Political Theory 101

By Political Theory 101

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Episodes: 64

Great for any philosophy geek
 Jun 21, 2020


A podcast about political theory. Freely available to all, but we'd love your support on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/politicaltheory101 Also available on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play

Episode Date
Wang Yangming
Alex and Benjamin discuss the state of Confucianism during the Ming Dynasty. Should "li" be understood as "principle" or "pattern"? What is the relationship between li and chi? While some theorists, like Zhu Xi, hold that studying the classics can help clear up your chi, Wang Yangming argues that the virtues are much easier to acquire, because for him li always already exists in the mind. He suggests there is a "unity of acting and knowing," so if a person acts in a virtuous way, that implies they have knowledge. This means that knowledge of the li can be found in the simple benevolent acts of ordinary people. While civil servants can quote classical texts, they may not act with the same benevolence, and if they act poorly they can't have the knowledge they purport to have. We therefore get a critique of civic education that comes from within Confucianism, without appeal to the legalist framework of someone like Lord Shang.
May 13, 2023
Shang Yang
Alex and Benjamin discuss one is on Lord Shang, a Chinese political theorist and minister associated with the development of legalism. Unlike most ancient political theorists, Shang Yang denies the possibility of a politics based on virtue. He therefore denies the possibility that the state can be ruled by a virtuous elite. But this does not lead him to argue for democracy. On the contrary, he argues that sages, intellectuals, and other talkers encourage lawbreaking and spread disorder. He therefore recommends the state heavily disincentivize these activities.
May 02, 2023
Voter Ethics
Alex and Benjamin discuss The Ethics of Voting (Princeton UP, 2011) by Jason Brennan, a contemporary political philosopher with a right-libertarian bent. They explore the consequences of thinking about voting from the standpoint of the individual. They talk about "harm reduction," and explore the many reasons it is hard to predict the consequences of elections in a straightforward way.
Apr 03, 2023
Manuel II Palaiologos and Late Byzantine Thought
Alex and Benjamin dive into the thought of Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos. Ruler of a rump state that increasingly lacked the capacity to defend its territory, Manuel focused on trying to discern the things emperors could control from the things they couldn't. He tarries with some of the most frustrating issues in Christian ethics, all in the service of preparing his heir.
Mar 13, 2023
Aeschines, Demosthenes, and Athenian Rhetoric
Alex and Benjamin explore the twilight of Athenian democracy, in which Aeschines and Demosthenes struggle viciously against one another as the Macedonian shadow looms.
Feb 09, 2023
Benjamin and Alex discuss Gandhi, the relationship between satyagraha and swaraj, his conceptualization of truth, anarchism, and so much more.
Jan 30, 2023
John Duns Scotus
Expelled from France in 1303 after he sided with Pope Boniface VIII in a dispute with King Philip IV, John Duns Scotus advanced a theory of natural law that was much more limited in scope than that of the more famous Thomas Aquinas. Among other things, we explore his contention that property rights are based on positive law rather than natural law. Though he was extremely influential in the high middle ages, Scotus fell from favor in the early modern period as both the Protestants and the humanists rejected his position. They hated him so much, they even gave his name to the 'Dunce Cap.'
Jan 09, 2023
Chrysippus and Early Stoicism
Alex and Benjamin discuss the ideas of Chrysippus, a Stoic philosopher from the 3rd century BC. They explore Chrysippus' account of free will, his distinction between things that are good and "preferred indifferents," and the influence of his thought on theorists like Rousseau and Kant.
Dec 19, 2022
Frynas, Petrol States, and Oil Companies
Alex and Benjamin delve into the work of Jedrzej George Frynas, discussing interactions between states and corporations, especially in countries like Nigeria, where the state is in a frustratingly weak position.
Nov 25, 2022
Bartolus and Roman Law in the Middle Ages
Alex and Benjamin discuss Bartolus, a 14th century Italian jurist who used 6th century Roman law to legitimate the Italian city-states. Along the way, he develops the concept of "the city" as an abstraction, arguing that "the city is its own prince." This had substantial influence on later understandings of "the state."
Oct 17, 2022
The Arthashastra
Alex and Benjamin look at an ancient Indian political treatise, focusing especially on the interdependent relationship between householders and ascetics.
Oct 02, 2022
John Maynard Keynes as a Political Theorist
Alex and Benjamin discuss John Maynard Keynes through a political theory lens. They hone in on Keynes' strategy for saving capitalism, his impact on interwar Marxism, his use of J.A. Hobson's theory of imperialism, and more.
Sep 14, 2022
Nizam al-Mulk and Persian Political Thought
Alex and Benjamin discuss Persian political theorist and Seljuk Vizier Nizam al-Mulk, a talented administrator who nonetheless left behind quite a mess. We compare him to Michael Psellos (his contemporary). We discuss the Sassanid origins of his political thought. We also go into the deep, intractable problems he had with both women and heretics, making it difficult for the Seljuk Empire to replicate the long-term success of the enormous ancient Persian states.
Sep 06, 2022
Confucius and the Role of Ritual in Chinese Political Thought
Alex and Benjamin discuss the political thought of Confucius, moving past stale stereotypes and into a deeper discussion of the role of the gentleman and the sage in creating and sustaining an ideal customary community.
Aug 25, 2022
Žižek and the Politics of Ideology
Alex and Benjamin discuss Slavoj Žižek's concept of ideology, his version of materialism, and the role ritual plays in his thought.
Jul 30, 2022
Michael Psellos and Byzantine Political Thought
Alex and Benjamin talk about Michael Psellos, an 11th century Greek thinker who advised a series of Byzantine emperors. We compare Psellos with earlier Platonists and discuss some of the problems the Byzantine Empire faced throughout his career.
Jul 21, 2022
Pyrrho and the Politics of Skepticism
Alex and Benjamin discuss Pyrrho and the Pyrrhonists, the conflict between the skeptics and the stoics, and the influence of ancient skepticism on modern empiricists, positivists, and pragmatists, particularly David Hume.
Jul 08, 2022
John Locke & Piracy
We discuss John Locke's views on nature and the way they influence his theory of property and his approach to trade. We also discuss the role he played on the Board of Trade, and his "tough on crime" approach to pirates.
Jun 18, 2022
Aquinas and De Regno
Alex and Benjamin read Thomas Aquinas' De Regno, focusing on what Aquinas does with Aristotle's regime typology.
May 17, 2022
Iamblichus and the Politics of Theurgy
Alex and Benjamin talk about Iamblichus, and the strand of neo-Platonism that gets interested in theurgy. They compare Iamblichus with Plotinus. Is part of the soul in the realm of the intelligibles, or has all of it descended? The answer matters, politically. There's also some discussion of the religious politics of Emperor Julian, whose philosophical views were heavily influenced by Iamblichan ideas.
Apr 24, 2022
James Harrington with Edmund Wilson
Edmund Wilson joins Alex and Benjamin to discuss James Harrington. They compare Harrington with Hobbes, discuss Harrington's influence on Marxism, and think about how Harrington is positioned in various accounts of the history of thought.
Apr 10, 2022
Marsilius of Padua
Alex and Benjamin discuss Marsilius of Padua's argument for the supremacy of the Holy Roman Emperor over the church. They get into the Fraticelli, disputes about whether priests can own property, and ideas of imperial consensus and collective knowledge.
Mar 27, 2022
Skinner and the State
Alex and Benjamin discuss a couple Quentin Skinner lectures, focusing mainly on his genealogies of the state and liberty.
Feb 27, 2022
Dante's De Monarchia
Alex and Benjamin discuss Dante's political thought. They delve into divine right of kings theory, comparing it with other monarchical legitimation stories. There's Pope Boniface VIII, the Byzantines, and more.
Feb 03, 2022
Plato's Timaeus
In Alex's inaugural episode, we discuss the Timaeus and the relationship between Plato's metaphysics and his politics.
Jan 18, 2022
G.A. Cohen and the September Group
In Edmund's farewell episode, we discuss the September Group, including G.A. Cohen, Jon Elster, and Philippe Van Parijs. We discuss theories of history, the influence of Darwinian evolution on Marx, the differences between analytic and continental political theory, and the possibility of bridging that divide. Edmund and Benjamin will do one last Patron Q&A episode, and then Political Theory 101 will continue with a new student co-host.
Dec 14, 2021
Alexis de Tocqueville
Edmund and Benjamin discuss Tocqueville. They discuss his thoughts on both America and France, his contributions on civic education, civil society, equality, liberty, and so much more.
Nov 09, 2021
The Concept of Representation
Andrew Osipov joins Benjamin and Edmund to discuss his thesis on the concept of representation. They discuss the many ways representation has been understood in recent decades.
Oct 19, 2021
Sieyes and the French Revolution
Andrew Osipov returns to discuss Abbé Sieyès and the French Revolution. There's discussion of the evolution of the concept of representation and the nation, as well as comparisons with the American project.
Sep 09, 2021
Montesquieu: Honor, Monarchy, and the Prologue to the French Revolution
Andrew Osipov joins Benjamin and Edmund to discuss Montesquieu's political thought. They focus on virtue & honor, monarchy and republicanism, and discuss some of the factors that led to the French Revolution.
Aug 01, 2021
States of all Sizes & Polarity
Edmund and Benjamin discuss states of different sizes and different distributions of power among states. There's lots of discussion of polarity, hegemony, and other big ticket international relations ideas.
Jul 14, 2021
Politics and Morality
Edmund and Benjamin discuss more recent discussions of the relationship between politics and morality, positioning them in relation to some of the historical theories they've previously discussed.
Jun 29, 2021
Concepts of Currency
Edmund and Benjamin discuss the changing understanding of currency, from the gold standard to Bretton Woods and even quantitative easing. They also spend some time debunking myths about Roman money in the 4th century...
Jun 03, 2021
Aesthetics and Politics
Edmund and Benjamin discuss aesthetic theory and how it intersects with the political. Many Germans feature in this episode--Kant, Harder, Fichte, and so on.
Apr 25, 2021
Meditation and Buddhism with Charlotte Newman
Edmund and Benjamin are joined by Charlotte Newman for a discussion of the political potential of meditation and Buddhism. Charlotte has a YouTube Channel, 'Talking Calm', which you can find here: https://youtube.com/channel/UCeYZB54YTxPmDslkeMIg0xA
Apr 04, 2021
Concepts of Liberty
Edmund and Benjamin discuss different conceptions of liberty. They go beyond Isaiah Berlin's positive/negative distinction, examining republicans ways of thinking about the concept, its relationship to 'freedom', and some of the reasons why the emphasis has shifted over the centuries.
Mar 22, 2021
Concepts of Equality
Edmund and Benjamin discuss the very different ways equality can be understood, including different units of comparison, currencies of justice, and distributive principles. They also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of equality as a radical paradigm.
Mar 07, 2021
The Late Frankfurt School and the Cultural Turn
Edmund and Benjamin return to the Frankfurt School, discussing the evolution of the theory of history as theorists incorporated more and more thoughts from Weber, Freud, and Heidegger. In the hands of the Americans, this process culminates in Habermas-influenced liberal accounts of deliberative democracy...
Feb 16, 2021
Weber on Maturity, Capitalism, and Protestantism
Edmund & Benjamin return to Max Weber! This time, we're discussing Weber's thoughts on the "immaturity" of the German bourgeoisie, along with the way Weber connected capitalism to religion.
Jan 31, 2021
Durkheim and Lukacs on Alienation, Anomie, and Reification
Edmund and Benjamin put Marx's theory of alienation into conversation with Durkheim's theory of anomie, examining how we can't live with social roles or without them. This leads to a discussion of how social roles are reified, via Lukacs.
Jan 16, 2021
Bentham, Mill, and the Utilitarians
Edmund and Benjamin run through the history of utilitarianism, focusing both on its radical and conservative aspects and running through some of the problems utilitarians have grappled with. Featuring Sidgwick, Moore, Singer, and Parfit, among others...
Jan 03, 2021
Fenelon, Mandeville, and 18th Century Thoughts on Commerce & Luxury
We discuss reactions to economic change in the 18th century, conflicts with traditional understandings of virtue, and how theorists thought about the problem before Smith & Bentham came on the scene. To skip the full reading of Fable of the Bees, go to 25:30
Dec 15, 2020
Hobbes, Hume, Spinoza, and the Politics of Human Nature
We discuss the influence of theories of human nature on political theory, comparing and contrasting Hobbes, Hume, and Spinoza.
Dec 03, 2020
The Frankfurt School and the Rise of the Interventionist State
Edmund and Benjamin delve into Marxist reactions to the rise of the interventionist state, both in the interwar and postwar periods. Featuring Adorno, Fraenkel, Habermas, Horkheimer, Kirchheimer, Marcuse, Pollock, Neumann
Nov 22, 2020
Marxism After Marx
Edmund and Benjamin discuss the trajectory of Marxism during the decades following Marx's death. They focus on the limitations of both democratic and revolutionary approaches, attempts to find a golden mean between the two, and why this mean was so elusive.
Nov 05, 2020
Nietzsche, Arendt, and Aesthetic Struggle
Edmund and Benjamin discuss what happens when political theorists make struggling their primary objective, comparing Nietzsche and Arendt to the theorists who prioritise unity, order, or truth.
Oct 20, 2020
Marx and Materialism
Edmund and Benjamin discuss Marx's theory of history, positioning Marx in relation to his German predecessors and to some of the Marxists that follow him. The Greeks make an appearance, too.
Sep 27, 2020
Hegel and the German Conception of Freedom
Edmund and Benjamin discuss Hegel's effort to bridge the gap between the individual and the collective with mediating institutions. They position Hegel in relation to the German theorists who came before and after him and discuss his critique of the Greeks.
Sep 14, 2020
Kant, Fichte, and the Liberal Origins of Nationalism
Edmund and Benjamin discuss Kant's autonomy-heavy moral theory, emphasising Kant's reluctance to apply his moral theory to politics. This, however, did not stop Fichte, who called for a "self-sufficient" German nation-state. By shifting the autonomous subject from the individual person to the individual nation, Fichte is able to turn Kant's liberal moral theory into a nationalist political theory. Featuring Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Schmitt
Aug 27, 2020
Machiavelli, Smith, and the Separation of Politics and Morality
To escape the subordination of politics to theology under the church, Machiavelli creates a new kind of strictly political normativity, leaving morality behind. We examine why Machiavelli had to do this, and how this leads to new liberal moral theories, like the one Adam Smith describes in his Theory of Moral Sentiments. Featuring Augustine, Dante, and Kant
Aug 01, 2020
Hirschman, Goodin, and the End of the Chronic Legitimacy Crisis
Edmund and Benjamin combine the last two episodes together to talk about "chronic legitimacy crises". They discuss how these crises work and how they end--through solving, settling, and sinking.
Jul 06, 2020
Williams, Rawls, and Legitimation Stories
In our follow-up to our previous episode on "crisis", Edmund and Benjamin talk about how legitimacy works. They start with the disagreement between Bernard Williams and John Rawls over whether legitimacy is an "internal" or "external" concept. Then they use Benjamin's PhD thesis to delve into the different kinds of legitimation stories states tell.
Jun 19, 2020
Gamble, Streeck, and Theories of Crisis
Edmund and Benjamin discuss theories of crisis, comparing Reinhart Koselleck's old-school theory to more recent contributions from Andrew Gamble and Wolfgang Streeck. They also chat about 20th century crises and how our crisis today is a bit different. This is the first in a three part series on "Legitimacy Crises". https://www.patreon.com/politicaltheory101
May 31, 2020
Mearsheimer, Wendt, and International Relations Theory
Edmund and Benjamin discuss the four schools of international relations theory--realism, liberalism, Marxism, and constructivism. They consider the influence of materialism and idealism on the schools, along with the role of domestic politics and international institutions. Featuring Benjamin's John Mearsheimer impression. https://www.patreon.com/politicaltheory101
May 13, 2020
Cicero, Seneca, and the Transition from Republic to Empire
Edmund and Benjamin dig into Roman history, focusing on shifts in the legitimation stories as the republic becomes an empire. They discuss the evolution of the Platonic academy in the Roman period and spend some time with Stoicism. https://www.patreon.com/politicaltheory101
Apr 30, 2020
Isocrates, Thucydides, and the Relationship between Rhetoric and Knowledge
Edmund and Benjamin explore rhetoric, drawing on a variety of Greek thinkers. The Greek theorists' attitudes to rhetoric stem from their attitudes to knowledge. Is the crowd wise? Can rhetoric share wisdom with the crowd? Or is rhetoric where wisdom comes to die? https://www.patreon.com/politicaltheory101
Apr 15, 2020
Fanon, Burke, and Theories of Change
Edmund and Benjamin compare and contrast Edmund Burke and Frantz Fanon. Both theorists were critical of commercial society, but adopted very different strategies for opposing it based on entirely different theories of change.
Feb 18, 2020
Rawls, Hayek, and Liberalism's Relationship with the Market
Edmund and Benjamin return from the winter vac to talk about what happens when markets are depoliticised.
Feb 04, 2020
MacKinnon, Rousseau, and the Origins of Inequality
Edmund and Benjamin discuss the many different origin stories of inequality, drawing on Catharine MacKinnon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Edmund on power: https://edmundjwilson.com/2019/11/01/on-power-tech-the-state-and-class/ Benjamin on Yang: https://benjaminstudebaker.com/2019/08/14/andrew-yang-is-playing-hide-and-seek-with-the-left-press/
Dec 02, 2019
Augustine, Schmitt, and Political Theology (w/Raeffe Gibson)
Raeffe Gibson joins Benjamin and Edmund to discuss the idea that states need to be unified around common values.
Nov 15, 2019
Caesar, Weber, and the Power of Charisma
Edmund and Benjamin discuss the role of charismatic leaders in politics in the Roman Empire, interwar Germany, and more recently.
Nov 09, 2019
Aristotle, Constant, and the Distribution of Time
Benjamin and Edmund discuss the ancient zero-sum conception of liberty, attempts by later political theorists to universalise it, and some of the ways understandings of liberty have changed to accommodate that. Draws most heavily on Aristotle's "Politics" and Constant's "The Liberty of the Ancients Compared With That of the Moderns" and "Adolphe".
Oct 14, 2019
Hobbes, Plato, and the Rise of the State
Benjamin and Edmund discuss why both Hobbes and Plato think the state is necessary, comparing and contrasting the two along the way.
Oct 08, 2019
Welcome to Political Theory 101
Benjamin Studebaker and Edmund Wilson welcome you to a new series about the history of political thought and some of the people who have contributed to it.
Oct 03, 2019