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Charlie Chaplin Modern Times

On December 7th lecture Professor LaVaque-Manty alluded to the film Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin (1936). Although filmed some time after Karl Marx and Friedech Hegel’s The German Ideology (1845) and The Communist Manifesto (1848), Chaplin’s first talkie cites some Marxist concerns. Modern Times displays Marx’s idea of alienation and the worker being part of the machine to exhibit the lower-class struggle during the Great Depression

As stated in lecture, Chaplin presents an extreme and comical interpretation of Marx’s concept of alienation.  At the beginning of the film, Chaplin’s character is mindlessly screwing in cogs without being allowed the satisfaction of seeing the end product. Marx describes this isolation as the, “material life appears as the end, and labor, the producer of material life…appears as means” (796). The protagonist is only a source for the machine, feeding it, instead of the machine being used by the worker to create something. This idea is reiterated further in the next scene of a machine being used to feed Chaplin in order to decrease his lunch break. Because of the desperate times of the depression and the structure of capitalism, Chaplin’s character has little choice but to submit to, “the existing totality of productive forces not merely to achieve self-activity but to secure their very existence” (796). In order to survive, the character develops “individual capacities corresponding to the material instruments of production” (796). Marx’s concept of appropriation is shown humorously as the main worker is unable to stop his hand jerking motion. His degree of appropriation has reached such an extent that he is sent to the insane asylum to get rehabilitated. As stated, “the isolation of individuals and the particular private gain of any individual have become accidental” (797), meaning that it is surprising if any worker, including the character of Chaplin’s film,  actually benefits from his work.

In addition to the Marx’s alienation theory, the idea of workers being only fractions of a machine is also displayed in Modern Times. Chaplin’s character, although comically, physically displays this “cog in the machine” belief by being rolled through moving gears in the large machine. He is, as Marx suggests, “an appendage of the machine” (802). Furthermore, Marx argues that the laborers direct their attacks, “not against the bourgeois condition of production, but against the instruments themselves” (802). Chaplin’s character is unable to stand up to his bosses but does manage to destroy a hefty bit of machinery as he runs from the police. Also, Chaplin shows the idea of humans as just materials when the woman of the film is thrown aside as an orphan, “like a commodity…exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market” (802). The hunger of her family or herself is of little consequence to the capitalists.

Ultimately the alienation and dehumanization of laborers not only degrades their labor but also their means of life. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times displays this merging of industry and individual satirically but also utilizes important concepts of Marxism.

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Every decision in life is a trade off, whether or not you take the bus or walk, what type of clothing you wear, whether you study or go out.  All decisions come with consequence. Hobbes mused about a more serious tradeoff in many of his writings, a tradeoff that is faced regularly by sovereigns governing the commonwealth.  Remove the freedoms of its citizens, or fall into a State of Nature.  When a government takes away some freedoms of its citizens one could argue that the population is generally more secure and less vulnerable to the chaos of the State of Nature. Hobbes believed that governments were under a “moral, not legislative obligation” to keep their people safe.  He believed that there was a “constant war” without regulation and that every sovereign was faced with a decision.  Keep his commonwealth safe and limit the freedoms man is naturally born with, or allow his commonwealth to regress into a dystopic State of Nature. In the 21st century this same conflict presents itself in the area of personal finance, people have gained greater, easier, and more efficient access to their own financial information through e banking. This places our current government in a dilemma. Should banking be limited to secure, face-to-face transactions that eliminate a large portion of the risk for identity theft? Or should we continue as we are, in a vulnerable society of e transactions?

Hobbes favored an all-powerful monarch over any other form of government to regulate a nation, as well as the security of said Leviathan over the constant war of the State of Nature.  While Hobbes believed that every man had a right to everything, the need for self-preservation was his first law of nature.  In accordance with this fundamental law, people take all kinds of precautions to preserve their identity.  From shredding sensitive documents to the safeguards (both cyber and otherwise) put in place by institutions that regularly access their customers’ personal financial information.  In spite of these precautions, identity theft is the fastest growing type of cyber crime due to its lucrative results, high level of anonymity, and relative ease.  In 2005 alone, over 42 million Americans became susceptible to identity theft through malicious attacks on databases holding sensitive financial information.  This recent rise in identity thefts has coincided with the growing popularity of Internet banking as well as developments that have made technology easier to use than ever.

While it may be up to the individual citizen to regulate and protect themselves in this situation, Sean Hoar, a top US attorney for cyber-crime recently wrote that he believes the two most pressing needs in the fight against identity theft are the establishment of a national response system and a national threat and vulnerability reduction system for cyber-crime.  Under their moral obligation to keep their citizens safe, the government must take the steps outlined by Hoar to police the Internet against the rapidly rising threat of identity theft.

While there is no cure-all solution to the problem of identity theft, the issue remains a pressing concern.  This modern problem presents current sovereigns with the same dilemma that was presented during Hobbes’ day: keep the commonwealth secure, or allow them uninhibited freedom and the risks that come with it.

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During the 1500s, the main form of government in Europe was a monarchy: a king who solely ruled his kingdom and was supported by a group of nobles. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his famous book The Prince based on this feudal system, teaching what he believed to be basic principles of governance for a ruler. In this book, he posits that it is better for a prince to be feared than loved and should stay in power at all costs, because they have the power to do anything necessary for the betterment of the state. Certain aspects of Machiavellian ideologies are slightly apparent in the offices of the President, congressmen, and even the people of the United States. However, the laws prevent anyone from becoming Machiavelli’s “Prince” by establishing a system of checks and balances of power.

The majority of Machiavelli’s concepts can be applied to the President as he is the foremost leader of the nation. Above all else, Machiavelli believes that a capable leader should remain in power at all costs. Many presidents share this desire and are willing to go to extreme measures to stay in office. This is illustrated by the millions of dollars a candidate will spend on his campaign each term. With his vast amount of influential power, the President has the ability to continually approve or prevent bills from passing. His agenda for the nation can be accomplished through various methods such as veto power and pardoning prisoners.

Moreover, congressmen have also been known to get their hands dirty in order to see a bill passed or to maintain their image. These actions are deemed acceptable in Machiavelli’s eyes as long as the congressmen are committed to benefiting the state. Unlike the President, however, they do not possess the level of authority required to manifest all of their objectives for the state.

In any democratic society, the people hold the future of politicians in their votes. This power may resemble Machiavelli’s Prince, but the people have no subjects, methods of enforcing their will and don’t possess the power to control the majority of governmental issues. An argument may be made that the people are their own subjects, yet this argument presents many issues concerning the practicality of enforcing the people’s will upon themselves. The same case can be made concerning their power over politicians: they may have some influence on who gets into power, but there is not a strong enough argument to say they are the “prince.”

A democracy differs from Machiavelli’s monarchy in that the President and congressmen operate by terms and must be reelected. These reelections by the people make it necessary for politicians to find favor in their eyes. This notion contradicts Machiavelli’s belief that it is better to be feared than to be loved. In his opinion, the subjection of the people will lead to their love for their leader.  However, modern day politicians in America do not have this option because they cannot simply subject the people. Furthermore, even the President can be impeached. The law creates a boundary that a prince in the 1500s would not have encountered because, essentially, he was the law. The President cannot simply carry out his will for the state as he sees fit, but instead must operate under the confines of the law. Similarly, congressmen possess even less power than the President so this idea of legal constraints applies to them in an even greater sense.

Machiavelli’s “Prince” can never be clearly established in America’s democratic society because of the laws put in place that give power to each branch of government and the people as well. Nevertheless, his theories will continue to assist the analysis of politicians today and their methods of gaining and retaining power.

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Political Theorists continually question the practicality of Hobbesian theory in modern day societies. They ask if his concept of a government based on a sovereign is applicable to nations today. Zimbabwe has a government that generally appears to follow Thomas Hobbes’ theory, yet there remain certain aspects of the current President’s rule that differ from his theory, causing the downfall of the country. In this post, I will analyze several similarities between the Hobbesian theory of sovereignty and the current government of Zimbabwe; additionally, I will examine the extent to which the Zimbabwean situation deviates from this theory.

Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, after which Robert Mugabe immediately won a landslide victory in the first ever democratic elections. Since that time, Mugabe has caused hyperinflation that has destroyed the economy. This is because he chose to print astronomical amounts of money in order to pay off the national debt, which causes the value of existing money to decrease dramatically. He has also caused a lack of foreign exchange when he confiscated most of the farmland that led to a regression of agricultural exports. In an effort to make Zimbabwe’s cities appear more modern to the rest of the world, the President evicted the poor out of their homes in the city. Moreover, the life expectancy rate has dropped from 60 in 1990 to 37 in 2008. Despite this economic depression, Mugabe never left power. He began to threaten voters and created a one-party system. In the 2008 elections, Mugabe’s opposing candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the majority of votes but due to the small margin of victory a runoff election took place. Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff election after receiving multiple threats from Mugabe’s supporters and violence from the police against Tsvangirai supporters.   

On the surface, this situation may seem to correlate with Hobbes’ idea of a sovereign solely governing a nation. There is a solitary ruler that originally came to power by the mutual consent of the people. Hobbes states that “no man that hath sovereign power can justly be put to death, or otherwise in any manner by his subjects punished.” This sovereign, according to Hobbesian theory, is unimpeachable. Therefore, the current opinion of the people does not matter. However, the duties of the sovereign entail “the preserving of peace and security” and creating a stable environment – obligations that Robert Mugabe has not fulfilled. Instead, he has established one of the most economically instable and impoverished nations in the world. According to Hobbes, a sovereign “may commit iniquity; but not injustice” and clearly Robert Mugabe has committed injustices. The citizens no longer endorse their leader due to his inadequacy and, in actuality; their lives have been threatened if they chose to vote for a candidate other than Mugabe. Numerous men, women, and children are left homeless in the countryside and are dying daily from starvation – characteristics similar to a Hobbesian state of nature. The purpose of a sovereign is to draw the people out of the state of nature, not cause them to digress back into it. Mugabe’s time of rule does not properly reflect Hobbes’ idea of a sovereign due to his incapability of providing security and solidarity for the country.

There are not a large number of governments today that even slightly resemble a Hobbesian system. However, the structures that have similarities appear to have negative outcomes such as Zimbabwe or North Korea. Therefore, can we assume that Hobbes’ theory of government necessarily leads to futile societies?  We may, however, perceive that a government must perfectly follow Hobbes’ theory, with no discrepancies, in order for the country to be successful.

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Throughout history the president of the U. S. has always been judged, and held responsible, by the public for ever thing he does.  This is still the case today.  Since the mid 1930s things such as approval ratings, which measure a random sample of American’s opinion of the President, have existed.  If the President is making mistakes, his approval ratings will drop, and conversely, if the President is making the populous happy, his approval rating will rise.  Looking over some of my old notes I saw I had written down “success = glory, failure = blame” in the middle of a bulleted list under “Neo-Classical Model.”  Reading over this, I kind of got the idea that a modern presidency can be classified as successful or unsuccessful by the Neo-Classical Model of Michael Walzer’s Dirty Hands.

I remember talking about how the Neo-Classical model seemed impractical in Section; however, the more I think about the model the more it makes sense to me.  I think that success = glory and failure = blame is a perfect model for the judging the President.  Within the Neo-Classical model, success or failure are measured by utilitarianism for the state, to an extent.  This means that a President is successful if the ends justify the means for the state or country.  Finally, the Neo-Classical model has only one right answer, and morality is more or less underscored.

Part of the problem with the Neo-Classical model is that it isn’t really fair to the person being judged to have clean or dirty hands.  The Neo-Classical model doesn’t do a good job when determining whether one’s hands are clean or dirty.  Instead, the Model does a good job determining the success or failure of someone.  Failure = blame is the same exact thing as “as soon as you screw up, you are blamed.”  The failure may not even be an individual’s fault, yet they are still blamed, and subsequently have dirty hands.  I think this is kind of how approval ratings end up reading.  A president’s approval rating drops if he makes poor decisions for the country, and rise if he makes good decisions for the country.

I think that the easiest example to look at using this model is Iraq.  Iraq has been very expensive for our military, but more importantly, incredibly taxing on Iraq.  Furthermore there were no weapons of mass destruction, which was our main purpose for invading Iraq.  As a result of what happened in Iraq, former President Bush’s approval rating dropped.  Iraq was expensive for the military, disrupted the country, and made oil more expensive.  Iraq can generally be regarded as a failure because the ends didn’t justify the means.  Because of this Bush was blamed, and his approval rating took a hit.

Another popular example that I couldn’t possible pass up using is the impeachment of President Clinton.  Clinton is actually very interesting when looked at from a Neo-Classical perspective because he isn’t really considered a failure and blamed as the Neo-Classical model dictates.  Clinton was one of the few Presidents who had a budget surplus.  Also, Clinton’s approval rating rose during the scandal subsequent impeachment.  Clinton certainly made a mistake when fooling around with Lewinsky, but from a Neo-Classical standpoint, one can view Clinton in a successful light.  This is because Neo-Classical success deals with utilitarianism for the state or country, and a budget surplus is certainly nice for the country.

The biggest thing about the Neo-Classical model is the justification for actions.  Good or bad justification translates into success or failure, respectfully.  I think that the Neo-Classical model is a surprisingly effective, though unexpected, way to evaluate a president’s success or failure.

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Before it’s too Late …

As a first semester freshman at the University, I have been constantly reminded to lock my door, watch my purse, never leave my laptop unattended, walk home with a group and know how to say no. The list goes on.  With all of these precautionary hints of advice from our surrounding influences: parents, teachers, administration and police, why are female students still suffering from assaults? As Mill displays in The Subjection of Women, Women have been under the subjection of men for centuries. The system of male superiority “… never was the result of deliberation, or forethought, or any social ideas, or any notion whatever of what conduced to the benefit of humanity or the good order of society. It arose simply from the fact that from the very earliest twilight of human society, every woman owing to the value attached to her by men, combined with her inferiority in muscular strength) was found in a state of bondage to some man” (Mill, 654). Using the steps for social and political change (lecture), I will outline how we can better prepare and change ourselves and our institution to prevent hardships from happening to women, concentrating on the poor treatment of women by men.

The first step towards creating a change in the way we prevent dangerous situations on our campus is by advocating for women’s safety across campus. Women and men should learn how to protect themselves and each other in a college campus setting. We should be encouraging women to demand fair and appropriate treatment. Men and women alike should encourage the opposite sex, and each other, to stick up for themselves in order to bring about a greater respect for each other. “The main foundations of the moral life of modern times must be justice and prudence; the respect of each for the rights of every other, and the ability of each to take care of himself” (Mill, 697). By advocating among the sexes to help ourselves, a more comfortable atmosphere will be created for women to express their fears or suffering. If men and women are in partnership rather than opposition, women will feel more comfortable expressing her power to a male or revealing a situation to authority. This will prove to men that women are not under the subjection of a mans interests.

Advocation will suggest a necessary change in attitudes about the treatment of women. The early ideal of female subjection needs to transformed into a positive and equal view of women. “… the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes — the legal subordination of one sex to the other — is wrong itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other” (Mill, 652). By bringing the opposite sexes together into a partnership, students will see a shift in attitudes. Women will not feel an inferior bondage to men and men will not be capable of controlling women as they were in history. The idea of a male dominant society should not be present at our university or institution.

A change in the attitudes of our students will provide reasons for our institution to see the need to change. Once students feel like they have changed social relations between the sexes, they will feel more empowered to change political aspects of our university. If a broader range and larger number of students show their concern for women’s safety, the university will be more likely to take steps to reform. Students will desire reforms that will prevent dangerous situations for women, such as free cab rides home from any location. The reforms will create a safer and more comfortable community. Most importantly, men and women will feel like they can work together to create institutional changes. The ultimate goal of actually implementing the prevention will reach our authorities, who will then encourage the advocation, attitude changes and new reforms throughout campus.

Mill, John S. The Subjection of Women. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008. 652-705. Print.

Lavaque – Manty, Mika. Political Science Lecture. 02 12 2009. Lecture.

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Growing up in a household where the highest level of education is a high school diploma, I learned to summarize politics into two categories; democrats and republicans. Additionally, democrats were for the poor people and republicans were for the rich people. Before entering this class that was the only thing I knew about politics. Furthermore, during every election I adapted to believing that the republicans were the enemy and the democrats were interested in looking out for my needs and my wants; my friend.

From the beginning readings of this class, pertaining to “The Trial and Death of Socrates” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s , “A letter from a Birmingham Jail” I furthered my claim as I set people from those readings into my two categories. The people charging Socrates were the republicans that followed the rules set to benefit them. As a result, people such as Socrates represented the democrats; the oppressed . The people who have no say-so on the rules and power or authority. It was the same way with Martin Luther King Jr. who challenged segregation laws and jailed for being a threat of taking the law-makers out of their comfort zone.

It wasn’t until Machiavelli’s, “The Prince” that I encountered a society that I could not compare my theory to. There was one ruler and his rule was based on the interest of the state. There is no doubt about it that The Prince wants glory, but in order for that glory to be obtained is by pleasing the state’s interest. Therefore, both the Prince and the state gets what it wants. If everyone is getting pleased, from my interpretation of politics, who then are the oppressed? Who are the democrats?

My thoughts were conflicted as I read through Hobbes and was told that the best way to be protected is to give up ones rights to an array of men and let them protect you from what threatens your life. It all seemed to make sense that if we trust one person or a multitude of people to work within our self-interest; then everything else would simply fall into place.

The reading that altered my perception of politics more, was the readings of Burke. Burke’s theory was to simply let people do what they want as long as they do not trespass upon others. Furthermore, he stated, “Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide human wants.” (“Reflections on the Revolution of France”, pg.513)

With these readings, I looked at society today and recognized that the world of politics was not just democrat and republican. Furthermore, republicans weren’t the enemy and democrats weren’t just the victims of it all. Just as before, there are people in power, who make the rules, and people not in power (the people who abide by the rules). According to my interpretation of politics, republicans consisted of only people in power and everyone else were democrats. However, it is not so that that every single republican is in power. Additionally, there are working-class republicans just as there are working-class democrats. As far as the oppressed is concerned, they must always exist. Rather republican or democrat, African-Americans, or women, there must always be an oppressed group in order for society to be prosperous. Simply because everyone wants a self-verification that they are more important than someone else. That is why there can even exist a theory that republicans are for the rich and democrats are for the poor. It is the idea of self-importance. Concluding, I no longer summarize politics into the theories of democrats and republicans. Nor do I classify myself as either. For when I look to vote for my first time I will look for the Machiavellian theory that the ruler should look to please the interest of the state. I will make sure that the representative follows the Hobbesian theory to be able to trust the ruler with protecting me from threats against my life. Finally I would want them to keep in mind Burke’s philosophy’s that the people should have the freedom to do as they please without trespassing upon others. More importantly, to keep in mind that “Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide human wants.” (“Reflections on the Revolution of France”, pg.513)

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