Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Government and Compromise: How Important Is It?

To what extent is compromise necessary for government to meet the expectations of its citizens? Explain your answer using examples from Constitution-writing process in the Founding Period of American history and from your reading of current affairs.

Throughout the history of the United States, opposing forces have often butted heads in order to get what they want.  The only successful solution to these issues came from compromise.  In fact, compromise is one of the few ways that a government can meet the expectations of its citizens.  We can see this during America’s Constitutional period as well as today’s “Arab Spring.” 
            During the drafting of the Constitution, federalists and anti-federalists fought over how much power to give to the central government.  The anti-federalists wanted the states to have a lot of power respectively, but this was tried out with the Articles of Confederation, which resulted in failure.  James Madison wanted to compromise with the proposition of the Virginia Plan, which revoked the Articles of Confederation and gave more power to the central government.  The anti-federalists worried that a strong central government could become too powerful and result in the corrupted ways of a British monarchy.  Madison preempted these concerns by focusing on two main points of his plan: checks and balances.  First of all, he would include judicial and executive branches in addition to the legislative branch.  All of these components required approval from the others before enacting certain bills/laws, so there would be a homogeneous distribution of power.  Secondly, a bicameral national legislature comprised of the Senate and the House of Representatives would check each other’s power because the former’s members would be elected by state legislature while the latter’s by popular vote.  The New Jersey Plan aimed at a compromise to increase federal power with a unicameral legislature, but the Great Compromise (Connecticut Compromise) settled the issue with accordance to Madison’s plan.  On another issue, slave states wanted slaves to count for the population in order to increase their representation in government, but anti-slave states thought this would be unfair.  Ultimately, the 3/5 Compromise appeased everyone by only counting slaves fractionally in pertinence to the population.  This series of compromises made during the Constitutional phase of America clearly shows their necessity in order to be successful. 
            Secondly, today’s riots in the Middle East potently show the necessity to compromise.  Authoritarian leaders and dictators that once ruled unquestioned are now being bombarded by requests for freedom and equality.  The rulers held strong for a while, but they soon relented willingly in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.  The first two are on their way to becoming successful democracies.  The issue in The Middle East as a whole lies in the fact that compromise is not a traditional means of problem resolution because dictators have ruled unconditionally for so long.  The citizens are now realizing the innumerable human rights abuses they have endured and want to fight back.  We can see that the governments that are unwilling to compromise are actually failing, such as in Syria.  Success is only prevalent where revolutions have overthrown dictators and interim governments have begun negotiating with the citizens.  Clearly, current events in the Middle East prove the necessity of compromise.
            In conclusion, in order for governments to be successful, there needs to be compromise because it is only in human nature for there to be clash among opposing parties.  Compromise is the only means to a solution that benefits everybody, as is demonstrated in America’s Constitution and the riots in the “Arab Spring” today.

Enlightenment Philosophy: The Declaration of Independence

“The Declaration of Independence is a product of Enlightenment thought.” Using the line in quotes as a topic sentence, write a paragraph that uses at least THREE examples from the Declaration to ‘make’ your persuasive case.

The American Revolution was a period in U.S. history plagued by new revolutionary ideals that sprouted from the Enlightenment.  Philosophers aimed at applying rational principles to society and government; naturally, they played a large role in America’s journey to freedom.  In fact, the Declaration of Independence is a product of Enlightenment thought, characterized in two aspects: natural rights and popular sovereignty.
            The framers of the declaration kept natural rights in mind because they did not want a newborn America to fall back into the corrupted ways of England.  Therefore, explicit examples of natural rights are evident throughout the Declaration of Independence.  One of the most famous clauses reads as follows: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."  Clearly, Enlightenment philosophers, such as John Locke, had a major influence on this historical document in this respect.  Although the ideas of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” may seem blatantly obvious and undeniable, monarchies, such as the one in England, were notorious for denying these basic rights to their people.  During its creation, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston made sure to include the basic ideals of natural rights in the Declaration of Independence.
            Secondly, the idea of popular sovereignty, as explained by John Locke, is also prevalent in the document.  In all three parts of the declaration, Jefferson added concepts whose origins sprout from the political theories of Locke.  In the preamble, the declaration explains that when a government fails to protect the basic rights its creation intended it to guard, it is the duty of the people to establish a new institution that will.  This is almost a restatement of Locke’s “right to rebellion.”  However, Locke did mention in his Two Treatises of Government that insignificant abuses that occur few and far between cannot be taken into account and result in rebellion.  Jefferson preempts this in the second part of the declaration, where he lists the shocking train of abuses that the King of England imposes on the American colonies.  Some of the violations include the lack of trial by jury, the maintaining of a standing army during times of peace, the imposition of taxes without consent, and the cutting off of trade with the rest of the world.  Surely, this list of failures on the behalf of the current government is deserving of substitution, which is what the conclusion of the declaration presents.  The colonies assert their independence in the following clause: “…these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved…”  Clearly, the writers of the declaration are trying to express the fact that the power lies in the people, demonstrating in effect the power of popular sovereignty.
           In summary, the Declaration of Independence is a document that has its roots in Enlightenment ideals, such as natural rights and popular sovereignty.  Philosophers like John Locke played a large role in influencing its rhetoric and justifications, those of which Jefferson utilized to place America on its way to freedom! 

Enlightenment Philosophy: The Purpose of Government...

What are the primary purposes of government? Explain using examples from the writings of Enlightenment thinkers.

At the beginning of man’s existence, humans lived in a natural state.  There was no concept of society, government, or politics – people simply sough to live instinctively and efficiently.  Survival was key.  There was neither a moral nor ethical set of rules nor any accepted behavioral codes, just self-interest.  However, this unconditional freedom, in which anybody could do whatever they pleased, was not to everyone’s benefit.  Life and security were very volatile and could be dramatically altered at anybody’s unquestioned whim.  This insecurity and lack of reliability gave way to the creation of society and government. 
            Humanity wanted an institution whose purpose it was to protect their “life, liberty, and property.”  Notably, this could only be done if people surrendered some of their natural rights, for their benefit, nevertheless.  Thomas Hobbes, the English author of Leviathan, explains that there is natural conflict when in this state of nature.  He argues that governments come about to withhold some of these natural rights in return to stifle conflict and better society.  John Locke, an English philosopher of the Enlightenment period, explains in his Two Treatises of Government that government arises because the people want it to protect their natural rights, in this case: “life, liberty, and property.”  Therefore, power lies in the hands of the people.  This idea is also known as popular sovereignty, which was a major challenge to the monarchies of the day.  In England, for example, monarchs claimed to rule by the divine right of kings.  John Locke suggested that monarchs do not possess the power they so arrogantly think they have, but rather that it lies “essentially in the nation.”  To further the example, the British monarchy was very harsh and blatantly rescinded rights from its people.  Locke goes on to propose that because the people consent to the creation of a government with intended purposes, its straying from these intentions allows the people to institute a new, more fitting government.  In other words, when the government fails to protect the lives, liberty, and property of its people, then they have a “right of rebellion.”
            Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a French philosophe, expounds on Hobbe’s and Locke’s ideas with his Social Contract.  He affirms the idea that the losing of certain natural rights bears in return a society characterized by security and freedom.  More importantly, he argues that the only way to benefit from government is to directly participate in it.  This would challenge the ideas held by monarchs at the time, who believed that civilians should be completely deprived of all say in the government.  Rousseau also believed that there should be a separation of church and state, and consequently, freedom of religion.  These two ideas affirm the idea that governments should not limit the wants of the people if they do not threaten the general will.
            In essence, Enlightenment philosophers proposed revolutionary ideas that challenged the rulers of their time.  BY proposing their rational ideas on what governments are intended to be, they set the ball rolling for future governments and their relations with the governed.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

ParishVirtual's Government - Vision Statement

As students and I study government together, I am hopeful that we will develop authentic voices for analyzing course readings and reflecting on current affairs. This blog project, then, is an effort to create space to engage students in conversations about issues and ideas that are both meaningful and relevant to them.

I'm hoping this project will be 'messy' and improvisational... and in the process students and I will learn from each other.