It seemed a fitting way to spend the long, nail-biting evenings between the US election and the US election result to read ‘Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction‘ by David Miller, as a reminder of how democracy works. The ‘very short introduction’ series is a great way of dipping into a subject to get an intelligent top-level overview, and this one was a good reminder of some theories I haven’t been actively engaged with since University. It starts with setting out why political philosophy is needed – because it makes a difference whether we are governed well or badly, because we have choices to make, and because it can help us to learn what qualities make up the best form of government. How extremely fitting this feels right now.
The book has chapters on political authority, democracy, freedom and the limits of government, justice, Feminism and multiculturalism (a chapter that seemed out of step with how fast these issues and debates have moved on since this was written in 2003), and nations, states and global justice. It points out that from the perspective of human history, being governed by a state is a recent phenomenon, one that is necessary to give us the security that allows us to trust other people that we don’t know. The chapter on democracy makes the case for democratic political authority and sets out the dilemmas involved in decision-making to protect minority interests and a system that relies on representatives to make most key decisions on behalf of citizens. The chapter on freedom looks at how much the state should be involved in the decisions that individuals make, and where the limits of individual freedom should be. The reason I bought the book was to remind myself about Rawl’s theory of justice and the notion of equality of opportunity, which the chapter on justice set out very clearly, and the final chapter on nation states, and what unites and divides people, felt particularly pertinent in a Brexit context.
I couldn’t help but stop to pause on the sentence ‘Consider a simple case: suppose that we have a democratic constitution, and the party we belong to has just been defeated in a general election. Should we hand over power as the constitution requires, or should we stage a coup and declare the election null and void?’ I read this as the world was watching America to see what Trump would do.