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Political thought begins when there is an awareness of the possibili.ly of attaining alternative political arrangements from the present one. Ever since organized life began with the invention, of agriculture, slowly different forms of political organizations began.
Predominantly this f’orni was monarchy but the ancient Greek civilization was n~arkeld by a rennarkabk variety of political forms, reflected by Aristotle’s study of 158 constitutions and elaboration of the different typologies of political systems.
It is for the prevalence of wide diversity and debate that western political thought begins with the Greeks and continues till the present. Political thought means the five following things:
a) Exposition of ideas, values, and proposals for influencing policy, changing it and revising it drastically for a total break and a new beginning. The entire classical tradition of western political thought provides a wide variety dealing with the above propositions.
b) 5Political theory deals with political structure and institutions like dealing -with the theories of the state,’ division of power, legal frameworks, various forms of representation, and links with other social sciences.
c) ~olitical philosophy in the normative quest for what should be rather than what is in a lasge macro framework.
d) Political thought is a key component of the discipline of political science providing it with the basic concepts and tools with which tlie other sub-areas of the discipline are intrinsically linked.
e) Comparative studies of different kinds of political theories originating and expatldir~g wit11, different civilizations like the western political thought, Indian or Chinese political thought.
WESTERN POLITICAL THOUGHT: NATURE AND CONTENT
It is impossible to imagine political thought of the West (for that matter, of any society without history, Political thought is related to politics, but it is history that provides political thought its very basis.
We do not mean to say that political thought can be studied without politics, but we certainly want to insist that we cannot study political thought without history, Understanding political thought in the historical context is, in fact, understanding political thought in the real sense.’ A political philosopl~er’s political philosophy emerges in the age of philosopher breaths.
In fact, his political ~liiloso~hy~~~s an answer to the times the philosopher lives in. His philosophy ca~~not be separated from the top of his times. No political thinker builds up his political philosophy without taking an accoi~ of the age or his times.
To put. the point in another sense, it may be said that a political phi losophf’ i3, understood only in his .milieu. Plato, though an idealist, could hardly be separated from his soil. his classification of states depicted the classificatioli as it prevailed then; his theory of educat~on was draw11 heavily from what existed in Athens and Sparta then.
Machiavelli’s whole methodology depicted liis debt to history. The contractualists-Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau-made history as the basis of their social contract theory. Karl Marx went all the way to advocate the materialistic interpretation of history.
The objective conditions of history always provide the foundations on which the political pliilosopliers have built their philosophy.
Furthermore, we can understand the political philosophy of a political thinker only in the historical context.
Separate a political philosopher from his times, one will always find i Popper condemning Plato as an enemy of open society. A contextual study is always a safer method of understanding a text.
A text without a context is a structure without a base. Machiavelli is better understood in the context of renaissance.
Hobbes and Locke, with their views as apart as the north-south poles, can be better studied in the ba’ckgound of the English civil war.
Marx’s calls are understood in light of the growing capitalism of the European/ Western society.
Western political thought is based on history, but its history, Professor Sabine rightly says, has no concluding chapter.
It has grown and is growing, and in fact, will always keep growing. or political ideas of an earlier philosopher, and in the process builds his own philosophy.
It has grown in a typical way; each subsequent philosopher condemns/criticises the philosophy Aristotle did so wit11 Plato; Locke did so with Filmer; Bentham, with Blackstone; John Stuart Mill, with Bentham; Marx did so with Hegel, Adam Smith, Proudhon. So western political the days of Plato and Aristotle.
No wonder if then it is said that all philosophy is a footnote thought has grown; it proceeds on polemics, it changes, but it continues. It is continuing since to Plato.
Plato and Aristotle together gave the base on which stands the whole fabric of western political thouglit; for politicat idealism and political realism are the two pillars of the western political pllilosophy from where rise numerous other related shades.
It is not easy to identify what the western political thought contains. The attempt, indeed, would be arbitrary.
However, major contents of tlie western political thought can, for the sake of making a point, be stated, to be: (i) political institutions and procedures; (ii) political idealism and realism.
Western Political Thought, Political Institutions and Political Procedures Western political thought deals, largely, with political instit~ltions and procedures relating to them.
If political theory deals with wliat is related to or is relevant to politics, political tliougl~t, coming as it is, from the writings of a 110st of political philosophers deals with political power, i.e., wliereil> it is vested and liow it is exercised, and for what objects does it exist.
The political thinkers from tlie earlier days $to the present times have dealt with such questions relating to politics: Plato was more interested in the state as it ought to be than Aristotle who devoted all his energy on the best practicable state.
The ancient Roman theorists talked about the nature and role of law in adininistration. With the medieval Church theorists, (Thomas Aquinas especially) political power was made to work under tlie divine law, the divine law under the natural law, the natural law under the eternal law.
The early modern political theorists (Machiavelli and Bodin) were concerned with the supreme power (i.e., sovereignty) of the state or with actual and pote~itial states).
The contractualists (Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau) were eager to answer questions as to liow the state came into existence and as to why people obey. laws.
While political philosophy deals with institutions as they were, as they are, and as they need/ ought to be, Marx saw tlie~n in materialist terms.
Sabine puts the point across wl~en lie says, “An important functio~i of political thought (meaning the theorists or tlie political thought) is not drily to show what a political practice (i.e., politics, political activity of liis time) is but also to show what it means. In showing what a practice means, or wliat it o~lgllto mean, political theory can alter what it is.
” Political philosophers have sought to understand tlie political iristitutions of their times, have given them the meanings and, in doing so, have suggested ways of altering them. Thus, we may say that political thought deals with institutions.
Further more, and it is imporlant as well, subsequent philosophers have after having suggested the changes in the institutions, maintained continuity, the political philosopher, to use Sabine’s words, is a ‘connector’, a ‘relator’ who weaves the political fabric.
Western political thought is equally dominated, since the beginning, with an interest in the political procedures as to how and why political power is applied. Indeed, political thought deals witli political institutions, but it is also related to the working of political institution.
‘The political pliilosophers were and are, primarily concerned not with what a state is or what it does, but also with liow a state once entrusted with power, makes use of it.
In other words, political thought lias been, along with the study of political institutions, dominated witli, if we want to give it a word, the rule of law, i.e., the procedure as to how the political power is put to use.
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