Political Philosophy: An Introductory Reading List

This is an introductory reading list in political philosophy. It can be profitably read over the course of a year and provides a survey of some of the best thoughts on important concepts such as philosophy, human nature, society, education, democracy, revolution, and history. In approaching these texts, the first goal ought to be to understand what each philosopher is saying, accurately and on his own terms, in the hope of sharing in his best thoughts. This will require careful, repeated rereading, and much thought of your own. But it is worth it. These political philosophers are among the most important intellectual founders of our way of life and a familiarity with their seminal works provides a foundation for understanding both the contemporary world—including the West as well as other cultures and civilizations—and yourself, which is, as Socrates maintained, among our most important tasks and a key to a truly human (and happy) life. 

The list is broken down into two collections.

The first collection includes the primary texts themselves with a hyperlink to a recommended edition (or English translation, as appropriate). But really, almost (almost) any edition will do. While the books can be read in any order, beginning at the beginning is encouraged, as later books are often responding to and arguing with earlier ones.

The second collection consists of a selection of secondary resources that can aid in understanding the works included in the first collection. It is by no means necessary to consult them, but it is sometimes helpful to read what other intelligent people have thought about what these books have to teach us. Similarly, it is very often most helpful to discuss these books with others who have also read them. In fact, doing so can often give rise not only to better and fuller understandings of the work itself, but also to genuine friendships.

Primary Texts

  1. Aristophanes. Clouds. Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West. ISBN: 9780801485749.
  2. Plato. Apology of Socrates. Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West. ISBN: 9780801485749.
  3. Plato. The Republic of Plato. Allan Bloom. ISBN: 9780465094080.
  4. Niccolò Machiavelli. The Prince. Harvey Mansfield. ISBN: 9780226500447.
  5. Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. ISBN: 9780521567978.
  6. John Locke. The Second Treatise. ISBN: 9780521357302.
  7. Jean Jacques Rousseau. The Second Discourse. Victor Gourevitch. ISBN: 9781316605547.
  8. Friedrich Nietzsche. Untimely Meditations. Daniel Breazeale. ISBN: 9780521585842.

Secondary Texts

  1. David M. Leibowitz. The Ironic Defense of Socrates: Plato’s Apology. ISBN: 9781107671997.
  2. Harvey C. Mansfield. A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy. ISBN: 9781882926435.
  3. Leon Harold Craig. The War Lover: A Study of Plato’s Republic. ISBN: 9780802079428.
  4. Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, editors. History of Political Philosophy. ISBN: 9780226777108.
  5. Leo Strauss. Natural Right and History. ISBN: 9780226776941.
  6. Patricia Springborg, editor. The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes’s Leviathan. ISBN: 9780521836678.
  7. Thomas L. Pangle. The Spirit of Modern Republicanism: The Moral Vision of the American Founders and the Philosophy of Locke. ISBN: 9780226645476.