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Philosophy of Politics

Political Philosophy

By: Peter OMONZEJELE

    Political Philosophy is a second-order discipline to Political science. There is the need to clarify the difference between Political Science and Political Philosophy. The Political scientist would ask questions such as: What is authority, democracy and sovereignty etc in empirical terms? The Political philosopher is interested in the conceptual clarification of authority, democracy, and sovereignty, etc, and how structures of governance ought to be administered. Otakpor illustrates this difference as follows:

While the political scientist, for example, studies how different political systems function, the social (as well as political) philosopher sets out to find the best or most desirable political arrangement.

    At this juncture, perhaps there is the need to delve into the history of political Philosophy. Political Philosophy could be traced back to Socrates. Plato and Aristotle were, however, the ones who articulated and gave a definite direction to what Political Philosophy is. The sort of Political Philosophy that commenced from Socrates, was known as Classical Political Philosophy. Leo Strauss explained further what was meant by Classical Political Philosophy.

Classical Political Philosophy was the predominantly political philosophy until the emergence of modern political philosophy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Modern political philosophy came into bring through the conscious break with the principles established by Socrates.

    This did not mean that Philosophers before Socrates did not examine the issues of political philosophy. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were in agreement on the need to understand the society so that man himself could be properly understood.

    Aristotle hinged his political philosophy on happiness and virtue as the end  which should be realised through the polis, that is, the State. The State embraces the communities and its activities, which are directed towards a particular end. Aristotle went on to explain why he hinged his Political Philosophy on happiness. According to him,

Happiness, unlike other goods, is not to be enumerated among good things. To be healthy and wealthy and wise is better than to be any one or two of these things. But one cannot add wealth or wisdom to happiness to make happiness better, because happiness implies the presence of all other good things in whatever measure is sufficient to define their excellence.

    It would seen that happiness is an end in itself, which cannot be improved upon. Perhaps, this was Aristotle’s idea of bringing about a Utopian state, a state so perfect that it could not possibly be better.

    Aristotle also explained the relationship between the rulers and ruled. This relationship could be compared to that which exists between male and female for the purpose of procreation. Just as the ruler has more foresight than the ruled, so is the male more rational than the female. According to Aristotle, both situations have political undercurrent.

    It is also important to examine political philosophy during the Medieval Era. St. Augustine will be used to realise this objective. St. Augustine’s political philosophy commenced with the intention to defend he church. He used his work, The City of God to demonstrate his views. For Augustine, a proper notion of politics can only be divinely inspired. He attempted to fuse the church and the state, which he opined have the same goal, “the common Good of the Universe,” but even at that, the church is the senior partner. Augustine further explained,



The state is concerned with “just dealing and all the things belonging to good manners:” in the measure that mean organize for a life of the political virtues as well as the virtue of the mind (“what truth soever the philosophers attained..”). They compose the political community, the State. The church and the state are thus recognizable visible societies for the good. But since indeed God alone sounds the heart and plumbs the depths of mind, there are two invisible “cities”: the Heavenly city of the predestined and the Earthly city of the damned.
    Those who seem beatitude for the State through the church belong to the Heavenly City, while those who seek the good of the State through “the honesty of virtue, love of country, the faith of friendship, just dealings and all things belonging to good manners” constitute the Earthly City which is doomed for destruction.

    The core of St. Augustine’s political philosophy is ambition and proud sovereignty, which is in consonance with nature. It is natural that some men rule over others, but this must not be abused through personal ambition, because when abused the natural sequence which should have been “the dominion of freemen over freemen, which is not by domineering but by the service of counsel…there the commanders are indeed the servants of those they seem to command”. The contrary is what it is, “the rule of the masters over slaves.” This situation is usually characterised by personal ambition to lord it over others.

    Augustine’s political philosophy was not geared towards the eradication of secular authority. As a matter of fact, it was encouraged though conditionally. He was more explicit when he stated that the,

Political authority indeed there is, but its rule is in the service of freedom and its perfection in proportion to its movement away from mastership, from proud sovereignty, from ambition and the quality of “authoritarianism”. It is the members of the heavenly city, who ought to perfect the state, healing its wounded nature and restoring the free character of its rule. If, to be sure, while here on earth the Celestial Society increases itself out of all languages, being unconcerned by the different temporal laws that are made, it nonetheless, observes the coherence of men’s will in honest morality, not breaking but observing their diversity in diverse nations.

The focus is that authority should be used for the service of the citizens and not a tool of oppression and manipulation for self-interest. For the earthly city to achieve this, it must have recourse to the heavenly city. The heavenly city would eventually enhance the status of the earthly city, to this extent that the purpose of the state and the church converge.

    Niccolo Machiavelli will represent our political philosopher for the modern period. He is reputed to have authored several books, which include, The Florentine HistoriesThe Art of WarThe Discourse on the First Decades of Linus Livius and the Prince. He is regarded as the writer who effected a definite departure from the Medieval period. According to Francis Bacon:

We are much beholder to Machiavelli and others that wrote what men do and not what they ought to do, effecting a break with the political philosophy of classical antiquity as well as with the ecclesiastical policy which based itself upon that tradition. Machiavelli overturned the tradition of classical political thought; he effected a revolution from the dominion of Plato and Aristotle, who had taught men what they ought to do. Machiavelli reaches what men do herein lies his revolution, our debt, and his triumph.

Machiavelli brought politics down to earth. He tried to explain the attendant problems inherent in politics and governance. According to him,

there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to make oneself a leader and to introduce new orders. For the leader has enemies in all those who profit by the old order(s), and lukewarm defenders in all those who profit by the new order(s).

    Machiavelli explored the psychology of man in the area of governance. The Machiavellian notion is not even more appropriate in a dictatorship. Machiavelli’s political philosophy questions the loyalty and dependability of the human character. Unlike in the preceding epochs, which saw man as dependable and thus adapted their political philosophies in the stead, Machiavelli saw those epochs as grossly lacking in political insight and as unrealistic, because man was never seen as man but as he ought to be. By extension, politics was never seen as it is, but as it ought to be. Hence, these political philosophies had no practical purpose and were lacking the ability to solve practical problems.

    In agreement with nature, man needed to be out on the good path for the cause of  the common good by necessity. This is because man has a desire for everything but it is not provided by nature with a concern, or even a desire, for justice. Men will always be wicked, concerned with the gratification of their own ends if they are not made good by some necessity. The required necessity is provided by societal laws and by the ruler himself who should be merciless towards the ruled. Machiavelli refused to make a clear cut distinction between what is naturally right or wrong, rather the situation determines that and the ruler has the prerogative to take whatever action he seems necessary for the purpose of the common good.

    Frederick Nietzsche will represent the Political Philosopher in the Contemporary period. He commenced his political philosophy on how to have happiness, which according to him, is by forgetting about the past and living in the present. He was quick to state that since man has memory it would be impossible to forget the past (otherwise, he will become like a lower animal). He should strike equilibrium between remembering and forgetting.

    As a build-up to his political philosophy, Nietzsche discussed types of moralities, which he said he sourced from herds, this he called Herd-Morality. The Master and Slave Morality was deducible from the morality of herds. He explained Herd-Morality to mean a situation where the strong herds impose their will and strength over the weak ones and the weak herds did the biddings of the strong ones. Politically speaking, master morality (represents the strong herds):

…is the affirmation of strength by the strong, a celebration of the vigorous and active life by those who are possessed of vigor and capable of action. The strong do not repress their instincts but glorify them. Masters are cruel but they are innocently cruel. They identify the good with the powerful, and they dismiss the weak with contempt, calling it bad.

Nietzsche described Slave Morality, otherwise known as Priest-Morality as follows:

    The rejection of strength by the weak: Whereas masters distinguish between good and bad, slaves distinguish between good and evil; what the masters affirms as good the slaves reject as evil. Slave morality is essentially negative, being a reaction against, and revenge upon, the rulers and their values.

Nietzsche no doubt would prefer an ordered society that tallies with that of he Herds. He warned against the use of public opinion, which might enable the slaves shape the minds of the masters, for this reduces the strength of the masters

   Nietzsche neither supported the Conservative nor the Democratic forms of Politics. This is because with time the conservatives will begin to make concessions, which weakens them. Furthermore, conservatism is usually encumbered with religious biases. According to him, the politics of the future which is also the Transvaluation of all politics. God is dead in the politics of the future and the death of God would enable man realize his full potentials. He puts it more lucidly:

Knowing that horizons are his creations, he also is more aware of his own power: if nothing is true, everything is possible. Man has become man by unconsciously projecting horizons, man can become more than man.

Nietzsche did not see his projections for man as unattainable if man would embrace the fundamental reality, that is, the will of power.

    Nietzsche’s philosophy in general (and that includes his political philosophy) is founded on the will of power, the need to overcome. According to him:

Life is will to power. A living thing is one, which tries to overcome; it seeks above all to discharge its strength. However, it does try to overcome and discharge with any view to given end.

It is man’s will to power which provides the framework to all his activities: political, social, economic, etc. There is no doubt there are problems inherent in Nietzsche’s philosophy. However, it is not within the purview of this work to go into all that detail.

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