- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 18, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0192803956
- ISBN-13: 978-0192803955
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.6 x 4.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction 1st Edition
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About the Author
David Miller is Professor of Political Theory, University of Oxford, and an Official Fellow of Nuffield College. In 2002 he was elected to a Fellowship of the British Academy.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is a very good short introduction to political philosophy. It fully meets the requirement that "political philosophers...are bound to challenge many of the conventional beliefs held both by politicians and by the public at large...when political philosophers put forward their own ideas and proposals, these nearly always look strange and disturbing to those who are used to the conventional debate" (pp. 9-10). This is all the more essential "at moments when we face new political challenges that we cannot deal with using the conventional wisdom of the day" (p. 11). I wish more political philosophers would heed this imperative, moving towards new paradigms as required by the metamorphosis into which humanity is cascading, instead of marginally improving ideas which are important but in need revaluation, often radically so.
All chapters are enlightening. Thus, chapter 4 on "Freedom and the limits of government" succinctly discusses central issues of "liberty" and "human rights." Departing from common views, the author distinguishes between "human rights" and "citizen rights", recommending quite counter-conventionally that "rights that belong on the longer list (of) rights of citizenship...ought to be recognized as basic protections for the individual within our political community - while in other communities a different set of rights, overlapping with but not identical with ours, should prevail (p. 72, emphasis in original). The author is careful "not to succumb to debilitating political correctness." Thus, he offers a balanced view of feminism and multiculturalism (p. 102). And he becomes quite "daring" in supporting a form of market socialism (p. 90), as position with which I fully agree.
On page 5 the book includes a crucial statement: in contrast to earlier periods "we think much more about the institutions of good government, and less about the personal qualities of the people who make them work. Arguably we have gone too far in this direction. But I will follow modern fashion and talk...primarily about good government as a system, not about how to make our rulers virtuous." The author has good reasons for doing so in a short introduction. But, still, this leaves a black hole at the center of political philosophy, which can easily swallow the best designed institutions and make them work miserably. I recommend that a new edition takes up this issue, however concisely.
Some of the presented views may well be over-optimistic. Thus, compromises and taking into account minority views may work in some Western countries, but not when intense, multiple and contradictory ideological commitments push ideas of "fairness" into a corner and make trust in "public discussion, where both sides listen to the other's point of view and try to find a solution that as far as possible is acceptable to both" (pp. 52, 104) into a chimera. The economic failures of the Israeli Kibbutz movement further undermine the hopes that in small communities economic incentives are not essential (p. 87). The experience of Singapore demonstrates the advantages in some situations of authoritarian rule headed by outstanding leaders. And the book does not discuss the tendency of democracies, as well as most other regimes (but not Singapore), to neglect the responsibility to take care of future generation - a trait the consequences of which are likely to become more serious and perhaps fatal to the future of the human species, far above and beyond the risks of environmental degradation.
Here I reach the main point which requires in my view quite some rewriting in a new edition, all the more so as it was less obvious ten years ago, when this book was published, while receiving much attention in more recent books by the author.
The book correctly states that "as societies change, as new needs and new problems arise, so too will the shape of freedom itself. Who could have imagined, even 20 years ago, that internet access, electronic surveillance, or gene ownership would very soon assume center state in debates about individual liberty?" (p. 73). But the consequences of this crucial understanding may well be more radical than suggested in the text.
The author raises justified concerns over strong global governance (pp. 120-121). Indeed, "Cosmopolitianism in its most literal sense is both implausible and unattractive" (p. 123) and the danger pointed out by Kant of a single world government being a "universal despotism which saps all man's energies and ends in the graveyard of freedom" (123) is real. But the book does not face the emerging radical and in part fateful challenges sure to confront politics which require radical innovations, including a strong global authority and much improved political leaders (as discussed in my recent book).
Examples include human enhancement, virus synthesis, robotization, artificial intelligence and more - all of which add up to a phase jump in human history. Present and all the more so emerging science and technology is quite sure to enabling humanity for the first time in its evolutionary history to deliberately transform itself and also to eliminate itself, on purpose by some fanatics or by accident. This shift in the situation of humanity required radical philosophizing with a Nietzschean hammer, especially in political philosophy. The emerging problems are much broader and even more fateful than environmental ones, mentioned by the author (120). They can only be coped with globally, requiring a supervisory and regulatory worldwide regime enforced on all states, never mind "sovereignty." At stake is not "global justice," however important and well discussed by the author, but the very future of humanity as a species.
The "strong need people have to feel in control of their own destiny" (p.130) is not met at present and is sure to be even less satisfied in the future. But there is no other choice: A neo-Hobbesian situation can only be prevented by unprecedented global measures, which are far beyond public awareness and surpass by far the capacities of nearly all contemporary political leaders.
The author seems to sense this problematic. He states wisely that "the choice between good and bad government is always one we have to make, even if the form that good government takes changes as technology advanced and societies become larger and more complex" (p. 131). He is right in postulating that "it is precisely those moments when we feel that humanity's future is slipping out of our control that we need to think about them long and hard, and then decide together what to do" (p. 132). The time is now!
This book paves the way for moving on to a new phase of political philosophy. As it is, it is strongly recommended for all concerned with public affairs, including political leaders who often lack basic knowledge in political philosophy as well provided by this book. But more is need than was visible ten years ago, when this book was published - waiting for an updated edition, hopefully coming soon.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A very valuable addition to my research library.
Very informative and easy reading.
Extremely pleased with this purchase.Read more
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