Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Political Theory Textbooks


Jacob T. Levy, Chris Bertram and Micah Schwartzman are talking a little bit about introductory texts in political theory which they use and/or like. Let me add a couple of comments. 1) Chris doesn't seem to care too much for Will Kymlicka's Contemporary Political Philosophy, and I wouldn't either, if I had to use it for an introduction to the discipline of political theory, which I believe needs to be grounded in a historical and philosophical tradition. But Kymlicka's book is wonderful for discussing topical political ideologies (liberal egalitarianism, libertarianism, communitarianism, civic republicanism, feminism, etc.) rigorously, and I've always thought my students have responded to it well. I supplement it with essays pulled from Liberalism and Its Critics, an old but still fine collection with Rawls, Dworkin, Sandel, MacIntyre and more. It even includes an essay by Oakeshott, so you can bring conservatism into the mix (though Kymlicka, wrongly, generally ignores conservative thought in his book). 2) For my straightforward political theory courses, I'm afraid I usually go directly to complete copies of primary texts: Plato, Augustine, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx and so forth. As worthy as some anthologies are, I've simply never been comfortable with dealing with anything besides the whole text of a particular work when teaching, and thanks to publications like Oxford World's Classics, it's not budget-breaking to require the same of my students. However, when I'm in the mood for a general guide, Edward Bryan Portis's Reconstructing the Classics is one I've used that introduces political theory the way I think it should be: through the primary thinkers themselves.