Tradition Edition

United States Constitution

United States Constitution

Earlier this week, we discussed the excerpts of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. In class, tradition was one of the most common words used to describe modern conservatism. As a conservative, I would have to agree that this is true, especially in our strict interpretation of the United States Constitution. With that being said, Burke’s emphasis on using tradition to aid decision making, throughout history has not always produced positive results. Burke’s argument surrounding prejudice is the perfect example of how people in power have used tradition as a mask to implement or continue to enforce discriminatory policies.

The Judicial Branch was originally supposed to be the weakest of the three branches, as discussed in Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 78. The Supreme Court is unable to raise/spend money, build up our nation’s defense or use the military to enforce their rulings. The Justices were left with the job of only making judgements. Furthermore, the Justices who are nominated by the President and appointed by the Senate, do not have term limits, to ensure that their only commitment is to the Constitution of the United States and that their focus is not that of Congress, who’s main concern is to be reelected. Continue reading

War and Hobbes

“If there be a common power set over them both [parties in a contract], with right and force sufficient to compel performance, the [contract] is not void” – Thomas Hobbes, 17th Century philosopher and author of Leviathan

Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan

Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan

This quote from Leviathan is about social contracts and the state of nature as Hobbes sees it. He discusses the promises we make and specifically how when we enter into a contract with another party, there must be motivation to prevent us from breaking the contract.  Most of the time this “motivation” is going to be punishment, which must be worse than the benefit we would gain from breaking the contract.

Another important aspect in Hobbes’ theories are that a state of nature and a state of war are synonymous. It is my belief that no one truly lives in nature anymore.  Sure, there are some tribes in the amazon jungle that could be considered in nature, but in our civilized society, with iPhones, social media and other technologies it is impossible for us to live in nature. So then how can we see Hobbes’ social contracts in work? By looking at war.

There are many similarities between the United States’ military and Hobbes’ Social contract theory but I will only be

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, prisoner of war for five years (via wikimedia)

focusing on the aspect of motivation. It is hard to think about someone being punished in war because it’s almost impossible to top the trauma they’re already experiencing. As I began thinking about punishment I thought about the recent occurrences with Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl was serving in the US army in Afghanistan when walked away from his unit, or went AWOL (absent without leave). In doing so he broke the contract he had with the military, an action that Hobbes would no doubt disprove of.  He was then captured and held by the Taliban for five years. In May, 2014 the United States traded five Taliban members in exchange for Bergdahl. Many believed that the United States shouldn’t have traded for him because he abandoned his post and deserted.  I did some research and found out that desertion during a time of war is a crime punishable by death (although it is mostly handled with persecution).

A person would only go AWOL if they believed they were going to die or be severely wounded, so at first I wondered what the point in killing someone who walked away was.  But then I realized that the military is employing Hobbes’ philosophy that the punishment must force the parties to remain in their contract. So the punishment of death gives a possible deserter two choices 1) a consequence that they understood was a possibility or 2) die as a coward who is putting all the other brave soldiers in jeopardy. Any rational soldier would chose the first option which is exactly how a Hobbesian contract is supposed to work.

(via wikimedia)

I understand that this sounds harsh, but we live in a time where there is no draft.  Every soldier in our army is fighting voluntarily and knows that there are potential consequences of their service.  So once a soldier is actually facing possible death, they cannot back out at the last moment and decide that they would prefer not to fight. Imagine if all soldiers abandoned their post as soon as danger was imminent.

Hobbesian contracts are best exemplified in nature, but seeing as that is something that is nearly impossible to find in today’s world, war is the next best option.

Rights in School

You spent multiple years in elementary, middle, high school, and even college learning about the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and Constitution. Students understand why the United States declared their independence from Great Britain. Students understand the issues with the Articles of Confederation and why we wrote the Constitution. Students understand the bill of rights and there rights under the constitution. It seems imperative that all students in the United States learn about their freedoms or rights. Continue reading

A Brief Discussion of Hobbes’s “Covenants” in Modern Economics

In Thomas Hobbes’s “Leviathan“, he discusses the concept of “State of Nature” and the important role of a “Leviathan” (Commonwealth) in a society. According to his argument, performing and keeping “Covenants” among men is paramount. Studying Hobbes reminds me of the market structures in Economics, and the nature of competitions in a market economy. After substituting “Companies” in an economy for “men” in a society,  I noticed Hobbes’s theory is no longer perfectly feasible in such a modern scenario. In fact, instead of “keeping Covenants”, the “Leviathans” in a market economy would more apt to break them.

In a modern Market Economy, does the "Leviathans" still act the same role? Are "Covenants" between companies, like those between "men", still encouraged to be kept by a commonwealth? (link)

In a modern Market Economy, does the “Leviathans” still act the same role? Are “Covenants” between companies, like those between “men”, still encouraged to be kept by a commonwealth? (link)

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The Relatedness of Social Contracts and the State of Nature to the University of Michigan

I chose to attend the University of Michigan after going to an incredibly small college preparatory school that left me feeling stifled and in need of a drastic change. I got exactly what I wanted when I stepped onto campus the fall of my freshman year; everywhere I turned there was a new person for me to meet. Yet, I immediately felt overwhelmed by the vast size of this institution. I now felt like a minnow in a sea of sharks. It seems as if there are a billion different organizations at the University and everyone is occupied and passionate about something. The truth is though, that even though the University does provide various communities for the students to be a part of, there is still a sense of disjointedness when I speak with many of my peers. 

Could this be because of the administration? Have we created a university that is structured around self-involvement that it does not encourage collaboration both academically and socially? If so, it would certainly reflect the political climate of our society today.

In reading the works of Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke in class recently, I immediately began to make connections to different institutions in my own life and those that I encounter on an every day basis. The most glaring of these was Michigan. Obviously, we are not in a state of nature, but we are being ruled over with a governing body. We have social contracts to maintain; if we pay for our education and obey the rules in turn the University will give us the tools to go out into the world a successful individual.

These three theorists would disagree about what a lack of structure, i.e. the state of nature would do to education… If we were all free to choose how to educate ourselves little would probably get done and chaos would ensue. Rousseau would lead you to believe that the state of nature was a place without rationality with vast freedom, while Hobbes would argue that people are intrinsically selfish and would undoubtedly turn one each other, and Locke would be in the middle ground saying that while all people are self-interested in the state of nature, but also nonviolent.

I believe that the students at Michigan are ruled to an extent with all of these social contract and state of nature theories in mind. Our University is run by a democracy similar to the proposed solution by Locke with delegates presiding over our supposed best interests (Regents! Athletic directors!). While we do not have a sovereign (something Hobbes would endorse) to rule over us, there is an idea that if left without rules we would become self-interested, fearful barbarians.

This is a competitive university, with some of the most talented students in the world. This may also arguably be the most divided period in recent years for the campus. People divide themselves based on clubs, interests, athletic capabilities, Greek Life, even class and race to a certain extent causing social disjointedness. Continuously, there is a discussion raging on campus about the lack of diversity amongst the student body.

However, there are times when I look around this campus and I have never seen it more united. Most recently, the student body came together with the support of alumni for a rally to fire the now former athletic director, Dave Brandon. It is worth noting that this could not happen in a Hobbesian type rule. It’s moments like these, though, that give me hope for Michigan, that despite its huge size the students can still gather and maintain a sense of community. I think that people forget that even though we are so big that we are united over one common desire: to be at this school and have an amazing future. So in my opinion people are actually more like Rousseau would claim them to be: when we need to come together we will, and we will make sure we all do our part to create a thriving and successful community.

Being Yourself…?

“That government is best which governs least” – Henry David Thoreau American essayist, poet, and practical philosopher, leading Transcendentalist and author of the book Walden.

Junior year in high school, I discovered Transcendentalism. Its core beliefs center around the inherent goodness of both people and nature. Transcendentalists believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. People are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent. The concept of community can only come to full fruition when it is composed of such individuals. I soon became passionately interested in the inspiring and empowering messages of individuality that were promoted. Although Transcendentalism was a religious and philosophical movement led by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau in the 1830s, it still provides much insight into the continual tension between the individual and an established elected authority. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are some of the most important figures in philosophy that established and expanded on this tension. They did so by theorizing about the origin of society and the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual through social contracts. Through these, they expressed what they thought was the responsibility of government and the role of people within a society.

Meanwhile, all three, HobbesLocke and Rousseau, had differing points, especially when it concerned the advantages of state of nature versus the state under social contracts. Transcendentalists and these philosophers alike deal with the same central question:

How can you remain an autonomous individual while having to surrender some of your own will to govern yourself to an elected authority? The role of the individual and how to preserve that individuality and self-determination is always at war with the common good of society in a state governed by social contracts. Continue reading

Residence Staff as a Political Institution

Most people that have attended college have a clear memory of how they felt about their residential advisers. As one of the first people they meet in the college dorms, they can either make or break the initial impression of college for freshmen. Residence staff (Resstaff) is an important institution at the University of Michigan dedicated to the well-being and safety of students living in the residence halls. As a Resstaff member myself, I try to keep these things in mind when I interact with the students that I look after. At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure that new students are safe and feel welcomed and cared for. In this blog post, I will establish correlations between what we have learned in our Political Science 101 course and Resstaff as an institution.

Picture inside of Stockwell residence hall at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (credit to Wikimedia).

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The Continuation of Value Barriers

I remember the day so vividly. During the time of 2012 Summer Olympics, I was 16 years old. My mother and I had our eyes glued to the television screen as Gabby Douglas took the floor. I remember the two of us being so happy for this great accomplishment, not only for Gabby Douglas, but African American history as well. After Gabby had won I didn’t stay in the room to see her receive her medal. I can recall the next day my mother having a conversation about some comments made by Bob Costas after Gabby Douglas had won. My mom criticized Costas’ comments as well as opened my eyes to ideas I had not noticed before.

During his coverage for the 2012 Summer Olympics through NBC, Costas made the following statement:

You know, it’s a happy measure of how far we’ve come that it doesn’t seem all that remarkable, but still it’s noteworthy, Gabby Douglas is, as it happens, the first African-American to win the women’s all-around in gymnastics. The barriers have long since been down, but sometimes there can be an imaginary barrier, based on how one might see oneself.” 

Bob Costas of NBC photo taken from Examiner.com

Bob Costas of NBC
photo taken from Examiner.com

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Kim Jong-un: A modern demonstration of Machiavellianism?

All right, even though the Medias all over the world are still looking for Kim Jong-un’s whereabouts these days, I am here to talk about how this little fatty relates to Machiavellianism. In fact, Kim Jong-un and his family have utilized Machiavellianism so successfully for more than half a century that I would recommend whoever has a serious interest in “The Prince” should facebook Kim Jong-un and his family for some further clarifications and suggestions.

 

Machiavellianism? Ask me! (link)

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