Politics: A Very Short Introduction by Kenneth Minogue
Both the beginner in politics and the connoisseur will benefit from Kenneth Minogue's lively contribution to the "Very Short Introduction" series published by Oxford University Press. Minogue, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the London School of Economics, presents an engaging combination of the magisterial and the argumentative. His 13 chapters, each the length of a Saki short story, provide a historical review covering Greece, Rome, medieval Christendom, and the modern state in both its internal and international relations; an account of the practice of politics, with its characteristic interplay of parties and interests, doctrines and ideals, particular and general concerns; and a sometimes bemused, sometimes scathing discussion of attempts in the past three centuries to marry knowledge and politics, whether through modern political science, on the one hand, or ideology, on the other.
Uniting Minogue's presentation is a thoroughly classical contrast between politics and despotism. In the former, citizens shape the conditions of their own association through public deliberation and debate; in despotism, the terms of government are handed down. "Politics is endless public disagreement about what justice requires," writes Minogue. Where disagreement is suppressed, or where its elimination is desired, the result is quasi-despotic. His argument, he concludes, is "likely to provoke disagreement, perhaps even a bit of outrage. And if it does do that it will have succeeded in illustrating one more aspect of the many-sided thing we have been studying."
—Josiah Lee Auspitz
Michael Oakeshott Association
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This article appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of the Claremont Review of Books