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Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the greatest philosophers of the 18th century. Rousseau was a philosopher, writer, composer, and influenced both the French Revolution as well as the development of modern thought. Rousseau’s work, The Social Contract is a book filled with ideas about how Rousseau believes a society should be run. He gives us ideas and suggestions in The Social Contract, but no concrete decisiveness. Rousseau was a strong believer in what is called Social Contractarianism: the idea that all societies should be governed by a social contract agreed upon by all the citizens of a sovereign nation. Rousseau‘s social contract defines what he sees as legitimate government and discusses the roles of religion, education, citizenship, and community within a society. Rousseau suggests that a social contract is the only way for an authority or government to be legitimate. This is because the social contract entails that all members of a society share common goals and values. To be free and live together we must recognize that we are all part of the same society and that we all share common goals for the achievement of our sovereign state. This phenomenon can occur when a society lives under the structure of something similar to a social contract.
Rousseau begins his The Social Contract by defining the concept of sovereign. The sovereign is defined as the general will, an authority that only has power over public affairs. According to Rousseau,
“This formula shows us that the act of association comprises a mutual undertaking between the public and the individuals, and that each individual, in making a contract, as we may say, with himself, is bound in a double capacity; as a member of the Sovereign he is bound to the individuals, and as a member of the State of the Sovereign.”
Rousseau discusses the roles that citizens play in being members of the sovereign. Rousseau makes the point that being a member of the sovereign—and living under the social contract –is an important responsibility. He believes that anyone who violates the social contract should be executed. The contract is vital to the well-being of the society, so one must know where they stand within their community and within the sovereign in order to contribute to society. Rousseau’s contract also talks about religion and its importance in independence. Rousseau believes that everyone should be able to practice their own religion. He does not believe that the state should have a common religion. Rousseau states the following:
“Now that there is and can be no longer an exclusive national religion, tolerance should be given to all religions that tolerate others, so long as their dogmas contain nothing contrary to the duties of citizenship.”
This is an important quote because it favors freedom of religion, but it also favors aspects of religion that bring people together and unite them under common beliefs…an important part of a flourishing society.
The 21st century representative democracy of America is close to the ideals of the society that Rousseau describes in the Social Contract. The gap in our society comes from our class division. The biggest difference that can be seen between modern day America and Rousseau’s work is the social class system. Rousseau would say that the gap between the rich and poor in America is too great, and the society cannot truly flourish while this gap exists. Rousseau speaks strongly on this point. “The will of the people, the will of the prince, the public force of the state, and the particular force of the government, all answer to a single motive power” -pg.49 Rousseau believes we must have one power that motivates and binds us all to common goals and ideals. Currently, this does not exist for all American citizens. The opportunities and lives of our citizens do not represent an equal motive power.
Another important aspect of the social contract is the definition of territory. This is an important aspect because it talks not simply about territory, but what makes up territory, and how to maintain it. People dwell within the state’s lands. Citizens make the sovereign state their home and define the state itself. The citizens are a crucial factor. To maintain citizens the state must have territory— and Rousseau recognizes this. In the book, Rousseau relates that
“The men make the State, and the territory sustains the men; the right relation therefore is that the land should suffice for the maintenance of the inhabitants, and that there should be as many inhabitants as the land can maintain.”
Rousseau speaks about and defines in his social contract is important. His ideals are important to societies and all members of communities and states around the world. His ideas were straightforward and his views on the correct society are not far off from what we have today. Most importantly, what Rousseau brings to the attention of the modern day reader are the flaws in modern day society. Rousseau shows the reader where and how our American government has gone wrong.
Many scholars can take opposing view points about the different roles that Rousseau has played throughout history
. Some say he is the father of extreme nationalism and Nazism, while at the same time also being the father of the hippie movement. Rousseau believed that we are all born free as individuals, and that society puts us in chains. This is an idea that can capture both the good and the bad aspects of human nature. Some might interpret that freedom as a justification for movements or purging of a nation. They might believe that their freedom is better than others’, or perhaps that their freedom is being subdued by the greatness of others. During the sixties many people took these ideas literally and took to living in alternate societies outside of the normal social boundaries. They could live free and healthily lives without the restrictions of 1960’s culture, and influenced by such thinkers such as Rousseau. However, it is very interesting to note that according to scholars, Rousseau had no clear ideas for what a society should be.
The world we live in today is susceptible to many forms of social and political thought. Jean Jacques Rousseau is someone who could identify the general will of the people and write to reflect their interests. Today, in 21st century America. The general will of the people is not being heard, and that is one of our greatest problems. We cannot feed many of the people who live in our society, and many of our citizens have lost the ideals of community. How we act within our society is going to be what determines if our society can continue to be successful or not. Right now our society is struggling with success because we are lacking fundamental values of community and pride. We let our lower class slip further and further into decline while our 1% (the highest earners & biggest spenders) continue to prosper. This is the problem that Rousseau would see with our society today: the stifling of the true general will of our population. Not all of us are receiving our basic human rights. This is the area where we have to focus our attention. We need to mend the gaps in today’s society.
Although we are close to what Rousseau describes as an ideal society, we are not there yet. The lack of structure and restrictions around our capitalist trickle-down economy would not be something that he would support. Rousseau believes a society governed by a king (a monarchy) is closer to fulfilling the general will of the sovereign than a society that is run by corrupted individuals distorted by society. Today, the men who are leading our corporations and are in charge of our nation’s wealth are those who have been corrupted. Rousseau would rather have us live in a monarchy than to be in the position we seem to be in today. To have a flourishing society, we cannot be split down the middle and we cannot have rulers corrupted by society.
What we are doing isn’t right. The gap in our society between socio-economic classes will eat our society away from the inside out. We can be free and live together in this world by understanding that we all come from and are part of the same nation. We are all fighting for the same goals and we are all members of the same society. If we can all recognize what we have in common we will begin the journey down the road to freedom and improvement.
There is obviously no chance that 21st century America is going to be ruled by a king. However, there is a chance that our trickle down, unregulated, and capitalistic market places might one day stop breeding socially screwed up leaders. The one chance we have as a nation is to at least recognize what we are going through. If we can come together under one general will, one will influenced by data, structure, and community, we will have the means to move forward as a world. As long as we continue to stay separated and see our nation in two different ways, we will find ourselves against a wall. Finding our sense of community, and our one common will to succeed and be equal will bring us on the path toward true freedom.
1 “Jean Jacques Rousseau.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2012. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rousseau/>.
2 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “The Social Contract [Unabridged] [Paperback].” Maestro Reprints, n.d. Web. 23 May 2012. <http://www.amazon.com/The-Social-Contract-Maestro-Reprints/dp/1453754202/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340809021&sr=8-1&keywords=the+social+contract>. Page 9
3 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “The Social Contract [Unabridged] [Paperback].” Maestro Reprints, n.d. Web. 23 May 2012. <http://www.amazon.com/The-Social-Contract-Maestro-Reprints/dp/1453754202/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340809021&sr=8-1&keywords=the+social+contract>. Page 97
4 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “The Social Contract [Unabridged] [Paperback].” Maestro Reprints, n.d. Web. 23 May 2012. <http://www.amazon.com/The-Social-Contract-Maestro-Reprints/dp/1453754202/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340809021&sr=8-1&keywords=the+social+contract>. page 31
5 “ROUSSEAU, Jean-Jacques (1712-78).” ROUSSEAU, Jean-Jacques (1712-78). N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2012. <http://history-world.org/rousseau.htm>.
What does Obama’s support of gay marriage mean for our country? With North Carolina against giving same sex couples the right to marry, where does this leave us? We are now becoming a country divided by a singular issue, an issue that overarches same sex marriage. The issue that our country is now divided by is human rights. Will we be able to live with ourselves if we become a country that denies its citizens basic rights? The major theme is division. Political, religious, and fundamentalist ideologies are creeping into our daily lives and taking more control then the 21st century should allow. Instead of wasting our time fighting about who has a better religion, who was born in this country, and who slept with what secretary, can we focus on something that matters? Can we fight about who is going to be getting the best teachers, schools, railways, roads, bridges, jobs, and companies? Can people fight over superior science textbooks? Can Romney and Santorum have a wrestling match, where the winner gets to teach evolutionary sciences in the classroom and the loser has to take notes? Can people fight for who gets the right to teach their kids the basic levels of mathematics? Can we want to repair our world?
The ultimate question is “can we work together?”. Right now, I don’t think we can. Our country is divided. Maybe we aren’t divided evenly, or in plain sight. But we are divided: intellectual versus non-intellectual, those with goals and those without, those who see hope in the world and those who have given up, those who will stop at nothing to win and those who will crouch down and give there fellow human a leg up. Obama has only made this distinction in our country one morsel clearer. Only drawn the line a little darker. After all, we are human. We will always have differences. The one thing we should all share as Americans is the ability to work together.
Sometimes I feel that the best way to deal with the issues in our country is to be like Sacha Baron Cohen. He is on a mission to rid us of the ignorance and stupid mentalities our country holds so dear. As a fan of his I have learned his work is not always pretty, but it still makes me feel good to know that he sees the world for as screwed up as it really is. In the end, he always makes me laugh.
“Man is free, but everywhere he in chains,” especially in North Carolina this week. The amendment stating that “marriage between one man and one women is the only domestic legal union that be valid or recognized in this state” passed 61 to 39 percent. This, along with the endorsement of gay marriage by both Biden and Obama this week, puts the nation at a crossroads. The traditional and religious views in the state of North Carolina are simply too strong to be overruled. What does this mean for the rest of the southern states? It is not inconceivable that Obama could find himself at odds with the southern half of our nation, fighting over the human rights of our LGBT citizens—a noble fight, and one that I hope Obama will win.
Rick Santorum appeared on the Jay Leno show, where Jay Leno asked him if the worst thing in the world to him was “two gay men using contraception, holding a baby, and smoking.” Rick Santorum, a man who could have been president of our country, easily must have rejoiced this week as the North Carolina bill passed. Although the point that Santorum makes about a whole family, and the importance of both a mother and father figure in a child’s life can be seen as legitimate, Leno’s rebuttal that a gay couple adopting a child is a better situation then an orphanage makes even more sense.
The most interesting thing that struck me this week is the conversation on the radio. Most days I will tune into the Sirius XM Hip/Hop station Shade45, a brainchild of Rapper Eminem. I have been a caller on this show, and one program I frequent is the “All Out Show” with Rude Jude and Lord Sear. The insights into society, our nation, and a different culture always captivate me. This conversation of gay rights was discussed the other day on the All Out Show, as well as this morning on the early show “Sway in the Morning”. Each one of these programs ruled heavily in favor of letting gay people do “what ever the f*** they want”. “If gay people want to enter into the hell of marriage, go right ahead!” The support of gay marriage and the rights of gay citizens was powerful and inspiring. And the amazing thing is that a majority of the callers who are calling in agree with these views.
The All Out Show this week discussed the North Carolinian Pastor, Sean Harris, who was recently audio taped exclaiming that parents must “beat the gay” out of their children. The response of the All Out Show? The one thing you would never expect. Rude Jude spoke to me through the radio, explaining how it is not possible to “beat the gay” out of one’s child. He went on to explain how if you beat your son or daughter for acting gay, they will grow up to hate themselves, and have a wife and family and inevitably they will be miserable. The response on the show was the complete opposite taken by this Reverend. When the first caller calls up and explains how if his son acted like a girl he would “whoop his ass”, Rude Jude’s response was to call it the biggest piece of ignorance he has ever heard. Is this really what we have come to as a country? Don’t we know something is wrong when the satellite rap stations speak more truth then our own state governments? Perhaps we should elect Rude Jude as North Carolina’s new Governor.
How can we be proud of ourselves as a society when we cannot accept others, but instead have to make them second class citizens? I truly believe that only those who are filled with self-confidence, knowledge, and are comfortable in their person can truly accept our LGBT community. I personally know gay individuals, I know children who have same sex parents, and let me tell you, I salute everyone of those people. But most of all, I salute you, Shade45.
Thomas Hobbes’s work concerned society, religion, and the definition of legitimate government. He published his most famous work, Leviathan, in 1651 during the height of the English Civil War. Hobbes wrote the Leviathan in France, against the backdrop of the chaos of civil war in his home country. The Parliamentarians rose against the Monarchists during the English Civil War. The Parliamentarians were in favor of a government where leaders were elected by the people. The Monarchists were in favor of a government ruled by a monarch based on the principles of divine right. This chaos caused Hobbes to question what was going on around him. The Leviathan, in turn, expresses a compromise between the two warring parties. Hobbes believes that Civil War, as well as chaos, is related to the “State of Nature”, or the time that hypothetically precedes government. He believes that the only way to avert such situations is to have a strong central government. Hobbes believes in a reconciliation of their differences and sought to seek a government where both King and Parliament shared power.
Rejection of Separation of Powers, Commonwealth and Sovereign Rights are three strong themes in Leviathan. Hobbes discusses that the powers of government should be centered around the Monarch, but distributed to parliament. Hobbes believes in the society founded for the common good, as well as rights reserved for the Sovereign ruler alone, such as assertion of powers dealing with faith and doctrine. According to Leviathan, the difference between monarchy, aristocracy and democracy is the Sovereign who rules each respective government. For a King to be successful or rich, he must insure his subjects are prosperous. Therefore, a Monarchy is the most sustainable form of government, according to Hobbes. In Part IV of the Leviathan, “The Kingdom of Darkness”, Hobbes talks about the darkness of ignorance compared to the light of knowledge. Hobbes declares such ignorance as misinterpretation of scripture, demonology, and mixing Scripture with the relics of Religion, i.e. the case of Galileo and letting religion rule out new findings and knowledge. These are each powerful and radical points for Hobbes’s time—so radical that Hobbes’s work offended English Royalist Refugees, as well as the French government. After publishing Leviathan Hobbes was forced to flee to London, where he ceased all political activity.
The Leviathan covers many themes of governmental, societal, and individual practice. A major theme of Hobbes’s is that of “social contractarianism”. Hobbes believes in a social contract by which people may live their lives to escape the “State of Nature.” The “State of Nature” is a term meant to describe the condition which preceded the establishment of governments. Hobbes believes in “The State” as well as what he calls “the Laws of Nature”. The “Laws of Nature” are universal and determined by nature. Hobbes writing shows the reader how humans are reasonable: “Because men are reasonable, they can see their way out of such a state by recognizing the laws of nature, which show them the means by which to escape the State of Nature and create civil society.” This is important because it shows the reader how people do and should function within society.
Behavior and reason all play in to the way people function within a society. On a more metaphysical level, Hobbes discusses how the external world is only noticeable through our human senses, and that we can only prove the existence of things that we sense. “The cause of Sense, is the External Body, or Object, which presseth the organ proper to each Sense, either immediately, as in the Taste and Touch; or mediately, as in Seeing, Hearing, and Smelling…”
I was inspired by Hobbes because of the way that he seemed to strive for compromise. Hobbes explains how humans are reasonable beasts and how we have the ability to escape the “State of Nature”, a place where we often find ourselves. Hobbes agreed with both sides of the English Civil War while he was alive. He accepted the fact that the King deserved power, but he also argued for the legitimacy of Parliament. The fact that Hobbes was able to have this amount of insight in the 17th century pertaining to social order, structure, and the laws of man and nature is inspiring. His recognition of the need for a central government and division of powers shows a strong vision. His understanding of the need for the light of knowledge and his bias against ignorance is a quality that would benefit the world today.
Leviathan is relevant to me because it relates to both my life and my projects. I feel that I also strive for knowledge, respect others, and try to spread my passion. Currently, trying to get involved with the Transition Town movement, I have to be open to others and the visions they have for my community. Acting and cooperating within a society is an important part of life and an important part of Hobbes’s work. He has taught me that you must always be willing to rise above nature, and accept different approaches and points of view to solve differences.
1 “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Social Contract TheoryÂ . Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/>.
2 (“Leviathan (Penguin Classics) [Paperback].” Amazon.com: Leviathan (Penguin Classics) (9780140431957): Thomas Hobbes: Books. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.amazon.com/Leviathan-Penguin-Classics-Thomas-Hobbes/dp/0140431950>. Pg. 85
Aristotle is one of the greatest thinkers, trail-blazers, and philosophical masters that has ever lived. His insights continue to inform in the subjects of Biology and Philosophy, and he is referred to as the father of Ethics and Zoology. His extensive knowledge in these categories helped him to make new connections and gain new insights during his brief but amazing life. Aristotle, in his works, refers to politics as ‘an organism’ and states that no one part can function without the other. Aristotle also encourages political partnerships, believes that the state should always come before the individual, and that man is a perfect animal only when in the presence of law and justice. These insights and values still hold true. Aristotle and his teachings help to define the modern world of politics, philosophy, and civilization.
Aristotle focuses on ideals, processes, and values that separate the individual from the state and the political system. The city is a natural community that is prior in importance to both the family and the individual. He also works extensively on the ideas and concepts of education:
* “[that]…education should be regulated by law and should be an affair of state is not to be denied, but what should be the character of this public education, and how young persons should be educated, are questions which remain to be considered.” -XIII Politics*
One of Aristotle’s most famous sayings is that “man is by nature a political animal”. Aristotle conceives politics to more closely resemble a living organism than a machine. His work with the natural world gives him insights into the structure and order of man within his natural political environment. He views Humans as an animal in political environment. He believes that humans will flourish if they live in a community together, because that is how they are meant to function. There are many ways that Aristotle and Socrates see this distinction in life. Socrates and Aristotle see culture as a restrictive force, something that holds one back from their political nature. This however, is an interesting distinction between civilization. Do they feel civilization is restricting, or only the culture within? Also, their examination of constitution and law is an interesting distinction. It seems as though they believe that laws are simply nothing more than laws, perhaps part of that culturally restricting force—whereas constitution speaks to the political nature of man.
“In the laws there is hardly anything but laws; not much is said about the constitution. This, which he had intended to make more of the ordinary type, he [socrates] gradually brings round to the other or ideal form. For with the exception of the community of women and property, he supposes everything to be the same in both states; there is to be the same education; the citizens of both are to live free from servile occupations, and there are to be common meals in both.” -XIII Politics*
Aristotle’s work goes on to say that humans are best served if they follow nature, and not culture. Aristotle believed that culture was a restricting force. An interesting part of Aristotle’s work are his conceptions of equality and freedom. Although he initially created the study of ethics, he believes that women could not be in ruling positions because they get carried away by their emotions.
“Again, if Socrates makes the women common, and retains private property, the men will see to the fields, but who will see to the house? And who will do so if the agricultural class have both their property and their wives in common? Once more: it is absurd to argue, from the analogy of the animals, that men and women should follow the same pursuits, for animals have not to manage a household.” -XIII Politics*
Aristotle also believes in the concept of ‘natural slaves’, that there are those who need the direction of others and are happy being told what to do. These slaves are born to serve and find fulfillment in service. These concepts, and the idea that men are clearly superior to women, are often characteristic of uneducated people today. This is an interesting distinction to make because of the amount of knowledge Aristotle had in his world. Because Aristotle studied so much of the natural world, it was only fitting for him to classify men within the natural order.
Ins spite of these anachronisms, Aristotle’s insights into how the human functions within politics will forever propel us forward to the deepest questions about community and being. The ideas that Aristotle writes about can also be applied to the project I am currently embarking on. His thoughts on the order and structure of man, and his place in the political system will help to shape my ideals and opinions in the coming months, especially the idea of politics and governmental systems as a living organism. I look forward to applying Aristotle’s teachings to today and gaining new insights from his centuries-old analysis.
-Aristotle. Aristotle’s Politics, http://www.constitution.org/ari/polit_00.htm, 1997/9/25, Maintained: Jon Roland of the Constitution Society
Hannah Arendt Essay D1:
“In this situation, the question about the meaning of politics is itself altered. The question today is hardly, What is the meaning of politics? For those people all over the world who feel threatened by politics, among whom the very best are those who consciously distance themselves from politics, the far more relevant question they ask themselves and others is, Does politics still have any meaning at all?” (Arendt 151)
The Promise of Politics is a wide ranging exploration of modern day political systems—but Hannah Arendt’s one overriding message is clear: destruction has bypassed production. This means that the the capability of our world to destroy has surpassed its ability to produce. Arendt discusses the meaning, justification, and importance of this comparison. She also discusses the political systems of the modern world and the role they play in this balance. She draws on sources such as Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates to further her argument. Arendt opens the reader’s eyes to the problems that exist today, but also their potential solutions. She gives new hope to the possibilities of what humanity might accomplish despite countless obstacles. Arendt explains that because the world balance has been tipped toward destruction, we need to work harder to install just governments and practice democratic principles that will insure the safety of our future. I think that Arendt’s argument is just as relevant to life in the early twentieth century as it was when she wrote it in the post WWII era.
The Promise of Politics was published in the years immediately following the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Arendt was deeply concerned that the nuclear bomb had become a threat to all human life. “Ever since the invention of the atomic bomb, our mistrust has been based on the eminently justifiable fear that politics and the means of force available to it may well destroy humanity.”(Arendt 153)
Arendt argued that we have lost the balance between destruction and production that has been so delicately maintained until the second and even first World War. The atomic bomb marked the point at which our world’s destructive capacity bypassed its ability to produce, create, and improve life. “The ability to destroy and the ability to produce stand in balance, one with the other. The energy which destroys the world and does violence to it is the same energy that is in our own hands and by means of which we do violence to nature and destroy some natural thing…” (Arendt 154) “The crucial point for our present situation is that in the real world of things, the balance between destruction and reconstruction can be maintained only as long as the technology involved deals with nothing except pure production…”(Arendt 155)
Even though the world has not repeated the nuclear destruction that occurred at the end of WWII , does that mean we are no longer at risk? Perhaps this time, the source of destruction will come from something other than nuclear bombs. There are many destructive tendencies that threaten our world today, and Arendt’s fear remains all too real. We must now ask ourselves: if politics and the systems we have in place are powerful enough to save the world from these destructive force.
One of the most urgent and obvious examples of such destruction is global warming. Our capacity to destroy the world through pollution has outgrown our production of green and environmentally friendly materials. Even though Arendt wrote about this comparison of destructive versus productive capacity in relation to the atom bomb and the mass destruction caused on the island of Japan, global warming is also destroying people, habitats, and many aspects of life as we know it. The production of industrialized goods has become a force that is destroying our world–not just because these things cause harm to others, but because their actual production causes harm to our environment. Production is hurting our environment because it relies on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are responsible for “global warming, air quality deterioration, oil spills, and acid rain” says the Union of Concerned Scientists. Fossil fuels also include extreme amount of pollutants.
Among the gases emitted when fossil fuels are burned, one of the most significant is carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Over the last 150 years, burning fossil fuels has resulted in more than a 25 percent increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. The Union for Concerned Scientists goes on.
According to the 2007/ 2008 Human Development Report, 262 million people have been affected annually in 2000 to 2004 by natural disasters related to global warming. “Climate disasters are increasing in frequency and touching the lives of more people. The immediate consequences are horrific.”
William Nordhaus, in his article Why Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong explains that rising temperatures can directly cause sea-level rise, more intense hurricanes, losses of species and ecosystems, acidification of the oceans, and threatens the natural and cultural heritage of the planet. What will it take for us to wake up as a people and recognize Arendt’s argument?
Fossil Fuels have been contributing to global warming ever since we discovered how to harness coal into new technologies that unleashed a new level of productivity. One hundred and fifty years later we discovered the internal combustion engine and oil became the next big factor in wealth, productivity, and climate change. In 2002, Americans consumed more oil than 194 other countries, with 25.3% of total world consumption. Destruction is anything that hurts our environment, whilst production is anything that favors it. We need to find ways to acknowledge this change and come to grips with what must be done. “Climate generates a distinctive set of risks. Droughts, floods, storms, and other events have the potential to disrupt people’s lives, leading to losses of income, assets, and opportunities.”
With the extreme amount of industrialization in today’s world, Arendt’s argument becomes more compelling and relevant than ever. How can we produce in a way that will benefit us all, bypass our destruction, but also be sustainable to support future generations? A focus needs to be drawn to re-evaluate today’s production methods, and put the priorities of the world above our own.
A radical shift in our production methods is required, but also a change in what we produce. Fossil fuels “power almost two-thirds of our electricity and virtually all of our transportation.” states the Sustainable Table, an organization that promotes local foods, sustainability, and growth of communities through local foods. It is time that we rethink how we produce goods, and how we can work to produce a more sustainable future for all generations. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal stresses the need for new consumer habits such as washing in cold water, using sustainable diapers, and recycling.
Arendt’s argument emphasizes that politics is the means available to civilized peoples to move forward and regain our balance. It is up to politics and the democratic systems of government to put things right. Politics should free the voices of the people whom it serves and promote freedom and production towards a sustainable future. Politics needs to be used to not only form the “coexistence and association” (Arendt 93) of different individuals, but also to promote laws, freedom, justice, honor, and peace. The political systems of today should not only instill freedom, but they should ensure that the leaders in power are democratically elected. This will insure that the public is happy with and supports their leaders in constructive ways. We hold the world in our hands, and we can choose to either destroy it, or reconcile our differences and make a change. “…they can destroy nature on earth in the same way that natural processes manipulated by men can destroy the world built by men.” (Arendt 158) This is the decision we face. Is it possible for nations to summon the political will to mitigate the harm that has been done to our earth? Is it possible for nations to band together and fight for one common goal? These are the most pressing questions that we must ask ourselves.
Everyday these aspects of our world seem to grow further apart. Our destructive powers can wipe us out in a heartbeat. It seems as though the problems we face such as biological warfare, nuclear warfare, inequality, poverty, hunger, lack of education, and environmentally destructive practices will never be solved because we cannot work together.
An ideal political system is one that values sustainable production over physical destruction. Ideal political systems enable their citizens to live freely and without the fear of destruction. In many ways, we are far away from having ideal political systems throughout our world. The threat of physical destruction to our world is all too real in contemporary times. Disagreements between different religious, political, and regional groups seems close to tearing our world limb from limb.
On the other hand, there are also many ways in which we are extremely close to developing 21st century techniques for political co-existence. Today, the internet is connecting people around the world, giving them access to information, giving them the ability to share, and at the same time providing us with the hope for a new future. Arab spring, distance learning, and social media reflect the tools that are going to enable a re-definition of today’s political systems.
People have the ability to transform the systems of the world. We cannot undo the destruction that we have done, but we can prevent it from happening or worsening in the future. We, the people, have the power to either destroy or redefine the world as we know it. We have a long journey ahead of us to solve these problems, but perhaps one day we will reach a point where we are no longer our own worst enemy.
1 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books 153
2 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books154
3 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books 155
4 Union for Concerned Scientists, http://www.ucsusa.org/, Global Warming, Accessed MAR 2012
5 U.N. DP (Human Development Report 2007/2008) 75
6 Nordhaus, William, Why Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong, New York Review of Books, March 2012
7 U.N. DP (Human Development Report 2007/2008) World Consumer Report. 32
8 Hirsh, Bezdek, and Wendling, PEAKING OF WORLD OIL PRODUCTION: IMPACTS, MITIGATION, & RISK MANAGEMENT, February 2005
9 U.N. DP (Human Development Report 2007/2008) 78
10 Robert A. McDonald, R8 Wall Street Journal MAR. 26(2012)
11 Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books. 93
Feb. 12th, 2012
The Promise of Politics written by Hannah Arendt in the latter half of the 1950‘s sheds new light on the condition of politics around the world. Although this book might be considered out of date by some, its message has never been more true. Hannah Arendt discusses the meaning, justification, and importance of politics in the modern world. She draws on sources such as Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates to further her points and opinions. The section that this paper deals with is the beginning of an essay entitled Introduction into Politics, which begins on page 93. Arendt develops and discusses a sophisticated thesis that draws the reader into a thought provoking conversation about the philosophy behind politics. Arendt argues that politics is freedom expressed in the form of the “coexistence and association”(Arendt 93) of different individuals.
Arendt’s analysis of the origins of politics illuminates the deeper purpose of the political system. Her first key point is that politics represents the way in which individuals bridge their differences so that they may live in a society. “Men organize themselves politically according to certain essential commonalities found within or abstracted from an absolute chaos of differences.” (Arendt 93) This quote describes Arendt’s analysis about how politics brings people together who have so little in common. When one truly thinks about it, each of us have so many differences, and it is sometimes impossible for people to find ways to compromise or agree on what should be done. Politics does this. Politics provides the means for individuals to bridge their differences and private interests so they may come together and agree on how things will be. This process enables society to form and function smoothly.
Arendt also elaborates to her reader how politics can create individual equality and freedom. “…the world is organized in such a way that there is no place within it for the individual, and that means for anyone who is different.” (Arendt 94) The idea that there is no place for anyone who is different is a very interesting concept in Arendt’s argument. Arendt views politics as the place where everyone can go. We all belong to the political system, it is the backbone of our society. For this reason there is no individual in the system of politics, and there is truly no space for one who decides to opt out of the political system. We are all in it together. “From the very start, politics organizes those who are absolutely different with a view to their relative equality and in contradistinction to their relative differences.” (Arendt 96) Arendt stresses that when everyone is part of the political system they are equal. However, the reader must also remember that Arendt has already stated that everyone is so chaotically different. These are interesting distinctions to consider. Even though people are so different, politics is the tool that makes everyone equal. Politics provides the means for people to come together to problem solve and inevitably create freedom for all, when honored and performed in the correct way.
Arendt does not state that this is always how politics is, but it is certainly her philosophy on why politics is. “Politics, so we are told, is an absolute necessity for human life, not only for the life of society but for the individual as well.” (Arendt 115) Now these quotes and concepts become even more complex. Arendt has already told the reader that there is no place within politics for the individual, but does that mean politics does not serve the individual? The meaning of politics is freedom and its focus is on the world, but it also serves the people who engage in it. It rewards those who work together and respect the power of community, and equality.
Hannah Arendt tells the reader about the fundamental working and purpose of politics. The very title of her book: The Promise of Politics, gives the reader a sense of her feelings toward the political system. “For at the center of politics lies concern for the world, not for man—a concern in fact, for a world, however constituted, without which those who are both concerned and political would not find life worth living.” (Arendt 106) This quote dives into the more complex meaning of politics for Arendt. What does she feel politics accomplishes? Politics is the way for those of different backgrounds to come together and solve the problems of our world. Politics is a uniter and a bond that holds us together. “…the meaning of politics is freedom.” (Arendt 108) Even though Arendt wrote this book during the mid-20th century, it rings truer then ever today. The Arab Spring is about people rising up and demanding inclusion and equality through a legitimate political process. 21st century citizens do not want oligarchical and militaristic dictatorships, but rather they crave the freedom of true democracy. We must never give up on the ideals of the political system, and we must never stop using democratic politics to support and promote freedom.
-Arendt, H., & Kohn, J. (2005). The promise of politics. New York: Schocken Books