Our Next Great Political Philosopher

An historical hypothesis, which may or may not be true and which no doubt is not original: the great political philosophies are reactions to the excesses of their times, not justifications for the status quo. Plato’s ideal Republic following the Peloponnesian War started by the radical Athenian democracy. Hobbes’s Leviathan after the disturbances of the English Civil War. Mill in the Victorian era. Marx after the Industrial Revolution and the creation of an industrial proletariat. Perhaps Rawls, who to my mind belongs on the short list even though his big idea is not wholly original, is an exception.

Anyway, I got to thinking about America’s politics in 2018. What great idea is the right idea for us today? I don’t want to make this a post about President Trump or Trumpism. But it seems to me that we are in a period where our institutions are not well-matched with our culture. While our institutions are designed to check the tyranny of the majority and factionalism, they cannot check fecklessness, short-sightedness, greed, poor education, and immorality forever. In the long run, we really do get the government we deserve, which is the great thing and, this year, the awful thing about representative government.

Our next great political philosopher will have to decide whether the answer is to get new institutions, or whether the answer is to get a new culture. The right answer to this problem, and the particulars of the new institutions or the new culture, are left as an exercise for the reader.

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