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19. Hannah Arendt  

Kei Hiruta

This chapter covers the life and work of political theorist Hannah Arendt. It explains Arendt’s theory of totalitarianism alongside her central arguments and idiosyncratic methodology. The chapter then examines her theory of revolution which distinguished liberation as the overthrow of an old oppressive regime and revolution as the establishment of a new order of freedom. The chapter also examines Arendt’s attempt to offer a new political theory attuned to the post-totalitarian present, exploring the key concepts of action, speech, natality, plurality, freedom, and politics. It discusses criticisms of Arendt’s theories related to her cultural biases and racial prejudices and considers the ambivalence of her legacy of feminist theory.

Book

Cover Critiquing the Canon: Political Theory
Critiquing the Canon: Political Theory draws upon critical scholarship to bring together diverse ways of thinking about and critiquing key thinkers from the canon of political theory. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular thinker and their work, and encourages students to explore the limitations of the canon and ask important questions about whose views might be marginalized, ignored, or sidelined in the construction of ‘canonical’ thought. Pedagogical features include author tutorial videos and end-of-chapter questions to prompt students to develop their own voice and challenge dominant ideas.

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22. Iris Marion Young  

Neus Torbisco-Casals

This chapter explores American philosopher Iris Marion Young’s central contributions to contemporary political theory. Young remains well known as a leading socialist, feminist political theorist, whose ground-breaking work on oppression, equality, and democratic theory has had an enduring impact, despite her premature death. After introducing Young’s multifaceted engagements with issues of justice and equality against the backdrop of her personal and political contexts, the chapter examines her influential account of oppression. This analysis is essential to understanding Young’s conception of equality as inclusion. The chapter then analyses her critique of the universal model of citizenship as delineated in her celebrated 1990 book Justice and the Politics of Difference.

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11. Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de la Brede et de Montesquieu  

Manjeet Ramgotra

This chapter examines the political theory and writings of French Enlightenment thinker, Montesquieu. It contends that Montesquieu’s constitutional theory of the separation of powers promoted a strong government which advanced individual freedom, maintained internal stability against absolutism and populism, and allowed the state to expand its boundaries at a moment in history when European powers were fighting each other to establish colonial empires across the world. The chapter presents the contexts in which he composed The Spirit of the Laws (1748), and then discusses Montesquieu’s typology of governments and considers the various notions of time and progress that undergird his view of how the various constitutions in the world are ordered. Finally, the chapter looks at commerce, peace, colonialism, and slavery, bringing to light the tensions and contradictions in Montesquieu’s thought.

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32. John Rawls  

Maeve Mckeown

This chapter examines the significance of A Theory of Justice (1971) written by John Rawls in contemporary Anglo-American political philosophy. It examines the basic contours of Rawls’ theory and addresses the Rawlsian self in what he calls ‘the original position’. Feminists and critical race theorists disagree over the potential of self that Rawls proposed to generate a non-sexist, anti-racist society, and philosophers of disability highlight its ableist assumptions. The chapter looks at the idea of a Rawlsian society being governed by a ‘just basic structure’. It highlights three issues: (1) the ambiguity of the concept of a basic structure separate from individual behaviour and other institutions; (2) the concern that focusing on the basic structure fails to address power relations between groups; and (3) that it limits the scope of justice to the nation state. While acknowledging the profound contributions of Rawls, the chapter concludes that Rawlsian ideal theory is not the best approach from the perspective of feminist, anti-racist, and anti-ableist philosophy.

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36. Judith Butler  

Clare Woodford

This chapter looks at the work of Judith Butler on feminism and queer theory. It presents their theory on performativity and parody, and explores the theoretical underpinning of Butler’s theory of subjectivity. Butler’s theorization of gender originated from a broader concern about which lives matter, whose lives get to count as human and whose lives are constrained and subjected to unbearable violence. The chapter highlights the continuing significance and relevance of Butler’s political thought in today’s society as Butler became a vocal critic of Western-centrism, US nationalism, and Zionism. Additionally, the chapter explains how Butler developed non-violent, anti-war politics which emphasized the need for people to live differently instead of within neoliberal rationality and individualism.

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26. Emma Goldman  

Ruth Kinna

This chapter examines resistance in Emma Goldman’s anarchism. It starts with an discussion of her reputation, especially with respect to her detachment from conventional political theory and her failure to investigate race as a category of oppression. The chapter contends that Goldman’s structure of resistance involves love with open eyes and the spirit of revolt. It then considers her understanding of political theory as a practice informed by experience, which she then deploys to develop her conceptions of power and emancipation, in particular her understanding of the relation between class power and women’s oppression. The chapter discusses slavery and slavishness to show how Goldman used rights to advocate resistance to domination. The chapter further explores how her acceptance of revolt highlighted the futility of struggles for inclusion.

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7. John Locke  

Hagar Kotef

This chapter discusses John Locke’s theory of the social contract, which became one of the primary frameworks of political thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It focuses on one of his books, The Second Treatise of Government, first published in 1689. Since Locke sees humans as essentially rational beings, he believes that even without a ‘power to keep them all in awe’, humans could live in relative peace with each other, form social lives, and regulate themselves according to the Laws of Nature. While seemingly presenting a universal individual, Locke’s social contract theory in fact contrives only specific individuals as the contracting agents: propertied, European (if not English) men. The chapter situates Locke’s contract within a global historical context by considering the voices that have been excluded from or marginalized within this story. Through these different figures—the servant (wage labourer), the wife, the Indigenous, and the slave—we see a series of tensions between formal equality and material, racial, and gender inequalities.

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12. John Stuart Mill  

Inder S. Marwah

This chapter assesses John Stuart Mill’s political philosophy, focusing on two particular features of his thought. First is Mill’s relation to the liberal political tradition. Second are his writings on race, gender, and empire, which have in recent years come into greater prominence. The chapter begins by highlighting Mill’s contributions to liberal political theory and utilitarian ethics, the two traditions of thought with which he’s most commonly associated. It then examines his views on government and democracy. The chapter also considers Mill’s views on human diversity and difference, showing how his treatments of race, empire, and gender intersect with his liberalism. Finally, it reflects on what we might think about his political philosophy in light of his imperialist entanglements.

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4. Kautilya  

Deepshikha Shahi

This chapter presents the seminal work of chief counsellor Kautilya, Arthaśāstra. Arthaśāstra has been unanimously accepted not only as one of the most precious works of Sanskrit literature, but also as an ancient Indian compendium of principles and policies related to political science. The chapter begins by unfolding the ‘philosophical foundation’ of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra. A systematic study of this foundation clarifies the moral footing of Kautilya’s political theory. The chapter then unpacks the structural and functional outlook of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra, demonstrating how Kautilya’s political theory is eclectic. It fuses the allegedly conflicting rational/prudential and abstract/ideal concerns in politics, thereby outdoing the prescriptions of Eurocentric realpolitik. Finally, the chapter inspects the position of gender and caste in Kautilya’s political theory. In so doing, it probes the gaps between Kautilya’s theoretical plan and its practical performance.

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30. Frederick Douglass  

Kiara Gilbert and Karen Salt

This chapter looks at the works of Black American abolitionist Frederick Douglass. It argues that Douglass’ political thinking was shaped by his experiences as an enslaved, fugitive, and freed person. Douglass fought for the emancipation of all enslaved peoples across the USA as he believed all humans were born with a right to self-determination and freedom from enslavement. Additionally, Douglass believed slavery to be a deep violation of a person’s humanity. The chapter explains that Douglass’ abolitionism was grounded in natural rights theory. It looks at the legacy of the influential political theory on liberty that Douglass left behind. This was despite his complicated and often contradictory relationship to early women’s rights movements and his struggles to acknowledge the claims of Indigenous people.

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8. Mary Astell  

Allauren Forbes

This chapter investigates how English philosopher, feminist, and political theorist Mary Astell offered a thoroughgoing and sustained critique of social contract theory in Some Reflections Upon Marriage (1700) and A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694). Like many other philosophers and political theorists marginalized on the basis of their identities, Astell was keenly attuned to the views, institutions, and systems of power that were used to perpetuate oppression. The chapter then looks at Astell’s criticisms of central features of social contract theory, particularly in the context of the socio-political institution of marriage as an analogue for the social contract. It assesses whether the analogue holds or whether it was simply a rhetorical device and what this means for how Astell understands marriage. Finally, the chapter suggests that Astell’s critique of social contract theory, especially its application to marriage, was an attempt to reshape the socio-political terrain of her time.

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25. Niccolò Machiavelli  

Yves Winter

This chapter explores the ideas behind Niccolò Machiavelli’s two major political works, Discourses on Livy and The Prince. It starts by explaining how Machiavelli’s reception and biography highlight a correlation between his activities as Secretary of the Florentine chancery and his later theoretical work. Machiavelli’s philosophical thought primarily focused on power and the state; whereaa, his theory of history introduced the concepts of virtù (virtue) and fortuna (fortune). The chapter also outlines Machiavelli’s understanding of republican freedom in line with the significance of the conflict between the few and the many. Finally, it raises issues of violence, conquest, and empire correlating to Machiavelli’s theories.

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10. Carole Pateman and Charles Mills  

Terrell Carver

This chapter begins by providing an overview of contractualism, explaining how social contract theories emerged in early modern north-west Europe as a critique of monarchical absolutisms. Contract theorists argued that absolutist monarchical governments were illegitimate. In recent years, political theorists Carole Pateman and Charles Mills have signally exposed the exclusionary violence and inclusionary discriminations related to gender, race, and class that lay within this apparently universal egalitarianism. To do this, they have theorized three prior contracts of domination: the sexual contract, the racial contract, and the settler contract. Each prior contract explains hypothetically how self-selected individuals have agreed that they can subordinate those whom they have already excluded. Thus, the subsequent social contract legitimates, not the human equality implied in its stated premises, but the inequalities that it fails to disclose. The chapter also registers the development of a further ‘capacity’ or ‘ableist’ contract modelled on the prior contracts of gender, race, and class. It examines the principles of contractual egalitarianism in relation to the subordinating dynamics of capitalist inequality.

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29. Immanuel Kant  

Stella Sandford

This chapter focuses on Immanuel Kant’s political writings and their influence on the history of Western philosophy. It critically examines the major problems in Kant’s political thought, such as its relation to Eurocentrism and the racial theory of development. But also, this chapter explains the main tenets of Kant’s philosophy including the practical and theoretical parts, transcendental idealism, and the categorical imperative. The theoretical part of Kant’s philosophy explains the metaphysical and deals with the natural world, while the practical part addresses human action. It further examines, his political philosophy, including universal history and the metaphysical foundations of political theory. The chapter then turns considers the impact of Kant’s philosophy as well as its problems, notably in relation to ideal and non-ideal theory.

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Cover Issues in Political Theory

1. Political obligation  

Keith Hyams

This chapter discusses the justifications for political obligation. The most important historical justification for political obligation is what is often called consent theory or contract theory. Consent theorists claim that we should obey the law because we have consented to do so. Meanwhile, the theorist H. L. A. Hart argues that if we accept a benefit, then it is only fair that we should reciprocate and give something back; if we enjoy the protection of police and armies, if we use roads, hospitals, schools, and other government-run services, then we should reciprocate by obeying the law. Other theorists argue that political obligation is something that we are bound by simply for being a member of a political community. If we cannot justify an obligation to obey the law, then we may have to adopt some form of philosophical anarchism — the view that we have no obligation to obey the law.

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3. Crime and punishment  

Massimo Renzo

This chapter focuses on crime and punishment. Punishment involves the imposition of hardship or suffering on a supposed offender for a supposed crime, by a person or body who claims the authority to do so. Criminal punishment is problematic in at least three respects: it harms those who are punished; it also harms, indirectly, their families and friends; and it imposes significant costs on the rest of the political community. There are two strategies for the justification of punishment: instrumental and non-instrumental justifications. The instrumental strategy has been traditionally pursued by endorsing some version of consequentialism, the moral theory according to which the rightness or wrongness of a given conduct, practice, or rule depends only on its consequences. Non-instrumental justifications, on the other hand, have been traditionally defended by retributivist theories, according to which, wrongdoers deserve to suffer in proportion to the gravity of the wrong they have committed.

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Introduction  

Robert Jubb, Catriona McKinnon, and Patrick Tomlin

This introductory chapter provides an overview of political theory. Political theory is the study of whether and what political institutions, practices, and forms of organization can be justified, how they ought to be arranged, and the decisions they ought to make. This is normative political theory. Normative theories are action-guiding, and so are theories about what we ought to do. There are two important things to remember when making claims in political theory. One is that moral and political values are relative to specific cultures in specific times and places, and so there is no universal truth about such matters. The second is that such values are radically subjective: individuals set their own moral compass and can choose how to live as they please. We should be clear about which of these positions we are invoking if we are sceptical of universal normative claims.

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Cover Critiquing the Canon: Political Theory

1. Introduction  

Gemma Bird

Critiquing the Canon: Political Theory draws upon critical scholarship to bring together diverse ways of thinking about and critiquing key thinkers from the canon of political theory. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular thinker and their work, and encourages students to explore the limitations of the canon and ask important questions about whose views might be marginalized, ignored, or sidelined in the construction of ‘canonical’ thought. Pedagogical features include author tutorial videos and end-of-chapter questions to prompt students to develop their own voice and challenge dominant ideas.

Chapter

Cover Critiquing the Canon: Political Theory

2. Niccolò Machiavelli  

Christine Unrau

Critiquing the Canon: Political Theory draws upon critical scholarship to bring together diverse ways of thinking about and critiquing key thinkers from the canon of political theory. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular thinker and their work, and encourages students to explore the limitations of the canon and ask important questions about whose views might be marginalized, ignored, or sidelined in the construction of ‘canonical’ thought. Pedagogical features include author tutorial videos and end-of-chapter questions to prompt students to develop their own voice and challenge dominant ideas.