Political Theory Questions


Question 1: Rousseau and Kropotkin Account of the State of Nature

Rousseau argues that man in his natural form is without socialpressure and domination by fellow men1.The interaction between man and government and fellow men has led tothe creation of non-essential needs such as friends, more money, andthe need to fit in. In his natural state, man exists in solitarywhere he can attend to his needs and has few occasions forinteraction with other people. The supposed interactions with fellowmen make the life of the modern man inauthentic in that they put morepressure on him to live as per the standards of the other men. Inaddition, the interactions with fellow men lead to the accumulationof artificial needs such as friendship, acceptance and fitting. Theartificial needs only function to make the life of the modern manmore complicated.

Rousseau is opposed to the idea of socialism because apparently, itinterferes with the natural state of men, which prescribes that everyman should stay in his own hub and does what he deems best for hisinterests. This view of society dwells on the assumption that everyman has the morality and rationality to do the right thing towardsthe achievement of his interest, without the unnecessary coercion ofthe government and the society. In addition, when a man lives insolitude, he gets ample time to focus on the needs that matter themost.

On the other hand, Kropotkin holds a different account of the naturalstate of man. Whilst Rousseau proposes the theory that socialinteractions reduce the authenticity of the natural state of man,Kropotkin maintains that the development of social institutions isthe key to survival of any species2.He gives the example of social animals such as lions, bees, andtermites.

In the example of lions, Kropotkin specifies that a sole lion wouldfind it hard to hunt as much prey as it would in a pride. The sameapplies to ants and bees, which are able to build magnificentstructures because of their social institutions. Competition onlyfunctions to eliminate an entire species from the face of the earth.Social institutions are also prevalent in humankind. Humans have theinnate tendency to help each other in order to achieve a common goal.In the eyes of Kropotkin, the predisposition of a human being to helpanother without the coercion of the government or the societal moralstandards is the natural state of man. The government only functionsto deter the natural tendency of cooperation that is engraved in thegene pool of the masses.

According to Rousseau3,the lack of authenticity has led to the imposition of a bigger burdenon the shoulder of the modern man. Ever since human beings opted toleave their natural state behind, they can no longer do thingsaccording to their will, and the pursuit of their interests oftenleads to interactions with other human beings, and consequently, morepressure. Due to the lack of authenticity in the natural state ofman, the society is organized such that people and governments alikewant to dominate over the other.

The government, as an institution has its own interests to pursue,just like the way individual citizens have theirs as well. The desireto dominate over the other human being has led to exploitation by thegovernment and fellow men alike. The government has created rules inorder to exploit the citizens to their full potential. The taxes andthe affluent lives that top government officials lead is a clearindication of government exploitation of its people. The upsurge ofartificial needs has led to the exploitation of men by fellow men.Suddenly, every member of the society wants to fulfill theseartificial needs, which in essence are a social construct. Althoughthe government has created laws to prevent the exploitation of men byfellow men, the exploiters somehow find a way to navigate the system.

Kropotkin’s view of the government is that it is the majordeterrent to social cooperation, which defines the natural state ofhumankind. While in the villages far away from the tsaristgovernment, Kropotkin discovered that people survived on mutual aid.That is when it came to his realization that indeed the governmentwas responsible for preventing its citizens from providing mutual aidto each other. For instance, the government was responsible for thesorry state of the grain growing communities. The farmers wereincapable of changing the quality of the soil or the tools used toproduce their grain, but the government taxed them heavilyregardless.

The high cost of living instituted by the government prevented thegrain growers from offering mutual help to each other. Because everygrain grower has to work hard in order to fulfill his needs and thoseof his family, he has no time offer mutual help to a fellow graingrower. The situation is true for many other households thatundertake their operations under a government. The rules, oppression,exploitation, and the heavy taxes make it almost impossible for themodern human being to revert to his natural state of offering mutualaid to fellow humans.

Question 2: Mill’s version of the harm Principle

Mill’s understanding of the harm principle is that the governmentor members of the society should not coerce somebody into changingtheir actions if the actions do not harm others4.An example of an action that harms others is failure to pay taxes inthat it prevents the government from taking care of other citizens,thereby harming them. He further goes on to say that, an action willonly fall under the banner of harm if it causes a negative impact onothers. The government or third parties should not interfere withpeople who engage in actions that are perceived to harm themselvesand no one else. He states that, “Using force to prevent harm to aman’s own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficientwarrant” (p.78). This is because the consequences of their actionsbefall on them, and not other people.

This principle creates the perception that killing oneself is okaysince it only harms the individual and no one else. However, Millsays that using force to prevent a person from killing himself iswarranted. He says this because such actions contradict the principleof utility which states that people should only do those things thatbring happiness to most people as opposed to a few.

The common question that lingers on the minds of many people whenreading the harm principle is what constitutes harm, and what is thedifference between harm and offense? According to Mill5,an offense is the violation of another person’s rights. An offensedoes not lead to harm, but it causes discomfort in others. An offensewould not harm others but would only hurt their feelings or preventthem from realizing their interests.

An offense is less serious than harm. It is in this regard, that Millproposes the government or other people in the society not to preventactions that create offense in others. Apart from being less serious,offenses are not universal. The question is what maybe offensive inone society may be perfectly normal in another. The fact that it isacceptable in another part of the world makes it justifiable. Actionsthat constitute harm and offenses are bound to change over timehence the society should be accommodative of change.

Morality should not be an indicator of actions that cause (or do not)harm to others. As Mill puts it, morality is a set of rules that aregenerally accepted in the society. Some of the actions that pass formorality, especially those dealing with economics and profit, oftenlead to the harm of other individuals. A bigger chunk of whatconstitutes morality is a blueprint of the ruling elite. It thereforefollows that the elite will set the morality standards to accommodatetheir interests even when they lead to harm for other human beings.

An example of such morality standards is the acceptance of slavery asa moral right. Slavery leads to physical harm of the slave, denieshim his basic human rights, and makes him the property of anotherman. However, since the moral standards accommodate slavery, then thepeople do not consider the action. Mill is opposed to idea ofdefining right or wrong based on morality standards because moralityis propelled by the principle of utility. Actions that benefit manypeople are considered moral. This is in view that it is moral, nomatter the people that will be harmed in the process.

However, Mills creates limits to which the harm principle isapplicable. For instance, it is justifiable for the society or thegovernment to interfere with the actions of a minor even when they donot lead to the harm of others6.Mill specifies that a person shall become of age according to theregulations set by the society. In his thinking, a person who has notcome of age is not in a position to judge accurately actions thatcould harm themselves or others. It is therefore sufficient, but notnecessary for other people to mingle in the actions of this group ofpersons.

However, they should do this until the time they attain legal age.Another reason for making this provision is that people who have notcome of age are likely to engage in behavior that could be offensiveto the others in the society because they are still on the learningcurve. It is therefore important for other experienced members of thesociety to intervene in order to show them the right way.

Another exception to the harm principle is for backward societies.According to Mill, backward societies are those that engage inbarbaric acts that cause harm to others. Although he does not putlimits to what exactly constitutes a barbaric society, Mill says thatsuch a society does not have the capacity to determine actions thatare harmful to others. Considering the time of his existence,barbaric societies could be referring to people that lynched othersfor suspected witchcraft or even pirates.

Such societies of people have not evolved to a point where force orcoercion cannot be used to streamline their actions. If they happento get rid of their backward acts, then the Harm principle can applyto them. However, it is prudent to talk to them to embracerationality only when they turn over a new leaf in life. If theydisagree, it will be because they do not agree with what othersconsider rational and therefore the instigators of change should notoverride them with force.

Marx has a completely different idea of what constitutes freedom. Ina capitalist society, freedom is the development of human capacitythrough non-instrumental labor as an end to itself7.In a capitalist setting, labor is a very valuable commodity. In orderto make good use of it, the owners of production machinery arewilling to make the providers of labor to repeat meaningless tasks inorder to perfect their skills and maximize efficiency.

The act of doing repetitive meaningless task is what Marx refers toas instrumental labor. This kind of labor denies the worker thefreedom to pursue new knowledge and learn tasks that are morevaluable. Instrumental labor also deprives the workers of thecapacity for self-cultivation and alienates them from the rest. Atthe end of the day, the worker is enslaved into doing repetitivetasks at the expense of developing his most treasured commodity- workskills.

Question 3: Rawls on equality

According to the Rawls8,the caste system is when a child attains the social status of theparents by virtue of being their child. Children borne of parents whorank highly in the social hierarchy will also bear a similar ranking.In the caste system, children of parents who rank highly in thesocial hierarchy will have the privilege of pursuing what they desirebecause they have the opportunity.

On the other hand, people who rank lowly in the caste system willalways find it hard to climb the social ladder. Their children willbe condemned to the low ranks of society for the rest of their lives.Although the children did not children did not choose to be borne insuch families, their life will be hard by virtue of being born to lowranking families in the caste system. The children of the lower sideof the caste system will not have the opportunity and resources topursue their relationships, values, and desires because of somethingthey have no control over- their background.

Rawls is a strong proponent of a system that offers equalopportunities to all, despite their background. He prefers a systemwhere the best compete for the best positions in society. He sees asociety where everybody has an equal opportunity to succeedregardless of the advantage they bear from their birthright. However,Rawls notes that it is next to impossible to make the society equalfor all. Someone people somewhere will always have an added advantageover the other competitors. The advantage could stem from genetics,upbringing or even the perception of the society. He gives examplesof how the society creates inequality in the available opportunities.

The best example is that of passengers who prefer to be served byphysically attractive stewards or stewardesses. Since the airline’ssole purpose is to make as much profit as possible, the HumanResources department will hire physically attractive people the nexttime there is a recruitment exercise. This perception by societyleaves those who are not perceived to be physically attractive withvery few opportunities in the air transport industry. These so-calledunattractive individuals are discriminated against for something theyhave no control over. This example exemplifies a version of castesystem that Rawls is opposing.

Due to the inequalities in which opportunities are distributed in thesociety, Rawls suggests the Difference principle to carter for thedisadvantaged. The difference principle only permits inequality thatworks to the advantage of those who are worst-off in terms of theavailability of opportunities9.The more politically correct term for the difference principle isaffirmative action.

Using the airline example in the above paragraph, Rawls would havesuggested that the airline sets apart a certain proportion ofpositions for people who are not perceived as physically attractiveby the societal standards. Rawls would also suggest that thelegislature comes up with a law that compels the airlines to makeprovisions for the physically disadvantaged. A law that recommendsall airlines to put allocates certain positions for thedisadvantaged, will ensure that everybody has an equal chanceirrespective of how their physical attributes. Rawls’ differenceprinciple does not aim at discriminating against the majority who areadvantaged, but creating more opportunities for those who aredisadvantaged because of factors that they have no control overincluding gender, physical attributes, and race.

However, Rawls’ principles are not without objections. One suchindividual who objects these principles is Robert Nozick. Accordingto Nozick, every individual has the right to do whatever he choosesto do with his property as long as it does not harm or violate therights of others10.Examples of ways that harm others include breach of contract,assault, physical damage, and theft. In the event that the manner inwhich somebody decides to use his property leads to the violation ofanother person’s rights, then the violator is liable to compensatethe person whose rights were violated.

Each adult is the rightful owner of his own self and can do as hepleases with his body as long as it will not harm others. In thiscontext, a free man’s body is his property unless he decides totrade his rights for some form of consideration or signs a documentthat waives his right to do whatever he deems fit with his property-his body.

Nozick is opposed to the Difference principle because it violates therights of a person to do whatever he pleases with his property unlessit violates the rights of other people. The moral validity ofequality should not be used to coerce property owners to use theirproperty in ways that will offer equal opportunity to all. Nozicksupports Lockean critique of libertarian rights in the face of claimsthat property owners should use their property in ways that willoffer equal opportunity for all.

For instance, if a white property owner decides to hire white,Christian and male workers only to manage his property, then thegovernment should not force him to hire people of other races. Thesame applies to a white property owner who decided to hire white maleChristians for top positions and the black, non-Christians, and womenare hired to take on low-paying positions.

If the government or societal moral standards force the said man tohire a diverse workforce, then they will be violating his right to doas he wishes with his property. Nozick and Rawls’ ideas on equalopportunities differ in that whilst Rawls believes that employersshould be forced to offer equal opportunity for all, Nozick is of theidea that employers should have the right to hire whomever they deemfit regardless of their background.

Rawls principles also contrast Mills’ utilitarianism law. Accordingto the law of utilitarianism, an action is deemed good if it pleasesmany people. Actions such as sharing are good because they benefitmany people as opposed to selfishness that only benefits a few. Inthe first example of the airline, if the airline hires physicallyattractive people, it would make many people happy as opposed to ifit hired physically unattractive people.

Among the many people it would make happy include the passengers, andthe majority of the applicants who are physically attractive. Makingprovisions to hire the physically disadvantaged will make less fewpeople happy as opposed to hiring those who are physically attractivethereby contravening the principles of the theory of utilitarianism.The fewer people who will be happy because of the affirmative actioninclude the minority who are not physically attractive.

Reference List

Buchanan, J. M. A Hobbesian interpretation of the Rawlsiandifference principle. Kyklos. 1976 Jan 129(1):5-25.

Harcourt BE. The collapse of the harm principle. The Journal ofCriminal Law and Criminology (1973-). 1999 Oct 190(1):109-94.

Holtug N. The harm principle. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.2002 Dec 15(4):357-89.

Kropotkin P. Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings.Courier Corporation 1927.

Linklater A. The harm principle and global ethics. Global Society.2006 Jul 120(3):329-43.

Marx K, McLellan D. Karl Marx: selected writings. OUP UK2000.

Masters RD. The political philosophy of Rousseau. PrincetonUniversity Press 2015 Mar 8.

Pogge TW. An egalitarian law of peoples. Philosophy &amp PublicAffairs. 1994 Jul 123(3):195-224.

Williams R. Ideas of nature. Nature: Thinking the natural.1972.

Wolff J. Robert Nozick: Property, justice, and the minimal state.Stanford University Press 1991.

1R. D Masters. The political philosophy of Rousseau. Princeton University Press 2015 Mar 8. P76.

2P. Kropotkin. Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings. Courier Corporation 1927. P.98

3R. Williams. Ideas of nature. Nature: Thinking the natural. 1972. P. 8

4N. Holtug. The harm principle. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. 2002 Dec. P. 359.

5B. E. Harcourt. The collapse of the harm principle. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-). 1999 Oct. p. 94.

6A. Linklater. The harm principle and global ethics. Global Society. 2006 Jul p. 67.

7K. Marx, D. McLellan. Karl Marx: selected writings. OUP UK 2000. P. 98

8J. M. Buchanan. A Hobbesian interpretation of the Rawlsian difference principle. Kyklos. 1976 Jan. P. 25.

9T. W. Pogge. An egalitarian law of peoples. Philosophy &amp Public Affairs. 1994 Jul. P. 224.

10J. Wolff. Robert Nozick: Property, justice, and the minimal state. Stanford University Press 1991. P. 99