A guide to reading Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, expanded edition (Princeton University Press, 2004).*
Chapter One: Political Philosophy and Philosophy
Chapter Two: Plato: Political Philosophy versus Politics
Chapter Three: The Age of Empire: Space and Community
Chapter Four: The Early Christian Era: Time and Community
Chapter Five: Luther: The Theological and the Political
Chapter Six: Calvin: The Political Education of Protestantism
Chapter Seven: Machiavelli: Politics and the Economy of Violence
Chapter Eight: Hobbes: Political Society as a System of Rules
Chapter Nine: Liberalism and the Decline of Political Philosophy
Chapter Ten: The Age of Organization and the Sublimation of Politics
Chapter Eleven: From Modern to Postmodern Power
Chapter Twelve: Marx: Theorist of the Political Economy of the Proletariat or of Uncollapsed Capitalism?
Chapter Thirteen: Nietzsche: Pretotalitarian, Postmodern
Chapter Fourteen: Liberalism and the Politics of Rationalism
Chapter Fifteen: Liberal Justice and Political Democracy
Chapter Sixteen: Power and Forms
Chapter Seventeen: Postmodern Democracy: Virtual or Fugitive?
Chapter One: Political Philosophy and Philosophy.
1. What is political philosophy? (p. 3-4)
2. How do political philosophers go about defining what is political, and what is not? Give a couple of examples of what you believe to be political, and what is not. (4-7)
3. Wolin writes (p. 9) that “most of the great statements of political philosophy have been put forward in times of crisis; that is, when political phenomena are less effectively integrated by institutional forms.” Then read how Wolin ends that paragraph, and how he begins the first complete paragraph on p. 12. This is a section about “order” and the work of the political philosopher. What is the argument here? Is it convincing?
4. Is political philosophy scientific? (12-17, and 21-23.) Note in particular the claim in the first sentence of the last paragraph on p. 14. This section is closely tied to the argument about order in the previous section.
5. What does it mean to say political philosophers offer a “vision” of politics? (17-20) What is the “transforming” version of vision? (p. 20) Is the argument convincing? One possible criticism, for example, is that this section justifies lying in pursuit of the order mentioned in earlier section.
6. The last section of the chapter, pp. 23-6, contains a description of the activities of political philosophers as somewhat heroic. Is this convincing? Why or why not?
*This guide was prepared to support Political Science 326, Recent Political Thought. All rights reserved, Sid Olufs, 2011. Readers of Wolin are welcome to use this material, with acknowledgement.