A Vindication of Politics

On the Common Good and Human Flourishing

Matthew D. Wright

Is politics strictly a means to an end—something that serves only the interests of individuals and the various associations of civil society such as families and charities? Or is a society’s political common good an end in itself, an essential component of full human flourishing? Responding to recent influential arguments for the instrumentality of the political common good, Matthew D. Wright’s A Vindication of Politics addresses a lacuna in natural law political theory by foregrounding the significance of political culture. Rather than an activity defined by law and government, politics emerges in this account as a cultural enterprise that connects generations and ennobles our common life.

The instrumentalist argument, in Wright’s view, does not give a plausible account of, among other things, the value of patriotism—of the way Americans revere the Founders, for instance, or love the Declaration of Independence, or idolize Abraham Lincoln. Such political affections cannot be explained by an instrumental common good. Loyalty to one’s country is not like a commitment to a telephone company. As nasty as politics can be, we hope for more from it than the quid pro quo of a business transaction. To arrive at an adequate theoretical account of why that is, Wright brings historical theory from Aristotle to Burke into conversation with contemporary theorists from John Finnis to Amy Gutmann. In A Vindication of Politics he develops a case for the intrinsic value of politics in a way that underwrites a healthy patriotism—and strongly suggests that the political common good is a critical part of what it means to be fully human.

“You will be hearing again from Matthew Wright. This brilliant book takes up some of the thorniest issues in political theory: The relation between the individual and common flourishing, and whether political association is good in itself or just a means to other ends. The approach is fresh, and I will long be pondering its insights.”

—J. Budziszewski, University of Texas at Austin, author of Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law

“Matthew Wright gives a careful account and a mostly persuasive defense of civic friendship, which barely stumbles along under the conditions of early 21st century democracies. I profited from it immensely.”

—Russell Hittinger, Warren Chair of Catholic Studies, University of Tulsa

The book offers new insight into the nature of the political common good and human sociability as well as their importance for making sense of the fundamental questions of American constitutional identity, principles, and aspirations.

About the Author

Matthew D. Wright is associate professor of government in the Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University, La Mirada, California.

Additional Titles in the American Political Thought Series