Politics, Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship

Thomas G. West

Paul Ermine Potter and Dawn Tibbetts Potter Endowed Professorship in Politics, Professor of Politics
“Education at its best leads us out of two things: the darkness of ignorance, and the prison of our selfish passions.”
— Thomas G. West

Faculty Information

Additional Faculty Information for Thomas G. West

Books Edited or Translated

Modern America and the Legacy of the Founding. Edited by Ronald J. Pestritto and TGW. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006.

Challenges to the American Founding: Slavery, Historicism, and Progressivism in the Nineteenth Century. Edited by Ronald J. Pestritto and TGW. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2004.

The American Founding and the Social Compact. Edited by Ronald J. Pestritto and TGW. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2003.

Four Texts on Socrates: Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Aristophanes’ Clouds. Ed. with an introduction by TGW. Trans. TGW and Grace Starry West. Revised edition; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998. Over 200,000 copies sold.

Discourses Concerning Government, with an introduction and notes. Edited by TGW. Revised edition; Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1996.

Charmides. Translated by TGW and Grace Starry West. Introduction by TGW. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1986.

Shakespeare as Political Thinker. Edited by John E. Alvis and TGW. Revised and expanded edition; Wilmington: Intercollegiate Studies Institute Books, 2000.

Selected Articles

“Locke’s Neglected Teaching on Morality and the Family,” Society 50, no. 5 (Sept./Oct. 2013): 472-6. (pdf)

“The Ground of Locke’s Law of Nature.” Social Philosophy and Policy 29, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 1-50. (pdf)

“What’s Wrong with Tocqueville?” In “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: What Tocqueville Teaches Today: A Conversation.” By Paul Rahe, James Ceaser, and Thomas West. First Principles Series #28, Heritage Foundation, 2009. (pdf)


“Progressivism and the Transformation of American Government.” In The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science: Transforming the American Regime, ed. John Marini and Ken Masugi, 13-33. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. (pdf)

“The Transformation of Protestant Theology as a Condition of the American Revolution.” In Protestantism and the American Founding, ed. Thomas S. Engeman and Michael P. Zuckert, 187-223. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004. (pdf)

“Free Speech in the American Founding and in Modern Liberalism.” Social Philosophy and Policy 21, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 310-84. (pdf)

“Nature and Happiness in Locke: A Review of Michael Zuckert’s Launching Liberalism: On Lockean Political Philosophy.Claremont Review of Books 4, no. 2 (Spring 2004). (pdf)

“Leo Strauss and American Foreign Policy.” In Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Ten Years of the Claremont Review of Books. Ed. Charles R. Kesler and John B. Kienker. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012 (orig. publ. 2004). (pdf)

“Sins of the Fathers.” (On Dostoevsky and the problem of traditionalism.) Claremont Review of Books 2, no. 4 (Fall 2002): 28-31. (pdf)

“Jaffa versus Mansfield: Does America Have a Constitutional or a ‘Declaration of Independence’ Soul?” Perspectives on Political Science 31, no. 4 (Fall 2002): 235-46. (pdf)

“Jaffa’s Lincolnian Defense of the Founding.” (Review of New Birth of Freedom.) Interpretation 28 (Spring 2001): 279-96. (pdf)

“Misunderstanding the American Founding.” In Interpreting Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, ed. Ken Masugi, 155-77. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1991. (pdf)

“Marx and Lenin.” In Marx and the Gulag: Two Essays, by Thomas G. West and Sanderson Schaub. Montclair, CA: Claremont Institute, 1988. (pdf)

“Allan Bloom and America.” (review of Closing of the American Mind.) Claremont Review of Books 6 (Spring 1988): 1, 17-20. (pdf)

“Cicero’s Teaching on Natural Law.” The St. John’s Review 32 (Summer 1981): 74-81. (pdf)

Syllabi of Recent Courses

POL 202 (undergraduate): American Political Thought

POL 603 (graduate): Medieval Political Philosophy

POL 406 (undergraduate): American Founding

POL 621 (graduate): American Founding

POL 727 (graduate): John Locke’s Political Philosophy

POL 726 (graduate): Hobbes

POL 211 (undergraduate): Classical Political Philosophy

POL 305 & 509 (graduate and undergraduate): Civil Rights

POL 605 (graduate): Late Modern Political Philosophy

POL 702 (graduate): 20th & 21st Century Political Thought


The purpose of Hillsdale College, as I understand it, is to provide students with a liberal education. “Liberal” comes from libertas, “freedom.” “Education” is educare, “to lead out.” Liberal education aims at leading out students to freedom.

Education at its best “leads us out” of two things: the darkness of ignorance, and the prison of our selfish passions. The “freedom” we are “led out” to therefore has two aspects: freedom of the mind to understand, and freedom of the soul and of society from the tyranny of emotions and of feelings unguided by reason.

An education to freedom in this sense is an education to civilization. My task at Hillsdale, as I see it, is to help the College to be a noble outpost of civilization in an ever-growing sea of savagery and degradation in today’s world.

Civilization has been described by Leo Strauss as “the conscious culture of humanity, of that which makes a human being a human being”—our reason. Human reason is active, above all, in two ways: practically, as guiding human conduct; and theoretically, as attempting to understand whatever human beings are able to understand. Civilization therefore requires a social and political order that enables people to provide for the basic needs of the body and soul (by protecting life, liberty, and property) while cultivating good character and encouraging science and philosophy.

What is the place of politics in liberal education? The science of politics pursues truth about civilization; it investigates what the best political order is. It also seeks knowledge of defending liberty—of how best “to reconcile order which is not oppression with freedom which is not license.” “Pursuing truth, defending liberty”—this is the Hillsdale College motto.

Politics therefore includes both theoretical and practical reasoning. Every Politics course I teach concerns itself with the theoretical study of the truth about civilization—its conditions, the competing views of justice by which it stands or falls, and human nature and education. All of my courses, from Plato and Locke to contemporary America, also include consideration of the practical question of what sustains and defends civilization—and what weakens and destroys it.

In our Politics courses on moral and political philosophy, we study the great debate about which political order is best. We examine the best ancient, medieval, and modern thinkers, always asking how the thinkers in question understand human nature, politics, and justice.

Other Politics courses focus on actual political life: American government, international relations, and comparative government. Even in these courses, we always bring students back to a consideration of what views of justice and human nature are promoted by the political order we are studying. In the case of modern America, for example, we focus on the connection between the progressive-liberal understanding of justice and the transformation of our constitutional order.

Hillsdale’s is one of the very few politics programs in America based on this approach—one that takes seriously the question of justice and human nature in all of its courses.

As for my own teaching and scholarly interests, my two most recent books are on the political theory of the American founders. They respond to such questions as: What is that theory? Why is it so often misunderstood? Why are today’s criticisms of the founding so often misdirected? What laws and policies secure the natural rights of the people? How have we departed from that earlier understanding over the past century or more?

I am currently engaged in studies of—and teaching courses on—the political and moral thought of Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Leo Strauss, and of American political thought after Lincoln, including progressivism and recent liberalism.