Saturday, July 21, 2018
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What is political philosophy?

The advent of the Second World War did not only destroy the social economic and moral fabric of human society but also erased humankind’s faith in reason itself. The rise of fascism and Nazism in modern-day Europe meant that men and women no longer believed in reasonableness. Even the most learned have surrendered their destiny to the hands of cruel despots and evil tyrants who will not stop inflicting endless suffering on the powerless.

With the end of the war, political philosophy became a mere abstraction of human society’s deepest thoughts about life and justice. Human civilization suddenly lost its passion for freedom and equality. Philosophy turned into language and extracted in the most esoteric way the meaning of each proposition. Politics meant nothing to scholars who would rather confine themselves to linguistic analysis.

And yet, there is no way of escaping the political. Many political upheavals during the 1960s and the looming threat of communism overtaking everything else imply that liberal societies have to find their voice somewhere. Indeed, John Rawls’ “A Theory of Justice” almost single-handedly caused the rebirth of a philosophy that was at its dead end. Rawls took to task the prevailing utilitarian paradigm at the time.


Utilitarianism, as espoused by Mill and Bentham, justified the sacrifice of some in favor of the majority. The politics of utilitarianism is simple: maximum welfare at the expense of others. But to sacrifice the few in favor of the many violates the core principle of reason itself—life as inherently inviolable. It is unreasonable to sacrifice at the altar of politics the life of any human being.

G.W.F. Hegel considers the state as the self-realization of reason. The state represents what reason is in terms of systems in which humankind is able to organize and legitimize itself in history and politics. The state, in this regard, must serve the very ends of reason, which is to render just service to human endeavors and to allow the individual to achieve the fullest enjoyment of his or her freedom.

Reason itself is the very unfolding of every person’s potential in the universe. It is the self-realization of the Spirit or Geist into flesh. Reason is the truth, the reality, or the actuality of life. This explains the dictum that everything happens for a reason. The logic of reality cannot be otherwise. Reason, we are taught, is freedom. When a powerful man talks about things without a sense of reasonableness, then he is simply fettered by his own bias and prejudices.

Political philosophy is the Spirit giving voice to human reason. Reason is the light of human subjectivity. Reason makes it an imperative that a person must not be reduced to the level of an object. Each human being is endowed with the power to be. This inner principle is not something that is bestowed like an attribute or an adjective that is added to a thing. A person is essentially freedom itself. To diminish the foundational value of freedom is to demean humanity.

Authority is not the enemy of reason. Rather, authority draws its legitimacy from reason. In the absence of this legitimacy, there can only be abuse and the shameless violation of the rights of men and women. People confer upon the state the power to govern. They do so on the basis of their informed choice and judgment. In this regard, the legitimacy of any state authority comes from the sovereign will of the people who freely give their consent to be governed.

When people are united in their stand for truth and justice to demand their liberation from the tyranny that has caused them so much pain and suffering, it is democracy actualizing its due course by way of reason and solidarity. Political philosophy teaches us that while history is always the final arbiter in judging the greatness or infamy of a man, it is in the here and now that the value of that judgment will be most felt and realized.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.

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TAGS: human society, political philosophy, politics, social economic and moral fabric
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