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American Government


American Government Introductory Lecture Three Fundamental Concepts Liberalism Representation Democracy What is Liberalism? Liberalism as classically defined differs ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: American Government

American Government
  • Introductory Lecture

Three Fundamental Concepts
  • Liberalism
  • Representation
  • Democracy

What is Liberalism?
  • Liberalism as classically defined differs
    significantly from the modern American usage
  • It is a philosophy of social order that emerged
    in 17th and 18th century Europe
  • Fundamentally it means
  • a toleration of diversity
  • a recognition of the primacy of individual rights
  • a social agreement establishing a zone of
    individual privacy

Key Assumptions of Liberalism
  • Assumes individuals are best situated to
    determine what is best for themselves
  • Assumes that a variety of behaviors, even
    conflicting ones, are legitimate
  • Assumes that strong government interferes with
    the ability of individuals to engage in those
  • And thus concludes government should be limited

What is Representation?
  • Representation is a type of government premised
    on liberalism
  • Diverse elements are represented in society
  • Representation is the form of government for the
    United States
  • The U.S. government is made up of representatives
    distinguished from a direct democracy where the
    government is made up of all citizens

What is Democracy?
  • Democracy, unlike liberalism and representation,
    is an old word
  • Greek Roots
  • Demos The People
  • Kratia Rule
  • Ancient Greeks used term as early as 400 B.C.
  • IMPORTANT in a democracy, the people rule as
    the government and thus the government embodies
    the people

Representation vs. Democracy
  • Representation is a relatively young word
  • Differs from democracy as the Greeks defined in
    significant ways
  • Citizens do not make laws directly
  • A representative does not embody the people but
    rather re-presents their preferences in
  • Hinges on the assumption that there are a
    diversity of legitimate interests in society

Rep v. Demo 2
  • The Greeks would not have accepted representation
    as a good form of government
  • It is based in selfishness the desire to further
    individual interests
  • Government, according to the Greeks, was to
    benefit the whole
  • See Aristotle, Plato and Spock from Star Trek

Path from Greek Democracy to Liberal
Representative Government
  • How did the Greek concept of democracy evolve
    into the modern concept of representation?
  • The story begins with Athens, Greece circa
  • Fundamentally, Greeks believe in a natural order
    to the world
  • This is a highly normative assessment how it
    should be rather than how it is

The Path Continued
  • The Greeks believed that
  • Man was fundamentally a political animal
    (politikon zoon)
  • As such, his natural habitat is the city not as
    a noble savage in the wilderness but a
    functioning citizen of a civil society
  • The basic political question for the Greeks how
    ought man order his life in the city to be fully
    human (self-actualized, in modern terminology)
  • Answer unselfish participatory government where
    all work for the common good of society as a

Philosophers on Good Government
  • Aristotle - a good citizen can exist only as part
    of the state/society.
  • He who is unable to live in society, or who has
    no need because he is sufficient for himself,
    must be either a beast or a god.
  • Aristotle good government is best accomplished
    when rule is by the middle (golden mean)
  • The most perfect political community is one in
    which the middle class is in control, and
    outnumbers both of the other classes.

Philosophers Continued
  • Plato a good political order produces good
    natures and these useful natures, who are in
    turn well educated, grow up even better than
    their predecessors
  • Plato human morality is closely linked with the
    good society
  • Man and city are alike Humans without souls
    are hollow. Cities without virtue are rotten.
  • Spock The needs of the many outweigh the needs
    of the few or the one.

Philosophers Continued
  • Ideally, for Plato government involved a form of
    communism (with property communally-owned) and
    for Aristotle a government by the enlightened and
    moderate middle class.
  • In practice, both called for a government of
    active citizens who shared the responsibility for

Distinguishing Representation from Democracy
  • Important In Greek democracy, there is no
    explicit representation of interests.
  • Both Plato and Aristotle advocated moderation,
    virtuousness, and justice as ideals for best
    government. One good citizen. One good
  • Government embodied the people purpose to
    protect and promote the common interest
  • Factions were considered bad -- selfish

Did Democracy Work?
  • Yes it did. Why?
  • Small city-states with relatively homogenous
  • In Athens, citizens were
  • Free
  • Native born
  • Property-owning
  • Qualified males
  • As such, the citizenry was even more uniform than
    the general population

On to Europe
  • The Greek concept of good government prevailed in
    Europe through much of the Middle Ages
  • Why? It was supported by
  • Divine Right of Kings
  • Solidarity of the Catholic Church
  • Large Armies
  • Largely Ignorant and Uneducated Population

The Winds of Change
  • The consensus on good government begins to break
    down as the Dark Ages lifted around 1500 A.D.
  • Why? The foundations of the Greek consensus were
  • Society was becoming more diversified
  • Economic order shifting as a result of the
    collapse of feudalism and the adoption of a
    nascent capitalist system
  • Primacy of the Catholic Church challenged by the
    emergence of Protestantism
  • The Knight is displaced as the Medieval weapon
    of mass destruction as gun powder changes the
    nature of warfare
  • The printing press improves the education of the
    masses as well as promoting the free flow of

Out with the Old
  • As the Greek consensus collapses with an
    increasing rejection of the divine rights of the
    aristocracy and Church leadership, so to the
    justification for states themselves is lost.
  • A new intellectual basis for the foundation and
    rationale of civil society was needed

Liberalism The New Foundation
  • Liberalism provided the new argument for social
    order and civilized society within an organized
    political structure
  • One of liberalisms earliest and most important
    advocates was Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
  • Hobbes was an Englishman and critic of Aristotle
    and his notions of the virtuous citizen

  • Hobbes had three important characteristics that
    informed his political theory
  • He was a materialist he liked his property and
    wanted to keep it
  • He was a pessimist he believed most men were
    fundamentally evil
  • The condition of man . . . is a condition of war
    of everyone against everyone.
  • He was a coward he spent much of his life on
    the run from his enemies

Hobbes Continued
  • Hobbes most famous work is Leviathan
  • In it he attempts to accomplish his primary
    theoretical goal to justify the existence of an
    authoritarian state as a guarantor of life and
  • Thus a quandary for Hobbes, who viewed human
    nature with great skepticism man was
    animalistic and driven by lusts and desires
  • there is a general inclination of all
    mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power
    that ceaseth only in death

Hobbes Continued
  • Hobbes Solution The very evil nature of man
    was the justification for an authoritarian state
  • Hobbes argued humans first existed in a state of
    nature outside the bounds of civil society

Hobbesian State of Nature
  • In the State of Nature
  • mans lusts and desires are unchecked
  • there is no right to life or property
  • there are no laws or rules life is a state of
    perpetual war of all against all
  • As such, life in the state of nature was as bad
    as it gets.
  • No arts no letters no society and which is
    worst of all, continual fear and danger of
    violent death and the life of man, solitary,
    poor, nasty, brutish, and short

  • The horrors of the state of nature necessitated a
    strong authoritarian government to check its
    inherent anarchy and provide a mechanism for
    justice where by life and property could be
  • Any government, no matter how despotic, was
    better than the anarchy of the state of nature
  • Governments role
  • Maintain peace and order
  • Protect property
  • Allow for the pursuit of desire within the bounds
    of law

Leviathan continued
  • Problem how do you get people in the state of
    nature to agree to be ruled by this authoritarian
  • Answer People had an incentive to leave the
    state of nature fear of death
  • Mechanism social contract

The Social Contract
  • Independent individuals voluntarily contract to
    leave the state of nature and form a civil
  • As such, they give up some of their natural
    rights (to dispense personal justice, for
  • But they gain the protection of Leviathan as to
    their rights to life, liberty, and property.
  • Hence the Greek concept of a natural government
    is displaced with a government founded on the
    consent of the governed.
  • This introduces the concept of representation-
    the government represents the authority of the

From Hobbes to Locke
  • John Locke (1632-1704) provided the intellectual
    bridge from Hobbes to the American Revolution
  • Lockes political theory is similar to Hobbes
  • places man in state of nature
  • life in the state of nature isnt good
  • man contracts his way out of the state of nature
    and into civil society

Locke vs. Hobbes
  • There is a critical difference between Lockeian
    and Hobbesian philosophy.
  • In the Lockeian State of Nature, man has some
    rights that are respected (life, liberty, and
  • For Hobbes, there were no natural rights. Rights
    were conferred by Leviathan. For Locke, natural
    rights exist ex ante.

Limited Government
  • Since the state of nature, while lacking a
    mechanism for justice, is not the worst of all
    possible worlds, Locke is not compelled to
    justify any form of government.
  • Locke thus argues for a limited government
  • Strong enough to protect natural rights
  • But not so strong that it can abuse them

An Umpire
  • For Locke, government is an umpire adjudicating
    disputes and dispensing justice.
  • It does not represent the authority of the
    people, as with Hobbes (the people retain their
    authority in the Lockeian social contract), but
    rather it represents their diverse interests and
    protects their natural rights.

  • Thus Locke provides an intellectual basis for
  • If a government abuses natural rights such as
    life, liberty, and property then it forfeits its
    right to exist. The state of nature becomes
    preferable to that government.
  • Thus revolution is justified in order to nulify
    the social contract and reinstitute the natural

Jeffersons Declaration
  • Jefferson was clearly inspired by Lockes
  • "We hold these truths to be self-evident That
    all men are created equal that they are endowed
    by their Creator with certain inalienable rights
    that among these are life, liberty, and the
    pursuit of happiness that, to secure these
    rights, governments are instituted among men,
    deriving their just powers from the consent of
    the governed that whenever any form of
    government becomes destructive of these ends, it
    is the right of the people to alter or to abolish