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What Are the Characteristics of Western Political Philosophy?

By T. Carrier
Updated May 23, 2024
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Political philosophy contains two broad disciplines: politics and philosophy. While politics might be generally understood as the process of formal decision-making, philosophy consists of the knowledge and values that inform problem-solving and decision-making. Common topics of interest in political philosophy include government function, development of a legal code for justice, and human rights issues such as liberty. Western political philosophy is a particular approach to these issues largely shaped by philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. Historical influences like the Roman empire, the Renaissance period, and various cultural and regional revolutions also helped solidify many Western philosophical politics principles, such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

No precise definition exists for the term West, but many individuals view Western Europe and regions largely influenced by these cultures as Western. Thus, Western political philosophy encompasses regions ranging from France to the United States. Many of the characteristics of this political philosophy originated in ancient Greece, where philosophers studied rational, emotional, and ethical elements of persuasion.

Throughout history, many forms of government have arisen, and these governments typically either advocate rulership dictated by a spiritual divine right or leadership focused on maintaining social unity. Some regions have a long tradition with limited rule government, such as the one-person ruler dictatorships and monarchies. Western political philosophy, on the other hand, advocates more democratic systems, where a region’s citizens typically elect individuals to represent their interests. Ideally, in the Western system, several diverse individuals would compete in a fair and equitable election. As another feature of democracy, the individual or group who receives the majority of a citizenship’s backing would then assume a leadership role.

The emphasis on fairness and equity highlights another key aspect of Western political philosophy: advocacy for human rights. Western philosophies usually claim to hold freedom and liberty in high regard, so polices are often designed with these considerations in mind. Such a philosophical outlook can bolster support for measures ranging from the passage of equality laws to the support of regional revolutions. While Western governments often operate by a majority-rule mentality, they also attempt to balance protections for minority opinions and beliefs.

Practitioners of Western political philosophy must also weigh the belief in certain natural human rights like freedom with the need to implement restrictions on a citizenship’s behaviors. Various legal systems around the world address these concerns. In the Western-oriented Rule of Law, a government is responsible for developing set legal standards that are backed by its people. Violators of these laws are entitled to some legal process such as a judicial proceeding. Thus, establishing a uniform but adaptable code of conduct and providing potential offenders with a fair justice system is crucial in this political philosophy.

Political philosophies can inform other institutions like economics as well. For example, a Western political philosophy will often complement capitalism. Some primary features of capitalism include private ownership of goods, competitive product markets, and profits derived from employee-driven labor systems and supply and demand chains. In addition, free trade between regions is a prominent feature in many Western economic systems.

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Discussion Comments
By SteamLouis — On Jul 05, 2014

@fify-- Immanuel Kant was actually a philosopher who wrote on various different subjects, including political philosophy.

As far as I know, Kant emphasized the importance of individual rights, but he also felt that individuals have social duties and responsibilities. He knew that too much individual rights for one person would mean infringement of rights of another person. So he encouraged balance in society where everyone had rights but did not infringe on others' rights.

Kant also wrote about peace and democracy. He was actually against democracy, but the meaning of democracy was different at that time.

By fify — On Jul 04, 2014

Isn't Kant also an important Western political philosopher? Does anyone know what Kant's ideas were about? What was his opinion of individual rights? I need to write a few paragraphs about him for class.

By turquoise — On Jul 04, 2014

Western democracy is becoming the most prevalent and effective political system and philosophy in the world. We have studied this in my political science courses. Experts often refer to it as the "democracy wave" where more and more countries adopt democratic governance.

But I think that this wave is resulting in a new problem. A problem where some countries which throughout history were governed by a single individual, manipulate the democratic system. Although some countries are technically "democracies" in practice, they are not exactly. Unfortunately, political party systems can be manipulated in a way that allows one single party or party leader to make all of the decisions in a country.

So the question arises, is Western political philosophy applicable everywhere? Or can every country become democratic?

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