Today in my discussion section, we talked about the value of political theory in the world today. When compared to other topics in political science, or other completely different types of subjects outside of political science, it is generally one of the smallest, and the first to be affected by budget cuts. While we were able to come up with several reasons why political theory is not as useful as other fields, and also several indirect benefits it might bring, we had trouble at first thinking of direct benefits gained from studying political theory.
I looked for a current event in which political theory would be helpful. One big news story right now
concerns the Arizona immigration law, since the Supreme Court agreed to take its appeal. This topic fits into what we have talked about on the themes of identity and equality. However, it is still difficult to find a direct benefit from using political theory. One option, which has been done frequently on this blog, is to discuss how philosophers we have learned about would feel about this law or its appeal. For instance, John Locke or John Stuart Mill, who discussed toleration and freedoms may be against the ideals of the law itself. But since their discussions assumed citizenship as a prerequisite, can we really extend their ideas to one on immigration? And even if we could, would that provide any concrete benefit? Talking about what these philosophers would have actually done in this situation could be more helpful. But would that be more useful than just looking at the existing options ourselves? I think that the answer to this is potentially yes, because one of the largest advantages of studying political theory is understanding methods used by others. By understanding how someone (whose ideas have been heavily studied) would react in this situation, it might be easier to understand what might go wrong (or right) with taking certain actions. Political theory allows us to understand how and why arguments are made; and from this information, we can better determine what our own opinions and arguments should be in a given situation.
Political science in general looks at how the world is. Political theory, on the other hand, looks at how the world should, or maybe even could, be. Based on this, I think that political theory is a necessity in our world. If we only looked at how things are, progression would be impossible. We would only be able to say, “this is bad,” rather than being able to say, “this is bad, and it should/could be more like this.” I think that the biggest advantage to studying political theory is the potential for improvement that it provides. While that by itself is not enough, political theory and other political science topics can work together to look at what is wrong with the world today, and decide what can be done to change it.
What do you think? Do you think that there is any relevance to political theory today? Have we gained anything useful from this course? If so, what is it? And if not, why?