Political Philosophy


Political Philosophy Essay, Research Paper

Political philosophy?s are the theories and ideas of those who believe that

they have an answer to the questions that politics raise in society. The

questions that these political philosophers set out to answer range from

describing what the state of nature is to what type of regimes are necessary to

tame and organize the nature of man. The ideas that they come up with are not

all that original. Plato, an early political philosopher and student of

Socrates, set out to come up with a society that would function properly. His

ideal society would consist of rulers, guardians, and the masses. All of which

are molded at a young age to play a societal role in order to contribute to the

betterment of their social arena. Plato has gone down in history as one of the

better political philosophers to ever live, and arguably the best. While looking

at what a society needs, he was able to recognize the needs of a society as well

as the needs of the individual. He # humbled the ego of man, when he

acknowledged that one individual could not survive on his own and that all

people are dependent on others to survive. His idea of an organized community

has been the focus of many political philosophy debates and has been a stepping

stone from which many philosophers have created their own ideal social

environment. Though their theories may not be identical to Plato?s, signs of

his structures are definitely evident. Thomas Hobbes, a political philosopher in

the seventeenth century, had many theories and ideas that seemed to have

coincided with Plato?s thoughts. Hobbes view of the state of nature was a very

primitive one. He felt that in the state of nature there was a war of every man

against every man to survive. In the natural state, justice was impossible,

because without set limits and structures, everyone has the rights to everything

and anarchy is almost inevitable. The only way to escape the unfortunate fate of

anarchy would be for everyone to agree to a covenant. In this covenant, all the

people would give up their rights and create a sovereign. The conditions of the

covenant was to give the sovereign full discretion in dealing with citizens. It

was up to the sovereign to protect the lives of the citizens. Quite ironically,

the sovereign also had the right to have any citizen # killed. Fortunately, the

citizens did not give up their right to fight back and were allowed to, usually

to no avail. As long as the sovereign was keeping the majority of citizens alive

and maintaining absolute power, the covenant would be considered successful and

a civil society would have been created. The covenant proposed in Leviathan, was

meant to help keep the common good of peace. As long as people weren?t killing

each other the common good was being reached and the monarchy was considered

successful. If people continued to kill each other the covenant of the absolute

sovereign would be looked upon as tyranny. This is clearly comparable to

Plato?s theory of a civil society. Plato pointed out how no one person could

survive by them self or without the help of a controlled civil society. Hobbes

takes Plato?s idea of men dependent upon other men, to extremes when he

reveals that men will kill each other in order to survive. WHY? Because other

people have what we need in order to maintain our lives, whether it be property,

food or etc. But why do we need a civil society? Hobbes, again is playing off

Plato?s acknowledgement of the selfishness of man. Because people are selfish

and are willing to do whatever it takes to live, they are going to violate

others in order to better themselves. Only in a # society where restrictions and

laws are placed upon people, will people begin to work with one another instead

of against one another in the effort to survive together and use the resources

and expertise that each person has to offer. Though Hobbes? way of governing

this communal society is a bit different than Plato, it still stems from the

same premise. The sovereign that Hobbes describes will be given complete

discretion and is trusted to act on what is best for the overall community.

Likewise, Plato?s rulers are trusted to bring the community together in the

hopes of making a strong and flourishing civil society. A definite difference

between the two rulers of Hobbes and Plato is that Plato?s ruler would be

naturally picked by the individual?s inherent wisdom. His ruler would be

someone who was born wise and meant to be in the ruling position. Hobbes?

ruler would be someone who the citizens picked and acknowledged as the absolute

sovereign in the societies covenant. Alexis De Tocqueville, a political

philosopher of the nineteenth century, is another good example of a philosopher

who?s ideas where simply branches of Plato?s philosophical roots. Coming

from an aristocracy in France, De Tocqueville went to America to study the

prison system. Instead of following through with this study, he found himself

intrigued with the political # system that occupied America. His work, Democracy

in America, became a political comparison between Aristocracy and Democracy.

Instead of looking at the behavior of people in the primitive state of nature,

like Plato and Hobbes, he focused on the present and what would be the best

political structure for the societies that people were currently in. This way of

building his political beliefs was different than Plato?s and Hobbes? way of

coming up with their theories, but was still effective in helping him analyze

what type of societal structure would most effectively contribute to the common

good of each communities individuals. Being from France, De Tocqueville was

intrigued by the amount of political freedom that all people, from the lowest to

the highest social classes were entitled to. It amazed him how the United States

could manage to maintain such a strong political system without having a central

dominating party that had the final say in what laws were passed. Much to his

surprise, people of even the lowest financial class were able to give an opinion

as to what rules and laws the government should pass. This was evident in the

U.S. judicial system, were every person was capable of being on a jury and

deciding the fate of another person. The person on trial was not simply heard by

a single superior being, but instead was given the chance to convey his side of

the case to # a jury of many people. This gave the plaintiff an equal shot at

justice despite what his social status may be. Because the jury was randomly

selected amongst all citizens, from all social statures. This judicial system

protected the rights of the individuals and maintained the nations declaration

of the common good. The jury that is selected would be comparable to Plato?s

guardians, who?s job was to defend what the founders had established.

Likewise, the jury?s job is to make sure that everyone gets a fair shot at

justice, a right that America?s founders set out to uphold. Among other

things, De Tocqueville was dumb founded by the ease with which people were able

to voice their opinions. And, despite their opinions, people seemed more willing

to follow the rules and laws that the nation set, even if the weren?t in favor

of them. He came to the conclusion that, ?…as long as the majority is still

undecided, discussion is carried on, but as soon as its decision is irrevocably

pronounced, every one is silent, and the friends as well as the opponents of the

measure unite in assenting to its propriety?(De Tocqueville, Princeton

Readings of Political Thought,p.416). Because decisions such as, what laws and

rules to pass, are decided by a majority after weighing the pros and cons,

people are more willing to yield to the ruling because it has been fairly #

analyzed and presented by both sides, not just by a monarch with absolute power

and say. The absence of a monarch in America was to assure that the goal of the

common good would never be endangered by injustice. The way that America handles

it?s citizens, allows for amendments to laws and an equal chance for everyone

to succeed, regardless of individual?s preceding family histories. Here we are

able to see another similarity to Plato?s Republic when De Tocqueville directs

his attention to how the people of America work together to build a strong

community, instead of fighting each other to survive, they are aware of their

dependency upon others. One person cannot pass a law in America, a majority vote

is needed in order to pass laws that are in the best interest of the country as

a whole, not just an individual. De Tocqueville, explored the common good of

America and was able to locate the precise reasoning as to why the United

States? political system could continue to progress in such a democratic

framework without any major outbursts of anarchy. After dissecting the political

system and people of the country, his conclusion became clear. People in the

United States have come from many different origins and have come together in

search of a common good. The common good that became the foundation of America

was independence, that # could only be fully found in a democratic society. Many

of the people that came to the United States, came from places of oppression and

monarchal rule and were deathly afraid of any monarchal reoccurrence. With the

founding fathers of the United States all in agreement that they wanted a secure

system that would prohibit any type of monarchy, the common good of equality and

freedom for all citizens came into play. This agreement, though quite different

in content, was equivalent to the covenant that Hobbes? society abided by, in

that it was an agreement that everyone honored. What baffled De Tocqueville, was

why such a democratic configuration wouldn?t be feasible in Europe. In his

comparison study he confronted the reasons as to why the specific democratic

system of America was viable there, but not in his native Europe. The

justification that he came up with is actually quite interesting. The

aristocratic ways of Europe have been so engraved in their political system,

that any attempt at complete Democracy would cause more conflicts than

compliments to their social arena. People in Europe are enthralled by their past

ancestry and culture. Because these people are leading lives with such social

segregation, any glimpse of complete equality would lead to more upheavals than

celebrations. Bringing people of # lower classes and higher classes to a point

where they are no longer separated by financial or family restraints would cause

more chaos on the society. With people holding their ancestry so close to their

hearts, feelings of spite and harshness are bound to deliver a mass anarchy,

that would outweigh the societal unity that would normally be expected with the

budding of equality and independence. Democracy would not be in the interest of

the European countries because of the nature of their citizens, and the strong

traditional feelings that they hold. The common good of Europe is not

necessarily the same as America?s. De Tocqueville deducted an answer that

seemed to be pretty accurate when looking at the two government structures. He

was very practical when he decided to base his social ideals on the present

situations of people, instead of trying to start from the very primitive and

natural stages of humans. Though this aspect of his research is different than

Plato?s and Hobbes?, it still allowed him to come up with a pretty similar

solution to the two preceding philosophers. De Tocqueville?s way of looking at

society allowed him to see that though a Democracy may be the best way for

America to reach it?s common good, a Democracy may not be as efficient when

dealing with the different communities of Europe. Karl Marx, a political

philosopher from the nineteenth # century, is another very well known

philosopher. Just like Plato, Hobbes and De Tocqueville, Marx had a vision of

how a community that is segregated by social classes could possibly take up a

new governmental structure that would best help all the citizens of the society,

not just the aristocracies of the area. His ideal society would be

?classless?. Marx saw society?s structure to be a result of history, that

would eventually smooth it?s way out. The beginning means to his plan of the

?classless? society would commence when a movement towards ending capitalism

took effect. He saw capitalism as a way in which the bourgeoisie exploited their

workers in order to increase the value of their productions. Unfortunately for

capitalism, it had a lethal and self-destructive characteristic that would bring

an end to it. This ruinous trait was it?s voracious need to compete and

dominate the production market. The competition of the producers to produce more

and in turn exploit their workers more, would eventually cause some of the

producers to go out of business. With less competition there would be more lower

level and oppressed proletarians. The effect of having more proletarians than

middle class citizens changed the society from being a capitalist community to a

community of socialism. Eventually, this ever changing society would change from

socialist environment # to a ?classless? society. Marx held firmly that

industrialism would be the key to the ?classless? society. He calculated

that more machines bearing the brunt of production would liberate humans from

the harsh labor that they had endured. Because machines can produce more in a

shorter period of time than humans, he speculated that their would be enough

produce to allow everyone to live a generous life. Hence, everyone would have an

equal means to a good life and the society would turn from an aristocracy to a

?classless? society. This ?classless? atmosphere would be a communist

environment where no one person owns land, but instead the property and goods

produced on property would be custody of the state, not the individuals of the

state. Karl Marx?s theory of the state being the owner of all property, in a

sense, put all people in the state on an equal level. Because the state owned

all the produce and property, they were able to distribute the goods to all the

citizens. This would reassure that all citizens well-beings were being met, thus

the common good would be attained. Because of Marx?s sensitivity towards the

proletariat class and their needs, as well as the needs of the middle class, his

theories were merely concepts that would help meet the common good # of the

state as a whole, not just the elite. Marx?s mentality is what puts him in the

same class as Plato, Hobbes and De Tocqueville. He sought a means towards

improving the community; communism was the final concept he came up with, that

he felt could enhance the living styles of all the people within his social

arena. The ideas of Hobbes, De Tocqueville and Marx were all ways of making the

means meet with an end. They all sought to provide a communal environment where

all citizens could live without bias?. Though Hobbes sought a monarchy, with

one sovereign to lead the state, and De Tocqueville discovered that what is good

for one state is not necessarily good for another and Marx founded a communist

government he thought would best work for his state; doesn?t mean that they

did not all share a common goal. It is obvious through their thoughts and words

that each of these philosophers focused an immense amount of their attention

towards forming the perfect political structures to manage the citizens of their

states with. All three of them shared the same goal, their goal was to seek out

the finest solutions that would resolve the dilemmas that their states faced,

they were all on a quest for the common good. The only thing that separates

these writers is the means they used, in an attempt to satisfy the end…the #

common good. Plato was the earliest of all the presented philosophers. His ideas

and aspirations were all based on the knowledge that he acquired from his

teacher, Socrates, and his own experiences. His thoughts of pursuing a common

good for a community of people, not just for an individual, were foundational

thoughts that had a drastic carry through on political philosophers that would

follow. Hobbes, De Tocqueville and Marx have had noteworthy effects on the

political systems that have emerged; but I can say with confidence, that at the

root of their philosophical writings, is the seedling that Plato first planted.

Plato?s thoughts were the first seedlings and roots in the search for the

common good. Hobbes?, De Tocqueville?s and Marx?s writings are the

branches that have flourished from Plato?s seedlings. The ideas and theories

of political philosophy owe a great deal to Plato. Without Plato?s initial

seedlings, we wouldn?t have the strong foundation that has allowed us to

obtain the means which has allowed us to come even closer to achieving the

ultimate common good of society.

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