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The Views of Spinoza, Locke, and Adam Smith :-

The belief that the state is in some way a result of a social contract among men is also seen in the teachings of SPINOZA. In the natural state, he held, might makes right, and man has the right to do anything which he is able to do. He may destroy others to gain his ends, cheat, lie, or engage in any activity which will help him. But, in such a state, conflict will inevitably arise and many will be destroyed.

Part – I, can be read from here – Click Here

Part – II, can be read from here – Click Here

Part – III, can be read from here – Click Here

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Note :- Not all names of philosophers to be remembered or used. The idea is to show the under current of thought and processes that shaped the idea of good and evil. So, a word of caution, don’t be over-whelmed by the reference to various philosophers.

Consequently, men give up many natural rights so that there may be a degree of peace in which they can realize other desires. The state is the result By general agreement, men in a state agree to limit their natural rights for good of all. Therefore, only in a state can justice and injustice have a meaning. According to natural rights anything may be Just. However, in a state, disobedience to laws set up by virtue of the social contract is unjust. The just is that which makes social life possible.

JOHN LOCKE was in complete disagreement with Hobbes and others who believed that the natural state of man was one of war and self-seeking. Further, he was opposed to the doctrine that the king rules by divine right and that he has absolute power to govern men as he wills. Locke held that the original and natural state of all men is one of perfect freedom and equality. Since all men are free and equal, no one has the right to take away another’s life, liberty, or possessions. Further, the original nature of man is that of peace, good will, and mutual assistance. Thus, men naturally move toward social living. In a society, men set up law, an impartial judge, and one with executive power in order to attend to matters of common interest This structure is established by a social contract agreed upon by the members of the group.

After the society has been established, each member is under obligation to submit to the authority of the majority. This is necessary for efficient living together, since unanimous consent is next to impossible in a large group. The main purpose of law, Locke taught, is to preserve the social group and thus it must be limited to the public good of society. Beyond this, men are to be left free.

Locke said that there are certain areas into which law cannot come. He specifically excluded the right to enslave, to destroy, or to impoverish men. Locke did not think it good that those who made the laws should also have the right to execute them. Consequently, he would divide the powers of government into the legislative and the executive and would keep these two branches separate for the public good. The people have the power to remove the legislators whenever they wish since power rests ultimately in the people. They also have the right to punish their legislators or their executive whenever they are convinced that either is acting in opposition to the public good.

It is obvious that Hobbes and Locke were exponents of two very different doctrines. While Hobbes was interested in presenting a philosophical justification for absolute monarchy and the divine right of the ruler to rule without being accountable to the people, Locke was interested in justifying the doctrine of political freedom.

Locke sought to prove that the power of the state always rests in the people and that their rulers are merely their servants subject to their will. This power can never be taken from the people nor can they give it up. Hobbes held that once the people gave power to the ruler, they were unable to get it back regardless of what the ruler did. These were two points of view which appeared often in the political writings of the eighteenth century and the early part of the nineteenth century. They were in constant conflict, and the conflict has not died down even today.

This theory as developed by Locke, a theory of man’s freedom and of the state as an institution charged with keeping order among men, but one very limited, led to the famous doctrine of laissez faire. This is the doctrine that the state should not interfere any more than is absolutely necessary with the affairs of its members, that the individual has a natural right to exercise his activity in the economic sphere with the least possible interference from society.

ADAM SMITH wrote his famous Wealth of Nations to show that the best state exists only when men are permitted to engage in unrestricted competition, freedom of exchange, and enlightened self-interest. In this work the pendulum of philosophic thought was swinging away from the theory that the state should regulate every activity of men, a theory held by Plato and many other thinkers, to the opposite extreme that the state should observe a strict policy of hands off and permit men to exercise their natural rights in all directions save in those where the safety of the group is threatened.

In Adam Smith, and other philosophical writers who followed Locke, we see the attempt to carry Locke’s theory of freedom and natural rights into various fields of human activity and to free men in each of these fields from the restraints of government which had become so common since the beginning of written history at least. In most instances it was felt that the best results would be obtained if each individual was left as free as possible in all his activities. Government was to keep hands off except in those necessary affairs where the safety of the state was in danger.

The position of Voltaire and of Rousseu :-

The brilliant VOLTAIRE never tired of condemning the traditional authorities and championing human freedom. Yet, he did not believe that the lower classes had the capacity for self-government. He believed that the “ignorant rabble” was a danger whenever restraint was removed. Thus, freedom was to be the privilege only of the enlightened, the intelligent.

A powerful opponent of this position was JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU. He believed in all men and fought for their freedom. Indeed, he would rule out representative government and place in its stead direct government by all the people. The Swiss republic was his model, a small, closely knit group of people considering every issue as a group and determining their destiny by popular vote.

Indeed, ROUSSEAU took the Lockian idea of democracy seriously” and argued that since all men were created free and equal they should not be robbed or ruled by a privileged class. To attain this freedom, Rousseau would cast away all the trappings of modern society and return to nature.

Natural society, he believed, is based on a “social contract” by which the freedom of the individual is surrendered to self-imposed laws which are the result of the general will. Sovereignty lies, he argued, with the people at all times and cannot be taken from them. Government merely carries out the will of the people, and the people have the right at any time to recall their government and establish another.

Locke, Rousseau, Fichte, Schelling, and many other thinkers, although differing in some details, held the general position that man’s true self could be realized only in the right kind of a social group. They saw that human association is not a detriment but is rather a means to the best kind of life. When a man lives among his fellows he develops characteristics which are most worth while. Therefore, they sought the right land of social group, and reached the conclusion that a group in which the greatest amount of freedom was possible would meet the requirements of this society. Schelling argued that an isolated ego could have no consciousness of freedom. We only know freedom when we live with others and see it in relation to possible restraint.

The State According to Hegel, Marx, and Lassalle:-

HEGEL taught that universal reason reaches its height in a society of free individuals, each subordinating its individual reason to the universal reason. The individual, if living by himself and exercising his own caprice, is not free. Only as he blends himself with the group does he attain to true freedom.

History, he held, has been striving throughout time toward the realization of a perfect state, a state in which each member so blends himself with the whole that the will of the whole is his will. For Hegel, there is a universal reason to be discovered throughout history. It is seen working itself out in one society and then shifting to another. Thus, when one society destroys or conquers another, the universal reason shifts to another group and continues to work itself out. The conqueror becomes the agent of this universal reason. War, then, is justified in Hegel’s mind because it is the means by which progress is made.

The Hegelian system was adopted by the Prussian state and many Prussian thinkers held that the Prussian state was destined to carry forward the realization of universal reason through its eventual conquest of the world.

KARL MARX and FERDINAND LASSALLE, along with other early socialists (founders of modern socialism), derived certain of their views from Hegel, especially his idea that change is but the road to better things. They held that one type of society, which appeared good at one time, would inevitably give way to another which would be seen to be better, a synthesis of opposites. Thus, for example, a society based on private property would give way to one in which socialism was supreme. They saw in Hegel a philosophical justification for the new society which they desired.

De Maistre, Saint-Simon, and Comte:-

The result of the Lockian tradition of freedom and popular sovereignty in France was the revolution and the accompanying social and political upheaval This inevitably gave impetus to a great deal of conservative reaction with its emphasis upon the need of authority. JOSEPH DE MAISTRE, for example, held that man had shown his inability to govern himself and argued that a stable society was possible only on the basis of tradition and strong authority.

However, the desire for liberty, equality, and fraternity” continued to burn brightly and the dream of reforming society haunted thinkers. They recognized that merely to proclaim freedom and equality was not enough, but that actual reforms of society were necessary.

CLAUDE HENRI DE ROUVROY, COMTE DE SAINT-SIMON believed that the goal of freedom and equality could be reached if men could build a science of society based upon the laws of group living. Such a scientific society would elevate the poor and the lowly with its doctrine of love for the oppressed.

In such a society there would be equal distribution of property, power, culture, and happiness. But Saint-Simon was not the thinker to develop this science of society. He could see the need for it and could preach this need, but it was left for a man of the intellectual strength of AUGUSTS COMTE to actually attempt the logical construction of such a positive philosophy.

He saw that social reform was impossible without a knowledge of the laws of society, the development of a social science equal in logical accuracy to the other sciences of his time. Sociology, the science of society, Comte held to be the most complex of the sciences, including both an understanding of society as it now is and also a study and understanding of the progress of society.

Comte held that society begins as a way to satisfy man’s social impulse which is fundamental to him. As man progresses, his social life passes through the three stages: militarism, in which discipline and force are supreme; revolution; and the positive stage, in which the emphasis is upon social rather than political problems. It is this positive stage in which the expert guides scientific research and controls all phases of living. This expert is not to be dependent upon the ignorant; therefore popular government is not desirable. The ideal of social living, the positive state, is for Comte one which has passed beyond the stage of chaos represented by the revolutions which followed the Lockian influence. Here the expert has emerged and is able through  the strength of his ability to direct society toward more and more perfect living. He sees the needed reforms of society and is able to effect them. The masses of men accept his guidance because he is an expert.

To be continued..


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