The pragmatic revolution (postmodern revolution) is thought to have significantly/completely changed philosophy and its vocabulary. However with regard to politics, we still seem to be using Platonic notions of justice, freedom and such. Machiavelli approached politics from a more pragmatic context, something that involved basic human emotions around glory, power, treachery, revenge and so on. Even Freudian ideas should have been bought lock, stock and barrel by political theorists. But still the old Greek approach seems to be much more popular, even today. Why is that the case? Almost every other branch of the humanities has completely changed but not this. A lot of this seems to be because political thought is still very local. The American model can't work in Russia, and for that reason nothing out of Harvard politics matters much to that country. Same with almost every other nation. There doesn't seem to be as much universality to political thought, as maybe mathematics perhaps.

  • "The American model can't work in Russia" - it possibly could if not russian government. But anyway, you know, I'd argue Stalin was close to machiavellian thoughts. Actually, you should say what do you mean by "Almost every other branch of the humanities has completely changed but not this." How didn't it changed? Monarchy was universal among Europe in Middle Ages and greek approach is not in favor of monarchy.
    – rus9384
    Apr 26, 2018 at 16:28
  • @rus9384 Can you get the ethnic republics to agree if the Russian majority votes out special privileges? I don't think so. It hasn't changed in the sense, look what is coming out of say, Ivy League political departments. Look, a lot might be just that the academia goes with the times, and since a certain flavor of liberalism is popular academia follows it. No, I am not talking about the final government structure. I think European monarchs were better social democrats than Ancient Greek democratic states. BTW my concern is not the final government structure but the larger theoretical paradigm. Apr 26, 2018 at 16:42
  • The question "why" in this case can be answered from really many positions starting from "just a coincidence" and ending by "that's a nature of humans".
    – rus9384
    Apr 26, 2018 at 17:00
  • There's a lot out there besides mainstream, say Dewey, Arendt, Plessner, Habermas, Gramsci... You seem to raise the normative claim that there should be a change in mainstream political philosophy and the descriptive claim that such a change actually happened in other branches. Is that correct? I'd challenge both, e.g. many if not most epistemologists are still naive realists despite Kantianism, Hermeneutics, and Postmodernism/Foucaultism.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Apr 26, 2018 at 17:35
  • I do not think pragmatism and post-modernism are the same thing, most pragmatists are not postmodernists, Rorty is an exception. And as far as postmodernism in politics goes what of sexual revolution, the New Left, feminism, identity politics, culture wars, post-truth, etc., etc.? Even "justice" and "freedom" are not as much Platonic as French Enlightenment and later. Do you have references for the "we" who "still seem to be using", it is hard to tell what you are asking about?
    – Conifold
    Apr 26, 2018 at 18:17

2 Answers 2


I doubt if the idea of current Western political concepts as derived en bloc from Plato or even the Ancient Greeks will stand much scrutiny. When we use the term 'justice' we may think it a translation of the Greek dike or dikaiosune, but it isn't. The latter had a wider sense of 'righteousness' than our 'justice'; and the Greeks never performed the acrobatics on 'justice', even if we stick to that translation, that we do with our notions of positive or reverse discrimination.

Human rights are at the centre of current political discourse in the West. The Greeks (I think) had no notion of rights but certainly they had no idea of human rights as goods to which all humans are entitled by virtue of their humanity.

The Greeks had the idea and practice of democracy but this was of direct, participatory democracy; they had no idea of representative democracy.

There is a wide range of concepts in political philosophy of which the Greeks knew nothing : public choice theory, rational choice theory, gender politics, identity politics, equal opportunity, alienation, anomie, the welfare state, the corporate state, totalitarianism, fascism, capitalism, socialism, environmentalism, deep ecology, social contract : and so on and on.

The idea that we are in hock to Greek political thought in general, or Plato's in particular, can't be sustained. This is not to deny that there is a legacy of Greek thought; but it is a legacy, not a total domination.

As for Freud, he was certainly a trailblazer; the mind never looks the same again after one has read Freud. But his detailed theories have little currency or credibility now in mainstream psychology. Political philosophy needs to be informed by a variety of disciplines - psychology, genetics, neurophysiology, evolutionary biology, economics. This is gradually happening in the academic journals even if it has not penetrated far into ordinary and traditional political discourse.


Geraint Williams, Political Theory in Retrospect: From the Ancient Greeks to the 20th Century. ISBN 10: 1852786418 / ISBN 13: 9781852786410 Published by Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, 1992

T.A. Sinclair, A History of Greek Political Thought. Published by Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959.

D. Kagan, Sources in Greek Political Thought. The Free Press, 1965.

R. Scruton, Dictionary of political thought.ISBN 10: 0333647866 / ISBN 13: 9780333647868. Macmillan 1996 2nd edition .


The political theory in Prof. C. Fred Alford's book 'Group Psychology and Political Theory' brings a very modern grounding. Based on observations of group psychology - our natural heritage from evolving in and as tribes - he goes on to discuss Churchill's successful method of 'interpretive leadership'.

In this innovative book, C. Fred Alford argues that the group - not the individual - is the most fundamental reality in society and that political theory has overlooked the insights of group psychology and leadership. ... Alford asserts that small, unstructured, leaderless groups are the closest thing to the state of nature that political theorists write about. According to Alford, none of the familiar traditions in political theory - including modern state-of-nature theory, liberalism, communitarianism, postmodernism, and feminist theory - makes sense of the group experience. Most contemporary political theorists have erred in starting from the position of the individual and moving to an understanding of the individual's struggle to belong to the group and civil society. Instead, says Alford, political theorists should realize that the group is the state of nature, and that civil society is the product of the individual's struggle to separate from the group and develop a sense of self.


Table of Contents:

A Note on Sex, Gender, and Grammar
1. In the Beginning Was the Group
2. The Experience of the Small Group
3. Theoretical Perspectives on the Small Group: Acting Out the Missing Leader
4. Groups Are the State of Nature
5. Tocqueville and the Schizoid Compromise:
   A Reinterpretation of Contemporary Political Theory in Light of Group Theory
6. Leadership Epilogue: The Wolini.


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