Concentrated Political Power Essay Research Paper CONCENTRATED

Concentrated Political Power Essay, Research Paper CONCENTRATED POLITICAL POWER Should political power be concentrated in the hands of a few leaders,

Concentrated Political Power Essay, Research Paper


Should political power be concentrated in the hands of a few leaders,

or should it be widely dispersed among the members of a society? Many

great Philosophers ranging from Plato to Marx have pondered this question

over time. Historically many major civilizations were based on systems of

organization stressing centralized power and control. The attempt was to

create and ensure a stable and orderly way of life but as society evolved the

defenders of concentrated power felt compelled to justify the need for

centralized authority. This attempt at justification can be found in Plato s

famous work The Republic. According to Socrates, the principal speaker in

The Republic, an ideal state would consist of three classes. The philosopher-

kings would exercise political power in the service of justice and wisdom; the

soldiers would protect the state as a means of acquiring honor; and the

civilian population would provide for the material needs of society. A large

part of The Republic is devoted to a detailed presentation of the rigorous

intellectual training of future rulers. This section also contains a fundamental

analysis of metaphysical and scientific thought. The government of the state

acts to enforce the virtue, and consequently the true happiness, of the

individual citizen, and an orderly and productive public life is the result.

Criticizing the doctrines of atheism and materialism, Plato reaffirmed his

idealistic position and asserted his belief in the moral government of the

universe and the immortality of the soul. The Republics anti-democratic

implications are clear. A successful democratic politician must give the

people what they want, which is not (or may not be) what is good for them;

to succeed he must become like them. The true politician would give the

people what was good for them, and (at first, at least) they would not like it.

The true politician is not like the people, he knows what is good for them

better than they do, he must rule them (at least at first) against their will.

(Plato, Collected Dialogues, Contemporary Philosophy,p.357).

For Plato concentrated power is based on the citizens duty to serve the

state, which completely supervises their lives. The state gives meaning and

purpose to their lives and continues to exist in its own right over and beyond

the separate existence of its members.

Thomas Hobbes, a seventeenth-century English Philosopher, argued the case

for concentrated power from a totally different viewpoint. That the condition

of mere nature, that is to say, of absolute liberty, such as is theirs that

neither are sovereigns nor subjects, is anarchy and the condition of war:

that the precepts, by which men are guided to avoid that condition, are the

laws of nature: that a Commonwealth without sovereign power is but a word

without substance and cannot stand: that subjects owe to sovereigns simple

obedience in all things wherein their obedience is not repugnant to the laws

of God. I have sufficiently proved in that which I have already written.

(Abel,p.414) Hobbes s viewpoint is that every citizen owes total

allegiance to the government, regardless of what type, so long as the

government is able to rule. Rousseau takes a unique view of the role of

concentrated political power in many of his works most notably in The Social

Contract. 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 to the Sovereign. But the maxim

of civil right, that no one is bound by undertakings made to himself, does

not apply in this case; for there is a great difference between incurring an

obligation to yourself and incurring one to a whole of which you form a part.

Reformers like Rousseau in France, began to reexamine the origins and

purposes of the state. Rather than the right of a monarch to rule, Rousseau

proposed that the state owed its authority to the general will of the

governed. For him, the nation itself is sovereign, and the law is none other

than the will of the people as a whole. Influenced by Plato, Rousseau

recognized the state as the environment for the moral development of

humanity. Man, though corrupted by his civilization, remained basically good

and therefore capable of assuming the moral position of aiming at the

general welfare. Because the result of aiming at individual purposes is

disagreement, a healthy (non-corrupting) state can exist only when the

common good is recognized as the goal.(Contemporary Philosophy,p.401)

Rousseau’s ideas reflect an attitude far more positive in respect of human

nature than Hobbes, his 16th-century English predecessor. The “natural

condition” of man, said Hobbes, is self-seeking and competitive. Man

subjects himself to the rule of the state as the only means of self-

preservation whereby he can escape the brutish cycle of mutual destruction

that is otherwise the result of his contact. (Abel, p.413)

Rousseau deviates from the defenders of concentrated power, in that he

proposes having the people enter into a social contract and thus taking on

more of a democratic view of political power, the dispersing of power among

members of society.

Again, the Sovereign, being formed wholly of the individuals who compose

it, neither has nor can have any interest contrary to theirs; and

consequently the sovereign power need give no guarantee to its subjects,

because it is impossible for the body to wish to hurt all its members. We

shall also see later on that it cannot hurt any in particular. The Sovereign,

merely by virtue of what it is, is always what it should be. (Contemporary

Philosophy, p. 406)

One the most widely supported and controversial stands in support of

concentrated power are found in the works of the nineteenth century

German political philosopher, Karl Marx. His stand is commonly referred to

as Communism. Communism is a system of political and economic

organization in which property is owned by the community and all citizens

share in the enjoyment of the common wealth, more or less according to

their need. The origins of the idea of communism lie deep in Western

thought. The idea of a classless society, in which all the means of production

and distribution are owned by the community as a whole and from which

any traces of a state have disappeared, has long held a fascination for

human beings.

A number of the utopias that have been described in literature, including

Thomas More’s Utopia, provide for the common ownership of property to

some extent. The philosophical view of Marx s work is that creativity, that is,

the ability to exert labor on objects of nature in order to satisfy one’s

needs, is the defining characteristic of humanity. Further, one labors not

merely for the individual but for the species. All human works, from food to

art, houses to governments, form the human world, which consists of the

various forms of the objectification of humanity’s productive powers as a

species. Man is a species being, and the species as a whole should enjoy the

objectification of its labor. There is a strong element of Humanism in Marx s

theories in that all people are good even though he advocates a high

concentration of power deeming his idea of concentrated power totalitarian

in nature.

The philosophical debate over concentrated political power has

spanned centuries encompassing various political ideologies and ideas. No

perfect system or utopia has been found, and the debate continues.


h Honer, Stanley M; Hunt Thomas C; Okholm Dennis L, Invitation to

Philosophy, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998

h Abel, Donald C, Fifty Readings in Philosophy, United States of America,

McGraw-Hill, 1994

h Kaplan, Abraham, The Pursuit of Wisdom-The Scope of Philosophy, London, Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1977

h Holt, Henry, Contemporary Philosophy, New York, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1954