Can the political philosopher help?

London in the moment resembles a zone of civil war. The pictures in the news highlight how much the city has changed in the last 48 hours. Riots are happening in the streets, and rioters are breaking into stores, carrying as much out as they can. Restaurant owners have to defend their guests and everyone has to start to worry about break-ins in private homes. However, the weirdest fact is, is that there is no rhyme or reason for all this. Yes, there was a deadly shooting when the police attempted to arrest a man in London. But that does not explain why protest against the police shooting spiralled out of control and is now spread over the whole country. David Cameron now tries, together with the Ministry of Defence, to find solutions to the problem. But when the reasons for the riots are not clear, how do you fight it?

Are the actions of the rioters based on a certain mob-psychology, or are they a cry for justice? But justice for what? Or is the problem a whole lot bigger and much more profound than we think? It seems as if the rioters are questioning democracy in general. And democracy seems to break down here, since it does not appear as if any of the representatives of democracy have even tried to find out the real reasons behind the violent outbreak. Maybe the philosopher could help here. In following Michael Walzer’s argument, the political philosopher who looks in on society from the outside, can intervene through “the gifts he brings” in form of his knowledge about how an idealized commonwealth should function. Maybe then a political philosopher could explain the reasons for what is happening to our democracy. However, there is always also Rousseau’s argument that “people are the subjects of the law, and if the law is to bind them as free men and women, they must also be its makers.” Considering this, the philosopher is by definition within the social community because he as well is a subject of the law. But in following Plato’s myth of the cave, the philosopher is the one who steps out of the shadows and comes to a clearer understanding of the world. So yes, the philosopher can help, but he has to have the courage to do so, and those in power have to have to courage to listen to him.

Related articles

For more on the riots go to
For more philosophical insight:
On the Philosophy of Group Decision Methods II: Alternatives to Majority Rule
By Mathias Risse
Volume 4, Issue 5
September 2009
Philosophy Compass

Author: the medical philosopher

I am a philosopher of science with the main focus on philosophy of medicine. I write about evidence based medicine, medical research versus medical practice, ethics in medicine and why medicine needs to be patient centred and how we can achieve that.

2 thoughts on “Can the political philosopher help?”

  1. Thanks. Sorry for the late reply, I was only just seeing your comment. Will look your blog up and let you know what I think.

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