TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE STATE: A GLANCE AT THE HISTORY OF WESTERN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY (BC) AND ITS INFLUENCE OVER THE MODERN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
Ahmad Reza Taheri
This presentation (10 minutes) was presented at a Seminar on the Scholar’s Day, organized by the Islamic Association of Iranian Students in association with the Embassy of Iran (New Delhi), India (08 DEC 2008).
The gist of the presentation:
All the BC philosophers had tried to formulate and design “ideal states”.
Socrates (469-399 BC) believed that the best way for people to live is to focus on self-development. People are made for the society thus they should obey it, even if the society is administered wrongly. This is political obedience.
Plato (428 or 427-347 BC) believed both private property and marriage were to be abandoned. Marriage should be based on eugenic method. Rulers and guardians must not own home and property. Every individual belongs to a small community called state. Although war is not preferred, it is sometimes necessary. The ignorance of politicians has cursed “democracy”. Politicians know nothing except to provide the means for the sensuality of the beasts. It is only knowledge, which distinguishes a true ruler from a charlatan ruler. He criticized the democracy of his time. Democracy is highly corruptible. Plato’s main charge against democracy is that democracy is unstable, anarchic, and lacks proper-skilled leaders. In Republic, Plato presents “an imaginary state” where the philosopher-king is above the law. However, in Law Plato holds “law is the sign of civilization, which can prevent the rulers from corruption.” Plato regarded that a state with law can flourish better than a state with philosopher king above the law. Nonetheless, Plato never rejected his first theory.
Aristotle (384–322 BC) disagreed with the Plato’s rejection of marriage. He believed that family and marriage bring valuable social norms. State is the perfect human establishment, but if state failed to protect the interest of its citizens, it should be removed then. A state with only one ruler is either monarchy or tyranny. A state with several rulers is either aristocracy or oligarchy. And, a state in which all rule is either polity or democracy. In each classification, the first sort of state is one in which rulers are concerned with the good of the society, while the second sort is one in which rulers serve their own interests. Although private property leads to self-interest, it benefits the society. Inequality is natural; all cannot be expected to equally participate in high-level politics. Man is a sociopolitical animal who can find his reality in the society. Therefore, priority is given to the society. Aristotle also believed that constitution must be compatible with the nature and necessities of the society. He held “a state’s leadership is elected by the will and consent of its people.” Although Aristotle believed monarchy, aristocracy, and polity are the ideal forms of states, he suggested that a state build up of a combination of the three can be the best state.
Epicure (341-270 BC) believed all forms of social and political institutions are the product of the human talent only. Justice is a contractual affair. Although Epicure did not give much value to the state, he preferred monarchical form. People can break a law if they consider it unjust, provided breakers escape the punishment. For Epicure, virtue does not exist in knowledge, as believed by Socrates and Plato, rather it exists in securing happiness. Peoples of the world are all equal and no nation is superior to other. Epicure supported women and slaves’ welfare. He supported altruism and a common way of education for all. Participation in social life does not bring prosperity for the human being. Wise men and philosophers should not accept government positions. The right path is to follow one’s own individuality, independence, and ambition for personal interest. He believed that human being essentially is self-centered. Therefore, what is good for someone might be detrimental for others. People enter into sociopolitical agreements and form states because not to disturb each other.
Stoicism (300 BC) was the fourth major school of philosophy founded in Athens about 300 BC by Zeno of Citium in Cyprus. Stoicism holds that personal interest can be sacrificed for the benefit of the society, that is to say, the global society. In the world, there should be only one state and one society, which should be universal, following the universal law. Human beings are all equal irrespective of their race, wealth, and status and that law of the state must be in accordance with the natural rights. External differences such as rank and wealth are of no importance in social relationships. Virtue does not belong to a particular group, it belongs to all.
The influence on modern political philosophy: Stoics had recognized and advocated brotherhood and natural equality for all human beings. Thus, the idea of brotherhood was not invented by Christianity.
The social contract theory was not invented by modern political philosophy. Epicure developed the notion of justice as a social contract. He defined justice as an agreement “neither to harm nor be harmed.” Epicureanism had influenced the social contract philosophers such as Rousseau.
The Plato’s philosopher-king has been an inspiration of practicability for many states throughout the history. Largely, today the constitutional structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based on such a theory, where it places leadership on the top most position.
Karl Marx did not initiate the philosophy of communism. The theory of communism already existed in the history of Western political philosophy. Perhaps, Plato was the first who talked of communism.
John Lock’s social contract has its origin in Aristotle’s philosophy, where he says that a state is valid so long as it meets the requirements; otherwise, it is a failed state.
Adam Smith also had been under the influence of Aristotle on the issue of private property. Aristotle favored private property for the development of the society.
Indeed, the Plato and Aristotle’s classification of states, which belongs to 2500 years ago, are still intact. No other political philosopher after them could ever formulate a truly new form of state.