The human race has an unbelievable political heritage. Philosophers have devoted over 2,500 years of thought to the subject of how to best govern a people. From the Confucian philosophies generated in the Chinese Hundred Schools of Thought to the philosopher-kings of Plato’s “Republic,” we have so many different realms of thought to explore. Given the sheer breadth of political philosophy, one can only imagine the potential of a system that integrated the best aspects of all speculated systems.
Political philosophies, generally, are understandable given their context. To create better political systems, we have to be willing to understand them better. Historical context makes more understandable the ideas conceived by past philosophers and therefore to better understand them, a degree of empathy is required. Therefore, we ought not to do away with them so easily, but instead understand the historical context behind conceptions of the best political system. By giving ourselves context, we broaden our understanding of each system’s virtues as revealed by their structures in spite of our inherent political biases.
For example, by studying the monarchical system of colonial America, we can illuminate the thought processes that birthed the Constitution. Was Karl Marx not valid in observing the effects of a newly established industrial revolution and perceiving that something was wrong with the socioeconomic order? These explorations can go infinitely deep, but they are meant to initiate lines of thinking whereby our inherent biases may be challenged. These examinations better acquaint us with the nuances and reasons for political philosophies, and we don’t want to be misguided by inherent bias. If we are to create as best a political system as we can, why not learn something from the thousands of years of thought before us and understand them to develop our own synthetical political philosophy.
Political philosophy is, of course, a very subjective realm where argument could continue indefinitely. However, could it not help the argument if those interested in bettering their political system had digested a range of philosophical resources and at least better understood why the other feels the way they do and then set out for compromise? The standards which may act as goals of a political system may be balanced by considering the many concerns of human life. The standards simply mean those goals and rules that people feel a government should have and live up to. It is by the standards we can agree and compromise on that we test whatever we may integrate and synthesize from the history of political philosophy. If we are mindful of our arrogant desire to be correct, challenge ourselves to establish a line of common truth, and turn the argument into a dialogue, I can only imagine a greater form of progress ahead. In order to bring into reality the best political philosophy we can synthesize, we must scrutinize and reflect.
Political Scientist Robert Dahl did an excellent job reflecting in his essay, “On Removing Certain Impediments to Democracy in the United States,” suggesting that the United States had undergone five historical commitments that have had immeasurable consequences. Once those commitments had been made, the American public largely forgot the conflict around them and grew to understand them as unquestionable. Dahl reminds us that the American people were once just an agrarian society. One of the most conflicting commitments made was at the time of the Gilded Age where the United States industrialized heavily, forgot about other political possibilities, and commited to corporate capitalism. Dahl brings to light the amount of conflict that was observed at this time. He discusses all the other options competing for economic and political influence, from different types of monetary policy, socialism, communism, anarchism, and small-business-oriented capitalism. He argues that after a national commitment to capitalism, we eventually fell complacent to overarching political systems and forgot to question them. If a system was really purported as the best possible one, shouldn’t it be strong enough against extensive scrutiny? This is the purpose of our quest for the best political system. We must be mindful of the aspects of the current political system that we are complacent with and may not even think about.
The more we bring to light the many resources we have to draw from, the more tools we have in the grand scheming of a better political system. We can consciously piece together all that we want to include in our direction for political philosophy as we consider what the past thinkers have concluded and derive their validity.
As we fly high in the air of ideals and dig deep in the rationalizations of past philosophers it is important to consider the implications for current policy and legislation. While we develop more nuanced understandings of governments, we can also consider what policy moves us closer to our felt political philosophy. This requires us to be as knowledgeable as we can about policy, to understand how it ultimately affects the people involved, and to hold our representatives accountable and act accordingly.
Overall, the goal for developing a political philosophy is to conceive of a system that makes the most use of all past reasoning and assembles, collectively, something that meets all of our needs and considers all of our potential for happiness. The only way to do this is to open up dialogues with as many people, to understand them before our judgments crystalize, and to save a spot in the scheme for the concerns of each person. Our political philosophy isn’t rooted in a single ideology or a single philosopher but rather a system that accounts for every person.
As our political philosophy amalgamates, we can work to alter the mechanics of our current system and test their applied validity. Here is where our political philosophy takes shape and may become a reality. The point of this synethical philosophy is to have something to reach for when we look to change our current political system and to challenge our biases when we start to settle deeply on a political philosophy. Only there will we find the path to our political fulfillment. Therefore, we must get to reading and discussing to discover where the brightest horizon of our society lies. Perhaps we can start with reading the foundational thinking of our own country and seeing where it leads us. Perhaps, the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist are waiting for your scrutiny.