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Enlightenment Political Philosophy - Is It Still Relevant Today?

 
EN
 
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EN
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14 May 2019 13:21
 

Englishman Thomas Hobbes (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679) gave his main contribution to political philosophy in his work Leviathan, in which he wrote that man’s “state of nature”, which was selfish and self-centered, led to a life that was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.  Therefore, in order to have a better life, man needed to surrender some freedoms to a sovereign (he believed in absolute monarchy).

Englishman John Locke (29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704), on the other hand, expressed his view that government is obligated to serve the people by protecting life, liberty, and property.  Contrary to Hobbes, he believed in limiting the power of the government. He favored representative government and a rule of law.

Frenchman Baron de Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755) wrote of dividing government power into three branches that he referred to as the “separation of powers.” He thought it most important to create separate branches of government with equal but different powers (legislative, executive, judicial). That way, the government would avoid placing too much power with one individual or group of individuals.

Genevan Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778)  strongly believed in the innate goodness of man and in basic human rights founded upon universal natural law; in addition, he believed that both rulers and the citizens have natural human rights as well as obligations to each other which should be bound in a social contract.

American Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826), chief architect of the Declaration of Independence, and the American Founding Fathers who drafted the U. S. Constitution (James Madison being one of the principal authors), were clearly influenced by these Enlightenment Political Philosophers, incorporating several of their ideas into their respective documents.  The principles that we see that in American political life that come from these men include social contract; limited government (in the sense of a non-absolute sovereign); representative government; natural (self-evident) rights such as life and liberty; separation of powers; and checks and balances.

The questions for discussion:

1.  Are these ideas still valid today?
2. In light of the Trump Administration, do the majority of Americans still believe these principles to be foundational to American life?
3. Is there a rational basis for these principles other than natural law?

[ Edited: 15 May 2019 19:04 by EN]
 
burt
 
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14 May 2019 17:26
 
EN - 14 May 2019 01:21 PM

Englishman Thomas Hobbes (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679) gave his main contribution to political philosophy in his work Leviathan, in which he wrote that man’s “state of nature”, which was selfish and self-centered, led to a life that was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.  Therefore, in order to have a better life, man needed to surrender some freedoms to a sovereign (he believed in absolute monarchy).

Englishman John Locke (29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704), on the other hand, expressed his view that government is obligated to serve the people by protecting life, liberty, and property.  Contrary to Hobbes, he believed in limiting the power of the government. He favored representative government and a rule of law.

Frenchman Baron de Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755) wrote of dividing government power into three branches that he referred to as the “separation of powers.” He thought it most important to create separate branches of government with equal but different powers (legislative, executive, judicial). That way, the government would avoid placing too much power with one individual or group of individuals.

Genevan Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778)  strongly believed in the innate goodness of man and in basic human rights founded upon universal natural law; in addition, he believed that both rulers and the citizens have natural human rights as well as obligations to each other which should be bound in a social contract.

American Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826), chief architect of the Declaration of Independence, and the American Founding Fathers who drafted the U. S. Constitution (James Madison being one of the principle authors), were clearly influenced by these Enlightenment Political Philosophers, incorporating several of their ideas into their respective documents.  The principles that we see that in American political life that come from these men include social contract; limited government (in the sense of a non-absolute sovereign); representative government; natural (self-evident) rights such as life and liberty; separation of powers; and checks and balances.

The questions for discussion:

1.  Are these ideas still valid today?
2. In light of the Trump Administration, do the majority of Americans still believe these principles to be foundational to American life?
3. Is there a rational basis for these principles other than natural law?

Good questions. I’d say that they remain valid today, with a need to adapt to modern conditions (some of which we’re only getting into, such as social media). I think the large majority of Americans would also at least say that they believed in these principles, even Trump supporters. I think the real issue in this isn’t the public attitude but rather the excessive amount of money that goes into lobbying and funding election campaigns. I imagine that there is a high percentage of Ayn Rand believers in the 1%. (I recall the Texan in the sick ward in Catch 22 who believed that the rich ought to have more votes.) The other factor that’s important is an educated citizenry, in particular educated in critical thinking and civics. As for a rational basis, I think that can be found in studies of human behavior (including psychology, anthropology, and sociology).

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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14 May 2019 22:44
 

1. They are certainly valid to me.

2. Abstractly yes. I doubt that a majority of Americans are sufficiently familiar with the literature but we do have a steadily growing appreciation of universal human rights and liberty. One of the few positive outcomes of the Trump administration is that has motivated quite a few people to pay more attention to civics.

I’d like to believe that public intellectuals are a significant lever in culture. I think our courts are better than they might be otherwise because of the ethics canon. It’s a good reminder to highlight the value of education beyond mere livelihood.

It’s a kind of paradox of free society that we are extremely vulnerable to minority takeover. Authoritarian, personality movements have an advantage that overcomes their numerical deficiency because they take fewer variables into account. A reliable 40% is more powerful than a capricious 60%.

3. I don’t think so. They are not irrational but these are moral claims at root. I don’t think they describe human communities at any basic biological level. It might be argued that its the most efficient vehicle for realizing certain universals but its ethos. First principles. One either subscribes or not. We don’t deduce them.

 
Twissel
 
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15 May 2019 02:07
 

You could argue that they never were valid: they are a useful fiction.

I would argue that they map less and less well on today’s individuals, who’s behavior can be predicted and influenced with great accuracy; where there is dramatic difference in the power potential between the average person and those massive resources, be it in terms of wealth, connections, intelligence or technology.

How can we have Universal Human Rights when, due to Transhumanism, some people might no longer qualify as “just” humans?

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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15 May 2019 07:13
 

1. I think the ideas are not only valid; they have been taken up and sharpened in economics, game theory, and evolutionary biology, particularly the evolution of cooperation and culture.  Many of these contemporary modelers refer back to intuitive insights from these Enlightenment sources.

2. I don’t think the majority of Americans understand what they believe in when they recite these ideas; I think instead they believe what they understand.  And their understanding is to reduce these ideas to slogans to justify what they want politically.  I think Republicans are especially prone to this, but Democrats sometimes do it too.  I don’t think Trump makes any difference in this regard (though I’d agree, if you have in mind, he and his most devoted followers don’t even go through the pretense of understanding these ideas).

3.  I hope so because natural law is a bad basis.  Perhaps one based in consent guided by the best empirical knowledge we have about which formulation of these ideas presents the most effective solution to our social problems.

[ Edited: 15 May 2019 16:00 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
EN
 
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15 May 2019 19:15
 

Great responses. Thanks.  Political philosophy is not exactly something that blows most people’s skirts up. But fitting the whole idea into a coherent philosophy seems important to me - maybe you disagree.  I think that the foundational principles of the American system are a fiction that we adopted, but history suggests that it is a good and workable fiction.  Maybe equality and human rights are not self evident truths, but it’s clear that human experience shows that they are indispensable to a people’s collective happiness.  Those are the foundational principles of the USA, as Lincoln observed in the Gettysburg Address, and if we abandon them, we have lost our raison d’être.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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16 May 2019 09:39
 

I’m curious about the issue of validity.

I think that theories of state and leadership must count as moral claims. Oughts if you will. As such their validity would relate to the soundness of any enfolded facts and to the internal consistency of the value judgments, I think.

I might argue that validity is also hinged on whether they are compatible with human communities at a biological or prior-to-politics level. They must fit with the kind of preferences that seem ubiquitous to human communities.

Maybe one could test validity historically. Perhaps theories that seem to pass muster in print can be deemed invalid if they repeatedly failed the empirical test of actual statehood.

Or, maybe political theory isn’t even a candidate. Maybe it’s just a soft science that can’t really be formally evaluated. Maybe it’s never valid in the strict sense.

 
Jefe
 
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16 May 2019 09:59
 

I think we need a new addition to enlightenment philosophy.
One that alters the Sociopathic Capitalist Randian mindset.
One that realizes that prosperity is good for everyone - including corporations. 
One that realizes that the strongest economies and greatest corporate potentials come with a society that has ‘extra’ to sink back into society - whether it is money, time, creativity or whatnot. 
People with extra money, buy more things.  (Much more in aggregate than a single wealthy person.)
People with extra time tend to volunteer, create, and improve things around them.
People with enough, or extra may have fewer reasons to resort to crime.

It’s a paradigm shift, and requires almost everyone to change their views.
We’d have to give up the ‘in my day…’ viewpoints, or ‘when I came up…’ stories. 
We’d have to realize that we are all in this story together, and that we all got here by helping each other out (to one degree or another…)

It’s a toughie, but I think we might be able to make it happen if we wanted to.

 
 
EN
 
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17 May 2019 21:37
 
Brick Bungalow - 16 May 2019 09:39 AM

I’m curious about the issue of validity.

I think that theories of state and leadership must count as moral claims. Oughts if you will. As such their validity would relate to the soundness of any enfolded facts and to the internal consistency of the value judgments, I think.

I might argue that validity is also hinged on whether they are compatible with human communities at a biological or prior-to-politics level. They must fit with the kind of preferences that seem ubiquitous to human communities.

Maybe one could test validity historically. Perhaps theories that seem to pass muster in print can be deemed invalid if they repeatedly failed the empirical test of actual statehood.

Or, maybe political theory isn’t even a candidate. Maybe it’s just a soft science that can’t really be formally evaluated. Maybe it’s never valid in the strict sense.

It probably isn’t “valid” in the strict sense.  Self-evident truths are only self-evident to those who deem them so, and that is determined more by culture and circumstances than anything else.  Other culture have their own truths. But the US framework clearly passed the test of statehood, having sustained us through difficult and dark times for well over 200 years.  The current situation calls that into question. We don’t just have a constitutional crises, we have a paradigm crisis. The entire framework of our social contract is being shaken to its core in ways the Founding Fathers could not have envisioned. Division of powers and checks and balances, equality and liberty, are all being challenged simultaneously.  Our weaknesses as a nation, a people, are being exposed, perhaps even more in certain ways than during the Civil War.  The rule of law itself is being called into question, as we see what one man with a different agenda can do. I hope we survive it, but I also hope we have a deep national discussion on exactly who we are and where we go from here. It’s difficult to see how we get through this.

 
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17 May 2019 21:41
 
Jefe - 16 May 2019 09:59 AM

I think we need a new addition to enlightenment philosophy.
One that alters the Sociopathic Capitalist Randian mindset.
One that realizes that prosperity is good for everyone - including corporations. 
One that realizes that the strongest economies and greatest corporate potentials come with a society that has ‘extra’ to sink back into society - whether it is money, time, creativity or whatnot. 
People with extra money, buy more things.  (Much more in aggregate than a single wealthy person.)
People with extra time tend to volunteer, create, and improve things around them.
People with enough, or extra may have fewer reasons to resort to crime.

It’s a paradigm shift, and requires almost everyone to change their views.
We’d have to give up the ‘in my day…’ viewpoints, or ‘when I came up…’ stories. 
We’d have to realize that we are all in this story together, and that we all got here by helping each other out (to one degree or another…)

It’s a toughie, but I think we might be able to make it happen if we wanted to.

It’s the paradigm shift that is so frightening.  I can’t see where it ends.  The US is a divided nation in much more critical ways than it was in 1860.  I wish I shared your optimism about us making it happen in a positive manner.

 
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17 May 2019 21:45
 

If we are to survive in our current form, my only hope is the election in 2020.  That would be a democratic renunciation of the current dangerous trend, or it could be a complete wasting of our foundational principles. Impeachment will ultimately fail and be seen as politically motivated.  If government of the people, by the people and for the people is not to perish from the earth, then the people need to speak loudly and clearly at the ballot box.

[ Edited: 18 May 2019 01:41 by EN]
 
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17 May 2019 22:28
 
EN - 17 May 2019 09:45 PM

If we are to survive in our current form, my only hope is the election in 2020.  That would be a democratic renunciation if the current dangerous trend, or it could be a complete wasting of our foundational principles. Impeachment will ultimately fail and be seen as politically motivated.  If government of the people, by the people and for the people is not to perish from the earth, then the people need to speak loudly and clearly at the ballot box.

The young people.
We need to figure out a way to engage them.

 
 
EN
 
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18 May 2019 01:46
 
Jefe - 17 May 2019 10:28 PM
EN - 17 May 2019 09:45 PM

If we are to survive in our current form, my only hope is the election in 2020.  That would be a democratic renunciation if the current dangerous trend, or it could be a complete wasting of our foundational principles. Impeachment will ultimately fail and be seen as politically motivated.  If government of the people, by the people and for the people is not to perish from the earth, then the people need to speak loudly and clearly at the ballot box.

The young people.
We need to figure out a way to engage them.

Agree. I would hope Trump would be enough motivation, but it’s hard to get them moving.  They are concerned with other things. I hope the Dems settle on a candidate early and avoid a circular firing squad.  Biden is far ahead now, but can he inspire young people and minorities to vote?

 
burt
 
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18 May 2019 08:00
 
EN - 18 May 2019 01:46 AM
Jefe - 17 May 2019 10:28 PM
EN - 17 May 2019 09:45 PM

If we are to survive in our current form, my only hope is the election in 2020.  That would be a democratic renunciation if the current dangerous trend, or it could be a complete wasting of our foundational principles. Impeachment will ultimately fail and be seen as politically motivated.  If government of the people, by the people and for the people is not to perish from the earth, then the people need to speak loudly and clearly at the ballot box.

The young people.
We need to figure out a way to engage them.

Agree. I would hope Trump would be enough motivation, but it’s hard to get them moving.  They are concerned with other things. I hope the Dems settle on a candidate early and avoid a circular firing squad.  Biden is far ahead now, but can he inspire young people and minorities to vote?

And who would be the ticket? Sanders is a sure loser in my opinion. I’d go for Biden/Warren. If I knew that whoever the Dems put up would win I’d fantasize Warren/Buttigieg just to really stick it to both Trump and Pence. I like Inslee but haven’t heard much from him at all. Same with lots of the others, many of whom I suspect are just setting themselves up for the future.

 
Jefe
 
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18 May 2019 08:12
 
burt - 18 May 2019 08:00 AM
EN - 18 May 2019 01:46 AM
Jefe - 17 May 2019 10:28 PM
EN - 17 May 2019 09:45 PM

If we are to survive in our current form, my only hope is the election in 2020.  That would be a democratic renunciation if the current dangerous trend, or it could be a complete wasting of our foundational principles. Impeachment will ultimately fail and be seen as politically motivated.  If government of the people, by the people and for the people is not to perish from the earth, then the people need to speak loudly and clearly at the ballot box.

The young people.
We need to figure out a way to engage them.

Agree. I would hope Trump would be enough motivation, but it’s hard to get them moving.  They are concerned with other things. I hope the Dems settle on a candidate early and avoid a circular firing squad.  Biden is far ahead now, but can he inspire young people and minorities to vote?

And who would be the ticket? Sanders is a sure loser in my opinion. I’d go for Biden/Warren. If I knew that whoever the Dems put up would win I’d fantasize Warren/Buttigieg just to really stick it to both Trump and Pence. I like Inslee but haven’t heard much from him at all. Same with lots of the others, many of whom I suspect are just setting themselves up for the future.

I don’t know if the DNC has what it takes to field a wining candidate.
And I don’t know if the dems have a winning candidate. 
But I think if we could motivate enough people to vote, that the dumpster fire would be removed.
I don’t think the single-issues voters are smart enough to change their tune, or recognize their own doom.

 
 
EN
 
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18 May 2019 10:33
 

Right now, I see the best ticket as Biden/Harris, if they can get along.

 
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