Mellissa (Vopat) Rundus, J.D.
Education: Bachelor of Science in political science and leadership studies (May 2001)
Juris Doctor from the University of Notre Dame
McNair Project: Parallels in Political Thought (1999)
Mentor: Laurie Johnson, Ph.D.
The author attempts to define political thought in three ways: distinguishing political thought from other disciplines, providing the historical background of the state of the discipline, and by describing four major approaches to political thought.
In the effort to distinguish political thought as a discipline, the author first defines political thought as the attempt to know the nature of political things. The author describes the two forms of political thought: first order theorizing and second order theorizing. First order theorizing is the thinking that everybody does naturally about everyday matters. Second order theorizing is the academic form of political thought. In attempt to further explain the purpose of political thought, the author discusses the types of questions which each form of thought answers. First order theorizing answers questions such as who should mow the church lawn. Second order theorizing attempts to answer "timeless" questions about justice and moral principles. The author further distinguishes the discipline of political thought by contrasting and comparing it with other disciplines with which it is often confused. These disciplines includes philosophy, political science, history, and theology.
The author further defines political thought by describing the state of the discipline through history, including its "death" during the behavioral revolution and its resurgence in the 1970s and 1980s. Political thought, or at least second order theorizing was considered dead during the behavioral revolution, in which the methods of social science were made identical with those of the natural sciences, with their basis in what could be counted and tested against empirical data. Political thought was considered to be unscientific, because values could not be counted and measured. Then, when behaviorism was discredited, political thought was revived. There was a boom in political thought publications, classes and graduate students entering the discipline. Political thought was defined as it exists today in it's application to societal problems, for example public policies such as welfare.
Finally, the author discusses four of the major schools of political thought: the Strussian, Historical, Relativist, and Economic approaches to interpretation. The Straussian approach is based on the ideas of the late Leo Strauss. Straussians favor the classics as timeless works and a method of interpretation that focuses on close reading and the internal logic of a work. The Historical approach suggests that to correctly interpret the meaning of the work and to understand the author's message, the reader must understand the historical context in which the text was written. This approach involves looking at all influences on the author in an attempt to derive the author's intent. Relativists, on the other hand, believe that the author's original intent is obscure to modern readers because of differing times and cultures, and that texts are inevitably read through the various perspectives of their modern readers to solve contemporary problems. One branch of relativists, the deconstructionists, state that the reader rewrites the text each time it is read. The Economic approach is based on the idea that political thought is largely determined by economic conditions, especially the interests of the rich and powerful elite. This approach is greatly influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx, who based his theory on the idea that society, at any given time, is a class conflict between the "haves" and the "have nots." The author explains each approach by describing their methods of interpretation and giving example of how each school would view a well-known work by somebody such as Machiavelli or the framers of the United States Constitution.