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Which one is the meaning of 'a theory of political human nature'?

  1. a theory of the political nature of humans
  2. a theory of the nature of political humans

I myself guess the first one is meant.

The phrase in context, from Political Ideals (1917) by Bertrand Russell:

It may be said that the power of officials is much less dangerous than the power of capitalists, because officials have no economic interests that are opposed to those of wage-earners. But this argument involves far too simple a theory of political human nature—a theory which orthodox socialism adopted from the classical political economy,...

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    I suppose we can all agree on a fairly specific definition for human for your context, but there's no such precision with the word politics (we can talk about the politics of a family or an office, as well as "nation state" level politics). So the meaning of your example depends on the exact context in which it's used - effectively, "a matter of opinion" for people who might try to answer this question here. – FumbleFingers Mar 10 '18 at 17:43
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    Consider the situation if you replaced political with, say, competitive. Suppose I tell you that I've developed a "theory of competitive human nature". You might assume my theory is based on the premise that only some people are competitive (and those are the only people my theory is concerned with), but I think that would be a rather perverse reading. – FumbleFingers Mar 10 '18 at 17:50
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    ...on the other hand, the second such example from your source (classical political economy) returns tens of thousands of written instances in Google Books, but there are effectively no written instances of the sequence political classical economy. In practice though, political human nature and human political nature would both simply mean human nature considered from a political perspective, and hardly anyone would even consider the possible semantic distinctions you've put forward. – FumbleFingers Mar 11 '18 at 14:50
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    My original closevote was for "lack of detail" (i.e. - lack of context, which you've now added), so I will reverse my position and vote to reopen. It's still something of an "opinion-based" question, but in practice I think you'd have to accept that in your cited context it wouldn't really make much difference whether Russell was thinking in terms of the "political nature" of (all) humanity collectively, or the "human nature" of (some) politically-inclined people.But there's a general principle by default, an adjective modifies the immediately following term, which may be relevant. – FumbleFingers Mar 12 '18 at 16:58
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    As I've tried to indicate, in practice I don't think your interpretation #2 is particularly useful. It's thus not particularly likely to be the nuance intended by the writer - so if he had specifically wanted to make such an unusual distinction, he'd probably have chosen a more long-winded way of expressing himself. But that's more a matter of opinion than of English syntax. But to repeat myself, by default you should assume that human nature (as a well-established collocation) is being modified "in toto" by the additional clarifying / restricting term political. – FumbleFingers Mar 13 '18 at 18:12

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