Archive for October, 2009

The military draft, or conscription, it the mandatory military service demanded by our country at certain times of war. We already know Malcolm X strongly opposes it, especially since at the time of the draft he witnessed, black people were not afforded the rights that they were dying to defend. But how would Locke view the military draft? Locke defines government as a contract between people and government as a theory of governance. Considering the controversy that the military draft creates, I do not view it as a contract between the people and the government. Locke defines “tyranny” as the wrongful use of power. So, I believe Locke would look down upon the draft and view it as tyranny. Although I do not view this as a  severe form of tyranny, I must agree with Locke. If our country is ever in need of a military draft, the citizens are have the right to revolution, since collectively many people look down on it. I do believe that since this country is our home and it affords us rights that you cannot find in another place in this entire world, it is the people’s duty to defend it. But in terms of Locke and his definition of democracy and the qualities it obtains, I believe he would view the draft as tyrannic and he would not support it.

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John Locke is considered a pioneer in democratic and liberal thought, setting establishing an intellectual tradition that would see fruition in the United States constitution: the rights of man, elective governance and the separation of powers. Locke’s views are, if not entirely in keeping with modern sensibilities, a good deal closer than what came before. However, there is one place where Locke allows the possibility for power unbound by the rule of law.

Locke wrote about an executive power called prerogative. “Many things there are, which the law can by no means provide for” Locke reasons “and those must necessarily be left to the discretion of him that has executive power in his hands”. Locke uses the example of a man’s house being on fire. An authority that follows the law exactly might not pull down a neighbor’s house to stop the fire from spreading. “This power to act according to discretion, for the public good, without prescription of the law, and sometimes even against it, is that which is called prerogative.”

The contradiction between rule of law and executive prerogative in Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government prefigures our modern debates over whether the executive ought to be bound by the rule of law. One reoccurring phrase in American political and legal rhetoric is “the constitution is not a suicide pact.” Encapsulated in that phrase is an argument very similar to Locke’s statements about prerogative: that often the executive must be above conventional law in order to protect the security of American citizens. The quote is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln (probably wrongly) as a response to being challenged on his revocation of habeas corpus. Though the constitution allows habeas corpus to be revoked in cases of war and rebellion, it gives that right to congress. Lincoln usurped that right himself.

There have been examples of the president subverting the law in cases where he believed the national security of the country to be at stake since Lincoln. Franklin Roosevelt interned over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans in “War Relocation Camps”, fearing they acts of sabotage. This action was another unauthorized violation of habeas corpus.

No president has been more proactive in asserting prerogative than George W Bush.  Bush has made clearly “reinterpreted” many laws passed by congress, aggressively changing the intent of these laws, and gutting key provisions (1) Bush also circumvented the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in order to spy on Americans without a warrant. (2) This is particularly peculiar because the law was rewritten after September 11th in specifically in order to make it easier to obtain a warrant. The administration supported these actions on the grounds that it is a specific presidential power to ignore legislation. Obama, though less extreme than Bush, clearly also asserts prerogative, for example in continuing to issue signing statements (3).

Prerogative is inherently problematic. Locke provides no way for a legislature to bring an out of control executive to heel, outside of an “appeal to heaven”, code for an armed movement. Such inability to check executive power is particularly strange given the fact that Locke is clear that all parts of the government are bound by the “social contract” and that the most important power ought to be the legislative. It was Locke’s view that “there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which the rest are and must be subordinated” (belief the majority of the founders of the United States took from Lockean thought). Locke doesn’t seem to notice that prerogative affords the executive a powerful ability to become the one supreme power, and make the legislative subservient, arguably the current condition in the United State.

Prerogative affords a certain amount of absolutism in Lockean liberalism. As one of my classmates remarked “he’s soiled his beautiful rose bed of liberal democratic ideals with sooty Hobbesian sovereignty.” Locke allows one loophole, but it’s a large one. An executive acting in the name of protecting the citizenry can assert great authority, both over its citizens and the legislative. Locke believes citizens will act as a break on prerogative, but he doesn’t realize that citizens are far to likely to grant it expansive powers in cases of national crisis, enabling the executive take action citizens later come to regret (the internment of the Japanese Americans is a case in point). This is why it is important that the executive should always be bound by rule of law. Absolutism does not belong in a democratic system.

(Where not otherwise indicated, all quotes are from John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government, as it appears in Modern Political Thought, edited by David Wootton)

1.     http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2006/04/30/bush_challenges_hundreds_of_laws/

2.     http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/politics/16program.html

3.     http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/07/21/politics/main5177870.shtml

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Would John Locke support the US’ involvement in Iraq beginning in 2003?  I believe John Locke absolutely would defend the US’ involvement.  Locke’s opinions regarding the laws of nature and consent into a government completely defend the US’ involvement.  Under Locke, the laws of nature are that,  “No one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (287).  Under these laws of nature man has the obligation to his fellow-man to protect and uphold his life, health, liberty and possessions.  Locke states, “Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station willfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as mush as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind…”  (Locke 288).  In other words, it is our obligation to our fellow-man to protect his natural rights even when our own rights are not under siege.  Why must we do this?  According to Locke “… to preserve the innocent and restrain offenders” (288).  Of course these laws only pertain to the state of nature, which obviously the US and Iraq were not in, as they had their own respective governments.

Despite that the US and Iraq are out of the state of nature, Locke goes on to say that even after the creation of a political system the laws of nature still reign supreme and must be followed.  “Thus the law of nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others.  The rules that they make for other men’s actions, must, as well as their own and other men’s actions, be conformable to the law of nature, i.e. to the will of God, of which that is a declaration; and the fundamental law of nature being the preservation of mankind, no human sanction can be good or valid against it”  (323).  In other words, regardless of a political system, it is still the obligation of man, as well as man’s government, to abide by and follow the laws of nature.  Therefore, according to Locke, the US had an obligation to the citizens of Iraq.  That obligation, to defend and protect the life, health, liberty and property of these peoples.  This is what exactly took place.  The US freed the nation of Iraq from the autocratic rule of Saddam Hussein.  A leader who deprived his citizens of their basic rights.  A ruler who tested his own weapons of war on his own people before using them on the battlefield in the Iran Iraq war.

In addition, Locke goes on to discuss the legitimacy of the governments.  Locke states, “It being demonstration, that if any one, born under the dominion of another, may be so free as to have a right to command others in a new and distinct empire, every one that is born under the dominion of another may be so free too, and may become a ruler, or subject of a distinct separate government”  (317).  Therefore, the people of Iraq had every right to begin a new government in which they pleased.  They were not required to consent to the government.  Of course, we know this notion to not have been in the means of the people. Saddam Hussein held a vice grip over society and the government.  Saddam basically forced consent from his people as well as infringed on their basic rights of life, health, liberty and property.  Therefore, according to Locke, the people of Iraq had no obligation to follow the rule of Saddam and had the right to revolt.  For, in regards to forced consent Locke states, “It remains to only to be considered, whether promises extorted by force, without right, can be thought consent, and how far they bind.  To which I shall say, they bind not at all”  (338).  And in regards to rebellion Locke states, “…whenever any one shall go about to bring them into such a slavish condition, they will always have a right to preserve what they have not a power to part with; and to rid themselves of those who invade this fundamental, sacred, and unalterable law of self-preservation, for which they entered into society”  (327).  As anyone can easily see. according to Locke the people of Iraq would have been incompetent if they did not seek a new political system.  For, their basic rights had been infringed upon and the regime in which they were under, held no actual legitimacy.  Unfortunately, the people of Iraq were unable to defend and protect themselves from Saddam’s autocratic rule.  Therefore, to fulfill their basic rights of own self-governance and rebellion, they required aid.  That aid came in the form of the United States.  Whom, as stated earlier, was fulfilling its obligation of the laws of nature to preserve the people of Iraq.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Locke would find no fallacies with US involvement in Iraq.  For Locke also goes into great detail concerning the chaos that my come from rebellion.  For constant rebellion, or the constant changing of government, may possibly lead to reentering into the state of nature, which Locke absolutely despises.  For returning to the state of nature may be worse than such government one wishes to rebel from.  “I answer, such revolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in public affairs”  ( 347).  It is quite hard to say, as of now, if US involvement has caused such chaos to occur.  Obviously we constantly hear on television of the chaos taking place in Iraq, but is the populous of Iraq really back in the state of nature?  It would be quite a stretch to say with complete confidence that Iraq is back in the state of nature.  We have seen the millions of people who have expressly consented to the new democratic government by voting in the previous elections.  Therefore, Iraq does have a legitimate government, due to the political involvement of the people.  So, Iraq can’t be completely in the state of nature if a political system exist.  But, we can still conclude that Iraq is not in a perfectly stable situation, which is the purpose of exiting out of the state of nature.

It is quite clear that Locke would absolutely have supported US involvement in Iraq beginning in 2003.  Locke would have seen the US as only fulfilling its obligation to its fellow-man, aiding those whom had a legitimate right to rebel and dissolving the regime that had no right to exist.  Locke would be quite proud of what has taken place in Iraq as a new regime that “preserves the good of man” has been established.  Of course, much more work is to be done to completely establish a harmonious political society in Iraq.

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When reading old texts like John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, it is easy to think them a bit dated in today’s society. However, we don’t have to look very far to see that Locke’s philosophy continues to inspire thinkers of today, even in unexpected places, like popular culture. One example that I came across was the TV show LOST. After reading this text, I was surprised at how easily I could pick out the numerous similarities between my favorite TV show and the ideas presented by Locke in his arguments .

LOST, in a very brief summary, is about a group of people who survived a plane crash and ended up on a mysterious island where they are forced to adapt to the environment and defend themselves in this new world. The show mainly follows the story of the handful of characters who emerge as the leaders of this mismatched group of survivors. One of these characters is named – coincidentally? – John Locke. To hopefully minimize confusion between Locke the philosopher and Locke the character, I will refer to the latter simply as John. Interestingly, the writers of the show have confirmed that the namesake of their character was the philosopher himself.  However, I hadn’t really considered the relationship between these two men until I began reading Locke’s work. It soon became clear to me that the writers of LOST were heavily influenced by Locke’s work when creating the character of John.

LOST’s John is most notably characterized as a man of great faith. By this, I don’t necessarily mean he is a man of God or religion, but he is definitely a very strong believer in fate and predetermination. Throughout the series, John repeatedly makes reference to the survivor’s “destiny.” John believes heavily that it was fate why the survivors landed on the island.  As such, he claims it is their duty to remain there until they discover what their purpose is for being brought to the island. To this end, they cannot leave the island or put themselves in danger until they have fulfilled this destiny.  Similarly, Locke adopted the philosophy that “God having made man” (306), we as humans are bound “by nature a power…to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate” (309).  A large part of John’s faith stems from what he calls the island’s miracle. Upon crashing on the island, John, who had been paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, was miraculously able to walk once again. It hardly seems a coincidence that part of Locke’s philosophy referred to the body as the most sacred possession of man as it is the only property that a man owns outright: “every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself” (293).

Locke also promoted the idea of tabula rasa. Tabula rasa is the idea that humans are born as “blank slates.” That is, when a child is born, his mind is void of thoughts and opinions, both of which will be formed later in life based on experiences. The characters of LOST are all introduced to the audience – and to each other for that matter – as blank slates. These men and women were thrown together in this extreme situation as complete strangers. They know nothing about each other.  Throughout the series, the audience is shown the history of the main characters through a series of flashbacks. The first flashback occurs in an episode appropriately titled, “Tabula Rasa.” The character of John is one of the best examples of tabula rasa in the show. John is a mysterious character whose past is very slowly revealed to the audience throughout the first few seasons of the show. The motives behind his actions are often quite ambiguous and seem to be impacted by the situation he finds himself in. This concept of environmental influence is supported by the theory of tabula rasa.

Of course, LOST is a TV show. Clearly, the situations presented are entirely fictional and unrealistic. But beyond that, LOST is a show about people and how they interact with their environment and with others. Although none of us will probably ever experience this situation, it is still interesting to see how the philosophies of Locke can be expanded into a very broad spectrum and how they continue to influence writers today.

All quotes taken from Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. David Wootton, editor.

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Rachel Morrison

Section 11

Rebecca Solnit tried to refute Hobbes’ argument in her article “The Uses of Disaster”; however, I feel as though there are many flaws in her assertion. Solnit states that people do not revert back to the state of nature when disaster strikes; instead, there is an overwhelming feeling of community after such events. However, although there are a few examples that defend this point, there are more examples of people who loot and steal after hurricanes and other disasters. I believe that Solnit’s article is a stretch to try to connect to Hobbes version of the state of nature. There are two ways that Solnit’s argument does not stand up to Hobbes; first, there is already a government set up during these natural disasters so the state of nature would not apply, and secondly, even when natural disasters strike, people revert back to their instincts of self interest rather than helping others.

When people are faced with natural disasters, what instincts does the population revert back to? There are a few cases that Solnit describes where people band together to get through a terrible situation. I can see Solnit’s point here because after September 11, 2001, there was a sudden surge of nationalism and a feeling of community. People came out of their everyday self-absorbed lives and came together as a nation for a short period of time. I concede that there are a few instances where the population gathers together for the common good, but there also many examples of people who regress back to Hobbes’ version of state of nature and dive into chaos.

Take post Katrina New Orleans, for example.  The government was unable to intervene for at least a week and what did people do? There were thousands of cases of looting of stores and homes, there was vandalism and destruction of property. In a report from MSNBC, aptly titled “Looters take advantage of the New Orleans mess,” the author describes how on August 30, 2005 (a full week after the hurricane hit) many witnessed mobs of people with “trash cans filled with clothing and jewelry.” And while others were robbing the Walgreens down the street, the police came and “a young boy stood in the door screaming ’86! 86!’- the radio code for the police- and the crowd scattered.” Without any apparent form of government or authority, people deviated from Solnit’s idea of human nature. They were not forced into a sense of community, instead they were looking out for their own interests, not for the common good. There was no sense of community until the government stepped in and held fund raisers for those who lost their homes.

Regardless if any of Solnit’s examples proved her point, the idea is moot. In Hobbes’ version of the state of nature, man had never had any form of government or authority. They are in a constant state of war with one another without any consequences for their actions. In the cases that Solnit gives, there was a government set up before the disaster struck. If they were to loot and pillage, they knew what the legal repercussions would be and would probably choose not to do so. People were used to living in order and under a structured government; therefore, they were less likely to revert back to Hobbes’ version of the state of nature. In all, Solnit’s argument is weak because although she has a few examples to defend her argument, it is very easy to refute it. Hobbes’ state of nature does not really relate to natural disasters in modern times because we are no longer living in the middle ages where there was no common authority; and during natural disasters the government is never completely stopped, it is only temporarily disabled.



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Yesterday in lecture, I was struck by the comparisons between Locke and Hobbes.  I became especially interested in the comparison between their ideas on what is most threatened in the state of nature, and what the role of God, or belief in any faith, was in forming those ideas.  After thinking about the topic more extensively, and knowing very well that I am embarking on a touchy subject, I have come to believe that both Hobbes and Locke’s idea of what is most at stake in the state of nature is indicative of their view of humanity as a whole, and that their opposing views stem from their differing opinions on faith and God.                                                                                                                                                                                         

Hobbes is, in my view, very derogatory toward mankind as a whole, and reduces men to the level of animals. According to Hobbes, a person’s life is most threatened in the state of nature, and the very core interest of every person is to survive and ensure the “preservation of his own nature” (Hobbes 160)*.  In a way, Hobbes relegates men to the level of animals by saying that we act only out of self-interest and will do anything to survive, like wild beasts. For Hobbes, the state of nature is a horrible, chaotic condition where men act at the lowest level, and the “life of man” is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (159).  I am not trying to offend anyone here when I say that I believe that Hobbes’ negative view of humanity comes from the fact that he was most likely an atheist, and in Leviathan, rejects religion all together.  Religion, Hobbes says, was born out of “perpetual fear” and “ignorance of causes,” and is mostly a mechanism of “human politics” (152, 154).  It must also consist of some “peculiar quality,” as it is “not to found in other living creatures” besides man (152).  For an atheist like Hobbes, preserving one’s own life and ensuring survival would be most vital in the state of nature because to him, there is no hope or peace in death, and nothing is beyond the realm of men here on earth.  For Hobbes, men certainly are like animals, with nothing to live for beyond simple survival, however primitive and chaotic that determination to survive forces us to be.                                                                            

Locke, on the other hand, is much more optimistic about mankind and the state of nature. For Locke, the state of nature is a condition of “perfect freedom” and equality, not a state of certain chaos and corruption (Locke 287).  Unlike Hobbes, Locke believes that property is most threatened in the state of nature.  According to Locke, our individual bodies are the only pieces of property that we automatically own, and land is given to men by God to be owned collectively.  Men are able to worship God by the labor of their bodies and by making use of the land “to the best advantage of life,” and avoid disrespecting Him by not allowing property to spoil or go to waste (293).  The idea that property is most important to a person is in direct correlation with Locke’s strong faith.  Because Locke has beliefs that give purpose to his life, and hope for life after death, survival does not have to be his only reason for living. Therefore, in the state of nature of Locke’s political theory, people do not just live to survive, but to work and labor with the property God has automatically given them – their bodies.  Because God plays such a large role in Locke’s theory, men are elevated so that they are no longer on the level of animals, simply scrounging around, desperate to survive amidst chaos, but have a purpose to protect and use the property God has given them.                                                                                                                                 

 I am not in any way saying that atheists or people who have a certain faith will automatically have a specific view of mankind. Rather, I am simply suggesting that Hobbes and Locke’s’ differing opinions on what is most important to men in the state of nature reveal their views of mankind as a whole, and that these views were influenced by their opposing beliefs. Although I would like to believe, like Locke, that there is more to life than just survival, many might believe otherwise… so it must be left to the individual to decide who, Locke or Hobbes, is right.

*All quotes found in Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes or Second Treatise of Government by John Locke. Both texts can be found in Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, edited by David Wootton.

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From this article, I have learned that Senator Tom Coburn, a republican senator from Oklahoma, proposed to prohibit the National Science Foundation from “wasting any federal research funding on political science projects.”  Basically, he believes that political science is useful.  There are various viewpoints that professors at great universities convey throughout the article.  A professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard explains how the work of political science has gotten farther away from relevant problems in the world, but it is clear that this issue can be easily fixed.  It is still clear that political science is a necessary research.  Another professor from Indiana University, Jeffery C. Isaac, says, “We political scientists can and should do a better job of making the public relevance of our work clearer and of doing more relevant work.”  He explains how the research done by political scientists is not obviously seen by the public, but it is very necessary in politics and in creating a solid government for our country, and for countries throughout the world.  He believes the research is important for the development of political science and the development of the world.  Another professor whose beliefs were greatly represented throughout the article was from the University of Michigan, Arthur Lupia from the political science department.  He explains that although political science is not an applied science, it uses observations to understand like other sciences.  He says, “I try to identify problems and then identify solutions to them, to find the type of scientific method that can best answer the question.”

This article very much appealed to me, because I never thought there was questioning of the necessity of political science.  But after reading the article, I came to the conclusion that it is completely necessary.

Tom Coburn wants the National Science Foundation to stop funding political science projects because they do not do anything.  First of all, granting and regulating money is supposed to be apolitical, therefore Senator Tom Coburn is out of place by proposing this.  Second of all, as seen in the article, “one of this year’s Nobel winners had been a frequent recipient of the very program now under attack.”  So in examining Coburn’s proposal there are several things one can ask himself/herself.  First of all is he right?  It is evident that he is improperly using his congressional authority.  There may be many cases in the government, and in other aspects of the country, where money may be better spent or not, but it is not congress’ authority to regulate this money.  There are committees to do that.  Also, his ideas do not really claim any evidence, especially in this article.

After analyzing the various viewpoints of professors from great colleges, I am sure that political science serves a very useful purpose in this world, and it is very relevant.  The political scientists in the past are the ones who shaped America and what kind of country and government we are today.  This provides a large reason to continue the studies of political science.  The professor from Harvard said that political science was veering a little farther from what is currently going on, but I believe that this is because political science is different than any other applied sciences.  There is not always an expected, or certain result.  There are observations and tests that can be done to prepare political scientists and give them knowledge on how to act and create positive opportunities for the future.

To prevent people from accusing political scientists as useful, they should do what Jeffery C Isaac says and make their work more publically known.  A lot of people do not know the work that political scientists perform day to day; they just see the final outcome.  If people understood the quality of the work that led our country to where we are today, and the quality and quantity of work done to create a better future, they would probably be more supportive of political science.

Political science is not an applied science, therefore it teaches principles and tactics that can be applied to better society now and in the future.

Cohen, Patricia. “Field Study: Just How Relevant Is Political Science?.” The New York Times 19 10. 2009. . 20 10. 2009 <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/books/20poli.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=political%20science&st=cse&gt;.

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