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"Political Philosophy" -- fall '07: Free topic. Just select a specific problem, articulate that problem and potentially "solve" it.

One theme I have noticed that connects most, if not all, of the readings we have done this semester is the theme of responsibility. Who is the one that is responsible when things go wrong? Or, not even if something goes wrong, but who is the one responsible simply when things change? Does the responsibility lie in the hands of the leaders or in the hands of every person in society?

In Plato’s The Republic Socrates and Thrasymachus debate over what a real ruler is. Socrates believes that leaders are like parents and look out for the greater good of the society. Thrasymachus believes that leaders are selfish and do only what is best for them and not what is best for society as a whole. Let’s assume for now that Socrates’ opinion is the right opinion. We say that parents are responsible for their children’s actions. When a child is acting out in school, of course he is punished, but his parents are also often looked down upon as bad people. They assume that because this child cannot control himself, it means that his parents don’t have enough boundaries for him and are not good parents. But eventually you can no longer hold the parents accountable for what a child does. When a child is still a child but not yet an adult (in other words, when he is a teenager), it becomes much more difficult to blame the parents for the child’s behavior. So if the leader is like a parent and society are the leader’s children, who takes responsibility when things go wrong or when things change?

John Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government deals directly with the parent-child relationship and how it relates to politics. He writes, “Children, I confess, are not born in the full state of equality, though they are born to it. Their parents have a sort of rule and jurisdiction over them when they come into this world and for some time after. (Paragraph 55)” From reading this it seems that society – the children – cannot be blamed for what their leader – the parent – does. If, for example, a leader were to say that everyone must go around throwing rocks at puppies, society would just have to go along with it, it would seem. But there is actually more to Locke’s sentence. He finishes his sentence by saying, “But ‘tis but a temporary one. (Paragraph 55)” Yes, the leader has control over the society, but only so much control and for only so long. Eventually society has to start thinking for itself and making decisions that are right and not just decisions that they’re told to agree with.

Hannah Arendt writes about the guilt that lies on the German people in Nazi Germany in her account of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Eichmann in Jerusalem. She wrote that Chancellor Adenauer claimed that not many German citizens were actually Nazis and “a great majority [had been] happy to help their Jewish fellow-citizens when they could. (Page 18)” The big question here – which Arendt actually went on to add to her account – is if some many of the citizens had known, including the Chancellor, why did they keep quiet and not tell anyone of these atrocities? The newspaper that Arendt had quoted as asking this question wrote an answer, “Because they themselves felt incriminated. (Page 18)” People like to blame the Holocaust on Hitler and the few other big Nazi leaders. Absolutely they should take a lot of the blame, but they wouldn’t have been able to do all they did had the citizens actually spoken up and said they disagree. There is strength in numbers. If Chancellor Adenauer’s account is true, that most of the German citizens at the time were not Nazi sympathizers, then they should have all gotten together to do something about it. Keeping quiet is sometimes just as bad as doing the killing and tortures yourself because you’re doing absolutely nothing to stop it.

Others may argue though that it was too dangerous to stand up to the Nazis. That if they had told them to stop, all that would have happened is that they, along with the Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals, would have been tortured and eventually killed. There was seemingly no way around it for the citizens in Nazi Germany. But if you take a look at Plato’s The Republic again – specifically looking at the Myth of the Cave – I think there may be more incriminating evidence there.

The Myth is the story of people who are brought up in a cave. It is dark in there and all they can see are shadows outside. They are confined to this cave and they can’t even move their heads. Somehow one of them manages to get out of the cave. In this story these slaves in the cave are totally confined. It seems like there is no way for them to get out of there. We had spoken in class about how this was not a good portrayal of the human condition because it was unclear who was in power. Maybe that was the whole point though. Maybe Plato was trying to show that it really doesn’t matter who is in power, because the person who has control over you is you. If one of them was able to get out, then all of them should have been able to get out no matter if we, the reader, knew who actually had the “power”. They were all so used to living a certain way though, that they didn’t even try to change it. They may have been worried that if they got out something bad would happen. That one liberated slave can be compared to the few German’s who did try to hide the Jews and help them to escape. But the rest of the German society just sat back and did nothing while millions of people were tortured and killed. They felt like they were confined to the cave, but if they would have just tried, they may have been able to stop the way that things were going.

I think that the leaders do have a responsibility to guide the society to do what is best for them, but the society needs to responsible enough to realize when they’re being misguided and put a stop to it. There is strength in numbers. No matter how much power a leader has, there will always be more people in the society, then in his place. Society needs to grow up and take responsibility for their actions.
Get your own material. Don't steal mine. Plagiarism is for pedophiles.