Reason and Politics explores the central phenomena of political life and, therefore, of human affairs in general.
Amidst the seemingly endless books on more and more narrowly specialized topics within politics, Mark Blitz offers something very different. Reason and Politics: The Nature of Political Phenomena examines the central phenomena of political life in order to clarify their meaning, source, and range. Blitz gives particular attention to the notions of freedom, rights, justice, virtue, power, property, nationalism, and the common good. At the same time, Blitz shows how, in order to understand political matters correctly, we must also understand how they affect us directly. We do not merely theorize over political questions; we experience them. Blitz also considers matters such as the powers and motions of the soul, the nature of experience, and the varieties of pleasure and attachment.
Living at a time when technological change makes it difficult even to claim convincingly that there are defining human characteristics and natural limits that we simply cannot change, Reason and Politics proposes that there are in fact basic phenomena not only in politics, but that make up human affairs as such. In examining these central phenomena in a lucid and articulate manner, this book makes a unique contribution not only to the study of politics but also to the study of philosophy more broadly. It will interest undergraduate and graduate students, political scientists and philosophers, those interested in politics, and general readers.
1. The Nature of Practical Action
2. The Nature of Freedom and Rights
3. The Nature of Power and Property
5. The Nature of What is Common
6. The Nature of Goods
“Reason and Politics is an unconventional and important contribution to the field of political philosophy. Mark Blitz uncovers what kind of people we in our age have to be in order to be concerned with justice, or virtue, or rights, or magnanimity, or the common good. He asks: What is going on in our bodies and minds when we have such experiences? And the result is a tour de force.” —Jerry Weinberger, author of Benjamin Franklin Unmasked
“This is a remarkable inquiry into the rational structure of the political phenomena that appear most irrational. Mark Blitz provides a path to clarity in the face of the complexity of our way of life, political partisanship, and the proliferation of false but powerful and ossified political doctrines. One may have to go back all the way to Hobbes to read a book of a comprehensiveness similar to Reason and Politics.” —Svetozar Y. Minkov, author of Leo Strauss on Science
"Mark Blitz has written a work of high political philosophy that is at once clear and accessible. . . . Reason and Politics is dedicated to uncovering reasonably that which ‘forms and directs’ political phenomena, in a word their nature and everything that flows from that. While a product of unforced but altogether impressive erudition, Blitz’s book aims to stay as concrete as possible, eschewing the abstractions that largely inform and deform late modern thought. " —Law and Liberty
"In the course of this remarkable study, we learn that self-knowledge in our 'post-modern' condition requires seeing ourselves in light of both ancient politics and ancient philosophy; the former is the historical moment that provides the essential touchstone for serious trans-historical comparison of human experience and the latter is the way of seeing and thinking most suited to grasping the nature of things." —Perspectives on Political Science
"Blitz makes a strong case for a phenomenological approach to the study of politics. . . . [He] offers a radical, thought-provoking departure from the reigning orthodoxies of the profession." —Choice
To explore the nature of political phenomena is equivalent to exploring what is reasonable about them. “Nature” is the correlative of reason. It is what reason seeks to know about things, a view that begins with the classics and is still visible when we call the truths of physics and economics natural laws. I intend to examine the degree to which what we can uncover reasonably about political phenomena is not an adjunct to them but, rather, forms and directs them.
The “nature” of something is what in it we do not produce, what is common or pervasive in it, and what is essential to it. Our everyday use of nature attests to this. “Nature” is the environment and the species we do not make, and to be “natural” is to be spontaneous, not artificial and affected. Someone is said to have a calm or excitable nature, a characteristic that pervades his actions and is always present. The “nature” of something is its essence, what is always there that is important, not trivial, and that forms the thing’s other characteristics. Something’s nature, therefore, also distinguishes it, as speech distinguishes us from cats.
This is not to say that the connection between what we make and do not make is transparent, that how characteristics can be common or pervasive is obvious, or that how essential characteristics function is clear. It is to say that the natural as what is unmade, general, and essential is what reason qua reason seeks to know. Reason concerns primarily what we do not perceive physically, seeks what is general or universal, and separates and combines matters chiefly according to their central characteristics. As I said, reason is oriented to what is natural.
It may seem odd to seek what is naturally true about politics because politics is so conventional, structured by laws that we enact, dealing with passing circumstances, and variable in different places and times. Nonetheless, political life serves an understanding of what can be good, pursued by actions that are more or less just. If what is good and just are natural and reason can know them, politics need not and, indeed, cannot be irredeemably conventional.
Politics involves what belongs to me and to us as well as what is good or just simply. It involves what is particular and impure, however general. It involves freedom, passions, force, and prudence. The point, then, is to explore these matters in terms of how they are formed and directed by speech or reason, our unmade, pervasive, and essential characteristic. My goal is to bring out what is rational in what is contingent, or not simply rational, in us.
The attempt to understand political life reasonably inevitably falls short. Matters are too complex to allow this attempt to succeed completely. One of my goals is to clarify the reasons for this complexity and for disputability in judgment and choice. We cannot measure all good things, including our own freedom, on a single scale. Nonetheless, we can judge matters reasonably, primarily in relation to the completeness of the use of our human powers.
Another goal I have is to consider rivals to my argument. One rival is the view that only what is mechanistic and mathematical about us is strictly speaking true. I will discuss this when I discuss freedom. The other is that reason itself is inherently contingent and particular. I will discuss this “historicist” view at various points in the book.
Imagine that theoretical, philosophical, scientific, academic, and theological ways of understanding did not exist. How do they originate? In what phenomena are they rooted and what calls for theoretical discussion? How do intellectual analyses still rely on and refer back to the phenomena from which they emerge?
We recognize, of course, that these ways to understand do exist now. Indeed, they often make it difficult to see clearly the basic phenomena from which they emerge. We deal with terms such as freedom, property, power, justice, and pleasure as if they have always been matters of studied reflection. The variety in intellectual views, moreover, causes disputes that also block access to phenomena. Who today can look clearly at the relations between men and women, at whether human differences suggest basic inequalities, or at whether some activities are genuinely better than others? Who, taking such a look, feels free to say what he thinks? The twin results of our obfuscations – passive relativism and self-righteous self-interest – are visible, if themselves difficult to discuss honestly. These obfuscations also make it important to uncover basic phenomena clearly, including the possibilities of disagreement about them. Otherwise, they are lost to common understanding and to reflection.
We must also try to clarify the basic political phenomena because of the questions we face technologically: the growth of artificial intelligence and the effort to reduce everything human to the molecular and mathematical, perhaps, indeed, in order to make us over. Academics often discuss the distinctively human in terms of “consciousness” and relate these scientific elements to it. This points to the issue. But, it also distorts it, for “consciousness” is already a remote way to approach what is human. It is a particular understanding that stems from a modern theoretical approach. I will instead attempt to show that the original context of our activities is the political community, our involvement in common matters. Isolation of human characteristics, including who “I” am stems from this involvement. Exploring basic political phenomena is the first step in understanding human affairs.