I'm interested in learning about political philosophy. What are the best ways to start? Are there any websites for beginners? Are there any books such as the "For Dummies" series? Are there any audio or video introductions to familiarize myself with the terminology?
First of all, make you sure you have a good knowledge of general philosophy before you start reading political philosophy. This is not mandatory, but I think you may encounter some problems if you don't know the very basic terms, philosophers and ideas.
To get started with political philosophy, I would recommend the following:
- Yale Opencourseware: Introduction to political philosophy
- TTC: Power over People: Classical and Modern Political Theory
- Book: An Introduction to Political Philosophy
- Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present (terrific introduction)
Reading original texts
Once you know enough about political philosophy in general, you can start reading original texts. The very first you should read, is Plato's Republic. Whether you like it or not, other philosophers will refer to it over and over again and it is important to understand it well. A companion is recommended too to make sure you get the most out of it. I've included a TTC-course and a book.
Once you know this book really well, you are ready to move on. There are many texts and I don't really know which one to recommend, so I'll list a few. It's up to you which ones you pick. It may very well be that by this time, you already have your own preferences and therefore don't really need this list anymore. Many, if not all of these will already have been introduced by introductory books.
- Politics by Aristotle
- The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
- Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
- Books by John Rawls, most notably A theory of justice
- Open Society and its enemies, vol 1 and vol 2 by Karl Popper
- Contemporary Political Theory: A Reader (not for "beginners")
- On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present by Alan Ryan (magnificent overview)
Wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy are excellent sources for overviews of particular views, philosophers, and traditions. There is a series of "Very Short Introduction" books that are usually pretty good that cover an awful lot of topics in science and philosophy, and I'd imagine there'd be something there.
Resources can be of varying use depending on how much you're interested in learning. If you just want a broad overview, then these resources can be your end-all and be-all. If you're looking to learn more deeply, however, and are just looking for somewhere to begin, there's little harm in jumping directly to the primary classics, especially if you're willing to read patiently and slowly. Those would probably include texts like Rousseau's The Social Contract, Macchiaveli's The Prince and his Commentaries on Livy, Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics, The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, the Federalist Papers, anything by Foucault, the list goes on. Of those, if I were recommending somewhere to start it'd probably by Rousseau or Macchiavelli, but I don't know how universal (if at all) that opinion is.
Lest any "For Dummies" books I recommend e.g. the EconTalk podcast. It has got its built in biases (e.g. Hoover Institution at Stanford legacy) but with interesting twists e.g. towards philosophic pragmatism, or scientific skepticism, or Hayekianism in general: IMO it plays with quite open cards, invites many interesting (both prominent and surprising) guests, and comes with transcripts and good pointers to secondary literature on its web site.