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About this book

This leading text provides a concise and broad-ranging introduction to the contemporary study of political theory. Each chapter discusses a cluster of interrelated concepts and examines how they have been used by different thinkers and traditions and explores related debates and controversies. The fourth edition of this highly successful and accessible book has been substantially revised and updated and includes extra attention throughout to non-Western approaches and international political theory.

Systematically covering the foundational concepts that have focused debate from Aristotle, Rousseau, Marx and Mill to the present day, this is essential reading for undergraduate and postgraduate courses on political thought and political philosophy. With increased discussion of the global dimensions of political thought it will appeal to an international audience, as well as to those lecturers interested in broadening their students’ horizons.

Table of Contents

1. What is Political Theory?

It would be misleading, indeed patently foolish, to suggest that political conflict reflects nothing more than confusion in the words we use. It is certainly true that enemies often argue, fight and even go to war, both claiming to be defending liberty or upholding democracy, or that justice is on our side. The intervention of some Great Lexicographer descending from the skies to demand that the parties to the dispute define their terms before they proceed, stating precisely what each means by liberty, democracy and justice, would surely be to no avail. The argument, fight or war would take place anyway. Politics, in other words, can never be reduced to mere semantics. And yet there is also a sense in which sloppiness in the use of language may help to protect ignorance and preserve misunderstanding. Language is both a tool with which we think and a means by which we communicate with others. If the language we use is confused or poorly understood, it is not only difficult to express our views and opinions with any degree of accuracy but it is also impossible to know the contents of our own minds.
Andrew Heywood

2. Human Nature, the Individual and Society

Throughout this book, and indeed throughout political theory, there is a recurrent theme: the relationship between the individual and society. This is touched on by almost all political debates and controversies - the nature of justice, the proper realm of freedom, the desirability of equality, the value of politics, and so forth. At the heart of this issue lies the idea of human nature, that which makes human beings human. Almost all political doctrines and beliefs are based, at some level, on a theory of human nature, sometimes explicitly formulated but in many cases simply implied. To do otherwise would be to take the complex and perhaps unpredictable human element out of politics. However, the concept of human nature has also been a source of great difficulty for political theorists. Models of human nature have varied considerably, and each model has radically different implications for how social and political life should be organized. Are human beings, for instance, selfish or sociable, rational or irrational, essentially moral or basically corrupt? Are they, at heart, political animals or private beings? The answers to these and other such questions bear heavily on the relationship between the individual and society.
Andrew Heywood

3. Politics, Government and the State

The debate about What is Politics? exposes some of the deepest and most intractable conflicts in political thought. The attempt to define politics raises a series of difficult questions. For example, is politics a restricted activity confined to what goes on within government or the state, or does it occur in all areas of social life? Does politics, in other words, take place within families, schools, colleges and in the workplace? Similarly, is politics, as many believe, a corrupting and dishonest activity, or is it, rather, a healthy and ennobling one? Can politics be brought to an end? Should politics be brought to an end? A further range of arguments and debates are associated with the institution of government. Is government necessary or can societies be stable and successful in the absence of government? What form should government take, and how does government relate to broader political processes, usually called the political system? Finally, deep controversy also surrounds the nature and role of the state. For instance, since the terms government and state are often used interchangeably, can a meaningful distinction be established between them? Is state power benevolent or oppressive: does it operate in the interests of all citizens or is it biased in favour of a narrow elite or ruling class? Moreover, what should the state do? Which responsibilities should we look to the state to fulfil and which ones should be left in the hands of private individuals?
Andrew Heywood

4. Sovereignty, the Nation and Transnationalism

The state emerged in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe as a system of centralized rule that succeeded in subordinating all other groups and associations, temporal and spiritual. The claim that the state exercised absolute and unrestricted authority within its borders was expressed in a new language of sovereignty, specifically territorial sovereignty. Politics thus acquired a distinct spatial character; in short, borders and boundaries mattered. This especially applied in the case of the distinction between domestic politics, which was concerned with the states role in maintaining order and carrying out regulation within its own borders, and international politics, which was concerned with relations between and/or among states. The domestic/international divide effectively demarcated the extent of political rule. It would be misleading, indeed patently foolish, to suggest that political conflict reflects nothing more than confusion in the words we use. It is certainly true that enemies often argue, fight and even go to war, both claiming to be defending liberty or upholding democracy, or that justice is on our side. The intervention of some Great Lexicographer descending from the skies to demand that the parties to the dispute define their terms before they proceed, stating precisely what each means by liberty, democracy and justice, would surely be to no avail. The argument, fight or war would take place anyway. Politics, in other words, can never be reduced to mere semantics. And yet there is also a sense in which sloppiness in the use of language may help to protect ignorance and preserve misunderstanding. Language is both a tool with which we think and a means by which we communicate with others. If the language we use is confused or poorly understood, it is not only difficult to express our views and opinions with any degree of accuracy but it is also impossible to know the contents of our own minds.
Andrew Heywood

5. Power, Authority and Legitimacy

It would be misleading, indeed patently foolish, to suggest that political conflict reflects nothing more than confusion in the words we use. It is certainly true that enemies often argue, fight and even go to war, both claiming to be defending liberty or upholding democracy, or that justice is on our side. The intervention of some Great Lexicographer descending from the skies to demand that the parties to the dispute define their terms before they proceed, stating precisely what each means by liberty, democracy and justice, would surely be to no avail. The argument, fight or war would take place anyway. Politics, in other words, can never be reduced to mere semantics. And yet there is also a sense in which sloppiness in the use of language may help to protect ignorance and preserve misunderstanding. Language is both a tool with which we think and a means by which we communicate with others. If the language we use is confused or poorly understood, it is not only difficult to express our views and opinions with any degree of accuracy but it is also impossible to know the contents of our own minds.
Andrew Heywood

6. Democracy, Representation and the Public Interest

Since the dawn of political thought the question Who should rule? has been a recurrent issue for argument and debate. Since the twentieth century, however, the question has tended to elicit a single, almost universally accepted, response: the people should govern. Perhaps no other political ideal is accorded the unquestioning approval, even reverence, currently enjoyed by democracy. Whether they are liberals, conservatives, socialists, communists or even fascists, politicians everywhere are eager to proclaim their democratic credentials and to commit themselves to the democratic ideal. And yet it is its very popularity that makes democracy a difficult concept to understand. When a term means anything to anyone it is in danger of becoming entirely meaningless. Democracy may now be nothing more than a hurrah word, endlessly repeated by politicians, but denoting little of substance. In reality, a number of competing models of democracy have developed in different historical periods and in various parts of the world. These have included direct and indirect democracy, political and social democracy, pluralist and totalitarian democracy and so on.
Andrew Heywood

7. Law, Order and Justice

Law is found in all modern societies, and is usually regarded as the bedrock of civilized existence. Law commands citizens, telling them what they must do; it lays down prohibitions indicating what citizens cannot do; and it allocates entitlements defining what citizens have the right to do. Although it is widely accepted that law is a necessary feature of any healthy and stable society, there is considerable debate about the nature and role of law. Opinions, for instance, conflict about the origins and purpose of law. Does law liberate or oppress? Do laws exist to safeguard all individuals and promote the common good, or do they merely serve the interests of the propertied and privileged few? Moreover, there is controversy about the relationship between law and morality. Does law enforce moral standards; should it try to? How much freedom should the law allow the individual, and over what issues? Such questions also relate to the need for personal security and social order.
Andrew Heywood

8. Rights, Obligations and Citizenship

Since antiquity, political thinkers have debated the proper relationship between the individual and the state. In Ancient Greece, this relationship was embodied in the notion of the citizen, literally a member of the state. Within Greek city-states, citizenship was restricted to a small minority living in such states, in effect, free-born propertied males. The modern concept of citizenship is, by contrast, founded on the principle of universal rights and obligations. Its roots lie in seventeenth-century ideas about natural rights, elaborated in the twentieth century into the doctrine of human rights. However, it is less than clear what the term rights refers to and how it should be used. For instance, what does it mean to say that somebody has a right? On what basis can they be said to enjoy it? And how far, and to whom, does this doctrine of rights extend? Citizens are not, however, merely bearers of rights; they also have duties and obligations towards the state that has protected, nurtured and cared for them. These obligations may include compulsory military service, entailing the duty to fight, kill and possibly die in defence of ones state.
Andrew Heywood

9. Freedom, Toleration and Identity

The principle of freedom has customarily been treated by political thinkers with a degree of reverence that borders on religious devotion. Political literature is littered with proclamations that humankind should break free from some form of enslavement. Yet the popularity of freedom is often matched by confusion about what the term actually means, and why it is so widely respected. Is freedom, for instance, an unconditional good, or does it have costs or drawbacks? How much freedom should individuals and groups enjoy? At the heart of such questions, however, lies a debate about precisely what it means to be free. Does freedom mean being left alone to act as one chooses, or does it imply some kind of fulfilment, self-realization or personal development? Confusion is also caused by the fact that freedom is often associated with a range of other ideas, including toleration and identity. Toleration differs from freedom, but there is a sense in which it can also be thought of as a manifestation of freedom.
Andrew Heywood

10. Equality, Social Justice and Welfare

The idea of equality is perhaps the defining feature of modern political thought. Whereas classical and medieval thinkers took it for granted that hierarchy is natural or inevitable, modern ones have started out from the assumption that all human beings are, in some important sense, equal. Nevertheless, few political principles are as contentious as equality or polarize opinion so effectively. Many, for example, have seen the traditional left/right political spectrum as a reflection of differing attitudes towards equality. Yet so remorseless has been the advance of egalitarianism that few, if any, modern thinkers have not been prepared to subscribe to some form of it, be it in relation to legal rights, political participation, life chances or opportunities, or any other aspect of life. The modern battle about equality is therefore fought not between those who support the principle and those who reject it, but between those with different views about where, how and to what equality should be applied. The issue of equality has provoked particularly intense debate when it has been applied to the distribution of wealth or income in society, what is commonly referred to as social justice.
Andrew Heywood

11. Property, the Market and Planning

At almost every level, politics is intertwined with economics. For instance, election results are widely thought to be determined by economic factors, and party politics is invariably dominated by economic issues: parties compete against each other by promising higher rates of economic growth, increased prosperity, lower inflation and so on. The influence of economics has been no less significant in political theory. For almost two hundred years, ideological debate revolved around a battle between capitalism and socialism, a clash between two rival economic philosophies. This struggle was regarded as fundamental to the political spectrum itself, right-wing ideas being sympathetic towards capitalism, left-wing ones being broadly socialist. In effect, this tendency reduced politics to a debate about the ownership of property and the desirability of one economic system over another. Should property be owned by private individuals and be used to satisfy personal interests? Or should it be owned collectively, by either the community or the state, and be harnessed to the common good? Questions about property are closely related to conflicting models of economic organization, notably the rival economic systems that dominated much of twentiethcentury history: market capitalism and central planning.
Andrew Heywood

12. Security, War and World Order

Upholding security is sometimes seen as the most basic task of politics, reflecting, as it does, the desire of people to live safe from (usually physical) harm or threats. It is a concern that has often been felt most acutely in relation to international politics. Whereas threats to security originating from within the domestic realm confront a state which, by definition, enjoys a monopoly of the legitimate use of violence, no such supreme power exists in the international realm. An abiding concern of the academic discipline of international relations, which emerged in the aftermath of World War I, has therefore been to find ways of safeguarding people and states from the fear, intimidation and violence that are sometimes believed to be rooted in the international system itself. However, debate surrounds both the nature of security, and how it is best maintained. For instance, does national security provide nation-states with vital protection, or is it essentially self-defeating? Under what conditions is collective security effective? What are the implications of the notion of human security? Debates about security are nevertheless commonly linked to questions about war. Military power is the traditional currency of international politics
Andrew Heywood

13. Tradition, Progress and Utopia

In the first place, is change desirable? Does change involve growth or decline, progress or decay; should it be welcomed or resisted? Some have turned their faces firmly against change in the name of tradition and continuity. But this has meant anything from a simple wish to remain faithful to the past to an acceptance of natural change or the desire to return to a kind of earlier golden age. Such traditionalist views, however, became increasingly unfashionable as the modern idea of progress took root. This implies that human history is marked by an advance in knowledge and the achievement of ever higher levels of civilization: all change is for the good. Nevertheless, even if change is to be welcomed, what form should it take? This has usually been posed as a choice between two contrasting notions of change: reform or revolution. Whether they are reformist or revolutionary, projects of social or political change have tended to be based on a model of a desired future society. The most radical such projects have looked, ultimately, to the construction of a perfect society, a utopia. But what is utopianism, and which political doctrines have utopian characteristics? More importantly, is utopian thinking vital for the success of any progressive political project, or is it a recipe for repression or even totalitarianism?
Andrew Heywood
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