Political Philosophers Term Paper

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Man and the Right Government

Plato's work has been much criticized as class bound, as many thought it reflected the moral and aesthetic standards of an elite in a civilization were slavery was a natural thing for many. Plato tries to depict the advantages of the rule of society by a high-minded minority.

After describing the first political utopia of the western world, Plato starts analyzing the types of government that existed at the time. The most preferable, according to him, is the kingly government, which is unfortunately, impracticable; oligarchies do not provide harmony in the state, because the society becomes divided as a consequence of the rule of the few and the pursuit of wealth Democracy has definite advantages for the poor, but a new class of people, the demagogues begin distributing "a peculiar kind of equality to equals and unequals impartially," The leaders practice high taxes for the rich and the division of the spoils leads to confusion and corruption, which in turn lead to tyranny. For the tyrant is preoccupied to eliminate potential rivals, he acts more as a "wolf" instead of a man and solves popular discontent by driving the people into war. Only then does the public see the true nature of its leader.

According to both Plato and Aristotle, soicety is more important than the individual. The diference is that Plato sees society as a three tier structure, while Aristotle envisages only two tiers.In the Statesman, Plato stresses the need for the rule of law, because unbridled power leads to corruption. In the Laws, he describes the internal organization of a city-state with some 5,000 citizens. The main institution is the secret Nocturnal Council, "the sheet anchor of the state," which acts as a guardian. The young are to be subjected to a rigid and austere education. However, Plato has the merit of affirming that the state's main objective is to promote a good life, social harmony and the rule of law, which Plato admits that, when philosopher-kings are absent, is quite essential for the realization of the state's purpose.

Like Plato, Aristotle argues that the aim of the city-state is to promote the good life, which can only be achieved, as the great philosopher insists, only under the rule of law. Such rule is certainly is preferable to that of a single man; individuals should be invested with the public function of law guardians or ministers of the laws.

Even the rule of the best men is faulty, so the rule of law is preferable because "he who bids law rule may be deemed to bid God and reason alone rule, but he who bids men rule adds the element of the beast; for desire is a wild beast, and passion perverts the minds of rulers, even if they are the best of men." The distinction between lawful government and tyranny remained unchanged during the Middle Ages and became the theoretical foundation of modern constitutional government, as it was based on the subjection of the ruler to law.

St. Augustine's City of God introduces a new division between church and state and talks about the conflict between "matter" and "spirit" which resulted from the Fall of man and the original sin. The power structure is dual - divided between the churh (the heveanly city) and the prince (the earthly city). St. Augustine did not follow Plato and Aristotle in assuming that a harmonious and self-sufficient good life could be achieved if a city-state was properly organized. Augustinian political philosophy is projected into a cosmic drama, which follows a path to a predestinate end. Predestination makes the normal interests and amenities of life insignificant or even disgusting, so, according to St. Augustine, a government has to be founded only on the spiritual authority of the Christian Church. This idea went a long way, as it managed to dominate medieval thought, that process being helped by the fact that the church had became the repository of learning and of the remnants of the old civilized life, as the rest of the western world declined.

The Policraticus of John of Salisbury (c. 1159) is centered on the ideal ruler, who has the role of a "public power." John of Salisbury's admiration for the Roman emperors Augustus and Trajan meant that the Roman tradition of centralized authority, even if lacking Byzantine autocracy, was not abandoned in the predominantly feudal world. He states that the prince is someone who rules in accordance with law, unlike a tyrant who exerts irresponsible power, thus oppressing the people. The distinction deriving from the philosophers of Greece, Cicero, and St. Augustine is the foundation of the concepts of liberty and the trusteeship of power that characterize the western world. The people have the role of serving the two powers: the church and the prince.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, Community, the only medium consistent with a man's well being, confers the only legitimate power.In his De regimine, St. Thomas compares society to a ship that is in need of a helmsman and approves Aristotle's definition of man as a social and political animal. A disciple of Aristotelian thought, he states that oligarchy is unjust and democracy is evil. The aim of rulers is to make the "life of the multitude good in accordance with the purpose of life which is heavenly happiness." Rulers are also entrusted with the creation of peace, the conservation of life, and the preservation of the state; this represents St. Thomas' program for a hierarchical society within a cosmic order. The Hellenic sense of purpose intertwines with Christian aims; Thomas Aquinas claims that under God, true power resides in the community, which is represented by the ruler, as long as he respects moral and religious standards. Both St. Thomas and Dante believe that there should be a correspondence, some kind of mirroring between life on earth and life in heaven.

Dante argues that monarchy is necessary as a means to the purpose of common good. The imperial authority of the Holy Roman emperor is directly derived from God and is not channeled through the pope. The Roman Empire was in that time a legitimate authority, or Christ would not have chosen to be born under it, and the empire is the Holy Roman emperor is its heir.

One of Dante's great ideas is that of a well-governed realm, with its authority deriving from the community itself and which has a program specifically designed to ensure the solvency and administrative efficiency of a secular state. Notwithstanding the decline of the civilization of antiquity, the Greek and then Roman sense of purpose, the rule of law and the responsibility of power managed to survive in a Christian form.

Luther and Calvin didn't have a major role in the history of political thought and chose to concentrate on theological issues. However, both stated that obedience to authority and God is necessary. Luther even claimed that God himself invested the rulers with authority. Hobbes believed that the true law of man's nature is self-preservation, so that there is a war of all against all, driven by vanity and ambition. Only if the citizens transfer their individual power to the "leviathan" (ruler) are they safe, as the ruler is the only one capable of keeping them safe. Man enters into a social contract in order to avoid contract. There is no supernatural or moral foundation for such a commonwealth; this form of organization derives its authority from the people and can demand loyalty only as long as it manages to keep the peace. Hobbes mentions the concepts of natural law and contract, which may be invoked to justify resistance to authority.

The Leviathan was found horrific by most of Hobbes' contemporaries; who accused him of being an atheist and of "maligning the Human Nature." However, his political philosophy succeeded in providing the sovereign nation-state with a justification and directed it to utilitarian ends.

Locke defined the purpose for political power, as "a right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community in execution of such laws, and in the defense of the commonwealth from foreign injury, and all this only for the public good." The authority of government is, according to the English philosopher, deriving from a contract between the rulers and the people, such contract being binding for both parties. The power of the rulers is therefore limited, in accordance with established laws and "directed to no other end but the peace, safety, and public good of the people." Unlike Hobbes, Locke thinks that man enters into a social contract in order to avoid a state of war and to preserve the normal state of nature.

Rousseau's ideas, especially the one of general will, as they were advocated in his greatest work, "Du contrat social," became a basis for both the social-democratic welfare state and for totalitarian dictatorships.Rousseau's main concept is…[continue]

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