1. Socrates in Plato’s Apology and Crito

“Plato’s report of the trial of Socrates and of his last days in prison vividly dramatizes for us one of the moving moments in the history of the human race. The charges brought against Socrates by the Athenians of his day typify the accusations which, in other countries and at other times, have been leveled against men who have been single-minded in their adherence to ideals that have set them apart from the society in which they lived.” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, volume 1, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, of The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica: 1959, page 1)

Plato was a Greek philosopher who composed a number of dialogues in which an earlier philosopher, Socrates, discusses philosophical topics with various people. In this post I’ll consider two of those dialogues, the Apology on the trial of Socrates and the Crito on his last days in prison. In previous posts I’ve considered the first five of the ten books in Plato’s The Republic, in which he through Socrates discusses justice and the state..

I’ll base my consideration of the Apology and the Crito on Adler and Wolff’s study of them in The Great Ideas Program, the opening of which I quoted above. Their study is divided into three sections: the first on the relationship between Plato and Socrates and the background to Socrates’ trial and execution, the second on the picture that Socrates gives of himself in his defence, and the third on six specific questions about the Apology and the Crito. However I’ll substitute a sketch of the life of Socrates for their first section and include only the first four of the six questions they asked in their third section.

The Life of Socrates

Socrates was born about 470 B.C., the son of Sophroniscus, possibly a worker in stone, and Phaenarete, a midwife. His family couldn’t have been very poor because they were able to provide him with enough financial resources to serve as a fully-armed hoplite in the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. However his later absorption in philosophy and his mission (see the next paragraph) made him neglect his private affairs and fall to a level of relative poverty. He probably loved philosophy more than his family, Xanthippe (whom he apparently married late in life) and their three sons.

The following description of Socrates’ mission is taken from The Columbia Encyclopedia (sixth edition, Columbia University Press, 2000):

“Socrates became convinced that his calling was to search for wisdom about right conduct by which he might guide the intellectual and moral improvement of the Athenians. Neglecting his own affairs, he spent his time discussing virtue, justice, and piety wherever his fellow citizens congregated.… In his self-appointed task as gadfly to the Athenians, Socrates made many enemies.” (page 2645)

In 399 Socrates was brought `to trial for neglecting the gods whom the city worshipped and for corrupting the young. He treated the charge with contempt and was convicted. The prosecutors asked for a penalty of death, and Socrates suggested a small fine. His claim to be a public benefactor incensed the court, and death was voted for by an increased majority. Because no execution could take place in the absence of the sacred ship sent yearly to Delos, Socrates was in prison for a month, receiving his friends daily, An escape was planned by those friends, but Socrates refused to take advantage of their kind offer on the grounds that such a course would be contrary to his principles.

Socrates’ Picture of Himself

Observing that “hardly anyone can read the account [of the trial] without feeling that a grave injustice was done,” Adler and Wolff suggest that “we may do well to examine how we ourselves would react to Socrates … if he were brought to trail in our time.” (The quotations are from Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, pages 4-5.)

Both in his defence and, after his being condemned, his response to the requirement that he suggest a penalty for himself, Socrates was uncompromising, asserting that he would never change but would continue his offensive ways.

“Men of Athens, I honour and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting any one whom I meet and saying to him after my manner: You, my friend,‒a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens,‒are you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honour and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?”

“If I tell you that to do as you say [go into exile and hold my tongue] would be a disobedience to the God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me. Yet I say what is true, although a thing of which it is hard to persuade you.” (Plato, Apology, in volume 7 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, pages 206 and 210 respectively)

Adler and Wolff comment:

“We may imagine, without considering the rightness of the doctrines involved, the effect such intransigence would have on a court or investigating committee in a ‘cold war’ situation where a Communist in a Capitalist country not only refused to recant but announced his determination to continue his ‘subversive’ activities; or, of course, the effect of such a position taken by a Capitalist in a Communist country.” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 5)

Questions about the Apology and the Crito

Should an unjust law be obeyed?

Adler and Wolff explain that by an “unjust law” they mean a law that commands some unjust action or prohibits some just action. A contemporary example would be a Christian minister’s being required to marry individuals of the same biological sex. Adler and Wolff ask:

“What is a conscientious citizen to do about laws he really believes to be unjust? Should he disobey them? Or are there reasons for obeying even an unjust law?” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 7)

What can be done when a law is unjustly applied?

Sometimes a just and good law is unjustly applied. Adler and Wolff cite the example of the Dreyfus case in France in which Captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of treason and condemned to life imprisonment (eventually he was exonerated, Adler and Wolff ask:

“How, first of all, can [a citizen] be certain that a law has been justly applied? … When someone has been duly tried and been found guilty by a jury, we assume that justice has been done. But juries and judges are men and men are fallible.” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 7)

“There is a second problem. Suppose that there is … no doubt that the wrong man has been accused, what are we to do? Does the duty of the citizen demand obedience or disobedience?” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 8)

What are a citizen’s duties and responsibilities when a law is unjustly made?

A law may be just in content but imposed as a decree instead of by due legislative process. What should a citizen do?

Was Socrates justified in disobeying an explicit command, because it was unjust?

In the Apology, Socrates disobeyed a command:

“When the oligarchy of the Thirty was in power, they sent for me and four others into the rotunda, and bade us bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis, as they wanted to put him to death. This was a specimen of the sort of commands which they were always giving with the view of implicating as many as possible in their crimes; and then I showed, not in word only but in deed, that … I cared not a straw for death, and that my great and only care was lest I should do an unrighteous or unholy thing. For the strong arm of that oppressive power did not frighten me into doing wrong; and when we came out of the rotunda the other four went to Salamis and fetched Leon, but I went quietly home. For which I might have lost my life, had not the power of the Thirty shortly afterwards come to an end.” (Socrates speaking in Plato, Apology, page 207)

Yet in the Crito, he refused to disobey the laws when Crito offered to help him escape from prison (and death). Adler and Wolff ask:

“Can we reconcile [Socrates’] support of the law in the Crito with his asserted intention, in the Apology, to obey God rather than his judges?” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 8)

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20. Faith Today’s “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”

Shortly after I began my series of articles on classic writings on the development of political theory and government, an article appeared in the March / April, 2017, issue of Faith Today, a publication of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which I thought would make a profitable conclusion to the series. I asked for and received permission to report on it.

The article is called “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?” and was written by Patricia Paddey, a Faith Today senior writer. It consists of interviews with four theologians ‒ Ephraim Radner, John Stackhouse, Stephen Studebaker, and Miroslav Volf. Here is how Patricia Paddey concludes her introduction to the article:

“So how do we co-operate to allow God to direct our political choices and activities? “One of the best resources is theology ‒ the critical study of ideas that have to do with God, and with what God has to do with the world. Faith Today senior writer Patricia Paddey spoke with four theologians and learned sound theology isn’t just important for pastors and professors. It’s important for every Christian’s every concern ‒ including political ones. Following are highlights from those conversations.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, Faith Today, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, March / April 2017, page 31)

Here I present only a small portion of those highlights. I also share from an article appearing in the same pages as “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?” ‒ David Guretzki’s “Theology and politics: two mistakes, two correctives.” Both articles can be read at http://digital.faithtoday.ca/faithtoday/20170304?pg=30#pg30.

Ephraim Radner

Ephraim Radner is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College (University of Toronto). In answer to the question “How can theology inform our political thinking and engagement?” he says that theology helps us understand what God’s purposes are for us as human beings and thus how we should think and act politically. And in answer to the question “How do we decide which goals and values should shape our political decisions?” he identifies two goals that Christians should have: to witness to God revealed in Jesus Christ in the way that we live and to aim at the integrity of the Christian church, not at the larger society. He concludes:

“To me, that is the greatest political challenge of Christians today ‒ an integrated, healthy, unified Christian Church. We don’t have that, so it’s not surprising that we have little purchase in larger society.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, page 32)

John Stackhouse

John Stackhouse is professor of religious studies at Crandall University. In answer to the question “In Need to Know [Oxford University Press, 2014], you write that Christians are called by out Lord to think Christianly. What does it mean to think Christianly about politics?” he says:

“To think Christianly and to act Christianly in politics is to try to do so in the company of Jesus. We should be walking with Jesus as disciples, listening to His voice, trying very hard to please Him, and to achieve His purposes in the world. It’s also to think the way Jesus has taught us to think, particularly through the Bible, as well as through the wisdom of the Church. That means to prize the Bible as God’s Word written. Then also to take full advantage of the other gifts God has given us ‒ in scholarship, experience, art, and in the traditions we have in our ethnic and family units, as well as in our particular churches ‒ and above all, the Holy Spirit.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, pages 32-33)

In answer to the question “Two people who self-identify as Christians can think Christianly and come up with very different ideas about politics. What are we to make of that?” Stackhouse says that some people are smarter than other people in different zones, politics is complicated and thus Christians wanting the same outcome may differ on how to achieve it, and what the Lord wants us to accomplish may be complex enough that no one posture or policy can accomplish it. And in answer to the question “What are some of the questions we ought to ask ourselves when considering how to cast a vote?” he suggests “What is necessary in the short term?” and “Who is likely to bring [such] a correction?”

In addition to answering the questions, Stackhouse recommends some online resources representing Christian views. Although I visited and appreciated all of them, I’m sharing here a link to only the one of them that I have in my Internet bookmarks, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, http://www.TheEFC.ca.

Steven Studebaker

Steven Studebaker is associate professor of systematic theology and historical theology at McMaster Divinity School. In answer to the question “Why should Christians explore theology for help engaging in the political realm?” he says that theology helps us understand what it means to live in relationship with God and other people. And in answer to the question “What should be the correct approach for political engagement by Christians today?” he says that they need to think more about preserving democracy than about advancing one of their moral causes and to encourage society to reflect Christian values.

Finally, in answer to the question “If you could offer one single guiding principle for Christian political action, what would it be?” he says:

“Politics is essential for the Christian life. It’s not extraneous. That doesn’t mean that we all need to become political activists and 24-hour news junkies. But we do need to be people who are concerned about homelessness, about the ability of others to thrive, about the environment, about a lot of things to make ours a better world. “We should see politics as one of the dimensions of the life for which God created us.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, page 34)

Miroslav Volf

Miroslav Volf is professor of systematic theology and founding director at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. In answer to the question “In A Public Faith [Baker, 2013], you observe that members of all religious groups want their convictions and practices to shape public life. Is this an appropriate desire for Christians?” he says that it’s more than appropriate, it’s our responsibility. In answer to the question “You believe that coercive faith is malfunctioning faith. How can we safeguard against coercive faith in our private and public lives?” he advises emphasizing freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and the separation of church and state. In answer to the question “What should be the boundaries for a Christian’s political activism?” he advocates an ad hoc position, being fully involved in some areas and being only partially involved in other areas.

Finally, in answer to the question “Final thought for Canadian Christians on how theology ought to inform our political engagement?” he says:

“I would say to be courageous and not think that Christ is irrelevant to politics. Expressing and giving voice to the radical character of Christ’s vision is what we are called to do. “Act in hope, and hold before others our own better selves, so that somehow we can come together to create and to enjoy a world that is called to be our home.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, page 34)

David Guretzki

David Guretzky was a professor and dean of the seminary at Briarcrest College and Seminary when his “Theology and politics: two mistakes, two correctives” appeared in Faith Today. In June he became executive vice-president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The two mistakes are (1) separating reality into sacred and secular with the former under God’s authority and the latter under human authority and (2) identifying “political” with “the government.” The corrective to (1) is to recognize that God is in charge of everything although His authority is not yet fully publicly acknowledged and celebrated in the secular realm and to try to persuade others that God’s ways are best for all, not just for Christians. And the corrective to (2) is to broaden our understanding of “political” to working toward all the ways in which the glory of God can be displayed in society rather than just voting for a particular political party or candidate in an election.

Guretzki concludes his article thus:

“This means that the Church in Canada needs to better learn to do ‘life together’ … in view of the world, as followers and lovers of Jesus Christ.

“For it will not be how well we are able to convince others of biblical views … but how well we exemplify lives lived for the common good, and not just for our own sakes. ”So Jesus does not say, ‘They will know you are my disciples by how you vote,’ but ‘They will know you are disciples by how you love one another’ (John 13:35).”

(David Guretsky,  “Theology and politics: two mistakes, two correctives,” Faith Today, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, March / April 2017, pages 32-33)

15. J. S. Mill’s On Liberty

“The line between matters that are affected with the public interest and the private concerns of individual men is a difficult one to draw. What part of anyone’s life or conduct is nobody’s business, and what part is everyone’s business because it affects the lives of others and the welfare of society as a whole? There may be no satisfactory answer to this question, but some determination of what is private and what is public is necessary to determine the proper scope of government and the sphere of individual liberty. “This is the problem John Stuart Mill undertakes to solve in his essay On Liberty.” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, volume 2 of The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959)

In introducing my last post, on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, I said that although I didn’t share the antipathy that some hold of it I was tempted not to include an article on it in this series of posts at Bob’s Corner on the writings considered in The Development of Political Theory and Government because I found it difficult to read. I have no such problem with On Liberty, finding it easy to read. Additionally, although J. S. Mill’s discussion of where to draw the line between conduct that affects others and conduct that affects the individual’s personal life was published over one and one-half centuries ago, it seems quite contemporary to me.

In their guide to On Liberty Adler and Wolff consider Mill’s view of its importance, the meaning of “liberty,” the importance of individuality, and two other questions about On Liberty. Here I’ll give  the sketch of J. S. Mill’s life that I included in my earlier post on his Representative Government and summarize and comment on what Adler and Wolff say.

The Life of Mill

John Stuart Mill was born in Pentonville, London, on May 20, 1806, the oldest son of James Mill, an outstanding philosopher, political thinker, and practical statesman. He was educated exclusively by his father, a strict disciplinarian. He began to study Greek and arithmetic at the age of three; by the time he was eight he had read the whole of the historian Herodotus, six dialogues of Plato, and considerable history; and before he was twelve had studied Euclid and algebra, the Greek and Latin poets, and some English poetry. At twelve he was introduced to logic, and his thirteenth year (the last under his father’s direct supervision) was devoted to political economy under his father, who was working on his Elements of Political Economy. He furthered his studies with his father’s friends, studying law with Austen and economics with Ricardo.

In 1826, at the age of twenty, Mill suffered what he later called “a crisis in my mental history.” He became greatly depressed, asking himself, “Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you were looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness and happiness to you?” and answering with “an irrepressible self-consciousness” with “No.” This depression lasted several months and affected him for three or four years. He finally emerged from it with a new appreciation for the value of the emotions and a realization that philosophical analysis was only part of life. (The quotations in this paragraph are from Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 181.)

From the time he was seventeen, Mill supported himself by working for the British East India Company, where his father was an official. Like his father he worked in its examiner’s office and rose (on his father’s death in 1836) to be chief examiner. He spent thirty-five years at it, retiring in 1858 when the company was dissolved and its functions were taken over by the British Government. In addition to his regular employment, he took part in many activities tending to prepare public opinion for legislative reform; for example, he wrote often for newspapers friendly to the “radical” cause. However these activities didn’t present him from pursuing his own intellectual interests, his studies resulting in the publication of System of Logic (1843) and Principles of Political Economy (1848).

Mill attributed the development and productivity of these years to his relationship with Mrs. Harriet Taylor, who was the wife of John Taylor when he met her in 1830. They were married in 1851, two years after the death of her first husband. Mill later wrote that his friendship with her “has been the honour and chief blessing of my existence, as well as the source of a great part of all that I have attempted to do, or hope to do hereafter, for human improvement.” Although in the seven years of their married life he published less than at any other period of his life (because of his increasing absorption in the work of India House), he thought out and discussed with her such important works as On Liberty and Representative Government (published in 1859 and 1861, respectively).

Mill died on May 8, 1873, in his cottage at Avignon which had been built so that he might be close to the grave of his wife, who had died there on November 3, 1858.

Mill’s View of the Importance of On Liberty

Mill thought that On Liberty would be his most lasting work and attributed its high quality to his wife’s help with it. In the Autobiography he says:

“The ‘Liberty’ was more directly and literally our joint production than anything else which bears my name,  for there was not a sentence of it that was not several times gone through by us together, turned over in many ways, and carefully weeded of many faults, either in thought or expression, that we detected in it. It is in consequence of this that, although it never underwent her final revision [because of her death], it far surpasses, as a mere specimen of composition, anything which has proceeded from me, either before or since.…

“The ‘Liberty’ is likely to survive longer than anything else than anything else that I have written… because the conjunction of her mind with mine has rendered it a kind of philosophic text-book of a single truth, which the changes progressively taking place in modern society tend to bring out into ever stronger relied: the importance, to man and society, of a large variety in types of character, and of giving full freedom to human nature to expand itself in innumerable and conflicting directions.” (New York, 1948, pages 176-77; quoted in Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 209-10)

The Meaning of “Liberty”

“Liberty consists in doing what one desires” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty in volume 43 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 313).

As indicated in the following statement, On Liberty assigns both a positive and a negative aspect to liberty:

“The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our only good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 273).

Positively, liberty means that a person can think, express himself, and do as he pleases. Chapter 2, “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion,” deals with why people should be free to form and express opinions without reserve, and Chapter 3, “Of Individuality, as one of the Elements of Well-Being,” deals with why people should be free to act on one’s opinions without hindrance from others. (For more on Chapters 2 and 3, see respectively the first question in “Questions about On Liberty” and “The Importance of Individuality” below.)

Negatively, liberty has only one restriction on it‒the exercise of one’s freedom must not interfere with a similar freedom on the part of others. Chapter 4, “Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual,” deals with the extent to which society is justified in interfering with the individual’s freedom. (For more on Chapter 4, see the second question in “Questions about On Liberty” below.)

(Chapters 2-4 constitute the main body of On Liberty, with Chapters 1, “Introductory,” and 5, “Applications,” introducing and concluding it.)

The Importance of Individuality

Throughout Chapter 3 Mill tells us that most people don’t appreciate the value of individuality. For example, near the beginning of the chapter, he says:

“Individual spontaneity is hardly recognized by the common modes of thinking as having any intrinsic worth, or deserving any regard on its own account. The majority, being satisfied with the ways of mankind as they now are…cannot comprehend why those ways should not be good enough for everyone.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 294)

In the chapter Mill gives an assortment of reasons why individuality should be highly regarded. Adler and Wolff identify three:

(1) Although a person should learn from the experiences of others, their experience might be suitable for their circumstances but not suitable for him. Nor can he rely on customs.

“Customs are made for customary circumstances and customary characters; and his circumstances or his character may be uncustomary” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 294).

(2) Only by choosing and acting for oneself can a person develop fully as a human being.

“A person whose desires and impulses are his own‒are the expression of his own nature, as it has been developed and modified by his own culture‒is said to have a character. One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam-engine has a character.” (J. Mill, On Liberty, page 295)

(3) People’s preference for the uniformity and customariness of routine lives leads to a depressing sameness in tastes, desires, and actions.

“Comparatively speaking, [all people] now read the same things, listen to the same things, go to the same places, have their hopes and fears directed to the same objects, have their hopes and fears directed to the same objects, have the same rights and liberties, and the same means of asserting them. Great as are the differences of position which remain, they are nothing to those which have  ceased. And the assimilation is still proceeding.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 302)

In light of the many things in society endangering individuality, Mill encourages unusual thought and behaviour.

“Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 299)

Questions about On Liberty

What are Mill’s arguments in favor of liberty of thought and discussion?

In Chapter 2 Mill says that everyone’s opinions, whether right or wrong, ought to be allowed to be expressed, discussed, and disseminated.

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, [men] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 275)

Adler and Wolff’s consideration of the question consists mainly of the posing of several follow-up questions. Although I’ll give only a few of them here, I’ll add my answers to them. I invite you to also share your answers to them, in the Bob’s Corner and/or Facebook discussions of this article. (The questions quoted below are from Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 215-16.)

“In this view [the view expressed in the quotation above], should free discussion of any opinion put forth (in public discussion, in the newspapers, etc.) be permitted? Or are there any opinions the suppression of which Mill would think justified?” Yes to both questions. An example of the latter is:

“An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but they may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 293)

“Does the freedom of opinion which Mill advocates extend to all subjects? Or are any excepted? For instance, are theological matters to be excepted in a country‒like England‒where there is an established church?” Yes, no, and no, respectively. Mill even argues that doctrines being challenged gives life to them. For example, he says:

“There are many reasons, doubtless, why doctrines which are the badge of a sect retain more of their vitality than those common to all recognized sects, and why more pains are taken by teachers to keep their meaning alive; but one reason certainly is, that the peculiar doctrines are more questioned, and have to be oftener defended against open gainsayers. Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 287)

“It is sometimes said that ‘the public business must be public,’ that is, that there must be no closed sessions of legislatures, city councils, etc. Would these bodies sometimes not function more efficiently and more courageously if their deliberations were not subject to public scrutiny? Is the loss in efficiency made up for by a gain in liberty?” Yes to both questions.
As I read Chapter 2, I wondered what Mill would say about the current attempts in my country, Canada, of the BGLT community to censor public objections to homosexualism on the grounds that the objections display intolerance. What do you think?

Are there any restrictions on freedom of action?

Actions should not be allowed which harm or threaten to harm other people.

“Acts, of whatever kind, which, without justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be, and in the most important cases absolutely require to be, controlled by the unfavourable sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 293).

In Chapter 4 Mill sums up his view of the relation of society and the individual thus:

“As soon as any part of a person’s conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion. But there is no room for entertaining any such question when a person’s conduct affects the interests of no persons besides himself, or needs not affect them unless they like.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 303)

14. Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

“Of all the contributions to political theory which are included in this Reading Plan, that of Hegel is least likely to elicit a sympathetic response in a democratic audience. On the contrary, its main tenets are such as to produce an emotional antipathy verging even on an unwillingness to give his views a fair hearing. Yet they deserve our closest attention in spite of the distaste they may arouse in us, precisely because they represent so clearly and powerfully the antithesis of our most fundamental convictions.” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, volume 2 in The Great Ideas Program, page 195)

Thus Adler and Wolff introduce their consideration of the Introduction and Subsection III (The State) of the Third Part of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. The antipathy that they refer to results from Hegel’s being viewed as promoting totalitarianism when he affirms that man is made for the state, rather than that the state is made for man as believers in democracy hold. However, in view of his also emphasizing the principles of right and justice, respecting law as the voice of reason, and insisting on constitutional government, I didn’t share the antipathy that some hold of Philosophy of Right when I read the selections from it.

However for a different reason I was tempted not to include an article on Philosophy of Right in this series of posts at Bob’s Corner on the writings considered in The Development of Political Theory and Government. The reason is:

“Hegel constructed a philosophic system. He does not treat the various fields as independent realities, but binds everything together with a few central ideas. It is difficult to understand any part of Hegel’s system without understanding the whole.” (Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 197) 

Although Adler and Wolff go on to say that Philosophy of Right can be more easily read separately than some of Hegel’s other works, I still found it difficult. (I was also turned off by Hegel’s dogmatic presentation of his views and cavalier dismissal of other views.)

Yet because of Hegel’s importance in the history of political theory, I didn’t want to omit him in the series of posts. I discussed my problem with my daughter Allison (see Allison’s Book Bag). She suggested that I base my article on what Adler and Wolff say about the selection rather than on the selection itself. I liked her suggestion and decided to follow it except for including also a sketch of Hegel’s life. Thus this post contains a sketch of Hegel’s life and a summary of Adler and Wolff’s discussion of the Introduction and Subsection III (The State) of the Third Part of Philosophy of Right. The latter considers the content and method of Hegel\s philosophy, his conception of the state and freedom, and three questions about the reading.

The Life of Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born at Stuttgart, Germany, August 27, 1770, the oldest child of a revenue officer. His achievement at the local grammar school and gymnasium was unremarkable. In 1788 he entered the University of Tűbingen as a student of theology. He showed little aptitude for theology, his sermons being a failure and his finding more congenial reading in the classics. After leaving the university in 1793, he earned his livelihood as a family tutor, first at Berne (1793-96) and then at Frankfurt (1797-1800). From his years as a tutor came numerous manuscripts, in various stages of completion and of varying importance but all indicative of a great deal of study.

In 1799 Hegel’s father died and a small inheritance offered him a brief period of independence. He wrote to a friend, Schelling, asking him to suggest a suitable town for a brief period of studious withdrawal. Schelling’s answer must have been enthusiastic because Hegel joined him at Jena almost immediately. Here he became a Privadocent at the university. In the winter of 1801-02 his lectures on logic and metaphysics were attended by eleven students. Succeeding series in later years were attended by about thirty students and were devoted to a “system of speculative philosophy,” the history of philosophy, pure mathematics, and other topics. His academic career was brought abruptly to a close by the Napoleonic campaign culminating in the battle of Jena in late 1806. However despite the war his first great work, The Phenomenology of Spirit, appeared in 1807.

At loose ends Hegel edited a newspaper at Bamberg for a time (1807-08) but, finding journalism distasteful, he accepted a position a position as headmaster of the Gymnasium at Nuremberg, where he remained until 1816. In 1811 he married; the marriage was entirely happy and his wife bore him two sons. Two volumes of his Science of Logic were published in 1812 and a third in 1816. Offered professorships at Erlangen, Heidelberg, and Berlin, he accepted the invitation to Heidelberg. However after the publication of his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in 1817, the offer of Berlin was renewed and he accepted it.

The thirteen years of Hegel’s professorship at the University of Berlin (1818-31) brought him to the summit of his career and made him the recognized leader of philosophic thought in Germany. Philosophy of Right, the last of the large works published in his lifetime, appeared in 1821. His lectures on aesthetics, the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of history, and the history of philosophy were constantly revised and improved and finally published after his death. In 1830 he became rector of the university and was decorated by Frederick William III of Prussia. He died of cholera on the 14th of November, 1831.

Content and Method of Hegel’s Philosophy

To make the reading of the Introduction and Subsection III (The State) of the Third Part of Philosophy of Right easier, Adler and Wolff consider two things that are central to Hegel’s philosophy, the first having to do with its content and the second with its method.

(1) Hegel is often called an “idealist” in philosophy because what for him is most real are ideas or concepts or thoughts. The most important aspect of the world is its ideal or rational character. The sensible or phenomenal aspect of the world (what we see, hear, feel, etc.) is intelligible only insofar as we recognize it as partaking of rationality. The state and its institutions, which we read about in Philosophy of Right, are of interest to Hegel only insofar as they reflect the rational spirit which is reality. For Hegel, the real is the ideal.

(2) Hegel calls his method “dialectical.” The dialectical approach, in Hegel’s sense, involves viewing everything, including ideas, as developing and changing. Most important is the development that occurs when an idea and its opposite clash. Out of such a meeting of a “thesis” and its “antithesis” there emerges a “synthesis,” a stage of development in which the earlier opposites are both contained but in such a way that they are reconciled. In Philosophy of Right the state is a synthesis of two opposite poles, subjective and objective freedom; for the distinction between them, see the next section.

Hegel’s Conception of the State and Freedom

The main political question in ancient and medieval political writings was “To what end should the power of the state be used?” Since the seventeenth century that question has been replaced by Rousseau’s “Man is born free; yet everywhere he is in chains. What is the reason for this and what makes it legitimate?” Hegel presents a mixture of these traditions, being much concerned about the problem of freedom (like his contemporaries and immediate predecessors) and yet viewing nothing as right which doesn’t serve the state (like the ancients). Because he doesn’t conceive of the state and freedom the same as most other political writers do, Adler and Wolff next consider somewhat closely his use of those key terms.

Observing that Hegel identifies the state with both freedom, “The state is the actuality of concrete freedom” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right in volume 46 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 82), and rationality, “the state is absolutely rational” (op. cit., page 80), Adler and Wolff suggest that for him freedom and rationality are closely related and perhaps even identical. They confirm this with the following quotation from Philosophy of Right:

“Rationality, taken generally and in the abstract, consists in the throughgoing unity of the universal and the single. Rationality, concrete in the state, consists (a) so far as its content is concerned, in the unity of objective freedom (i.e. freedom of the universal or substantial will) and subjective freedom (i.e. freedom of everyone in his knowing and in his volition of particular ends); and consequently, (b) so far as its form is concerned, in self-determining action on laws and principles which are principles and universal.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 80)

Subjective freedom is the freedom of the individual person to be himself, to act and do as he and he alone pleases. Objective freedom is the freedom which the will achieves when it wills not what it pleases but what is right for it. The object of the will when it wills thus wills rightly is necessarily universal. A man so determined in his choices and actions will not be free in the sense of subjective freedom: he will no longer be able to arbitrarily choose this way ot that way. But he will be free in the objective sense: he will be free from all those attractions that the will ought not to follow because they are not truly good for man. Hegel asserts:

“The idea which people most commonly have of freedom is that it is arbitrariness‒the mean, chosen by abstract reflection, between the will wholly determined by natural impulses, and the will free absolutely. If we hear it said that the definition of freedom is ability to do what we please, such an idea can be taken to reveal an utter immaturity of thought, for it contains not even an inkling of the absolutely free will, of right, ethical life, and so forth,” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 16; the quotation is an example of what I was referring to when I said above in introducing this article, “I was also turned off by Hegel’s dogmatic presentation of his views and cavalier dismissal of other views.”)

Returning to a statement which they had quoted earlier, “the state is the actuality of concrete freedom,” Adler and Wolff now consider how the state can be an embodiment of freedom. The freedom that Hegel has in mind is the true or objective freedom, his continuing thus after the statement just quoted:

“But concrete freedom consists in this, that personal individuality and its particular interests not only achieve their complete development…but, for one thing, they also pass over of their own accord into the interest of the universal, and, for another thing, they know and will the universal; they even recognize it as their own substantive mind; they take it as their end and aim and are active in its pursuit. The result is that the universal does not prevail or achieve completion except along with particular interests and through the co-operation of particular knowing and willing; and individuals likewise do not live as private persons for their own ends alone, but in the very act of willing these they will the universal in the light of the universal, and their activity is consciously aimed at none but the universal end.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, pages 82-83)

Adler and Wolff conclude their consideration of Hegel’s conception of the state and freedom thus:

“In Hegel’s view of the state, then, there is no opposition between the individual’s rights and freedoms on the one side, and the state’s rights and demands on the other. There is no need, therefore, for any provisions to safeguard the individual against the encroachments of the state. Such things as Bills of Right are absurd. The state, not the individual, is supreme. Hegel expresses his idea of the state’s grandeur very plainly: ‘The march of God on earth, that is what the state is’ (p. 141),”  (Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 202)

Three Questions about Philosophy of Right

What is the relation of religion to the state?

In modern times the separation of church and state is a cardinal principle of life in Western countries. This is based on the view that state and religion are concerned with two different spheres of the individual’s life, the former with such things as individuals’ relations to one another, their property, and their security and the latter with matters that concern an individual’s relation with God.

However for Hegel the individual can have no rights apart from what the state gives him. Religion is an expression of a person’s individuality and belongs to his subjectivity. Subjectivity has its place in the state, but its ultimate destiny is always to be transformed and raised up into objectivity. Hegel describes the relation of religion and the state thus:

“If religion be religion of a genuine kind, it does not run counter to the state in a negative or polemical way…It rather recognizes the state and upholds it…The state discharges a duty by affording every protection to the church by affording every assistance and protection to the church in the furtherance of its religious ends.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 86)

What are the three powers of the state?

The usual numeration of the three powers of the state are the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Hegel gives them as the executive, the legislature, and the crown. Here is how he defines them:

“(a) the power to determine and establish the universal‒the Legislature; “(b) the power to subsume single cases and the spheres of particularity under the universal‒the Executive; “(c) the power of subjectivity, as the will with the power of ultimate decision‒the Crown. In the crown, the different powers are bound into an individual unity which is thus at once the apex and  basis of the whole, i.e. of constitutional monarchy.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 90)

Further on he notes that executive power also includes the judiciary.

What are the divisions of the Philosophy of Right?

The divisions of Philosophy of Right arise from the dialectical method by which the subject of right is treated. The dialectical method take an idea and considers it in its development. Thus Hegel writes:

“In correspondence with the stages in the development of the Idea of the absolutely free will, the will is A. Immediate…‒the sphere of Abstract or Formal Right; B. Reflected from its external embodiment into itself‒it is then characterized as subjective individuality in opposition to the universal…‒the sphere of Morality; C. The unity and truth of both of these abstract moments…‒Ethical Life.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 20)

On the same principle Ethical Life is divided into three parts: the family, civil society, and the state. And the section of the book dealing with the state is divided into three parts: the state in itself, the state in relation to other states, and the state as it is a phase of world history. On the latter Hegel says:

“The State [is] freedom, freedom universal and objective even in the free self-subsistence of the particular will. This actual and organic mind (α) of a single nation (β) reveals and actualizes itself through the interrelation of the particular national minds until (γ) in the process of world-history it reveals and actualizes itself as the universal world-mind whose right is supreme.” ((Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 20)

13. J. S. Mill’s Representative Government

“John Stuart Mill’s Representative Government is the first great work in political theory which argues for the proposition that democracy is the ideal form of government. The central democratic principal of universal suffrage was not only an untried and radical proposal in 1861, but it was also one that aroused justifiable fears of mob rule or, at least, misgovernment by the uneducated and inexperienced mass of working-men. Mill himself shared these fears, and he proposed weighted voting and proportional representation to overcome the tyranny of an underprivileged majority legislating in its own interest when it obtained the franchise. But he had the courage, nevertheless, to defend the principal of universal suffrage on the grounds of justice or right‒the right of every men to have a voice in matters which are the common concern of all…. “Representative Government was a tract for the times in Mill’s day. It is still one in our day, and considering the world at large, it is likely to be for some time to come a tract for the future.” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, volume 2 in The Great Ideas, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959, pages 177-179)

Adler and Wolff go on to sketch the life of Mill, to compare and traditional conceptions of democracy, to explain why Mill favoured representative government, and to discuss four questions about Mill’s view of representative government. Here I’ll summarize their presentation, occasionally supplementing the sketch of Mill’s life with details from other sources and the rest of their presentation with comments of my own.

The Life of Mill

John Stuart Mill was born in Pentonville, London, on May 20, 1806, the oldest son of James Mill, an outstanding philosopher, political thinker, and practical statesman. He was educated exclusively by his father, a strict disciplinarian. He began to study Greek and arithmetic at the age of three; by the time he was eight he had read the whole of the historian Herodotus, six dialogues of Plato, and considerable history; and before he was twelve had studied Euclid and algebra, the Greek and Latin poets, and some English poetry. At twelve he was introduced to logic, and his thirteenth year (the last under his father’s direct supervision) was devoted to political economy under his father, who was working on his Elements of Political Economy. He furthered his studies with his father’s friends, studying law with Austen and economics with Ricardo.

In 1826, at the age of twenty, Mill suffered what he later called “a crisis in my mental history.” He became greatly depressed, asking himself, “Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you were looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness and happiness to you?” and answering with “an irrepressible self-consciousness” with “No.” This depression lasted several months and affected him for three or four years. He finally emerged from it with a new appreciation for the value of the emotions and a realization that philosophical analysis was only part of life. (The quotations in this paragraph are from Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 181.)

From the time he was seventeen, Mill supported himself by working for the British East India Company, where his father was an official. Like his father he worked in its examiner’s office and rose (on his father’s death in 1836) to be chief examiner. He spent thirty-five years at it, retiring in 1858 when the company was dissolved and its functions were taken over by the British Government. In addition to his regular employment, he took part in many activities tending to prepare public opinion for legislative reform; for example, he wrote often for newspapers friendly to the “radical” cause. However these activities didn’t present him from pursuing his own intellectual interests, his studies resulting in the publication of System of Logic (1843) and Principles of Political Economy (1848).

Mill attributed the development and productivity of these years to his relationship with Mrs. Harriet Taylor, who was the wife of John Taylor when he met her in 1830. They were married in 1851, two years after the death of her first husband. Mill later wrote that his friendship with her “has been the honour and chief blessing of my existence, as well as the source of a great part of all that I have attempted to do, or hope to do hereafter, for human improvement.” Although in the seven years of their married life he published less than at any other period of his life (because of his increasing absorption in the work of India House), he thought out and discussed with her such important works as Representative Government (published in 1861) and the work that I’ll report on in my last post in this series of posts, On Liberty (1859).

Mill died on May 8, 1873, in his cottage at Avignon which had been built so that he might be close to the grave of his wife, who had died there on November 3, 1858.

Modern and Traditional Conceptions of Democracy

After observing that Representative Government is the first of the great books on political philosophy to expound the modern theory of democracy and the first one to defend this kind of government as the best form of government, Adler and Wolff explain how modern and traditional theories differ in their conceptions of democracy.

Both Plato and Aristotle were acquainted with forms of government that they called democracies. To them a democratic form of government exists when “the many” rule. However “the many” doesn’t comprise every adult or even every adult male in the state, and so this form of government is democratic only in comparison to the kinds of government to which it is opposed, such as monarchy and oligarchy. However to Mill democracy meant nothing less than universal suffrage.

In addition neither Plato nor Aristotle favours democracy, but Mill unequivocally endorses it. Plato calls it “a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike” (Plato, The Republic, in volume 7 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 409). And although Aristotle recognizes democracy as better than oligarchy, he calls the form of democracy in which the citizens (those entitled to vote) are very numerous “the…worst form of democracy” (Aristotle, Politics, in volume 9 of Great Books of the Western World, page 523). But Mill says:

“There is no difficulty in showing that the ideally best form of government is that in which the sovereignty, or supreme controlling power in the last resort, is vested in the entire aggregate of the community, every citizen not only having a voice in the exercise of that sovereignty, but being, at least occasionally, called on to take an actual part in the government, by the personal discharge of some public function, local or general” (Mill, Representative Government, in volume 43 of Great Books of the Western World, page 344).

Why Mill Favoured Representative Government

In Chapters 1 and 2 of Representative Government Mill deals with two preliminary problems, the solution of which will help explain why Mill favoured representative government‒how far governments are subject to human choice (in Chapter 1) and the criteria by which we judge the goodness of a particular form of government (in Chapter 2).

With regard to the first problem, Mill concludes that men can do something about their governments but that not every form of government is possible for every kind of people. He identifies three conditions which must be taken into account in considering whether a form of government is suitable for a given country:

“The people for whom the form of government is intended must be willing to accept it; or at least not so unwilling as to oppose an insurmountable obstacle to its establishment. They must be willing and able to do what is necessary to keep it standing. And they must be willing and able to do what it requires of them to enable it to fulfil its purposes.” (Mill, Representative Government, page 329)

He concludes that within the limits set by these three conditions “institutions and forms of government are a matter of choice” (Mill, Representative Government, page 331).

With regard to the second problem, Mill concludes that the best government is one which fulfils the purposes for which governments are established. He then considers what the purposes of government are and concludes:

“The merit which any set of political institutions can possess…consists partly of the degree in which they promote the general mental advancement of the community, including under that phrase advancement in intellect, in virtue, and in practical activity and efficiency; and partly of the degree of perfection with which they organize the moral, intellectual, and active worth already existing, so as to operate with the greatest effect on public affairs” (Mill, Representative Government, page 338).

In Chapter 3 Mill argues that the representative form of government best fulfils these two purposes and thus is the ideally best form of government. Regarding the former, he claims that the best and happiest kind of person is one who is not content merely to remain what he is but who constantly tries to improve himself and that this active type of character is encouraged by self-government but suppressed in varying degrees by other forms of government. Regarding the latter, he claims that self-government uses the existing good qualities of a people in the best way because it promotes the common good by enlisting the energies of all the people. This just shows the superiority of democracy over other forms of government, but

“since all cannot, in a community exceeding a single small town, participate personally in any but some very minor portions of the public business, it follows that the ideal type of a perfect government must be representative” (Mill, Representative Government, page 350).

Four Questions about Mill’s View of Representative Government

What means does Mill propose in order to counteract the “tyranny of the majority?”

Mill presents the problem thus:

“The pure idea of democracy…is the government of the whole people by the whole people, equally represented. Democracy as commonly conceived and hitherto practised is the government of the people by the mere majority of the people, exclusively represented” (Mill, Representative Government, page 370).

But this is not just.

Mill’s proposed solution is proportional representation, a system of voting which gives minority parties representation in a legislation in proportion to their popular vote. Adler and Wolff comment:

“There is something very persuasive in the arguments advanced by Mill and others in favor of proportional representation. It definitely results in a legislative assembly that is a more exact image of the divisions of popular opinion than can otherwise be obtained. And it seems just that the assembly should mirror the country as a whole. [But] proportional representation seems to encourage unstable governments.” (Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 189)

Years ago, when I was a member of the Reform Party of Canada, I favoured proportional government. However now I think that its disadvantages outweigh its advantages and thus favour our present, non-proportional system of representation.

Who governs in a representative government?

Mill answers:

“The proper duty of a representative assembly is regards to administration is not to decide them by its own vote, but to take care that the persons who have to decide them shall be the proper persons” (Mill, Representative Government, page 358).

And those people, the executive, should be allowed to govern.

Does Mill think that all men are entitled to vote?

Mill answers affirmatively, arguing that only children, illiterates, those who don’t pay taxes, and those on public relief are properly excluded. Adler and Wolff add, “We may assume that he would as a matter of course also exclude convicted criminals” (Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 192). The following passage shows how important Mill considers suffrage, from the point of view both of utility and of justice:

“Whoever, in an otherwise popular government, has no vote, and no prospect of obtaining it, will either be a permanent malcontent, or will feel as one whom the general affairs of society do not concern… “It is a personal injustice to withhold from any one, unless for the prevention of greater evils, the ordinary privilege of having his voice reckoned in which he has the same interest as other people.” (Mill, Representative Government, page 382)

Should everyone’s vote count equally?

Although Mill thought that everyone is entitled to vote, he also thought that some men should be able to vote two or three times. He justifies holding both opinions thus:

“Everyone has a right to feel insulted by being made a nobody, and stamped as of no account at all. No one but a fool…feels offended by the acknowledgement that there are others whose opinion…is entitled to a greater amount of consideration than his” (Mill, Representative Government, page 384-385).

This method of voting is called “plural voting.” In arguing for it, Mill said that it shouldn’t be based on accidental circumstances, such as the possession of property, but on some just qualification, such as superior education or mental ability.

Personally, I disagree with plural voting, for both practical and moral reasons. I think that it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to select a characteristic to base it on that everyone would agree with. I also think that it is unjust, being incompatible in my opinion with the concepts of representation and universal suffrage.

14. American State Papers

The Declaration of Independence, the document declaring the freedom of the thirteen American colonies from British rule, was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, it affirms the natural rights of man and the doctrine of government by contract, which the Continental Congress felt had been repeatedly violated by King George III. The Constitution of the United States of America, the document defining the principal organs of American government and their jurisdictions, was drafted by the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and, after the ninth state had ratified it, was declared in effect by Congress on March 4, 1789. It consists of seven articles and numerous amendments, the latter affirming the basic rights of citizens as well as clarifying and updating the content of the articles. The Federalist consists of articles appearing in New York newspapers from October 1897 to April 1788 urging the people of the state of New York to ratify the Constitution. Its chief author was Alexander Hamilton, but some of its articles were contributed by James Madison (whose role in framing the Constitution was such that he is often called the “Father of the Constitution”) and some by John Jay; however all of its articles are signed “Publius.”

Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff conclude the introduction to their consideration of the three “American state papers” in volume 1, An Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, of The Great Ideas Program (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959) with this comment about The Federalist:

“The adult who reads The Federalist for the first time will enjoy the sense of acquiring an understanding of his government which should be the property of every citizen. More than that, he will be struck by the clarity and power of both the thought and the writing. They exemplify the common level of political discourse in the days when this republic was formed. The articles which comprise The Federalist were current political journalism in the years 1787-1789. They were written for newspaper readers. If we contemplate that fact, and compare the level of their style and substance with that of political speeches, articles, or journalism in our own day, we are compelled to wonder about the education of our political leaders as well as of our citizens today.” (Adler and Wolff, An Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 160)

Adler and Wolff go on to put the three papers in their historical context, to show how the Constitution displays both the tendency to give power and responsibility to the people (favoured by Jefferson) and the tendency to safeguard against the uses to which people might put such power (favoured by the Federalists), to consider the remedy proposed by Madison in The Federalist to deal with faction in a popular government, to show how the Constitution provides for the separation of the powers of government, and to discuss four other questions about the papers. I opened this post by putting the papers in historical context, and in the rest of the post I’ll summarize what Adler and Wolff say about how the Constitution displays both the tendency to give power and responsibility to the people and the tendency to safeguard against the uses to which people might put such power, about Madison’s remedy for faction in a popular government, and about how the Constitution provides for the separation of powers. However I won’t share here from their discussion of the four other questions.

The Constitution a Compromise between Two Opposed Tendencies

Jefferson favoured placing power and responsibility in the hands of the people as far as possible, but the Federalists wanted safeguards against the uses to which the people might put such power. The Constitution contains many evidences of these two opposed tendencies. Adler and Wolff identify these three: (1) the Congress of the United States consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives with the House of Representatives’s being elected by the people and having its seats up for election every two years, but the Senate’s being chosen by the state legislatures instead of being elected by the people (this was changed by the thirteenth amendment) and having only a third of its seats changed at each election; (2) the President is elected by the people rather than by the state legislatures or governors, but the election is indirect with the people’s electing electors who in turn elect the president; and (3) only the House of Representatives can initiate bills having to do with money matters (presumably because taxation is to go along with representation), but only the Senate is consulted in matters of foreign policy (presumably because it is not subject to sudden and disastrous whims). Adler and Wolff explain how each of the three represents a compromise between the two tendencies.

Dealing with Faction in a Popular Government

In The Federalist, No. 10, Madison deals with the problem of internal instability, and faction in popular governments. Here is how he describes the problem:

“Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens…that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” (The Federalist in volume 43 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 49)

Madison blames the problem on factions, groups of citizens which try to control the government for their own special interests rather than for the common good. He says that we can prevent this either by eliminating the causes of factions or by controlling their effects. Factions can be eliminated “by destroying the liberty which is essential to [their] existence” or “by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests” (The Federalist, page 50). However the first remedy is unwise, liberty’s being essential to political life, and the second remedy is clearly impossible. Thus he concludes that the way to deal with factions is to realize that they will always be with us and to concentrate on dealing with their effects.

Observing that a faction becomes dangerous when it becomes the majority in a popular government, Madison proposes a way to prevent a faction from becoming the ruling power‒having republican rather than democratic government. He points out these differences between a democracy and a republic:

“first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended” (The Federalist, pages 52-52).

And he claims that delegates will often recognize the true interest of the country better than the people themselves could and that a larger country suffers less from the evils of factions than a small one because it takes in a greater variety of parties and interests.

The Separation of the Powers of Government

The separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers is a basic provision of the Constitution. Locke mentions the separation of powers, but the doctrine that it is all-important for free government stems from Montesquieu. After explaining how liberty is threatened by the uniting of the legislative powers in the same person or body or the joining of the judicial with either of them, he affirms, “There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals” (Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, in volume 38 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 70).

However, despite the importance of the separation of powers in the Constitution, there is considerable mixing of government powers (the so-called system of checks and balances). Although some mixture of powers is defensible, they should for the most part be kept separate. How can this be done? The Federalist answers:

“The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper place….

“In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others….

“It is equally evident, that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices….

“But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defence must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counterattack ambition. The interest of the man must ve connected with the constitutional rights of the place.” (The Federalist, pages 162-163)

12. Kant’s The Science of Right

My earlier encounter with Kant, via his Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, was forbidding. Thus I wasn’t looking forward to reading from his The Science of Right in my current reading of selections from Great Books of the Western World (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952) guided by Mortimer J. Adler (with various co-authors) in The Great Ideas Program (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959-63). However I was pleasantly surprised, my finding the assigned selection (the Introduction and the Second Part of The Science of Right) to be well-organized and clearly expressed. After similarly praising Kant’s style in their introduction to the selection, Adler and Peter Wolff observe:

“Such system, order, and precision may be expected in metaphysics or mathematics, but it is unusual in political theory. The reader will find here the familiar notions of constitutional government and citizenship, of politic rights and duties, of the forms and powers of government, of freedom, justice, and equality‒notions he has met in the writings of other authors included in this Reading Plan. But they are transformed by the method with which Kant treats them, and the reader will enrich his understanding of them by re-examining them in the new light that is thrown on them by Kant’s definitions, his universal principles, and the rational connections between them which are made explicit by Kant’s systematically reasoned exposition. (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, volume 2 of The Great Ideas Program, 1959, page 164)

In their study of the selection, Adler and Wolff consider Kant’s political theory, his republicanism, his theory of punishment, and his conception of “right.”  Here I’ll summarize what they say about those topics and sketch Kant’s life, starting with the latter.

The Life of Kant

Immanuel Kant was born at Königsberg in East Prussia on April 22, 1724. In his eighth year he entered the Latin school which his parents’ Pietist Lutheran pastor directed and where he acquired a love for the Latin classics. In 1740 he enrolled in the University of Königsberg as a theological student. He was principally attracted to mathematics and physics and decided to pursue an academic career. However in 1746 he had to withdraw for financial reasons and take a position as a family tutor.

In 1755, aided by a relative, Kant was able to complete his degree at the university and assume the role of a lecturer. At first he restricted himself to mathematics and physics and in that and the next year he published several scientific works. But he soon branched into other subjects, including logic, metaphysics, and moral philosophy. He enjoyed success as a lecturer, his style being humorous and vivid, enlivened by many examples drawn from his wide reading. During his fifteen years as a lecturer his fame as writer and lecturer steadily increased. Finally in 1760 he obtained the chair of logic and metaphysics. In later years he served six times as dean of the philosophical faculty and twice as rector.

Kant’s inaugural dissertation as professor, On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World, indicated the direction of his philosophical interests. But it was not until 1781 that his Critique of Pure Reason appeared. Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals came out in 1785, Critique of Practical Reason in 1788, and Critique of Judgment in 1790. The “critical philosophy” was soon being taught in every important German speaking university, and young men flocked to Königsberg as a shrine of philosophy. Kant came to be consulted as an oracle on all kinds of questions, including the lawfulness of vaccination.

As early as 1789 Kant’s health began to decline seriously and in 1797, after a career of forty-two years, he delivered his last lecture and retired from the university. “After a gradual decline that was painful to his friends as well as to himself, Kant died in Königsberg, February 12, 1804. His last words were ‘Es ist gut’ (It is good’). His tomb in the cathedral was inscribed with the words (in German) ‘The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me,’ the two things that he declared in the conclusion of the second Critique ‘fill the mind with new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on.’” (“Kant, Immanuel,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974, volume 10, page 393)

Kant’s Political Theory

Adler and Wolff begin their survey of Kant’s political theory by observing that it doesn’t differ significantly in content from that of his predecessors. They explain:

“Kant explains the origin of civil society in terms of a state of nature and a social contract….

“Kant’s view of the state of nature is more moderate than Hobbes’s. Nevertheless, he remarks that in such a condition everyone would do what seems good only to him. Like Rousseau and Locke, Kant describes the state of nature as a state of freedom, but a freedom that is precarious and insecure. Men give up this freedom to enter civil society and in so doing gain a different and better freedom.

“With Locke, Kant considers the legislative power as the most important function of the state, to be exercised by none but the people. While Kant’s ‘united will of the people’ is reminiscent of Rousseau’s ‘general will,’ we do not find in Kant, either explicitly or implicitly, the notion of a man’s being forced to be free.

“Kant follows Montesquieu’s view of the powers of government and of their separation. Like Rousseau, Kant is dedicated to the proposition that all legitimate government is republican in character. The Science of Right offers much support for the view that Kant was deeply influenced by Rousseau, especially in his moral philosophy.” (Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, pages 165-66)

Adler and Wolff next consider what is new or distinctive about Kant’s political theory, showing first the originality of his account of the transition from a state of nature to civil society. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau justify the transition by the result: what people gain (security, moral freedom, or civil liberty) is better than the independence that they give up. Kant argues instead that what people do should be a matter of duty rather than of what is gained, his asserting that “the natural state of nations as well as of individual man is a state which it is a duty to pass out of, in order to enter into a legal state” (Kant, The Science of Right in volume 42 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 455). This duty, like all duties, derives from the command of pure practical reason that men should seek peace.

Kant’s Republicanism

A striking feature of The Science of Right is its thoroughgoing republicanism. The legislative power must belong to the united will of the people. Those who are united for the purpose of legislating are the citizens. Citizens enjoy constitutional freedom, civil equality, and political independence. These three juridical attributes can be realized only through a republican form of government. “The only constitution resulting from the idea of the social contract, upon which every good legislation of a nation ought to be founded, is a republican constitution” (Kant, Perpetual Peace, New York, 1939, page 12; quoted in Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 168).

Kant’s republicanism does not mean that he advocates universal suffrage, his holding in harmony with his time that only some of those living in a state should have full rights to vote and to hold office, but he makes an important contribution to the theory of citizenship by distinguishing between active and passive citizenship, active citizens being all who are entitled to vote and passive citizens being all other members of the state. Active citizens are those who have a measure of independence in the state, and passive citizens are those whose livelihood and existence depend on the will of others, such as “the apprentice of a merchant or tradesman, a servant who is not in the employ of the state, a minor [and] all women” (Kant, The Science of Right, page 437).

However though passive citizens are not equal to active citizens as members of the state, they are equal to them as people. As such they have the right to claim:

“that whatever be the mode in which the positive laws are enacted, these laws must not be contrary to the natural laws that demand the freedom of all the people and the equality that is conformable thereto; and it must therefore be made possible for them to raise themselves from this passive condition in the state to the condition of active citizenship”

(Kant, The Science of Right, page 437).Adler and Wolff say that such a notion was revolutionary.

Kant’s Theory of Punishment

Three purposes are generally given for punishing criminals: retaliating against the criminal, deterring others from committing similar crimes, and reforming the criminal. Kant is emphatic that punishment must never be anything but the first:

“Juridical punishment can never be administered merely as a means for promoting another good either with regard to the criminal himself [reforming him] or to civil society [deterring others], but must in all cases be imposed only because the individual on whom it is inflicted has committed a crime” (Kant, The Science of Right, page 446).

Remedial or Deterrent punishment is instituted for the sake of benefiting either the criminal himself or the rest of society. Thus the criminal is being used, though for a worthy purpose‒the reduction of the number of crimes committed, but Kant maintains that it is wrong for a person to be used, no matter how beneficent the purpose for which he is being used. In this, Kant differs from modern penal theories, most of which acknowledge only remedial and deterrent punishment as legitimate and view retaliation as mere vengeance and as such uncivilised.

Kant’s Conception of Right

The closest that Kant comes to a definition of “right” is:

Right, therefore, comprehends the whole of the conditions under which the voluntary actions of any one person can be harmonized in reality with the voluntary actions of every other person, according to a universal law of freedom” (Kant, The Science of Right, page 397-98).

Thus, in contrast to Hobbes, for whom “right” and “law” are opposed in roughly the same way that freedom and obligation are opposed,  for Kant the right and the lawful are roughly the same.

Kant divides rights in two different ways:

(1) natural right and positive right and (2) innate right and acquired right. “Natural right rests upon pure rational principles a priori; positive or statutory right is what proceeds from the will of a legislator…. Innate right is that right which belongs to every one by nature, independent of all juridical acts of experience. Acquired right is that right which is founded upon such juridical acts” (Kant, The Science of Right, page 401).

Kant says that there is only one innate right, the right of freedom, and gives The Science of Right over to a treatment of natural, acquired rights.

Nations are in a state of nature with respect to one another and thus in a state of continual war. Kant divides the right of nations with respect to the state of war into “1. the right of going to war; 2. right during war; and 3. right after war” and gives their object as “to constrain the nations mutually to pass from this state of war and to found a common constitution establishing perpetual peace?” (Kant, The Science of Right, page 452). From this principle, Kant derives various detailed commands and prohibitions, which Adler and Wolff summarize thus:

“Wars should not be punitive, nor should a war aim at the extermination of the enemy. With regard to the subjects of the warring nations, several important principles follow. They must not be ordered to do anything which would make them unfit as citizens. For by destroying them as citizens, the state destroys itself and thus renders peace unattainable.” (Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 174).

In general Kant’s view is that the end of war is peace and no means should be employed which contradict that end.

I introduced my consideration of The Science of Right by saying:

“My earlier encounter with Kant, via his Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, was forbidding. Thus I wasn’t looking forward to reading from his The Science of Right in my current reading of selections from Great Books of the Western World (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952) guided by Mortimer J. Adler (with various co-authors) in The Great Ideas Program (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959-63). However I was pleasantly surprised, my finding the assigned selection (the Introduction and the Second Part of The Science of Right) to be well-organized and clearly expressed.”

That doesn’t meant that I understand and agree with all of Kant’s assertions. For example, I don’t understand how changing from a natural state to a legal state and seeking peace are duties and I don’t agree that remediation and deterrence are illegitimate reasons for punishment.

I’m now looking forward to reading the other selections by Kant included in The Great Ideas Program: Part I of The Science of Right in volume 5, Philosophy of Law and Jurisprudence; Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals and Part I, Book II, of Critique of Practical Reason in volume 8, Ethics: The Study of Moral Values; and I, First Part, of Critique of Pure Reason in volume 10, Philosophy.