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Political Philosophy

Class Notes
(Taken at a Pontifical University)

First Lesson:

Mortimer Adler: University of Chicago, Great-Books-program.

He proposes three great revolutions in the development of Western thought, of which each is considered to
be a positive progression:
1.) Classical Greek thought (Plato and Aristotle in particular): The firm linkage
between ethics and politics is the great revolution as opposed to tyranny (as in
“might makes right”). So political authority is morally accountable in classical
Greek thought.
2.) American Revolution: Here we have democratic republicanism (Jeffersonian) as
the great revolution. At the center of this is political equality of all citizens, as
opposed to monarchy and aristocracy. This is a work in progress, though, if you
consider, that the founders of that thought were slaveholders or the women’s right
to vote. The political descendants of the original “Republicans” today are the
3.) Russian Revolution: Here we have Socialism, which in its broader term includes
communism. The progress here is economic equality, as opposed to unregulated
market economy. Adler suggests that we have to distinguish between the ideal of
economic equality (not to be understood mathematically) as the ideal and the
socialist program with all its faults. The Russian revolution is seen as the first
attempt to establish that ideal concretely in a political entity. Adler recognizes that
it was a perverted concept (acceptance of violence, totalitarian regime…).

Second Lesson:

Alfred North Whitehead: “History of Western Philosophy is an extended series of footnotes to Plato.” He
addressed all important philosophical issues.
Church Fathers, esp. St. Augustine: Plato had an influence on Christian tradition (St. Augustine). There
were fathers who thought that Plato’s teachings were so sublime and spiritually advanced that they thought
he must have had some exposure to old Testament revelation. He was sometimes referred to as “divus
Plato”. The introduction of Aristotle into Christianity was resisted later and Thomas was held suspect in
traditional philosophical circles because of his interest in Aristotle.
It is agreed that (Neo-)Platonism had a influence to Christian philosophy in regards to structure. Others said
early Christian thought was too influenced by Plato, resulting in a distortion of Christian teaching.

Prof. Dennis Dalton: “There are striking similarities between key elements in Plato’s thought and certain
features of Hindu thought.” No evidence suggesting that Plato had exposure to this thought, but striking
resemblances. Suggests that some of Plato’s ideas about society and the reaction to the Athenian society
were shaped by seeing his professor being sentenced to death.
Prof. David Roochnik: “A lot of what Plato wrote might have been written in an ironical, tongue in cheek
kinda way.” Speculation, though.

Key points of attention in Plato:

Plato’s analogical theory of harmony in the constitution of society and the constitution of the body demands
qualities to be properly ordered. Where will this order come from? From the qualities we know as “virtues”
(Greek: αρετη, originally a kind of excellence, something that empowered people to achieve something
great, mainly in military; Latin: virtus, with the -tus showing a state of quality (juventus, senectus)).
So virtus means “man-ness”, a state of being manly. There is a little sexism in this philosophy, but who
cares. The cardinal virtues: Temperance, justice, courage, prudence (wisdom in a practical sense).
Courage shown engaging in battle would - according to the αρετη-definition - be the first virtue.
Temperance would be next, because people who are effective fighters need discipline. Relating to one
another according to different specific status and roles would be justice and the third in the series. All this
has to be governed by wisdom, by knowing how to maintain the order and balance.
If the proper flourishing of a single human person depends on the proper relation of these virtues under
wisdom it is the same with the proper good of a republic. It has to be governed by those who are most fit to
Plato held to the tripartite notion of what constitutes the human person: Body, soul, spirit. Physical urges
and spiritual arousal will be controlled. Likewise in human society you have people who are more carnal,
whose souls are more enmeshed in matter. They basically do what they are told, they are very occupied
with maintaining temperance. Then there are those in which the spirit-side dominates. They are aggressive,
only happy when they are in a good fight/argument. They also need to be disciplined. A spirited nature has
to be subordinate to those who are the most wise and will be the true governors. The most enlightened
people (cave) should be the governors. There is a connection between Plato’s and Hindu thought, because
of the attempts to become enlightened. Once that is achieved, we can live in a society without being too
attached to it. To get re-involved in the political stuff would drag us down again. But Plato says that the
philosophers who refuse to go back to the cave are not allowed to have that choice, because they are the
only ones able to enlighten others and lead them out of the cave. Political activity governed by virtue is
itself a constructive, moral occupation to be embraced, despite the fact that it imposes hardships due to
conflicts with unenlightened folks. So politics according to Plato is a noble thing to do, which stands against
what Hindus think. According to Plato there is a central connection between ethics and politics. With
Aristotle the whole purpose of ethics will be to prepare for politics.

Relationship between women and men in Plato:

Nuclear family and private property are seen as divisive (mine, yours). He proposes a eugenicist breeding-
program bordering on master-racism, with the disposal of defective offspring. All in all there is a stress on a
harmonious together between different elements, leading Plato to condemn anything divisive.
Points in Plato: Promotion of common breeding and the abolition of nuclear family, exclusive spousal
relationships and private property.
Aristotle seems to have taken Plato at face value, taken him up and elaborated him.
Plato was Athenian and apparently of noble birth. Math freak. Put esteem in mathematical process.
Aristotle firmly rejected the mathematical path as a means of trying to do ethics. He was a middle-class
dude and more into biology than math.
Plato follows out mathematical logic in coming to the conclusions of the nature of the just republic, whereas
Aristotle trusts observation. For Plato sensory observation is not reliable (see cave, where the senses feed
on shadows, while the real things are forms). Aristotle didn’t have a Socrates-trauma, he saw his master
live up to an old age.

[Augustine (Plato) = pessimist; St. Thomas (Aristotle) = realist, founded on optimism, belief in the good]

Third Lesson:

Overall philosophical approach of Plato: Mathematical ideal morality. Aristotle: Trusting more in sensory
observation of what is around us, ethical based on a model of nature. Specific ideas: Constitution and
function of the state. Virtue, education and virtuous people as governors are similarities. Family, private
property, aristocracy vs. mixed government: differences.
Aristocracy: Supposed to be government by those who are best, deteriorates into oligarchy as a
government of the few. Greater wealth (oligarchy according to Aristotle) is not always a virtue.

Fourth Lesson:

St. Augustine
His politics are focusing on the fall and redemption of humankind, but without the Platonic notion of a pre-
existing soul. “Rationality of political authority.”
Necessity of government as a consequence of the fall is the numero uno argument for Augustine. In his
time the “just warfare” originated.
Thomas has a different attitude: We are ordained to a politically organized society by nature, not just fallen
Life of the flesh vs. life of the spirit: Flesh here means the human person, living not according to God, so
even the “good” pagans live after the flesh.
Even in Christian society the purpose of government is still restraining vices and maintaining order. One of
the most important obligations is to use force in defense of the just/innocent (“Love God above all, love
your neighbor as yourself”). Augustine developed the notion of a “just war” for the first time.

Fifth Lesson:

St. Thomas
Two parts: Political arts in general (presuppositions, definition) and political arts specifically.
[Spend lots of time on first principles to get seeds!]

Divisions of sciences and arts as usual:

Revealed to reason
Sacred doctrine
Discovered by reason
Natural philosophy (chemistry, physics, biology)
Produced by reason (Arts)
Exterior matter (clothes, chairs, microphones…)
Order put into reason’s own act (Logic)
Put into the acts of the will (Ethics)
Member of a family
Member of a city/polis

Choices made as an individual solely serve the purpose of making the individual happy. Decisions made as
a family member are made for the whole family. Choices made as a member of a city are made for the
benefit for the city/polis.

Political arts are assigned to the “order produced by reason put into the acts of the will as a member of a
city” by St. Thomas.

Things that are pre-supposed to doing politics:

1.) The liberal arts: Called liberal because they were produced by reason. Through training you can reach
a state where you are able to do a lot more than before and thereby expand your freedom. This can be
applied to the soul, when you exercise it through liberal arts (Trivium, Quadrivium) and approach the truth
and the ability of love. Strengthen your mind and soul, your passions in such a way that your abilities to act
fully human are more actual. Logic, i.e. is an art that trains the mind to arrive more surely and steadily to
truth. Or music: Plato devotes a large section of the Republic to music, which according to him is important
to the young. Music can habituate a feeling opposed to reason, can make you give yourself over to
passions, but it can also liberate someone.
2.) A rectified appetite: Purpose of any art is to make or do something. The end is not to know. The ideal
here is action. Forget the “If you feel it, you did it”-crap! Society tells us, that once we felt something we’ve
done something. In total opposition to Aristotle and St. Thomas, where it is all about choosing, doing,
voting, writing. So you need the rectified appetite in order to act well and chose wisely. It’s not so much
about truth than that appetite. Example: A man comes crawling to your desert cell, dying of thirst: “Water!”
You bring the water out, some snake has poisoned it without you knowing. The man dies. So the right thing
for you to do was to give him the water, because you just didn’t know. So rectified appetite means: Your
inclinations are towards the real good.
3.) Experience in political matters: Aristotle has examined about 200 constitutions from all over the world.
So for experience to support your political skill you need time.

What is politics about? What are things about of which we have to have experience?
“Politics is about political things” 
Then why do you study government, law and revolution in politics? Because government rules the city, law
guides the government and revolution changes the government, so all are related to the city/state/city-state
that “Polis” means.

An attempt at an essential definition of a city/polis and of political art/political science:

Nominal definition (just tells you what the name means): The most complete human society. It is a perfect
community. “Most complete” here means the society that is able to perfect all of man’s natural abilities. It’s
not about size (Shouldn’t be too small, though) but more about having the relation to human nature in
regards of fulfillment. The most complete human society gives you the means to fulfill virtues. Virtue is an
essential aim of the political art for St. Thomas. It is for the sake of making men good. Modern view is more
like a welfare/do what you want-condition. Man has these virtue-abilities and unless he is an environment
where they are encouraged to grow, human beings will be unhappy.
Essential definition (gives you the causes):

[You want to understand something well, understand the whole of which it is a part and the parts of which it
is a whole! I.e.: a triangle: What is a figure and what are angles/lines…]

Animal is a whole that contains man, dog, cat. But man can be defined as rational animal, so he is broken
up in two parts and animal is a part of a man.
Three wholes: Integral whole (house made of its parts), universal (subjective) whole (sort of kinds; said of
each of its parts just like animal is said of man because man is fully an animal. Or triangle divided into
equilateral, isosceles and scalene: species of triangle), potential whole (Kind of halfway between the two:
rational soul that a man has contains in power all the abilities of a vegetative and sentient soul, so he not
only has the ability for reason but also sensation, growth, reproduction. But there are not three souls in him,
the soul just has the ability of three).

Sixth Lesson:
Definition of Polis: Human community, which of itself is sufficient to actualize or fulfill men’s highest
natural abilities (It is big enough but it also has the right structure in it. It is a matter of having all the people
but also of ordering them: educational institutions, correctional institution, institutions for nutrition and

Principle of subsidiary: Thomas did not have the ides of a kind of juggernaut state that took care of
everything at the highest level. Following Aristotle, he says about the various communities inside the polis
(Most important structure inside the polis is the family):
Natural bonds of the natural family are important for moral training and good citizens.
There are kinship and benefits on account of which children love their parents. There is a natural inclination
to love and obey the father. The precept of the king is more powerful by way of fear, the parental one more
powerful by way of family.
Subsidiary: Things that cant be done as effective by the whole of society should be left to the smaller family
units of society.
The tranquility of order, peace, is the end, the good of a social unit, which is the polis. It is to guarantee
peace, security from invaders etc. [Thomas does not talk about a Utopia. Not everybody can be perfectly
fulfilled, there just should be a hi as possible number of people being able to actualize and fulfill their
highest natural abilities.]
The highest natural abilities: All practical activity working, doing, making, from the practice of the ethical
virtues to livelihood serves something other than self. This other thing is not practical activity. It is having
what we sought after while being active. The vita active is fulfilled in the vita contemplative. The active life
contains a felicity on his own.
It lies in the virtue of prudence. The active life is a disposition for the contemplative life.
Thomas wants the political society to be a stepping stone to the contemplative life. You can find that in
Aristotle as well. For Thomas the life of virtue and the contemplative life, the exercise of wisdom is the
highest goal of the state. The state alone can not actualize that potency. It can only give a disposition for
that contemplative life. Laws are not crafted to make men wise, but they should give them the disposition to
live and seek wisdom.

Whole and parts of polis:

Household (member of family) and individual
Government and governed (rule by one (monarchy/tyranny), rule by a few, rule by the many are the
subjective parts of a polis)

What’s the best kind of government for Thomas?

He says the monarchic government, because the unity is high. No factions, no arguments, you just act. But
what about the principle of subsidiary? For Thomas what’s more important than the above is the
development of virtues in the citizens. If only one person makes the decisions and exercises virtue, no one
else does.
In Thomas you never find the division of powers. In his three-level model (mixed polity) you find every
power on ever level (King, ministers, people’s government).

Nominal definition of law: “A rule or a measure binding human acts.”
Rule, measure: I come to now more accurately the size of something. Law helps to discriminate how
accurately and precisely we should act. So with law you put a ruler to your actions to see if they measure
Is law something of reason? We know that reason is the first measure of human actions. It is good to act
reasonably. So any rule that’s binding should be reasonable. Law as a being of reason is important for
beings of reason.
The practical precepts of reason (for the sake of action), the fundamental measure of human acts, is the
common good. The modern view is more like laws are about protecting right. To Thomas it’s more about
promoting the common good. Common good is the best kind of good for St. Thomas. So human acts are
going to be ordained to happiness. You act for your authentic happiness. And happiness consists in the
acquisition of a common good. Ultimately that means God himself as the highest common good.
Law is an ordinance nut just by anyone but by a particular person. The person who has care of the
common good to which the laws are ordained for the sake of the common good is the one to make the law.
The law has to be something promulgated. If somebody is ruled, the rules have to be applied. The law has
to be published to be valid, saying when the new code takes effect and the old one expires.
Essential definition of law: Law is an ordinance of reason ordered for the sake of the common good
of the polis made by him, who has care of that common good. It must be promulgated.

Something about that definition in terms of the four causes.

material: ordinance
formal: ordinance of reason
final: the sake of the common good
efficient: made by him, who has care of the common good.
All four causes  YAY! PERFECT SCORE!
Most essential and important here is the final cause.

Necessity of law:
Yup, but why? “Because we need to avoid evil” seems to be the most common opinion today. It is a
restrictive concept. This certainly is an important aspect of law. But for Thomas the most essential function
of law is not restraining evil. It might be common and fundamental but not the most important. Law is also
necessary because without it even a community of just men would be unable to achieve certain goods. But
isn’t it true that virtuous men can disagree when talking about a common venture? Eventually a virtuous
man even has more options for action than a vicious men. And one option has to be picked for common
action, otherwise nothing ever gets done. So a particular person has to make a decision for common action
according to laws even in a society of virtuous men. So the promotion of good is even more important then
the restriction of evil.

About equity:
With a law you got a universal precept binding many people. If you got a universal case, applying it to the
particular you sometimes can’t foresee all the particular circumstances. The judge is supposed to see if
there is a difference between what’s just in the singular case and the justice of the universal law. The
ultimate source of the justice of any human-made law is going to be a law that Thomas calls the “natural
law”. An equity bridges a gap between those two. A just judge looks at the fact of the order of things and
says that the precept should not be binding.

Common good
The notion of a “good”: St Thomas follows Aristotle and says: “The good is that what all things desire.”
But this does not mean that everything on earth has the desire for that one thing. It means that everything
that we call good is something we desire. Good is something correlative to an appetite. So Thomas talks
about the object of some intrinsic inclination. This is an analogous term: “It is good that you love God. An
ice-cream cone is good. It is good for a rock to be on the ground etc.” Good means something different in
each of these cases. The common ground is the intrinsic inclination.
So what’s a common good? It is a kind of good that is not restricted to one being but is something to be
shared by many without being diminished.
There’s a gazillion things that are common goods, but in the most important sense common good is that
good, which is able to be participated in by many without being diminished. In particular Thomas talks abut
For Thomas the common good always has primacy over a private good of the same order. That
means that the common good is to be preferred to your private good in your political choices. The common
good according to Thomas is more divine. This is not a concept of a kind of totalitarian state. It is not the
idea of a good that has as its subject the society in itself. The common good is the greatest good of the
individual. “Common” is opposed to “private”. But it is not opposed to “proper”. It is a good of each and
every member of the society.
Through faith we have access to an order of common good that transcends any order we know by reason.

Seventh Lesson:

Addendum to Thomas:
Structure of the Summa Theologica:
Part I: God and all things as coming forth from God
Part I-II: General principles of  Man going
Part II-II: Specific virtues  back to God
Part III: Christ as the way on which man goes back to God

Thomas in the Summa: Political authority is part of what is natural to man, even if he was in a paradisaical
state and there had been no original sin (Contrast St. Augustine: Political authority is natural to man
according to our fallen nature).

Need for government?

For Thomas (S.T., I, q.96 a4) government is not only about restricting and suppressing evil, but also and
foremost about order (regulations, law, police). He sees two reasons for the necessity of laws even in a
paradisaical state:
1.) While there is no need to restrain vice for an un-fallen humanity, there will still be need for unified action
for the common good. And since even good, virtuous, intelligent, just men can have different views on the
same thing, you need somebody to make decisions or to point the way.
2.) Even in the paradisaical state, some will still be more wise and more virtuous than others (simply
because God wills it so). So it would be fitting that those who are in some way “better” should rule over the
others for the good of everyone.

Need for private property?

In S.T., I, q. 98 a1-3 Thomas deals with the question if we would have generated and multiplied in the
paradisaical state. The answer is “yes”. An objection to this would be: Since people don’t die you would
have too many people for a proper division of food after a while. The division of goods as private property
would be against the nature of such an paradisaical state, but for all goods to be common, you would have
too many people. Thomas answers: “Granted the law of nature, unaffected by original sin, calls for all
goods to be held in common (private property as a result of original sin). Even in a large and growing
community it will still be feasible for all goods to be held in common, because there is no greed, theft etc.
Everything is well used.
Aristotle: If there was no private property, men would not take appropriate care of the goods at their
disposal. Humans as Aristotle saw them were fallen. In the paradisaical state we would be unselfish and
goods would be properly maintained and distributed.

So: In the paradisaical state we would have needed government but no private property.

Nicolo Macchiavelli (1469 - 1527):

He was the first one to make a radical break with the principle of the first great revolution of the Greek
thought that demanded a firm linkage between politics and ethics, as he saw no essential connection
between these. There is good and bad government but there is no connection between individual vices and
virtues and the public political behavior. For political power to be effectively exercised it has to be used in
such a way that it is fruitful in maintaining public order, even if you lie or are cruel. “It is more important for
the prince to be feared than to be loved.” (Contrasts the rule of St. Augustine, where it is said that it is
better for the praepositus to be loved than feared). Still Macchiavelli never denied the need for moral
behavior in individuals but he made a strict divorce between these and the political realm.
Common good is more inclusive than public order. because common good includes public order. You
cannot say that they are the same, though, because sometimes a certain degree of public un-order might
be needed to serve the common good (Martin Luther King).

Martin Luther (ptoeey!) and John Calvin (hissss!) can be considered the St. Augustine (regarding original
sin) and St. Thomas (regarding tyrants) of Protestantism

For Luther (1483 - 1546) the obedience to the political ruler was necessary and connected to the sinful
nature of man. Luther did not leave any room for opposition or even uprising against a tyrant. He did not so
much leave the Church to open up his own church-like community, but was made to leave the Church.
When the peasants in Germany took up arms against the nobility, the monks and the prelates in 1524/25,
Luther condemned them in the harshest words (and even left it in written form, so the world can see what a
hypocritical man he was).
Calvin (1509 - 1564) was pessimistic about the effects of the original sin as well. He did not completely
declare an uprising against a tyrannical regime as unthinkable. He left more room for considering positive
functions of authority and did not only see the authority as a means to suppress evil.

Social contract:
Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679), John Locke (1632 - 1704), Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 - 1764) are all
connected with the notion of the “social contract”. For them political authority is not inherent in the human
nature but is brought about by convention. It is artificial, not natural.

Hobbes lived during the times of the English Civil War, which deposed and decapitated King Charles I. He
was the most radical of the “social contract”-dudes and wrote the “Leviathan”, in which he stated that
humans have to create a government that is to be seen as the famous sea-monster. It has to be terrifying
to protect humans against themselves (sort of like a secular St. Augustine). Hobbes does not refer to the
fall of man or the original sin, but still describes the nature of man grimly in five terms: Solitary, poor, nasty,
brutish and short.
So we give authority to the social contract, are totally at its disposition and cannot protect ourselves from it
or overthrow it. The only challenge against the government would be possible and legitimate if the
government is not able to do its job (protect humans against themselves) properly.

Locke was of the opinion that in a natural state humans are not subject to any authority. The state is not
natural to man (this is a radical break with the Aristotelian/Thomistic tradition). State and man do come
together though and man gives up certain liberties for the sake of living more peacefully and secure. Locke
does not see our natural state as bleak and pessimistic as Hobbes does. For him the major flaw is greed
and the state (government) is the means to protect property. Locke says that humans are entitled to enjoy
the fruits of their labor when they worked to cultivate material goods. Property to Locke is not limited to
material goods. Man seeks community with others who already are united or planning to unite to preserve
and save self-discrimination, lives and possessions (which Locke calls property). In opposition to Hobbes
Locke denies that political power is absolute. Locke will agree that governments can become oppressive to
a degree that warrants their removal.

Rousseau verifies the definition of the “social contract”. There is an original state of nature in which
humans are not politically organized. Rousseau is optimistic of the state of nature (“noble savage”) and
sees man as being generous, merciful and humane on a level of instinct. In Rousseau’s opinion the
Machiavelli, who dissociated ethics from politics. Rousseau, unlike Aristotle, does not think that observing
human nature is what we can learn from. He thinks that our institutions alienate us from one another and
from ourselves. Roussesau envisions an ideal future, speaking of a “social contract”, radically different from
what has been experienced so far. He will be to individualism and privacy as divisive. He is against private
property, quality of wealth, competition. Key for him is the “general will”, some consensus of civic spirit
(maybe close to JPII’s “solidarity”). This “general will” is a state in which our sense of self is defined in
terms of relationships with others, not with things. The transformation of the alienated individual to the
“contract social”-individual takes place by means of education. Rousseau did not oppose freedom, but he
wanted people to be free to do what they should do not what they want to do.

The basic premise of all the social contractors is, the political organization is not natural to man. Their
contribution to the 2nd Great Revolution (political equality of all citizens as opposed to monarchy and
aristocracy) are the thoughts about natural law, talks about nature and God, presumed happiness about
property (not just material) and the need of the ruler to look for the common good of the people. The ability
to maintain public order is seen as the test for the government. Locke’s view on popular sovereignty and
property contributed to the American Revolution as did Rousseau’s optimism and the egalitarian thrust.

Jefferson, born American, has an English way of looking at things philosophically, while being politically
French. He welcomed the Revolution, even to a degree where he justified the terror as a necessary means
to get rid of tyranny. He died on the 4th of July in 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the declaration of
independence. He was in favor of political autonomy and local government before state government, which
only is needed in grave situations like warfare. He distrusted city-people and industry. The democratic
republicans began to be called Republicans. They are not the Republicans we know today (founded late
19th century, Lincoln), but the Democrats. If there was a philosopher of the American Revolution, it was
Jefferson. Of all of the people involved in the revolution, Jefferson came to be known as the American
character. He had the optimism of Rousseau, he trusted people, while the federalists tended to be
suspicious of too much democracy. Despite Jefferson’s view on government (“The government is best
which governs least” is a quote that probably wasn’t his), democrats today rather like the involvement of
national government. Jefferson was a libertarian, but not an anarchist. His first consideration always was
the liberty of people. He wanted to guarantee economical efficiency through taxes. He was very concerned
about social issues, more than the Democrats today, anyways, what with abortion and euthanasia.
Jefferson took laws restricting those things for granted, but was in favor of a maximum of self-determination
within those limits. Super-educated, Latin, Greek, 4 or five other languages, inventor, musician,
mathematician, scientist, interested in classical Roman architecture. He was not religious, though, hated
Plato, especially for what his foggy world of ideals enabled the priests to turn Christ’s message into.
Jefferson was not an atheist however. He just did not want people to exercise tyranny over other people’s
minds. It is not true to say that Jefferson wanted a “wall” strictly dividing church and state. He was not a
radical socialist, but he saw churches as prone to invoke the power of the state to secure their status,
income and privileges.

Jefferson only wanted three things to be mentioned on his tomb after his death:
1.) Participation in creating the bill of rights
2.) Establishing freedom of religion in the state of Virginia
3.) Founding the university in …?

De Tocqueville was born in France from a noble family. He was a devout catholic. When he looked at
history, he saw the progress towards democracy in the sense of political equality as inevitable, because it
has been going on for centuries. Tocqueville therefore even considered it being divine providence and
asked how the process could be directed and the risk of damage be minimalized. His example was
America, where the process has taken place most efficiently and peacefully (certainly compared to the
bloody horrors of the French Revolution). When de Tocqueville went to the USA he did not find any landed
aristocracy, no history of landownership. The inheritance laws had gone from primogenitur to more equality.
These were key ingredients to the success in the USA. According to de Tocqueville, wealth does not create
an aristocracy, but an oligarchy. In the USA there were inequalities in wealth, because the population did
not so much have grasped the concept of economic equality, they had a great love for money and they
seemed to have a certain contempt for the theory of permanent equality of property. The haves and have-
nots changed frequently, though, because money changed hands fast and sort of distributed itself. The
downside of political and economic equality and one of de Tocqueville’s major concerns was education. He
insisted on a well educated populace, because only then will people not be led astray and manipulated. In
the USA, primary education was available for everyone, but superior education hardly for any. This meant
that you only had a few uneducated persons, but also hardly any learned individuals. De Tocqueville also
saw the danger of a leveling tendency in social equality, in which the danger of having a new tyranny of the
majority arises. When interests are opposed, you cannot misuse your power to harm your adversary, even
if you are in the majority.

Arbitrary power is a power not regulated by law but does not equal tyranny, because where tyranny only
serves the one or the few in power, arbitrary power sometimes needs to be exercised for the protection of
the country or of democratic freedom. A single absolute ruler who would not be bound by laws but would
still exercise his power only for the good of his people would be the “benevolent despot”.

Safeguards against the tyranny of the majority:

1.) A lack of centralized authority, local autonomy
2.) The quasi-elite status of lawyers. These were seen as a “saving grace”, because they knew laws and
were able to restrain an undisciplined majority.
3.) The jury system

Tocqueville’s movement towards political equality (vote, take part in government) in Marx is turned towards
economical equality. Rousseau advocated both equalities, attacked private property and the alienation of
Marx: Succession of struggles throughout history (feuderalism  capitalism/industrial era). There is an
oppression of the working class, so the bourgeoisie has to be overthrown. Lenin: This is historically
necessary, but for it to actually happen some people have to take the initiative and stimulate the change.
There should not be exploitation of man by man. Everybody contributes to the common good. Religion:
Instrument of oppression. Soothes pain by promising better conditions in the afterlife (“opium of the
people”). No common good in Acts-of-the-apostles-kinda way but more of a natural state that eventually
develops itself, when the oppressors are gone and everybody contributes to the common good.
In Lenin’s opinion the government is only there to harm people. It is an instrument of the privileged classes
to suppress others. There is no popular sovereignty. In order to arrive at a non-suppression-society, the
suppressed have to take advantage of the mechanisms of oppression and once the old oppressors are
overthrown the machinery of oppression has to be seized by a “proletarian dictatorship”. Ultimate phase:
Once oppressors are eliminated, society will evolve into classless community without oppression and

Three great revolutions:
3rd  Russian revolution
Russian revolution was not totally progressive. It tends to ignore political equality. So here we lost and
gained something and the loss outweighed the gain (gain = economic equality at least in a serious effort).
2nd  American revolution
Here the revolution of political equality is seen as an advance to constitutional government. Williams: There
was a loss of some Greek insight, however, because in the social contract that prepared the American
revolution, there was a departure from two important points of the Greeks: Political society is natural to men
(Aristotle (“zoon politicon”) is clear on that. Plato less, but he sees need for politically organized society.)
and there is a primacy of common good taken for granted by the Greeks (Aristotle: organic model of state.
Humans are like organs of a body. and you cannot have a hand in a good condition unless it is attached to
a body. The common good must always be secure and must never be threatened.) Against that the social
contractors put their idea of the state being unnatural to man. Our natural state is to be politically
unorganized. We just form political and social groups and surrender autonomy to live more peacefully and
secure. But this is not our natural state. The primacy of the common good is obscured, not explicit. There is
an emphasis on the individual as autonomous and not naturally bound.

So the Americans build on the Greeks and lost a little of what is important.
The Russians build on both and lost a great deal of what is important.
Government with consent of the governed
7 meanings of “consent of the governed”:
1.) Act of will and reason, not of instinct.
2.) How holders of authority are to be designated
3.) Leaders receive their power not directly from god but from the people
4.) Proper to democratic government, demand for exercise of government
5.) Signifying determination to complete transmission of authority to the government
6.) Persuasion is preferable to coercion
7.) Governed are never bound except by their own consent, never obey unless it pleases them. This is
revolt against the laws of community and therefore unacceptable