Politics may seem like the subject that has the most to lose in the millennial mindset: it’s hard to foster political dialogue on Instagram and Twitter. Without proper time and effort given to discourse, it is easy for politics to become oversimplified. We think of ourselves as democrat or republican, liberal or conservative, pro-gun rights or pro-abortion. With this in mind, there is no better time than now for the release of Alan Ryan’s new magnum opus On Politics. Ryan synthesizes over two millennia of political thought, but with a view towards improving politics as it is practiced today. It may be the perfect book for millenials to pick up, especially if they find themselves too constricted by current paradigms.
Should we forgo politics altogether, and just entrust all policymaking to well-bred philosopher-kings? Should we even care about government at all, realizing instead that the world we inhabit now is merely ephemeral? These are just some of the questions addressed by the thinkers who Ryan expounds upon. Ryan raises questions that break outside of the normal bounds of just a gay, Hispanic, or women’s voice in politics. He gives detailed analysis of the thinkers at the center of the Anglo-American tradition, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Reading his passages on these enormous thinkers, we begin to realize that the government we profess to be so freedom-oriented today was actually formed more with a view towards preventing the harm that we could do to each other and to our property.
When ruminating on the political thinkers who are most influential in today's political world, the most prescient thinker with regards to the Obama administration, and one who gets very little notoriety in the Anglo-American tradition, is Georg Hegel. His idea of a government being run by scientific bureaucrats, with the constitutional monarch at the head merely a signatory participant, bears a striking resemblance to the cohort of technocrats that Obama has surrounded himself with. With that in mind, Hegel seems to be quite a progressive as compared with the politics of his day, when Napoleon was trampling over Europe. His idea of stringent estates representing the different stratifications of society, however, would be viewed as too pre-revolutionary France by most on the continent. Hegel's idea that the monarch would simply put pen to paper, to any bill brought to his desk, would probably be regarded with a derisory laugh by President Obama himself.
In On Politics Ryan gives the final chapter, unsurprisingly, to Karl Marx. In the twentieth century, we view everything by how near or far it is to Marxist thought. But what is elemental of Marx’s thought is the idea that revolution comes about from purely economic problems. Ryan views the Occupy Movement as one “revolution” that Marx would have been proud of. But Marx, as Ryan argues, did not give enough strength to the many other reasons why revolutions come about, be they racial or social. Political change, be it on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama or in a tent in Zucotti Park, can stem from many different causes and consequences. Milennials would be smart to latch on to that idea, and to pick up On Politics.