Interview with Hansong Li

"Interview with Harvey Mansfield by Hansong Li," Athwart, June 8, 2020.

Hansong Li interviews Mansfield about the major themes of his career.


Hansong Li: What is political philosophy, and how does political theory inform political practice?

Harvey Mansfield: Political philosophy, I would understand as the raising of philosophical questions more than the presentation of philosophical answers, though they obviously go together. So, it is to be distinguished from political theory, which would be the presentation of solutions. Political theory, too, doesn’t have the same permanence as political philosophy, which, insofar as it focuses on the questions of philosophy, implies that those questions are permanent and with us always. It is not to suggest that there are no solutions; or that if there are, there are more than one, so the question remains. And to get solutions, one often insists on the clarity of result. Political theory is more easily understood, since its meant to be understandable to all, but especially to a given time. Political theory, I would say, can be superseded, whereas political philosophy is always with us.

Political philosophy is especially interested in the philosophical questions on our resistance to philosophy. Why is it that philosophers are not listened to and immediately obeyed, being wiser than the rest of us? So, political philosophy deals with the study of philosophical questions of the questionableness of philosophy. It doesn’t take philosophy for granted. In other words, political philosophy would be that form or mood of philosophy when it is not taking itself for granted. And that refers both to the fundamentals of philosophy, but also to the difficulties of making philosophy prevail. And that is how I would start with political philosophy as a definition.