Why is political philosophy important?

Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a defensible liberalism and in favor of a Constitutional American political science. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power, and has translated three books of Machiavelli’s and (with the aid of his wife) Tocqueville's Democracy in America. His book on manliness has just been published. He was Chairman of the Government Department from 1973-1977, has held Guggenheim and NEH Fellowships, and has been a Fellow at the National Humanities Center. He won the Joseph R. Levenson award for his teaching at Harvard, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award from the National Association of Scholars, and in 2004 accepted a National Humanities Medal from the President.  He has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949, and has been on the faculty since 1962.

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Question: Why is political philosophy important?

Harvey Mansfield: Political philosophy is important because it studies those big questions I mentioned, especially the big question of, “How should I live?” Nobody can be indifferent to that. Everybody needs to have an answer to that, but most people don’t think about it very much. Most people live and think at the level of TV. Or if they’re really thoughtful, they move it up to magazines. Or occasionally they’ll read a book. But behind all of those things – above all those layers of the great books – the sources of the thoughts are developed, elaborated and they trickle down to things like TV.

Recorded on: 6/13/07