Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Political and Philosophical Enlightenment

Ethics is basically morality, to put it in a simple way. But can ethics go hand-in-hand with politics? Politics is science. That is why there is a course called political science which you can study academically. Well you can also view politics in terms of art. They say medicine is the art of science. Can politics be the science of art? First of all, is there such thing as a science of art?

I am sure most of you know the book called ‘The Art of War’. It is written by a Chinese war strategist named Sun Tzu. So may I modify a little bit of his title and it becomes ‘The Art of Politics’. But politics is science. However, the art of science is medicine. So it should be ‘The Science of the Art of War/Politics’. I know this may sound confusing but since the art of war/politics can be studied objectively, thus it becomes a science subject.

But the political science subject is actually deemed ‘useless’ in the real world. You don’t need to practise what you learn. In other words, you don’t have to study political science to know or to get involved in politics. You want obvious proof? All our ministers are not political science graduates. They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, economics, Malay and Islamic studies but NEVER political science grads. Those who have political science degrees can become their political secretaries only, doing the work behind the scenes but never in the frontline. Do you people notice that?

Sometimes, I wonder why people who graduated in political science don’t end up as frontline politicians. Why must politicians still be doctors, lawyers and other professionals? Weird! Doctors be pure doctors la! Lawyers be pure lawyers la! Why political science grads cannot become politicians? Now, don’t come and tell me KJ did politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) and yet he is a politician today. Did u see the word ‘economics’ in his course? PPE is not political science although it has the word ‘politics’ in it. They are separate courses anyway.

Okay, today let’s get academically inclined. Let us get intellectual. Let us put on our thinking caps. Let us be enlightened. Let us be Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau. Men are born free, and yet everywhere he goes, he is in chains. Sounds familiar? Freedom comes with rules and responsibilities. Hari ini marilah kita belajar mengenai tokoh-tokoh berikut:

François-Marie Arouet (21 November 169430 May 1778), better known by the pen name Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, essayist, deist and philosopher.
Voltaire was known for his sharp wit, philosophical writings, and defense of civil liberties, including freedom of religion and the right to a fair trial. He was an outspoken supporter of social reform despite strict censorship laws in France and harsh penalties for those who broke them. A satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize Christian Church dogma and the French institutions of his day. Voltaire is considered one of the most influential figures of his time.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712July 2, 1778) was a Genevan philosopher of the Enlightenment whose political ideas influenced the French Revolution, the development of socialist theory, and the growth of nationalism. Rousseau also made important contributions to music both as a theorist and as a composer. With his Confessions and other writings, he practically invented modern autobiography and encouraged a new focus on the building of subjectivity that would bear fruit in the work of thinkers as diverse as Hegel and Freud. His novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse was one of the best-selling fictional works of the eighteenth century and was important to the development of romanticism.

Nature vs. society

Rousseau saw a fundamental divide between society and human nature. Rousseau contended that man was good by nature, when in the state of nature (the state of all other animals, and the condition humankind was in before the creation of civilization and society), but is corrupted by society. This idea has often led to the attribution to Rousseau of the idea of the noble savage an expression first used in by Dryden in The Conquest of Granada (1672). Rousseau, however, never used the expression himself and it does not adequately render his idea of the natural goodness of humanity. Rousseau's idea of natural goodness is complex and easy to misunderstand. Contrary to what might be suggested by a casual reading, the idea does not imply that humans in the state of nature act morally; in fact, terms such as 'justice' or 'wickedness' are simply inapplicable to pre-political society as Rousseau understands it. Humans there may act with all of the ferocity of an animal. They are good because they are self-sufficient and thus not subject to the vices of political society. He viewed society as artificial and held that the development of society, especially the growth of social interdependence, has been inimical to the well-being of human beings.

Society's negative influence on men centers, in Rousseau's philosophy, on its transformation of amour de soi, a positive self-love, into amour-propre, or pride. Amour de soi represents the instinctive human desire for self preservation, combined with the human power of reason. In contrast, amour-propre is artificial and forces man to compare himself to others, thus creating unwarranted fear and allowing men to take pleasure in the pain or weakness of others. Rousseau was not the first to make this distinction; it had been invoked by, among others, Vauvenargues.

In "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences" Rousseau argued that the arts and sciences had not been beneficial to humankind because they were not human needs, but rather a result of pride and vanity. Moreover, the opportunities they created for idleness and luxury contributed to the corruption of man. He proposed that the progress of knowledge had made governments more powerful and had crushed individual liberty. He concluded that material progress had actually undermined the possibility of sincere friendship, replacing it with jealousy, fear and suspicion.

His subsequent Discourse on Inequality tracked the progress and degeneration of mankind from a primitive state of nature to modern society. He suggested that the earliest human beings were isolated semi-apes who were differentiated from animals by their capacity for free will and their perfectibility. He also argued that these primitive humans were possessed of a basic drive to care for themselves and a natural disposition to compassion or pity. As humans were forced to associate together more closely by the pressure of population growth, they underwent a psychological transformation and came to value the good opinion of others as an essential component of their own well-being. Rousseau associated this new self-awareness with a golden age of human flourishing. However, the development of agriculture, metallurgy, private property, and the division of labor led to humans becoming increasingly dependent on one another, and led to inequality. The resulting state of conflict led Rousseau to suggest that the first state was invented as a kind of social contract made at the suggestion of the rich and powerful. This original contract was deeply flawed as the wealthiest and most powerful members of society tricked the general population, and thus instituted inequality as a fundamental feature of human society. Rousseau's own conception of the social contract can be understood as an alternative to this fraudulent form of association. At the end of the Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau explains how the desire to have value in the eyes of others, which originated in the golden age, comes to undermine personal integrity and authenticity in a society marked by interdependence, hierarchy, and inequality.

The Social Contract

Perhaps Rousseau's most important work is The Social Contract, which outlines the basis for a legitimate political order. Published in 1762 it became one of the most influential works of political philosophy in the Western tradition. It developed some of the ideas mentioned in an earlier work, the article Economie Politique, featured in Diderot's Encyclopédie. Rousseau claimed that the state of nature eventually degenerates into a brutish condition without law or morality, at which point the human race must adopt institutions of law or perish. In the degenerate phase of the state of nature, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men while at the same time becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom. According to Rousseau, by joining together through the social contract and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. This is because submission to the authority of the general will of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law.

While Rousseau argues that sovereignty should be in the hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between sovereign and government. The government is charged with implementing and enforcing the general will and is composed of a smaller group of citizens, known as magistrates. Rousseau was bitterly opposed to the idea that the people should exercise sovereignty via a representative assembly. Rather, they should make the laws directly. It has been argued that this would prevent Rousseau's ideal state being realized in a large society, though in modern times, communication may have advanced to the point where this is no longer the case. Much of the subsequent controversy about Rousseau's work has hinged on disagreements concerning his claims that citizens constrained to obey the general will are thereby rendered free.

Source : Wikipedia

Dear all, we really need more of these people in the rakyat AND government of our beloved Malaysia. We need more Voltaire’s and Rousseau’s. Can we make it? Where are we heading? Forward? Backward? Left? Right? Or no direction at all? Fikirkanlah…*enlightenment*


Ravi said...

Hey Kopitiam, go study la...
Damn stressful man, this exams..

Anonymous said...

I recently finished reading a book of all the great political theorists - Rousseau included. It told of where various concepts of political theory originated and how they were built upon over the generations. "Natural state" and "social contract" were terms used by Hobbes and Locke, but in slightly different ways.
Anyways, its called THE GREAT POLITICAL THEORIES by Michael Curtis. It is a two-volume set.

Anonymous said...

it's refreshing to be reminded of the social contract as understood then. these days, the term is usually thrown around by UMNO to keep the non-bumis in line.

"remember our social contract, that u will be given the right to live here and make a living but as PENUMPANG"

re why our politicians are not political science students...i think more should be or at least study law...or philosophy or economics...u know what i mean.. stuff to run the country...and learn about history...n not behave like 'sam pah'