Government & Society

Since ancient time, indeed right from the Greco-Roman era, scholars have argued over the origins of the state and government and their role in organized society. Questions have arisen over the specific time that these two institutions emerged. It is important to note that there is agreement that man initially lived in a ‘stateless society’ and at one time in history he abandoned this ‘state of nature’ and organized himself under a civil authority. However, there are many interpretations of what the state or government is, its functions and the various dynamics that go with it. The aim of this course is to examine the various interpretations given to state and government in space and time. It is hoped that the course will equip students with analytical skills that they can apply in their areas of specialization. To achieve this objective, the course analyzes the ideas of a number of scholars beginning with the ancient philosophers of ancient Greece such as Plato and Aristotle, all the way to the political ideas of such great minds as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Montesquieu and Jean Jacques Rousseau and their ideas on social contract. Besides political thought, the course will introduce the learner to a number of related concepts such as nation, nationalism, citizenship, leadership, authority; these are concepts that will go far, it is hoped, in grounding the learner in the areas of government and society.

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE COURSE

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE COURSE

By the end of the course you should be able:

  1. Define the following concepts: Nation, Ethnicity, Nation-hood, nation-state, nationalism, State, Government, and determine the functions and roles of state and government;
  2. Examine the origins of the State in direct reference to the ideas of Greek political philosophers;
  3. Discuss the rise and development and of the Christian theory of State formation;
  4. Examine the major political ideas of Machiavelli and their influence in the world;
  5. Discuss and analyze the political ideas of the Social Contract Theorists and how they have influenced the politics of the modern world;
  6. Evaluate the basis of political and social authority;
  7. Identify the limits of loyalty and the use of and misuse of state, political and office power.

LECTURES

LECTURE ONE

CONCEPTUAL ISSUES

Lecture Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Learning Outcomes
  3. Definitions
  4. Functions of the State
  5. Roles of Government
  6. Summary
  7. Activity
  8. Further Reading

1.1       Introduction

Welcome to our first lecture. In this lecture, we define the major concepts that we shall encounter in the course of the unit. Additionally, we shall distinguish between the terms ‘state’ and ‘government’ which are at times erroneously used interchangeably. Finally, we shall examine the major functions of the state and roles of government.

1.2       Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lecture, you should be able to:

  1. Define the following concepts; nation, nationhood, nation-building, nationalism, patriotism, and ethnicity;
  2. Distinguish between state and government;
  3. Discuss the functions of the state and government.

1.3       Definitions

In this section, we shall define the following concepts; nation, ethnicity, nationhood, nation-building, nation-state, nationalism, patriotism, state and finally government.

For our purpose the term, the term ‘nation’ means a large grouping of people brought about and bound together by a common historical origin, ancestry, language and cultural practices. An important point to note is that a nation has a lot to do with political identity.

Ethnicity, on the other hand, refers to people’s awareness, sense of belonging and identity to a particular and distinct cultural group. It is an expression of social affinity brought about by appealing to common identity shaped by history, language and culture. Ethnicity is not the same as tribalism which refers to act of being discriminated purely on the bases of one’s ethnicity.

Nationhood refers to the process where the population of a state develops a sense of belonging and attachment to that state. It results from social cohesion and high level political unity or co-existence. The members of such a state feel united and bound together by some common values or norms. Elements of nationhood include a common territory, a common history, common public resources, common language, common cultural heritage, coat of arms, currency, national assembly, common laws, national days, education system, political parties, trade, religion, equitable distribution of resources, governing democracy, rights and freedoms.

Nation-building on the other hand is the process whereby ethnic groups or nations through social cohesion and political unity develop a common culture above their own ethnic cultures. The process is what we are calling nation-building or the creation of nationhood. It also denotes common goals under leadership and authority of one Government. A state can be made up of several nations with population of people collectively known as citizens. Nation-building also refers to making contributions to material welfare of the nation, in terms of social, political and economic growth.

Nation-state:  this describes a situation where the population of a particular state is made of one nation under one government.

Nationalism: It describes the love for and pride in one’s own country. It refers to national consciousness and people’s patriotism. Patriotism is love for one’s country or commitment to defend the interests of one’s country. Patriotism usually generates and shapes nationalism.

State: It refers to people occupying a particular geographical territory as an institution.  We need to note that besides having a distinct territory, a state is also a political organization with a Government and may consist of several nations with citizens. Additionally, the state exists within defined boundaries and through its government; it may enter into legal relations. The legitimacy of the state comes from the will of its people.

Government: This describes one of the several elements which constitute a state. A government is the machinery or apparatus through which the state operates.  It is the agency of the state, comprising the executive, legislature and judiciary. The government is responsible for planning the social and economic and political activities of the state. Consequently, one can describe the government as the political organization of the state.

1.4       Functions of the State

What are the functions of the state? For the state to serve society effectively and fulfil its international obligations it must perform, through specific institutions within government, the following roles:

  1. The national Executive control public administration;
  2. National actors in education, training, health and welfare invest in human capital;
  3. National utilities actors run effective infrastructure services;
  4. National enterprise actors invest in natural, industrial and intellectual assets;
  5. National legislature defines the social contract, delineate citizenship rights and duties;
  6. National diplomats and negotiators oversee international relations and public borrowing;
  7.  National judiciary and the police uphold the rule of law;
  8. National military controls monopoly on the means of violence;
  9. National treasurers manage public finances;
  10.  National economists /trade actors regulate and oversee the market.

1.5       Role of Government

What is the role of government in society? As we have just observed, the government is a unit in the state and has an organizational role as follows:

  1. Administers the State. It is the basis of order and how order is maintained;
  2. Enacts policies and legislation that enables easy and appropriate administration;
  3. Enforces enacted policies and legislation;
  4. Protects the rights of all other units in the state;
  5. Champions the wishes, values and aspirations of the people;
  6. Provides an enabling environment for the actualization of individual/private enterprises;
  7. Collects taxes and redistributes resources for the benefit of all.

1.6       Summary

In this lecture, we have introduced you to key concepts related to Government and society. We have seen that while some of these concepts are used interchangeably, they, in actual sense, have specific meanings. The term ‘nation’ has a historical and cultural meaning. Another term closely related to nation is nationhood and nation-building. Nationhood is a process that involves integration of society that leads to cohesion that binds people to be in a position to identify with a new geopolitical entity. Nation-building connotes integration of people of diverse cultural origins who eventually emerge into one nation. The term also implies material contribution for national growth and development. We have equally identified the functions of the state and roles of the government, which are service-oriented to the people under its jurisdiction.

 

LECTURE TWO

PLATO’S POLITICAL THEORY

Lecture Outline

2.1       Introduction

2.2       Learning Outcomes

2.3       Factors influencing Plato’s Political Ideas

2.4       Plato’s Ideal State

2.5       Legacy of Plato’s Ideal State

2.6       The Rule of Law

2.7       Summary

2.8       Activity

2.9       Further Reading

2.1       Introduction

In our previous lecture, we defined a number of concepts that relate to government and society and also examined the functions of the state and roles of government. In this lecture, we shall examine the political ideas of Plato, who was one of the most outstanding philosophers of ancient Greece.

2.2       Learning Outcomes

  1. By the end of this lecture, you should be able to:
  2. Identify factors that influenced Plato’s political ideas of government.
  3. Examine the main political conditions existing in Athens and their effect on governance.
  4. Discuss the principles of Plato’s Ideal state and its influence on modern governance
  5. Examine Plato’s second best state and the conditions under which it should be established

2.3       Factors Influencing Plato’s Political Ideas

Plato lived between 427 and 347 BCE. In his early life, he was a poet. Later on, he became a statesman and eventually a philosopher. Like other philosophers of ancient Greece, Plato concerned himself with the issue of the ideal state, i.e., the state that would ensure happiness for the majority of its citizens. Plato has discussed his political theory in three main works: the Republic, the Statesman (Politicus) and the Laws. In that order, the works show a change in Plato’s political thought from the ideal State of Republic to the second-best state of the Laws.

In formulating his idea of the ideal state, Plato seems to have been influenced by the following factors:

  1. Plato came from a well known Athenian family. As a young man, he was eager to enter politics, which he did in 404 BCE when the Thirty Tyrants established an oligarchy in Athens. An oligarchy is a government by a few people who are influential in the society either because they are rich or well educated. However, Plato soon became disillusioned by the lawlessness and cruel excesses of the group.
  2. In 399 BCE, Socrates, who was Plato’s mentor was brought to trial for not respecting the gods of the polis. A polis, in ancient Greece, meant a self-governing political unit or city-state. Indeed, it is from the term polis which gives us the terms; ‘political’, ‘politics’ and ‘policy’. For these alleged crimes, Socrates was condemned and executed by the democrats. This not only intensified Plato’s disregard for democracy but also made him think deeply about politics, laws and customs.
  3. Plato’s association with Socrates early in life not only raised his interest in philosophy but also gave him a strong feeling for the ultimate value of the Polis. Plato came to share with Socrates the belief that good life is attained by the exercise of reason, i.e., the development of intelligence. Hence the principle, ‘virtue is knowledge’ and Plato’s insistence on philosopher-kings in his ideal state.
  4. Plato also studied philosophy deeply and formulated his own view of life. In 387 BCE, Plato went to live in Sicily where he came into contact with the Pythagorean theory which  claimed that the human soul was not only perfect but could be positively or negatively influenced by natural forces. He especially liked the concept of the original perfect form or idea whose change could only present degeneration. Plato’s political philosophy therefore always attempted to capture the divine perfection that would help reverse the process of change or drift which involved inevitable degeneration.
  5. While in Sicily, Plato met Dionysius I, the political tyrant of Syracuse. His attempt to teach the monarch philosophy failed and he was enslaved for sometime in Sicily for attacking injustice and tyranny.
  6. The Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta (431 – 421 BCE and 414 – 404 BCE) also influenced Plato’s political thinking. For one, Plato felt that Athens went to war because of political incitement by a few people who moved the Assembly (ekklesia in Greek) to vote in support of the war. Secondly, the war shattered the spiritual foundation of the Greek society. During the war many people became brutalized, selfish individualism replaced civil duty, moderation gave way to extremism and politics degenerated into revolution.

In short, Plato lived during a period of great social, political and economic problems; a time when Greek society was facing decay rather than progress. He was therefore concerned with political reform in his own time. In the section that follows, we are going to examine Plato’s attempt to create a society that he expected would bring harmony and happiness to the greatest majority of the Athenian polis.

2.4       Plato’s Ideal State

Plato’s political theory on the ideal or just state (or rational society) was formulated against a background of an Athenian society characterized by conflict between the oligarchs and the democrats. On the one hand, the oligarchs, representing the rich and great landowners in Athens, wanted to concentrate political power in their hands by depriving the lower classes of their rights. On the other hand, the predominantly poor democrats (representing the majority of the people in this polis), wanted to preserve their rights. Each side therefore tried to dominate the ekklesia and to control the courts. Both sides even used bribery and assassination of opponents in order to attain their goals. It was this class struggle which had destroyed social harmony in the polis, and which Plato was eager to restore.

Plato’s solution to conflict in the polis was to reform the morals and institutions of the polis so that evils of selfishness, luxury and corruption could be eliminated. In his view, neither democracy nor oligarchy could rescue Athens from the evils that had befallen it. According to him, democracy was a bad political arrangement because it not only resulted in excess liberty but also enabled the poor majority to impose their will on the rich minority. Moreover, Plato did not believe that common men could think intellectually about state affairs. Democracy therefore bred inefficiency and political incitement mainly because leaders were chosen and followed for non-essential reasons such as persuasive speech, good looks, wealth and family background.

On oligarchy, Plato felt that the minority rich would not respect the rights of the majority poor. This had occurred in Athens in 404 BCE when the Thirty Tyrants came to power with the help of Sparta. The tyrants trampled the rights of the Athenians, confiscated property and condemned many people to death. It is against this background of a failed political system in Athens that was responsible for Plato’s idealization of an ideal state.

In Plato’s view, the good state was one in which there was harmony among all sections of society. He likened such a state with an individual who was experiencing harmony in his soul. According to Plato, the human soul had three major capacities, i.e., reason (the pursuit of knowledge), spiritedness (self-assertion, courage, ambition), and desire (the savage many-headed monster that relished food, sex and possessions). In a harmonious soul, desire and spiritedness were to be guided by reason and knowledge. In other words, the good life, attained by the exercise of reason and morality, should be the aim of human life.

Corresponding to the three human faculties, Plato divided his ideal society into three main classes: the guardians, the soldiers and the mere producers. The guardians or philosopher rulers would form the rational element, the soldiers are the spirited element, and the producers (craftsmen) are the appetitive element. In other words, Plato’s just society would be one where there was division of labour or specialization of function according to one’s aptitude. Plato therefore emphasized unity in diversity because he believed that men have different abilities which supplement and complement one another.

According to Plato, therefore, the state had its origins in human needs for good leadership, security and basic necessities. People come together to form states because no individual is self-sufficient. Our many needs require many skills which can only be fully developed in the context of a state.

Since the rational element in an individual human being controls his other faculties, namely spiritedness and desire, the guardian class should similarly rule the other classes in the state. This is because it is the guardian class that has knowledge of what is good for society. Any attempt by the producer and soldier classes to usurp the role of the philosopher-king, will lead to anarchy because these classes have uncontrolled drives of the appetites and spirited action. Government should therefore be under a philosopher- king whose education has led him step by step through the ascending degrees of knowledge.

Plato’s class division is based on aptitude and education rather than birth or wealth. He therefore proposed a system of education open to all children. Until the age of twenty, both male and female children would be exposed to an elementary education that would lead to military service. Those demonstrating sufficient intelligence or strength of character would be weeded out to become workers or soldiers depending on their natural aptitudes. The rest would enter higher education where they would be exposed to such subjects such as mathematics, astronomy and harmonics until age thirty. Then the best group would study dialectics for five years. They would seek the ideas of the Good itself through dialectics; the art of questioning social reality. The survivors would become philosopher-kings and would serve the state for fifteen years. At the age of fifty, the best of the best would reach the ultimate goal. They would look at the good itself and use it as a pattern for their conduct of the state affairs and the citizens.

Plato therefore felt that the entire society should recognize the primacy of the intellect. He also sought to create a harmonious state in which each individual performed what he or she was best qualified to do and preferred to do. Those who demonstrated philosophic ability should be rulers; those whose natural bent revealed exceptional courage should be soldiers; and those driven by desire should be producers.

Plato also believed that great diversity in wealth was inconsistent with good governance. He therefore proposed the prohibition of private property and the abolition of marriage for soldiers and rulers. In his view, these two groups needed to be isolated from possessions and family attachments since they (property and family) tended to interfere with their ability to serve the state diligently.

Plato therefore proposed that soldiers and rulers should live in barracks where they would have their meals at a common table. This would alleviate the fear of poverty and deprivation, which might lead to abuse of state power. The needs of these groups would be met from state funds and individuals would not be allowed to own land, houses and other forms of property.

Plato also proposed the abolition of permanent families for soldiers and rulers because he believed that this would eliminate the temptation to prefer the advantages of one’s family to those of the state. He also suggested controlled breeding between men and women in these two classes in order to ensure the production of high quality human offspring. The offspring from the crossbreed would be brought up by the state. They would neither be allowed to know their parents nor would the parents know their children. Abolition of marriage would also free women from home-keeping and rearing children so that they serve the state on equal footing with men.

Plato’s ideal state was therefore a form of communism where only the working class was free to own property and enter into marriage contracts. This is because Plato saw private property as a contradiction to his ideal of achieving the greatest degree of unity in the state. He also regarded family affection as a rival to the state in competing for the loyalty of rulers. He therefore denied those who had access to state power marriage attachments and property ownership which he considered threats to harmonious social existence.

2.5       The Legacy of Plato’s Ideal State

  1. To Plato, education should be organized and controlled by the state. He advocated a state-controlled system of compulsory education for both men and women. This education was to be for the full development of the human being; moral, physical and mental development.
  2. Plato’s ideal state was a primitive (non-luxurious) sort of state where the rulers were to be like saints; being incapable of making mistakes. Perhaps the closest analogue to this ideal state is a monastic order where monks live in isolated or remote locations.
  3. Plato’s utopia has been followed by the nineteenth century utopian philosophers.
  4. The Republic is eternally the voice of the scholar, the profession of the faith of the intellectual who sees in knowledge and enlightment the forces upon which social progress must rely.
  5. The Republic omits law and public opinion in preference to enlightened despotism.
  6. He was a firm believer in the political faith of the city state, with its ideal of free citizenship and its hope that every man might share in the duties and privileges of government.
  7. Plato ended up creating two classes in his ideal state - not the rich versus the poor, but the guardians and the workers, the educated and the uneducated, the rulers and the ruled. One class is concerned exclusively with economic activities, the other only with politics.
  8. Plato’s ideal state with its sharp class distinction of the arrangement where a small portion of society monopolizes political power, living at the expense of the labour of a powerless serf-like majority, has been seen by some modern critics as modern political dictatorship. But this is a misinterpretation of the character of Plato’s philosopher-king.
  9. Hitler’s attempts to create an Aryan master race with pure Teutonic blood through reproductive manipulation, may have had its origins in Plato’s suggestion that marriage be replaced by controlled breeding which should be undertaken at the command of rulers.

2.6       The Rule of Law

It is clear that Plato in his later works went further and further away from the idea of a government of perfect men to one that gave allowance to the weaknesses of the human race. In the society of the ideal state, the philosopher-king or statesman would rule without laws because of his unique claim to knowledge. But the state sketched in his last work (the Laws) is a government in which the law is supreme, i.e., the ruler and the ruled are equally subject to the law. This modification in Plato’s theory of the state is attributed to the disappointment he felt after he failed to turn Syracuse into an ideal state ruled by a philosopher-king. He therefore proposed a second-best state which would be ruled according to law.

Plato second-best state would be ruled according to law (constitution) since men had failed to embrace the ideal state ruled by reason as embodied in the philosopher-king. This second-best state would be a mixed state combining the good attributes of monarchy and democracy. According to Plato, there were three basic types of states which could further be divided into law-abiding and lawless states. One-man rule is monarchy if lawful and tyranny if lawless; the rule by a few is aristocracy if lawful and oligarchy if lawless. Even democracy can be law-abiding or not. In Plato’s view, monarchy is the best state when it is lawful and democracy is the ‘least bad’ of the lawless states. He therefore chose to combine monarchical and democratic constitutions for his second-best state.

Plato argued that if the rule by reason was unattainable then the rule of law would be preferable to rule by men. The rule of reason in the ideal state is therefore replaced by the rule of law. Similarly, justice, which was the chief virtue in the ideal state and which meant division of labour, is replaced by temperance or self-control which is the highest virtue. The goal of the law-state is still unity and social harmony, but it was not going to be achieved through specialization of function or labour for every man. It would be attained by practising moderation and obedience to the law.

Plato alleges that it was lack of moderation that led to the decline of Persia and Athens. Persia enjoyed arbitrary monarchical power while Athens enjoyed unbridled liberty. In Plato’s view, it is these excesses that led to the collapse or decay of the two societies. Had the monarchy been controlled by wisdom and restraint, and had democracy been balanced with order, both societies would have prospered. Plato’s second best society should be a temperate mixture of monarchy and democracy, where power and wisdom by the combined with freedom under the law.

To make law really sovereign in the law-state, Plato equated it with God. He asserted that law was reason, reason was from God, and so law was from God. So laws should have unquestionable authority since they originate from the ultimate source.

Plato even went to the extent of stating the favourable conditions for his second-best state: it should not be located where the soil is too fertile  for then it would become rich through exports, and wealth corrupts; it must produce a wide variety of goods so as to be self-sufficient; it should be located far from the sea for commercial life and the possession of sea power are corrupting influences; its population should  be about 5040 citizens for easy division into regiments for defence, easy distribution of land and for easy collection of taxes.

In the state of the Laws, private property is allowed but there is public control. All citizens are to be allocated equal portions of land and man can have private wealth of up to four times the size of his plot of land. The need to use legally acquired wealth for the common good is encouraged. The marriage institution is also allowed but with some measure of controlled breeding.

However, citizens of the law-state are banned from commerce and industry. They are not allowed to keep money abroad, interest is also forbidden and money may be lent at the lender’s risk. All these barriers are created in order to eliminate excessive riches which prevent citizens from achieving that excellence of body and mind which are necessary for good citizenship.

According to Plato, the government of the city of the Laws is based on four property classes. All the 5040 citizens form the Assembly which elects the state’s magistrates and a deliberative council. But while the two upper classes are compelled to attend meetings, attendance is optional for the lower two. The state’s magistrates are 37 guardians of the law elected by the assembly by means of a triple ballot. The council comprises 360 men elected annually, 90 from each class. However the two upper classes have more say in the choice of candidates.

2.7       Summary

In this lecture, we have learned that Plato’s ideas were influenced by the political challenges facing Athens; especially the power struggle between the oligarchs and democrats. This class struggle led to corruption, dictatorship and great hardships to the commoners. The creation of ideal state was therefore aimed at reforming the Athenian Polis by making it be ruled by reason. His disillusionment with the ideal state convinced him that man was incapable of rationality and he finally came up with his second best state where the rule of laws reigns supreme. His second best state had similar objectives with the ideal state, i.e., harmony and justice. The latter was however to be achieved not by specialization of function but by being obedience to law and moderation.

 

LECTURE THREE

THE POLITICAL IDEAS OF ARISTOTLE

Lecture Outline

3.1       Introduction

3.2       Learning Outcomes

3.3       Factors Influencing Aristotle’s Political Ideas

3.4       Aristotle’s Theory of the State

3.5       Aristotle’s Contribution to Political Ideas

3.6       Summary

3.7       Activity

3.8       Further Reading

3.1       Introduction

In our last lecture, you learned about the political ideas of Plato. In this lecture, we examine the contribution of Aristotle who was a student of Plato and one of the most accomplished philosophers of ancient Greece. It is important for you note that the ideas of Aristotle are closely related to Plato and especially in reference to the role of the state in society, reason and the rule of law.

3.2       Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lecture, you should be able to:

  1. Discuss the social and political conditions under which Aristotle’s ideas developed;
  2. Examine Aristotle’s teleological theory and its application to state formation;
  3. Assess the contribution of Aristotle to the field of political ideas

3.3       Factors Influencing Aristotle’s Political Thought

Aristotle was born in 384 BCE in the small city of Stagira near Greece’s northern border with Macedonia. His father, Nicomachus, was an Ionian from Asia Minor and was the physician to Amyntas, King of Macedonia. In 367 BCE, Aristotle joined Plato’s school; the Academy, at Athens. He stayed in Athens until 347 BCE when he left for Assos in Asia Minor following Plato’s death. In Assos, he studied marine biology and later married the niece of the local tyrant king. In 343 BCE, Aristotle returned to Macedonia where King Philip, Son of Amyntas, appointed him tutor to his son Alexander (later the Great). In 335 BCE, Alexander succeeded his assassinated father, and Aristotle left for Athens. In Athens, Aristotle set up his own school, the Lyceum. He remained in Athens until 323 BCE when he moved to Chalcis, where he died the following year.

Like his teacher Plato, whose ideas you learned in lecture two, Aristotle’s political theory seems to have been influenced by the following conditions:

  1. As Plato’s student, Aristotle was influenced by his master’s philosophy especially as it is explained in the Laws. Consequently, Aristotle came to regard moderation as a virtue. He shared Plato’s concept of the human soul and human inequality.
  2. Aristotle’s experience as a biologist made him approach human problems from a scientist’s point of view. Instead of adopting Plato’s mystic approach to life, Aristotle formulated his theories from available evidence. For example, his political theory is based upon information obtained from 158 constitutions of different states which were compiled and edited in the Lyceum.
  3. His association with ruling families in Assos and Macedonia gave him firsthand experience on the nature of political systems.
  4. As a resident alien in Athens, Aristotle did not support either the Aristocracy or the commoners in their struggle for political power. He was therefore in a better position to analyze the Athenian political life better than Plato. However, as a middle class professional, he supported the moderate oligarchs whom he believed would bring reform by combining democracy with oligarchy.
  5. The situation in Athens in the 4th Century BCE also influenced Aristotle’s political thought. In 338 BCE, the Greek city-states came under Macedonian hegemony although they remained semi-autonomous. The institution of the city-state was therefore under attack from Greeks who did not see its significance. It is this wave of criticism of the polis that Aristotle wanted to stop by arguing that the state was natural and necessary.
  6. Like Plato, Aristotle was convinced that the role of the state was positive, i.e., its purpose was to make good men because its goal was the good or moral life. He therefore subordinated the individual to the state and recognized no limit to the state’s demands upon its citizens. This argument was meant to oppose the Sophist’s individualism which supported the concept of the rights of the individual to be free of the state. This individualism lay in the democratic belief that liberty meant one might live as he liked.
  7. Aristotle believed that men were endowed differently and hence unequal. This inequality, he believed, should be reflected in the distribution of political power. This was in spite of his assertion that man is by nature a political animal.
  8. Aristotle regarded politics as the most authoritative science. This, he said, was because politics employs all other sciences and makes laws that determine what men shall do or not do. The aim of politics therefore should be the Supreme Good.

3.4       Aristotle’s Theory of the State

Aristotle’s view of the state is based on his teleological philosophy. Let us now explain what is meant by the term ‘teleology’. Teleology is the science or doctrine that attempts to explain the universe in terms of ends and final causes. Teleology is based on the proposition that the universe has design and purpose. Briefly stated, Aristotle’s philosophy states that everything (matter) is developing towards an end (form). There is constant development from matter to form or from potential to actual. According to Aristotle, this process of becoming, takes place in nature and is applicable to every science including politics.

In the political arena, teleology is applied to man’s development from the ‘state of nature’ to a political being in the polis. In the state of nature, primitive man was unformed matter that had the potential of becoming actualized with the evolution of the polis (state). However, the evolution of the state was realized through the formation of associations. The first association was the union of male and female - the family - and it arose out of the natural desire to continue the species. To the union between man and wife, was added a slave and an ox to form the next stage of human association, the household. The next stage was the formation of the village, an association of the households for the satisfaction of needs beyond the daily ones. Finally, the villages came together to form the polis and that meant the achievement of the goal of association which is self-sufficiency in all human needs.

According to Aristotle, therefore, the state or polis was a natural entity because it was formed by human beings in order to satisfy their natural desires. Moreover, the formation of associations which culminated in the formation of the polis was made possible by the fact that nature endowed man with reason and speech so that man is clearly designed for the state and so the state is natural.

However, nature is not perfect and the transformation from matter to form may not be fully realized. Similarly, man’s unique endowments have a great potential for good or evil. If unchecked by the state, man is the most savage of animals, but if well educated and guided by the state and its justice, he is capable of the highest virtue. To make man virtuous is therefore the role of the state. The state therefore comes into existence not only because of the basic needs of life but it exists for the good life, i.e., the moral life itself.

Aristotle used the concept of nature to justify the relationship between the ruler and the ruled on the one hand, and master and slave on the other. He reasoned that men were unequally endowed by nature and those who were better endowed had a right to rule the less endowed. For example, he stated: ‘As the soul rules the body and intelligence the appetites, the slave is ruled by the master’. However, he maintained that both the ruler and ruled, master and slave, benefit from the relationship. Hence his assertion that the ‘polis’ is the only institution that could guarantee the virtuous use of man’s unique gifts and powers. Aristotle therefore argued that the state is an association which exists to unite and harmonize the functions of its members for their mutual benefit. He compared it to the human body which has integral parts such as organs and contributory parts such as blood or the sinews (muscles). In the case of the state, he distinguished the integral parts (i.e. the leisure classes who have the time, training and capacity to lead the full life of warriors, judges, priests and legislators) from the contributory elements (i.e. the farmers, workers and artisans who have neither the time nor capacity to lead the full time of a citizen). The dissimilar parts should supply one another with mutual needs so that all combine to produce a life that is full and self-sufficient.

To Aristotle, the sole purpose of the state is to guarantee good life, i.e., life lived for the sake of noble actions, a life of virtue and morality. This characteristic is what distinguishes the state from other associations. The state should therefore aim at the moral improvement of all its citizens. But in Aristotle’s view, citizens are those who perform the work of judging and legislating and not the working class.

Aristotle further argued that it is the constitution of the state that moulds the character of the citizens and of the state. By the term ‘constitution’, Aristotle did not just mean laws; he meant the structure of the government and the functions of various classes represented in the state. However, he noted that a good constitution did not necessarily mean a good life for the inhabitant of a particular state. What mattered was how the constitution was implemented.  

In classifying the 158 constitutions he had collected, Aristotle applied two forms of criteria, i.e., the end at which each aimed, and the spirit with which the government ruled. In respect to ends, he discovered that normal states aimed at the life of virtue, while perverted ones did not. In respect to the spirit with which states were governed, he observed that there were states where rulers ruled unselfishly while in others, rulers ruled for their own benefits. On this basis, Aristotle identified monarchy, aristocracy and polity (law-abiding democracy) as normal states while tyranny, oligarchy and democracy were distorted constitutions.

Aristotle’s analysis of various constitutions made him conclude that though monarchy was theoretically the best form of government, it was unattainable by men. He also dismissed wealth as the basis of claims to power in the state; he argued that neither the aristocracy nor the commoners could make good leaders. This was so because the aristocracy would perpetuate oppression while commoners would be afflicted by malice. He therefore proposed a government led by a middle class (bourgeoisie) whom he regarded as moderates. Aristotle’s ideal state is therefore called the ‘golden mean’ since rule by the middle class would provide a check for the excesses for both the aristocracy and the commoners.

Aristotle advocated for an education system that would be for both physical and mental development of the learner; although the soul and reason would be paramount to the body and appetite. He argued that since virtue is the result of nature, habit and reasoned rule of life, and the last two depend on education, he proposed an open system of education. Such education would be given to every citizen to become what he\she was capable of becoming. In fact, Aristotle’s ideal state allowed people social mobility such that a man could be a warrior while young, become a judge at middle age and a priest after retirement from politics.

Aristotle did not rule out self-interest in his political society. He believed that both property and family influence personality. But he insisted that property and families should be subordinate to the polis. His ideal formula for property is private possession but common use in order to encourage generosity. He also supported regulation of marriage by the state and enforcement of controlled breeding of the human race to guarantee people fit for its educational system.

3.5       Aristotle’s Contribution to Political Thought

Aristotle’s greatest contribution to political thought lay in his analysis of existing states. He thus interpreted the role of the political scientist more comprehensively than his predecessors. A student of politics must study not only the best Constitution and its characteristics, but also which Constitution is best suited to people, since not all may attain the best.

Aristotle also argued that it was the duty of the political scientist to discover how any given Constitution may be brought into existence and how it may be preserved. In other words, he discussed a general theory of the causes and prevention of revolutions. He noted that the main cause of revolutions was a sense of injustice among the ruled emanating from dissatisfaction with the distribution of political honour (or power). In other words, the motive of the revolutionary is profit and honour; that is fairness in the distribution of economic and political power. Since a feeling of injustice is the main cause of revolution, the Constitution must rest on the consent of the governed. In other words, the ruling class must have the support of the majority of the people. Such support must be gained through honest service and not trickery.

Another basic principle for prevention of revolutions is moderation. The democrats must be gentle and mild to the rich, and the oligarchy should not oppress the poor. All citizens should not only be politically active but changes in wealth should be watched carefully and no individual or class should be permitted to grow too strong. Government offices should not be used for personal benefit. According to Aristotle, nothing is more likely to excite the anger and sense of injustice of the people than the corruption of their officials, for then the people are denied the right to enjoy public honour that accrues from good governance and equitable distribution of the resources of the state.

Aristotle insisted that it was not the Constitution of a state that really mattered, but its implementation. The important issue to him was to promote the good life for the majority of the people. He therefore felt that all forms of states should moderate their tendencies and not go to extremes. However, he felt that the best cure to instability in the state would be to adopt a moderate Constitution or polity. This would be a Constitution resting on the middle class. According to him, the middle class had many virtues; moderate wealth, more obedient to reason and fewer ambitions than either the rich or the poor.

3.6       Summary

Aristotle, having been a student of Plato was greatly influenced by the latter. However, as a scientist and an alien in Athens, he was keen in analyzing political life of Athens more critically than his teacher and lacked the biases of Plato who was himself an Athenian and easily took sides in the political discourse of his day. However, like his teacher, he believed in the ability of the educated to steer the polis to greater heights. The application of the teleological theory is one of the most well thought out paradigms of state formation. Of interest is his ideas on the prevention of revolutions which is still applicable today.

 

LECTURE FOUR

ST. AUGUSTINE AND THE CHRISTIAN THEORY OF THE STATE

Lecture Outline

4.1       Introduction

4.2       Learning Outcomes

4.3       Life and Times of Aurelius Augustine

4.4       The City of God

4.5       Christian Theory of the State

4.6       Just War Theory

4.7       The Legacy of St. Augustine

4.8       Summary

4.9       Activity

4.10     Further Reading

4.1       Introduction

In the last two lectures, we examined the ideas of Plato and Aristotle in state formation. Of importance is the idea that the state was a creation of man for the satisfaction of his basic needs. In this lecture, we see a completely different view in which St. Augustine attributes state formation to divine intervention

4.2       Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lecture, you should be able to:

  1. Examine the early life of St. Augustine and show how it influenced the development of his ideas;
  2. Discuss the role of sin in the origins of the state;
  3. Discuss the Christian view of the rise and fall of civilization;
  4. Determine the conditions under which a war is justifiable.

4.3       Life and Times of Aurelius Augustine

Aurelius Augustine, later St. Augustine, was born in Roman-North Africa in a town called Thagaste (now Souk-Ahra in Eastern Algeria) in 354 AD, in a century marked by violence occasioned by the now fast declining Roman Empire and the assertive Christianity. He died as Bishop of Hippo, a seaport on the Mediterranean coast. Augustine’s mother was a formidable lady named Monnica who was a staunch Catholic while his father, Patricus, was a town councillor in Thagaste.

Well educated at provincial Roman schools, Augustine embarked upon a career as a rhetorician and teacher of rhetoric (the art of persuasion). He was an excellent student with a wide ranging intellect. His early life, like that of many young people was reckless. Indeed, he fathered a son, Adeodatus, in 372 AD while he was still a student and lived with the mother of his child for fourteen years. He was tormented by the question of good and evil and for a time, became a disciple of Manichean teaching. Manichean religious group viewed life on earth as a struggle between the forces of good and evil. It claimed that at the end of time, the spirit of evil would be defeated and all human beings would be judged depending on which side they were during the struggle of the two forces.

Augustine’s years as a student stretch from 371 AD to 385 AD. He described this period as one where he engaged in a lot of wasteful activities although he did manage to study philosophy. His love for rhetoric combined with a relentless philosophical search paved the way for his historic legacy. After teaching briefly at Thagaste and Carthage, he moved to Rome and later to Milan. It was in Milan, in 384-6 AD, that Augustine encountered the great St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and his teaching and preaching. It was during this period that he got converted to Catholicism. In 388 AD, Augustine returned to Africa and took up his ministry in Hippo. He was named Bishop of Hippo in 395 AD and served in that capacity until his death in 430 AD.

4.4       The City of God

Augustine’s most famous work, The City of God, was occasioned by the fall of Rome to the Visigoths in 410 AD. He was a prolific writer and the body of work he left behind made one of his contemporaries to say that it was impossible for one person to read it all. His books number 193: over 400 sermons and 300 letters are in existence. Most of these works are devoted to nature and cause of sin. Augustine’s City of God was written 413 AD – 427AD. In writing this work, he was trying to exonerate Christians from blame that they were responsible for the decline and the fall of Rome. To Augustine, Rome was a city of sin. He was not only successful in removing Christians from being blamed for the fall of Rome but also formulated a Christian philosophy of history which was to dominate Europe throughout the middle Ages. Besides the City of God, Augustine also wrote the Confessions in which he gave a full account of his life and his encounter with God.

4.5       Christian Theory of the State

In his theory of the state, St. Augustine shows that human life was originally peaceful and happy because man was in fellowship with God. In that state (paradise), there was neither private property nor social classes. Nor was there need for state or government because men lived in righteousness. However, when man sinned everything changed. Sin in its manifest forms led to strife and jealousy. Consequently, God imposed the state on human beings in order to safeguard private property, to prevent war and disorder. It is sin therefore which alienated man from God.

According to Augustine, the state is divinely ordained to protect human beings from their own sinful and evil nature. However, Augustine argued that the state is temporary and not permanent. It will continue to exist until the Day of Judgement. Between these two points of history, Augustine argues that all humanity exists as two cities, i.e., the terrestrial or the city of man and the heavenly or the city of God. However the two exist side by side and represents the saved and damned. The saved are those who have been redeemed from the original sin which entered mankind through Adam while the damned are those who have refused to repent their sins. This division will become clear on the Day of Judgement when the saved will enter eternal life while the damned will enter eternal doom. But in the meantime, all men, whether good or bad, are members of the earthly kingdom (city of man) where their earthly needs of sustenance, clothing, shelter, etc, are protected by the state.

According to Augustine, therefore, man is potentially a citizen of two states; the temporal one on earth and the eternal one in heaven. Man’s highest concern should, therefore, be in spiritual matters rather than in worldly interests. In other words, the worldly city should never be the central concern of a Christian. He therefore urged Christians not to be stressed about the collapse of the Roman Empire but to set their hopes in the heavenly city which could not be possibly pillaged by barbarians, but which would endure forever. He showed that Rome was an earthly city where evil exceeded the good. The peace Rome claimed to guarantee was false. She went out to conquer others and was herself brought on her knees by her own lust to dominate others.

Augustine is quoted by Elshtain as calling on his readers to ‘Think of all the battles fought, all the blood that was poured out, so that almost all the nations of Italy, by whose help the Roman Empire wielded that overwhelming power, should be subjugated as if they were barbarous savages’. The problem with Rome ‘was that it was driven by a lust for vengeance and cruelty, and these triumphed under the cherished name of peace. The empire became a kingdom without justice, and this is little more than a criminal gang on a grand scale’ (Elshtain, 2009: 128).

4.6       Just War Theory

To Augustine, the state must do justice and although at times war is inevitable, and especially those engaged purely for defensive purposes, the wise ruler and polity should take up arms only with great reluctance and penitence. This is because an unjustified war in the end invites destruction to the state that pursues it. This destruction is itself a punishment for sin. The motivation to engage in war, Augustine avers, ‘whether against unwarranted aggression and attack or to rescue the moment from certain destruction, must be love of one’s neighbour and a desire for a more authentic peace’ Elshtain, 2009).

Augustine hoped that out of the ashes of the Roman Empire would emerge a state based on Christian principles; a state where warfare, economic activity, education, and the rearing of children would all be conducted in a Christian spirit. He conceded that though the city of man (state) was evil and imperfect, it was the duty of the church to help it provide a good life here on earth. However St. Augustine never stated that the state should become the secular arm of the church. Like St. Ambrose and others before him, St. Augustine stressed the autonomy of the church in spiritual matters and the autonomy of the government (state) on secular matters. He argued that all citizens had an obligation to obey civil authority. He, however, affirmed that church leaders had a right to reprove the secular state on moral issues.

4.7       The Legacy of St. Augustine

  1. His view that the church and state were autonomous institutions led to the emergence of the doctrine of the ‘two words’. This doctrine, which received authoritative statement from Pope Gelacius I in the fifth century, recognised that the church’s interests in society were spiritual whereas those of state were secular, i.e., maintenance of peace, order and justice. However, the activities of the two institutions were complementary in nature.
  2. Through St. Augustine, all learning of the ancient times was transmitted to the middle Ages. His synthesis of the Greco-Roman philosophy and Christian teachings became a mine of ideas which later writers (both Catholic and Protestant) have dug.
  3. His idea of Christian commonwealth, together with a philosophy of history which represents that commonwealth as well as the culmination of man’s spiritual development, has become a significant part of Christian thought.
  4. The Holy Roman Empire built in Central Europe by Otto I in the 10th Century was based on Augustine’s concept of the City of God.
  5. Augustine’s distinction between a higher world of perfection (city of God) and a lower world of corruption (city of men) remained influential in the middle Ages (500-1450AD). His Christian philosophy replaced the Greco-Roman world view and dominated Europe throughout the middle Ages or the medieval period.

4.8       Summary

As we noted, St. Augustine is a towering figure in the history of ideas. In his attempt to exonerate Christians from the blame that they were responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire, he came up with a philosophical system that easily explains the origins of the state. His explanation that the state is divine differs significantly with the Greco- Roman postulation that credited man with state formation. His idea that sin is responsible for the decline and fall of states and that the state and church are autonomous institutions was influential for the whole of the Medieval Era and beyond.

 

LECTURE FIVE

MACHIAVELLIAN PRINCIPLES OF GOVERNANCE

Lecture Outline

5.1       Introduction

5.2       Learning Outcomes

5.3       Background History

5.4       Factors Influencing Machiavelli’s Political Ideas

5.5       Machiavelli and State Formation

5.6       The Impact of Machiavelli’s Views

5.7       Summary

5.8       Activity

5.9       Further Reading

5.1       Introduction

In this lecture, we examine one of the most renowned theorists of the Renaissance Era. His ideas, popularly known as Machiavellian Principles, still resonate with political leaders today. His ideas are based upon access and maintenance of state power. Indeed Machiavellian principles have been used in many instances of modern state formation.

5.2       Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lecture, you should be able to:

  1. Discuss the background history of Niccolo Machiavelli;
  2. Examine the factors that influenced Machiavelli’s political ideas
  3. Discuss Machiavelli’s ideas of state formation;
  4. Assess the impact of Machiavelli’s ideas on the history of political ideas.

5.3       Background History

Niccolo Machavelli was born in 1469 in Florence, Italy, and died in 1527. He combined many skills including that of a historian, statesman and political philosopher. Very little is known about his youth and early manhood, but in 1498, he was appointed the Secretary to a ten man committee which ruled Florence following the fall of the Medici monarchy in that year. The duties of the said committee included conducting diplomatic negotiations and also supervising the military operations of the Republic. Machiavelli’s duties included missions to the French king (1504, 1510 – 11), the Holy See (1506) and the German emperor (1507 – 8). He remained at the centre of Florentine Politics until 1512 when the Medici family regained power.

5.4       Factors Influencing Machiavelli’s Political Ideas

Machiavelli’s political theory was largely influenced by various factors, which are discussed in this section.

  1. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, absolute monarchy had either become, or was in the process of becoming the predominant system of government in Europe. In Italy, Spain, France and England, reigning despots had replaced the medieval representative system.
  2. In the sixteenth century, Italy was divided into five states: the kingdom of Naples in the south, the duchy of Milan in the north-west, the aristocratic republic of Venice in the north-east and the republic of Florence and Papal States in the centre. These divisions weakened Italy both politically and militarily and exposed the Italian territory to the French, the Spanish and the Germans. Moreover, the Italian people were exposed to all manner of degradation and oppression by tyrant rulers whose mercenary armies were always at war against each other. In short, Italy was a land without a leader, order, vanquished and humiliated, lacerated, overrun by her enemies and subjected to every kind of devastation.
  3. Machiavelli’s own political experiences in Florence also affected his political philosophy. He grew up under the Medici monarchy and later became an influential member of the Florentine Republic. However, when the Medici regained power in 1512, he was arrested, imprisoned, tortured and later forced into exile for suspected conspiracy against the Medici family. He therefore had a first-hand experience of the politics of Florence.
  4. In his writings, Machiavelli also wished to discount the view of Renaissance Humanism which portrayed the ruler (prince) as the ideal gentleman striving for virtue and fortune. He wished to show that the ideal of princely rule was no longer liberty but peace and security. And that the best way to attain this goal was no longer a republic but hereditary monarchy. In fact, The Prince was among a new spate of books which portrayed the ideal ruler as one who was universally talented and skilful, equally commanding on the battlefield, at court, in the state and virtuous throughout.
  5. Machiavelli also rejected the prevailing view that the state is God’s creation and that the ruler should base his policies on Christian moral principles. He not only blamed Christianity for encouraging its adherents to give in to the designs of evil-minded rulers but also for lack of patriotism among Italians. He also blamed the Pope for being the cause of Italian weaknesses. Machiavelli was therefore a secularist who tried to understand and explain the state without resorting to Christian teachings.
  6. Machiavelli’s conception of human nature is also important in understanding his political theory. He believed that human beings are essentially selfish (egoistic) to the extent that rulers have a great desire for power, while the common people have a great desire for security. The state therefore provides the security individuals need while rulers satisfy their thirst for power. Human nature is also aggressive and acquisitive and therefore men are always competing for scarce resources. Such competition could lead to anarchy unless a strong government provides security of life and property. In short, Machiavelli believed that men are naturally bad and the wise ruler should formulate his politics on that assumption.
  7. Unlike many thinkers or philosophers who try to theorize about social problems, Machiavelli was a true empiricist. His judgements were formed through observation of rulers whom he knew or by studying historical examples. He therefore believed that Italy’s corrupt politics could be remedied through a return to the old Roman Republican virtues of civil service and military discipline.
 

5.5       Machiavelli and State Formation

In reality, Machiavelli never wrote a systematic theory on philosophy of politics. Instead he addressed himself to the political problems of Europe in the sixteenth century. However, his views were later developed into a systematic theory by other thinkers. In particular, Machiavelli addressed himself to the question of what could be done to save the life and liberty of his motherland (Italy).

Machiavelli’s views about the state are recorded in his two main works: The Prince and the Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius. The former work mainly deals with monarchies or absolute governments while the latter deals with the expansion of the Roman Republic.

Generally, Machiavelli recommended despotism (monarchy) in the early stages and in reforming a corrupt state. But once the state had been reformed, he insisted that people should be allowed to participate in decision-making and the ruler (Prince) should conduct his business according to the law and with due regard to the property and rights of his subjects. Machiavelli therefore recommended different forms of government for different social environments.

For the Italy of Machiavelli’s time, he felt that the society was so corrupt that no effective government was possible except absolute monarchy. Decay of private virtue, of civic virtues and of devotion had made popular government impossible. He believed that only a lawgiver, who was himself above the law, could restore a corrupt society back to its senses. He did not set any limits to what such a statesman could do provided he understood the rules of his art. Machiavelli’s lawgiver would therefore be the architect not only for the state but of society as well. He would mould its moral, religious and economic institutions.

In order for the absolute ruler to achieve the goal of re-moulding society, Machiavelli openly sanctioned the use of cruelty, treachery, murder or any other means. But these had to be used with sufficient intelligence and secrecy in order to reach their ends. The Prince (ruler) should, in the eyes of his subjects, appear virtuous even if he is not. He should make sure that people see him as a man of compassion, good faith, integrity, kindness and religious. He believed that the ruler could easily disguise his true self successfully because the majority of people are simple and easily deceived. Machiavelli therefore believed that a stable government depended largely on force and craft.

Although Machiavelli sanctioned the use of immoral means by the ruler in order to achieve stability in the state, he was nevertheless aware that moral corruption in people makes good governance impossible. He therefore recommended absolute monarchy as a means of curbing the excessive ambition and corruption of the powerful. This, he said, was necessary because laws cannot restrain a thoroughly corrupt society unless they are supported by a strong ruler who has absolute powers.

Indeed, Machiavelli recommended a double standard of morality in the state. On the one hand, the ruler’s ability would be judged by how much he succeeded in keeping and increasing his powers. His success was also to be measured in terms of his influence over the conduct of his people. On the other hand, the people would pursue such virtues as humility, loyalty and trustworthiness in performing their duties. That way, the highest good would be achieved in the state as had happened in Republican Rome and Switzerland in the sixteenth century.

It should be noted that Machiavelli only recommended absolute monarchy in situations such as those prevailing in Italy of his time. Otherwise, it was his firm belief that where a vigorous civic life had been attained, constitutional monarchy was a better alternative to absolute monarchy. He was therefore acutely aware of the misuse of political power by rulers and recommended that even monarchies be regulated by law. He even believed that a republican form of government was the best mode of governance. This is because in a Republic, the people share in decision-making by electing their rulers. He therefore recommended popular (republican) government where possible and monarchy where necessary.

5.6       The Impact of Machiavelli’s Views

  1. Machiavelli is generally seen as the first modern political thinker. By expounding on what men do, rather than what they ought to do, Machiavelli was able to demystify politics. His work therefore sheds light on modern social and political relations as it does on those of Renaissance.
  2. He showed that a country cannot be united and happy unless it obeys wholly one government, whether that government is republican or monarchical. Like Aristotle, he believed that without law and justice, man is the worst of all animals.
  3. In his works, Machiavelli enumerated the causes of the rise and decline of states, and the means through which leaders can make states permanent. He demonstrated that governments depend largely on force and craft rather than on morality. This came to be known as the Machiavellian Doctrine.
  4. The direct heirs of Machiavellian Doctrine were the great dictators of the first half of the twentieth century. People like Nikolai Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini perfected Machiavellian Doctrine of expediency and trickery.
  5.  Machiavelli’s ideas seem to have been found useful by the first generation of independent African leaders who changed the independent constitutions into instruments of promoting despotism. In the name of national unity and the preservation of state security, they not only enacted legislation that put them above the law, but they also abolished multiparty politics and legalized detention without trial.
  6. In modern political usage, the word ‘state’ means a sovereign political body. This is an organ of force which is supreme in its territory and which pursues a conscious policy of aggrandizement in relation to other states. All these views about the modern state were popularized by Machiavelli.
  7. Although Machiavelli’s views about a secular state did not take root in Europe until the eighteenth century, such ideas are a common characteristic of modern thought. Most modern states in the world do not owe allegiance to any particular religion. 

It is important to note that Machiavelli’s political ‘theory’ has been criticized for being rather shallow because it divorces politics almost wholly from religious, moral, social and economic considerations. He has been accused of thinking and writing about nothing except politics, statecraft and the art of war. However, it should be remembered that Machiavelli was not theorizing about politics but was expounding on what was happening in the Italy of his time. His ideas about the mechanics of government, the means by which states may be strong, the policies by which they can expand their power, and the errors that lead to their decay and overthrow should therefore be seen against the background of the Italy of Machiavelli’s time.

It is important to note, however, that there are scholars who doubt whether Machiavelli intended to encourage brutal or unscrupulous or ruthless polices which have deeply upset many later thinkers. Some have argued that the book is a satire or cautionary tale because they argue, ‘for whatever else he was, Machiavelli was a passionate patriot, a democrat, a believer in liberty’. Consequently, they claim that The Prince must have been intended to warn men of what tyrants could be and do. They hastened to add that Machiavelli could not have written openly for fear of the two main rival powers in Italy then; the church (Pope) and the Medici Monarchy that had regained power in Florence in 1512.

5.7       Summary

It is important to note that Niccolo Machiavelli’s political ideas were influence by the challenges that faced the Italy of his time. He was an experienced statesman and used this wide experience to develop his political ideas which other people used to formulate what is today called the Machiavellian doctrine. It is perhaps these different shades of opinions that have led to the many varied interpretations and application of Machiavellian principles. We however need to observe that the challenges facing Italy during Machiavelli’s time such as misrule, disunity, corruption, external aggression, and religious divisions are still with us and this explains the interest of Machiavellian ideas to date. 

LECTURE SIX

THE SOCIAL CONTRACT THEORY

Lecture Outline

6.1       Introduction

6.2       Learning Outcomes

6.3       The State of Nature

6.4       The Concept of the Social Contract Theory

6.5       Thomas Hobbes

6.6       John Locke and People’s Sovereignty

6.7       Locke’s Legacy

6.8       Jean Jacques Rousseau

6.9       Rousseau’s State of Nature and the Social Contract

6.10     The Legacy of Rousseau’s Political Ideas

6.11     Summary

6.12     Activity

6.13     Further Reading

6.1       Introduction

Welcome to Lecture Six. In the last lecture, you learned about the political ideas of Niccolo Machiavelli, one of the leading political theorists of the Renaissance Age. As the world entered the modern era, a period of great changes set in with unprecedented political upheavals in both Europe and the New World. These changes were majorly influenced by the ideas of the social contract theories such as Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu whose ideas we are going to learn about during this lecture.

6.2       Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lecture, you should be able to:

  1. Discuss the various interpretations of the political condition of man in the state of nature;
  2. Explain the concept of the social contract theory;
  3. Examine the political ideas of Thomas Hobbes;
  4. Discuss the ideas of John Locke and the theory of people’s Sovereignty;
  5. Examine the political ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu and Voltaire

6.3       The State of Nature

The social contract theory, which dominated European political theory from the 17th century, has played an important role in modern political thought. The theory starts with an assumption that prior to the formation of the state, man lived in a ‘state of nature’. In this state of nature, there was no political authority to make and enforce laws. The only rules regulating human contact were in the form of the so-called ‘natural laws’. Each man led a life of his own and obeyed such rules of behaviour as he thought fit to obey.

However, the various exponents of the social contract theory are not agreed on the condition of man in the state of nature. Some theorists regard it as a state of utter savagery in which the law of the jungle prevailed. Others see it as a state of ‘ideal innocence and bliss’. Still others think of insecurity though not of savagery. But whatever the conditions, the man of the state of nature, for one reason or another, decided to leave it and form a civil or political society through an agreement or contract. As a result of this, the law of nature was replaced by human law enforced by political authority.

6.4       The Concept of the Social Contract Theory

According to the social contract theory, the state is the outcome of deliberate human effort. It derives its authority from the consent of the people who, through a covenant or an agreement, organized themselves in a body politic at some remote period of history. However, different writers hold different views about the terms of the contract. Some thinkers say that the contract was responsible for the emergence of the state and that it (the contract) was entered into by the people themselves with a view to establishing the state. Others hold the view that it was a contract between the rulers and the ruled. Some writers also regard the social contract as an actual historical fact while others consider it to be a historical fiction. The theory is also put to different uses by its proponents. For instance, Hobbes used it to justify despotism; Locke used it to support constitutional government; while Rousseau used it to uphold the doctrine of popular sovereignty.

The idea of basing the authority of the ruler upon an agreement or contract with his subjects is of ancient origin. It was first put forward by pre-Plato sophists who regarded the state as an artificial creation built for the benefit of members. However, Plato and Aristotle rejected the theory and insisted that the state is natural and necessary. These and other philosophers used words such as pact, compact, covenant and contract until the 18th century when Rousseau first used the term ‘social contract’ in his work; Du Contract Social (1762).

6.5       Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes, an Englishman, is one of the greatest philosophers of the 17th century. He studied at Oxford University and later became a private tutor by profession. He believed that man was a natural machine while the state was an artificial one. It was on this mechanistic image that Hobbes built both his philosophy of nature and the individualistic theory of man and society.

Hobbes political views were influenced by the following factors:

  1. The early and middle years of the 17th century were times of great upheaval in many parts of Europe. In England, there was a civil war from 1642 to 1646. It was caused by the struggle for power between the Stuart royal family (the monarchy) and parliament. Hobbes therefore put forward his theory of political society in response to the political instability being experienced in England.
  2. Hobbes was directly affected by the civil war in England for he twice had to seek refuge in France. In fact, he feared being condemned to death over his opinions. He therefore not only desired a strong government which would provide security for all but also one that would subordinate church to civil authority.
  3. Hobbes’ ideas were also influenced by the idea that the body was a kind of machine. This notion, which was common in European thought in the 17th century, owed its origins to the discoveries of the time, especially William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of blood. Hobbes used this mechanistic image of man in his theory of society (state).
  4. Hobbes was also influenced by the idea of Galileo whom he met in Italy in 1635. His admiration for Galileo’s ideas, especially that which showed that motion is the natural state of bodies in the universe, made Hobbes desire to construct a master science of nature, man and society on the principle of motion.
  5. Hobbes’ thinking was also influenced by Hume’s dictum that men cannot change their nature; they can only change their situation and behaviour to an extent.

Hobbes’ greatness as a philosopher rests on the fact that he used deductive reasoning (largely derived from physics) to arrive at what he thought was indisputable knowledge concerning the organization and conduct of political society. Deductive reasoning proceeds from a ‘given’; i.e., a basic premise or sets of premises and moves step by step to conclusions which cannot be otherwise. Hobbes therefore decided to establish certain basic facts about human nature from which he could deduce the way human beings behave in certain circumstances. That way, he hoped to discover the conditions that lead to peaceful co-existence in society as well as those that lead to strife. From his discovery, he could then prescribe a form of government that would establish and maintain peace and security.

Hobbes describes this ‘scientific’ study of man and society in his book, Leviathan, which was published in 1651. Through the deductive method, Hobbes concludes that the material universe is matter in motion; that life is motion in limbs, heart and nerves; that human feelings are either desire (motion towards things) or aversion (motion away from things). Equally, he asserted that society is an ‘artificial machine’, i.e., a collection of competing individuals who are artificially kept in order.

Hobbes therefore is of the view that human beings are naturally selfish because they are driven by their own desires and fears (passion). For example, men compete with one another for riches, knowledge, and honour. In the state of nature, therefore, there was war of all for all as each man tried to obey the dictates of his passions. In such a situation, life was nasty, brutish and short ; for each man depended on his own strength for security.

But men are not mere creatures of passion; they are also endowed with reason. Men therefore saw wisdom in overcoming anarchy in the state of nature by submitting to a sovereign authority who could use the strength of all for the security of each. In other words, men agreed upon one law giver, the sovereign, whose laws everyone must obey. Thus, obedience to the laws of the sovereign authority or leviathan is what creates and preserves the civil society, state or commonwealth.

The main characteristics of Hobbes social contract are:

  1. The contract is between the people themselves and not between them and their ruler.
  2. Since the sovereign is not part of the contract, there can be no breach on his part. The sovereign is therefore an absolute authority. The sovereign (a man or assembly of men) is the supreme power in the state and is the essence of the commonwealth.
  3. Any disobedience to the sovereign is improper and unjust. But the acts of the sovereign cannot be either unjust or illegal.
  4. The contract is binding and irrevocable. To break its terms would be to relapse to the state of nature, which was a state of anarchy.
  5. The subjects can only enjoy those rights which the sovereign permits them.
  6. The sovereign makes and enforces laws and is dedicated to all questions of public policy. He also has the rights to make war and peace with other nations.
  7. There is no distinction between government and state in Hobbes theory.

Through his social contract theory, Hobbes tried to reconcile authoritarian monarchy with the growing belief that political power was derived from the people. He showed that the government could either be republican or monarchical so long as it was strong enough to guarantee the people security. He therefore eradicated the idea that the sovereign had a divine right to rule and replaced it with the idea that the sovereign rights were based on the power to enforce rules. Hobbes also denied the Church of its independence by placing it under the authority of the sovereign.

However, Hobbes’ views were not well received. On the one hand, royalists were disturbed that the views denied kings their divine rights. On the other hand, Parliamentarians were disturbed that the views denied the people sovereignty. Moreover, Enlightenment theorists, beginning with John Locke, denied that governments possessed absolute power over their subjects. Others like Rousseau rejected Hobbes gloomy view that human beings are greedy and warlike. His views were therefore dismissed as historical, antisocial and confusing by some thinkers.

The above criticism notwithstanding, Hobbes produced the most original works on political science. He became one of the greatest political philosophers the English speaking people have ever produced. His legacy includes the following.

  1. His work is the first statement on sovereignty in the history of political thought.  He made it clear that law is obeyed because it is the command of sovereign power.
  2. Hobbes completed the process of subordinating the church to civil power, a process started by Marsiglio of Padua.
  3. He separated law from morality by adopting a juristic view of law.
  4. He also made us realize the necessity of a strong government as well as peace and security.
  5. He was the first to state an uncompromisingly individualistic theory of politics, including those of liberation and democracy  

6.6       John Locke and People’s Sovereignty

Locke was an Englishman who lived from 1632 to 1704. His political philosophy is contained in his book, Two Treaties of Government, which was written around 1681 and published in 1690. In this monograph, Locke asserts that governments exist for the well-being of their people and therefore people have a right to overthrow bad governments.

One of the factors which influenced Locke’s political philosophy was the fact that he lived in England during a period of great social unrest. This was a time when the English king was trying to rule without the people’s representatives (parliament); a situation which led to a civil war and the English Revolution of 1688. Locke was, therefore, influenced by seventeenth century English politics and his desire was to make the English government serve the needs of the English people. In fact, Locke was forced to flee England in 1675 and again in 1679 for fear of persecution by the monarchy for opposing absolutism and favouring constitutional monarchy.

Unlike Hobbes, who believed that the state of nature was characterized by war of all against all, Locke held that the state of nature was one of peace, goodwill, mutual assistance, and preservation. He argued that this was so because in the state of nature, men were equal and acted as they pleased within the bounds of the law of nature. According to him, the law of nature taught men that they were equal and independent and no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions. In the state of nature, therefore, men had such natural rights as the right to life, right to liberty and right to own property.

Security was however not assured in Locke’s state of nature. Though majority of the people respected the rights of others while enjoying their own, peaceful co-existence was constantly interrupted by the corruption and viciousness of degenerate men. This, according to Locke, was because in the state of nature there were no clearly defined laws; there was no common authority to enforce the natural rights; and there was no recognized and commonly accepted judge to settle disputes. There was therefore need for the following:

  1. An established human law;
  2. A known and impartial judge; and
  3. An executive power to enforce just decisions.

According to Locke, men in the state of nature agreed to establish civil society for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and states; that is, their rights to property. The people agreed among themselves that each individual would give up his power of punishing in favour of an authority to be instituted in accordance with such rules as the community would agree upon. Consequently, there was no surrender of the natural rights enjoyed by man in the state of nature. Only one aspect of their rights was surrendered; that is, the right of interpreting and enforcing the law of nature. This limited right was surrendered to society so that it could protect individual rights more effectively.

Locke’s political theory, therefore, revolves around the argument that the right to govern derives from the consent of the governed and is a contract. In this contract, the people expect the government to uphold the sanctity of life, individual freedoms and private property in return for loyalty. Failure to guarantee individuals these natural rights is a breach of contract and may lead to the overthrow of the government. In Locke’s theory of the state, therefore, ultimate power rests with the people and not in any of the organs of government.

6.7       Locke’s Legacy

  1. Locke did not prescribe a particular form of government but insisted on the rule of law. He therefore advocated for constitutional governance.
  2. In the late 18th century, Locke’s ideas were used to justify liberal revolutions in America (1776) and France (1789). In these revolutions, the revolutionaries talked about the inalienable rights of man.
  3. Locke’s assertions that man has a natural right to that which he has applied his labour power have been interpreted differently by capitalists and socialists. Capitalists see his assertion as a support for the labour theory of value while socialists see it as an indictment of capitalism.
  4. Locke advocated for separation of powers between the legislature, judiciary and executive. For instance, he was of the view that legislative and executive powers should not be in the same hand.
  5. Locke believed in the supremacy of parliament since it consisted of the people’s representatives. However, he was of the view that sovereignty rested with the people who have to be consulted in all major decisions through referendums.
  6. Locke placed the rights of the individual before those of society and its trustee, i.e., the government. He did this by insisting that society exists to protect property and other rights which it does not create.

6.8       Jean Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau was a Frenchman who was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1712. As a young man, he attended a seminary in Turin in Italy. Later he spent a year in Venice as Secretary to the French embassy. However, Rousseau spent most of his life in France.

Rousseau’s social philosophy was influenced by the following factors:

  1. His early hand-to-mouth existence and the rebuffs and ridicules he suffered from society contributed to his hatred for the ‘Old Regime’ where power was in the hands of the king, church and the aristocracy. He therefore championed for democracy so that the government could be made immediately and be directly responsible to the will of the people.
  2. Rousseau was also influenced by Geneva’s puritanical outlook. He therefore despised eighteenth-century civilization which he viewed as too hypocritical and frivolous. He thus emphasized a return to nature, allowing man’s strong emotions to develop in a harmonious way. In fact, Rousseau distrusted reason and science and glorified impulses and intuitions; that is, trusting emotions rather than thoughts.
  3. Rousseau was also influenced by Plato’s ideas of the state. First, he was convinced that political subjection is essentially ethical and only secondarily a matter of law and power. Second, he assumed that the community is itself the chief moralizing agency and therefore represents the highest moral value. He therefore opposed Locke’s views which tended to put the need of the individual before those of the society.
  4. Rousseau’s experience in the city-state of Geneva and his reverence for Plato’s ideas made him idealize the city-state rather than the nation. His political theory never envisaged the state on a national scale and was therefore not closely linked with the politics of his time.
  5. Rousseau passionately believed that man is born free and is inclined towards moral good. It was therefore up to society to help him realize his full capacity for self-determination. He believed that this could be achieved through good laws and institutions and through the right kind of education and religion.

6.9       Rousseau’s State of Nature and the Social Contract

Rousseau sees the state of nature as the age of innocence in which men lived like animals; that is, without moral consciousness of good or bad, right or wrong. Similarly, in the state of nature, men could neither love nor hate. Men in the state of nature were therefore happy because they had not yet learnt the vices that spring from common life and competition such as vanity, ambition, suspicion and contempt.

According to Rousseau, men of nature were also happy and independent because their needs were few and could be easily satisfied. These needs included water from the brook, food from the trees and plants, and a bed wherever man chose to lie. Man therefore led a nomadic life where instinct alone was his guide. Man’s break with the state of nature came the moment he became self-conscious. He discovered that he was superior to other animals and needed to associate with fellow men. The self-discovery therefore led to the desire for closer association with others and the development of family life.

With the development of the family institution arose a rudimentary notion of property. Nomadic life was gradually abandoned as families began to settle in groups and rudimentary agriculture developed. As agriculture advanced, the population increased and the scramble for land became inevitable. Similarly, the distinction between the rich and poor in society emerged. This situation led to the emergence of war of everyone against everyone. It is this state of anarchy, caused by the struggle for property, which led to the establishment of the civil society.

Rousseau’s most important work and indeed one of the most influential books of political theory in modern times was his Social Contract (1762) which opens with the statement: ‘Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains’. According to Rousseau, this state is in contrast to the state of nature where man lived without things like faith, law; and with neither king, nor judge, nor priest, nor taxes, nor prisons. Rousseau therefore sought to construct a theory of government which would reconcile individual liberty with the demands of the state.

In Rousseau’s ideal state, sovereign power rests with the people as a group and not as individuals or the government they form. This is so because in the social contract, individuals surrender their rights to a common force so that this common force can safe-guard the rights of each individual. It should be understood that Rousseau preferred direct democracy as practised in the ancient Greek city-states. He believed that sovereignty rested with the common force (political association) and was absolute, indivisible and inalienable. He therefore viewed government as a committee fully dependent on the political association for its powers.

In Rousseau’s social contract, the laws of the state should emanate from the general will; that is, from what is universally good for the society. The general will, according to Rousseau, is always constant, incorruptible and pure. Its principle aim is common preservation and general well-being. It promotes the requirements of peace, unity and equality in the state and aims at the common good while helping the individual to fulfil himself in his essential being. In short, the general will is a guarantee to equality, reciprocity and genuine social concern.

In the Social Contract, Rousseau defines liberty as obedience to a law that we prescribe to ourselves by our individual wills. Then he argues that the general will is an expression of the better side of each individual will. He believed that there is a moral law which each person discovers within himself and which is the same for everybody in a given society. A government that expresses the general will, therefore, has a right to force its citizens to obey this law.

6.10     The Legacy of Rousseau’s Political Ideas

  1. Rousseau viewed society as a community of individuals. He thus challenges the traditional and legal conceptions of society as consisting of corporate groups; that is, classes, orders, estates, guilds, and towns, each of which had its own privileges and interests. He therefore advocated for a state which would harmonize the various interests by promoting that which was for the social good.
  2. Rousseau believed that all men are equal and blamed civilization for destroying the natural equality of men. He therefore advocated for a system of law that would limit each individual’s share of wealth and power so that they would not suppress the liberty, self-respect and self-determination of another individual. Consequently, during the French Revolution (1789), Rousseau’s name was invoked to justify democracy.
  3. Rousseau never clarified how the general will was to be determined, except to imply that in an ideal society it would coincide with the rule of the majority. In such a society, the majority is always right and the individual must obey their commands. These ideas were later used to justify despotism as well as tyranny of the masses.
  4. In Rousseau’s contention, the theory of the general will greatly diminish the importance of government by insisting that sovereignty belongs only to the people as a corporate body. Rousseau saw government as merely an agent having delegated powers which can be withdrawn or modified as the will of the people dictates.
  5. Rousseau’s enthusiasm for the democratic city-state was outdated. The small scale societies he envisaged had no place in the Europe of his time. However, his idealization of the state as having all the values of national civilization led to the development of nationalism in Europe.

6.11     Summary

The Social Contract theory is attributed to the ideas of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. These theories begin by showing that man initially lived in a state of nature in which there was no civil authority. However, they take divergent views on the conditions of man in this ‘state of nature’. The theories all agree that man eventually abandoned this arrangement and entered in a contract with individuals who established political authority over them. The theories also differ on the question of the rights people surrendered to the rulers. Hobbes’ position, on the one hand, is that man surrendered all rights to the ruler and the latter had no restrictions in the exercise of power and the ruled had no rights other than those the ruler grants. Locke, on the other hand, argues that the contract signed was by mutual agreement and can be abolished if the ruler abuses power. Indeed, Locke’s political ideas were instrumental in the overthrow of British colonialism in what is now the USA in 1776 and in the French Revolution of 1789.