Political Philosophy

Political Philosophy November 2, 2020

From Encyclopedia Britannica:[i]

Political philosophy may thus be viewed as one of the most important intellectual disciplines, for it sets standards of judgment and defines constructive purposes for the use of public power. Such consideration of the purposes for which power should be used is in a sense more urgent today than it was in earlier periods, for humankind has at its disposal the power either to create a world civilization in which modern technology can benefit the human race or to destroy itself in pursuit of political myths.

Questions concerning the aims of government, the grounds of political obligation, the rights of individuals against the state, the basis of sovereignty, the relation of executive to legislative power, and the nature of political liberty and social justice have been asked and answered in many ways over the centuries. They are all fundamental to political philosophy and demand answers in terms of modern knowledge and opinion.

This will not be a tutorial on the history of political philosophy. Some of the regular readers here already know more about that than I do. Instead, I will do a brief review of liberal/progressive and conservative philosophies ..and then, we will go off the deep end, and look at the new kid on the block Can you guess its name?


Don’t laugh. This is serious business (sort of). Trumpism is neither liberal nor conservative. It is a new (and not very attractive) worldview, but it has been adopted by a significant cohort of US voters, and even has a foothold in some European countries. So here we go. First a brief description of the competing political philosophies. These are by no means intended to be tutorials on the subject. (See NOTE at end.)


Liberalism, also called progressivism, is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed and equality before the law. The fundamental elements of contemporary society have liberal roots, including individual rights (including both civil rights and human rights), secularism, gender equality and racial equality. Liberals are in general, more accepting of changes that improve the conditions of lower economic classes than conservatives, who oppose changes that threaten tradition and the status quo. 


Traditionalist conservatism places a strong emphasis on the notions of custom, convention and tradition. Conservatives believe that any change  must flow naturally out of the traditions of the community. Leadership, authority and hierarchy are seen as natural products. Traditionalist conservatives believe that human society is essentially hierarchical (i.e. it always involves various interdependent inequalities, degrees and classes and that political structures that recognize this fact prove the most just, thriving and generally beneficial). Hierarchy allows for the preservation of the whole community simultaneously, instead of protecting one part at the expense of the others.


Here are some excerpts from a recent article in the LA Times:

Some Republicans are looking past the election already. Even if Trump loses re-election, evidence is growing that his populist, personality-driven movement will continue to dominate the Republican Party, overpowering conservatives who are trying to sketch out alternatives.

People are laying the groundwork to consolidate that Trump base. Ted Cruz, a would-be successor to the president: “Even with a big loss, he will still be the kingmaker of the Republican Party in many senses.

Candidates have seen that Trump’s grievance-based rhetoric, which spread in the tea party movement that preceded his entry into politics, holds sway over a large segment of Republican voters who feel marginalized or ignored amid the country’s social and economic changes.

The issues on which Trump has changed GOP [conservative] orthodoxy – strict limits on immigration, hostility to trade deals, isolationist foreign policy, ignoring big budget deficits – have been largely popular with the Republican base. His style of grievance, white-identity politics and determination to destroy institutions has been accepted by leading Republicans and celebrated by his most loyal supporters.

What has become clear is that Trumpism has very little to do with its progenitor, Conservatism. This is a new, unruly kid on the block, and it is likely to change the political atmosphere in the years to come…and not in pleasant ways. The political climate in the US has been veering toward acrimony and confrontation for at the least the past thirty years, but Trumpism has ramped up the volume and anger. A loss by Trump and some of his most prominent supporters in Congress may tamp this down temporarily, but it is unlikely to quiet the folks who supported him. Where this will take us, and how it will affect our secular republic, are open questions at this point, regardless of the outcome of the election. The door to demagogues has been opened, and closing it won’t be easy or quick.

NOTE: The descriptions of Liberalism and Conservatism were drawn from a number of web sites, including Wikipedia.

[i] https://www.britannica.com/topic/political-philosophy

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