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Political philosophy

Political philosophy is the study of the fundamental questions about government: what it is, why it is needed, what makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it should take and why, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.

Political philosophy most broadly concerns the nature and forms of power; more specifically, it involves the principles for proper governance. As an academic discipline, political philosophy has its origins in ancient Greek society, when city-states were experimenting with various forms of political organization including monarchy, tyranny[?], aristocracy, oligarchy, and democracy. Works by such philosophers as Plato and Aristotle set the terms for debate over political theory until the Enlightenment, when new theories about human psychology, the discovery of other societies in the Americas, and the changing needs of political societies (especially in the wake of the English Civil War and the French Revolution) led to new questions and insights by such thinkers as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

These theorists were driven by two basic questions: by what right or need to people form "states," and what is the best form for a "state." These large questions involved a conceptual distinction between "state" and "government." Basically, "state" refers to a set of enduring institutions through which power is distributed and its use, justified. "Government" refers to a specific group of people who occupy these institutions, and exercise particular policies. This conceptual distinction continues to operate in political science, although some political scientists, philosophers, historians and anthropologists have argued that most political action in any given society occurs outside of its state, and that there are societies that are not organized into states which nevertheless must be considered politically.

The State

According the the sociologist Max Weber, a state is a ruling organization that "successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force" in the enforcement of order "within a given territorial area."


Should there be something here on realists vs. idealists?

See also The justification of the state; Anarchism and natural law theory; Social contract theories; Consequentialist justifications of the state[?]; The purpose of government; Panarchism.

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