Man and the Right Government


Rousseau referred to a small village or civic community, but the concepts he provided were also applied to great sovereign nation-states, so Rousseau ironically became the forefather of nationalism although he personally wished for a federal Europe, stating that "if we could realize a European republic for one day, it would be enough to make it last for ever" However, he was realistic enough to see that the realizations of his project was improbable, owing to the folly of men.

Rousseau's work coincided with the emergence of the political consciousness and power of the middle classes and of the masses. The vagueness of the concept of general will did not affect its adaptability and prestige: constitutionalism became even more liberal and dynamic and demagogues and dictators found in it the support they needed in order to enforce the general will to people, as it was interpreted by the ruling forces.

2. The natural being of man

The main idea that emerges from Plato's Republic is based upon a metaphysical act of faith; Plato argues that a world of permanent Forms exists beyond the limits of human experience and that morality and the good life, which the state has the job of promoting, are merely reflections of these ideal concepts, or Forms. To make his point, Plato describes a cave where men are chained with their faces to the wall and their backs to the light, so that they are able to see only the shadows of reality; the consequence is that they are blind when it comes to the truth and need to be coerced to face it. Plato sees ordinary life as an illusion and puts brute instinct behind the current evils of politics. The conclusion is that "unless philosophers bear kingly rule in cities or those who are now called kings and princes become genuine and adequate philosophers, and political power and philosophy are brought together there will be no respite from evil for cities."

According to Aristotle, purpose is indispensable to all things natural and since men "aim at the good," it should follow that the city-state, which is considered the highest possible form of human community, must aim at the highest good. Citizens share a common purpose, and that is survival of each individual, general security, and the overall enhancement of the quality of life. This high quality of life can only be achieved by a small minority, as Aristotle simply excludes those who do not have full citizenship or who are slaves, by stating that some men are "slaves by nature" and therefore deserve such social status. The final purpose of Plato and Aristotle is an aristocratic way of life, which is meant to reflect, in a more sophisticated form the ideas of the warrior aristocracies, as they appeared in Homer's poems.

Aristotle analyzes, as Plato did before him, the different types of city-states. Although states are similar to animals, as they are bound by their nature to be different, the philosopher considers a balanced "mixed" constitution to be the best, as it should reflect the ideal of justice (dike) and fair dealing, which assures for every man his rightful compensation in a social order in which citizens of the middle condition are a part of the most numerous social class. Aristotle states that, under democracy, demagogues attain power through bribe and the only result is the waste of accumulated wealth; Aristotle detests tyranny most, as the arbitrary power of an individual who is "responsible to no-one and who governs all alike with a view to his own advantage and not of his subjects, and therefore against their will. No free man can endure such a government."

Dante insists in his "De monarchia," that only through universal peace may human faculties achieve their maximum potential. Only "temporal Monarchy" can realize this: "a unique princedom extending over all persons in time." The ultimate purpose of civilization is to maximize human potential, and to achieve that "fullness of life which comes from the fulfillment of our being."

Luther's piety had made him quite aware of God's judgment and, encouraged by the use of justitia ("righteousness" or "justice") he began to see God's justice as being primarily the active, punishing severity of God against sinners. He found in the bible that the justice of God is revealed in the gospel, so he concluded the divine demand was extending beyond outward obedience to the Law, as it was revealed in the Commandments, to the purity of heart, to inward motive and intention, so that grace itself became something of a demand and an exaction.

Calvin's spirituality started with the conviction that human beings do not so much directly know God as "experience" him through indirect ways, through his mighty acts and works in our world. Experience of God's acts, such as a thunder, gives people confidence in his power and drives them to appraisal and worship.

Although Calvin talked about the "total depravity" of human nature after the Fall from Eden, he did not imply that there is nothing good left in human beings, but rather that there isn't anything that was not affected by the Fall, and which might me to taken into account for salvation. Calvin believed that, after the Fall, the original marks of God's image, in which human beings were initially created, remained, no matter how unimportant. Calvin argued that "It is always necessary to come back to this, that God never created a man on whom he did not imprint his image."

Hobbes, like the Italian Machiavelli, founds his theory on the assumption of basic human folly, competitiveness, and depravity, which is in flagrant contradiction with Aristotle's assumption that "man is by nature a political animal." According to Hobbes, man is naturally antisocial; the only reasons for which people meet are business and profit, and even then only "a certain market-fellowship" is developed. Any society exists only for gain or glory, and their power to kill each other is the only true equality among men. Hobbes is completely satisfied with such equality, as he specifically discourages "men of low degree from a saucy behavior towards their betters."

Locke assumes a conservative social hierarchy and defends the propertied classes against a ruler by divine right and against radicals, while he sees the executive power as a relatively weak authority. He advocates toleration in religion and argued that freedom of conscience, like property, is a natural right of all men.

The French-Swiss philosopher Rousseau was in search for secular egalitarianism and a romantic cult, as his personality dictated, of the common man. He felt that "man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains," and questioned the foundation of the traditional social hierarchy; until his time, political philosophers were mainly concerned with elites, Rousseau now supported the mass of the people, who was becoming politically conscious.

Rousseau argues that man is not born free, but into society, which imposes restraints on him. Trying to solve the antithesis he had artificially put together between man's purported natural state of freedom and man's condition in society, Rousseau uses the old theories of contract and transforms them into the his famous concept of the "general will." (i.e., a moral will that seeks to attain the common good and in which all participate or at least should participate directly, represents the will of the community as deriving from the will of individuals, so that obeisance to the laws of a community is similar to following one's own will, assuming that person has high moral standards.)


1.Ebenstein, W., Ebenstein, A.. (2000) Great political thinkers: Plato to the present. Thompson, Wadsworth: Belmont, CA. 6th Edition. ISBN: 0-15-507889-5.

2. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1997,…