Political thinkers

Political thinkers and their main ideas

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  • Created by: hanaaz
  • Created on: 02-05-12 13:54

What was the 20th century characterized by? (Three

  • WWI
  • WWII
  • Nuclear method
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Cultural relativism vs. idealism, philosophical te

Cultural relativism

- If cultural relativity was taken to it's extreme, ideas would be bound to a specific history and be self contradicting as absolute relativism would lead to a paradox, as a cultural relativist cannot not say absolutely that nothing is absolute

Idealism => Hannah Arendt: collective experiences, politics and violence, "fundamental experience" => human nature

Philosophical terms

- Rousseau: modern philosopher who believed that the city was superior to the modern state because direct democracy could still be implemented

- Leo Strauss: freedom, or libertas, in antiquity equated to citizenship, today it is reinterpreted to mean personal or private freedom

- Politics is a claim to justice, justice was an effort to give everyone his or her due e.g. a slave should be treated like a slave,  a citizen like a citizen

- Equality under law, ontological law (under Roman law everyone was treated according to their status)

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  • the reasoning of the modern state
  • A republican
  • not immoral, but amoral (pragmatism)
  • Politics as art
  • Love changes, fear is eternal
  • Motif to do with time: the need to main power for the longest possible time

The Prince

  • Men are "ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous"
  • Feared or loved? "it may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved",  "feared whilst not hated"
  • "men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony"
  • Easy to find a reason to steal, harder to find a reason to kill someone
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Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality


- State of nature: the desire for self-preservation, ignorance of vice and compasion leads to nonviolence and non-involvement. Man is self-preserving and compassionate

  • man keeps to himself, promoting non-involvement, and consequently peace
  • In this state, man can live independently
  • Therefore, because of an optimistic anthropology, isolation is the most suitable condition for man, and society's constraints serve only to educate man on vice

Rousseau vs. Hobbes: man competes, however it is not a natural state

Hobbes vs. Rousseau: man was always social, man + society are mutually dependent

Man must give up certain freedoms for protection from the state (social contract)

Contradicted ideas of society

At odds with "enlightened despotism" wherein an authoritarian leader, enlightened by philosophy, rules over the enlightened masses

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Rousseau: The Social Contract, Book III


  • Representation

Thesis: sovereinity cannot be represented

Arguments: political (Third Estate, England) psychological ("idleness") Ideological and ethical ("must," "should", "ought to" maxims and aphorisms => assertive and normative about politics)

Reasoning: contradiction, inductive, deductive, analytic (the dangers of commerce), Liberty of the Ancients vs. Liberty of the Moderns, contempt of factions

Concept: General will must be the decisive impulse fo any kid of political decision: the will of the general good

Conditions: general in its objects (general good), its origin (universal vote => referendum) and effects (valid for all)

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How to analyze a philosophical text (Hobbes' The L

Analysis o the text (what's it about), concepts and thesis, interpretation, argumentation and reasoning, conclusion

  • Leviathan - human nature
  • Human nature is conflict, "during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war", "war as is every man against every man"
  • social contract => where is man without the state? If man needs to live under fear to avoid war, they must live under the common fear of the state
  • Human nature consists of violent impulses which keep people in fear from each other
  • No civ. can exist during a state of war and permanent fear
  • According to this negative/pessimistic anthropology men are inclined to competition, diffidence and glory and no civ. can exist in such periods of war.  However, if men can create a common power, civilization can flourish
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Montesquieu's The Spirit of Laws

The Spirit of Laws - Advertisement

  • Separation of powers
  • Political virtue setting a republic in motion "the spring which sets the republican gov in motion, as honor is the spring which gives motion to monarchy (honor = Hobbes' "glory")
  • Separation of political, Christian and moral virtue
  • Driving ideology behind govs, distinction behind honest Christian man and honest political man
  • However moral and political and Christian virtues are not excluded from monarchy
  • "Honor is found in a republic, though its spring be political virtue; and found in a monarchical gov, though it be actuated by honor"
  • "L'esprit general du nation" despotism (fear) monarchy (honor) republic (political virtue = love for one's country, equality, laws

Metaphors for society: an intricate device, an organic body

"Every man who has power is inclined to exceed it" a natural law

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John Stuart Mill

  • Utilitarianism: the theory of laws and action should be judged good or bad based on utility
  • "the greatest happiness for the greatest number"
  • Utility is supposed to be a cardinal value, but social utility is relative as justice is relative ("the appropriate name for certain social utilities")
  • As justice is relative (anything can be justified), utility is relined on as a pervasive. What is perceived as unjust today was not at the time, this is due to utility.
  • Utility is cardinal, but not constant - it varies, historically justice also varies therefore they are equal
  • Mill suggests justice be applied to only issues of the highest utilities as justice is inherent in sentiments and feelings, in human nature and cannot be suppressed
  • The term 'injustice' should be reserved for extreme cases
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  • Monism (diversity remains but there is one unifying force) vs. dualism, or pluralism
  • Modes - every individual has power but when two individuals clash, there is conflict
  • No separation between good and evil
  • There is one universal truth, regardless of revelations
  • Democracy is supreme because you have the sum of the "potentia" of all the individuals => the most powerful regime
  • "more geometrico" => a calculation of power
  • conatus => the tendency, effort which drives individuals, potentia (nearly equivalent to conatus)
  • Tolerance: If people are intolerant, e.g. towards other religions, it is in striving to gain power
  • All the religions and revelations of the world are united by emphasis on "justice and charity", accept religion as long as they accept justice and punishment
  • Religion is acceptable as a way of reaching the universal truth, as is reason (reason will help you get the best self-preservation and potentia)
  • Justice => reward and punishment, charity => benevolence and mercy
  • In monism => continuity between the state of nature and the social contract (the latter a prolongation of the former 
  • Inward and outward (political NOT metaphysical distinction)
  • "tantum juris quantum potentiae" as much right as power => democracy (the regime with the most right and power)
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  • Men in society having property, they have such a right to the goods, which by the law of the community are theirs, that no body hath a right to take their substance of any party of it from then, without their own consent: without this they have no property at all
  • Property is linked to you as material property is the prolongation of your body because it is the product of your work (a piece of land belongs to you because you worked on it)
  • If you take all the property in the world, there will be none for others to enter the social contract (property as a condition of the social contract)
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  • The value of of a thing lies with in what it costs us
  • Liberal institutions cease to be liberal as soon as they are attained => complacency
  • Freedom is the struggle to break free from society. Freedom is not constant
  • In war you can manifest the will for power and thus achieve freedom
  • However not necessarily through war, but through conflict, contention, opposition on both wide and individual levels
  • "The highest type of free men should be sought where the highest resistance is constantly overcome; five steps from tyranny, close to the threshold of the danger of servitude" 
  • Ideal type: Julius Caesar (something must be overcome => "danger alone acquaints us with our own resources, our virtues, our armor and weapons, our spirit and forces us to be strong")
  • Emphasis on Roman virtues
  • Nationalism = small politics
  • Nietzsche admire the idea of "Il Ribello Aristocratico" => Venice, Rome
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  • French materialism => socialism and communism
  • materialism: man is shaped by society
  • anthropological basis: men are good and equal
  • socialism is a transitional phase (dictatorship of the proletariat)
  • Industrialization => population boom => class struggle
  • crime = violence only a product of environment
  • Incredible consequences in the legal system, if man is a product of society, society must be made human
  • Since we depend on environment, we must change it to change our condition
  • Positive anthropology, but differs from Rousseau who believes that man and society cannot be opposed
  • Hobbes: "man is a social animal" BUT Marx: "man is good", disagreement with liberals and individualism 
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  • Counter rev thinker, one of the founders of political romanticism, conservative side of liberalism (a paradox, he was a Whig in hi earlier life as a member of parliament)
  • Natural rights: exist but must be separated from legal rights
  • Not a practical issue for politics, they are a  metaphysical question - not something that can operate in concrete politics and can be dangerous if done so - they can be compromised in favor of a higher ideal (e.g. Communism => Russians lost all the rights they had in the name of greater "equality")
  • They will to impose abstract principles will push the French to try to implement at all costs their ideas (the Terror)
  • People have needs (legal security), and society should fulfill these needs and not achieve abstract ideas
  • Locke: established laws
  • French chose revolution and English chose reforms
  • French state was in the hands of revolutionaries, however in England there was a dimension of civil war
  • Nation building: in France the rev brought a republic (in France there is an association between republic and revolution with the republic being the daughter of the revolution)
  • Government: similarities to Hobbes (British empiricism)
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  • Why democratic nations show a more ardent enduring love of equality than of liberty - from democracy in America, second part, Book II, Chapter I
  • Equality = total freedom
  • Equality may be compared to freedom, yet there is reason to distinguish them
  • Empirical/ historical argument => "upon close inspection it will be seen that ere is in every age some peculiar and preponderant fact with which all others are connected" => pregnant idea, passion (contrasted with reason)
  • Freedom has appeared in the world in different forms at different times => democratic ages
  • Freedom => democracy can be destroyed or diminished, people prefer equality because "they think it will last forever"
  • Too much freedom => risk of anarchy
  • "The calamities they apprehend are remote and flatter themselves that they will only fall upon future generations, for which the present generation takes but little thought"
  • Extreme equality => equality of condition => pay for it => borrow for it => future generations will pay for it
  • Thus equality is thought to "last forever" as people do not see the consequences of the excesses - the excesses of freedom are noticed and criticized much quicker
  • Democracy is based on equality as republics are based on virtue
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