Horton quotes from "Rationalism in
Politics and other Essays"(1962) by Michael Oakenshott;
"Politics I take to be the activity of attending to the general
arrangements of a set of people whom chance or choice have brought
2. Make acompelling argument. Your goal is to present an accurate treatment of thebasic interpretive facts, but then to conduct a dialogue with the text and togive your opinion on the theoretical problem at hand. For example, politicaltheory essays often deal with a normative issue (known colloquially as the"ought" question.) Martin Luther King Jr. thought that theachievement of genuine racial equality would require both the elimination ofdiscrimination against African-Americans and the redistribution of income fromthe wealthy to the poor. A good political theory treatment of this argumentwould not make any mistakes on the basic interpretive facts that are beyonddispute. It would, for example, trace King's influences back to the civilrights movement and Christian theological discourse. But it would also moveinto the realm of the "should" statement as well. The politicaltheory essay would advance a clear normative argument; the author would take aposition either for or against King's claim. Now an economist might respond toKing argument by seeking to find an absolutely precise measurement of thedistribution of wealth in the United States and the developed world during the1960s. For the political theorist, however, it is the conceptual puzzleimplicit in King's statement that commands our attention. According to King,how is the distribution of income related to racial inequality? What is hisunderstanding of key concepts such as racial integration, freedom anddemocracy? Why did he believe that the passage of civil rights legislation inthe mid-1960s had not brought racism to an end? In your opinion, is King'sargument persuasive? Note that the reader cannot, in all fairness, expect thepolitical theory essay to present a "correct" answer. The politicaltheory essay attempts to persuade the reader by advancing a compelling argumentthat is well supported by detailed and insightful interpretive work.
Thetone of the passage is far too casual, journalistic and cliché-ridden. Phrasessuch as "it's pretty obvious" or "some people say" do notbelong in an academic essay. "Its" ought to be spelled"it's." Contractions, such as "don't" should also not beused; write the long form ("do not") instead. The term, "thesystem," is a popular cliché that is far too vague. Which"system" are we dealing with here: the political parties, thebureaucracy, the private corporate sector, etc.? "Campaign financereform" is not defined. "Rich white men" is not an academicphrase. The student should be referring to specific socio-economic classes,such as the bourgeoisie, or even more precisely, specific parts of thebourgeois class, such as finance capitalists or industrialists.
6. You should explorethe meaning of each text very carefully. If you are opposed to an argument,you must nevertheless recognize its strengths. By the same token, you mustindicate the weaknesses and contradictions in the texts that you happen tofavor. Any essay that fails to do this will miss the opportunity to engage inadvanced forms of interpretive work. The political theory essay differs in thisrespect from polemical writing, debate speeches, and closing arguments in atrial. If you agree with the text without carefully reconstructing itsposition, then your agreement will come too easily and you will fail to notethe text's own contradictions and weaknesses. If, by contrast, you criticizethe text without considering its strengths, you will be reducing the text to a"straw man" and engaging in a dismissive reading where subtle,detailed and sensitive commentary is required.
2. Alwaysremember that the essay is an academic mode of discourse. Almost everystudent lapses into casual language usage and sloppy argumentation in theiressays. Do not use the kind of words, phrases and arguments that you would usein other contexts, such as e-mail, your personal journal, conversations withfriends, journalistic articles or an address to a political rally. In politicaltheory writing, the more you strike a thoughtful and scholarly tone, the moreyour reader will trust your judgment.
In other words, essays, term papers and other written assignments giveyou the chance to get your hands dirty by grappling with the same broadquestions that inform the work of professional political scientists.
1. Put youranalytical voice at the forefront throughout the essay. Emphasize yourinformed argument. The political theory essay is never just a research reportthat collects a number of quotations and strings them together; we want to seeevidence that you have done the appropriate reading that you are thinking independently and creatively about thetext.
Leftwich states in his essay entitled "Politics: people,
resources and power" from his book "What is Politics?"
"...politics compromises all the activities of co-operation and
conflict, within and between societies, whereby the human species goes
about organising the use, production and distribution of human, natural
and other resources in the production and reproduction of its biological
and social life." (Leftwich, 1984, p.64-65)
Politics therefore may be defined a means to resolving this conflict
through various means, which will be tackled later in this essay.
Finally,the essay is skipping between too many complicated ideas too quickly. Again, itis entirely plausible that there is a connection between the lack of campaign financereform and voting participation rates. If the agendas of the Republicans andDemocrats are in fact influenced by wealthy interest groups first and foremost,then the large numbers of Americans who are not represented by those interestgroups will not see the issues that matter to them discussed and dealt with bythe two parties. Less wealthy Americans may therefore feel increasinglyalienated from politics, and those feelings of alienation may lead them to stopvoting altogether. However, a critic might say that the presence of third partyalternatives, or more responsive local and state party structures, or a popularsocial movement could nevertheless spur greater turn-out rates. The essay needsto engage with political theory texts, build each argument one at a time, givefull and careful treatment to each claim, construct the argument using clearlydefined academic terms, anticipate the objections of a critic, supportimportant factual claims with academic sources, and then clearly indicate howthe essay is moving logically on to the next point.