What is Political Philosophy?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Philosophy is the love of wisdom.

To love something, we must know it. Had our Creator not left the stamp of his own Wisdom upon our soul, we would have no idea wisdom exists, and would be helpless to recognize it even if we happened to stumble upon it.

By the same token, no one looking upon the divine template of wisdom can come to the conclusion that the blueprint in our possession constitutes the thing itself.

To love wisdom is therefore to seek it with all one’s heart and soul.

Where does politics enter the equation? Though it may be difficult to square with our experience of the city of man, the truth is that human government is a necessary component in our personal quest for wisdom and the happiness it promises.

When done correctly, politics supplies us with three goods the absence of which would prove fatal (and alas often does) to the realization of our natural (and supernatural) potential:

Coordination: Even with the best of intentions, we cannot do good in conjunction with others without a common set of rules and expectations to guide us, many of which are fundamentally arbitrary in nature. Imagine a game of chess with no squares, no contrasting colors, no turns, no limits on how a piece can be moved. Though cheating would be impossible, equally futile would be any attempt to play fair.

Guidance: Wisdom by its very nature must be acquired for oneself. Yet the means of acquiring it cannot be given to oneself. Who taught dear reader the language with which he interprets these words, or ponders their veracity?

Parents, teachers, friends, and even enemies provide us with most of the lessons we need to recognize our need for wisdom and discern the paths on which it can be found. By recognizing, promoting, and protecting institutions such as marriage, education, and religion, however, human laws respect our freedom while pointing us toward the highest ends of our existence.

Correction: Sadly, fallen man is prone to ignoring or even rejecting the guidance of wise laws and educators. For his own good, and the good of his fellows, it is sometimes necessary to restrain him, punish him, or compel him to repair the damage he has done.

This last function is the least pleasant but also the most salient operation of human authority. Rather than shying away from it, we must instead cultivate gratitude to those who risk their lives and sacrifice personal placidity to defend public order.

At the same time, we must remember that the coercive power of government exists only in service to its higher functions. Unless it is guiding us toward wisdom and coordinating our efforts to collaborate in wise enterprises, politics is in danger of becoming an obstacle to our happiness rather than a facilitator of its pursuit.

Even a smattering of philosophy should teach us that wisdom bids us guard against allowing such abuses of authority to multiply.

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