As of this college semester; I am enrolled in both a political analysis/inquiry class, and a political thought class; and so far, I am being taught a few conflicting messages. On one side, there’s the science of everything; analyzing previously-made observations to gather empirical data and hopefully answer various drawn-up hypotheses. On the other, there’s the philosophy of politics; constantly theorizing how things should be; whether that’s policy, or just societal organization.
In this incredibly short time within both of these classes, I’ve tried to gauge to what level each of these methods of political practice are important, and how they both apply to today’s incredibly unique political spectrum. Because, while each of these professors are (in a way) paid to teach me that each method is the most important, no one is going to tell me that one of them doesn’t matter. So, for both my own personal adventure through these ideas, and to help get my thoughts out into the world; I decided to write about what I imagine to be the best balance; and usage; of these political methods today.
As we all know, from the very beginning, philosophy was certainly one of the biggest drivers of political thought, theory, and change. Whether it was Plato, and his mentor Socrates; or everyone’s favorite, Karl Marx; there were numerous political philosophers; both famous and unknown. However, when social science as a study became more popular; thanks to folks like John Hopkins; those interested in politics began to shift away from the philosophy, and strictly to the science. Since the early 20th century; most departments have been labeled as “Political Science,” for this specific reason; they’re focused on research and analysis to determine how everything works.
But lately; as the polarization of the two parties has continued; the ideas of both political science and philosophy have come back up. In 2019, the U.S. political system is honestly more about warring ideologies and philosophies, than it is about policies. While there are a lot of problems with congress right now, one of the largest has to do with its members’ inability to agree on the government’s duties to its citizens; one of, if not the biggest question of political philosophy. And if we can’t agree on government’s supposed function, how the hell are we supposed to enact policies?
Don’t get me wrong; I love the direction a lot of conversations have been going, in many ways. A United States that is at least slightly open to socialist ideas is one that I enjoy; not because I agree with all of the ideas that come with socialism; but because it shows that we (especially the younger generations) are more open-minded to newer ideas, and focused on large change.
That mindset is one that I think we should continue, but with a strong knowledge that these are long-term goals. Politicians like Bernie, who run on promises of free universal healthcare and college educations, aren’t doing anyone any favors. Firstly, as we all know, the odds of that process happening anytime soon are slim to none. And honestly, no one would want it to. The markets aren’t ready for the radical shifts caused by those policies, and would go into panic mode without being eased in.
Instead, candidates should campaign (and focus) on the little steps required for us to get there. This is not only a more realistic view for the voters to see, but it’s one that can hopefully get policies enacted on the way towards those goals. What small changes can we make to create college that’s cheaper and more available, instead of making it free? If we try to answer this, we may even find a balance along the way, that can help solve the issue of student debt without resorting to free university.
This is where the scientists need to come in. While we have those dreamers; in Washington, or in the classroom; we need people focused on studying what exactly the effects of these ideas will have on our country. Empirical studies can help us make sure we don’t screw ourselves with large policy decisions; and just allow us to be more informed on what is likely to happen with each position we have.
And sure; this can’t solve every issue in the world. Studies and theories can be wrong, of course; and even if provided with the same information, people will have different stances on what should be done. Personal biases will get in the way, and that’s unavoidable. But right now, I’m focused on realistic, and genuinely helpful change, no matter how small. This has been more focused on more liberal stances, as I tend to skew to more of that side of things; but this applies just as much to more conservative stances. We shouldn’t be focused on building huge walls, giving out free education, cutting all ties with China, or creating the next Sweden. We should be focused on figuring out what risks are associated with each of these, and what steps can be taken to get there safely.
Yes, there is a place for political philosophy, even today. In fact, as Socrates would argue, it’s a necessity for the progression of our society. But our government shouldn’t be held dormant until we hash these questions out. If that were to happen, nothing would ever get done, and we’re more or less seeing that right now. There’s always going to be at least two sides to an issue, and a United States that unanimously agrees on even one political issue will most likely never exist. So, whether you’re dreaming of a utopia for liberal snowflakes, or a country with 200-foot walls on all sides, understand that these changes can’t happen instantaneously, and should be looked at heavily before making any decision.