Monday, February 21, 2011

Experimental Political Philosophy

For centuries, political philosophers have been on a quest to figure out the best way of organizing society; and, needing no resources to further their research other than their own brains, they have come up with a plethora of theories.

Most of the time philosophy deals with the "ought to." But in political philosophy we also find some testable hypotheses. Marxist communism is, for example, a testable hypothesis, as well as the idea that property rights will encourage owners to be more productive. From Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, I got the idea that anarchy is inherently unstable, that governments naturally emerge out of it; that too is a testable idea.

Of course, political philosopher don't usually go around testing their theories because they consider it immoral to play with the lives of other people like that.

But I think political philosophers have overlooked an obvious place where experimental political philosophy is already taking place: nation building!

An experiment in democracy in Afghanistan

With the war dragging on, and American support waning, I'm sure the Pentagon is eager and open to suggestions about how to finally make stable, legitimate governments in Afghanistan and Iraq as quick as possible. They've already spent so much time and money—I'm sure they won't mind trying something unconventional if there's a possibility it could work.

Political philosophers, this is your chance! Time to see your theories come to life!


  1. The challenge of this is the same challenge that experimental macroeconomics faces. There are just way too many variables that you can't control.

  2. Another barrier to this is that often the ideas of political philosophers are ranged across a much different world view than political decision makers. There have been plenty of different ideas for how to govern Iraq, in particular, from the three state solution, to the federal state solution, from a state governed similarly to Lebanon (hopefully more strongly) to a state with the bare minimum of national government that is dominated by strong, sub-national entities. The problem is that none of them fit the worldview of chief decision makers in Washington, either in the past or the present.