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Archive for the ‘Section 10’ Category

The Fox show 24 is getting ready to air its 8th season this January. If you’ve never seen the show it focuses around the main character Jack Bauer who works for the United States Government to help stop a looming terrorist attack. Each season the terrorists are different, the attacks are different and the situations are different but in each season Jack Bauer has to make a decision of if he wants his hand to be dirty or clean.

Countless times in the show it seems, Bauer decides whether he will torture somebody who he believes will be able to give him information that will help to stop the terrorist attack or not. He almost always decides to torture the suspect and in the process gets his hands dirty. Bauer is seen as in the Protestant Model of dirty hands to be a tragic hero. He suffers and has to deal with all of the skeletons in his closet of all the people he hurt or killed. This situation is almost the same thing as Walzer describes in his essay Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands. In his piece Walzer describes a politician having to decide whether or not he will torture a captured enemy leader who knows the locations of bombs set to explode around the city.

The moral dilemma is faced in both circumstances. The person can either choose to go with what he knows to be right and not torture, or torture them for the good of the general public. In season 8 of 24 the President, Allison Taylor, had to make several decisions involving this problem. She was seen as a good person when she was running for President but was forced to compromise her morals. Terrorists threatened that they would use a “CIP” device, that can circumvent even the most powerful firewalls and security to control computers, unless the President withdrew American troops from the fictional African country of Songala. They demonstrated this power by taking control of air traffic control and intentionally crashing two planes. The troops had been put there to help fight a brutal dictator and help the severely impoverished people of Songala. This situation is similar to the first situation proposed by Walzer in The Problem of Dirty Hands. In this situation a leader has to decide whether they will make a deal with a corrupt deal in order to win an election.

Walzer makes the point that in order to be an effective leader you have to get you hands dirty. The voters want and expect that you will do what it takes to be a leader even if it means compromising your values, but they also don’t want someone who is a bad person. So Walzer says the compromise between the two is that if you feel remorse for getting your hands dirty then what you did was ok. This seems to be the opinion of President Taylor’s decisions. Many of her advisers tell her that what she did was necessary and she was still a good person because of it. Niccolo Machiavelli in his book The Prince says that it is necessary for the prince (the ruler) to be bad. He needs to be able to go against his conscious and make the hard choice.

The opposite to these arguments state that there is always another way out, and that being a good person is more important than anything else. This view is almost never represented in 24, it is always black and white that the only choices are to torture somebody or to watch thousands of people get killed. Walzer explores this but at the end comes to the conclusion that the dirty hands problem will always persist. I think that there will always be another solution and that the dirty hands problem is not inevitable in politics.

The Prince in Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed., edited by David Wootton (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008).

Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands. Walzer, Michael. 1973.

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Recently there has been a lot of talk about Afghanistan in the news because of President Obama’s decision to send more troops in to take out the remaining al Qaeda in the country. In general, people have looked at this issue from rather partisan standpoints, but I think it would be more helpful to look at Afghanistan through the lens of other political theorists who were not blurred by the only defined lines in America: the Republicans and Democrats. In fact, there are many ways that the war in Afghanistan can be seen through the eyes of other political thinkers including Dr. King and Hobbes.

CNN recently reported that the elections that took place in Afghanistan in November were fraudulent, and that the goal of President Hamid Karzi will be to, “form a government that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people and the international community”[1]. Dr. King made an argument similar to this during his protests in the south because in the same way that the African American population was not being properly represented by being denied the right to vote, the people of Afghanistan are being denied that right by holding fraudulent elections. King raises the point that, “A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law”[2]. In this same way, because the people of Afghanistan were denied their right to vote, every law that is now made can be considered unjust and unfair. Even though the United States has applauded this government and the elections, the real fact is that they were unjust and everything that comes from the government now is illegitimate.

Another way to look at the war is through the lens of Thomas Hobbes. Even though there is a government established in Afghanistan, it can be argued that this government has little effect on the people, especially with al Qaeda inhabiting the outskirts of the country. In fact, I argue that Afghanistan is actually in a Hobbesian state of nature at this moment. The people in that country fear for their own lives and take sides either for or against America. That type of fear is a Hobbesian fear where looking out for themselves becomes their primary interest. Others have argued that a war against terror cannot be won because American presence only escalates the violence and in turn causes more terror. The reality is that all of this fear has put Afghanistan in a perpetual state of nature. However, if the people of Afghanistan take the advice of Hobbes and appoint a Leviathan to govern them, the odds are against that Leviathan as the US would most likely topple it in the name of democracy. Because of this, Afghanistan will remain in a perpetual state of nature and a perpetual state of fear; the fear of both terror from the Americans and fear of terror from al Qaeda.

Looking at something like a large scale war through the lens of something other than republican or democrat is helpful in many ways. In the case of Afghanistan, it can be related back to someone as cynical as Hobbes and someone as hopeful as Dr. King. People just have to be willing to look at it a different way.


[1] “Karzai declared elected president of Afghanistan – CNN.com,” CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News, section goes here, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/11/02/afghanistan.election.runoff/index.html (accessed December 15, 2009).

[2] “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Letter from Martin L. King Jr. April 16, 1963.

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In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to assert America’s independence from Britain. European philosophers, including John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, heavily influenced this document, demonstrating the significance of political theory because of its ability to inspire political action and affect the formation of new societies.

Jefferson’s justification for independence rested heavily on John Locke’s theory of natural rights because he believed that the British government was depriving the colonists of natural equality and liberty. He claimed, “All men are created equal” (Declaration of Independence); this idea is based on Locke’s belief that the state of nature is “a state also of equality” (Locke 287). Furthermore, Jefferson claims that people are “endowed… with certain unalienable rights” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence). In Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, he claims that people have a “right of self-preservation” (Locke 292)(i.e. the right to life), which extends to the right to things that “affords for their subsistence” (Locke 293) therefore creating the right to property. The colonists believed that the British government was violating the right to property because it was taxing American colonists without allowing them representation in British Parliament. Additionally, people living in Britain were allowed to vote for members of Parliament, but American colonists were not. This violated Locke’s theory of natural equality and liberty, which influenced the colonists to rebel against the British government.

Thomas Jefferson also used Rousseau’s social contract theory to justify his assertion of independence. Jefferson stated, “Governments are instituted… deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (Declaration of Independence). The idea of consent stems from Rousseau’s On the Social Contract. He stated that this contract was a “reciprocal commitment” (Rousseau 433) between people in a society and the government they create. He believed a “social compact” (Rousseau 432) was needed to form a government in which people gave consent to the government being formed. During the American Revolution, American colonists believed that they were being subject to a government without their consent because of the “virtual representation” that did not allow them to vote for Parliament. They subsequently believed the government was not formed by a social contract as advocated by Rousseau so they rejected it. Furthermore, when they formed their new government, they used a social contract. They required at least nine out of the thirteen colonies to ratify the Constitution before it was adopted, and they instituted a government that allowed landowning males to vote for their representatives.

When the Americans decided to rebel against Britain, Jefferson justified the call for independence using the ideas of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This shows that these political theories are significant and help shape societies. In America, John Locke’s theory of natural liberty and equality influenced the colonists to rebel against a government that denied them liberty by taxing them (taking away their property) and did not grant them the equal right to vote for Parliament that it provided to British citizens. Furthermore, they believed that they did not form a social contract with the British government, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau advocated, so they formed a new government based on the consent of the people.

Declaration of Independence, 1776.

Locke, John. “Second Treatise of Government.” Modern Political Thought. Ed.

David Wootton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2008. 287-297. Print

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “On the Social Contract.” Modern Political Thought. Ed.

David Wootton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2008. 432-433. Print

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Inevitable Interdependence

First of all, I want to make my readers aware that I am in no way trying to relate the United States to Communism.  However, something Marx mentions in his Communist Manifesto got me thinking about how this small quote relates to our country, and even the world: the “universal interdependence of nations” (Marx, 800).  Marx writes, “in place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes” (800).  Does this not sound like the United States, and not only us, but other countries as well?  We produce what we want, but soon, that’s not enough. We want bigger, better, more advanced, and more technological.  When our own country can’t meet these wants, we look elsewhere.  The United States started out as an independent nation, but in an attempt to become powerful and advance this independence, we inevitably ended up depending on other countries for money and resources.  This inevitable dependence is due to the United States’ desire to be the best and remain a world power, which requires alliances and more money than we have.

During the beginning of our country, eventual Americans were seeking independence from England.  We didn’t want to be ruled by a monarchy, so a democracy was set up. This was a place to independently work, profit, and live in freedom.  We completely cut ourselves off from England, reaching for “old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency” (800).  As our country grew, we became more powerful and wanted more; more partners in trade, more money, more alliances, all in order to advance.  This reaching out to others also included others in turn reaching out to us.  Although we started independently, we eventually created “intercourse in every direction” (800).  We began to depend on nations and nations began to depend on us, creating what Marx calls “the universal interdependence of nations” (800).  The government spread its fingers out to various nations for needs, wants, and money, and underdeveloped nations looked to us for their own needs due to the power we hold.

As most of us know, our country is in debt, specifically to China.  China owns “$1 trillion in American bonds” (Faiola 1).  In other words, we are indebted to China until we pay off our debt they are currently covering.  According to Faiola, a writer of the Washington Post, “As of May 2009, China’s Treasury securities holdings were $802 billion, accounting for 24.3% of total foreign ownership of U.S. Treasury securities” (Faiola 2).  It is thus “the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasuries” (Faiola 2).  Faiola writes, “Of the public debt that is privately held, a little more than half is held by foreigners” (Faiola 2). Notice the word “foreigners” in the fourth sentence.  We owe other countries as well.

As a country strives for independence it seems to inevitably become more dependent.  My point?  Exactly what Marx says: “…creations of individual nations become common property.  National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible,” as a nation strives to advance and become more independent.  This brings us back to the “universal interdependence of nations” (800).  Despite the positive aspects of interdependence, such as the benefits of trade, it is valid to say that there are negative aspects to interdependence as well; one negative aspect being the reliance we have on other nations for money or resources such as oil, requiring our dependence on those other nations. If our country depends entirely on other countries, we cannot stand on our own. I’m not trying to argue whether our government is right or wrong, (after all we are a young country compared to many surrounding us) but rather the question of whether “universal interdependence” is inevitable.

Sources

Faiola, Anthony. “China Worried About U.S. Debt: Biggest Creditor Nation Demands A Guarantee”. The Washington Post. 14 March 2009. 9 December 2009. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/13/AR2009031300703.html>.

Morrison, Wayne M.;Labonte, Marc. “China’s Holdings of U.S. Securities: Implications for the U.S. Economy”. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress: Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress. 30 July 2009. 9 December 2009. <http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL34314.pdf>.

Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, Second Edition. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 2008.

Marx and Engels. The Communist Manifesto. 1888.


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In the Federalist papers, the Federalists seem to be most concerned with the Legislative branch exercising too much power. Today, people are more concerned with the Executive branch abusing its power, which seems easier to do. The power of the Executive branch is consolidated to one person, making it easier to act quickly. Furthermore, the checks and balances process is often carried out too slowly for a practice on behalf of the president to be checked immediately.

The Federalists were most concerned with the Legislative branch overreaching its power because they believed it was the most powerful of the three branches. They stated that the Legislative branch “derives a superiority” (553) because its constitutional powers are “more extensive,” (553) less susceptible to limits, and because the Legislative branch has access to the “pockets of the people” (553) through taxation. They did not fear the power of the Executive branch because it was “restrained to a narrower compass” and was “more simple in its nature” (553).

Today, citizens are more concerned with the overreaching power of the Executive branch because, in the past, the president has overstepped his boundaries. One example of this is Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. The Executive branch is not explicitly given the power to suspend habeas corpus, but Lincoln used his wartime powers to do so. A more recent example is the implementation of Guantanamo Bay by the Bush administration to prevent terrorism. In Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court declared the SCR Tribunals in replacement of habeas corpus to be unconstitutional, but the practice had existed since 2001 and the decision was not made until 2008.

Congressional and judicial checks on the Executive branch exist to prevent the executive from overstepping its constitutional authority, but it often works too slowly to prevent the executive from making unconstitutional decisions. In the case of Guantanamo Bay, it took about 7 years before the Supreme Court was able to check the executive power and deem the practice unconstitutional. Therefore, while the Judicial branch may eventually stop unconstitutional practices, it is difficult to prevent them because court cases can take years to resolve.

The Executive branch is more easily able to exceed its limits because the power is consolidated to one individual, making it easier to act quickly. In Congress, a law must first pass through the House of Representatives, then the Senate, totaling 535 people that must vote on the bill before it goes to the president for approval. If he vetoes it, it must return to Congress for another vote requiring 2/3 of the vote to become a law. Furthermore, the broad constitutional power that the president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” (Article 2, Section 3) does not describe the way in which they are to do so, and in turn many presidents adopted the practice of suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Article One of the Constitution provides that the writ cannot be suspended unless “the public safety may require it” (Section 9) but this exists under the Congressional section of The Constitution. Therefore, even though suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is not an explicit power of the president, the duty to make sure laws are executed causes presidents to use this clause to justify actions beyond their constitutional scope of power.

Overall, the system of checks and balances has worked fairly well, but it seems as if the Federalists underestimated the power of the Executive branch in surpassing its constitutional authority. They focused primarily on the Legislative branch because it had extensive powers, few limitations, and the “power of the purse,” but the lengthy process involved to make laws and the amount of people involved help to prevent the abuse of power.

“Boumediene v. Bush, U.S. Supreme Court Case Summary & Oral Argument.”

The Oyez Project | Build 6. Web. 15 Dec. 2009. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2007/2007_06_1195&gt;.

Madison, James. “Federalist No. 48.” Modern Political Thought. Ed. David Wootton.

Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2008. 335. Print

United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 9

United States Constitution, Article 2, Section 3

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State of Nature …

This post is in response to “The Real State of Nature”, after reading and commenting on this post I started to think about Hobbes’ state of nature. I believe that when a state of nature occurs the one that Hobbes explains is the one that will happen. I would believe that a Hobbesian state of nature will always occur when a situation worthy of becoming a state of nature befalls a commonwealth. An example is when Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans; the city became a state of nature for a little while, while the government could not control the people and they started to become very self-interested, just like in a Hobbesian state of nature.

But I wonder if the same situation that creates a Hobbesian state of nature will become a Hobbesian state of nature when no commonwealth has ever been experienced. An example can be of primitive societies, was there always commonwealth in these societies? and if there wasn’t, did a Hobbesian state of nature become of them? From my knowledge the neanderthals had no government, but I do not know this for sure, with perpetual fear and a lack of government this was a prime situation for a state of nature, yet these primitive humans hunted together and worked together in order to survive.

So my ultimate curiosity is: does a commonwealth need to be experienced prior, in order for a Hobbesian state of nature to occur?

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The Fool’s Argument

In chapter 15 of the Leviathan Hobbes introduces the fool, a character that proposes a refutation to Hobbes’ third law of nature. I believe that the fool’s argument is true and a plausible one. After Hobbes gives the fool’s argument, he tries to refute it, but with a not very strong or convincing one for why someone could not go against covenant.

The fool proposes that it is possible for a member of the commonwealth to go against covenant in order to reap awesome benefit. The fool believes that at times “injustice … may not sometimes stand with that reason, which dictateth to every man his own good” (165), believing that it would not be unjust to break covenant because it is reasonable to do what is necessary to benefit oneself, therefore breaking covenant would be reasonable. Hobbes quickly attempts to disprove the fool by saying a man who does this will never be accepted into a commonwealth and he will not survive without a commonwealth. I do not think that Hobbes is correct in saying no man will survive without a commonwealth because we know that men survive the State of Nature, which is nearly identical as not living in a commonwealth. Believing a man could survive without a commonwealth, he could go against covenants, disproving Hobbes argument.

Supposing a man does not involve himself in the commonwealth and remains in the State of Nature, which Hobbes claims he would not want to but also is not required to, then he retains the lack of law therefore no injustice can befall him. “Where there is no common power, there is no law: where no law, no injustice” (159).  Another of Hobbes’ claims is that going against the covenant is injust (167) but if this man has not left the State of Nature, he is not being injust, and Hobbes stumbles over himself again.  After reading many of his claims, Hobbes’ argument seems to weaken.

Hobbes also claims in order to “secure and perpetual felicity of heaven” the way “is not breaking, but keeping of covenant” (167). Hobbes uses this as a viable reason to not break covenants. But later in the chapter he refutes his own claim by saying “there is no natural knowledge of man’s estate after death”; already having negated some of his own claims, Hobbes does not reply to the fool with a very strong argument.

In the play King Lear by Shakespeare the King’s jester is simply named “Fool”; unlike his name and occupation in the text the fool is incredibly insightful. While the rest of the cast ignores most of his dialogue, the Fool points out flaws of what is happening in the plot and provides solutions. I believe the King Lear’s fool can be compared to the Leviathan’s fool. I believe the fool in the Leviathan provides an intelligent and plausible refutation to Hobbes’ theory just as the fool in Shakespeare provides intelligent comments.

When this argument against Hobbes’ third law of nature is presented, Hobbes attempts to invalidate it, but does a poor job. His claims for his arguments are either based off assumption, such as a man joining a commonwealth or are contradicted by Hobbes’ other theories as the case when he explains not breaking covenant will get a man into heaven, which may not exist. Because the fool presents a strong refutation to Hobbes and Hobbes replies with a weak counter-argument, I believe that the fool’s refutation is possible and likely.

*Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. in Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche Second Edition, Edited by David Wooton ( Hackett Publishing, Inc. 2008)

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