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Freedom, Justice and society are very important concepts that have been well discussed by eminent philosophers such as Aristotle, Machiavelli, Rousseau and Locke. Observations and philosophical works by these eminent thinkers have always been based on personal experiences in…
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Wall Street Journal: Review of articles on Community Freedom, Justice and society are very important concepts that have been well discussed by eminent philosophers such as Aristotle, Machiavelli, Rousseau and Locke. Observations and philosophical works by these eminent thinkers have always been based on personal experiences in public, political or diplomatic arenas. Some of these ideals are evaluated in the modern context by comparing them with facts from articles published in the Wall Street Journal, which are listed below:
‘Fake but Aristotelian’ by James Taranto (Published 16th October, 2009).
‘The Power Trip’ by Jonah Lehrer (Published 14th August, 2010).
Editorial of Wall Street Journal (Published 26th July, 2001).
The first article listed above compares some of the teachings of Aristotle regarding social benefits with the recent policies of President Barack Obama (of the United States) over major changes in the American healthcare system. As such, this article discusses community from the perspective of a nation-state. The second article evaluates the notion of power and its influence on individuals as they move up the organizational ladder. The article contradicts the suggestions of the 16th century philosopher, Machiavelli, who suggested that a leader should prefer dominance and fear to love in the course of attaining eminence. The third article suggests that property rights in America have diminished people’s freedom. Using the arguments of Rousseau over issues such as property rights and individuality, the article’s author highlights the fact that these rights have enhanced people’s greed thereby diminishing the good for the society (i.e., a nation-state).
Aristotle was a firm believer in democracy and maintained that a nation was supposed to based on a constitution that catered to the aspirations of the middle classes. In his philosophical work titled ‘Politics’, Aristotle says the following about democracy (Aristotle, 1977):
“If liberty and equality, as is thought by some are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.”
Thus, social justice according to Aristotle was applicable to all peoples who were unqualifiedly equal. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which was passed in 2010, is an attempt in this direction by the Obama administration at delivering healthcare to poor and middle-class Americans (especially those without adequate medical insurance) and ensuring that more funds are allocated towards providing universal healthcare.
Jonah Lehrer compares the recent events in Hewlett Packard with regards to the downfall of its CEO (Chief Executive Officer) against the principles suggested by Machiavelli on leadership and observes that his teachings do not find any place in the modern context. In today’s organizational structures where a single person no longer holds absolute power, the author found that others senior members in the organization were quick to identify and expel individuals with Machiavellian qualities. As a result, no one is able to garner total control over an entire organization and has to go by the checks and balances stipulated by peers. The article describes a previous study conducted at the University of California at Berkeley where individuals were rated based on the level of respect and their place within the local social hierarchy. Citing this study, the author notes that (WSJ, 2010):
It turned out that the Machiavellian sorority members were quickly identified by the group and isolated. Nobody liked them, and so they never became powerful.
The author uses this example to evaluate the ascent of people like CEO Mark Hurd, thereby assuming that corporate ascent and social respect were related and mutually dependent upon one another.
On the other hand, the third article discusses the Rousseau model and observes that its principles were applicable only to medieval times. While his teachings were instrumental for important events such as the French revolution, the author notes that these same principles have given unaccounted power to corrupt government bureaucrats at the expense of the common man. Lack of accountability has allowed politicians to administer laws through capricious and corrupt means. Once again, these conclusions are based on the assumption that developing and communist nations are the ones most affected by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. The article does not provide a similar insight into similar practices in developed countries that have led to similar environmental pollution and degradation. The recent oil spill off the coast of Louisiana in 2010 is one such example of the weak laws that protect oil companies and absolves politicians of any blame.
The healthcare plan introduced by Obama has nevertheless met with stiff opposition from the public, as there was a growing opinion within the public that the president had sided with the healthcare industry. Griffiths (2009) says that in embracing an overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system, Obama had assumed that he would get the necessary support from the Republicans and other conservative groups. While this has not been the case, it appears that Obama has a Machiavellian perception of the public and views them as susceptible to open manipulation (Caton, 2008). On the other hand, the American public believes that much of the stated benefits will be given to the uninsured thereby escalating taxes. Instead, it seems that people are willing to withhold benefits to a certain section of the society, thereby demonstrating an Aristotelian tendency. Aristotle always believed that the actions of the government were based on the structure of the country’s political leadership and its people. He further believed that the latter did not have any significant influence through mediums such as public debate or opposition and that the state held the upper hand under such circumstances. The passing of the PPACA by Congress despite intense public opposition is testimony to this philosophy.
The application of Machiavellian principles in HP’s case follows the principles promulgated by Machiavelli in his work titled ‘Prince’ whereby the notions of internal debate and conflict are cited as important elements that serve to strengthen an organization (or even a nation state) and maintain the balance of power (Griffiths, 2009). The firing of HP’s CEO in the wake of numerous allegations clearly suggests that these principles do indeed work in practice.
The above arguments clearly indicate the importance of community in the thoughts of medieval philosophers and goes on to show their applicability even in the modern context. The question over whether these principles follow in total conformity in relation to modern dynamics of society and community is a different phenomenon that requires further analysis.
1. Aristotle (1977), Aristotle: Politics. New York: Forgotten books.
2. Griffiths, G. (2009). Politics and philosophy: Niccolò Machiavelli and Louis Althussers aleatory materialism. London: Brill.
3. Caton, H. (2008). The politics of progress: the origins and development of the commercial republic, 1600-1835. University Press of Florida.
Wall Street Journal Editorial, 26th July, 2001. Read More
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