Why should i be governed

some key points for the why should i be goverened section


The State of Nature

·         The state of nature is the idea of living without government of laws.

·         Hobbes argues that in the state of nature, human beings have the ‘natural right’ to do whatever they consider necessary for self-preservation.

·         He argues that we desire power – the present means to satisfy our future desires; and that in the state of nature, there is equality, scarcity and vulnerability. Together, these conditions and human psychology produce a state of war.

·         Locke argues that in the state of nature, there is a Law of Nature (given by God, but discovered by reason) that no one may subordinate or harm anyone else, and that we should help others when this does not harm us.

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The State of Nature

·         He argues that there is no scarcity, and that the state of nature will be largely peaceful.

·         Hume argues that society brings the benefits of cooperation – gains in power, ability and protection against misfortune. However, it also increases the threat of unjustice, including losing our possessions.

·         He argues that the law turns justice, which is in our long-term interests, into our short term interests, and so secures peace, stability and private property.

·         It is rational to do what is in our self-interest. The benefits of living in a law governed society make it rational to agree to do so.

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Political Obligation and Consent

·         Political obligation is the obligation to obey the law because it is the law. Philosophers have argued that free and equal people do not have an obligation to obey an authority unless they have consented to do so. So political obligation must be based on consent.

·         However, we have never explicitly consented to be rules by a state and obey its laws.

·         It can be argued that voting expresses consent to the state. But unless this is what a voter intends by his or her vote, it cannot count as genuine consent.

·         Power is the ability to get others to do things.

·         Practical political authority in the descriptive sense is the power of the state to make and enforce laws that are general obeyed by citizens. It may also require the citizens’ belief that this power is legitimate.

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Political Obligation and Consent

·         Normative political authority is legitimate practical authority.

·         A state is legitimate if it is right or justified that those in power hold power.

·         Many philosophers argue that legitimacy depend on popular approval – perhaps as a response to benefits, perhaps expressed as consent.

·         Plato objects that legitimate practical authority depends on theoretical authority. In the case of the state, this involves those in power having knowledge of what is good for the state and skill to rule it. A state based over popular approval will yield no such leaders.

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Disobedience and Dissent

·         We can only give consent meaningfully if we consent freely. Consent therefore requires the right to dissent. If political obligation rests on consent, then we must have the right to dissent to have political obligation.

·         Dissent can be expressed legally, or more strongly through violations of the law, as in civil disobedience, and in the extreme case, through revolution.

·         Hobbes argues that dissent is justified when the state threatens one’s life or fails to protect it.

·         Locke argues that revolution is justified when the state ceases to be legitimate and the rulers refuse to leave office. The state can become illegitimate either through failing to enforce the Law of Nature or in failing to command the general support of the citizens.

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Disobedience and Dissent

·         Rawls defines civil disobedience as ‘a public, non-violent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government... [and that] addresses the sense of justice of the majority of the community’.

·         Philosophers have objected that civil disobedience does not by definition have to address society’s sense of justice (although it must appeal to its sense of morality) and that, likewise, it is not by definition non-violent.

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Disobedience and Dissent

·         Protestors usually submit to the law by not resisting arrest or punishment. We may object, however, that this is not part of the definition of civil disobedience, although it demonstrates that protestors are not objecting to the authority of the law as such, only to specific laws.

·         Civil disobedience may be justified when the aim is important enough to override our obligation to obey the law, and certain other conditions are met. Rawls argues that it must be a ‘last resort’ and non-violent. But if we justify civil disobedience by its consequences, it may be that using violence or turning to civil disobedience before legal protest has been seen to fail could be justified in special cases.

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The state of nature II

·         An account of the state of nature and the beginnings of the state needs to take into account that human beings are naturally social and perhaps naturally live together under laws.

·         Hobbes argues there are Laws of Nature which say what we should rationally do. The fundamental Law is to seek peace; but if we cannot obtain it, to use war if necessary for self preservation.

·         Because we cannot trust people to act rationally, for example, in keeping agreements to act peacefully, the Law of Nature will not lead to peace in the state of nature

·         Locke argues that in the state of nature we all have the right to punish those who break the Law of Nature. However, we will be biased and subjective in administering punishment, and the first benefit of the state is to provide an objective system of punishment.

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The state of nature II

·         Hobbes argues that we must submit out will and judgement to the state because only a state with absolute power can avoid the violence of the state of nature. Locke argues this is irrational, as there is a greater risk to our lives from an absolute power, and the people need to retain power over the state, for example, through democracy.

·         There are two further reasons to submit to authority: in doing so, we will do what we had reasons to do anyway, but didn’t know it; and it solves the problem of cooperation.

·         Anarchism objects that obeying authority undermines moral judgement, and that it is incompatible with our autonomy. We can respond that if the authority respects individual autonomy, it is not incompatible. Furthermore, individuals are part of a community and exercise moral judgement within the community.

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Political obligation and consent II

·         Locke argued that political obligation is based on tacit consent, which can be given by enjoying any of the benefits of the state. We can object that this leaves no room for dissent.

·         However, voting may express tacit consent to abide by the result of the vote. But this is difficult to argue for those people who don’t vote for a revolutionary party; and what can we say about people who don’t bother to vote at all?

·         Philosophers have argued that it is rational to submit to the authority of the state; so we can say we have consented hypothetically. But hypothetical consent is not real consent at all. It does not respect people’s freedom and the argument that it is rational to submit compared the state to the state of nature – which is not a comparison we face now.

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Political obligation and consent II

·         A legitimate authority, we can argue, involves the ability to impose the duty to obey the law. This duty can be owed either to the state itself, or to our fellow citizens. The latter answer reflects our equality better.

·         Plato’s argument that legitimacy does not depend on popular approval assumes that politics is about what is truly good, so should be left to experts. But perhaps people do want what is good, or perhaps what is good is freedom and equality. In either case, democracy can secure what is good. Even if not, it protects us from corrupt governments.

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Disobedience and dissent II

·         If people who dissent have no political obligation, then the government is not justified in enforcing the law against them. If, on the other hand, they are still obliged to obey the law, what difference has dissent made? We may argue that it remains a way to influence the government. However, because influence is not consent, this answer does not base political obligation on consent.

·         Locke argues that rebellion against the government is justified if it breaks the Law of Nature or loses the trust of the people. But we may question whether one without the other is enough to justify rebellion.

·         Locke could answer that it is not enough for the individual to judge that the government has broken the Law of Nature. The right to rebellion belongs to the people as a whole. We can object that this denies that an oppressed minority may justly rebel.

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Disobedience and dissent II

·         If we have a right to civil disobedience, then it will be justified. But our right to dissent, in a just state, may give us no more than a right to legal protest. However, an act of civil disobedience may still be justifiable, depending on the nature of the action, its consequences and its motivation.

·         Civil disobedience can have negative consequences for society. These are mitigated by the respect for the law shown by the protestors.

·         Rawls argues that civil disobedience must aim to correct a clear and substantial injustice; nothing else could justify breaking the law. We can reply that it can be justified as long as the protest is proportional and appropriate to the end.

·         Direct action that goes beyond civil disobedience in being covert and violent is more difficult to justify. By judging that violence is justified, without the agreement of society, such protestors challenge the most important value the state protects – security.

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