Now that the semester is coming to a close students are stressing out about what grades they are going to receive and many have started making excuses for why they did not get the grade they were aiming for. A majority of these excuses revolve around the professor; for example, “he/she grades too hard,” or, “it is impossible to get an A in his/her class.” If students are complaining about the professors they have now, imagine the amount of complaints there would be if some of the philosophers we have studied in this class were professors and they ran their classroom like they thought that political systems should be run—that would give students something to complain about; especially if Hobbes, Burke, or Rousseau were their professors.
If Hobbes was a professor, students would legitimately never know what grade to expect. His political theory was that of an absolute sovereignty where whatever the sovereign does is justified because “every subject is author of every act the sovereign doth” (Hobbes 190). By enrolling into his class students would be entering into a social contract with him, thereby establishing him as their sovereign. He could grade however he wanted because his sovereignty would be absolute. If he wanted to fail the brightest student and give an A to the student who failed every assignment, there would be nothing anybody could do about it. The only time the students could resist his authority is if he put them in a situation where their life was in danger.
If Burke was a professor, his class would be extremely difficult. In his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” he makes clear his belief that only “distinguished magistrates” and exemplary people should be ambitious because ambition is plausible only for them (Burke 507). He thinks that ambition shouldn’t be exercised by the “swinish multitude” because the “swinish multitude” can only ever be “swinish multitude”—nothing more, but possibly less (Burke 517). If the “swinish multitude” tries to be ambitious the only result is disappointment, or a fiasco like the French Revolution. Applying this idea to his classroom, only the few students that come from distinguished families or perform exceptionally well would pass his class. He would fail all the rest of the students to save them from the disappointment that would result from their own ambition.
Rousseau’s class would also be very difficult to excel in because in order to do well, one would have to be concerned solely for the proficiency of the class as a whole rather than concerned about being one of the best students in the class. In his treatise, “On the Social Contract,” he supported the idea that civil society can exist peacefully only when “each of us places his person and his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will and as one we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole” (Rousseau 432). Rousseau says that the “general will” is not the wants of each individual but rather the common good of society as a whole; what is good for one person is not necessarily beneficial for society as a whole (Rousseau 437). Political systems become corrupt when people develop vanity and egocentrism. Therefore, to get an A in Rousseau’s class, students would have to be concerned more for the knowledge of the class as a whole rather than their own specific grade. If students care only about their grade and being better than all the other students, Rousseau would fail them because those actions are vain and egocentric and do not benefit the classroom as a whole. I think it would be hard to be in a class like this because it is difficult to put others before ones own self, especially when it comes to competing for grades.
Having Hobbes, Burke, or Rousseau as a professor would be a one of a kind experience that would (for once) justify excuses for a disappointing grade.
Burke, Edmund. “Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. By David Wootton. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 2008. 502-21. Print.
Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan.”Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. By David Wootton. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 2008. 116-277. Print.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “On the Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. By David Wootton. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 2008. 427-87. Print.