The Matter of Political Philosophy

When an individual studies political philosophy, it is usually with the intent to understand the core principles that govern the political life of a city, a region, or a nation. What is it that motivates or causes a mayor to be just, or to be corrupt? What influence does the general consensus of the people have upon the government? In what way does the government manifest its power with the least amount of justice? In what way does it manifest its power with the most amount of justice? What definition exactly can we give to the term the general will of the people? All of these questions are ones that interested people will ask themselves and others in an attempt to gain answers. They will look back to philosophers like Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Plato, among others, to try and find some opinion that has validity. To a large extent, when political philosophy scholars attempt to uncover the answers to these questions, it is not just to help defeat Fascism, or help bring about Communism, or help in strangling Socialism, or generally to aid or destory any other -ism; rather, these questions are asked because people are genuinely interested in discovering what method of government is best for the people.

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Political Philosophy is the study of government, of power, of authority. It is a question of who is in power, why they are in power, how they can maintain their power and how the public will respond to this power, and what powers certain authorities hold in certain societies. It is all these questions and more. In our modern society of today’s world, some political philosophy questions would be “To what extent does the authority of the policeman extend?” and “In what justification does a court issue a search warrant?” The reason why it is important and relevant to understand Political Philosophy is to help ourselves better understand, and perhaps one day alter the current society, with social justice as an end. By understanding these concepts, we are better able to grasp the problems that society has withstood for a great deal of time.

There are some basic facts that should be understood clearly before one progresses in depth the study of Political Philosophy. First, there is the question of the issues at hand. Every generation will have its own issues of social justice or political rightness. Those who have only a brief knowledge of history will be able to confirm this. There was a generation whose intent was to liberate all African slaves, another generation that wanted equality for a second class of citizens called Plebians, and at least five generations that worked for the equality of the sexes. Every culture has its rebellious side to it, its nay-sayers whenever the body politic combines. So we have seen groups work for reforms, for changes, for revolutions in all facets of life. We see Animal Rights activists working for similar principles as did the Abolitionists. On the other side, we see Christian Fundamentalists trying to implement an ideology in to the government. There are those who want to create a Communist nation, with free healthcare and education to everyone. And there are those who want to resurrect the Inquisition to deal not just with religious heretics, but with political and social heretics as well. Civil Rights, Free Trade, education, healthcare, freedom of speech, etc., etc.. These are all issues at hand. When we look to the issues, we must understand that they are not related to the study of Political Philosophy.

One might easily make the misunderstanding of associating these issues with Political Philosophy. The error stems from the fact that government bodies are often responsible for enforcing or not enforcing these issues, and the association that one is responsible for the other. While this may be true in some cases, there is a clear difference between Political Philosophy and the current political atmosphere of a nation. Political Philosophy deals with who possesses authority, on what grounds they possess this authority, and how this authority can be used on the public. As far as the issues go, it doesn’t specifically concern Political Philosophy. A dictator might issue a mandate enforcing a strong Civil Rights bill as much as he might issue a mandate enforcing the Bible as law. On the other hand, it might be an elected president who issues a mandate agreed upon by congress to reinstate the draft, or to invade a foreign nation, or to nationalize all industries involving food, housing, and clothing production. Political Philosophy is the question of who is in power, who has authority, and on what grounds that authority is shifted from person to person.

Before we immediately dive in to the tastey depths of Political Philosophy, creating a Utopia in our mind by using a system of checks and balances, or enlightened despots based on a certain religion, or some form of majority rules, or constitutional ethics, etc., etc. — before we jump right in to Political Philosophy to take a stand on what the ideal political state would be, or what the ideal state of mankind would be, there are some other facts that should be recognized. These facts should be recognized only insomuch that they will help guide us to creating a system of politics that will allow the greatest amount of social and political justice. The study of Political Philosophy is a sociological study, not dissimilar to economics in many respects. Much like economics, there are certain stern laws to Political Philosophy that ought to be followed. By understanding these evidenced laws, we are in a better position to make judgments about the body politic, about what is just, abotu what is unjust, etc., etc.. And, by being able to comprehend the outcome of certain actions better, we will be able to theorize a more ideal state of civilization. We’ve already recognized the principle that Political Philosophy is not a study in achieving Nazism any more than it is a study in achieving racial equality. It does not promote one social issue over another. It is the study of how conclusions to these social issues are reached.

Among these stern laws that govern the body politic of a society, there is the one that everyone differs in opinion. All throughout history, whether seperated by culture, language, race, or even era, we have found that people will disagree with each other. One tends to think that opinions become much more conformed when looking within the same society, that a low-income Chinese man in Hong Kong is more likely to agree with another low-income Chinese man in Hong Kong. When comparing this one man with, say, a low-income American man in San Francisco, opinions will differ, and probably greater if the man is from New York City, and then even greater if it is a middle-income man, and even greater still if it is a high-income man. Change the gender, the social background, the political background, the development environment from childhood, etc., etc., and the more likely you are to find yourself with a conflict of opinion. However, regardless of these statistical differences, there will always be differences of opinion. When we take two people of the very same background, even brothers of the same bood, we will find differences of opinion in such a great quality.

What is the point of observing the differences of opinion? Well, among one of the important reasons for observing this difference of opinion, it is to understand how government officials and the public will act when in conflict for each other. You cannot design a political system and define each sheriff or police officer as “having a complete and honest understanding of justice and fairness.” Nor can you design a political system in which the mayors and politicians believe in one issue over another, in Marijuana reform or in Isolationism; nor can you define the public in this political system as supporting Liberalism in every case, or opposing Communism in every case — you cannot design a political system where the thoughts of the subjects and the rulers are already in place. This is a dilemma that many political theorists are pointed to in their own designs of a perfect utopia. Some may be thinking right now that pointing out such an observation is overly obvious, overly simple, etc.. True, it is simple and it is obvious, but it is a stern law of Political Philosophy. You can argue for an enlightened despot that believes in the gospels and enacts them, but his interpretation of them might very well be different from yours. You have to understand that a society will breed, grow, die, whither, change, and alter with every passing month, and that it is the citizens, ruled and ruler, that are responsible themselves for making these changes. A political theorist, then, acts much like a parent — they can steer, but cannot control; it is their duty to instruct, not to legislate. This law of Political Philosophy of difference of opinion is just as solid as the law of competition in Economics. The fact that people will buy products and services of higher quality with lower pricing is as true as the fact that laws or social structure are incapable of creating the mentality of the people.

For example, imagine that you choose the system of enlightened despot as the ideal system for society. It might just so happen that the people are brutes, ignorant and thougthless, violent and cruel, and it is the king’s rule that protects the innocent and punishes the wicked. True, this could very well happen. However, it is just as probable that the king would be the brute, and his people would be just, and that it would be the rule of this king that would inflict so much damage upon the morale of these people. Hopefully, this example will illuminate the importance of this law of Political Philosophy.

Every study or field of interest should start with basic premises, certain provable assumptions, and perhaps even an ideology, a method of guiding towards progress. In medicine, it is the Hypocratic Oath, an agreement to never harm your patient. In chemistry, it may be the idea of aiding technology and the prosperity of society. In physics, it is to find higher truth about the philosophical nature of the universe. In history, it is to understand the truth about the events of the past, in an objective and relevant manner. Every field of study has its own ethical theorem, its own particular fascinations about philosophy, its own place in society. In Political Philosophy, the premise can be stated as follows: to create the most advanced state of human cooperation and co-involvement through theory and practice. It is a sociological science, yes, in that it observes and makes predictions about society and behavior roles of people. In sociology, the ethical theorem is to study the mechanics and dynamics of society, in order that we ourselves can be more knowledgeable, and thus able to make more-informed decisions about our actions in society. But, in Political Science, the ethical theorem is to create a utopia, or at least the closest thing accomplishable to a utopia. A utopia in this sense being defined as a method of cooperation and organization in social affairs that creates a long-lasting prosperity for everyone, justice available to all classes, and equity in the laws and contracts. How to create such a utopia, how to set certain powers or certain rights or certain privileges so that the human world becomes a better place to live, it is this study that all political philosophers have argued and bickered about for centuries. Many of them used logic based on the preceding philosophers, others of them used their own unique arguments. But, it is this field that is a study of how to improve the

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