Start with the State

In a new post, I argue that traditional political philosophy has been too concerned with building notions of justice and government from the individual up, and not focused enough on accepting the state as a fact and working down from there. While starting with the individual and trying to re-imagine the state has an intuitive appeal, it actually causes political philosophers to avoid applying real controls over the state in all of its contingent glory. Because of this, starting with the state as the first premise actually increases the protection afforded to individuals, by more carefully avoiding things that can go wrong with state intrusion into those freedoms.

One Response

  1. Interesting post Alex. The focus of our blog on Athenian-style governance should remind us that ancient republics did “start with the state” — all citizens were obliged to defend the polis, by bearing arms and raising their right arm when voting in the assembly. Any citizen who didn’t was derided as ῐ̓δῐώτης (idiot). Benjamin Constant argued in 1819 that there was a fundamental difference between ancient and modern liberty but we’ve now witnessed the reductio ad absurdum of the latter. The Greeks had no notion of human rights and/or representation of the people — the survival and prospering of the polis was the overriding concern. I agree that civic obligation should be our prime consideration and that this will (paradoxically) lead to an enhancement of the rights and interests of the individuals that make up the collective. Of course this is a deeply unfashionable perspective to take but recent events should be a wake-up call.


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