Archive for the ‘Political Philosophy’ Category

My ideology

I can proudly say I am a:

Post-Colonial Anarcho-Monarchist

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Rule of the best

Given that the US is undergoing the Parliament of Fools, what would the US population think about a concept of being ruled by the best citizens. That is the wisest and most benevolent of the members of society?

This question goes to the Greek ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratía), from ἄριστος (aristos) “excellent,” and κράτος (kratos) “power”, or otherwise known as Aristocracy. I know its a system which has taken a bad rap mostly due to people abusing the power. On the other hand, there is such a thing as a Constitutional Monarchy, why not a Constitutional Aristocracy? Any of the Aristocrats would under constitutional restrictions. One of the failings of a hereditary system, that is primogeniture could be thwarted by making the title inheritable to be passed on to more worthy offspring, and possibly even non-family members.

A Constitutional aristocracy would require transparency so that the wealthy wouldn’t be able to abuse the system. Thus the commons would hold some sway over the Aristocrats. Also, part of being an Aristocrat would mean that they had an obligation to the common people, not a power to horde wealth, but to share it. The nobles would be the same as the Anglo-Saxon rulers who were givers of rings (and other treasure).

“The Greatest Political Philosophers of their day”

It should be noted that whatever authority the Declaration of Independence has acquired in the world, has not been without criticism, either at the time of its first appearance or in subsequent years. It has been attacked again and again, either in anger, or in contempt, by friends as well as by enemies of the American Revolution, by liberals in politics as well as by conservatives. It has been censured for its substance, it has been censured for its form, for its misstatements of fact, for its fallacies in reasoning, for its audacious novelties and paradoxes, for its total lack 0f all novelty, for its repetition of old and threadbare statements, even for its downright plagiarisms. Additionally, it is criticised for its grandiose style.

The truth is that Thomas Jefferson, along with the other Founding Fathers, adhered to rather conventional 18th century political ideas, derived mainly from the works of Locke and Montesquieu. The Declaration of Independence, which is often cited in the media as a marvel of originality, is nothing but a trite paraphrase of the leading ideas in John Locke’s 1693 Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government. John Adams thought the DOI was hackneyed, and James Madison apologized for its plagiarism by saying that “The object was to assert, not to discover truths.” One signer of the Declaration, Richard Henry Lee, sneered at it as a thing “copied from Locke’s Treatise on Government.” Here is a comparison:

John Locke, Concerning Civil Government, 1693, second essay, Ch. 19:

Secondly: I answer, such revolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in public affairs. Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of human frailty will be borne by the people without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of abuses, prevarications, and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel what they lie under, and see whither they are going, it is not to be wondered that they should then rouse themselves, and endeavor to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the end for which government was at first erected…

Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, 1776:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

John Adams wrote about the Declaration that :

” There is not an idea in it but what had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before. The substance of it is contained in the declaration of rights and the violation of those rights, in the Journals of Congress, in 1774. Indeed, the essence of it is contained in a pamphlet, voted and printed by the town of Boston, before the first Congress met, composed by James Otis, as I suppose, in one of his lucid intervals, and pruned and polished by Samuel Adams.”

Even Jefferson himself was aware of these criticisms and commented that the Declaration of Independence “contained no new ideas, that it is a commonplace compilation, its sentences hackneyed in Congress for two years before, and its essence contained in Otis’s pamphlet,” Jefferson quietly remarked that perhaps these statements might “all be true: of that I am not to be the judge. . . . Whether I had gathered my ideas from reading 0r reflection, I do not know. I know only that I turned to neither book nor pamphlet while writing it. I did not consider it as any part of my charge to invent new ideas altogether and to offer no sentiment which had ever been expressed before.”

It appears that even the founders are in disagreement that they could be considered “The Greatest Political Philosphers of their day”.

On the other hand, Jeremy Bentham was a child prodigy who became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law.

See http://www.oldandsold.com/articles22/independence-day-31.shtml
http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1130&Itemid=264

Posted 28/02/2011 by lacithedog in Philosophy, Political Philosophy

Rights and Philosphy

My post on Rights: Natural and Legal received a lot of ignorant comments. These commenters missed the point that the topic of rights is a subject of political philosophy. That means it is far more complex than their simplistic understanding of the concept demonstrated by the quality of their comments.

First off, one needs to define ones terms and show working knowledge of those definitions. Merely repeating phrases is a meaningless act. It only demonstrates ignorance. In fact, these comments show a lack of knowledge of philosphical debate that comes from a lack of knowledge of the topic either in depth or even superficially.

Secondly, one needs to acknowledge and address the paradox that the person who spoke of inalienable rights and wrote these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Not only was a slaveholder, but engaged in the institutional rape of one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings.

If Ms. Hemmings had unalienable rights given by her creator, why was she Mr. Jefferson’s slave? Moreover, in addition to her slavery, she was unable to resist Jefferson’s sexual advances. That is a fairly clear example of Jeremy Bentham’s denounciation of the doctrine of natural rights as “simply nonsense” and natural and inalienable rights as “nonsense upon stilts”.

Not to mention is it a paradox which must be addressed if one is going to asserts that rights are “inalienable”, “god given”, or “pre-exisiting”.

Likewise, one should not confuse the term “right” with that of “ability”.

Because one is able to do something does not give one the right to do so. The ignorant comments show that this point is one that they do not comprehend.

Far from being a settled topic, the concept of rights is a on going debate in the realm of political philosophy (see http://publicreason.net/2009/01/27/the-ironic-tragedy-of-human-rights/). This is a paper which addresses the hysterical comment I received about rights in Darfur, Libya, Egypt and such. I did notice the commenter neglected the Palestinians who have had their right of return (granted by UN Resolution–UN General Assembly resolution 194 and Article 13(2), Universal Declaration of Human Rights) abriged since 1947.

The best comment came from Baldr Odinson:

Where it gets dangerous is when we raise the value of America’s Bill of Rights above common sense, and start viewing it almost as some sort of religious doctrine, not to be touched, ammended, or even questioned.

The topic of rights is one that is hardly sacrosanct, but is one riddled with controversy. Likewise, the US Constitution and Bill of Rights are hardly religious documents to be treated as sacred and without question. They are political documents and should be addressed as such.

I would suggest a read of Paul Treanor’s essay: Why human rights are wrong:

Increasingly, the doctrine of human rights is itself a cause of suffering, oppression and injustice. Increasingly, the argument that superpowers have a ‘moral duty’ to enforce human rights, is used in the same way as the doctrine of the ‘civilising mission’ once was used to justify colonialism. Since this was first written, it appears that the civilising mission – or at least crusades in defence of western civilisation – are not quite dead yet. American reactions to the attacks of 11 September 2001 have re-emphasised the so-called “Clash of Civilizations”. In that vision of history and geopolitics, democracy, freedom, and human rights are seen as universally valid, and yet historically specific to western civilisation. They are seen as a gift, which the West must bring to the rest of the world, or at least defend against the rest of the world. The position presented below is a rejection of human rights, without any appeal to cultural relativism or ethical relativism.

Or as Charles Blattberg points out in The Ironic Tragedy of Human Rights:

With the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the idea of human rights came into its own on the world stage. More than anything, the Declaration was a response to the Holocaust, to both its perpetrators and the failure of the rest of the world adequately to come to the aid of its victims. Since that year, however, we have seen many more cases of mass murder. Think of China, Bali, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and now Darfur. Of course one could always claim that such horrors would have been even more frequent if not for the Declaration. But I want to argue otherwise. For I believe that human rights have contributed to making mass murder more, rather than less, likely.

To be clear, my concern is specifically with the language of human rights, not the values it expresses, values which I certainly endorse. The problem with this language is that it is abstract. And the problem with abstraction is that it demotivates, it ‘unplugs’ us from the ‘moral sources,’ as Charles Taylor would call them, which empower us to act ethically. After showing why, I then go on to describe how the rise of human rights has constituted an ironic tragedy of sorts for those philosophers who have attempted to lend it intellectual support. On the whole, they may be divided into two groups. One, led by cosmopolitans such as Martha Nussbaum and Thomas Pogge, tries to interlock rights within systematic theories of justice, thus fixing the priorities between them. The other, led by value pluralists such as Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire, and Bernard Williams, rejects such theories as infeasible and asserts that the best we can do when rights conflict is to negotiate. Yet both approaches, I argue, are counter-productive.

As Paul Treanor points out: “The human rights doctrine is a classic political ideology.” It is not an absolute in any sense.

Probably the most salient comment came from the Man with the Mudrake who said:

Laci, your post is most excellent and informative. The question arises, however, as to how many Americans would
1) take the time to read this or,
2) understand it?

The answer is painfully obvious–not many of them.

References:
The Ironic Tragedy of Human Rights–http://publicreason.net/2009/01/27/the-ironic-tragedy-of-human-rights/
How Rights Work–http://web.inter.nl.net/users/Paul.Treanor/rights.html
I renounce my human rights–http://web.inter.nl.net/users/Paul.Treanor/afstand.html

More rights

I found this while doing my research on the rights post:

Samuel P. Huntington, an American political scientist, wrote that the “inalienable rights” argument from the Declaration of Independence was necessary because “The British were white, Anglo, and Protestant, just as we were. Advocates for the Declaration’s adoption had to have some other basis on which to justify independence”.

I have also mentioned the opinion in Somersett’s Case (1772) in a previous post. This opinion was widely taken to have held that slavery was illegal in England:

The state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political; but only positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory: it’s so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law.

As I said in my preivious post:

Did the colonials see the handwriting on the wall that the institution of Slavery’s days were seriously numbered? The problem is that Slavery was an issue on both sides, Tory and Patriot, in the War for Independence from the above belief that “Britons never will be slaves”. Slavery went on to cause problems in the US. In Britain, William Wilberforce formed the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787. Wilberforce led the parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire with the Slave Trade Act 1807. He continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, which he lived to see in the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

If one considers that a fair amount of the founding fathers were slave owners, in particular the ones from the Southern States, and that their livelihood was based upon the enslavement of other human beings, wouldn’t it indeed be ironic if all the talk of freedom and rights was just a smokescreen for being able to keep slaves and otherwise exploit the poorer classes? After all, most of those who served in the Continental Army and militia were not the better off in society who could find others to take their place.

Despite the words of the propagandist Thomas Paine, the War for American Independence was hardly one that was fought for the common man. Most of the founding fathers were affluent. How well known is the rebellion at Morristown and how close the War for Independence came to being a failed cause?

I will add in that Patrick Henry’s “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” speech was made in 1775. He knew about the abolition movement and was probably aware of Somersett’s Case, as a letter he wrote on 13 January 1773 points out. He acknowledges the receipt of Anthony Benezet’s book against the Slave trade and mentions the Quaker movement toward abolition. Despite a claimed abhorrence of the institution, he remained a slave owner until his death. Henry owned 75 slaves during the five-year period from 1779 to 1784. Obviously, slavery was not acceptable for Henry personally, yet he could countenance being a slave owner.

The problem is that we are again seeing the use of rights and liberty language being used as terms to oppress the lower classes. Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has declared all-out war on workers. He’s slashing taxes for the richest residents of his state, and wants to eliminate the rights of teachers, health care workers and thousands of others to organize a union, bargain for fair wages or advocate for decent pay and benefits. The attacks on the middle class won’t stop with Wisconsin. In the U.S. Congress and across the country, we’re seeing similar attacks on working families and the middle-class. That’s why we must continue to stand together in every state until we’ve secured the rights of people, not corporations, to control our government.

Governor Walker’s election was partially financed by the infamous billionaire Koch brothers who donated millions last year to elect politicians who represent Wall Street CEOs and the wealthy over middle class working people. These politicians are not on our side. This is part of a larger strategy funded by corporations to take over our government and to roll back protections for middle class consumers by repealing the Affordable Care Act, privatizing our Medicare and Social Security, and allowing oil companies and drillers to destroy our environment so they can make more profits.

Benito Mussolini, who didn’t like the term “fascist,” preferred to call himself a “corporate capitalist”, and would have loved to see his dream come true, as it has in the Land of the Free. Benito would likely be a Republican today, adored by the modern corporate media, who would describe him in their deceptive fashion as a “conservative,” which today stands for what we used to call “fascist,” having little relation to the traditional meaning of the word. Those called “conservative” today go against most of the traditional definition, as corporate media twist the language to justify corporate greed at any cost to the public interest. Most they call “liberal” were known as recently as the 1970’s as “conservative.” Pro-lifers are nearly all people who support war and capital punishment while disliking gun control– it is all Orwellian speak in corporate media.

Don’t let the language of rights and freedom be a smokescreen behind which people lose their real rights and freedom.

I would like to add this as a reference: www.bloomingtonwilpf.org/localagenda/jamessomersett.pdf

Rights: Natural and Legal

Editorial note: the ignorant comments which have been made about this post are addressed here and will receive no further attention.

I have to admit that I find the US concept of rights to be incredibly biased and ignorant.  It seems that they are stuck in the rut of inalienable rights,  natural rights, god given rights, and pre-existing rights.  Various definitions of inalienability include non-relinquishability, non-salability, and non-transferability. If one thinks about it, all those terms are gibberish.

The problem is that rights arise from the actions of government, or evolve from societal tradition. If there weren’t a document upon which Americans could fall back upon, which is the Bill of Rights, they would have no claim to that right–despite the rather nebulous comments in Amendments IX and X. Neither government actions or societal customs can provide anything inalienable. In fact, the concept of inalienable rights comes from the Declaration of Independence, which is a historic document not a legal one (see Article VI of the US Constitution). Thus one can claim anything as a right, but unless one has the assent and support of society, the right is non-existent.

Different philosophers have created different lists of rights they consider to be natural throughout the ages. Critics of this concept have pointed to the lack of agreement between the proponents of natural rights as evidence for the claim that the idea of natural rights is merely a political tool. For instance, Jonathan Wallace has asserted that there is no basis on which to claim that some rights are natural, and he argued that Hobbes’ account of natural rights confuses right with ability (human beings have the ability to seek only their own good and follow their nature in the same way as animals, but this does not imply that they have a right to do so).

Jeremy Bentham denounced the doctrine of natural rights as “simply nonsense,” adding that the conjunction of natural and inalienable rights was “nonsense upon stilts.” Bentham’s objection was both political and philosophical. Bentham was appalled by the abuse of rights talk in order to justify coercive restrictions and individual “leveling” having witnessed the violent consequences of appeals to absolute rights during the French Revolution and its aftermath. While sympathetic to democratic reforms, and no friend of conservative values, Bentham believed that legality constituted the only viable means of securing human liberty. Moreover, Bentham found the metaphysics (whether religious or naturalistic) that supported eighteenth-century conceptions of human rights to be hopelessly outdated and even intellectually dangerous.

Edmund Burke pointed out in his Reflections on the Revolution in France the political terror implicit in the invocation of metaphysically abstract human rights as the foundation of social and political order. Such rights could readily be employed to ruthlessly suppress the existing institutions (the church, class status, governmental units) that constituted the sources of human identity and solidarity, which Burke took to be the real or concrete basis of human rights. As bearers of abstract rights, but without a context in which to exercise them, Burke expected that the masses would turn to an authoritarian figure who would direct them. This expectation was realised in the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The problem is that terms such as rights, freedom, tyranny and so forth can have different definitions throughout time. Likewise, one persons freedom is another’s repression. As Samuel Johnson pointed out about the War for American Independence–“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” and “Slavery is now no where more patiently endured, than in countries once inhabited by the zealots of liberty.” With the most obvious case in point being Thomas Jefferson who spouted the drivel about inalienable rights and all men being created equal while being a slaveholder.

Wouldn’t he not be able to hold slaves if this babble were true?

Thus these are nice terms, but truly meaningless as any person with a mind can figure out. Society is what grants rights and it grants the rights which enable certain minimum standards which are ‘of the very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty.’ It does not grant rights which would create a state of anarchy or otherwise contrary to public order.