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5. The Task of Political Philosophy

I t is not the intention of this book to expound or defend at length the

philosophy of natural law, or to elaborate a natural-law ethic for the

personal morality of man. The intention is to set forth a social ethic

of liberty, i.e., to elaborate that subset of the natural law that develops

the concept of natural rights, and that deals with the proper sphere of

"politics," i.e., with violence and non-violence as modes of interpersonal

relations. In short, to set forth a political philosophy of liberty.

In our view the major task of "political science" or better, "political

philosophy" is to construct the edifice of natural law pertinent to the

political scene. That this task has been almost completely neglected in

this century by political scientists is all too clear. Political science has

either pursued a positivistic and scientistic "model building," in vain

imitation of the methodology and content of the physical sciences, or it

has engaged in purely empirical fact-grubbing. The contemporary

political scientist believes that he can avoid the necessity of moral

judgments, and that he can help frame public policy without committing

himself to any ethical position. And yet as soon as anyone makes any

policy suggestion, however narrow or limited, an ethical judgmentsound

or unsound-has willy-nilly been made-I The difference between

the political scientist and the political philosopher is that the "scientist's"

moral judgments are covert and implicit, and therefore not subject to

detailed scrutiny, and hence more likely to be unsound. Moreover, the

avoidance of explicit ethical judgments leads political scientists to one

overriding implicit value judgment-that in favor of the political status

quo as it happens to prevail in any given society. At the very least, his

lack of a systematic political ethics precludes the political scientist from

persuading anyone of the value of any change from the status quo.

In the meanwhile, furthermore, present-day political philosophers

generally confine themselves, also in a Wert-ei manner, to antiquarian

descriptions and exegeses of the views of other, long gone political philosophers.

In so doing, they are evading the major task of political philosophy,

in the words of Thomas Thorson, "the philosophic justification

of value positions relevant to politic^."^

In order to advocate public policy, therefore, a system of social or

political ethics must be constructed. In former centuries this was the crucial

task of political philosophy. But in the contemporary world, political

theory, in the name of a spurious "science," has cast out ethical philosophy,

and has itself become barren as a guide to the inquiring citizen. The

same course has been taken in each of the disciplines of the social sciences

and of philosophy by abandoning the procedures of natural law. Let us

then cast out the hobgoblins of Wertfieiheit, of positivism, of scientism.

Ignoring the imperious demands of an arbitrary status quo, let us hammer

out- hackneyed clich6 though it may be-a natural-law and naturalrights

standard to which the wise and honest may repair. Specifically, let

us seek to establish the political philosophy of liberty and of the proper

sphere of law, property rights, and the State.

1961): 71211. Perhaps Professor Holton is right that "the decline in political philosophy is

one part of a general decline," not only in philosophy itself, but also "in the status of

rationality and ideas as such." Holton goes on to add that the two major challenges to

genuine political philosophy in recent decades have come from historicism-the view

that all ideas and truths are relative to particular historical conditions-and scientism,

the imitation of the physical sciences. James Holton, "Is Political Philosophy Dead?"

Western Political Quarterly (September 1961): 75ff.