Politics comes from the Greek word Polis, which means city. The study of politics, also called social ethics, is the application of ethical principles to the group of citizens at large, not just to the individual. Of course politics often seems anything but ethical. But to look at the way society is governed, we must first look at just what is a society? Why is there society? What are the goals of society? Once we have these ideas clearer, then we can look at what method of governing society is best.

1. Definition of Society.
So what is a society? A society can be many things, the definition has different aspects. However it has a few main characteristics: 1) it is a multiplicity of persons, 2) that are united in some sort of stable form, 3) that works toward a common goal, 4) with some kind of link between them, whether natural or contractual. A society is not the same as the government, which is a guide of society, nor a temporary emotionally united group such as a mob or crowd, nor the nation, which is a territorial or ethnic group.

A state is a large society and is usually the most common thing named when ones talks about society in general. It is made up of many smaller societies such as towns, counties, families, all unified under some centralized power, with territorial sovereignty, for the common good. It is this society as state that has generated much philosophy. What is the origin of it? What is its essence? Where does it draw its being?

2. Aspects of Society.
The textbook starts by talking about democracy since it is our current form of government, and mentions several theories on the origin of the state. Historically the various theories are:
  1.Antiquity saw the state or polis as a natural aspect of man's human nature, to not have a state was an unnatural and undesirable situation. Aristotle, Plato.
  2.Middle ages and scholastic philosophy sees the state as natural in its basic origin, based on the nature of humans, but in its concrete formations it is built by the will of humans. Aquinas.
  3.In enlightenment era the ideas was that the state was not based on nature but was a social contract, built only by the will of the participants. Hobbes, Locke, Rouseau.
  4.Naturalists see it as completely unfree and determined, a part of evolution.

There are just as many variations on what is the goal or end of society, such as:
  1.Hobbes – to protect our life and property from aggression of others “man is wolf to other men”
  2.Locke – to protect our freedom and private property, a contract so each can own as desires.
  3.Rousseau – to guarantee the benefits of civilization without loosing the “natural” life (ie the “ noble savage” that submits for the common good,) civilization being not as good as primitive life, but needed for certain goods we cannot get on our own.
  4.Ancient and scholastic – to secure the common good of all, a distinct good from individual good that is unattainable by oneself, thus the society is necessary to fulfill the most goods in ones life.

3. State Authority.
What about the authority the state has? It can even decide someone has performed evil and should be killed. Or can draft young people and send them to war against their will. Where does such power and authority come from? Once again many opinions abound:
  1.Anarchists – no authority, sees the state in an evolution, from tyrant > king > aristocracy > democracy > anarchy as final stage, the final liberation from government.
  2.Positivists – authority is a given without source, it is a fact and can not be judged.
  3.Contractualists – like Locke and Hobbes, authority is from the people as a whole who agreed to a social contract.
  4.Middle ages – Christian Religious view that authority has its base in God who designed an ordered way of life, but has its concrete expression in the will of the people in general. Other religious views of other religions that hold government acts under the direct authority of the deity, the religion rules the state (Islamic).
  5. There are also many views from antiquity such as rule by hereditary family, clan, etc.

The USA was founded under a theory of Social Contract (such as #3 above) with some religious view (#4 above) of ultimate authority coming from God. The idea is that people formed a union of wills, under a written agreement, to form a society and a state. Each pledges to the state obedience and support, in return each gets the benefits of society. Our social contract is the US Constitution. However without some higher authority the will of the people could turn and work against themselves.

The exercise and holder of authority has many forms as well:
  1.According to the Way of exercising power: A) totalitarian, w/o limit, B) Absolutism, w/o people but bound by the common good. C) Constitutional, written law as ruler, division of powers.
  2.According to The System established: A) hereditary, such as family of kings or clan leaders. B) elective, such as parliaments and congresses.
  3.According to Who holds power: A) Monarchy, one holder. B) Aristocracy, “the best” hold power. C) Plutocracy, the rich. D) Democracy, the people, either directly or through a representational republic.

2. Legitimacy of Government.
Now we have defined and classified different types of societies and governments, lets look to see if we can accept some or one as better that the others. As you can see there is little consensus on the make up and proper way to have a society, state, or government, as is obvious from history. Is our democracy the best we can have? What obligation do we owe to it? (i.e. The military draft?) What would be better? What state would you design if you could start from scratch? Think about it...

3. Social Contract Theory.
Lets look first at the social contract theory of Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes (White pp. 194-212). The idea is something like this: If people are free, then their obligation to the state is legitimate only if they freely submit based on some contract or agreement. This idea of a contract makes the legitimacy of government clear and tidy, and the founders of the USA put into practice. A contract was drawn up by the original pilgrims called the Mayflower Compact, later the colonies did the same, then finally we became a nation with the Constitution.

But you may say – I was not there to agree, but now I am subject to this contract. None of us signed it, no one alive in the USA agreed to the contract signed over 200 years ago. Is this just nice sounding language to explain the rule of government over us?

But Locke sees this problem and sees the idea of tacit consent, or unspoken agreement being the ongoing force of the contract (p.199). Just living somewhere freely means accepting the contract. You are free to leave if you want, if you stay it means you agree. Right? Is someone really free to leave though? By the time you are in your 20's and capable of really making this kind of choice, you have already established family, language, friends, maybe have kids.

Aside from this, how many people are really able to give a consent, are informed enough to know the ins and outs of the laws, the structure of the economy, the motives of politicians, etc. And is there any other options really? Are not other places you might move to in many ways the same or worse? So consent may not always be the strong argument it is portrayed as.

4. Majority Rule.
What about voting? Does not that provide for rule by the people and a just government? Since the majority chose the leaders, then the choices of those leaders should be respected as the voice of the majority of the society, right? Sounds great if all votes are unanimous, or you are in the majority. What about the people that loose to the “will of the people”, are they not being forced against their will? (See Locke pp.208).

Majority vote instituted slavery, elected Hitler, banned alcohol, then reinstated it, segregated schools, allows abortion in some places, bans it in others, did not permit women to vote, etc. Why is the majority looked to as the right way to choose a path for the society? Is the minority sort of under a hidden threat to go along with the majority vote or else... At its core does that build a truly free society?

But some say that by registering to vote, or participating in the vote you agree to obey its outcome. If you vote no and loose, you in essence signed a contract by voting that says, “I freely authorize the choice of the majority of voters and will follow it even if I loose.” This may solve some of the weaknesses of democracy, but it still leaves the minority not as free as they wanted. Maybe democracy is simply the least evil way we have designed to govern, the lesser evil, that even with weaknesses it at least provides for a mostly peaceful society where problems are handled without violence. I believe it was Churchill who said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

5. Plato's Theory.
Could we design a better system? Plato set himself to just that task. He set about to design a perfect polis in his book The Republic. He considers many forms of states and ranks democracy at the bottom, only just above tyranny. Democracy was born in ancient Greece, but Plato had a very dim view of it, for many of the same reasons we have mentioned, but mainly because people act far to often according to their feelings and emotions, and not according to reason. He saw his teacher Socrates executed by a majority and emotionally driven vote. He saw people win elections after lying to and talking sweet to the masses, which too often were ignorant and emotional. For Plato rule by “the people” was chaos, uninformed rule by the least able.

Plato was harsh – but in the hundreds of years and tries at democracy throughout the world has it got any better? Are not our elections based mostly on personality cult and feelings or unthinking loyalty to a party, rather than really informed and studied reason?

So what does Plato propose? He says Philosophers should rule. A society is best governed according to The Republic by Philosopher Kings. What does he mean? He is not talking about unkempt philosophy professors that have their head in the realm of ideas all the time are are unable to get two matching sock on their feet in the morning. He means government by the most informed and brightest, government by experts.

Basically his proposal is an Aristocracy, but not as we understand it as hereditary noble families that pass on rule to their children. Aristocracy literally means “rule by the best”, aristos = best in Greek. He says if the state is to guide and protect the people, the only ones that can understand how to do that, and have their emotions under sufficient control, are the intellectuals, the philosophers.

Doctors are licensed before they can practice, as are lawyers, police officers, teachers, architects, electricians and contractors, even drivers. These activities are not elected, they are assigned based on qualification. Should the leader of the state be any different? Does Plato have a valid point?

6. War.
This is just a brief overview to get the issue started. It is all we have time for in a introductory class. But we will look at one more aspect of government – the right or duty to wage war.

One of the main aspects of a state is its ability to wage war to defend itself or to offensively conquer other states. One of the aspects of this power of the state is the study of under what conditions it can be called “right” that a state use violence against another state. These are called “Just War Theory”

Jus ad bellum are the rules to go to war, jus in bello are the rules to be followed during war. They are different but related. It could be just to go to war, but the way it is done could be unjust. So the two sets of criteria are a little different. In modern language, these rules hold that to be just, a war must meet the following criteria before the use of force:(Jus ad bellum)
  1. Just Cause: Force may be used only to correct a certain and grave aggression, such as in defense of self or others, not for unjust causes such as territorial expansion or greed, i.e. those attacked should deserve it.
  2. Right Intention: The motive must be to advance the good, establish order and peace. A bad motive, such as revenge, genocide, lust for power etc, can invalidate a war with a just cause.
  3. Legitimate Authority: Only duly constituted public authorities may use deadly force or wage war. This usually means the valid leader of the government. The mayor of Prescott cannot declare war on a country, he is not the legitimate authority. The legitimate authority is that one above which there is no further appeal.
  Some add also 4. Last Resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted, or shown ineffective. If there is another way that will accomplish the goal without violence, it should be tried first, or shown to be invalid or ineffectual.

Some discuss the validity of one or more of the above proposals, some add more, or wish to remove one or more, but in general these have been the established rule in its core formulation since Augustine in 300-400 ad, and in vague form since Cicero in Roman times.

Other proposed criteria are sometimes added to the jus ad bellum or are included with the jus in bello criteria and include:
  5. Probability of Success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success
  6. Proportionality: The overall destruction expected from the use of force must be outweighed by the good to be achieved. Weapons chosen should correspond to the task.
  7. Protection of non-combatants and their property.

After Augustine proposed these ideas in core form they were developed by Aquinas in the middle ages, and by Grotius and others in the Enlightenment era and most recently have in some form been accepted by the United Nations.

Can you apply these criteria to determine the justice of recent conflicts? Is there ever a situation where it would be immoral NOT to wage war?