He thought that a ruler should neither be too soft nor should be too cruel.
Thomas Hobbes was from the 17th century, who is an English philosopher. His theories explained how to tolerate bad rulers and at what point to start revolutions and oppose governments. Every single thing he is being remembered for today is the things that he discovered and wrote after the age of 60. Hobbes by nature was a deeply sensitive, peaceful, and cautious man. He hated violence of all kinds. He is well known for his work, Leviathan which was published in 1651 which elaborated on why one should obey the government even if it is not a proper one, to avoid chaos and bloodsheds. Hobbes was secretly an atheist and was against the theory of “The Divine Right of Kings” where kings were to be obeyed because they were appointed by God to help people. Also, he was not totally supportive of people to oppose their rulers. Instead, he encouraged people to oppose rulers with obedience and submission to traditional authority.
John Locke is a great philosopher from the 17th century. He is remembered for his wise contributions to the issues that still continue to prevail today. They are:
- How to educate our children?
- Who should rule over us?
- And what can be done about people who have different religious ideas from us?
His answers to these questions brought changes in society. In fact, the idea of locking up people for their beliefs entirely fell out of favor because of his influence. It is a truly remarkable achievement for one book by one man to have set in train. He didn’t stop with that. He continued and wrote a book called the “Two Treatises of Government” which was all about who should rule the country and on what basis? He asked his readers to set the lowest expectations of how a ruler should be so that they are not disappointed quickly. He made people think and act through his contributions.
- John S. Mill
John Stuart Mill was a great English-speaking philosopher of the 19th century. He is the champion of Utilitarianism which features the right thing to do for one’s happiness. He has also defended the Freedom of Speech. He spoke for it so that it would protect a majority from silencing the minorities. He outlined the logical basis for the scientific method and provided powerful arguments in favor of naturalism. After his marriage, he also started speaking out for women’s rights. When he became an MP, he was the first advocate of women’s suffrage in Parliament. He has always attempted to provide a logical structure for science. His book and his thoughts have been a great influence among people and are also followed even today.
Karl Marx is well known for his philosophy and his economical knowledge. His political and economic ideas have been largely used to design disastrously planned economies and nasty dictatorships. But, he has also diagnosed a list of ills that capitalism has, which would navigate people towards a better future. He was a journalist, he wrote a number of books and articles on capitalism, the type of economy that dominated the world. He did great as a critic, given below are some of the problems he identified with his perception:
- Modern work is alienated. He believed that one should enjoy and expose themselves through the outcome of their jobs. If not, he says, that leads to alienation.
- Modern work is insecure. He says that any kind of modern work can be replaced by another more modern work.
- Workers are paid little while the capitalists get rich. This issue prevails even today.
- Capitalism is very much unstable.
- Capitalism is bad for capitalists.
He believed and proved that economics generated ideologies. He says that, whatever might be the issue, but it always relates back to the economic system.
The answer to the question “why always the powerless consent to be dominated by those in positions of power?” is given by the term Hegemony which was coined by the Marxist Antonio Gramsci. He wrote a series of pamphlets called the prison notebooks while he was in the prison. In those pamphlets, he developed the notion of hegemony, which meant domination in Greek. He boldly argued that the ruling classes achieved domination by manipulating culture, morality, language, and common sense. Through this, socio-economic exploitation is made possible. He also says that these dominations are very rarely dominated or opposed through revolutions by the subjugated classes, but whatever happens, the pattern is the same.
Hannah Ardent is famous for her books, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and “Between Past and Future”. She is one of the most famous philosophers of the 20th century. Her reputation rests on the studies that she produced on philosophy after the second world war, even though her career kickstarted with a thesis on love. She published articles on Jewish politics and related essays after being forced into exile by German Fascism and Anti- Semitism. Through her works, she identified the common elements in communism and fascism. She describes totalitarianism as the force that abolishes class and society and also as the one which converts social groups into individuals. She has also outlined more general political theories which were less complicated. She idealized a vision of citizen democracy and defines political action as the noblest of all activities.
When the world totally supported democracy, there was one person who was against it and who hated it. The founding father of Greek philosophy, Socrates is portrayed in dialogs of Plato as hugely pessimistic. He points that voting in elections is a skill and is not a random assumption or intuition. And he believed that like any skill, it needs to be taught systematically to people, and also it is irresponsible to let naive people vote to choose the ruler. He was normally not an elitist. He believed that not just the narrow few should vote. He believed that people who thought about issues rationally and deeply should have the freedom to vote. He clearly draws the difference between intellectual democracy and democracy by birth. He felt that allowing anybody to vote would lead to demagoguery.