Posts Tagged ‘Political Theory In the News’

In the modern world, one can see variations of Thomas Hobbes’ State of Nature through the open waters of the Earth’s oceans.  The Somali pirates are a perfect example of this because the oceans make for the perfect situation for Hobbes’ State of Nature by allowing for a realm of no governing authority, allowing for the pirates to easily attack naval ships in order to receive ransom money, creating a state of chaos.  This situation created by the ocean near Somalia, is similar to Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature because the pirates have caused constant quarrel with ships that pass through those waters which then has led to the countries of the world wanting to seek peace.

Hobbes envisioned a condition of nature where each person is their own judge and since each person is their own judge, quarrels occur because there is no neutral third party with any authority to help solve their problems. So if the pirates want to take another man’s ship then they can take another man’s ship, without being punished by any particular governing body because it occurred in the open waters of the oceans. Now, this can cause a fight between the two ships as the one ship can attempt to fight back, but normally fails as nature has it with any fight, one side wins and one side loses.   This is why Hobbes considers the state of nature equivalent to that of a state of war because in the state of nature people are their own judge, people chose to settle problems violently.

Going further, Hobbes’ Law of Nature forbids a person from doing anything that would be destructive to his life; he also notes it’s in the best interest of humans to work together for survival rather than be independent. This leads him to develop his first branch of nature, which suggests that humans seek peace and follow it, relating back to the situation with the Somali Pirates that have created such fear among the nations of the world forcing them to join together to seek peace with the pirates. BBC news reports that on November 10, that there are nearly forty ships, from the European Union, United States, China, India, and Japan, in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Unfortunately, with no governing body able to regulate international waters and punish the pirates, they can continue with the status quo and only worry about the specific retributions from each ship.

However, BBC news also reported that on October 28 the Prime Minister of Somalia pledged to eradicate piracy within the next two years. This seems like an empty pledge for the Prime Minister to make given the circumstances that I have alluded to above concerning the lack of a strict governing body over the oceans.  Even though the pirates are from Somalia, it seems that the Prime Minister will not actually be able to do much to curb piracy.  It seems as though the pirates will continue to take advantage of the lack of a ruling body over the Earth’s oceans and the fact that they cannot be properly held responsible.

In summary, the situation in the waters off the coast of Somalia resembles Hobbes’ state of nature due to the lack of authority held over the oceans, which leads to quarrels exemplified by the Somali Pirates.  This state of war that is created makes others seek peace, just as Hobbes suggests, but it is only seen in the modern world.  This correlates to a CNN report showing that in 2009 there have been 102 pirate attacks and 39 hijackings in the region of the Gulf of Aden, supporting the claims made by Hobbes in our present state of nature courtesy of the Somali Pirates creating a constant state of chaos.

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Joseph Nye of the Washington Post wrote a column about a lack of top-scholars of international policy entering the government or contributing to the academic world. “President Obama has appointed some distinguished academic economists and lawyers to his administration, but few high-ranking political scientists have been named. In fact, the editors of a recent poll of more than 2,700 international relations experts declared that “the walls surrounding the ivory tower have never seemed so high.”

It got me thinking about the impact a lack of political scientists in government and academic positions would have on our future. It also made me wonder whether political science had lost its relevance in today’s society. And most importantly, were there any specific reasons for political scientists choosing to not enter the government or academic world?

            Generally, we are advised to stay away from Wikipedia, but I feel as if the website would provide us with a broad explanation of what it is political scientists do, and in turn, give us reason to hope for more of these scholars to enter the government or academic world.

According to Wikipedia, political scientists study anything about and related to the allocation and transfer of power in decision making, the roles and systems of governance including governments, and international organizations, political behavior and public policies. They measure the success of governance and specific policies by examining many factors, including stability, justice, material wealth, and peace. Some political scientists seek to advance positive(attempt to describe how things are, as opposed to how they should be) theses by analyzing politics. Others advance normative theses, by making specific policy recommendations.

In the first lecture of this Political Science class, we learned that Political theory tries to answer the question of how to arrange collective social life, studies others’ answers to that question, and studies how and why others answer the question in the way they do. Through all our readings, we’ve seen different perspectives from various political scientists such as Hobbes, Locke, etc. Even if we don’t necessarily agree with everyone’s theories, we still acknowledge and respect their contributions to the academic world.

According to this article, as citizens, academics have an obligation to help improve on policy ideas when they can. Moreover, such engagement can enhance and enrich academic work, and thus the ability of academics to teach the next generation.

I believe this is true and that it’s a shame that more academics are not helping to improve policy ideas. Current generations are not enhancing and enriching policy work, and as a result, our policies “stay the course” even when there is room for improvement. Without earlier political scientists, how would our society look like today? The same can be asked about today’s political scientists. Without them, where will we be in the future?

If the public, as a whole, does not agree with future policy making, who can we really blame but our academic institutions/whoever else is responsible for the lack of political scientists involved in policy making? Is there a Socrates among us that is willing to stand up and criticize future public policies?  In “The Trial and Death of Socrates” by Plato, Socrates famously voiced his criticisms towards policies and laws.

Nye suggests that the solution involves “departments giving greater weight to real-world relevance and impact in hiring and promoting young scholars. Journals could place greater weight on relevance in evaluating submissions. Studies of specific regions deserve more attention. Universities could facilitate interest in the world by giving junior faculty members greater incentives to participate in it. That should include greater toleration of unpopular policy positions. One could multiply such useful suggestions, but young people should not hold their breath waiting for them to be implemented. If anything, the trends in academic life seem to be headed in the opposite direction.”

I think Nye’s solution ideas can work. The young scholars will respond to incentives. Action should be taken quickly in order to increase the number of political scientists in the government and academic world.



Nye, Joseph. “Scholars on the Sidelines.” The Washington Post.  April 13, 2009.



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We recently turned in the essay asking us to examine Joe Wilson’s “breach of U.S. protocol” and whether or not Dr. King/Socrates would support it and how they would do so. I defended Wilson’s actions through Socrates’ argument. Socrates claims that if a man truly believes he is right, he must justify his beliefs and defend his argument even though there might be punishment or consequences. What the correct procedural justice does or determines might not always be right. As I was surfing the web, I came across an article on CNN.com (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/10/16/wilson-spent-heavily-to-capitalize-on-you-lie/). According to the article, “s far this year, Wilson has collected about $2.7 million in contributions, most of which came in after the infamous outburst on Sept. 9 turned the little-known congressman into a household name. After the shout, his 2010 campaign organization set out to capitalize on the outpouring of support he received from conservatives around the country.” Obviously, this proves that through his form of substantive justice, or search for own truth, he actually represented a voice of a huge amount of supporters that would not have been heard if he had not done so. If he did not shout, many of Obama’s actions and statements would have went without such scrutiny; scrutiny that is obviously supported by Americans nationwide. Although this is a top of discussion of the past, this recent article made me feel it was necessary to bring it back up.


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This week, the Constitutional Court of Italy has ruled against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, declaring that he is not immune from prosecution while he is in office (see the following BBC News article for their coverage of the events: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8295716.stm).  This ruling, passed by the court by a 9-6 margin, will now allow him to be prosecuted in at least three potential court cases.  Berlusconi had argued during the Constitutional Court’s review of this case that he needed immunity from the law to carry out his duties as Prime Minister, which was turned down as the court upheld the part of the Italian Constitution that states that “All citizens have equal social dignity and are equal before the law, without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinions, personal and social conditions” (Constitution of Italy, Fundamental principles, art. 3, cited from an English translation of the original document, with emphasis added, from: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Italy).

However, Hobbes argues in Chapter 29 of the Leviathan that “to those laws which the sovereign himself, that is, which the commonwealth maketh, he is not subject” (p. 230, David Weston, “Modern Political Thought”).  This is in complete contradiction to what Italy’s Constitutional Court ruled about the place of rulers in regards to the laws of the states that they rule.  For Hobbes, the reason to support criminal immunity for sovereigns is because doing so would put someone above the sovereign (or, in the original, “setteth…a judge above him”, p. 230, Weston).  To many people living today, the idea that the ruler is still accountable to someone (in many cases, such as Italy’s and our own nation’s, a Supreme or Constitutional Court) is a very accepted idea.  We, generally speaking, believe in the separation of powers between different branches of government in order to increase the accountabilty of all branches.  For me at least, the prospects of a “Hobbesian commonwealth” where accountability-increasing checks on power do not exist is a very frightening proposition.

(Section 002)

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In his article “The Art of Blackmail,” John Schwartz discusses blackmail in response to an incident last week in which a man demanded $2 million from David Letterman in return for keeping Letterman’s sexual affairs a secret.  Letterman had the man arrested, and then he admitted his actions to all of his viewers.

I thought the most fascinating part of this article was Schwartz’s explanation of why blackmail did not develop until the 19th century.  Before the 1800s, no one bothered to blackmail aristocrats and other wealthy people because the aristocrats would hold onto their positions in society regardless of what anyone said about them.  It was not until people began to build up wealth of their own, or “when the professional class began to grow” that they realized the importance of reputation.  Blackmail flourished because people placed so much more weight on what others thought of them.

This was interesting to me because Thomas Hobbes seemed to realize the significance of reputation long before the 1800s.  In Leviathan, which was published in the mid-1600s, one of his main arguments is that people want others to value them as highly as they value themselves. 

I was surprised at the relatively late development of blackmail after reading Hobbes’ 200-year-old analysis of what people want, but I suppose there are many other methods of coercion people could have used.


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