Department of Political Science
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
Ann Arbor, Michigan
POLITICAL THEORY IN A NUTSHELL
I. ANCIENT POLITICAL THOUGHT
Life in Ancient Greece
(FUSTEL, OBER, EUBEN, THE OLD OLIGARCH, PERICLES, THUCYDIDES)
Life in ancient Greece was not the political paradise that many imagine. Fear, superstition, and constant anxiety were the daily lot of the typical Greek and Roman. Individual liberty, freedom of conscience, and purposive human activity was conspicuously absent. Modern political life, with all its faults and shortcomings, is infinitely superior to the political life "enjoyed" by the ancients.
The political and social institutions, laws, and customs developed by the ancients are not the product of a superior virtue or wisdom on their part; on the contrary, they merely reflect the primitive beliefs about the nature of man (his past and future), divinity, and the external world prevailing among them at the time. As those beliefs have been superseded by others in modern times, so too are man's current beliefs reflected in modern political institutions, laws, and customs. Nothing could be more foolish or misguided than to long for a return to a political and social order that is out of step with man's current beliefs about himself and his social condition.
In trying to account for the success of ancient Athenian democracy, and for that matter, modern democratic regimes, scholars historically have looked for explanations in the regime's constitutional structure, its demographic composition, its social structure, or the virtue of its citizens. No doubt each of these factors is important. But no matter how sound a political regime is on paper or how much popular support the regime's political authorities may command at a given moment, no regime will long endure without strong support for the political community from its members. The political community is strongest when its members subscribe to a common set of fundamental values and shared beliefs. As Aristotle observed in his Politics, what distinguishes humans from animals is the power of speech. It is through speech that we communicate our perceptions of good and evil, just and unjust, and right and wrong. As Aristotle says, "it is our sharing in these matters that makes a household and a state." Speech has the power to unify or divide the political community. Perhaps the biggest contribution of Ober's work is that it helps us understand that how we express and share our beliefs is as important as the content of the beliefs themselves. In light of the present schisms in our political community, we fail to heed this wisdom at our peril.
THUCYDIDES: Debate on Mytilene between Cleon and Diodotus; Cleon's is the justice of the Furies in that it looks to the past; Diodotus is the justice of Appollo in that it looks to the future and to self-interest. Diodotus' position carried the day.
Pericles' Funeral Oration: Encomium in praise of Athenian democracy. Pericles claimed Athens' greatness lay in its democracy, because of which the citizens of that city were freer, wiser, more patriotic, tolerant, courageous, and unified, and the city better administered than Sparta or any other city.
THE OLD OLIGARCH: critique of the Athenian constitution; says constitution serves its purpose since it gives freedom to the people, which, after all, is what a democratic constitution ought to do. He states that even a bad man could do well in a democracy. Illustrates the point that in determining whether something is good or bad in a regime it is important to determine whether the means are designed to achieve the ends. Athenian constitution is; therefore it is good.
("THE ORESTEIA," "ANTIGONE," "THE BACCHAE")
TRAGEDY: the dramatic conflict between differing values, principles, or ideas, each good in itself but irreconcilable with the other. Good tragedy also combines the concrete (personality) with the abstract (principle).
ANTIGONE is a tragedy because it represents the conflict between competing allegiances which arises from the principle of love: private (i.e., family) and public (i.e., city or regime); between nature or tradition and convention. Lesson is that political leadership must be accompanied by wisdom (i.e., the ethic of responsibility); otherwise political convention will overreach, transgress nature, and lead to disaster.
THE BACCHAE is a tragedy because it poses the conflict again between the human and the divine, the conventional and the natural. It is also a lesson about political wisdom, justice, and the ethics of responsibility. Pentheus failed to heed this wisdom and it destroyed him. Pleasure (i.e., bacchanalia) is natural and it is both unjust and unwise for a ruler to deny it to his people.
The ORESTEIA or Oresteian Trilogy is a tragedy because it presents the conflict between Orestes' piety to the gods and his obligation to his father, Agamemenon, (who was murdered by his wife) on the one hand, and his love for his mother, Clymenestra (his father's murderer) on the other. Who's justice is to prevail: the justice of the Furies (i.e., nature, feminine, past, family) or the justice of Appollo (i.e., conventional, masculine, public, future)? The justice of Appollo prevails. But justice is not easy because to do it we must be able to consider more than just what's our own. That's why the jury's vote was equally divided; it took Athena's vote (i.e., the wisdom of the gods) to set Orestes free.
The House of Atreus, or the Oresteian Trilogy, fundamentally is about justice but it also encompasses the concepts of duty, revenge, punishment, obedience, and authority. The trilogy presents us with a question that challenged mankind through the ages: what are the bases of obedience and authority? In The Furies, Aeschylus explores both nature and convention as sources of authority and bases of obedience. Although convention (i.e., reason) triumphs over nature (i.e., tradition) in the end, it is useful to examine the reasons advanced in favor of the latter. We focus on the speech given by the Furies after Athena announces that she will submit the question of Orestes' guilt to a jury. In that speech, the Furies explain why a society founded upon the laws and judgments of man (i.e., convention) will not ensure domestic peace and offer their view of the likely consequence of such a convention based system of justice.
Now are they broken down, the ancient laws,
And all things shaped anew,
If in this place prevail the wrongful cause --
His, who a mother slew! --
Henceforth, a deed like his by all shall stand,
Too ready to the hand:
Too oft shall parents in the aftertime
Rue and lament this crime, --
Taught, not in false imagining, to feel
Their children's thrusting steel:
No more the wrath, that erst on murder fell
>From us, the Queens of Hell,
Shall fall; no more our watching gaze impend --
Death shall smite unrestrained.
The Furies here contend that what restrains behavior is justice -- the giving of that which is owed. Order is maintained out of respect for justice, which in the proper case, may call for a punishment that is certain and severe, though not always swift. If Orestes is acquitted, however, justice (fear of punishment) no longer will serve as an effective means of preserving order. Men will instead obey only their desires and passions, which will now be unrestrained because punishment is no longer inevitable but dependent upon the collective judgments of the community as expressed in laws or verdicts.
The ancient law of justice which the Furies sought to preserve was neither irrational, arbitrary, or unrelated to a desirable social goal. Admittedly, the position advanced by them did not prevail and Orestes was set free. That Orestes was acquitted does not mean that the ancient law did not serve a useful purpose. Rather, the verdict reflects only that this purpose might be achieved by other and better means. After all, it should be remembered that the Furies won half of the jury's votes; it took the vote of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, to set Orestes free.
The Sophistic Movement
(CLOUDS, ECCLESIAZUSAE, LYSISTRATA, PHILOCTETES, ENCOMIUM)
DODDS: author of book about the sophistic movement in ancient Greece. Dodds argues that much of the criticism heaped against sophists was undeserved. He claims that sophists made an important contribution by stressing the primacy of the individual as the functional unit of the social order. He contends that the sophists were part of a liberalizing movement. The sophists did not create this movement -- the widening of the Greek horizon which made possible the beginnings of a comparative anthropology (e.g., Herodotus' Histories) and the growing complexity of economic and social structure did that -- but they helped it along.
But an opportunity was missed along the way. The sophists did not teach the general art of civic virtue but the practical art of acquiring personal power in a democratic society. This is what the pupils (e.g., Alcibiades, Glaucon, Adeimantus) wanted to learn. The sophists had to respond to this market demand since their income derived from the fees they received for their lessons. The tragedy is that a liberalism based only on individualism, which does not take the community as its moral unit, is in danger always of giving birth to tyranny. In other words, a liberalism that treats the individual as the functional unit of the social order has no effective response to Callicles' or Thrasymachus' defense of "rule of the strongest."
PHILOCTETES: play by Sophocles. Odysseus and Neoptolemos, the son of Achilles, go to island of Lemos to fetch Hercules' bow and arrows from Philoctetes, who had been abandoned on the island by Odysseus ten years earlier. Philoctetes hates Odysseus and the latter knows he won't willingly part with Hercules' bow. So Odysseus devises a plan to trick Philoctetes. Neoptolemos is to tell him a lie that will accomplish the mission. He does but feels shame at having been deceitful. Neoptolemos defies Odysseus and returns the bow to Philoctetes (i.e., he rejects Odysseus' claim that the means justify the ends). Neoptolemos' choice of honesty over oratory is vindicated when Hercules appears in a vision and tells Philoctetes to go with Neoptolemos so that they might conquer Troy (thus winning glory by deeds, not words). Lesson of the myth is that speech has great power: it can unify and create sense of community but it can also be used to deceive and divide.
ENCOMIUM ON HELEN: speech by Gorgias. Purpose is to demonstrate the power of rhetoric. He argues that Helen, a women vilified as the cause of the Trojan War, was innocent. He claims that speech is like force, because both are irresistible powers. If he can acquit Helen in the court of public opinion, imagine what one can get away with if they are trained in the art of rhetoric. Rhetoric is powerful because people have opinions, but not knowledge. They forget the past, don't know the present, and can't predict the future; this limitation of experience and subjectivity of opinion is what makes them vulnerable to persuasion by speech, even an unjust speech.
CLOUDS: a comedy by Aristophanes designed to ridicule philosophy in general and Socrates in particular. Streipsiades goes to a school for Sophists to enroll his son, Pheidippides. He wants Pheidippides to learn the art of clever speech (oratory) so he can avoid paying his debts (i.e., so he can be unjust). Socrates' "head is in the clouds" and he tells Streipsiades "absurdities about nature." Socrates' purpose is to show that nature can be studied; which means that it is not really divine. Streipsiades is persuaded to enroll Pheidippides in the school after hearing the contest between the "Just" and "Unjust" speeches. The contest shows that an unjust speech can enable one to escape punishment and indulge his pleasures with impunity. Pheidippides goes to school and learns sophistry but Streipsiades soon realizes he's created a monster. Pheidippides is no longer deferential; he beats his father and threatens to beat his mother. This shows that philosophy is dangerous because it goes too far and undermines the family (i.e., the private realm). Streipsiades burns down Socrates' temple because philosophy is too threatening and can't be argued against.
LYSISTRATA: play by Aristophanes. The action takes place during the Peloponnesian War. Wives of the combatants decide to withhold conjugal privileges until husbands make peace. Women use their sexuality politically for private purposes, which is detrimental to the city. Moral: the exclusion of women from public life and political power is justified by nature. The play also highlights the importance of recognizing that politics is rife with collective goods problems.
ECCLESIAZUSAE: means "Women in Parliament." Aristophanes' comedy about what happens when women gain political power. Women dress up like men and sneak into assembly. The women pass laws establishing communal feasts and property, and right of old women to preference when it comes to having sex with younger men. The issue, at its heart, is the problem of public and private, or idiom v. koinonia (distinct v. shared). Are people "naturally" inclined to be good citizens? Does it require a leap of faith? Or does it depend upon self-interest? Aristophanes' play illustrates the absurdity of a politics that disregards inequalities based on nature. But Socrates' account of the second wave (re: women, children, and family life) in the Republic is no less absurd. Why then don't we find it funny?
(THE REPUBLIC, GORGIAS, PROTAGORAS, SYMPOSIUM)
All philosophy, according to Saxonhouse, is merely a footnote to Plato. Socrates, a literary creation of Plato, was executed in 423 B.C. for corrupting young men and introducing new gods into the city; he was innocent of the first charge but guilty of the second. Plato, unlike the poets, writes in dialogue form. He does this to emphasize that: philosophy is not an isolated activity; everything is open to question; knowledge is a process, which emerges from thinking together ("dialogos").
Socrates disliked democracy not because it represented the ultimate elevation of equality, but because it frowns upon the setting of standards, the making of distinctions, the selection of choices, and the adoption of values. In sum, democracy breaks down barriers and boundaries. But politics needs boundaries and limits and standards. An irony is that persons like Socrates would be most secure in a democracy because it is only in that type of regime that one is free to dissent from the status quo and pursue his happiness as he sees fit.
GORGIAS is a dialogue written by Plato prior to the Republic. The dialogue, which involves Socrates and three sophists -- Gorgias, Polus, and Callicles -- ostensibly relates to the question whether the life of an orator is superior to that of a philosopher. But, like the Republic, Protagoras, and Laches, the real question concerns "how one should live." As usual, Socrates triumphs in the dialogue; he beats the orators at their own game of rhetoric. Socrates proves that oratory is harmful and unjust because it is concerned with flattery ("conviction knowledge") rather than truth ("teaching knowledge") as is the case with philosophy. He counsels them to abandon political life for philosophy so they might learn how to put their souls in order before Judgment Day. To drive his point home, Socrates gives them an account of the afterlife similar to the Story of Er he told at the conclusion of the Republic.
PROTAGORAS is a dialogue about virtue and whether it can be taught. Protagoras says it can and he can teach it; but for a fee, of course. In explaining why it is necessary for men to know virtue, Protagoras tells a story about the formation of society. Says Zeus created cities so men could band together to protect themselves from the wild beasts. But their differing opinions and appetites led to conflict. Says that men in cities need two things: justice and conscience, which is a "sense of shame before others." Protagoras says Zeus gave these two qualities to all men, not just some; this is why anyone is competent to teach civic virtue. Socrates will go on to prove that it is absurd for someone to teach justice to others when he is ignorant of it himself.
SYMPOSIUM, or the Banquet, is a dialogue in praise of love. Socrates proves that "love is the desire to possess the good forever." Through Diotima, Socrates argues that love is about conception, birth, creation, and generation, through which men hope to attain "immortality." Philosophy too is love of the good, but of "right opinion," which is the greatest GOOD. Thus, philosophy is the greatest love. Alcibiades comes in at the end and gives a speech about his love for Socrates which is really a condemnation of him. He calls him ugly, says he spurned his sexual entreaties, and accuses Socrates of hubris. Alcibiades went to Socrates so he could learn to manipulate politics to his advantage. Alcibiades was responsible for the disastrous invasion at Syracuse, which demonstrates once again that a man who can't rule himself with justice cannot rule a city.
REPUBLIC: Socrates' challenge in this dialogue is to demonstrate that justice is superior to injustice. He must prove to a skeptical Glaucon that one should be just not because it is necessary but rather because justice inherently is better than injustice. He must prove to Adeimantus that it is better to be just than to seem just. By the end of Book IX it would seem that he's accomplished these goals. In Book IX, for example, Socrates explored the quality of life of the tyrant, the "perfectly unjust" man, and demonstrated that the life of the tyrant is exactly the opposite of what it seems. Glaucon had supposed the life of the tyrant to be an enviable one: a life of complete freedom and unlimited pleasures. In the course of the dialogue, however, Socrates persuades him that this is not so; a person ruled by his desires leads a wretched life. Far from enjoying freedom and pleasure, such a person is "in truth a real slave to the greatest fawning and slavery," a person whose entire life "is full of fear, convulsions, and pains."
For Adeimantus, who had expressed doubt that it is better to be just as opposed to being reputed to be just, Socrates likened the contest between the "clever unjust" man and the truly just man to the race between the tortoise and the hare. According to Socrates, the former is like the hare which starts out fast but is caught and passed at the end: "about the unjust, I shall say that most of them, even if they get away unnoticed when they are young, are caught at the end of the race and ridiculed; and when they get old, they are insulted in their wretchedness by foreigners and townspeople." But the truly just man is like the tortoise, whose slow and steady pace leaves him behind in the beginning but bring him the victor's prize at the end: "Those who are truly runners come to the end, take the prizes, and are crowned. Doesn't it also for the most part turn out that way for the just? Toward the end of every action, association, and life they get a good reputation and bear off the prizes from human beings."
Were the life of the just man as clearly superior to that of the unjust man as the preceding paragraphs suggest, the Republic would have concluded with Book IX. But such is not the case. When the arguments are considered carefully, one finds that the life of the tyrant and his opposite, the philosopher-king, are not so very different from each other. The tyrant may not be free, but neither is the philosopher-king. Against his wishes, the philosopher is compelled to rule; he is forced to return to the darkness of the cave and mingle with the prisoners. And when we compare the city of the just and the unjust, again we find that they are not as different as they seemed at first. In each city the rulers, whether tyrant or philosopher, deprive the citizens of their property, destroy their families, permit incestuous relations, and show little or no respect for the gods. Each in his way rules with impunity and without shame.
Thus, by the end of Book IX, Socrates has not established that the life of the philosopher-king is different from, much less superior to, that of the tyrant. It is for this reason that Socrates finds it necessary to play his trump card -- the claim that the soul is immortal.
Socrates has made the philosophic journey and affirms that justice is superior to injustice. And because "the contest is great, my dear Glaucon, greater than it seems," he wants his friends to benefit from his wisdom in case they are unable to philosophize for themselves. For if he benefits his friends, Socrates will have done justice according to Polemarchus' standard. By sharing with them the story of Er, Socrates will do justice to his friends, giving each "the full measure of what the argument owed him."
The story of Er describes what is to come in the afterworld. The story would have benefitted Cephalus, had he stayed to hear it. Cephalus, it should be recalled, is pious, old, nearing death, and uncertain of what his future holds. Had Cephalus stayed to hear the story of Er, he would have learned that his fate in the next world in large part depends upon the choices he made in this one. And the most important decision one can make in this life is to learn how "to distinguish between the good and the bad life."
The story of Er also gives Glaucon what the argument owed him. Glaucon wished to be shown that justice is by nature superior to injustice. The story of Er indicates that doing justice in this life results in a ten-fold reward in the next world while injustice is punished by like degree. In addition, the story of Er offers Glaucon, who is motivated by glory, the supreme honor, immortality. Adeimantus receives too "what the argument owed him." The story of Er teaches that it is far better to be just than to appear just since the clever unjust man will neither escape punishment in the afterlife nor have learned how to choose wisely from among the pattern of lives to be selected from Lachesis' lap.
The story of Er even vindicates in some measure the position taken by Thrasymachus, who asserted that justice is the advantage of the stronger. By "advantage of the stronger" Thrasymachus means the advantage of the regime's established ruling body. The story of Er supports his view since it indicates that the type of life led by a person will be the one most advantageous to the dominant element in his or her soul. Thrasymachus also benefits from the story because he learns that while justice might indeed be "everywhere the same," justice is not everywhere equal since there are qualitative differences between the different regimes -- wisdom, spriritedness, desire -- of the soul. Specifically, the philosophic element is superior to the timocratic element and both are in turn superior to the oligarchic, democratic, and tyrannical.
Upon the completion of the story of Er, Socrates states to Glaucon and the others that they can fare well both in this life and the thousand-year journey to follow if they are persuaded either by the tale or by him. It is important to remember that the Story of Er, like the stories of Homer, is a tale. But it is a better kind of story than the kind told by Homer. The major problem with poetry as practiced by Homer is not that it appeals to the senses and emotions, thus leading the listener away from philosophy. The gravamen of Socrates' complaint is that Homer does not teach what needs to be learned if one is to live a life of virtue. In other words, unless reconstructed, Homeric poetry must be excluded from the city not because it gives rise to pleasure and pain, but rather because it is not "beneficial to regimes and human life." Make his poetry beneficial to the regime and human life and Socrates will readily readmit it to the city. The Story of Er demonstrates that there is no inherent conflict between philosophy and poetry. For the story of Er is a wondrous, exciting, spellbinding adventure, full of rainbows and demons and fantastic creatures; a cornucopia of images nearly all of which appeal directly to the senses and emotions. But it does more than entertain. It also educates all who are not philosophers why it is best for them to live a virtuous life. Poetry which serves this purpose will always be admitted in the city; not begrudgingly, but with welcome arms.
(THE POLITICS; THE ETHICS)
One must understand Aristotle's philosophical approach. In his scheme of things, everything has an end or final purpose ("telos") toward which it is or ought to be striving. It is this final end that Aristotle regards as natural: "whatever is the end-product of the coming into existence of any object, that is what we call its nature."
The final end or telos of man is happiness, which is defined as "an activity of the soul in conformity with excellence or virtue in a complete life." The use of the word "activity" is crucial because it indicates the importance to Aristotle of the union of body and soul. This is in contrast to Plato, who prefers contemplation to activity. Aristotle, like Plato, posits a world in which there is structure; the difference is that Plato's Forms are static and immobile while Aristotle's telos is about movement and change. But men are not born with the instinct for virtue; they must learn virtue and must learn to choose it. This is the purpose of ethics: to teach men the art of living virtuously. But ethics is not and cannot be as scientifically rigorous as the theoretical branches of knowledge because it depends on the actions of men which are changing rather than external conditions which are unchanging. Therefore, in studying ethics it is important to note that theory must take note of practice (empirical observations). The important thing to remember here is that virtue is a mean, and the art of living virtuously is the art of habitually recognizing and choosing the mean. There is not a universal mean for Aristotle, unlike Plato; the mean depends on the context and circumstances of the case. How does one choose the mean? He learns from education and training.
As man can be happy only in society (the polis), politics is the highest form of practical knowledge for Aristotle. The end of politics is the best of ends because its telos is to "engender a certain character in the citizens and to make them good and disposed to perform noble actions."
This telos cannot be achieved in Socrates' "City Of Pigs" because that city was founded only to satisfy the most basic and minimal of physical needs. There is nothing in that city which affords men the opportunity to make full use of their intellects. Thus, living in the city of sows would be akin to living like an animal. To live as a human being, on the other hand, a man must be concerned with more than his essential physical needs and must be able to exercise his reason rather than merely impose his or submit to another's will. This is possible only in what Socrates regards as the "feverish" city.
Aristotle and Socrates thus have conflicting views of what results when we move beyond the city of pigs. Socrates sees it as the first step down a slippery slope leading inevitably to conflict, injustice, and unhappiness; Aristotle sees it as the first step on the path to fulfilling one's human potential. This is why Aristotle shows a keener interest in, and examines in considerable detail, the various strengths and weakness, origins, combinations, and permutations of political regimes than does Socrates, who is content to traffic in generalities.
The foregoing should not suggest that Aristotle either fails to appreciate or underestimates the potential problems which a city presents. On the contrary, Aristotle is keenly aware of the problems that can arise when men of differing opinions, ideas, interests, and preferences associate with one another as equals. Questions of distributive justice can be expected to arise and factions may form, each of which may threaten the stability of the political regime. His response, however, is not to counsel retreat from political life and activity as does Socrates.
Aristotle reminds us that politics has limitations. Our politics is dependent upon our perceptions; but because our perceptions are fallible we can't be sure that the best always rules over the worst. Therefore we need moderation in our politics. Aristotle has been read unjustly as having little or no concern with the private realm; in fact, he recognizes that the public realm has problems and that the family or domestic economy is important for propagation of the species, education, stability, etc.
Aristotle counsels that men must be educated and trained to prefer the virtues (see ETHICS) so they may choose to live the good life. In this connection, it is important to remember that for Aristotle the "politiea" is a community of "shared values." The supreme virtue is JUSTICE and in the ETHICS Aristotle devotes an entire book to the subject. In politics, "DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE" ("equals to equals, unequals to unequals") is the most important virtue. Aristotle also alerts us to the importance of constituting the political regime so that the likelihood and danger of challenges to its legitimacy and stability will be reduced. This is why the Politics lacks the grandeur and majestic sweep of the Republic and reads more like a technical instruction manual for lawgivers.
Aristotle is not a dreamer or an idealist but an intensely practical man. He is relatively unconcerned with constitutions which might be perfect in theory but unattainable in practice. Indeed, he shows little patience for those who would contend that it is possible to abstract universally applicable political principles. In his view there are several types of democratic and oligarchic regimes; which of them is best depends upon the circumstances of the case. This rejection of rationalism and recognition of the importance of context makes Aristotle the original Burkean, for he would agree with Burke that, "government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants."
As human wants vary so will the forms of government contrived by human wisdom. Hence what is needed is not the "politics of the book" or "the felt need," but "a system which the people involved will be easily persuaded to accept, and will easily be able to bring in, starting from the system they actually have." It is to this task -- the tailoring of constitutions which are appropriate to the situation and possible in the circumstances -- that the Politics is directed.
The Republic illustrates one limitation of politics, i.e., the impossibility of attaining the perfectly just city. The Politics illustrates another. According to Aristotle, the purpose of every constitution and the end of politics is to help its citizens live the "good life," which requires that they rule and are ruled in turn. But one thing the Politics makes very clear is that the good life cannot be enjoyed by all the inhabitants of a political state. Rather, the good life is limited to those who are legitimate members of the political community and is denied to all those who are other. But because all men (and women too, for that matter) possess the power of speech and reason, those who are excluded from the political community on whatever ground -- be it wealth, occupation, gender, race, property, class, circumstance of birth, etc. -- are precluded from sharing in this good life and thus unable to reach the telos of a human being. It is small consolation to them to know that their sacrifice has made it possible for others to perfect their natures, while their own remains unfulfilled.
II. MODERN POLITICAL THOUGHT
(THE CITY OF GOD; PRINCE and DISCOURSES; AQUINAS)
ST. AUGUSTINE: Bishop of Hippo, wrote The City of God in 413 A.D. to respond to charges that Christianity was responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire. But the City of God is more than an apologia to the pagans; it is a book about the problem that really interested St. Augustine: the theology of the two cities (i.e., the 'Heavenly City' and the 'Earthly City') and of the intervention of God in human history. Put another way: The City of God is the autobiography of the Roman Catholic Church written by the most Catholic of her saints.
The heart of The City of God is Book XIX, which is concerned with the theology of peace. St. Augustine traces the origins of the two cities from the fall of Eden and Adam's Original Sin, which severed the union with God that depended upon the subjection of Adam's will to the will of God. Adam's apostacy was fall into falsehood and unreality because God is Truth. Because God is Unity, Adam's fall was a collapse into division and disharmony. All men fell from God with Adam. As Adam's soul was divided against itself by sin, so too are all men divided against each other by selfishness.
The City of God traces the history of this "mystical" City of Man through the whole of human history. But at the same time St. Augustine traces the history of another city -- the City of God -- which He planned to repair the work Adam's sin could not be allowed to ruin and which was redeemed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to St. Augustine, the whole of human history since the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven is concerned with one work only: the building and perfecting of the City of God. Wars, persecutions, and every other evil have had a purpose: they have been the tools by which God separated the wheat from chaff, the elect from the damned.
The difference between the two cities is that in the City of Man, humans are motivated by love of self; in the City of God, humans are united in Christian love of God. The earthly city is beset with conflict because each person is judge of the worth of his thoughts and acts. There is no strife in the heavenly city, only eternal peace, because the citizens are united and motivated by their love of God and for each other. The reason there is no conflict in the City of God is because conflict stems from the scarcity of good things; charity -- the good thing which motivates the citizens of Heaven -- is infinite and increases as it is shared.
The extent to which citizens of Heaven can be happy in the earthly city depends upon the extent to which the object of love of the earthly city approximates that of the heavenly city. For every society is bound together by its shared values. Mostly, the City of Man loves domination, i.e. ruling others. But it loves to rule in peace. Temporal peace is also beneficial to the citizens of the Heavenly City because it provides the normal conditions in which they can safely expect to work out their eternal destinies. The temporal peace of the earthly city, however, will always be at best temporary and uncertain. But a shaky peace is better than none at all.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS: A transitional figure in the history of political thought. Aquinas made a significant contribution to political philosophy by synthesizing Aristotelian teleology and Christian thought.
According to Aquinas, the state is a part of the universal empire of which God is the maker and ruler. The laws of the state are, or can be made to be, particular determinations of this empire's eternal code; and the authority which enforces these laws is a power whose origin is also in God. Its goal and justification is to offer to man satisfactory material conditions of life as a basis for a moral and intellectual education which, in turn, must be such as to lend itself to the spiritual edification of the Christian man. This is the common good of man and his highest worldly end.
Aquinas follows the Aristotelian method which makes of man a political animal but he modifies it in accordance with the exigencies of his Christian philosophy. Aquinas agrees with Aristotle that reason and lack of instinct leads man to become social. Aquinas contends that man's ability to collaborate rationally is proven by his power of speech and a 'naturally ordained division of labor.'
The 'divine intention' is primarily directed to the order of the state and then to components unified in it. Thus, Aquinas states, "if we remove order from created things, we remove the best they have. For though the individual beings are good in themselves, joined they rise to the highest goodness because of the order of the universe." Evil is a condition that obtains when order is removed. But Aquinas states that a universe in which there was no evil would not be preferable to the current one because "there would not be in this assumed universe so many different good natures as there are in this present one, which contains both good natures free from evil as well as some conjoined with evil; and it is better to have the combination of both rather than to have one only."
Aquinas differs from St. Augustine in that he does not believe that the relationship of ruling and being ruled is a result of the Fall; according to him, it would have existed in Eden because 'obedience is the tie of human societies.' For Aquinas, unlike St. Augustine, the state (i.e., the City of Man) is legitimate because it is necessary for man to reach his telos, which is to become a citizen of the Heavenly City.
Aquinas agrees with Augustine that "ruling power is given by nature to the best and most intelligent." What the Fall did was to eliminate spontaneous obedience and make it important that the ruler possessed the power to coerce obedience. Aquinas says this power is divinely granted, citing St. Paul's statement that "all power comes from God."
Thus political authority derives from divine law. Power is sanctioned by God to the ruler in order that he may realize justice on earth. But men use natural law (i.e., reason) to form states on earth and govern them by means of human laws. This is why the divine law is eternal and unchanging but human laws can vary and change. The purpose of spiritual laws is to provide further support for the legitimacy of political authority and obedience. Obedience is owed to the ruler as divine obligation unless the ruler abuses his power by ruling unjustly. But the really important thing for Aquinas is the preservation of order and stability; this is why the manner by which a ruler obtains power is not a strong justification for civil disobedience. Aquinas believes it far more important to focus on how the ruler exercises his power.
Aquinas thinks that the best form of government is a monarchy because it is more efficient and energetic than an oligarchy or republic. He also makes the bold claim that the TEMPORAL POWER AND TEMPORAL RULERS ARE SUBJECT TO THE SPIRITUAL SOVEREIGN, i.e. the Pope. This proposition HOBBES vehemently attacks in Chapter 42 of the Leviathan, where he takes the position that Christ did not delegate sovereign power over the earth to the Pope but only the authority to teach, witness, and exhort. The power to compel obedience to the Gospel was vested in the secular or political sovereign, whoever he may be, whether Moses, Constantinople, or the King of England.
MACHIAVELLI is misunderstood. Even today he is still vilified as the inventor of realpolitik, the proponent of the politics of amorality and the tyrant's counsellor. In fact, he was a republican and he believed that the purpose of politics was to foster and promote the common good, as his Discourses on Livy and the Government of Florence demonstrate. He wrote the Prince at a time when he thought that Italy was in danger of being destroyed by foreign enemies and could be saved only by a strong leader. But even in the Prince he speaks often that the Prince must take care to tend to the happiness of his subjects and he stresses the importance of retaining their support.
Did Machiavelli really believe that the "ends justify the means"? Probably not. Machiavelli should be understood as asserting that vices masked as virtues will ruin the people, and that virtues, though disguised as vices, will bring about the common welfare. There are open to a prince two courses: one, devotion to the principles of morality; the other, devotion to the good of his people. In the imaginary kingdoms of the moralists the two are one and the same; Machiavelli wishes they were in actual life. But they are not. The prince must choose. Shall he save his own soul? Shall he ruin his people? For Machiavelli, there is no debate. The prince's duty is to his people.
Only the tyrant prefers his private good to that of his subjects. He who saves his own soul, and destroys his people, may be masked as a saint but is really a tyrant. What the prince does for the sake of his people is virtuous, however, masked; what he does against their interest is wicked, even though he appears like an angel.
If Machiavelli's morality is sometimes interpreted as the means justify the end then in fairness it should be said that the end to be attained is the common welfare of the people. This is the only type of success that will excuse unworthy conduct for Machiavelli; he never gives ethical approval to tyrannical actions whether committed by republic or the prince. The bad ruler is condemned as such. But the question Machiavelli asked was whether a good ruler, for good purposes, may break his word, or engage in acts usually thought of as immoral. That, and only that, was Machiavelli's ethical dilemma. Since the mass of men are not trustworthy, humane, compassionate, honest, and religious, a good prince -- one who is motivated by his concern for the common welfare of his people -- must be capable of acting virtuously, or viciously, as the case may be, whenever it is necessary to protect the safety and welfare of his subjects.
Political Rights and Duties
(BODIN, HOBBES, LOCKE; BURKE, ROUSSEAU, MILL)
BODIN defines a COMMONWEALTH as "the rightly ordered government of families, and the things they share in common, by a sovereign." He claims that the right to command and the duty to obey come from GOD. He argues that government is nothing more than the family writ large (a position that Aristotle would dispute). Bodin contends that the duty of civil obedience stems from the right of conquest, upon which one must choose between living as a subject or dying as a free man. He claims that as the husband and father has the power of life and death over his wife and children, so too does the sovereign over his subjects; but he contends that neither the father nor the sovereign will abuse this power because of their affection for their loved ones.
Bodin agrees with PLATO that "the highest felicity" attainable by man lies in the "intellective and contemplative virtues." But unlike Aristotle, Bodin sees no reason why this end should require involvement in political affairs: "It is a very grave error to suppose that no one is a citizen unless he is eligible for public office, and has a voice in popular estates, either in a deliberative or judicial capacity." But if one has no voice in "popular estates," what then can it mean to be a citizen? For Bodin, citizenship consists of nothing more than subjecting oneself to the authority of a sovereign in exchange for the sovereign's protection. The problem of restricted citizenship which we encountered with Aristotle and Socrates does not arise with Bodin, or with Hobbes. This is because if all that is required to be a citizen is submission to the sovereign (i.e., to be ruled but not to rule), anyone capable of consent can become a citizen. But since it does not include the right to participate in "determining the structure or activities of common life," citizenship is not very ennobling.
According to HOBBES, in the mythical state of nature, men are born free. A free man "is he, that in those things, which by his strength and wit he is able to do, is not hindered to do what he has a will to." In other words, in nature every man is free in that he has a natural and unrestricted right to pursue, and possess if he can, the objects of his desires. But men are also essentially equal by nature. While Hobbes concedes that there may be some variation among them in the faculties of both mind and body, these differences are not so considerable "that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he."
Not only are men free and equal by nature, but they also share the same motivation: to attain happiness, or what Hobbes calls "felicity." But contrary to Plato, for Hobbes felicity "consisteth not in the repose of a mind satisfied." Rather, according to Hobbes, felicity "is a continual progress of the desire, from one object to another; the attaining of the former being still but the way to the latter." Hobbes makes clear that no desire is inherently good or bad. Taken together, man's freedom, equality, and his "perpetual and restless desire of power after power that ceaseth only in death" puts him in a continual state of conflict with his fellow men, a state of war of each against all. In such a state, not only is a man's life insecure but the quality of his life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Since no man wants to live like that, the fundamental law of nature is that man ought to desire peace and do whatever is reasonable to bring it about.
Fortunately, man is endowed with reason which enables him to recognize his predicament and discover a solution which leads to civil peace. That solution involves him entering into a social contract with other men, each of whom covenants with every other, to transfer to a sovereign his natural right to exercise his free will. The reason that simply agreeing not to exercise one's will in a manner prejudicial to another is not sufficient by itself is because it is unenforceable and keeping such a promise is contrary to man's nature; consequently, such a promise provides no more security to a man than he previously enjoyed in the state of nature. This is why Hobbes found it necessary that men also covenant to transfer the authority to exercise their wills to a sovereign (the "Leviathan") whose sole obligation is to achieve the end for which he was created, the maintenance of civil peace. To achieve this goal his powers are absolute; this is to say the sovereign is authorized to legislate, execute, and judge; he is also to educate the people in the laws of nature and their civil obligations. And because each man authorized the sovereign to exercise his will on his behalf, the actions of the sovereign are binding on each of them. The only exception is that no man is obligated to obey any command that imperils his own life since such a command is inconsistent with the purpose for which he entered the covenant.
LOCKE's philosophy also is based on the doctrine of natural right: men in the state of nature are both free and equal. But unlike Hobbes', Locke's state of nature is not the state of war but of reason: "The State of Nature has a Law of Nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: Reason, which is that Law, teaches all Mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions." In Locke's state of nature, men have both right and responsibility: they have the right to take whatever actions are necessary to preserve their own freedom and vindicate any injury done to them, but also the duty of helping preserve the rule of reason and the rights of other men. There can be war in the state of nature, but in Locke's conception, it is a temporary condition rather than a permanent state. War arises not from a restless and perpetual desire for power after power, but from the fallibility of men's judgment. Each man in the state of nature is authorized to decide for himself when his or another's life, liberty, or property is in danger and to use whatever means he chooses to repel the menace. In other words, each man has the right to be the judge in his own case. But as his actions are influenced by his perceptions and senses, which sometimes fail, his judgment is not infallible. This lack of certainty in judgment, combined with the absence of an impartial judge on earth and sufficient executive power to restrain and deter, makes the peace and security enjoyed in the state of nature so tenuous. Men join together in civil society to secure a peace that is more certain and lasting but which also protects their freedom and the fruits of their labor. Upon leaving the state of nature men create government and choose representatives to which they entrust legislative and executive powers.
It should be emphasized that political power is given in trust rather than by authorization. The latter is a unrestricted transfer of right. The former, however, is not. It is a fiduciary arrangement by which one party is empowered to act for the benefit of another. If the trustee breaches this fiduciary duty, his power is forfeited, the trust is broken, and the right conveyed reverts to the trustor. In other words, the people are the ultimate repository of political power in a political system where political power is held by consent of the governed. The corollary is that the people also retain the right to evaluate how well their rulers have exercised the powers entrusted to them.
It is because individuals can reason that they are able to enter civil society, create governments, and evaluate the conduct of their rulers. This assumption of rationality, however, is not shared by Romantics, the most famous of whom was Edmund Burke.
BURKE, like Hobbes and Locke, rejects the Platonic Idea of the Good. But he vehemently disagrees with them regarding the natural rights of man. Burke denies that the individual is the functional unit of the social order; he denies the individual has a right to decide for himself, according to his own standards, and based on his particular opinions, whether to obey or overthrow civil authority. According to Burke, no individual has standing to make that determination:
Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure -- but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, callico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.
Burke's problem with the doctrine of natural rights is that it presents an incomplete and misleading portrait of civil society and government; it endeavors to "practice the politics of the book." In deducing its general principles it neglects the details, failing to realize that God is in the details. The science of government, in Burke's view, is a practical science intended for practical purposes; as such it is ill suited to a priori theorizing:
Government is not made in virtue of natural rights[.] . . . Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. . . . But as the liberties and restrictions vary with time and circumstances, and admit of infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them from that principle.
Aside from its championing of what Oakeshott has called the "politics of the felt need," what is most offensive is that rationalism and natural rights doctrine foster narcissism, selfishness, and cold-heartedness in the good "rational" man.
According to Burke, rationalism is based on the misguided notion that enlightened self-interest alone is sufficient to guarantee obedience to civil authority: "On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings . . . laws are to be supported only by their own terrors, and by the concern, which each individual may find in them, from his own private speculations, or can spare to them from his own private interests." In short, the problem with a philosophy based on reason is that it is all stick and no carrot. Obedience is motivated by fear of punishment rather esteem, affection, or genuine sense of community. As Burke lamented, "in the groves of their academy, at the end of every visto, you see nothing but the gallows."
Burke insists that rationality is not to be found in the individual but rather in the collective experience of the community. In Burke's view, a good, i.e. "rational," system of government is to be judged by its actual consequences, not by theoretical assumptions; one should "reprobate no form of government merely upon abstract principles." A good government is one that works. And a government can said to work, in Burke's view, if it has endured through the ages and commands the affection of the people. According to Burke, civic affection and sentiment, not individual reason, is the tie that binds men together in society.
The reason Locke (and Rousseau) paid insufficient attention to the dangers presented by popular sovereignty is because they were primarily concerned with working out a modus vivendi between the people and their rulers. In their time and with respect to this relationship, opinions and preferences of the mass citizenry reasonably could have been supposed to be of a single accord. This, indeed, was the assumption behind ROUSSEAU's theory of the 'general will' and the 'social contract.' Thus, little harm was done in presuming all men to be the same. In hindsight, this was error. By relegating citizens to a passive role, Locke's republicanism lessens the likelihood that citizens will learn how to apply their reason in evaluating political conduct and to broaden their conception of the common good. Put another way, republicanism does not minimize the danger that citizens will rely upon uninformed opinion to guide their conduct in the private and public spheres.
Another reason the deleterious effects of public opinion received scant consideration is that the theory of natural right was intended only to make men free, equal, and secure in their persons and property. The development of the individual's human potential, a matter of great consequence to the ancients, was of little concern to the early modern theorists. This helps explain why the chilling effects of public opinion on individualism failed to attract their attention. JOHN STUART MILL and ALEXIS DeTOCQUEVILLE were among the first to reassert that human beings had a higher and nobler purpose. As Mill stated:
He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has not need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. . . . But what will be his comparative worth as a human being? It really is of importance, not only what men do, but also what manner of men they are that do it. Among the works of man, which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and beautifying, the first in importance is surely man himself.
It is not only the individual who is injured by the chilling effects of convention, society suffers also. The despotism of custom is a hindrance to human advancement, being in unceasing antagonism to that disposition to aim at something better than customary (i.e., "the spirit of progress"). For these reasons -- to enable the individual to map out for himself his plan of life free of societal interference and to foster the spirit of human progress -- Mill maintained that the right to dissent, to think and publish, and to act as one chooses was inviolate so long as the exercise of it does not pose a risk of harm to another.
But freedom of thought only ameliorates the effects of tyranny by majority opinion, not the causes. As noted above, the problem with majority opinion is not that it is majority but that it is average opinion; it is neither informed by reason nor ennobled by a broader vision of the common good. Mill understood that public opinion will always tend to the mediocre unless the members of the public learned to develop a broader conception of their true interests. Hence, he favored greater participation in the political process. His purpose for advocating electoral systems which enabled all citizens to have their interests represented in the deliberative councils of government was to expose them to and maintain their interest in that sphere of social life which could in time lead to a broadened conception of their own and the common interest.
ROUSSEAU is not concerned with the question to which Hobbes and Locke attach much significance. He rejects the idea that any of the inequalities that existed in the state of nature -- physical or intellectual -- are sufficient to legitimate the political authority of one person over another. In fact, the state of nature holds no enchantment or romance for Rousseau. In his view, man in that state was nothing more than a "stupid, short-sighted animal" ruled by instincts rather than justice with no conception of morality or reason.
For Rousseau, civil society is necessary, not to ensure civil peace, but to transform the individual into "an intelligent being and a man." Civil society is essential if men are to exercise and develop their faculties, broaden their ideas and feelings, and uplift their souls.
Like Locke, Rousseau is concerned with preserving the individual's freedom. Unlike Locke, however, Rousseau does not equate freedom with independence. Man enjoyed independence in the state of nature but this is not the same thing as freedom. An individual is free if he is ruled by justice rather than instinct and has a say in the making of the laws to which he is subject. Thus, the question for Rousseau was how could man -- who was born free but is everywhere in chains -- regain his freedom?
For Rousseau the answer is communitarianism. As Rousseau argued in his Discourse on Inequality, egoistic "individualism" is a consequence, not a cause of civil society, an idea later embraced by Karl Marx. In contrast to the pessimistic view of human nature upon which Hobbes' and Locke's models are based, Rousseau's communitarianism embodied an optimistic -- perhaps too optimistic -- assessment of human nature. It requires each member to subordinate his rights and interests to the community. But, as both Rousseau and Marx noted, it is extremely difficult for an individual to subordinate his private self to his public self. If socialism (i.e., communitarianism) requires that men already be what they are to become, as Rousseau suggested, it would be a wholly unrealistic expectation indeed. (Marx differed from Rousseau in that he thought that this transformation would be made as a matter of course once civil society was destroyed).
The question is whether it is possible to craft a political system which is more muscular and robust. While Barber seems to think so, Rousseau's Social Contract suggests that this might be something more fervently to be hoped for than realistically to be expected. What is required according to Rousseau is nothing less than the complete social transformation of the individual, "who by himself is a complete and solitary whole, into a part of a greater whole from which he, in a sense, receives his life and his being; of marring man's constitution in order to strengthen it; of substituting a partial and moral existence for the physical and independent existence we have all received from nature." Citizens must, in short, relinquish their attributes in exchange for other traits that are foreign to them and which cannot be used without the help of others. Rousseau is not optimistic because it takes a very special kind of person to appreciate the advantages of a plan which requires the renunciation of private interests: "The social spirit that is to be produced by the new institutions would have to preside over their creation, and before the laws exist, men would have to be what they are to become by means of those same laws."
This is not to imply, however, that there can be no middle ground. Though a radical and complete transformation of the citizen's civic self is unlikely, it is possible for citizens -- through involvement in private organizations, the workplace, public associations, and local government -- to participate in communal activities through which they can learn to broaden their social visions, to feel connected to other of their fellow citizens, and to enhance their sense of personal efficacy.
But what about the non-participators in a participatory democracy? They have rights too. They also have a function: critic. The participators should listen to them because, owing to their distance from and lack of interest in political affairs, they bring a perspective which participators do not possess.
WHELAN: What are the implications for classical liberal theory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which recognizes the right to leave one's country and emigrate or expatriate to another as fundamental)? (Locke's consent; Hobbes' obligation to sovereign; Plato's republic and USSR policy of keeping citizens from exposure to alien values and ideas, etc.)
OAKESHOTT: critique of RATIONALISM, i.e., doctrine of natural rights. He characterizes it as the "politics of felt need" and "by the book." He says rationalism has no respect for tradition, which is knowledge that is "practical" rather than "technical." Oakeshott argues that rationalism has had a bad effect on education; to remedy the damage he would like less emphasis on technique and more on history.
MANSFIELD: Hobbes invented representative government so as to avoid the "direct question" (i.e., whether a law or command issued by an officer of the law is decent, good, or useful). Hobbes thought that legitimizing the direct question would sanction civil conflict and increase the influence of the priesthood, which he saw as the causes of civil unrest. He didn't want men to think about the direct question so he invented representative government which focuses on the "indirect question," i.e., the legitimacy of the government or its agents. Mansfield claims that the direct question will arise again only when men again wonder about the sufficiency of civil or earthly peace.
PITKEN: criticizes Hobbes' concept of representation as "incomplete, and therefore, wrong." Pitken claims that Hobbes defines "representation as acting with authority to bring binding consequences down on someone else." She then criticizes this definition on three levels: first, that it takes a part for the whole in that he limits it to the field of action and doesn't consider that it can also be a state of affairs or condition; second, that it misleads us even about that area of meaning which it does apply; and third, that it leads Hobbes to suppose that every instance of authorizing is an instance of representing. The upshot for Pitken is that Hobbes has crafted a "formalistic definition, that seems to leave no room for the substance of representing as activity; of what a representative is supposed to do." Saxonhouse does not think much of Pitken's argument; she thinks Pitken is foisting her own conception of representation on Hobbes and criticizing him for not adopting it.
American Political Thought
(PALMER, JEFFERSON, THE FEDERALISTS, THE ANTI-FEDERALISTS, DeTOCQUEVILLE, WINTHROP, MICHELS, MOSCA, SCHUMPETER, DEWEY, LIPPMAN, CONVERSE, DOWNS, PITKEN, PATEMAN, WALZER)
PALMER: Four things may be said about the word "democracy," which has today become a general symbol of widely held political and personal values. First, the use of the word is extremely frequent. Second, it is used in a favorable sense by all parties. Third, the word carries an emotional charge, having a capacity to inspire. Fourth, the use of the word democracy in these respects, i.e., as a frequent symbol of favorable political values, dates only from the period of the First World War. Prior to that time the word democracy was not universally regarded favorably and was not used very frequently. PALMER disputes this last claim; he argues that for about a 10 year period in the 1790s, beginning with Robespierre's speech during the French Revolution, the word democracy was frequently used by proponents and adversaries. But the democratic movement of the 1790s failed from internal division, external repression, Bonapartism, etc. The meaning of the essay is that we can learn much about the march of democracy and history of man by tracing the history of the word's usage.
JEFFERSON: author of Declaration of Independence and the Summary View, which essentially takes Locke's expedient Second Treatise and elevates it to a universal principle. The bill of particulars against King George making him out to be a tyrant is as important as the assertion of "self-evident inalienable natural rights." The Summary View of the Rights of British America is useful for studying Jefferson's views regarding consent, obligation, freedom, citizenship, etc. The Declaration of Independence does not state what type of government is to replace the former allegiance to the British Crown. This is an issue Locke did not address explicitly in the Second Treatise. It is clear, however, that Jefferson agreed with him that repudiation of government returns men to civil society rather than a state of nature vis-a-vis each other.
THE FEDERALIST PAPERS: authored by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay. Purpose was to urge ratification of the Constitution. A careful reading of the the Federal Papers leaves little doubt that the Founding Fathers were of two minds about popular sovereignty. Democracy is praised and promoted in words but the democratic impulse is restricted and restrained in the provisions of the Constitution; the spirit is strong but the flesh is weak. The pessimistic view of human nature is thinly disguised in the Papers.
THE ANTI-FEDERALIST PAPERS: written by opponents of the Constitution. Their major concerns were that it would: not be practical because extended over too large a territory; destroy liberty; lead to the abolition of state governments; not be representative or accountable; favor oligarchy; and confuse the electorate by the complicated system of separated powers.
DeTOCQUEVILLE: a "soap opera of the modern world," according to Herzog. Spirit of democracy is spirit of equality; is wave of history; danger of democracy is that it levels and tends to the mediocre in political, cultural, and social life; tyranny of majority opinion is a danger; alienation and atomization is another danger because nothing stands between state and individual since aristocracy destroyed. Democracy works in America because of the influence of mores, which are "habits of the heart"; laws; and the physical circumstances of the country, all of which foster equality. Religion is very important also, as is the "superiority of American women." Finally, democracy was "born old" here according to DeTocqueville.
WINTHROP: argues that DeTocqueville's observations on the life of American women were sincere and complimentary to women and not condescending. She argues that DeTocqueville used the status of American women to illuminate the limitations of democracy as a vehicle for happiness and the fulfillment of human potential. She contends that women would not be happier -- and they and society would be worse off -- if gender differences were eradicated because little good would be gained and the really important aspects of human life (e.g., modesty, affection, humility, family life) would be jeopardized.
MICHELS: coined the term, "Iron Law of Oligarchy," a concept alluded to by Madison in the Federalist Papers. The law holds that in any human enterprise which requires organization -- including leftist and democratic movements -- inevitably there will arise a ruling elite which will develop interests separate from the apathetic masses. Ober's book on the "discourse of democracy" argues that this is not necessarily true because it didn't happen in ancient Greece. However, in light of Mosca's "Theory of the Ruling Class" it could be argued that Ober takes an overly narrow view of what constituted the power of the ruling class in ancient Greece.
MOSCA: argues that classical democratic theory is a sham and that there has never been a genuinely democratic regime. He claims that in every political society there are two classes, a ruling class and a class that's ruled. The ruling class does everything it can to perpetuate its power, including paying lip service to the democratic ideal. He argues that a "revolution" is nothing more than the substitution of one ruling class for another; but the ruling class is always a minority. The minority has a big advantage: because it is a minority, it is better able to organize and maintain group cohesion than is the majority.
SCHUMPETER: defines democracy as a method: "the democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote." This formulation avoids the major problems of classical democratic theory (i.e., sovereignty of the "people," the "will of the people," lack of rationality and non-attitudes on the part of the public, lack of attention and interest in political affairs, etc.).
Other advantages of Schumpeter's definition is that it is easy to distinguish democratic and non-democratic governments; it takes account of the importance of leadership, i.e. political and policy elites; it places the ability of the individual citizen in proper perspective (i.e., as retrospective voter); it clarifies the relationship between democracy and individual freedom; it undermines the case for proportional representation.
Schumpeter's definition also implies five conditions for democracy to function: (1) a pool of candidates; (2) the range of political decisions can't be beyond the competence of the contestants and their functionaries; (3) a professional civil service; (4) democratic self-control, i.e., civic virtue; (5) tolerance of diversity of opinion and strong support for the political community, regime, and authorities, especially among the elites.
DEWEY: Dewey argues that the "problem of the public" is a problem of method and that methods are in turn influenced by a priori absolutist theorizing. He argues that democracy was an incremental and gradual process caused by technological innovation and in no way depends upon the grand, and wrong, theorizing of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, et al. In fact, that type of theorizing is responsible for the silly idea of "individualism," and the "problem of the individual and society." Dewey rejects the concept of causal agency and urges greater emphasis on consequences of associated human activity, which he argues better explains persistence and change in political forms and institutions. For Dewey, "the perception of consequences which are projected in important ways beyond the persons and associations directly concerned in them is the source of a public; and that its organization into a state is effected by establishing special agencies to care for and regulate these consequences.
As Dewey puts it, "the fact that the public depends upon consequences of acts and the perception of consequences, while its organization into a state depends upon the ability to invent and employ special instrumentalities, shows how and why publics and political institutions differ widely from epoch to epoch and from place to place. To suppose that an a priori conception of the intrinsic nature and limits of the individual on the one side and the state on the other will yield good results once and for all is absurd." It is the lasting, extensive, and serious consequences of associated activity that brings into existence a public. By itself a public is an unorganized and formless mass. It is only by means of officials and their special powers that it becomes a state. "A public articulated and operating through representative officers is the state; there is no state without a government, but also there is none without the public." The problem of the "relationship of the individual to society" is meaningless because "society" is individuals in their connection with one another.
One of the public's problems is in recognizing itself in such a way that sufficient weight is given to this value in the selection of official representatives and in the definition of their rights and duties. To do that what is needed are improved methods for identifying and interpreting the direct and indirect consequences of associated activity. This is where education and experts come in. Dewey emphatically disagrees with Lippman on their function and use.
Popular government is educative as other modes of political regulation are not. It forces a recognition that there are common interests; even though the recognition of what they are is confused; and the need it enforces of discussion and publicity brings about some clarification of what they are. A class of experts is inevitably so removed from common interests as to become a class with private interests and private knowledge, which in social matters is not knowledge at all.
Counting heads (i.e., voting, public opinion) serves an important function in a democratic system because its compels prior discussion, consultation, and persuasion. The effect of an appeal to experts, on the other hand, is to cut short resort to such methods. As Samuel Tilden said, "the means by which a majority comes to be a majority is the more important thing."
No government by experts in which the masses do not have the chance to inform the experts as to their needs can be anything but an oligarchy managed in the interests of the few. The essential need, in other words, is the improvement of the methods and conditions of debate, discussion, and persuasion. That is the problem of the public. It is not necessary that the many should have the knowledge and skill to carry on the needed investigations of consequences; what is required is that they have the ability to judge of the bearing of the knowledge supplied by others. What is needed is to raise the general level of intellectual sophistication of the many a little rather than that of the few by a lot.
The final problem of the public is the need to revitalize local community because this is where attachment, interest, discussion, observation, and connection take root. It is in local communal life that the public will find and identify itself.
LIPPMAN: democracy inadequate to modern age because citizens handicapped by "limitation of experience" and "subjectivity of opinion." He argues that we need to find a way to bring the "unseen environment" to them so they can make intelligent decisions; until that occurs we cannot speak of a PUBLIC opinion. Lippman argues that what is needed is a high priesthood of intelligence and technical experts. Dewey disagrees emphatically, as discussed above.
CONVERSE: continental shelf between mass and elites; latter are ideologically constrained in their belief systems, former are not. This lack of constraint in the masses has significant implications for the democratic dialogue since masses and elites don't reason or care about politics in the same way.
DOWNS: economic theory of democracy; foundation of rational choice movement in political science: theory of the firm; assumption of self-interest and personal utility; instrumental rationality of the vote.
PITKEN: at bottom, "representation" is "the making present in some sense of something which is nevertheless not present literally or in fact." This single basic meaning will have very different applications depending on what is being made present or considered present. In other words, there can be representation in a number of different aspects: authorization, accountability, symbolic, reflective, etc. In evaluating whether something is "representative" it is important to be clear which of these different meanings is involved. For example, if one assumes a parliament to a deliberative body, the appropriate measure of representation would be one that is proportionate; but if one assumed its function to be a governing body, single member districts would be the better method of election.
PATEMAN: advocate of participatory, especially workplace, democracy. Participatory democracy is an attempt to come to grips with two major problems in classical democratic theory: first, the failure of people to conform with anything like perfection to the ideal of rational, autonomous agents; and second, the futility of talk of consensus in circumstances where very large numbers of very disparate people are involved. The fundamental idea of participatory democracy is that
people can learn to become effective political agents on the basis of experience in more limited contexts, and this will provide them with the capacity to act in the wider political domain, as well as inducing a tendency to identify with the group in which they actively participate, thus reducing the problem of disparate views and conflicts of will.
The most common limited contexts are the workplace and local governments and associations. The limitation of the theory is that it is far from clear that the skills are transferable to the larger political arena and it does not address the problem of motivation: how to interest people in democratic procedure. While it focuses on the psychological, i.e. moral development of participators, it deemphasizes the importance of the decisions they reach; in other words, it is more concerned with procedure than substance. Finally, as WALZER points out, the theory does not address the rights and functions of non-participators, of whom there will be many because, as Oscar Wilde observed, "socialism requires too many evenings." Walzer argues that non-participators have rights too, and a function: to second-guess, evaluate, and criticize the exercise of power by the participators.
WALZER: concerned about the "connectedness" of the individual to the state. Claims that neither obligation or consent theory really connects citizens to the state or to each other. He argues that pluralism helps fill the void but points out that pluralism is not an unqualified benefit because for those who have associations (and many do not since group activity is strongly correlated with SES) the problem of "dual loyalty" is always lurking beneath the surface. Walzer doesn't offer any specific remedies for the problem of alienation, pluralism, and atomization, however.
Politics and Economics
(ADAM SMITH, KARL MARX, V.I. LENIN, MONTESQUIEU)
MONTESQUIEU: author of the Spirit of the Laws, which is essentially a book full of nuggets of political wisdom gleaned from studying political regimes of various countries and epochs. Today, we would call Montesquieu a comparativist. His place in the philosophic pantheon stems from the contribution to political science of his definition of liberty as the "right to do everything the laws permit and the right not to do what the law doesn't compel." Political liberty for the citizen, however, "is that tranquility of spirit which comes from the opinion each one has of his security, and in order for him have this liberty the government must be such that one citizen cannot fear another citizen."
Montesquieu challenged conventional wisdom that only democratic and aristocratic states were free by their nature. According to Montesquieu, "political liberty is found only in moderate governments. But it is not always found in moderate states. In other words, it is not the type of state that ensures liberty but the type of government. According to Montesquieu, even a monarchy can be moderate since moderation is not a function of the dominant social element (i.e., commons, nobles, monarch) but rather the structure of the governmental machinery. A government is "moderate" only when power is not abused." As Montesquieu says, "so that one cannot abuse power, power must check power by the arrangement of things." Democratic theory owes to Montesquieu the doctrine of separated powers and checks and balances. He was also the inspiration behind DeTocqueville's "new" political science, which requires the political theorist to consider economics, religion, geography, and culture.
Montesquieu claimed that there are only three types of legitimate political states: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, of which a republic is a subspecies. A fourth type, despotism, is based on fear and thus is an illegitimate regime. Each type of state has an animating principle or "spirit": for monarchy it is honor; for aristocracy, it is moderation; for democracy, it is virtue and the supreme virtue is love of equality; for despotism, it is fear. Montesquieu asserts that lawgivers should take care that the laws they adopt reinforce the animating principle of the state.
Virtue in a republic is "love of the republic; it is a feeling and not a result of knowledge." In a democracy, "love of the republic is love of democracy; love of democracy is love of equality." Montesquieu says that like love of a republic, "love of democracy" is also love of frugality. "Love of the homeland leads to goodness in mores, and goodness in mores lead to love of the homeland. The less we can satisfy our particular passions, the more we give ourselves up to passions for the general order."
ADAM SMITH: wrote Wealth of Nations, which is the brief for capitalism, as Marx's Capital is the brief against it. Smith argues that mercantilism is a terrible economic policy for England to pursue because it leaves the mass of her citizens poor and wretched, a condition which undermines diffuse support for the political community, its regime and authorities. Smith, extolling the virtues of the division of labor, argues that capitalism makes every sector of society happier and more prosperous. In addition, free enterprise fosters social habits of justice, toleration, moderation, and virtue, which are essential to regime stability. According to Smith, self-interest operating through the invisible hand of the market will work its magic not only in the economic sphere but also in the educational arena and religious sphere. The free enterprise system will lead to religious tolerance, moderation, and social peace; in the educational system it will produce better and more innovative teachers. For Smith (and Marx, St. Augustine, and Hegel) history has a plot.
KARL MARX: author of Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Theses on Feurbach, German Ideology, 18th Brumaire, On The Jewish Question, Communist Manifesto, and Capital. Key to understanding these works is the recognition that Marx follows in the "communitarianism" tradition of political authority and obedience pioneered by Rousseau. For communitarians like Marx and Rousseau, freedom is the supreme value; in contrast, the supreme value for Locke is "liberty from arbitrary rule." "Freedom" is not being subject to the laws made others, according to Rousseau and Marx.
Rousseau recognized that communitarianism would be difficult to bring about because it required the reconciliation of man's dual capacities: the competitive individual in civil society who is concerned with selfish interests and the communal citizen in political society who is concerned with the common good. (This duality is but another variant of St. Augustine's earthly and heavenly cities). Rousseau despaired that men would ever regain their freedom because he did not think it likely that the schism between public and private could be bridged. As we will see, Marx was more optimistic in this regard.
HEGEL (and Kant), in the next century, took up where Rousseau left off. He thought the problem of dual capacity was capable of being harmonized if not solved entirely. The problem was that men in their current state of development did not fully understand the importance and moral superiority of preferring the common good. They were, however, capable of coming to such understanding because they were endowed with reason. Gradually over time, reason would lead men to the state of freedom envisioned by Rousseau. Indeed, according to Hegel the whole course of human history was simply the history of "Reason's" sojourn, which was to culminate in the beloved community. When it reached that state, history would end and man would be as God. One can determine how far Reason has progressed on this moral, intellectual, and spiritual journey by observing the STATE (i.e, the res publica). For the State was REASON's searching and working out for itself the way to FREEDOM. (It's all very mystical stuff!).
Marx thought Hegel's theory of philosophical right merely rationalized and justified German political and civil life. He found a way to drive this point home with the help of Feurbach, who had devised the "transformative method" to critique and debunk Christianity. The "transformative method" operates by substituting the subject for the predicate and vice-versa. Feurbach used this method to argue that the history of man was not the "Spirit of God" coming to know itself, as Hegel had argued, but the other way around. The "Spirit of God" was the history of Mankind, but Mankind in its ideal form and perfect state. According to Feurbach, all the qualities which men attributed to God were really the qualities that Mankind itself possessed in its ultimate perfection, a state Feurbach labeled the "human SPECIES-BEING." Feurbach was especially critical of religion because the more man attributed this ideal form to God, the more he debased himself, and the harder he made it for him to reach his telos or species-being.
In his Critique of the Philosophy of Right, Marx applied the "transformative method" to political and civil society (i.e., he turned Hegelism on its head, or as Marx would put it: "I found Hegel upside down and turned him right side up"). Marx argued that Hegel's mystical 'Reason' wasn't explained by the concrete 'State.' Rather, he asserted it was the other way around: the 'State' could be explained by the objective material conditions of man's existence.
Marx returned to the challenge posed by Rousseau: how to bridge the schism between civil society and political life. The political realm stands in the same relation to the civil as the City of God does to the City of Man. As with religion, the schism between homo civitas and homo politicus causes men to to debase their species because of the tremendous disparity between the ideal (the State) and the real (civil society). The consequence is that Man becomes increasingly alienated from public life. But unlike religion, this alienated isolation is not merely a matter of perception but is a reality, a product of modern civil society.
The question for Marx was how to abolish civil society and merge the private into the public self so that man may become a species-being. According to Marx, civil society is a terrible and destructive social system because
its social effect is to sever all man's species-ties, substitute egoism and selfish need for those ties, and dissolve the human world into a world of atomistic, mutually hostile individuals.
In egoistic civil society, men relate to each other as means instead of fellow members of the human species. So long as human life remained divided between the social and the political, no political reform or change would bring Mankind closer to reaching its telos as a species-being. Put another way, the political regime wasn't the cause of man's problem; the problem was civil society itself. In Marx's view, Mankind could never become a species-being so long as civil society (which creates and perpetuates the political regime) enjoyed an existence separate from the State.
This is why, for example, Marx considered the "JEWISH QUESTION" quite beside the point. The political emancipation of the Jews was not going to lead to human emancipation for the species. To be sure, Marx thought political emancipation preferable to political disfranchisement but he regarded this preoccupation with political rights diversionary. This is also the reason why Marx did not have much patience for concepts like "natural rights," "personal freedom," and "civil liberties"; all of these concepts were derived from and useful only in the civil society he wished to see destroyed.
For Marx (and Engels) nowhere was the effect of civil society on the individual more pernicious than in the system of bourgeois capitalism. According to Marx, capitalism was a wicked economic system, an unmitigated evil. Bourgeois capitalism represented the perfection of the division of labor, Mankind's Original Sin. The division of labor was responsible for egoism because it created the system of private property. As Marx put it in Capital:
Capitalism mutilates the laborer into a fragment of a man, degrades him to the level of an appendage to a machine, destroys every remnant of charm in his work and turns it into a hated toil; it estranges from him the intellectual potentialities of the labor process in the same proportion as science is incorporated in it as as independent power.
These negative consequences occur more or less in all but the most primitive of societies since they are caused by the division of labor. The special wickedness that Marx reserves for capitalism stems from the fact that its success depends on finding new and better ways to refine the division of labor. What distinguishes capitalism from other systems of exchange is that money is not exchanged for commodities (i.e., C-M-C) but that commodities are exchanged for money (i.e,, M-C-M) and capitalism is the only trading system in which labor is treated as a commodity. Moreover, labor is the most valuable commodity because it alone is capable of producing "exchange-value" even as it is being consumed. According to Marx, the dirty little secret is that money is made by purchasing labor-power as cheaply as possible so that the commodities produced by it command more in the marketplace than they cost to produce. The only way that could be done is by exploiting wage labor. This, according to Marx, is capitalism's "magic." Marx contemptuously dismisses the claim that capitalism elevates every sector of society and suggests its proponents are suffering from "commodity fetishism."
The need for cheap labor requires a large pool of available labor. To ensure this pool is always available for exploitation is the raison d'etre of the political state, which is nothing more that the tool of the bourgeois capitalist class. Marx points out the absurdity in describing the labor-capital exchange as an "arms-length" transaction; in reality it is an adhesion contract with all the leverage on the side of the capitalist. In Capital, Marx characterizes capitalists variously as "vampires," a "despots," a "military dictators," "slave masters in disguise," and depicts capitalism as a system based on domination rather than equal exchange. Advocates of capitalism, like Adam Smith, who extol its virtues in promoting freedom, equality, private property, and self-interest are, according to Marx, apologists of misery who have been seduced by a false consciousness. They fail to understand that their theories are themselves a product of bourgeois capitalism since "in every age the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class."
As Marx sees it, capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction. In its ceaseless quest for profit it continues to generate more and more proletariat class members everywhere it operates; and it roams the world, such is its insatiable appetite for profit. In time the proletariat will become conscious of itself as a class and lead the revolution which will overthrow the bourgeois class. This will occur when capitalism reaches its natural limit. The conditions will then be right for the abolition of civil society and the unification of the political sphere and civil society. This will usher in the age of communism and will be marked by the transcendence of the division of labor in the following realms: job task; family life; mental and manual activity; political administration; and work and play. No more will the worker be alienated and estranged from his species being. Instead of having to choose between being a hunter, fisher, or critic, he won't have to be any of them; but he can do all three activities. Humans will relate to each other not as means of production but as fellow members of a genuinely human community, each possessing multiple skills, any of which can be employed as the occasion arises to serve the needs of the community.
Marx wrote that "the history of all societies hitherto existing has been the history of class struggle." What this means is that the material means of production of every society results in one class gaining superiority over the others; it then uses its political power to consolidate its class superiority and continue its rule. In itself, the State is not an autonomous actor. But occasionally, in extraordinary circumstances, the State can become an independent power, standing over and against civil society. Marx refers to this phenomenon as "the parasitic state," or "Bonapartism," a term he coined while observing the events leading to the 18th Brumaire in France.
That parasitic state, led by the Society of December 10, with Louis Bonaparte at its head, seized power while the two factions of the bourgeois party were engaged in conflict with each other and none of the other classes was strong enough to step into the void. When this occurs, it is usually the case that the political agents of one or more of the competing classes is guilty of "parliamentary cretinism," which Marx defines as "the self-deception of 'powerless' assemblies that their decisions matter even as they neglect to assert effective control over their governments." The contemporary meaning of the term is broader, referring now to the willingness of a party to compromise its revolutionary class aims by participating in the political processes of the system to which it stands in disloyal opposition. For example, Lenin denounced Kautsky as a cretin for entertaining the idea that communism can be realized in a capitalist state through non-violent political action.
LENIN: takes Marxism one step further in that not only does he reject the capitalist state as the "tool of the bourgeois,"he also rejects the legitimacy of the democratic process. According to Lenin, democracy is a creature and tool of the bourgeois state. To defeat capitalism and usher in the "dictatorship of the proletariat" it is necessary to abolish the bourgeois capitalist state by waging armed struggle against it.