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Thread: Political Theory

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    Political Theory

    I knew someone who once said "Philosophy is like the Jedi... they learn all this cool stuff but they don't do anything with it. Political theory is like the Sith. It's way better." I liked that guy.. probably an ENTP.

    Anyway, regarding political theory, which theorists or works are good to start with? Who is full of shit? Who is awesome? I know there are people here who can help me out with this.

    Edited for clarity.
    Last edited by msg_v2; 07-06-2014 at 03:00 AM.

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    Hasta Siempre Madrigal's Avatar
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    I don't really understand the question. But it sounds like something an ENTP would say.
    Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent. - Mao

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    Quote Originally Posted by Madrigal View Post
    I don't really understand the question. But it sounds like something an ENTP would say.
    Who do you recommend to read for political theory? I think I already know your answer... he's on my list.

    I guess I gotta include Hobbes and Rosseau.

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    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Depend what you're into, I guess.

    I'd recommend Guy Debord if you haven't read him. Pretty interesting, if nothing else.

    Pierre Proudhon for 19th century anarchism. I like him because he thought things through, on both a practical and philosophical level, significantly more so than Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, or really any of the rest of them that I'm familiar with. Proudhon is a lot less pie-in-the-sky "well, you know what would be cool" and a lot more "what would it actually take to make something like this work." (As in, what problems would a radically libertarian/egalitarian society have to solve, and what are some plausible ways it might go about solving them?)

    Edmund Burke is sort of the granddaddy of all modern conservative thought. His writings about the French Revolution are a pretty good introduction to the philosophical underpinnings of it all.

    Hobbes and Rousseau are both good. I'd argue that John Locke has been a lot more influential, though.

    John Rawls for liberalism. He's not as famous as Locke, Smith, Rousseau, et al but like Burke for conservatives most liberals are probably alluding to Rawls any time they try to make a normative moral argument about anything, whether they realize it or not.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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    Mens bona regnum possidet ferrus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    Depend what you're into, I guess.

    I'd recommend Guy Debord if you haven't read him. Pretty interesting, if nothing else.
    George Sorel's 'Reflections on Violence' (the bible of syndicalism) is worth a perusal also.
    Die Logik ist keine Lehre, sondern ein Spiegelbild der Welt. Die Logik ist transcendental. - Wittgenstein

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    Depend what you're into, I guess.

    I'd recommend Guy Debord if you haven't read him. Pretty interesting, if nothing else.
    I suppose I must read about Situationism, if I can get through it without rolling my eyes. It's influential, if nothing else. Anyway.. I see a relationship between that and the Dada movement of the 30s and 20s. I think that kind of thing was useful and important then , and I admire those guys. I don't think the attempts to do what they did today really have an impact now, though.

    Anyway, the intersection between art and politics is fascinating.


    Pierre Proudhon for 19th century anarchism. I like him because he thought things through, on both a practical and philosophical level, significantly more so than Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, or really any of the rest of them that I'm familiar with. Proudhon is a lot less pie-in-the-sky "well, you know what would be cool" and a lot more "what would it actually take to make something like this work." (As in, what problems would a radically libertarian/egalitarian society have to solve, and what are some plausible ways it might go about solving them?)
    Thanks... I wanted to do one of the 19th century anarchist guys, too. I was inclined towards Bakunin, just because I had the impression that he was the Marx of anarchism. But Proudhon sounds more interesting.

    Edmund Burke is sort of the granddaddy of all modern conservative thought. His writings about the French Revolution are a pretty good introduction to the philosophical underpinnings of it all.

    Can you find echoes in say, the Tea Party? If so, it's worth a read.

    Hobbes and Rousseau are both good. I'd argue that John Locke has been a lot more influential, though.
    I suspect I'm going to agree more with Hobbes than Rosseau. Just by reading brief summaries, Rosseau strikes me as a tad naive.

    John Rawls for liberalism. He's not as famous as Locke, Smith, Rousseau, et al but like Burke for conservatives most liberals are probably alluding to Rawls any time they try to make a normative moral argument about anything, whether they realize it or not.
    That's often the way with philosophy, I think. These ideas end up having a way of influencing people who have never even heard of them. People say it's just a bunch of dead guys and it's not relevant any more, but the more I read, the less I find that to be the case. I am certain that the same is true for political theory.

    Quote Originally Posted by ferrus View Post
    George Sorel's 'Reflections on Violence' (the bible of syndicalism) is worth a perusal also.
    Ooooh.... read the summary, and yes, he does seem important.
    Last edited by msg_v2; 07-06-2014 at 03:28 PM.

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    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slab_Bulkhead View Post
    I suppose I must read about Situationism, if I can get through it without rolling my eyes. It's influential, if nothing else. Anyway.. I see a relationship between that and the Dada movement of the 30s and 20s. I think that kind of thing was useful and important then , and I admire those guys. I don't think the attempts to do what they did today really have an impact now, though.

    Anyway, the intersection between art and politics is fascinating.
    Well, Dada was an art movement first and foremost, so the manifestos and everything they produced are primarily about art and accordingly as pretentious as anyone ever is when they're trying to write about art.

    I happen to like a lot of the art that the Dadaists produced, but I'm also into punk rock, which clearly borrowed a lot from Dada to inform its aesthetic. Part of the idea was to explore the uses of irony as a form of rhetoric, and this pointed, purposeful employment of ironic imagery to convey a serious point is a dimension that has been mostly lost from the contemporary indie/hipster culture's obsession with irony for its own sake.

    Debord does focus on art a lot, but he's more generally interested in the relationship between culture and politics, and how this is influenced by the economics of a modern industrial society. He's trying to boil down the question of "what is politics, anyway" to a question about individual experience and consciousness within a social context, and then build a political theory from that about how power is obtained and exercised. I find it pretty interesting--these days theories about politics that draw on anthropology for their major premises are decidedly out of fashion (the only social scientists anyone wants to hear from are economists), but Debord represents a different, though recent, era in political thought where it was more generally accepted that understanding the institutions people create and participate in means understanding the mentality that leads them to do these things, and political problems were primarily approached as problems of figuring out the cultural forces that were producing them.

    Debord's contribution to this discourse is worth reading because he contended that a lot of the basic assumptions about psychology and "human nature" (what drives people to do things, and how they decide what they're going to do) that are taken for granted in modern political thought might need to be reconsidered in light of industrialization reaching a point where 'culture' tends to mostly represent the results of people consuming mass-produced communication. When people spend as much of their time watching movies or television, listening to recorded music, etc. as they do working or otherwise directly interacting with the literally physical, real world then you have to factor in the ways that they are sort of inhabiting a second, if you will "virtual" reality that occupies as much of their consciousness as their literally surroundings do. (Anyone who has ever tried to explain a real-world political situation using a "Game of Thrones" reference is validating this observation--you can be aware that something is just artificial fantasy, but it still functions as a reference point for reaching conclusions about other people's behavior because you spend so much time thinking about it.)

    It's less pretentious and more thought-provoking than some of Debord's fans in the art world might lead you to think. A memorable point he makes is that we shouldn't assume the satisfaction of people's material needs is some end-point beyond which social stability and general happiness is a given. He basically said that modern industrial societies have reached this point already (it's relatively easy to produce enough things to keep anyone from really being materially deprived) but predicted that we'd eventually see boredom becoming a disruptive social force once insecurity and poverty were solved to the point where they were no longer a threat. (People would become angry and rebellious, and reject the legitimacy of the social order they lived under, just because their lives weren't fun enough.)

    It's easy to over-simplify this idea to the point where it sounds ridiculous, but in a more nuanced form I think it's a valid and cogent observation. It's not enough for a society to simply keep everyone fed and leave them free to "pursue happiness." People expect society to provide the things that lead to happiness, including nonmaterial, psychological "things", and they respond to leaders and structures of authority on that basis.

    Just to give one example, I find this a much better explanation for the "Men's Rights Movement" than any of the conventional feminist arguments about male privilege. It seems to mostly have jack-all to do with actual questions of civil rights or even of "politics" as this term is conventionally understood, and everything to do with a demographic bloc of (mostly) young people who live materially privileged lives where they enjoy pretty much everything that an advanced industrial society can provide yet find themselves wondering why this doesn't make them content with their lives. So they've taken to blaming abstract sociopolitical forces like feminism for their ennui and trying to build a political movement around this concept, as though someone in authority somewhere could just make a decision and say "there, there you go--you've convinced us to decide that now it will be easier for you to find a girlfriend." It's all very nonsensical from the perspective of a modern liberal understanding of what politics is about (and I'm of course not trying to suggest that they aren't misguided), but it becomes quite a bit more comprehensible if you make an attempt to grok their belief that 'society' and the structural forces therein are what's preventing them from having a subjective life experience that they would consider just and satisfying--Debord was more convinced that this sort of thing would become a problem among industrial workers who would come to hate doing repetitive, monotonous jobs, but the intersection of sociopolitical and psychological forces, and the role of mass media in all of it, are squarely in line with what he imagined the points of tension would be in the kinds of societies that industrial countries were evolving into.

    (I'd also point out that movies like Fight Club and Office Space--which have become cultural touchstones because audiences responded strongly to their themes--are shot through with all of the "I want to overthrow the government because my job is boring and there's nothing good on TV" kind of stuff that Debord predicted would become the motive force of future political movements.)

    Thanks... I wanted to do one of the 19th century anarchist guys, too. I was inclined towards Bakunin, just because I had the impression that he was the Marx of anarchism. But Proudhon sounds more interesting.
    Bakunin's debates with Marx are worth reading. It gives you some perspective on the fact that there's always been diversity of thought within the socialist movement about what "socialism" really means. Too often the word is used like it's synonymous with Marxism. Bakunin was calling bullshit on that right from the beginning.

    The subsequent history of socialist governments in practiced, once Marx's ideas came to monopolize the theoretical side of the movement, validates a lot of what he was saying. It's common now for Marxists to act like Stalin and Mao just came out of nowhere and "perverted" what was originally a beautifully liberating and democratic idea into something totalitarian, but Bakunin was saying this shit literally to Marx's face: "oh, yeah, just form a centralized bureaucracy where the only people allowed to have any authority are vetted members of the top leaders' own ideological organization--yeah, sure, that's going to turn into a democracy, you fucking moron."




    Can you find echoes in say, the Tea Party? If so, it's worth a read.
    Well, keep in mind there's only really one ideology in mainstream American politics. What gets called conservatism is still mostly based on the British liberal thinking (mainly Locke) that was the basis for the Constitution. Groups like the Tea Party tend to have this hard-on for claiming that the country has radically departed from what Jefferson, Madison and company envisioned, which was based on common complaints that British nobles and business people had about the monarchy.

    Burke's writings are mostly a defense of the British monarchy against liberal criticism, so in literal terms Jefferson and Madison would have been on the other side of the proverbial aisle from him. Liberal thought has since evolved, obviously, so American conservatives (and by extension a lot of modern European conservatives like Margaret Thatcher, who took cues from their American counterparts after World War II) are more properly understood as people who favor a more fixed, literalist interpretation of what constituted liberalism in the 18th century.

    Now, that said, a lot of Burke's ideas have worked their way into modern conservative thought even in the US. His two principal arguments are that there's nothing wrong with inequality as long as the people occupying the privileged and influential positions are competent at managing society's interests, and that ideas with cultural traditions behind them often turn out to be better in practice than other ideas which might seem more rational in theory. (He described a society's traditions as a form of collective memory, then argued based on that that before you start thinking your way of doing things is better than your ancestors' way of doing it, you need to justify your belief that you know something important about it which your ancestors didn't know.) Both of those arguments still get made by conservatives all the time, in one form or another.

    He thought the French revolutionaries were a bunch of scumbags, but he also said the French nobility had sort of brought it on themselves by being bad leaders. His defense of the aristocratic system in England was partly couched in terms of the British system being relatively more liberal (it was based on a kind of separation of powers between the nobles and the king, with even some representation for the "Third Estate" in the lower house of the Parliament by that point) than the absolutist monarchy in France. His main target were the more radical liberals in Britain who talked about declaring a Republic, and his tack is "hey, guys, if you think about it we've got it pretty good already, so let's not screw the pooch here". Thus his ideas are probably influential on modern conservatives because he does allow for there being an articulable definition of what good government is beyond an all-or-nothing resort to Divine Right--he proposes a sort of middle ground between that and the idea that you can, as he saw it, just try to make up society's rules as you go along.

    He wouldn't be out of place in the modern Republican party--especially if you just kind of substitute "What the Founders Intended" for the whole Divine Right thing. (Just going by the way that the Founders intending something is supposed to be an argument for that thing in and of itself--this fits into Burke's critique of rationalism.)
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    Well, Dada was an art movement first and foremost, so the manifestos and everything they produced are primarily about art and accordingly as pretentious as anyone ever is when they're trying to write about art.

    I happen to like a lot of the art that the Dadaists produced, but I'm also into punk rock, which clearly borrowed a lot from Dada to inform its aesthetic. Part of the idea was to explore the uses of irony as a form of rhetoric, and this pointed, purposeful employment of ironic imagery to convey a serious point is a dimension that has been mostly lost from the contemporary indie/hipster culture's obsession with irony for its own sake.
    I can see a parallel association though, because it was anti-traditional and political. The Berlin group in particular made some good stuff. I can see how the ideas of it still sort of resonate today, but I guess my issue with it is that it doesn't seem to have the edge that it would have had in Europe after the "Great War". They were pranksters, but they also had a mission of sorts. I don't get the point of some the stuff today that seems like spiritual successors.


    (I'd also point out that movies like Fight Club and Office Space--which have become cultural touchstones because audiences responded strongly to their themes--are shot through with all of the "I want to overthrow the government because my job is boring and there's nothing good on TV" kind of stuff that Debord predicted would become the motive force of future political movements.)
    When you phrase it like that, there might be more on the money there than I thought. Sometimes it does seem to me like people are angry just because they have nothing better to do. Maybe I'll read him first.

    Bakunin's debates with Marx are worth reading. It gives you some perspective on the fact that there's always been diversity of thought within the socialist movement about what "socialism" really means. Too often the word is used like it's synonymous with Marxism. Bakunin was calling bullshit on that right from the beginning.

    The subsequent history of socialist governments in practiced, once Marx's ideas came to monopolize the theoretical side of the movement, validates a lot of what he was saying. It's common now for Marxists to act like Stalin and Mao just came out of nowhere and "perverted" what was originally a beautifully liberating and democratic idea into something totalitarian, but Bakunin was saying this shit literally to Marx's face: "oh, yeah, just form a centralized bureaucracy where the only people allowed to have any authority are vetted members of the top leaders' own ideological organization--yeah, sure, that's going to turn into a democracy, you fucking moron."
    This is what I've heard of, and is kind of where I'm getting my "Bakunin as the Marx of anarchism" concept, although it might not be accurate.

    He wouldn't be out of place in the modern Republican party--especially if you just kind of substitute "What the Founders Intended" for the whole Divine Right thing. (Just going by the way that the Founders intending something is supposed to be an argument for that thing in and of itself--this fits into Burke's critique of rationalism.)
    Yes, that's everywhere, actually.

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