The Philosophy of Hannah Arendt
|Period:||Semester 1, Block I, II|
- Yes Elective choice
- Yes Contractonderwijs
- Yes Exchange
- Yes Study Abroad
- No Evening course
- No A la Carte
- No Honours Class
- Students in the BA programme Philosophy: first year BA has been successfully completed, as well as the second-year course Politieke filosofie.
- Prerequisites for students from other departments (including contractstudenten): first year BA has been successfully completed as well as the following course(s) in philosophy: History of Modern Political Philosophy, Politieke filosofie.
Fluency in English is required for successful completion of this course, with any level of familiarity with Ancient Greek, French, German, or Latin a bonus.
This course has a limited number of places available for students from other departments.
Hannah Arendt famously insisted, in a televised interview with Günter Gaus in 1964, that she wished to look at politics with eyes unclouded by philosophy, thus considering herself a political theorist rather than a political philosopher. There is no space for truth in politics, according to Arendt, precisely because truth defeats human action, which, to her, is the only expression of human freedom in a plural, shared universe.
This course examines Arendt’s ambivalent relationship with philosophy and evaluates the many insights and tensions arising from her politically-charged philosophical investigations—including her conceptualisation and treatment of action, authority, decisionism, disobedience, evil, freedom, judgment, love, natality, responsibility, power, and violence—all of which confirms her integrity as a thinker-actor who values the life of the mind without losing sight of the need to participate in the common world.
This course aims to introduce key concepts, frameworks, and principles in Hannah Arendt’s political theory through in-depth readings and discussions of primary sources, contextualised in resonant foundational and contemporaneous political thought as well as supplemented by seminal secondary interpretations and appropriations of Arendt’s work. Active seminar participation constitutes a safe, supervised space for philosophical experimentation and exchange, towards improving students’ philosophical analysis and communication of ideas; regular writing assignments, with timely formative feedback, aim to hone students’ articulation of philosophical arguments; a mid-term take-home exercise allows students to explore course themes and test interim conclusions out of the classroom; and a final research essay, with peer critique at the research question and abstract formulation stage, aims to exercise students’ capacity for independent philosophical inquiry.
Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:
- Hannah Arendt’s conceptualisation and treatment of action, authority, decisionism, disobedience, evil, freedom, judgment, love, natality, responsibility, power, and violence;
- the consonance and dissonance of the above in the context of the philosophical canon;
- the complexity of the tensions, and at times untenable opposition, between contemplation and action, freedom and necessity, friend and enemy, individual and community, the social and the political, the legal and the moral.
Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:
- articulate and analyse the central themes and concepts in Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy, encapsulated in “to begin, to will, to act”;
- appreciate the traditions from which and the historical and intellectual context during which Arendt’s political thought developed, as well as the philosophical trajectories stemming from her contribution to 20th-century political thinking;
- discern political debates in disciplines and situations beyond philosophical and political studies;
- demonstrate a critical capacity for reading, analysing, and discussing philosophical texts; and
- develop a rigorous faculty for constructing and presenting philosophical arguments.
See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2014-2015, BA Wijsbegeerte (BA Plus-traject or Standaardtraject), derde jaar.
See Timetables Philosophy 2014-2015 , Timetable Undergraduate Courses in English
No class on 1 September due to the official opening of the Leiden University academic year (check “Remarks” below for the self-study assignment on 1 September and preparations for our first meeting on 8 September).
Mode of instruction
Class attendance is required.
Total course load (10 EC): 280 hours, approximately divided into:
Attending seminars (13 × 3 hours): 39 hours
Seminar preparation (14 × 5): 70 hours
Self-study (14 × 5): 70 hours
Assignment completion (14 × 5): 70 hours
Research (1 × 28): 28 hours
Excursion (1 × 3): 3 hours
- Seminar participation: 10%
- Portfolio of 12 weekly short papers (of 500 – 600 words): 40%
- Mid-term take-home assignment: 10%
- Final research paper (of 4500 – 5000 words), including a short presentation of research topic at the abstract critique workshop towards the end of the course: 40%
Blackboard will be used for course information and assignment submission: check our course site regularly for announcements, up-to-date reading assignments, and multi-media material.
The core course readings, all drawn from primary texts and journal articles by Hannah Arendt, include key excerpts from:
- The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).
- Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Viking Press, 1965).
- The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966).
- Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (New York: Viking Press, 1968).
- Men in Dark Times (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968).
- Crises of the Republic (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972).
- The Life of the Mind (London: Harcourt, 1978).
- Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).
- On Revolution (London: Penguin, 1990).
- Love and Saint Augustine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
- The Promise of Politics (New York: Schocken Books, 2005).
with supplementary sources, including:
- Socrates, Dialogues.
- Plato, The Republic.
- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics and Politics.
- Augustine, The Confessions.
- Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment.
- Hobbes, Leviathan; or the Matter, Forme & Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill.
- Karl Jaspers, Plato and Augustine (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1962).
- Jürgen Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990).
- Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992).
- Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
- Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996).
- Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship (London: Verso, 1997).
- Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).
- Martin Heidegger, Identity and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).
and secondary literature by Arendt scholars such as Ronald Beiner, Seyla Benhabib, Richard Bernstein, Susan Bickford, Margaret Canovan, Nancy Fraser, Jerome Kohn, Patchen Markell, Mauricio Passerin d’Entrèves, Hanna Pitkin, Dana Villa, and Elisabeth Young-Bruehl.
Do consider purchasing (some of) the primary texts for extensive study during the course, as well as for future reference and reflection. Many of the supplementary sources are available in the public domain and will be made accessible, alongside the secondary literature, via our course Blackboard site.
Please register for this course on uSis.
See Inschrijven voor cursussen en tentamens
See Registration for courses and examinations
Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the collegerooster in the column under the heading “Act.nr”.
Exchange students and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.
Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs
Registration Studeren à la carte: not applicable
Dr. C. Fu
For the week of 1 September 2014, when we have no class due to the official opening of the university academic year, please
- watch Günter Gaus’s interview with Hannah Arendt (Zur Person, Series 1, Episode 17, first broadcast on 28 October 1964, accessible at YouTube and
- compose a reflection in any expressive form immediately after the screening, spending no more than two hours of concentration. Be prepared to share this reflection at our first meeting on 8 September 2014.
In preparation our first meeting on 8 September 2014 (start early!), please read:
- Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Part I “The Human Condition” Chapters 1 – 3 (pages 7 – 21), Part V “Action” Chapters 24 – 29 (pages 175 – 211) and Chapters 32 – 34 (pages 230 – 247).
and write a short paper of 500 – 600 words on one aspect of your choice from your understanding of Arendt’s concept of the political, to be uploaded as a word document via our course Blackboard site by 09:00 on the morning of 8 September 2014.
"Political Theory" redirects here. For the academic journal, see Political Theory (journal).
Political philosophy, or political theory, is the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a 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.
In a vernacular sense, the term "political philosophy" often refers to a general view, or specific ethic, political belief or attitude, about politics, synonymous to the term "political ideology".
Political philosophy is a branch of philosophy. Political philosophy is also considered by some to be a sub-discipline of political science; however, the name generally attributed to this form of political enquiry is political theory, a discipline which has a closer methodology to the theoretical fields in the social sciences (like economic theory) than to philosophical argumentation (like that of moral philosophy or aesthetics).
- Editor note: Disambiguate paradoxically similar usage combinations of "Government"/"Law"/"Politics", and "Philosophy"/"Ideology"/"Theory." See talk.
Further information: History of political thought
Indian political philosophy evolved in ancient times and demarcated a clear distinction between (1) nation and state (2) religion and state. The constitutions of Hindu states evolved over time and were based on political and legal treatises and prevalent social institutions. The institutions of state were broadly divided into governance, administration, defense, law and order. Mantranga, the principal governing body of these states, consisted of the King, Prime Minister, Commander in chief of army, Chief Priest of the King. The Prime Minister headed the committee of ministers along with head of executive (Maha Amatya).
Chanakya, 4th century BC Indian political philosopher. The Arthashastra provides an account of the science of politics for a wise ruler, policies for foreign affairs and wars, the system of a spy state and surveillance and economic stability of the state. Chanakya quotes several authorities including Bruhaspati, Ushanas, Prachetasa Manu, Parasara, and Ambi, and described himself as a descendant of a lineage of political philosophers, with his father Chanaka being his immediate predecessor. Another influential extant Indian treatise on political philosophy is the Sukra Neeti. An example of a code of law in ancient India is the Manusmṛti or Laws of Manu.
Chinese political philosophy dates back to the Spring and Autumn period, specifically with Confucius in the 6th century BC. Chinese political philosophy was developed as a response to the social and political breakdown of the country characteristic of the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period. The major philosophies during the period, Confucianism, Legalism, Mohism, Agrarianism and Taoism, each had a political aspect to their philosophical schools. Philosophers such as Confucius, Mencius, and Mozi, focused on political unity and political stability as the basis of their political philosophies. Confucianism advocated a hierarchical, meritocratic government based on empathy, loyalty, and interpersonal relationships. Legalism advocated a highly authoritarian government based on draconian punishments and laws. Mohism advocated a communal, decentralized government centered on frugality and ascetism. The Agrarians advocated a peasant utopiancommunalism and egalitarianism. Taoism advocated a proto-anarchism. Legalism was the dominant political philosophy of the Qin Dynasty, but was replaced by State Confucianism in the Han Dynasty. Prior to China's adoption of communism, State Confucianism remained the dominant political philosophy of China up to the 20th century.
Western political philosophy originates in the philosophy of ancient Greece, where political philosophy dates back to at least Plato. Ancient Greece was dominated by city-states, which experimented with various forms of political organization, grouped by Plato into four categories: timocracy, tyranny, democracy and oligarchy. One of the first, extremely important classical works of political philosophy is Plato's Republic, which was followed by Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. Roman political philosophy was influenced by the Stoics and the Roman statesman Cicero.
The early Christian philosophy of Augustine of Hippo was heavily influenced by Plato. A key change brought about by Christian thought was the moderation of the Stoicism and theory of justice of the Roman world, as well emphasis on the role of the state in applying mercy as a moral example. Augustine also preached that one was not a member of his or her city, but was either a citizen of the City of God (Civitas Dei) or the City of Man (Civitas Terrena). Augustine's City of God is an influential work of this period that attacked the thesis, held by many Christian Romans, that the Christian view could be realized on Earth.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Main article: Treatise on Law
Thomas Aquinas meticulously dealt with the varieties of law. According to Aquinas, there are four kinds of law:
- Eternal law ("the divine government of everything")
- Divine positive law (having been "posited" by God; external to human nature)
- Natural law (the right way of living discoverable by natural reason; what cannot-not be known; internal to human nature)
- Human law (what we commonly call "law"—including customary law; the law of the Communitas Perfecta)
Aquinas never discusses the nature or categorization of canon law. There is scholarly debate surrounding the place of canon law within the Thomistic jurisprudential framework.
Aquinas was an incredibly influential thinker in the Natural Law tradition.
Islamic Golden Age
Mutazilite vs. Asharite
The rise of Islam, based on both the Qur'an and Muhammad strongly altered the power balances and perceptions of origin of power in the Mediterranean region. Early Islamic philosophy emphasized an inexorable link between science and religion, and the process of ijtihad to find truth—in effect all philosophy was "political" as it had real implications for governance. This view was challenged by the "rationalist" Mutazilite philosophers, who held a more Hellenic view, reason above revelation, and as such are known to modern scholars as the first speculative theologians of Islam; they were supported by a secular aristocracy who sought freedom of action independent of the Caliphate. By the late ancient period, however, the "traditionalist" Asharite view of Islam had in general triumphed. According to the Asharites, reason must be subordinate to the Quran and the Sunna.
Islamic political philosophy, was, indeed, rooted in the very sources of Islam—i.e., the Qur'an and the Sunnah, the words and practices of Muhammad—thus making it essentially theocratic. However, in the Western thought, it is generally supposed that it was a specific area peculiar merely to the great philosophers of Islam: al-Kindi (Alkindus), al-Farabi (Abunaser), İbn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Bajjah (Avempace), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and Ibn Khaldun. The political conceptions of Islam such as kudrah (power), sultan, ummah, cemaa (obligation)-and even the "core" terms of the Qur'an—i.e., ibadah (worship), din (religion), rab (master) and ilah (deity)—is taken as the basis of an analysis. Hence, not only the ideas of the Muslim political philosophers but also many other jurists and ulama posed political ideas and theories. For example, the ideas of the Khawarij in the very early years of Islamic history on Khilafa and Ummah, or that of Shia Islam on the concept of Imamah are considered proofs of political thought. The clashes between the Ehl-i Sunna and Shia in the 7th and 8th centuries had a genuine political character.
The 14th century Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun is considered one of the greatest political theorists. The British philosopher-anthropologist Ernest Gellner considered Ibn Khaldun's definition of government, "...an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself," the best in the history of political theory. For Ibn Khaldun, government should be restrained to a minimum for as a necessary evil, it is the constraint of men by other men.
Medieval political philosophy in Europe was heavily influenced by Christian thinking. It had much in common with the Mutazalite Islamic thinking in that the Roman Catholics though subordinating philosophy to theology did not subject reason to revelation but in the case of contradictions, subordinated reason to faith as the Asharite of Islam. The Scholastics by combining the philosophy of Aristotle with the Christianity of St. Augustine emphasized the potential harmony inherent in reason and revelation. Perhaps the most influential political philosopher of medieval Europe was St. Thomas Aquinas who helped reintroduce Aristotle's works, which had only been transmitted to CatholicEurope through MuslimSpain, along with the commentaries of Averroes. Aquinas's use of them set the agenda, for scholastic political philosophy dominated European thought for centuries even unto the Renaissance.
Medieval political philosophers, such as Aquinas in Summa Theologica, developed the idea that a king who is a tyrant is no king at all and could be overthrown.
Magna Carta, viewed by many as a cornerstone of Anglo-American political liberty, explicitly proposes the right to revolt against the ruler for justice sake. Other documents similar to Magna Carta are found in other European countries such as Spain and Hungary.
During the Renaissance secular political philosophy began to emerge after about a century of theological political thought in Europe. While the Middle Ages did see secular politics in practice under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, the academic field was wholly scholastic and therefore Christian in nature.
One of the most influential works during this burgeoning period was Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince, written between 1511–12 and published in 1532, after Machiavelli's death. That work, as well as The Discourses, a rigorous analysis of the classical period, did much to influence modern political thought in the West. A minority (including Jean-Jacques Rousseau) interpreted The Prince as a satire meant to be given to the Medici after their recapture of Florence and their subsequent expulsion of Machiavelli from Florence. Though the work was written for the di Medici family in order to perhaps influence them to free him from exile, Machiavelli supported the Republic of Florence rather than the oligarchy of the di Medici family. At any rate, Machiavelli presents a pragmatic and somewhat consequentialist view of politics, whereby good and evil are mere means used to bring about an end—i.e., the secure and powerful state. Thomas Hobbes, well known for his theory of the social contract, goes on to expand this view at the start of the 17th century during the English Renaissance. Although neither Machiavelli nor Hobbes believed in the divine right of kings, they both believed in the inherent selfishness of the individual. It was necessarily this belief that led them to adopt a strong central power as the only means of preventing the disintegration of the social order.
During the Enlightenment period, new theories about what the human was and is and about the definition of reality and the way it was perceived, along with the discovery of other societies in the Americas, and the changing needs of political societies (especially in the wake of the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution), and the Haitian Revolution led to new questions and insights by such thinkers as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
These theorists were driven by two basic questions: one, by what right or need do people form states; and two, what the best form for a state could be. These fundamental questions involved a conceptual distinction between the concepts of "state" and "government." It was decided that "state" would refer to a set of enduring institutions through which power would be distributed and its use justified. The term "government" would refer to a specific group of people who occupied the institutions of the state, and create the laws and ordinances by which the people, themselves included, would be bound. This conceptual distinction continues to operate in political science, although some political scientists, philosophers, historians and cultural anthropologists have argued that most political action in any given society occurs outside of its state, and that there are societies that are not organized into states that nevertheless must be considered in political terms. As long as the concept of natural order was not introduced, the social sciences could not evolve independently of theistic thinking. Since the cultural revolution of the 17th century in England, which spread to France and the rest of Europe, society has been considered subject to natural laws akin to the physical world.
Political and economic relations were drastically influenced by these theories as the concept of the guild was subordinated to the theory of free trade, and Roman Catholic dominance of theology was increasingly challenged by Protestant churches subordinate to each nation-state, which also (in a fashion the Roman Catholic Church often decried angrily) preached in the vulgar or native language of each region. However, the enlightenment was an outright attack on religion, particularly Christianity. The most outspoken critic of the church in France was François Marie Arouet de Voltaire, a representative figure of the enlightenment. After Voltaire, religion would never be the same again in France.
In the Ottoman Empire, these ideological reforms did not take place and these views did not integrate into common thought until much later. As well, there was no spread of this doctrine within the New World and the advanced civilizations of the Aztec, Maya, Inca, Mohican, Delaware, Huron and especially the Iroquois. The Iroquois philosophy in particular gave much to Christian thought of the time and in many cases actually inspired some of the institutions adopted in the United States: for example, Benjamin Franklin was a great admirer of some of the methods of the Iroquois Confederacy, and much of early American literature emphasized the political philosophy of the natives.
John Locke in particular exemplified this new age of political theory with his work Two Treatises of Government. In it Locke proposes a state of nature theory that directly complements his conception of how political development occurs and how it can be founded through contractual obligation. Locke stood to refute Sir Robert Filmer's paternally founded political theory in favor of a natural system based on nature in a particular given system. The theory of the divine right of kings became a passing fancy, exposed to the type of ridicule with which John Locke treated it. Unlike Machiavelli and Hobbes but like Aquinas, Locke would accept Aristotle's dictum that man seeks to be happy in a state of social harmony as a social animal. Unlike Aquinas's preponderant view on the salvation of the soul from original sin, Locke believes man's mind comes into this world as tabula rasa. For Locke, knowledge is neither innate, revealed nor based on authority but subject to uncertainty tempered by reason, tolerance and moderation. According to Locke, an absolute ruler as proposed by Hobbes is unnecessary, for natural law is based on reason and seeking peace and survival for man.
Industrialization and the Modern Era
The Marxist critique of capitalism—developed with Friedrich Engels—was, alongside liberalism and fascism, one of the defining ideological movements of the Twentieth Century. The industrial revolution produced a parallel revolution in political thought. Urbanization and capitalism greatly reshaped society. During this same period, the socialist movement began to form. In the mid-19th century, Marxism was developed, and socialism in general gained increasing popular support, mostly from the urban working class. Without breaking entirely from the past, Marx established principles that would be used by future revolutionaries of the 20th century namely Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and Fidel Castro. Though Hegel's philosophy of history is similar to Immanuel Kant's, and Karl Marx's theory of revolution towards the common good is partly based on Kant's view of history—Marx declared that he was turning Hegel's dialectic, which was "standing on its head", "the right side up again". Unlike Marx who believed in historical materialism, Hegel believed in the Phenomenology of Spirit. By the late 19th century, socialism and trade unions were established members of the political landscape. In addition, the various branches of anarchism, with thinkers such as Mikhail Bakunin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon or Peter Kropotkin, and syndicalism also gained some prominence. In the Anglo-American world, anti-imperialism and pluralism began gaining currency at the turn of the 20th century.
World War I was a watershed event in human history, changing views of governments and politics. The Russian Revolution of 1917 (and similar, albeit less successful, revolutions in many other European countries) brought communism—and in particular the political theory of Leninism, but also on a smaller level Luxemburgism (gradually)—on the world stage. At the same time, social democratic parties won elections and formed governments for the first time, often as a result of the introduction of universal suffrage.
From the end of World War II until 1971, when John Rawls published A Theory of Justice, political philosophy declined in the Anglo-American academic world, as analytic philosophers expressed skepticism about the possibility that normative judgments had cognitive content, and political science turned toward statistical methods and behavioralism. In continental Europe, on the other hand, the postwar decades saw a huge blossoming of political philosophy, with Marxism dominating the field. This was the time of Jean-Paul Sartre and Louis Althusser, and the victories of Mao Zedong in China and Fidel Castro in Cuba, as well as the events of May 1968 led to increased interest in revolutionary ideology, especially by the New Left. A number of continental European émigrés to Britain and the United States—including Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek, Leo Strauss, Isaiah Berlin, Eric Voegelin and Judith Shklar—encouraged continued study in political philosophy in the Anglo-American world, but in the 1950s and 1960s they and their students remained at odds with the analytic establishment.
Communism remained an important focus especially during the 1950s and 1960s. Colonialism and racism were important issues that arose. In general, there was a marked trend towards a pragmatic approach to political issues, rather than a philosophical one. Much academic debate regarded one or both of two pragmatic topics: how (or whether) to apply utilitarianism to problems of political policy, or how (or whether) to apply economic models (such as rational choice theory) to political issues. The rise of feminism, LGBT social movements and the end of colonial rule and of the political exclusion of such minorities as African Americans and sexual minorities in the developed world has led to feminist, postcolonial, and multicultural thought becoming significant. This led to a challenge to the social contract by philosophers Charles W. Mills in his book The Racial Contract and Carole Pateman in her book The Sexual Contract that the social contract excluded persons of colour and women respectively.
In Anglo-American academic political philosophy, the publication of John Rawls's A Theory of Justice in 1971 is considered a milestone. Rawls used a thought experiment, the original position, in which representative parties choose principles of justice for the basic structure of society from behind a veil of ignorance. Rawls also offered a criticism of utilitarian approaches to questions of political justice. Robert Nozick's 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, which won a National Book Award, responded to Rawls from a libertarian perspective and gained academic respectability for libertarian viewpoints.
Contemporaneously with the rise of analytic ethics in Anglo-American thought, in Europe several new lines of philosophy directed at critique of existing societies arose between the 1950s and 1980s. Most of these took elements of Marxist economic analysis, but combined them with a more cultural or ideological emphasis. Out of the Frankfurt School, thinkers like Herbert Marcuse, Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Jürgen Habermas combined Marxian and Freudian perspectives. Along somewhat different lines, a number of other continental thinkers—still largely influenced by Marxism—put new emphases on structuralism and on a "return to Hegel". Within the (post-) structuralist line (though mostly not taking that label) are thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Claude Lefort, and Jean Baudrillard. The Situationists were more influenced by Hegel; Guy Debord, in particular, moved a Marxist analysis of commodity fetishism to the realm of consumption, and looked at the relation between consumerism and dominant ideology formation.
Another debate developed around the (distinct) criticisms of liberal political theory made by Michael Walzer, Michael Sandel and Charles Taylor. The liberal-communitarian debate is often considered valuable for generating a new set of philosophical problems, rather than a profound and illuminating clash of perspective.These and other communitarians (such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Daniel A. Bell) argue that, contra liberalism, communities are prior to individuals and therefore should be the center of political focus. Communitarians tend to support greater local control as well as economic and social policies which encourage the growth of social capital.
A pair of overlapping political perspectives arising toward the end of the 20th century are republicanism (or neo- or civic-republicanism) and the capability approach. The resurgent republican movement aims to provide an alternate definition of liberty from Isaiah Berlin's positive and negative forms of liberty, namely "liberty as non-domination." Unlike the American liberal movement which understands liberty as "non-interference," "non-domination" entails individuals not being subject to the arbitrary will of any other person. To a liberal, a slave who is not interfered with may be free, yet to a republican the mere status as a slave, regardless of how that slave is treated, is objectionable. Prominent republicans include historian Quentin Skinner, jurist Cass Sunstein, and political philosopher Philip Pettit. The capability approach, pioneered by economists Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen and further developed by legal scholar Martha Nussbaum, understands freedom under allied lines: the real-world ability to act. Both the capability approach and republicanism treat choice as something which must be resourced. In other words, it is not enough to be legally able to do something, but to have the real option of doing it.
Current emphasis on "commoditization of the everyday" has been decried by many contemporary theorists, some of them arguing the full brunt of it would be felt in ten years' time. "Pricing" such ethical categories like personal relations or sex, though always present, pushed by media agenda, is thus seen as crossing boundaries and having adverse societal and philosophical consequences.
A prominent subject in recent political philosophy is the theory of deliberative democracy. The seminal work was done by Jurgen Habermas in Germany, but the most extensive literature has been in English, led by theorists such as Jane Mansbridge, Joshua Cohen, Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson.
Influential political philosophers
A larger list of political philosophers is intended to be closer to exhaustive. Listed below are some of the most canonical or important thinkers, and especially philosophers whose central focus was in political philosophy and/or who are good representatives of a particular school of thought.
- Thomas Aquinas: In synthesizing Christian theology and Peripatetic (Aristotelian) teaching in his Treatise on Law, Aquinas contends that God's gift of higher reason—manifest in human law by way of the divine virtues—gives way to the assembly of righteous government.
- Aristotle: Wrote his Politics as an extension of his Nicomachean Ethics. Notable for the theories that humans are social animals, and that the polis (Ancient Greek city state) existed to bring about the good life appropriate to such animals. His political theory is based upon an ethics of perfectionism (as is Marx's, on some readings).
- Mikhail Bakunin: After Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Bakunin became the most important political philosopher of anarchism. His specific version of anarchism is called collectivist anarchism.
- Jeremy Bentham: The first thinker to analyze social justice in terms of maximization of aggregate individual benefits. Founded the philosophical/ethical school of thought known as utilitarianism.
- Isaiah Berlin: Developed the distinction between positive and negative liberty.
- Edmund Burke: Irish member of the British parliament, Burke is credited with the creation of conservative thought. Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France is the most popular of his writings where he denounced the French revolution. Burke was one of the biggest supporters of the American Revolution.
- Confucius: The first thinker to relate ethics to the political order.
- William E. Connolly: Helped introduce postmodern philosophy into political theory, and promoted new theories of Pluralism and agonistic democracy.
- John Dewey: Co-founder of pragmatism and analyzed the essential role of education in the maintenance of democratic government.
- Han Feizi: The major figure of the Chinese Fajia (Legalist) school, advocated government that adhered to laws and a strict method of administration.
- Michel Foucault: Critiqued the modern conception of power on the basis of the prison complex and other prohibitive institutions, such as those that designate sexuality, madness and knowledge as the roots of their infrastructure, a critique that demonstrated that subjection is the power formation of subjects in any linguistic forum and that revolution cannot just be thought as the reversal of power between classes.
- Antonio Gramsci: Instigated the concept of hegemony. Argued that the state and the ruling class uses culture and ideology to gain the consent of the classes it rules over.
- Thomas Hill Green: Modern liberal thinker and early supporter of positive freedom.
- Jürgen Habermas: Contemporary democratic theorist and sociologist. He has pioneered such concepts as the public sphere, communicative action, and deliberative democracy. His early work was heavily influenced by the Frankfurt School.
- Friedrich Hayek: He argued that central planning was inefficient because members of central bodies could not know enough to match the preferences of consumers and workers with existing conditions. Hayek further argued that central economic planning—a mainstay of socialism—would lead to a "total" state with dangerous power. He advocated free-market capitalism in which the main role of the state is to maintain the rule of law and let spontaneous order develop.
- G. W. F. Hegel: Emphasized the "cunning" of history, arguing that it followed a rational trajectory, even while embodying seemingly irrational forces; influenced Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Oakeshott.
- Thomas Hobbes: Generally considered to have first articulated how the concept of a social contract that justifies the actions of rulers (even where contrary to the individual desires of governed citizens), can be reconciled with a conception of sovereignty.
- David Hume: Hume criticized the social contract theory of John Locke and others as resting on a myth of some actual agreement. Hume was a realist in recognizing the role of force to forge the existence of states and that consent of the governed was merely hypothetical. He also introduced the concept of utility, later picked up on and developed by Jeremy Bentham.
- Thomas Jefferson: Politician and political theorist during the American Enlightenment. Expanded on the philosophy of Thomas Paine by instrumenting republicanism in the United States. Most famous for the United States Declaration of Independence.
- Immanuel Kant: Argued that participation in civil society is undertaken not for self-preservation, as per Thomas Hobbes, but as a moral duty. First modern thinker who fully analyzed structure and meaning of obligation. Argued that an international organization was needed to preserve world peace.
- Peter Kropotkin: One of the classic anarchist thinkers and the most influential theorist of anarcho-communism.
- John Locke: Like Hobbes, described a social contract theory based on citizens' fundamental rights in the state of nature. He departed from Hobbes in that, based on the assumption of a society in which moral values are independent of governmental authority and widely shared, he argued for a government with power limited to the protection of personal property. His arguments may have been deeply influential to the formation of the United States Constitution.
- Niccolò Machiavelli: First systematic analyses of: (1) how consent of a populace is negotiated between and among rulers rather than simply a naturalistic (or theological) given of the structure of society; (2) precursor to the concept of ideology in articulating the epistemological structure of commands and law.
- James Madison: American politician and protege of Jefferson considered to be "Father of the Constitution" and "Father of the Bill of Rights" of the United States. As a political theorist, he believed in separation of powers and proposed a comprehensive set of checks and balances that are necessary to protect the rights of an individual from the tyranny of the majority.
- Herbert Marcuse: Called the father of the new left. One of the principal thinkers within the Frankfurt School, and generally important in efforts to fuse the thought of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. Introduced the concept of "repressive desublimation", in which social control can operate not only by direct control, but also by manipulation of desire. His work Eros and Civilization and notion of a non-repressive society was influential on the 1960s and its counter-cultural social movements.
- Karl Marx: In large part, added the historical dimension to an understanding of society, culture and economics. Created the concept of ideology in the sense of (true or false) beliefs that shape and control social actions. Analyzed the fundamental nature of class as a mechanism of governance and social interaction. Profoundly influenced world politics with his theory of communism.
- Mencius: One of the most important thinkers in the Confucian school, he is the first theorist to make a coherent argument for an obligation of rulers to the ruled.
- John Stuart Mill: A utilitarian, and the person who named the system; he goes further than Bentham by laying the foundation for liberal democratic thought in general and modern, as opposed to classical, liberalism in particular. Articulated the place of individual liberty in an otherwise utilitarian framework.
- Baron de Montesquieu: Analyzed protection of the people by a "balance of powers" in the divisions of a state.
- John Rawls: Revitalized the study of normative political philosophy in Anglo-American universities with his 1971 book A Theory of Justice, which uses a version of social contract theory to answer fundamental questions about justice and to criticise utilitarianism.
- Mozi: Eponymous founder of the Mohist school, advocated a form of consequentialism.
- Friedrich Nietzsche: Philosopher who became a powerful influence on a broad spectrum of 20th-century political currents in Marxism, anarchism, fascism, socialism, libertarianism, and conservatism. His interpreters have debated the content of his political philosophy.
- Robert Nozick: Criticized Rawls, and argued for libertarianism, by appeal to a hypothetical history of the state and of property.
- Thomas Paine: Enlightenment writer who defended liberal democracy, the American Revolution, and French Revolution in Common Sense and The Rights of Man.
- Plato: Wrote a lengthy dialog The Republic in which he laid out his political philosophy: citizens should be divided into three categories. One category of people are the rulers: they should be philosophers, according to Plato, this idea is based on his Theory of Forms.
- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: Commonly considered the father of modern anarchism, specifically