Political Thought: A Student’s Guide, by Hunter Baker

Order is not any kind of moral ultimatum. The only reason to desire order is to make something else possible. Order is a means to an end. If what order gives us is not good, then we should not continue to uphold that order. For example, a dictator may give us order, but his order may not be worth preserving as we perceive ourselves to lose more by it than we gain. This takes us in the direction John Locke went with his work. Order is there only to secure something else, and something more than mere protection from violent death. What is that something more? Is it freedom? Is it justice?

Mark Twain once wrote a story called “Political Economy,” which is what they called Political Science in his time (in that more humble age political thinkers didn’t pretend to be scientists). I memorized it at one point and used to recite it to my friends when we got together, in a bargain-basement Hal Holbrook style. It told how the author sat down to write an essay on the subject (“the dearest to my heart of all this world’s philosophy”) but kept getting interrupted by a lightning rod salesman, who eventually prevailed to the extent that Twain bought his entire stock of rods and had them mounted on his roof, so that all the lightning in that region of the heavens was attracted to his house, setting off the greatest pyrotechnic spectacle ever seen.

Our friend Hunter Baker has written a short book called Political Thought: A Student’s Guide. Though not as funny as Twain’s story, it’s one of the more lively books you’ll find on the subject. Instead of doing a historic overview, telling how philosophical ideas developed through the work of various thinkers, he starts with things that most readers have experience with – families. He describes his own and his wife’s families, and how their different habits of interaction and discipline worked in different ways. Then he imagines two very different kinds of families – a tyrannical family and a loving one – and relates them to the ideas of the great political thinkers of history, especially Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke.

If you’re looking for an effective Christian primer on politics for young people, you could hardly do better than this. In fact, even I learned a few things, and it’s well known that I know pretty much everything. The only fault I can find with this book that I’m not quoted in it, a failing common to a surprising number of books on Political Science (or Economy).


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