A Beginner Reading List for Political Sciences Majors (Part 1)

The below list represents a very short overview of the books that might be useful for a political sciences majors in advancing their studies of politics, international relations, comparative politics as well as the political philosophy. This list represents only a hint and very brief introduction to the writings in field of political sciences and systematic studies of the same. However, there is no single book that can provide full overview or insight but a list of readings can at least “grab a surface” from the sea of literature written about the political sciences, state functioning, leadership, etc.

Political Sciences Classics

  1. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract or the Principles of Political Right

“Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains”

These opening words of the first chapter represent a major guide for the book, but also for the consideration of the role of man since its first publication in 1762. Rousseau rejects a view of existence of natural right to have or hold power and authority over others; rather he advocates the existence of “social contract” among the citizens of a state. Therefore he discusses and elaborates the liberty, freedom and justice.

Considering Rousseau’s contribution to the tradition of political sciences in general or to the political thought in particular

„two preliminary observations should be made: that for most educated Europeans the standard view, was not probably the contract theory, but the belief that kings had a divine right to rule, a right that was seen as the origin and basis of social organization; and secondly, that among those who preferred the contract theory, the usual view again favoured monarchy, interpreting the contract as some kind of agreement between ruler and subjects (a ‘contract of submission’) by which the subjects consent to be ruled. Rousseau made a great change. It lies in the words ‘having concentrated all their wills into one’. The notion thus expressed was later, in the article Political Economy, to become the ‘volonte generale’, or general will“ (Social Contract, 1994: p. Xii).

  1. Aristotle Politics

The Aristotle’s Politics attempts to answer on the fundamental questions of the relationship between the individual and the state, what are the core elements of an ideal state and how the state should ensure the benefits and most desirable life to its citizens. Beside these Aristotle gives the overview of the role and structure of education, wealth, economy, etc. The Politics book beside that it represent a first systematic work or writings in the field of political sciences it had tremendous influence on the not only western but also eastern political though. Philosophers such are Averroes (Ibn Rush), Avicenna (Ibn Sina), John Lock or John Stuart Mill formed their thought but studying, analyzing and contextualizing the Aristotle’s works.

  1. Plato The Republic

Plato’s Republic as many other Plato’s works was written in a dialogue form of Socrates’ dialogues. The central point or the question of the book is attempted to answer and define the issue of justice. The question of justice is considered at two major levels: community and individual, both of them rose with intention to discover what is the relation of justice with happiness and is the just person happier that unjust?

  1. Machiavelli, The Prince

Using the firsthand experience and observations of the rule under the strong leadership Niccolo Machiavelli wrote a classical guide for acquiring and maintaining the political power using a rational and pragmatic approach to advise perspective ruler. One of the major features of The Price is that Machiavelli propagated the defense of the rule by force not by law.

  1. Abu Nasr Al-Farabi, On the Perfect (Virtuous City) State (Mabādi’ Ārā Ahl al-Madīna al-Fāḍila)

Book On the Perfect State written by Abu Nasr Al-Farabi represents the one of the greatest achievements and contributions of the Muslim philosophers to the field of political Philosophy. Al Farabi was considered to be the one of the greatest followers of Plato’s school of philosophy, therefore for him, just as for the Plato, the perfect human being –philosopher- should be the sovereign ruler. Also, in the Perfect State he discusses the characteristics of perfect city, state, perfect community as well as the perfect world state (civilization).

  1. Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The ancient Chinese military treaties dealing with the role, position and characteristics of a leader and leadership strategies. Book that discusses and applies the game theory in relation to gaining, managing and keeping the power and position of a leader.

Pre-Modern, Modern, Post-modern and Contemporary Authors

  1. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics

The power represents a central point of the political discussions. Therefore the book The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics gives the new insights into considerations of power by tyrant and democrats explaining what make a major difference between the two. Also, they discuss about the position and role of a group, leader and the life quality under each of them.

  1. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

The issue of rise and fall of states, empires and civilizations was pre-occupational to the most scholars of history, sociology, and political sciences throughout the history of humankind. The authors discuss and elaborate the major reasons that enabled some nations to rise –became wealthy while on the same time some of them remained poor and under-developed, especially focusing of the political settlement of each exemplar state.

  1. John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

The end of Cold war lead some scholars to the view and consider the future as an idyllic era in which democracy will bring the prosperity to the world and will confirm the vision of the “end of history” by forming the ideal democratic societies worldwide.  The Mearsheimer’s book fractures these dreams of ideal/perfect societies introducing the offensive realism as the major theory that drives nations’ actions.

  1. Hendrik Spruyt, The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change

The role of the institutions within the state is the central focus of the Spruyt’s research and writings in the Sovereign State and Its Competitors book. Interdisciplinary approach in studying the state system and a need for its reform gives huge significance for this book. The central question posed by the author is the question of sovereignty, especially focusing on the state sovereignty and its local and international challengers.

  1. Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State, and War.

Kenneth Waltz in his book Man, the State, and War, that was written as his doctoral dissertation, discusses the causes, reasons and different theories of war, placing them at a minimum of three levels: individual, state and international system. He describes the wars in order to define and shape the outline of the peace.

  1. Ernst Gellner, Nations and Nationalism.

The major actors in the international relations and international politics are still states, while the major political force in shaping the states politics remains nationalism. The book Nations and Nationalism gives the insights into the origins and continuance of these concepts.

 

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