Archive for November, 2009

Mill was focused on the subjection of females, and with the modern world we live in I can’t help but think to some extent there is subjection in the other direction thanks to what society considers normal. Women have made great strides in being able to do jobs which were once considered men only, but is it possible that now men face the same wall? I think that it is.

From my observation, women are applauded for going into the “tough” fields. Things like owning a business, politics, being doctors. They are encouraged to push themselves as far as they can into these fields. However men are sometimes made fun of, if they want to go into a more “soft” field, such as social work or elementary education. Both of these fields are heavily dominated by women, and it is “socially acceptable” that they are in these fields. A man who wishes to go into Social Work can be teased about being feminine. A man who wants to go into early childhood education gets a two-faced response. On one hand they are encouraged, we need more male influence for young ages, but on the other, people look at them funny, and wonder why exactly a man wants to work with young children. Yes, working with young children is generally a more female role, but does that mean that a man can’t do it just as well? I think not. One young man I went to high school with is currently working with kindergartners. He is great with them. He gets teased because he teaches at our female dominated elementary school, and he handles it well.

I am not saying that men are not allowed to do these things. But isn’t it subjective to say that men can’t teach kids? Or can’t handle the emotional ups and downs of social work?

Mill was calling for a change in the position of women in society. He encouraged the equality that really we get to enjoy today. We get a full education, we can do any job we like. So I think that we should stop looking funny at the guy who says he wants to work in a traditionally feminine job. He’s got some guts to go out there and try to do something that he’s probably very good at.

Maybe it’s time for us to take the standards to a new level. We got on the topic in discussion of role reversal. And while yes, I think it is difficult for most of us to imagine men keeping house and raising the kids, what is to say they can’t?

Some women aren’t cut out to be stay-at-home moms. It seems, in our world of fairness and equality that men should be allowed to be stay-at-home dads if it works for their family.

Maybe I’m going out on a limb, but today’s discussion really had me thinking. Society says that men shouldn’t be stay-at home dads. Societal norms have created this great way of causing subjection between men and women even if we consider ourselves equal.

Read Full Post »

Mill and Women in Combat

After reading the first two chapters of Mill’s The Subjection of Women I cannot help but consider the strides women have made in terms of equality with men. Certainly the opportunity in the United States for women to become educated, a major concern of Mill, is equal to men. Women can now obtain the same jobs as well and discrimination against women in the workforce is declining slowly but surely.

Even so, the debate of women equality continues to exist. One current area of debate dealing with women equality is military combat. Currently, women are theoretically not allowed in combat roles in the United States army, but many people believe laws should be changed to allow women in combat roles. Below are two essays which discuss the differing viewpoints in greater detail.

http://www.cmrlink.org/CMRNotes/PCAWAF-AV.pdf (this writer is of the opinion women should not be allowed in combat roles)

http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/ksil271.pdf (this writer is of the opinion women should be allowed in combat roles)

To me, women should be allowed in the military if they can handle the physical and mental requirements of combat situations. Regardless of my personal opinion, if Mill lived today, he would advocate the equality of women in the army, or an allowance of women in combat positions.

First, foundationally Mill writes “the legal subordination of one sex to the other-is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement.”  Although this quote directly applies to women as the wife, by expanding the interpretation we notice that the legislators who oppose women in combat are simply legally subordinating women on a larger scale than husband and wife. The male is deemed greater than the female and therefore a woman is placed hypothetically under the men in combat situation.

Then, Mill claims that “what is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing…” He seeks to break the barrier of assumption concerning women. It is interesting that Mill attempts to rationalize the perceptions we have about gender differences. He writes, “All women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men…” Here, he is claiming that all of us simply have an unnatural tendency to have skewed beliefs about gender roles due to conditioning since childhood. One could easily see Mill observing the facts or research about military women and forming a conclusion without prejudice.

Although Mill would agree with proponents of the ban on women in combat roles when he states “the inequality of rights between men and women has no other source than the law of the strongest,“ he also attests that there are examples of women who can meet the physical readiness of their male counterparts. He uses the example of female Spartans , “who…were more free in fact, and being trained to bodily exercises in the same manner with men, gave ample proof that they were not naturally disqualified for them.” If there are women that meet the standards of combat readiness, Mill would agree that they should be allowed in combat roles. “…any limitation of the field of selection deprives society of some chances of being served by the competent, without ever saving it from the incompetent.”  By banning women from combat position there is a limitation the pool of competent soldiers which Mill would dislike.

Another one of Mill’s arguments for the equality of women in general is the changing society in which we live. In stark contrast with Burke, Mill writes “…the tendencies of progressive human society, afford not only no presumption in favour of this system of inequality of rights, but a strong one against it…this relic of the past [inequality of gender] is discordant with the future, and must necessarily disappear.” One can easily assume that Mill would advocate women in combat due to the change in warfare and due to the social changes over time such as the increasing acceptance of woman in the workforce .

Last, Mill believes in opportunity for women, a chance to try what they will. “…the question rests with women themselves-to be decided by their own experience, and by the use of their own faculties. There are no means of finding what either one person or many can do, but by trying…” Mill would agree that the women should be allowed a chance to succeed in military training and eventually participate in combat duty.

Read Full Post »

Court Is In Session

Our society is and has been a malleable creature. It has constantly been evolving and restructuring as we have changed the relationships with our neighbors and our government. As our neighbors came closer and closer, as our cities grew taller and taller, and as our government wanted more and more from us, the format of our political activities attempts to heal whatever ails us. Guided strongly by the philosophers, scholars and politicians that try to critique our successes and failures, we have tried to rebuild our world every time that it fails us. Many believe that our American government is a great culmination of the political successes throughout history. But if you were to ask a panel of our most esteemed philosophers from history – many of whom we have read for this class – would they agree with that? If there were a supreme court of political theory, what would they have to say about the legitimacy of our government?

Let’s name the Dream Team. Like the U.S. Supreme Court, we’ll appoint nine justices: Niccolò Machiavelli, Socrates, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, and for the ninth we’ll roll all of the authors of the Federalist Papers into one justice. With our judicial board now in place, court is in session. The case: U of M’s Political Science 101 Class v. U.S. Government. The sides have argued, and with the justices left to their own philosophies to render their opinions, they have reached their verdict.

Not off to a great start, Justice Machiavelli votes against the U.S. Government. In his opinion, the leader of a nation must rule in a way where his power is the dictating factor, and much of that power is derived from hereditary rule. With the constant turnover and democratic functions of the U.S. government, the power gained is not true power in his view. Machiavelli also believed that “the ends justify the means,” a philosophy that is highly controversial today and is often brushed aside because of our respect for individual rights. Nevertheless, Machiavelli gives us a thumb down.

Socrates is up next. Justice Socrates, as the “gadfly” of Athens, believed that individuality and opposition were important for a true democracy. He felt that the majority rule of the Athenian senate was wrong, and his life became an attempt to thwart their opinions, including his own trial and death. Here in America, though often many feel their voices aren’t heard by those in power, minority opinions are valued and given consideration in political and societal functions. This is seen in our civil protections from majority, and from the activism of minority in government. Thus, Socrates approves of us.
Unsurprisingly, Hobbes is a solid dissenting opinion. His vision of a social contract is that of a sovereign who holds the responsibility of all those in the society. But since our society does not believe that our sovereign can gain our consent to govern through fear and overall power, we have little to agree on.

Next, Justice Locke sees enough of his own philosophy in the U.S. political system to give it his endorsement. He likes the fact that the democratic functions of America replicate the consent to govern that protects from a state of war. The U.S. protects private property, which Locke also likes. And on top of all of that, Americans believe in the right to revolution. It was the founding act of our country, and as Americans we still hold strong to our right to stand up and assemble in protest.

In a similar fashion to Locke, Rousseau believes that a true legitimate government is the consent to a governing body that acts for the best possible result for all. He can see that the U.S. is a large body under a strong constitution and that it attempts to act with the general will in mind, and can give it his support.
Edmund Burke is a difficult case to determine. Historically, though he is famous for opposing the French Revolution, Burke was actually in favor of the American Revolution. That being said, Burke might not be a fan of the vast reforms, social revolutions, and battles for civil rights and liberties America has experienced since the time of the Revolution. If Burke were to pass his opinion right now, because America still has the same governing body and for the most part our authority has remained at the top of our legislative and executive branches, Burke would reluctantly approve of our political state.

The authors of the Federalist Papers are obvious proponents. They may have had their quarrels with the Anti-federalists about the protection of individual rights, the U.S. Constitution remains as the strongest beacon of our protections from oppressive government. The document that they fought to ratify continues to battle the effects of factions and creates the relationship between the federal and local levels of government to this day. Thus, Madison, Hamilton, and Jay are supporters of the U.S. Government under that document.

Another strong supporter of our current system is Justice Kant. America is famous for its support of free speech and free thought, and Kant is in favor of the ability of each American citizen to reason for himself or herself the correct path within society. Although pragmatically this is not always the case, Justice Kant can see that the U.S. society is one in which the ability to reason for oneself is hardly restricted at all.

Finally, we come to Justice Mill. Like Kant, freedom of expression is important to Mill’s vision of society. Mill feels that no one opinion can be quieted by the majority and that the “tyranny of the majority” cannot usurp the right an individual has over himself. The U.S. is a strong protector of individual rights, and Mill would most likely agree with the protection of minority opinions that are so important to the functions of our politics and society.

The Verdict is in! After much heated debate, the Supreme Court of Political Theory has come to a decision of 7 to 2 in favor of the U.S. political system. While this may not be the actual case in terms of the philosophies of our justices, this hypothetical situation shows us something very important. Our society is a collection of ideas. It is a living, breathing organism that learns and adapts as philosophies and ethical standards change throughout the world and within our own history. We have encountered countless critiques and modifications of our views, and we never cease to evolve.

Plato’s The Trial and Death of Socrates, From Modern Political Thought: Machiavelli (Pg. 10 – 52), Hobbes (Pgs. 118 – 245), Locke (Pgs. 285 – 353), Rousseau (Pgs. 371 – 449), Burke (Pgs. 502 – 521), Kant (Pgs. 522 – 525), Hamilton and Madison (Pgs. 543 – 557), and Mill (592 – 677)

Read Full Post »

Hobbes, Game Theory, and the BBC

One of my friends has recently been trying to get me to watch the BBC series “The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom”. So far, I’ve only watched the first episode (of three total), which discusses the implications of the notion of inherent self-interest and game theory during the Cold War. For those of you interested, The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom, Episode 1

The episode seems to relate very well to our previous discussions of human nature in the course with further elaboration upon game theory. I would highly recommend watching it!

Olivia Lopez

Section 002

Read Full Post »

“A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source” (Madison, The Federalist Paper 10).


In this passage from the Federalist Paper 10, Madison predicts that the variety of factions in a nation protects that nation from becoming endangered. In other words, the many different factions will prevent any one from becoming too powerful. I suppose Madison thought that the United States was such a melting pot of political ideals that a widespread movement would have been impossible. This is understandable, however, because at the time when the Federalist Papers were published, there was a great debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. This may have motivated Madison to assume that factions were not to be feared.

Did Madison realize, or was he ignoring the existence of political parties? If political parties are indeed considered factions, his assumption clearly does not hold true. He must have thought that the Federalist/Anti-Federalist would be over with after the Constitution was ratified.

In ratifying the Constitution, the constitutional committee tried to ignore the issue of slavery. Many thought that the issue would die down eventually, but they were very wrong. Slavery remained an important part of the Southern economy until the Civil War.

Besides the advent of political parties, however, it seemed Madison was generally correct in his assumption that factions would cancel each other out. It took 100 years after the Civil War for a movement of great magnitude to disprove Madison.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s provides a great counterexample to Madison’s opinion on factions. The movement started with a single baptist minister who preached equality, justice, and liberty for all, and culminated in a movement that changed American ideals forever. Through non-violent actions and civil disobedience, Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movement and his ideas traveled throughout the United States without being stopped by the “variety of factions.” His March on Washington alone brought over 300,000 people to the streets of the capitol in support of the cause.

The remarkable thing was that the ideas truly traveled between “factions.” Supporters of the Civil Rights movement came from many different backgrounds and political ideologies. Supporters, black and white, came together under the common idea that there should be justice for all.

While other factions existed in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, the people persevered and made real changes. In 2008, we elected an African-American President in Barack Obama.

Because of the example of the Civil Rights movement, Madison’s assumption is disproved. Ideas can indeed travel between factions, and it occurs regularly. Once in a great while an idea will inspire so many that it will become a movement and demand change.


Read Full Post »

Burke, Mill, and Tradition

            While Burke strongly advocates sticking with tradition and with what has worked for previous generations, Mill adopts a different approach.  In Mill’s opinion, a tradition is only legitimate if other ways of living have proved inferior.  Mill gives more trust to the ability of man to successfully reason, whereas Burke sees human innovation as disastrous.  Burke’s commitment to tradition limits the equality and autonomy of men, while Mill’s more discriminating view of tradition puts more trust into the hands of men to make changes.  Burke uses the idea of “tradition” and “nature” interchangeably, but Mill cautions us to challenge whether these are actually synonymous. 

             Through his critique of tradition, Mill calls for an end to the subjection of women and says that the system of male dominance “rests upon theory only; for there never has been trial made of any other” (654).  Mill makes the distinction between a proven institution and one based solely on theory.  He asserts that a tradition just based on theory and custom, and when there seems to be no proven basis for its application, is not worthy up being upheld.  However, regardless of the foundation of a certain tradition, Burke advocates that it is better off left alone than altered.

             In addition, Mill uses his distinction between “unnatural” and the “uncustomary” to challenge the subjection of women: it may have been against tradition for women to be treated as equals, but not necessarily against nature.  However, Burke claims that we are “working after the pattern of nature” when we are following a tradition.  He says that “it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society” (514).  Burke describes custom as nature, but Mill argues that not all traditions are rooted in what is natural. 

               As Burke sees it, “a spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views” (503).  According to Burke, innovation proves disastrous because we are limited by the “fallible and feeble contrivances of our reason” (503).  For this reason, Burke opposes innovation of any kind. Burke warns against making any change, arguing that the lifetime of one man is not long enough to discern the effects of a specific societal alteration.  On the other hand, Mill not only rejects Burke’s idea of accepting all traditions, but also supports incurring changes.  He not only opposes the subjection of women but goes as far as to suggest a solution: the legal equality of men and women in a relationship of marriage. 

            Burke and Mill’s differences in view of how stringently we should adhere to tradition creates a disparity in their ideas of freedom and government.  Resting in his commitment to tradition, Burke thinks that government is not created for the purpose of ensuring individual rights and that “a perfect democracy is, therefore, the most shameless thing in the world” (519).  In contrast, Mill is a strong supporter of equality and rights.

Read Full Post »

A couple of recent articles on news.bbc.co.uk discuss the unmasking of Belle de Jour, author of blog “Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl”. Dr. Brooke Magnanti is a research scientist for The Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health, and has been keeping a blog about her secret underground life as a prostitute. What makes “Belle”’s blog so striking is that her commentary on life as a prostitute does not cast a negative light over the lifestyle; on the contrary, it seems to almost glorify it.

Does this positive perspective on prostitution indicate that it should be allowed? Mill says that if adultery is permissible, then so should prostitution be, for “the fact of following anything as an occupation, and living or profiting by the practice of it, cannot make that criminal which would otherwise be admissible; that the act should either be consistently permitted or consistently prohibited” (Wooton, 642). If the government isn’t going to do anything to keep people from sleeping around, then according to Mill, they’d better not try and prohibit people from profiting from it. Dr. Magnanti’s blog demonstrates the potential for prostitution to be in fact quite practical, not nearly as bad as it’s made out to be. “Belle” does nothing against her will; she possesses full liberty of her body. While her customers exploit her body, she reciprocates—and what’s more, she goes further and exploits their minds in learning from them and writing about them.

Prostitution is legal in England, and this is for the best. It allows for precautions to be taken to make the job safer for both sex workers and clients. “Dr Magnanti told the Sunday Times she worked as a prostitute from 2003 to late 2004, and found it ‘so much more enjoyable’ than her shifts in another job as a computer programmer.”(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8361557.stm). Since she picked up this job out of her own volition, and her clients hired her out of theirs, then there should be no reason that the government should frown upon Dr. Magnanti.

If she had done this work many states in the U.S., however, Dr. Magnanti would be a criminal. Mill condemns this criminalization: “The mischief begins when… instead of informing, advising, and, upon occasions, denouncing, [the government] makes [individuals] work in fetters, or bids them stand aside and does their work instead of them” (Wooton, 651). Prostitutes in the US are forced underground, where regulation is done state-of-nature style, with protection being given only to the strong and the lucky. Both prostitutes and their clients suffer from this criminalization, as it becomes much more difficult to prevent the spread of disease, and much easier to propagate violence against women.

Dr. Magnanti hurts no one, and her blog is highly informative. She argues based on her experiences with men, that they are as much, if not more worthy of sympathy than women. “If anything,”, she writes, “being a sex worker made me more sympathetic, instead of less so, to [men’s] struggles and their lives” (http://belledejour-uk.blogspot.com/). In a society where feminists antagonize misogynists considerately frequently without being blamed or scolded, any means of cultivating empathy for the opposite sex is beneficial.

Both Belle and Mill would agree that having laws against prostitution is more than foolish; it’s dangerous. In imposing limits on liberty of the body, the government trespasses onto personal territory and antagonizes one of the most vulnerable portions of society—those who need government protection most.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »