The Seedling of Political Philosophy…Plato!!!!!!!!
Political philosophys 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 Platos, 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 Platos 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 werent 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 Platos 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 Platos 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 Platos 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, Platos 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 Platos ruler would be naturally picked by the individuals 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 whos ideas where simply branches of Platos 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 Platos 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 Platos guardians, whos job was to defend what the founders had established. Likewise, the jurys job is to make sure that everyone gets a fair shot at justice, a right that Americas founders set out to uphold.
Among other things, De Tocquevillewas 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 werent 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 its citizens, allows for amendments to laws and an equal chance for everyone to succeed, regardless of individuals preceding family histories. Here we are able to see another similarity to Platos 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 wouldnt 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 Americas. 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 Platos and Hobbes, it still allowed him to come up with a pretty similar solution to the two preceding philosophers. De Tocquevilles way of looking at society allowed him to see that though a Democracy may be the best way for America to reach its 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 societys structure to be a result of history, that would eventually smooth its 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 its 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 Marxs 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 Marxs 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. Marxs 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; doesnt 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
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. Platos thoughts were the first seedlings and roots in the search for the common good. Hobbes, De Tocquevilles and Marxs writings are the branches that have flourished from Platos seedlings. The ideas and theories of political philosophy owe a great deal to Plato. Without Platos initial seedlings, we wouldnt 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.