Category Archives: Philosophy

Review of Professor sheldon’s book on political theory

Recent reviewers have celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of emeritus Professor Garrett Ward Sheldon’s book on political theory: THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL THEORY. The review below is of the book in anticipation of a new updated edition.

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Review by GEN Z CONSERVATIVE

Introduction

As I’ve said before, political philosophy is something I find interesting but struggle with reading and truly comprehending it. I love reading books like The PrinceLeviathan, and The Federalist Papers, but wonder how much I’m able to glean from the complex ideas in those books. However, my eyes were opened to the value of well-written, concise discussions of political philosophy when I read Professor Sheldon’s The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and, shortly afterward, The Political Philosophy of James Madison. Because I enjoyed those books so much, I chose to read his The History of Political Theory: Ancient Greece to Modern America.

As you should be able to guess from the title, The History of Political Theory covers how political theory has developed over the years. Beginning with Socrates and ending with Benjamin Barber, it covers some of the most influential political thinkers, generally from the West, and what their ideas were.

If you don’t have time to read the full review, just know this: The History of Political Theory is a book you need to read. To develop a better political system, we must understand the political ideas of the past, as those ideas are the concepts from which our system extends. We must understand them so that we can tweak and refine them in our quest to create the “more perfect Union” referred to in the Constitution. Read it. You won’t regret doing so.

Read the rest here…

The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson

The world’s attention has been on American politics and American government for the last few months. The reference to the American Constitution and its founders has been constant. Indeed, understanding the impeachment process and the choice of a supreme court judge requires some knowledge of the constitution and its contributors. Professor Garrett Ward Sheldon has written a book about Thomas Jefferson, one of the most influential of the founding fathers. His book, The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, is favourably reviewed below.

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Summary of The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson by Garrett Ward Sheldon

To show what elements of what theories comprised Jefferson’s political philosophy, Sheldon traces the development of his political thoughts alongside the development of America, showing how Jefferson’s thoughts changed as America evolved throughout The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson.

First, before delving into the relationship between Jefferson’s thoughts and America’s evolving national character, Sheldon describes the combination of Lockean liberalism and classical republicanism that primarily contributed to Jefferson’s political philosophy, hinting at how Jefferson was able to blend “many philosophical concepts into a comprehensive and coherent political philosophy, the essence of which [might] be closer to classical republicanism than to Lockean liberalism.”

Then, after delving into the attributes of and differences between the two, Sheldon begins his history-based approach, starting, as should be expected, with America as a colony. In this chapter, Sheldon discusses how “the position that the American colonists found themselves in…accounted for much of their feelings of both affection for, and resentment of, the royal British Empire.”

Read the rest here…

The political philosophy of James Madison

The world’s attention has been on American politics and American government for the last few months. The reference to the American Constitution and its founders has been constant. Indeed, understanding the impeachment process and the choice of a supreme court judge requires some knowledge of the constitution and its contributors. Professor Garrett Ward Sheldon has written a book about James Madison, one of the writers of the constitution. His book, The Political Philosophy of James Madison, is favourably reviewed below.

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Summary of The Political Philosophy of James Madison by Garrett Ward Sheldon

Admin, Gen Z Conservative, 11 February 2021

The Political Philosophy of James Madison is, as you might expect, about Madison’s political beliefs and how he came to them. Given that he was a Founding Father, the author of the Constitution, an author of The Federalist Papers, and one of the pre-eminent Virginians from the early American time period, understanding how he thought and what he envisioned for America is singularly important.

To help the reader understand Madison’s political thoughts, Sheldon begins with a brief introduction to it and the ideas that will be discussed. According to him, Madison’s political views changed over time, shifting between aspects of American nationalism, Lockean liberalism, and Classical Republicanism, yet were held together and coherent because of their grounding in Protestant Christianity, specifically Calvinist culture and theology.

Additionally, although being associated with Jefferson, who had, at times, radical views on liberty, and being a key opponent of the Federalist Party, Madison was no anarchist; while his views on what measure of national control was acceptable, he never shifted away from the basic premise that the national government should remain, to some degree, supreme.

After that brief introduction to Madison and his political ideas, Sheldon shifts to the first real chapter of The Political Philosophy of James Madison, which is on the intellectual underpinnings of James Madison’s political thoughts. To Sheldon, the root of many of those thoughts was Calvinist theology and his belief that it and reason complemented each other. For example, Madison’s writings, even later in life, reflected his Calvinist upbringing; they lacked the rhetorical flair of Jefferson and were instead well-grounded and ordered.

Read the rest here…

Edmund Burke on what it means to be a people

This essay is to be read with my post, Australia did not exist before 26 January 1788. The present debate in Australian about British Invasion and Aboriginal sovereignty is fatally flowed when one understands how peoples, societies and nation have developed over time. The history of Europe, for example, is one of shifting peoples, migration, settlement and and invasion. Nations arise out of these shifts. It is absurd and incoherent to disqualify the majority of a settled nation because its member are the descendants of people who centuries before settled or invaded a particular geographic area. A nation is a moral incorporation, not a particular mass of land distinguished by geographical coordinates The moral incorporation implies a contract.

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When Edmund Burke claimed in An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs that the French Revolution ‘was a wild attempt to methodize anarchy; to perpetuate and fix disorder…that it was a foul, impious, monstrous thing, wholly out of the course of moral nature,’[1] he was targeting a particular theory of political organization now known as ‘social contract theory’. It is important to understand that for Burke social contract theory not only determines the form of political organization of a particular people but the accompanying social organization as well.[2]

The early theorists of social contract were Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Hobbes being considered the first to introduce the idea. Burke was clearly familiar with the writings of these political philosophers. There are recognizable references to Hobbes (Leviathan) and Locke (The Second Treatise of Government) in his speeches and writings, although he does not mention them by name. He was scathing about Rousseau, reducing his entire philosophy (including the Social Contract) to one of vanity, claiming that ‘with this vice he was possessed to a degree little short of madness,’ and that ‘it is plain that the present rebellion [in France] was its legitimate offspring.’ [3] In other words, he attributed the ‘wild attempt to methodize anarchy [and] to perpetuate and fix disorder’ in France to Rousseau as a major influence.

Continue reading Edmund Burke on what it means to be a people

‘Cultural Marxism in the University is Destroying American Education’

Professor Garrett Ward Sheldon on the Problem of Cultural Marxism in the University

When I taught the Classics of Political Theory, I used to introduce Karl Marx as “the least funny of the Marx Brothers”. But as I mentioned in an earlier piece in this site, “What Made American Academia Great and How It Was Destroyed”, this failed comedian’s ideas have infiltrated American Universities to the detriment of true learning. 

The core of Marxist ideology is economic class conflict (owners vs. workers; slaves vs. masters; capitalists vs. proletarians). Because of the social mobility in the American economy, this core Marxism never really took hold in our country. It was a joke in the 1930’s, at the height of American Communism, that more dues were paid to The Party by FBI informants than actual members! 

But CULTURAL Marxism succeeded in the American Left by casting everything in forms of “group conflict” (race, gender, religion, ethnic, etc.). In Chapter 13 of the textbook, THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL THEORY: Ancient Greece to Modern America, this “dialectic” of opposing but connected opposites leads to economic and political revolution, as in Russia, China, Cuba, etc.

In its cultural form, it leads to revolutions in all aspects of society: family, community, education, personal relations and everything else. This invaded the University in transforming the Humanities (History, English), Social Sciences (Government, Psychology, Sociology), and even Natural Sciences (Meteorology, Medicine. . .) from studying all perspectives and teaching the “best” to presenting the “conflict” between traditional subjects and radical perspectives.

Read the rest here on the Gen Z Conservative website...

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Other essays by Professor Sheldon:

Burke’s Catholic Conservatism

How to Avoid the Life Cycle and Death Spiral of a Republic

‘The System Worked’

John Rawls and Modern American Liberalism

Thomas Jefferson’s Conception of ‘Academic Freedom’ and Its Current Condition in American Higher Education

Life Cycle of a nation – Is the warning too late?

How to Avoid the Life Cycle and Death Spiral of a Republic

A wise Jerusalem is better than an innocent Eden.

By Garrett Ward Sheldon • August 7, 2020

To understand the extraordinary events in America today, it is helpful to look at the ancient wisdom of Greece and Rome. And as the wise historian Thucydides said, “If we forget the errors of the past, we are doomed to repeat them.” The classical Greek authors Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as the Romans Cicero and St. Augustine, explain much of what we are experiencing in politics today. A certain textbook, The History of Political Theory: Ancient Greece to Modern America, may also be helpful in this endeavor.

The ancient Greco-Roman historian Polybius (200-118 B.C.) developed a theory of the “lifecycle” of a republic. Like a human being, a republic is born, is young, matures, grows old, and dies. The United States was born in 1776 (our Declaration of Independence) and 1789 (the ratification of our Constitution); was a youth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; you might say was adolescent in the mid-1800’s (during our Civil War) and matured in the industrial age of late 19th and early 20th centuries. But, by the mid-20th century, especially after World War II, our country grew old, and beginning in the 1960s, frail, sickly, and mentally-impaired.

Like human beings, elderly republics become weak and sickly, sad and demented before they die completely: into anarchy and lawlessness, or tyranny and dictatorship. A society shows its old age in moral weakness, political corruption, decadence, and depravity. 

Read on…

Edmund Burke on Rights

Edmund Burke on Rights: Inherited, Not Inherent

By Owen Edwards|June 16th, 2020

On what basis are political constitutions actually formed and remain valid? Where do rights come from? Edmund Burke offers us an account different from that of many of our contemporaries.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – Preamble to the Declaration of Independence of the United States

And thereupon the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons, pursuant to their respective letters and elections, being now assembled in a full and free representative of this nation, taking into their most serious consideration the best means for attaining the ends aforesaid, do in the first place (as their ancestors in like case have usually done) for the vindicating and asserting their ancient rights and liberties declare. – Bill of Rights, 1689

Where do “rights” come from? Are they to be found tangled in DNA? Can they be discovered, so that as human wisdom increases we find more rights that people ought to possess? At what age does one have rights, and which rights? Is there a right to privacy? What about a right to choose your own pronoun?

Thomas Jefferson eloquently expressed one view—that it is self-evident that all men (women, persons) have certain unalienable rights. These are endowed by a Creator, yes—but they are self-evident, and exist separately from that Creator. An atheist can recognise those rights. (Kant argues the same.) Jefferson limited the enumerated rights to just three: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—though how much is bound up in just those three!

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ROGER SCRUTON: BURKEAN AND BOHEMIAN

By Prof. John Haldane, First Things, 18 January 2020

The death of Sir Roger Scruton has deprived academic aesthetics of one of its most creative, insightful, and wide-ranging practitioners. Roger was one of a kind: poetic, courageous, and funny. We have lost a truly great figure, but his writings remain to nourish, encourage, and educate those who value the humane conversation of mankind and the wisdom philosophy can bring to it. 

I first got to know Roger forty years ago at London University’s Birkbeck College, where he was lecturing in philosophy and I was studying it. He was not one of my teachers, but I learned a good deal from listening to him in various settings—including reading parties at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park. 

Eventually Roger left the academy to give himself wholly to writing, public lecturing, broadcasting, and afflicting the comfortable in the prevailing liberal-socialist establishment. Michael Dummett and Bernard Williams were leading members of the tribe that Roger taunted (sometimes needlessly), and this led to a long delay in his merited election to the Fellowship of the British Academy. In fact, however, he and Williams had much in common as philosophers. 

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What it means to be a people

Each year, approaching Australia Day. I repost my essay on Edmund Burke’s ideas about what it means to be a people. Aboriginals and those of Aboriginal ancestry are now part of a seamless nation called Australia. See the next post for the extended argument.

EDMUND BURKE ON WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A ‘PEOPLE’

When Edmund Burke claimed in An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs that the French Revolution ‘was a wild attempt to methodize anarchy; to perpetuate and fix disorder…that it was a foul, impious, monstrous thing, wholly out of the course of moral nature,’[1] he was targeting a particular theory of political organization now known as ‘social contract theory’. It is important to understand that for Burke social contract theory not only determines the form of political organization of a particular people but the accompanying social organization as well.[2]

Read on…