Matthew Moore on Buddhism and Political Theory
Date: May 29th, 2016

Does Buddhism have a political theory embedded in it?  And if so, how does it compare with Western notion of politics and citizenship.  Prof. Matthew Moore, an associate professor of political science at Cal PolySan Luis Obispo, discusses his recent book Buddhism and Political Theory (Oxford University Press).  Dr. Moore recounts how he fortuitously became interested in studying Buddhism via meditation, and how this prompted him to engage in one of the few works that explores the political philosophy contained in this Eastern religion.  Matt notes that there are three key essential points that serve as the foundation for a Buddhist theory of politics: 1) there is no notion of “the self”; 2) normative beliefs provide practical guidance and not obligatory commands; and 3) politics is of limited importance in human life.  We examine the first tenant, interestingly enough, in relation to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and then move on to explore the historical development of Buddhist thought on politics, with an eye towards how monarchs should rule properly.  Matt notes that there is not a great deal of writing about politics within Buddhism.  Our discussion then turns towards the issue of “limited citizenship,” a topic that many political science undergraduate students would find surprising given the emphasis Western democracies place on political engagement.  Here, Prof. Moore points out four critical aspects of Buddhist thought that outline the role of average citizens in the polity: 1) politics is inevitable (and can be beneficial); 2) politics is sufficiently moral to require normative theories; 3) politics is relatively unimportant (in the grand scheme of things); and 4) politics has little power over people when it comes to the important things in life.  Matt likens this philosophy to the thought of Henry David Thoreau, John Howard Yoder, and a number of Christian pacifists who argue that setting a permanent counter-example to the rough-and-tumble world of politics is the duty of the moral individual.  We finish off with some thoughts on where Buddhist political thought is heading and, of all things, talk about whether or not robots would meditate.  Recorded: May 13, 2016.



Prof. Matthew Moore’s bio at Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo and his Google website.

Buddhism and Political Theory, by Matthew Moore.


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