This semester I will be teaching a political philosophy course for the first time since graduate school, and have just finalized my syllabus. For all the ethicists and political philosophers out there – what do you consider to be the most underrated works of political philosophy for each period (ancient, modern, contemporary)? To elaborate, I’m essentially asking what you consider to be the best political philosophy in terms of originality and persuasiveness of argument, which one would not expect to find in standard readers.
Not really being a political philosopher, I haven’t read all that widely in the field, but, off the top of my head, here are a few works that I believe are underrated:
- Immanuel Kant, Philosophy of Right (often overlooked part of Kant’s oeuvre, and admittedly maddeningly poorly argued at times, such as when Kant argues that no matter how terrible the state, it can never do wrong or be justly resisted, but the first few chapters are a succinct deduction of formal principles of liberty from Kant’s general ethical system. You can’t argue with this: “Freedom is Independence of the compulsory Will of another; and in so far as it can co-exist with the Freedom of all according to a universal Law, it is the one sole original, inborn Right belonging to every man in virtue of his Humanity.”)
- Auberon Herbert, The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State
- Lysander Spooner, No Treason No. VI: The Constitution of No Authority
- Herbert Spencer, Social Statics – Spencer is just as important a utilitarian philosopher as Mill.
Early 20th Cent.
- Franz Oppenheimer, The State (perhaps more anthropology than political philosophy, but relevant all the same)
- A. John Simmons, Moral Principles and Political Obligations – Simmons’ argument is something that has to be dealt with before coming up with principles of state action.
- G.A. Cohen, Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality – Cohen is a neo-Marxist, but he takes libertarianism seriously, and his arguments here help to clarify the libertarian position. See also Narveson, “Libertarianism vs. Marxism,” and neo-Marxist John Roemer’s devastating takedown of classical Marxism, “Should Marxists Be Interested in Exploitation?“
UPDATE: I should note that most of these are not in my syllabus for this class, mostly b/c it’s an intro class, and I want students to be acquainted with the well-known classics first. However, I do recommend them to readers who are already familiar with the “big names.”