Posted: March 18th, 2023
Western tradition evolved, through time and context the concept of the state, the nature of man and liberalism also evolved. With each subsequent common thought the concept of each refocused to meet the needs of the situation at hand, in a sense either bolstering the current situation of political rule or challenging it to change, in some manner, to better meet perceived needs. As the dominant political thought changed the emphasis on rule changed, to meet new needs. First divine right and legitimacy are seen as the natural state, then through examples of illegitimate use of power and the faults of rule the concepts of legitimate rule changed, as the goal of a society that would better meet more needs of the individual, a civil society evolved so did the idea of supremacy and state. The ideas of many men come together in this work to discuss this evolution through western tradition, each in turn influencing the other to bring about a somewhat complete idea of what is right and wrong and how the state is to appropriately act to solve its collective and individual problems.
For St. Thomas Aquinas the order of the state and the laws of man and indeed even the inequality of man, developed as a part of God’s divine plan. “…man is by nature a social and political animal, who lives in a community…One man…is not able to equip himself with all of theses things…” So, man must live in fellowship with others and in so doing there must be a guide, divinely determined as a more venerated man than others and he will guide the common good as per the plan of god. (Aquinas 5-6) This divinely guided better man, subject to the king of all kings is the natural head of the state, and God will guide him to make decisions regarding the use of power to keep the social animal man in line and others as close to his equal as possible.
Luther, calling to light the voluminous contextual works of the supposed righteous attempted to demonstrate that through faith, all works are good and that the building of anything or amassing of anything through any other impetus than faith is futile.
Let him who will be pious and filled with good works, begin and in all his life and works at all times exercise himself in this faith; let him learn to do and to leave undone all things in such continual faith; then will he find how much work he has to do, and how completely all things are included in faith; how he dare never grow idle, because his very idling must be the exercise and work of faith. In brief, nothing can be in or about us and nothing can happen to us but that it must be good and meritorious, if we believe (as we ought) that all things please God. (Luther 21-22)
Luther believed that through faith all works, were good and if a ruler or any man where to set aside his faith in the Lord through doubt that any works he did would be for not. The divine right to rule or guide can then only truly be exercised by truly pious men, not men who seek to prove faith over and over with good works or asking others to do one type of good work over another for their own gain.
Stepping from this base we must then see that these two men believed differently, while Aquinas believed that the very nature of the birthright to power gave a man the answers as to the right and righteousness of man while the other believed that the righteous could falter if he or she lost his faith. Optimism would seem to be the guiding force behind Aquinas while Luther contextually saw darkness in the deeds of men in power. Though this is not the complete story as Aquinas was writing form the ideal and Luther was writing from his own contextual experience of corruption. Each agreed that the use of power must be divinely guided, through faith and assurance of the good of one’s deeds for the common, civil society. Through the base of these two writers there is a clear sense of the direction of thought on the subject of the development of the state, the given context of thought and society determines the subsequent development of society and the ideas that govern it. Aquinas was guided by a strong sense of the need to explore the ideal, to get back to it Luther was guided by the visible and plentiful examples of idolatry that he witnessed within the church and ruling class. Machiavelli was guided by the idea that through historical observation one can determine best and worst practices and therefore act upon them to maintain civil society.
When one thinks of the divine right to rule one of the first text, that comes to mind is Machiavelli and his Prince. The work has been separated from his other writings on government, namely republics by his own pen, yet in so doing he makes clear that he believes that the principality is a superior form of rule than others. (Machiavelli, Chapter II) in Discourses he states that if equality is not the general rule then a principality is the only logical form of rule, “That the Government is easily carried on in a City wherein the body of the People is not corrupted: and that a Princedom is impossible where equality prevails, and a Republic where it does not” (Machiavelli, Discourses, Chapter LV) as the Prince is such a practical work it does lend itself to the secular reader, it is not bound by faith but by practical observation of historical events, as seen by Machiavelli. He seeks to explore the historical good works and misdeeds of leaders to show the reader the most logical steps to maintain leadership. One interesting portion of the work describes the value of the new prince, or the prince who has risen to power through merit and opportunity, rather than birthright. In this section of the work Machiavelli, venerates those who have the power and use the given opportunity to make the right choices with regard to rule. He makes clear that one without the other would be vain but that men who recognize opportunity where it lays and have the skill to set about becoming new leaders are to be venerated above all others, giving the distinct impression that Machiavelli, though he venerates birthright leadership, for its ease recognizes that leaders can come from more common means and still be successful leaders. “But to come to those who, by their own ability and not through fortune, have risen to be princes, I say that Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, Theseus, and such like are the most excellent examples.” (Chapter VI) These men of old followed all the important steps that Machiavelli lays out, they must either destroy the land or live within it to know of its ills before they become too great to overcome, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Machiavelli contends that legitimacy can be inborn, through birthright but can also be inborn through greatness of character, ability, leadership and opportunity. Through venerating Moses, as a leader of men, Machiavelli reiterates the idea that there may be divine right in those who are not born to it, but that are the earpiece of the Lord. “And although one may not discuss Moses, he having been a mere executor of the will of God, yet he ought to be admired, if only for that favor which made him worthy to speak with God.” (Chapter VI) Overarching Machiavelli’s words is a departure, in that Machiavelli allows ambition to be a natural guiding force, but only when it is kept in check by rational ability to lead and acquire.
The wish to acquire is in truth very natural and common, and men always do so when they can, and for this they will be praised not blamed; but when they cannot do so, yet wish to do so by any means, then there is folly and blame. (Chapter III)
Ambition was hated by many, as the source of all evil deeds, as it was often inwardly driven and personal, and not of the divine. For Machiavelli, a much more practical thinker ambition was natural, the ability to lead should be learned and improved, throughout ones life and by example.
Machiavelli, interpreted historical rulers to give present rulers a better idea about the potential pitfalls of their works, be they divine or otherwise, with the strong implication that if they were not divine they would likely fail, as the divine, such as Moses would be guided to the right by faith, while those who step away from the divine are seen as unable to effectively rule, see Machiavelli’s treatise on Louis of France. (Chapter III) Overall Machiavelli outlines the best and worst possible choices, and the greatest importance he places on the ability of the prince to be present within his kingdom, whether he is a new ruler or an old one.
He who would attack that state from the outside must have the utmost caution; as long as the prince resides there it can only be wrested from him with the greatest difficulty. (Chapter III)
So, then one must be present and able to seek ambitious gains and if he is not both these things difficulty and likely failure will arise and greater losses that what is gained can be realized. In this goal the Prince appropriately governs the people and thus a civil society is created.
Within Thomas Hobbes, there is a sense of knowing that defines the nature of man, as one that is comprised of five senses and all beyond that must be learned and improved upon by appropriate seeking of knowledge. (Leviathan, Chapters I-XVI) His discussion of state is the determination of a civil society, designed and created to determine the end of warfare and therefore instability and inability to seek the good things in life.
The finall Cause, End, or Designe of men, (who naturally love Liberty, and Dominion over others,) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, (in which wee see them live in Common-wealths,) is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of Warre, which is necessarily consequent (as hath been shewn) to the naturall Passions of men, when there is no visible Power to keep them in awe, and tye them by feare of punishment to the performance of their Covenants, and observation of these Lawes of Nature set down in the fourteenth and fifteenth Chapters. (Leviathan, Chapter XVII)
There is a clear sense that Hobbes has worked forward from the ideas of other philosophers and stated that the state of civil society is a choice, that man makes as a sacrifice of personal freedom to elicit peace and produce prosperity.
John Locke Demonstrates a similar idea in that he states that man is not free by the laws of nature to take his own life and therefore, by the laws of nature not in a position to give away his own right. He must freely give his freedom away and follow the governance of another with his own will.
This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power, is so necessary to, and closely joined with a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it, but by what forfeits his preservation and life together: for a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot, by compact, or his own consent, enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases.
No body can give more power than he has himself; and he that cannot take away his own life, cannot give another power over it. (Locke, Chapter IV, Sec. 23)
According to Locke, in his Second Treatise on Government any other situation is an unnatural extension of war, slavery is an extension of war into peace. The impetus here is that governance must be conditional to allowance of governance and that this is the goal and duty of all who rule, to establish the freely given right to do so from his or her subjects. This idea of allowance of governance is clearly in agreement with many ideas that have come before, and arbitrary rule is clearly the enemy of the natural law, as would have been defined by Machiavelli and others, even Machiavelli stated that arbitrary rule would be punished with the loss of ones’ dominion. Social contract theory being defined by Hobbes and Locke as the natural evolution of governance, man comes to seek governance to step away from squabbles that are inherent in his natural seeking of ambition. Ambition, must be checked with reason and the freely given right to be governed.
Lastly, Carl Marx will be discussed to build from the idea that liberty is a natural law and that equality must be sought, and where equality is not achievable then the masses must freely give authority to those who govern it. Within the Communist Manifesto there is a clear sense that Marx is assassinating the Bourgeoisies in their taking of the proletariat by force, rather than by social contract using as a guiding force of only profit.
In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed — a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piece-meal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market. (Marx, Chapter I)
The proletariat is then, according to Marx the very tool that will be used to strike down the bourgeoisie and the market system, just as the bourgeoisie sought and successfully defeated the feudal system that held it down before. The Manifesto clearly states that the working class rising above its captors is the natural progression, simply the next revolution in a long list of those that have come before. Marx had a keen sense of how labor is ignored in the current market, by allowing the human to be removed from it in economic thought, by a system of symbols that remove the individual from the equation, assigning value to his product but not to his actual labor, a labor that is often determined not by the arbitrary exchange value but by nature. In Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy he states that the separation of the two is inherently misleading and devalues the human aspect of labor.
A social relation of production appears as something existing apart from individual human beings, and the distinctive relations into which they enter in the course of production in society appear as the specific properties of a thing-it is this perverted appearance, this prosaically real, and by no means imaginary mystification that is characteristic of all social forms of labour positing exchange-value. This perverted appearance manifests itself merely in a more striking manner in money than it does in commodities. (p. 18)
Still further in Marx’s works one can see that the state, according to Marx is in a period of obvious decay, and must be bolstered by change. The change needed according to Marx is a true rather than artificial social contract, as can be seen in this quote from his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right..
The proletariat is beginning to appear in Germany as a result of the rising industrial movement. for, it is not the naturally arising poor but the artificially impoverished, not the human masses mechanically oppressed by the gravity of society, but the masses resulting from the drastic dissolution of society. (p.10)
Marx, as a keen observer of world affairs utilized the works of others to help his readers, both followers and unbelievers to see the errors of the current human condition, in subordination not to a state but to economy, and economy that negated their very existence.
Aquinas, T. Aquinas: Political Writings
Luther, M. The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther
More, T. Utopia
Locke, J. Second Treatise on Civil Government
Hobbes, T. Leviathan
Machiavelli, G. The Prince and Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius
Marx, C. Communist Manifesto, a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843)
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