Two decades ago, during a wave of handwringing about “the new nationalism” sparked by the war in Bosnia, the late political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain wrote that the nation-state remains “the best way we have thus far devised for protecting and sustaining a way of life in common.” Yet the nation-state is an abstraction, meaningful only insofar as it shapes the way individuals understand and order their interpersonal relationships. As Roger Scruton has written, citizenship defines the relationship between the individual and the state—which is to say between the citizen, other citizens, and non-citizens. William B. Allen, whose kind remarks on…
The year 2016 demonstrated the enduring relevance of political ideas. A political idea is distinct from and more fundamental than a stance on a policy or issue. It is a way of understanding political phenomena in light of a worldview. A political idea connects the dizzying array of available facts, forming a coherent vision of what is really happening in the world.
Nearly every political idea involves at minimum three components, corresponding to these questions:
- What is a good society—in other words, what should the world look like?
- Why doesn’t it look that way?
- What would set things right?
This century witnessed the “return of history” in international affairs, and has now shown that we Americans are not immune from the tendencies of human nature toward excessive ambition, and of political society—particularly democracy—toward oligarchy and tyranny. Americans are not exceptional.