A little over a year ago, I took a political philosophy course, and am currently reviewing some notes and the texts. Keeping in mind that I have no other background in philosophy, I wondered if anyone could recommend a good place to pick up from and keep learning about the subject. I'm certainly willing to venture into other areas of philosophy as well.

For reference, through the class I read Plato's Republic, most of Aristotle's Politics, Machiavelli's The Prince, Hobbes' Leviathan, and selected essays by Kant and Marx. Through Kant, I felt like I was reasonably able to keep up, but with Marx, although my professor assured me I understood the basics well enough for the class, felt like quite a stretch to understand, like we had skipped important background info (and I remember Hegel being mentioned in his writing frequently). I'm certain Plato's political ideas aren't solely contained in that text, and wondered if I should start by going back and reading other of his or Aristotle's works, then moving forward, or if not, then what a good next step would be given that I have familiarity with these particular writings.

I think that, basically, what I'm asking is this: are there major gaps I need to fill to even make sure I have a grasp of these, or can I move on? And if I am to move on, who or what could I read and understand given this background, that would also help me build a larger base to keep studying from there?

  • 2
    Wkipedia has convenient Influences on Karl Marx, you should be most interested not in Hegel but in Smith, Ricardo and French socialists. After Marx, check out Lukac, the Frankfurt school, Rawls, convergence theory and New Left.
    – Conifold
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 2:57
  • “Reason and Revolution” by Herbert Marcuse is good to read on the Hegel-Marx side. Get the idea of how the term “negative” is used and so on. archive.org/details/reasonandrevolut029499mbp/page/n6 , I have heard good things about Leo Strauss on the conservative side. But I have not read him so I have no book to suggest.
    – Gordon
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 14:48
  • One other book, the above book concerned Hegel and Marx. This is just Marx, and the misunderstanding of Marx that still persists. “Rubel on Karl Marx: Five Essays.” amazon.com/Rubel-Karl-Marx-Five-Essays/dp/0521238390 This is the book that should start the contemporary study of Marx, and sheds some light on the confusion caused by Engels. By all means get this from the library.
    – Gordon
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 15:17
  • I found this an invaluable introductory text: 'Political Thinking: The Perennial Questions' by Glenn Tinder goodreads.com/book/show/20888329-political-thinking It lays out sources of dispute around 7 core questions, like 'Estrangement & Unity', & subquestions like 'can estrangement be overcome through reason?', & concludes with specific recommended further reading. It's a really great short work, for engaging with political ideas & disputes at the most general level
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 15:16

2 Answers 2


I'm not an expert, but here is my answer anyway. I should note that I answer draws from a Western philosophy perspective.

I think it helps to have a broad historical overview of philosophy and an idea about its interactions with (European) history and religion. See aso another answer on SE. You don't need much knowledge but it helps. This could include Plato's politeia, Aristoteles politica, Augustinus, Thomas of Aquino, Machiavelli, More's Utopia, Hobbes' Levithian, Locke, Montesquieu's l'esprit des lois, Rousseau, Kant, Bentham's principles of morals and legislation, Mill, Hegel and Marx.

There are philosophers in the continental part of philosophy that have written about political philosophy.

  • The French ones: Sartre, Foucault, FinkielKraut, Lefort, Nancy, Lyotard.
  • The German ones: Arendt, Schmitt, Frankfurter Schule, Habermas.

In the English-speaking world:

  • Karl Popper has written The open society and its enemies. The paradox of tolerance is an interesting concept by him.

  • John Rawls: A theory of justice and Political liberalism. I think that the Rawls' veil of ignorance is an essential concept to understand. I think Rawls' work is the most important one to understand contemporary political philosophy.

  • Isaiah Berlin's concept of positive and negative liberty

  • Dworkin (rights as trump cards)
  • capability approach (Nussbaum, Sen)

Equality is a topic in political philosophy. Some works about this are:

  • Capital in the twenty-first century by Piketty
  • Inequality by Atkinson
  • The great divide by Stiglitz

Contemporary political philosophy includes:

  • Utilitarianism
  • Liberal eqality
  • Marxism
  • Communitarianism as a reaction to Rawls
  • Multiculturalism

The book Contemporary political philosophy. An introduction by Kymlicka covers recent developments.

About the connection between Hegel and Marx: For historical context, it helps to know that Hegel was born in 17770 in Prussia, was 19 years old when the French Revolution happened, and experienced the Napoleon period. Hegel had a philosophy about history. According to Hegel, human kind is subject to dialectical developments. He saw this as a process of 'thesis-antithesis-synthesis'. Hegel saw his own historical period as a synthesis, an endpoint in history (a bit like what Fukuyama said about democracy and liberalism after the Cold war). Marx saw history as a process unevitably developing to communism.

Hegel saw this unfolding of history as a development of 'spirit of the age' (zeitgeist), while Marx saw it more as a development of matter. That's why Marx is considered a 'dialectical materialist'. Note however that there isn't a extensive explanation of this by Marx. The application of the dialectic on the processes of nature was more due to Engels, followed by Plechanov and Lenin.


One of my favourites:-

Group Psychology and Political Theory by C. Fred Alford

In this text, the author argues that the group, not the individual is the most fundamental reality in society. Political theorists should realize that the group is the state of nature and that civil society is the product of the individual's attempt to develop a sense of self.

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