The study of politics at the University comprises all human things. If the polis is the association whose purpose is the complete human life, then politics includes all the activities whose end is the complete human life. In reflecting upon these activities, politics becomes philosophic. Indeed, it is only political philosophy, whose founder was Socrates, which takes seriously the possibility of the best regime as the standard whereby every other polity is to be judged. Political philosophy, according to Aristotle, is an inquiry into the soul. For it is ultimately the proper order of the human soul which determines the proper order of constitutions.
The modern difficulty is that we no longer think of politics as concerned with all human things. The state has replaced the polis, and that means that we now understand politics as concerned only with the external conditions of human existence.
In the Politics program, students encounter the great texts of political philosophy not as systematic treatises with propositions to be memorized as true statements, but instead as indications, suggestions, openings, into existence. It is only in conversation -- in the exchange between the texts, the students and the teacher (who is but a more experienced student) -- that the texts come alive. These works do not so much state what the nature of things is as reproduce a journey of the soul toward seeing or intellecting both the principles and ends of existence. Thus a different kind of reading and scholarship is required, one which is able to reproduce this journey of the soul.
Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware. 1851.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The program also means to restore the importance of the rhetorical tradition. We wish to restore the understanding that the word has a power over the soul. The tendency in political thought today is to interpret human actions as caused by some impersonal force, whether mode of production, the market place, sexual or biological forces, or the mysterious dispensations of History. Political thought becomes an epiphenomenon, a mere reflection or deceptive rationalization of true hidden causes. Thus not rhetoric but a science of economics, of behavior, or of the history of being is said to be of primary importance.
Courses in contemporary politics are an integral part of the program. Just as Aristotle's Politics contains careful political analyses of the ancient Greek cities, so today the philosophic study of politics must provide an account of contemporary political life. In any program focusing on great texts there is always a danger of self-forgetful immersion in the past. The study of the present reminds us that political philosophy is intended not merely to understand political life but also to guide it -- in light of its ultimate goal, the good society.
The aim of the Politics Ph.D. program is to help form students who will be able to bring to the perennial political questions an understanding shaped by the centuries of discourse on such questions. Students are asked to read the works of the tradition with a seriousness which, in the past two centuries, has too often been lacking. Such seriousness requires not only native intelligence and good character, but also a great capacity for work and a willingness to acquire all the tools necessary for such a task. One of these tools is a knowledge of the languages in which these works were originally written. Students are required to obtain a working knowledge of least two of the languages of the philosophic tradition, one ancient and one modern.
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