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Modern Political Thought
The transition from a feudal serf economy to a capitalist market economy was one of the fundamental shifts which have produced modernity as we know it. This essay aims to understand how the authors of The Prince and Leviathan, Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes would think about the transition and how these two great minds would relate to the issue of capitalism. Capitalism is a funny game that continually creates a series of boom and bust cycles throughout our modern history. Take the 1926 real estate craze that occurred in Florida. The United States economy was cooking along on all cylinders and good times were everywhere. No one was thinking about the Great Depression that would occur just a few years later. The rich and happy of 1926 figured that all was well as often is the case in Capitalism. Prosperity and growth were infinite -- nothing could slow this economy. However, just as fast as it rose, the real estate market of the era suddenly and without warning bottomed out. Many lost fortunes overnight. "The prices were so inflated that to buy a condo-style property in 1926, you would've had to pay the same as you would now have to pay for a luxury home in the guard-gated communities in Miami ($4,500,000) -- without adjusting for inflation!" (Greatest Market Crashes) Pan ahead just a few decades to 1990. Corporate America was becoming extremely competitive as the world moved into a more global-based market economy fueled by a new technology boom that had no potential end in sight. All of the big wigs of Corporate America were forced to address not only their international just in time six sigma-based manufacturing strategies but now their Human Recourses strategies had to be revamped because of the more diverse employees needed to handle the new international flare of the 90's. However, the dot.com era was just another example of life for those living in a capitalistic society. Just like 1926, things were going so well. "Yahoo jumped $19.44 to $124.94 by the close of regular trading a day after the company reported stronger-than-expected earnings. Other Net stocks are riding Yahoo's wave: Amazon.com was up 6% at $35.06, Priceline.com jumped 10% to $35.62, and Lycos gained 6% to $44.25. America Online rose 3% to $57.44. The run-up comes after yesterday's sell-off, sparked by anticipation of Yahoo's earnings report. Yahoo's stock yesterday hit its calendar year low." (Hu and Hansen) To apply the possible thoughts of the two great authors, Machiavelli and Hobbs, to a modern day system that either directly or indirectly affects every man woman and child on the planet today, we have to first get a feel of who these men were.
Based on research by notablebiographies.com, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes was born in Wiltshire, England on April 5, 1588 and lived until December 4, 1679. He is best known for establishing a clear base for Western political philosophy because of his viewpoint of social contract theory, which was a basis for his work of literary art, Leviathan. Like many great minds of the past, he held many interests like philosophy and political science. But he also dabbled in other fields like international history, geometry, physics of gases, theology and ethics.
Some of his original works in philosophy are still the foundation of modern assertions such as his view that 'human nature as a self-interested cooperation' in philosophical anthropology and materialism. His education consisted of a series of religious schools and eventually ending up in a private school and later Magdalen Hall which had ties to Hertford College, Oxford. His education was a very Puritan-based education. In 1610, Hobbes toured Europe on an academic trip and discovered that he had a love for scientific and critical methods thinking. He also studied classic Greek and Latin works which lead him to translating 'Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War.'
Hobbs book on his theories of civil government that related to the current political crisis of his time, a civil war, put him in the political spectrum as either a great mind or a political terrorist. That is because he related the state as 'a great artificial man or monster' composed of men (Leviathan). He closed his work with "Review and Conclusion," which appear to be direct responses to the war of his time. It was Hobbs who questioned if a king's subject's has a right to change their allegiance. He also was very critical of the former sovereign's power to protect his subjects and religious doctrine on 'grounds in the Commonwealth.' He made quite an impression on his rulers of the time and was almost killed for his views.
According to the People web site, Niccolo Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy and died of illness on June 21, 1527, in Florence, Italy. The famous author and politician's family were believed to be directly descended from the Marquesses of Tuscany. His father had prepared him well for public service by making sure that the son was proficient in grammar, rhetoric and Latin but unlike many great historic scholars, he never learned Greek. Machiavelli received his first political office in 1494 as a government clerk and an ambassador. He later gained experience in international negotiations when he was a diplomatic council that negotiated military affairs between 1499 and 1512 and also had some more exposure to the French court in the early 1500's.
Machiavelli's role as a military attache got him accused of anti-Medici campaigning so he was deposed from office, accused of conspiracy, and arrested in 1513. He was tortured but was never forced to confess to being a traitor and so after some time he was released and retired to house arrest status. That retreat allowed him to find time to write, The Prince, a political treatise that has put him into the history books of every civilization on the planet. Machiavelli described his exile as: "When evening comes, I return home [from work and from the local tavern] and go to my study. On the threshold, I strip naked, taking off my muddy, sweaty work day clothes, and put on the robes of court and palace, and, in this graver dress, I enter the courts of the ancients, and am welcomed by them, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, and for which I was born. And there I make bold to speak to them and ask the motives of their actions, and they, in their humanity, reply to me. And for the space of four hours I forget the world, remember no vexation, fear poverty no more, tremble no more at death; I pass indeed into their world." (Hale, p. 139)
Where did it all begin?
Capitalism had to begin somewhere and most scholars agree that the system in place that was the stepping stone for Capitalism was the period of Feudalism. Feudalism was a combination of legal and military obligations. These obligations were only practiced by the oligarchy or the warrior nobility of Europe. "We have seen above how necessary it is for a prince to have his foundations well laid, otherwise it follows of necessity he will go to ruin. The chief foundations of all states, new as well as old or composite, are good laws and good arms; and as there cannot be good laws where the state is not well armed, it follows that where they are well armed they have good laws. I shall leave the laws out of the discussion and shall speak of the arms." (Machiavelli) The period when Feudalism ruled was during the Middle Ages. The period focused on the concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs and that entailed rule over the peasantry or a Feudal society.
Feudalism as a whole started to have problems because contracts to exchange land tenure for military service was a system that could not contain itself. The Lords literally ran out of land so they could not in turn pay their vassals. "Natural power is the eminence of the faculties of body, or mind; as extraordinary strength, form, prudence, arts, eloquence, liberality, nobility. Instrumental are those powers which, acquired by these, or by fortune, are means and instruments to acquire more; as riches, reputation, friends, and the secret working of God, which men call good luck. For the nature of power is, in this point, like to fame, increasing as it proceeds; or like the motion of heavy bodies, which, the further they go, make still the more haste." (Hobbs) They also had the controlling issues of reassigning land. As Feudalism began to waiver, Europe was building new prospects that involved transitioning from an agrarian system to one finance or money-based system. Machiavelli studied these times and The Prince could have served many Lords well.
What is capitalism?
Both Hobbs and Machiavelli were outcasts and discontents of their respective governments when they wrote their great works. This would probably make them critical of…[continue]
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