A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy by Harvey C. Mansfield: Quotations

9781497645103-book-coverIn A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, an essay by Dr. Harvey Mansfield for Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), we are given an introductory exploration of the history of political thought in the search to solve the problem of partisanship. While acknowledging the brevity of the essay, Mansfield introduces the core differences in the method, available questions, and effects of what has become a competition between modern political science – and their attempt to reduce all political investigation into statements of fact – and political philosophy – and their attempt to overcome partisanship by enriching our vocabulary to allow for “the best” forms of government. He provides this sketch of political history by tracing a silver line from Socrates to Rousseau and onward to Kant. The culminating issue is that in the pursuit for solutions to partisanship, we often turn to political science and its attempts to provide non-controversial, or non-partisan, answers, and in doing so we introduce a theory (or theories) which reduce mankind to a principle insufficient for encompassing the many faucets of human living. We often trade what is practical for what is wise.


“You should spend much more time with the great authors than with the professors, and you should use the professors to help you understand the great authors; you should not allow yourself to be diverted or distracted from the great books by the professors.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 1

“But politics and political philosophy have one thing in common, and that is argument.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 2

“Arguments, good or bad, are made with reasons and so are aimed implicitly, if not usually, at a reasonable judge. Here is where political philosophy enters.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 2

“That political science, which dominates political political science departments today, is a rival to political philosophy. Instead of addressing the partisan issues of citizens and politicians, it avoids them and replaces their words with scientific terms. Rather than good, just, and noble, you hear political scientists of this kind speaking of utility or preferences.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 4

“Political philosophy seeks to judge political partisans, but to do so it must enter into political debate.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 5

“Being involved in partisan dispute does not make the political philosopher fall victim to relativism, for the relativism so fashionable today is a sort of lazy dogmatism.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 5

“Political philosophy reaches for the best regime, a regime so good that it can hardly exist. Political science advances a theory – in fact, a number of theories – that promises to bring agreement and put an end to partisan dispute. The one rises above partisanship, the other, as we shall see, undercuts it.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 6

“Today political science is often said to be “descriptive” or “empirical,” concerned with facts; political philosophy is called “normative” because it expresses values. But these terms merely repeat in more abstract form the difference between political science, which seeks agreement, and political philosophy, which seeks the best.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 6

“Socrates was the first to call philosophy down from heaven, place it in cities and homes, and compel it to inquire about life and morals as well as good things and bad.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy (Paraphrasing Cicero), pg. 9

“The rhetoricians taught students to argue both sides of any question, regardless of justice. They assumed, like the pre-Socratic philosophers, that justice is a matter of law or custom (nomos), that it has no definition of its own but only reflects the dominating will of a master or ruler.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 10

“Perhaps the most obvious evidence of natural justice is our believe in it, or rather our belief in injustice.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 10

“Anger always comes with reason; an angry person may not stop to express it, but if he had the time and the ability, he could say why he’s angry.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 11

“Anger is the animus behind unjust partisanship, as when you wrongly feel you deserve something; but it is also the animus behind just partisanship, when you are rightly incensed.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 11

“But evil has a finger on the good; though it cannot grasp the good, evil cannot help admitting that the good is superior because that is what even evil wants.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 12

“You cannot have an argument unless you share a concern for some common good, such as justice, about which you are arguing. The possibility of natural justice makes politics interesting; without that, politics is only about winners and losers.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 12

“Instead of directly questioning the authority of the god, Socrates uses the god’s authority to question the authority of the gods.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 13

“It’s as if when the law tells you to obey, it is actually, through the implied reasons for its commands, allowing you to talk back rather than simply obey.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 13 – 14

“He (Aristotle) compares the political philosopher to a gym teacher who betters the condition of average bodies as well as the best, and who, while leading the exercise of his pupils, also gets some for himself incidentally, as it were.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 14

“Human nature includes both the freedom and the necessity to construct a regime, for we could not have freedom if nature had done everything for us.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 18

“A political constitution is neither entirely natural nor entirely artificial. If it were entirely natural, there would be only one regime corresponding with human nature: and we would have no freedom to choose the direction of our politics. If it were entirely artificial, we would have no guide for our choice: and the only freedom would be for the first maker, who gets to impose his creation until some other maker comes along.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 19

“One must distinguish between what is by nature, in which we have no choice, and what is according to nature, the standard by which we choose.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 19

“Democracy is based on our natural equality, since there are many important respects in which human beings are equal; all have reason, for one. But oligarchy is based on human inequality, for which there is also ample evidence; for instance, the superiority in reason of a few over the many.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 19 – 20

“A choice is not a choice without a reason, he (Aristotle) says, but when you give a reason, you say why something is good for you – and for others like yourself.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy (on how subjective experiences infer universal claims), pg. 20

“A principle of rule is part rational, part conventional; what is natural has to be completed by what is conventional, and what is conventional has to be guided by the natural.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 21

“But from the standpoint of the philosophical tradition, one may hold that any nation having had contact with Greek philosophy or science belongs to the West.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 24

“But Augustine wanted to make the point that moral virtue, contrary to Aristotle’s glowing picture, is always tainted with human self-interest, and always in need of God’s grace. Just as for Plato the only true virtue is philosophic, so for Augustine, true virtue is Christian.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 24

“Human partisanship arising from sin has its own correction, both natural and divine, in the conscience.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 26

“Nature, he (Aquinas) thought, was created by God in such a way that its order can be understood by human reason unassisted by Christian revelation.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 27

“But just as God’s grace adds to nature, Christian truth completes natural truth without changing it.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 27

“Whereas natural justice takes effect through the regime, natural law sets the basis for regimes and so precedes the regime.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 28

“Aristotle did not speak of a conscience in all, nor of a universal natural inclination to virtue, as did Aquinas.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 29

“Somehow the fruits of science in these regimes were poison to liberty.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 30

“The Church caused weakness, he (Machiavelli) believed, by teaching men to despise worldly glory and to seek salvation in humble contemplation instead of manly virtue.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 32

“For Machiavelli, as opposed to Aristotle, there is no contest as to who should rule, but only a conflict between those who want to rule and those who do not want to be ruled.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 34

“Hobbes never gave much of a proof that all men are equal, but he launched the assumption that they can be taken to be equal.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 37

“(Hobbes believed …) Sovereignty needs to be absolute. Any limitation of its power would in effect divide power against itself and return the people to the state of nature they had wished to escape.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 39

“Whereas Machiavelli reduced partisan opinions to two humors underlying them, Hobbes took the reduction one step further and found one fundamental factor: the “passion to be relied upon,” that is, fear.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 39

“Here Hobbes departs from Machiavelli, who had looked for princes to inspire fear. Hobbes looks for subjects who feel fear.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 40

“The moderation, I would say, consists in not seeking a perfect substitute for the virtue that the ancients (variously) described, but in continuing to leave opportunity for virtue. America has been more successful than other regimes by not trying to guarantee success.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 42

“[W]hen you do not rely on virtue, you have to make a new man.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 42

“Disgust with the bourgeoisie became the theme of Western culture as society divided into those who made money and those (on both Left and Right) who despised money-making.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 47

“Boredom is a modern affliction that comes with modern rationality. As life is made more predicable and secure, it becomes mediocre, uninteresting, and lacking in risk or challenge.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 47

“It [Modern thought] does not wonder whether it was a mistake to seek greater rational control over events and for this purpose to invent theories that oversimplify human nature.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 47

“Science can enslave us as well as liberate us.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 48

“They (post-moderns) are too attached to the power and comforts of science to reject it, and they content themselves with biting the hand that feeds them.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 48

“What the moderns did not attempt was to put reason and nature together, as did the ancients, so that reason sees both the greatness and the limitation of human beings. So we are let as we are now: rather small creatures with too much power. We have simultaneously belittled ourselves and empowered ourselves.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 50

“In history you learn facts; you don’t study natures. A fact is how things have turned out; nature is about how things have to be.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 50

“You can see, for example, that you have lost a battle, but whether you deserve to lose is arguable, and from the standpoint of the fact, useless.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 50

“Tocqueville reproved the sort of democratic history that subjects human events to impersonal forces over which men have no control land that levels mankind to a herd of impotent individuals.” – Harvey C. Mansfield, A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy, pg. 51

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s