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To Protect Itself

This is the conclusion to the Early Modern Philosophy paper that I have thus far presented on this blog in four previous sections. It contains the conclusion of the central thesis that if we accept either of the three reasons for the formation of the state from Hobbes, Locke, or Machiavelli; than we must accept that the state has the ability to defend itself using force or compulsion when necessary. How it uses it, or of what kind, is not within the scope of this paper and there are many many books and articles on this subject.

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Despite their different views and the varied ways in which our theorists have arrived at the formation of the state they all have one thing in common: the state exists to provide some sort of protection for its people. While the focus of the protection is different, Locke’s claim is that it is for the interest of the individual while both Machiavelli and Hobbes both claim that it is for the protection of the self against others, it is still protection nonetheless. Having this established can we then say that the state is justified when it uses compulsion against the members of the state?[1]

            To protect the individuals from each other the state is obviously justified based on the three theories we have visited. In two of them this is the first purpose of its creation and the primary role, while in the third we can easily tie the individual’s interest to their protection. We can salvage a criminal justice system by reference to this.

            We can say then that the state has legitimate recourse to use force when it is acting in the interest of its self-preservation. However self-preservation of the state is a tricky concept when we consider that our discussion is merely focusing on using that force internally. No one aside from a true pacifist would be able to claim that a state could not defend itself from the outside, the only questions to raise in those situations are what kind of force and how much. Internal threats are much different, as we have to decide what constitutes a legitimate existential threat internally. Is dissent one of those threats or do the members of a state have to be doing more than just dissenting?

            Since we are unwilling to claim that the state’s existence is self-dependant, i.e. that it only exists for the sake of itself, to justify the use of force simply because the members of the state are unhappy with the form of government seems untenable. Dissension may be breed discontent and the drive for change, but the dissolution of the state does not necessarily follow. That dissension stems from unhappiness or discontent with the state seems obvious. Yet what is less obvious is that the discontent does not come from the state itself, but rather those in charge of the state. Forcing the population to yield in the case of suppressing a protest seems to be against the purpose of the state’s formation.

            The only true internal existential threat to the state is that of corruption leading to partisanship and the final “failure of the citizenry to support these structures (the governmental institutions) voluntarily.[2]” If the state exists to protect the individuals the individuals themselves must support the state, or else they cannot be said to be members of that state[3]. The difficulty in this claim is that under Locke’s theory an individual can return to a state of nature without leaving any political boundary.[4] The degradation of a state occurs in one of two occurrences, when the state begins acting in its own best interests as Machiavelli indicates,[5] but also when the people begin acting in their own interests only.

            These selfish interests begin to isolate the citizens from their civic duties, creating individuals that act not in accordance with the ideals of the state but with their own, forming partisanships.[6] Taken in the extreme these partisanships can destroy a state if they assume the places of power and then direct the state to act in their interest and not of the state in total. That some selfish behavior is beneficial, even inevitable is found in our three theories. The state is formed in the self-interests of the people, but in surrendering some self-interest for the general interest the state has the obligation to fulfill its role. When forces arise to challenge to the purpose of the state, the state is justified in forcing down the power of the partisans.

            Machiavelli places this responsibility on that of the populace, “it may be urged that the guardianship of anything should be placed in the hands of those who are less desirous of appropriating it for their own use;[7]” rather than that of the elite who are more apt to exercise control in order to preserve that which they have and to gain more, “for men are inclined to think that they cannot hold securely what they possess unless they get more at others’ expense.[8]” This intense desire to keep and gain creates a political situation in which political participation seems to the lower classes futile and “political rhetoric degenerates to a politics of noise.[9]

The state is justified in creating laws that give the opportunity for participation and eliminate partisanships which corrupt it so thoroughly that it no longer resembles the reason that people came together to form it in the first place. The use of compulsion then is justified in enforcing those laws through the punishments of those people or groups that would transgress them.


[1] “Citizen” doesn’t necessarily apply to the members of Hobbes’state, they would be more accurately described as subjects. Patrick Curry makes this claim, briefly, in Introducing Machiavelli, Curry, Patrick; illustrated by Oscar Zarate ©2000 Icon Books, UK.

[2] Pg. 960, Dobel, J. Patrick; The Corruption of a State, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 72 No. 3 pp. 958-973

[3] Pg. 464 Simmons

[4] Pg. 462 Simmons

[5] Pg. 106-109 The Discourses

[6] Pg. 959 Dobel

[7] Pg. 116 The Discourses

[8] Pg. 118 ibid

[9] Pg. 967

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