Social and Political Philosophy: Readings from Plato to Gandhi by John SomervilleMy edition of this book was published in the 1960s. Later editions have been published, it seems, but I still doubt anyone is going to read this review because the collection is slightly outdated, ending at Gandhi. Other writings have been published since that could and no doubt should qualify for this type of collection; MLK or Malcolm X or Stephen Biko or Nelson Mandela, for instance. No matter, I do recommend THIS collection, so if you happen to be reading my review and you are looking for a collection on social and political philosophy, hear me: you will do well to pick up this collection.
Heres the reason. Readings that you may not encounter in other places are prominently included. Well selected portions of Hitlers Mein Kampf are included and a couple of Mussolinis writings are also included. Since Hitler is rightly written off as an evil quack, Mein Kampf is usually ignored in public academic settings, with the result that only crazy, misguided followers of Nazism read the work. Mussolini may be read as a leader of Fascism, but Hitler almost never. I think it is terribly important, however, to read and understand the arguments and ideas that drove one of the worst ideological systems and governments and society in history. Ignorance of it effectively propagates it. Another writing, Thoreaus Civil Disobedience on the occasion of the U.S. Mexican War and including his opposition to slavery, is also included. The essay is almost certainly included in a great many collections, but probably not in many that also feature Aristotle. The diversity of this collection is truly praiseworthy.
Unfortunately the diversity is also somewhat frustrating. In actively trying to give equal say to a wide variety of thought, the editors have given unnecessary space to some writings and too limited space to others. I think its silly to comment on whether or not certain people and writings should have been included or not and whether or not other writings should have been included (although the age of this collection, excluding more recent work, is upsetting). But what is included seems awkwardly balanced. Aristotle and Gandhi, the two book ends, are probably the prime examples. Aristotles writing is by nature very precise and detailed in working up to conclusions. To limit him to the space of 40 pages, which the editors declare as their target for each author, is to guarantee a hardly understandable haphazard manner of reading. Aristotles ideas are barely captured and his method not at all. On the other hand, Gandhi, as important as his theory of Satyagraha is, the theory can only be repeated so many times. Gandhi is no less valuable than any other author included here, indeed more valuable perhaps, but his ideas are grasped easily and do not require the arbitrary 40 pages.
1. Introduction: What is Political Philosophy?
Social and Political Philosophy: Readings from Plato to Gandhi
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