Political Philosophy

Political Philosophy 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 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 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, …