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Seven books for philosophical perspectives on politics [reading list]

2020 has come to be defined by widespread human tragedy, economic uncertainty, and increased public discourse surrounding how to address systemic racism. With such important issues at stake, political leadership has been under enormous scrutiny. For some countries, this has coincided with their election season: Jacinda Ardern has just won her second term in office and the 2020 US presidential election will take place on Tuesday 3 November.

As the US election approaches, we’re featuring a selection of important books exploring politics from different philosophical perspectives, ranging from interrogating the moral duty to vote, to how grandstanding impacts public discourse.

1) A Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should Be Uncivil, by Candice Delmas

What are our responsibilities in the face of injustice? In this book, Candice Delmas argues we have a duty to resist injustice: a duty that, sometimes, is more important than our duty to obey the law. Drawing from the tradition of activists including Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas Gandhi, and the Movement for Black Lives, A Duty to Resist wrestles with the problem of political obligation in real world societies that harbor injustice.

Read a free chapter online.

2) Overdoing Democracy: Why We Must Put Politics in its Place, by Robert B. Talisse

Robert B. Talisse turns the popular adage “the cure for democracy’s ills is more democracy” on its head, arguing that the widely recognized, crisis-level polarization within contemporary democracy stems from the tendency among citizens to overdo democracy. Talisse advocates civic friendship built around shared endeavors that we must undertake with fellow citizens who do not necessarily share our political affinities as the best way we can obtain a healthier, more sustainable democracy.

Read a free chapter online.

3) John Rawls: Debating the Major Questions, edited by Jon Mandle and Sarah Roberts-Cady

John Rawls is widely considered one of the most important political philosophers of the 20th century, and his highly original and influential works play a central role in contemporary philosophical debates. This collection of essays provides readers with clear and in-depth explication of Rawls’s arguments, the most important critical dialogue generated in response to those arguments, and the dialogue’s significance to contemporary politics.

Read a free chapter online.

4) The Duty to Vote, by Julia Maskivker

If you can vote, you are morally obligated to do so. As political theorist Julia Maskivker argues, voting in order to improve our fellow citizens’ lot is a duty of justice. In a time of polarization and political turmoil, The Duty to Vote offers a stirring reminder that voting is fundamentally a collective endeavor to protect our communities, and that we all must vote in order to preserve the free societies within which we live.

Read a free chapter online.

5) Structural Injustice: Power, Advantage, and Human Rights, by Madison Powers and Ruth Faden

This book puts forward a groundbreaking theory of social injustice which forges links between human rights and fairness norms. Norms of both kinds are grounded in an account of well-being. Their well-being account provides the foundation for human rights, explains the depth of unfairness of systematic patterns of disadvantage, and locates the unfairness of power relations in forms of control some groups have over the well-being of other groups. They explain how human rights violations and structurally unfair patterns of power and advantage are so often interconnected.

Read a free chapter online.

6) Must Politics be War? Restoring Our Trust in the Open Society, by Kevin Vallier

American politics seems like a war between irreconcilable forces and so we may suspect that political life as such is war. This book confronts these suspicions by arguing that liberal political institutions have the unique capacity to sustain social trust in diverse, open societies, undermining aggressive political partisanship.
Read a free chapter online. Kevin Vallier’s latest book,

 Trust in a Polarized Age is now available to purchase online.

7) Grandstanding: The Use and Abuse of Moral Talk, by Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke

Why does talk about politics and moral issues tend to get so ugly, heated, and personal? So much public discussion goes awry because people are using it for the wrong reasons. Too often, especially online, people engage in moral grandstanding—they use moral talk to impress others by showing them they have the right views. Tosi and Warmke show why people behave this way, why it’s wrong, and what we can do about it.

Read a free chapter online.

Recent Comments

  1. Richard W. Clinnick

    Silly list. You really can’t do better?

  2. Bracursos

    Great recommendations!

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