«Politics is a confusing business. It’s hard to tell who believes in what. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether anybody believes in anything. Politicians converge on the middle ground, worrying about focus groups, scared to say things that might be spun into ammunition by their opponents. There is some serious debate about policies, but little about the values that underlie them. When it comes to principles, we have to make do with rhetoric, the fuzzy invocation of feel-good concepts. Who is against community, democracy, justice, or liberty? This makes it look as if values are uncontroversial. Politics comes to seem a merely technical matter: politicians disagree about how best to achieve agreed goals and voters try to decide which of them has got it right.
The reality is different. Beneath the surface, concealed by the vagueness of these grand ideals, lurk crucial disagreements. Politicians who share the view that liberty matters, or that community is important, may have very different ideas about what they involve. Even where they agree about what values mean, they may weight them differently. These disagreements feed through into policy. What we ought to do about tax rates, welfare, education, abortion, pornography, drugs, and everything else depends, in part, on how and what we think about values. Some politicians may be clear about which interpretations of which ideals guide their policy preferences, and how important each is compared to the others. Many are not. And even where they are, that doesn’t necessarily help those of us whose job it is to choose between them. To do that we need to be clear about our own principles. We need to be aware of the different interpretations of these ideals. We need to see where claims presented in their terms conflict and, when they conflict, we need to decide which is right. We need political philosophy.»
Adam Swift, Political Philosophy. A beginners’ guide for students and politicians (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2nd ed., 2006) 1-2.