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Rick Snyder: Signs of Burke?

April 18, 2011

State-appointed Emergency Financial Managers (EFMs) in our great State of Michigan have new, unprecedented powers thanks to Rick Snyder. For those who are unaware of the legislation that has recently been passed, they have the ability to do things that they have never been able to do before. They can essentially “fire” a municipality’s government. The elected officials who make up the city government still hold their specific positions, but they have essentially no power. The Emergency Financial Manager basically takes over. Well, according to the Daily Kos, an online blog, on April 15th the first instance of this very exact thing happened. Our financially downtrodden city of Benton Harbor had its entire government relieved of its power. Here’s the post from the Daily Kos: Emergency Financial Planner Fires Entire City Government

Joseph Harris, EFM of Benton Harbor

Do we see some Burkean influence in our governor, Rick Snyder? Burke believed that not all people should hold positions in regards to the governmental “caste,” if you will. A good fisherman should be content to be a good fisherman and not involve him or herself in the affairs of government because he or she does not know what’s best. Those matters should be left to the select individuals who carry the proper intellect and state of mind to lead the government. So, ultimately, do we see here Snyder believing that the prior city council was not capable of bringing Benton Harbor out of its majority poverty-stricken state, and so it is up to the more capable Emergency Financial Planner to find the solution? Burke did not necessarily believe it is about democracy but that it is about the elites knowing what is best for the people.

Let’s go into the mind…of Karl Marx

April 18, 2011
Doesn’t his beard makes him look like Santa?

To put it nicely, Karl Marx did not like Capitalism. He believed it was exploitive, self-destructive and a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, which would eventually be overthrown because of the inevitable internal conflicts between classes. I do not agree with his philosophies but if we look at the historical context of Marx’s time maybe we can understand why he thought the way he did. Like a wise madden announcer said, “Let’s go into the mind of Karl Marx”.

Karl Marx was born in Germany in 1818 during the Industrial Revolution. The Revolution produced many inventions, but at a cost.  Factory conditions were poor and there weren’t many labor laws or regulations. Thus the workers were subjected to the will of the factory owners who were most likely part of the bourgeoisie. Luckily for Marx he was born into a wealthy middle class family where they did not have to work in factories. His economic situation allowed him to observe the plight of the workers at a distance. What he saw shaped his impression of capitalism, which is different from the system we experience today. In his Communist Manifesto Marx says, “Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers…they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself”(Modern Political Thought, pp.830-31). Like I mentioned earlier, there were no labor unions to speak for the interests of the workers, as opposed to today where we have many that provide a voice if they feel oppressed or wronged.  For example, teachers can negotiate their contracts for better pay, health benefits, etc.  If the offer put forth by their superiors does not satisfy them, the teachers union can go on strike.  In short, today we have many laws in place to ensure that workers are kept as safe and happy as possible.

Keeping this in mind, if Marx had been born one hundred or so years later, do you think he would still dislike capitalism? The question almost becomes a nature versus nurture argument but I think it raises an interesting point. If Marx had been born in a time when capitalism had improved and provided better conditions for its workers, do you think he would still find it oppressive? I think it is an interesting idea to ponder.  In a way I feel sorry for Marx, because his ideas are noble but they work better on paper than they do in reality.

Recently I read a book called Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow that reminded me of Marx’s ideologies.  One of the story lines follows a Jewish artist named Tateh.  In the beginning, he is a firm believer in communism and socialism who dislikes America, specifically New York City.  After traveling down the east coast he eventually tries to make some money by selling a few flip books he designed. Within a few months Tateh goes from being penniless to wealthy and denounces his contempt for capitalism. Marx says, “The modern labourer…instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth”(pp. 833).  This is an oversimplified  scenario and explanation.  Regardless of whatever economic system one has, there will be those who will be better off or worse off.  It may have its flaws but capitalism creates more opportunities and promotes innovation.  Tateh from Ragtime a great example that one can make a name for themselves with hard work regardless of they’re background or previous living conditions.

When put into practice communism creates an equal society, but one where everyone is equally poor.  A man may fish one day and then wish to work in a factory the next day, but there is no guarantee of work in such a volatile workforce.  There is less motivation and incentive to create or learn because whether one is a doctor or a fisherman he receives the same pay and regard.

What does that mean for Marx? If he was born in a time where workers had more rights and capitalism had a chance to improve do you think he would still dislike it?

The Berlin Wall, a symbol of communism.


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Karl Marx. <;.

Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008. Print.

Mill on False Facts

April 18, 2011

Mill supports freedom of speech and suggests that all opinions are valuable in the search for truth. He feels that it is the duty of citizens to state opinions whether they are certain these ideas are true or not. If there is a free flow of thought and communication in a society, then truth can be realized. No truth can exist unless it has been proved true.
So we know how Mill feels freedom of speech but how would he feel about freedom of speech in which someone states an opinion as fact and is well aware that said fact is untrue, or is aware that their statement has not been researched?
For example how would Mill respond to Jon Kyl’s false claim about Planned Parenthood?

While Kyl claims that 90% of planned parenthood’s services are abortions, the actual percentage is 3%. When asked how he could make a claim off by 87%, Kyl said that his statement was not meant to be factual but instead was meant to prove a point.
Whether Kyl knew he was lying or not is irrelevant because regardless he was in the wrong. If he was aware his percentage was so vastly off and presented it as fact he is guilty of misleading citizens and is not aiding in the search for truth but instead making this quest more difficult. If Kyl was unaware his claim was false, he was certainly aware that his claim had not been researched and he had no basis for making a claim to which he had put no thought to.
Mill argues that freedom of speech is imperative to society and its development but I do not believe he would support making false claims to make a point (for that point is only proved false if its support is a total lie). Nor would Mill support making a claim that had not been researched. For Kyl to state an opinion about planned parenthood and its services is one thing and perhaps beneficial to the debate on abortion, but for him to falsely present percentages is wrong.
I am interested to see what you think about Kyl’s claims and how Mill would interpret them. Perhaps he would suggest that lying is not such a terrible offense and is beneficial in the search for truth? Bellow is a clip of Stephen Colbert and his interpretation of the situation.

The Circle is Now Complete: On Socrates and Marx

April 18, 2011

This blog has been an incredible venue for showing off knowledge of the material in absolutely astronomical ways. I have been honored to be a part of it since January and despite the fact that not everyone agreed with me sometimes, we were able to have interesting, vigorous political theory debate day in and day out. And now, as Darth Vader said in Star Wars Episode IV: “The Circle is now Complete.” I would like to tackle the first political theorist we discussed and the last as an exercise on how one can synthesize seemingly differing political theory from completely different time periods and come up with a many similarities as a result. Let us begin with one of the first political thinkers, a founder of Western thought, Socrates:

A Museum of the Vatican bust of Socrates, one of the first political thinkers in the West.

Socrates, a theorist who lived during the transition from Athens’ golden age to its downturn following a defeat by Sparta, dared to challenge the conventional wisdom that democracy was the be-all end-all of civilization. He believed that leaders were chosen on their rhetorical flourish rather than their ability to truly lead the people. Next, Socrates’ views on wisdom must be tackled.From Plato’s text of Socrates, he posits that: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (38a) He believes that to be truly wise in society, one needs to take a private pursuit of truth in order to fully realize life and what is out there. Finally, however, in the argument against Crito, where Crito persuades Socrates to flee from his death following his guilty charge for not worshiping the state gods and corruption of the youth, Socrates believes that one needs to follow the laws of the state and its Social Contract when one lives in a state (46c-49e).

These ideas are strikingly similar to those of Karl Marx, a philosopher living in the 19th century.

The philosopher Karl Marx in one of his most famous portraits.

While worlds away from Socrates in time and cultural technology (as well as political differences), the two had remarkably similar stances on the above three issues: anti-democracy, pursuits of truth, and following the laws of the state. Marx, in the Communist Manifesto, argues that democracy and capitalism allow a few rich people, known as the bourgeoisie, to dominate the proletariat, the working people. Marx, similar to Socrates, emphasizes that this is not the best method to convey human enlightenment and fairness, and just as one leader is usually foolishly chosen, a community leading would be preferrable following revolution. Also, Marx was an advocate on pursuing truth through education and community interaction. Through community interaction and listening to the perspectives of many people, truth is discovered. Marx calls for “rescu[ing] education from the influence of the ruling class.” (pg 807), strongly advocating free public education for all in “Proletarians and Communists.” Although the third subset, following the rules of the state, is a tricky one, Marx does advocate the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and the necessity for the leaders of this dictatorship to listen to one another and for the bourgeois oppressed to follow their rule (pg 809).

The key element I take out of this comparison is the general similarities of Socrates and Marx in many areas. Although they disagree on implementation vigorously (private pursuit vs. revolution), there are key tenets such as the necessity for truth, following the state’s rules, and making sure not just one foolish leader is in power, that are incredibly similar. One can  find similarities with many of our political theorists, and in this manner can compile a political theory all their own. Thus, the circle is now complete. Have a great night, folks.


1F. Engels and K. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, reprinted in Modern Political Theory, 2nd Edition (D. Wooton Ed.), 2008, Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis, In

2Plato, The Trial and Death of Socrates, 3rd Edition (Cooper Ed.), 2001, Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis, In

Why can’t we all be more social?

April 18, 2011

When Obama’s opponents want to really discredit him, they call him a socialist.  In the modern political world, this epithet is far worse than “wife-beater,” “moral degenerate,” or even “devil-worshipper”.  In fact, all of these derogatory appellations appear to be encompassed by this damning label “socialist”.  The devil is, of course, Karl Marx (seen to the right), who visualized socialism as an intermediate step in achieving the communist utopia.  We have been reading the works of Marx and I find some of his ideas very intriguing.  Marx visualized a classless society in which everyone shares in the profit of their labors.  He saw communism as a remedy for the “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation”1 of the workers by the bourgeoisie.  Marx’s ideas are embodied in a large number of works, the most famous being the Communist Manifesto1, which he wrote with Friedrich Engels.  Communism has now been almost completely discredited due to its failures of the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Cuba.  China is thriving because, while maintaining many of the trappings of communism, it has embraced capitalism with great success.  I think that it is safe to say that communism is dead and cannot, and should not, be resurrected.

Socialism adapted to modern society is a more palatable and easily achievable solution to the exploitation of the many by the few.  It is also a system in which everyone would share the benefits of industrialization.  Unlike communism, where the goal is the destruction of the machinery of capitalism, socialism can be adapted to the existing means of production.  The difference is that the means of production would be owned by society rather than private individuals motivated solely by their hungry appetites for profit.  Moreover, socialism is fully compatible with democracy.  While the US is a capitalistic democracy, several European countries are socialist democracies, and they have proven to be quite successful.

It has been argued that socialism runs counter to the normal competitive nature of man where people are motivated by personal gain and are less concerned about society at large.  However, the willingness to act on behalf of the community is not necessarily an unnatural impulse.  It is quite common in the animal world2.  Consider African termites.  The tunnels for entering the mounds built by African termites have only a slightly larger diameter than the heads of the soldier termites.  When the nests are threatened, the soldiers will block the access into the mound with their heads, thus sometimes sacrificing their own lives for the survival of the community.  Furthermore, anthropologists have discovered many different primitive cultures in which people act on behalf of the community, not themselves.  The point I am trying to make is that altruistic behavior can, in fact, be an effective survival strategy. 

So, would socialism work in modern U.S. society?  To be honest, probably not.  The current capitalistic system is highly, probably irreversibly,entrenched and the American people are repelled by socialism.  This aversion is, in part, due to its historical ties to communism. However, they also hate the idea, illustrated by the cartoon below, that the socialist government will take their hard-earned money out of their pockets and give it to the disadvantaged.  Nevertheless, it should be possible to adopt the underlying motivation of socialism: the equitable treatment of all of people living in society.  It seems inexcusable that so many U.S. citizens living far below the poverty line lack health care and have no security in retirement.  Can government initiatives rectify these inequities socialism?  Not even close, but they are moral imperatives that we can no longer ignore.  



1F. Engels and K. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, reprinted in Modern Political Theory, 2nd Edition (D. Wooton Ed.), 2008, Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis, In
2E. O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition, Harvard University Press, 2000.

Environmentalism: the New Socialism?

April 18, 2011

It seems that just the mentioning of the word socialism strikes fear in many Americans. But what about environmentalism? One can hardly argue that the idea of a more sustainable environment is a bad or scary one. So what exactly is it about environmentalism that is socialistic?

According to Rush Limbaugh in this book, The Way Things Ought To Be, “With the collapse of Marxism, environmentalism has become the new refuge of socialist thinking. The environment is a great way to advance a political agenda that favors central planning and an intrusive government. What better way to control someone’s property than to subordinate one’s private property rights to environmental concerns.”

Limbaugh argues that environmentalism is a way for the government to take control of one’s private property; however, most environmentalist will argue that the concept of private property itself is one born out of the modern, capitalistic era.

The following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote earlier in the semester for my environmental history class. It describes some of the arguments environmentalist make against capitalism:

“The story of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas is learned as far back as elementary school. It has even earned itself a catchy nursery rhyme: “Back in 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, he sailed the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria.”  There is no doubt that we all know the story; however, for most, it was sold to us under false pretenses.  This famous voyage is known as “the discovery of the New World,” despite the fact that this world was by no means new, nor was Christopher Columbus the first to discover it.  The voyage did, however, mark the beginning of a new era characterized by globalization.  This era, without a doubt, has had detrimental and irreversible effects on our environment. Donald Worster, in his book, the Ends of the Earth,  describes two major forces that have placed our earth in what he refers to as “an unprecedented state of vulnerability.” The first, a significant population increase in Europe and second, the rise of the modern capitalist economy.

Although a capitalist economic systemwould not fully exist as we know it today until the 19th and 20th century, the transition to capitalistic style of thought, which, according to Worster, requires people to “learn relentlessly their own private accumulation of wealth.. They must think constantly in terms of making money. They must regard everything around them – the land, its natural resources, their own labor – as potential commodities that might fetch a profit in the market,” began to develop during the 15th century. In this quote, Worster mentions the concept of commodifaction, or the turning of nature into a commodity, which is further elaborated on by William Cronin, who answers the question, how did colonies support themselves? Cronin discusses what an early explorer, Richard Hakluyt called, “merchantable commodities,” which he describes as “natural products which could be shipped to Europe and sold at a profit in order to provide a steady income for colonial settlements.”  But, what, exactly, was consider a so-called “merchantable commodity?”  Cronin goes further to explain that “a ‘merchantable commodity’ in America was what was scarce in Europe.” So, it seems that we have come full circle. Overpopulation and lack of resources to sustain the population led Europeans to establish colonies in the “new world,” which could provide them with the resources they needed to sustain their growing population. These elaborate methods of trade begin the transition from a barter economy, to a money economy, and ultimately a free market economy (for capitalist societies), which Worster claims has caused much of the environmental evils. ”

Are environmentalist like Worster and Cronin, who blame much the the environmental issues we face today on the emergence of capitalism, socialist?

Professor Lavaque-Manty mentioned that capitalism has the ability to adapt and has made the transition to green.  Although this may be true, one cannot turn back time and undo all the environmental damage which capitalism has already done.

What do you think?

Would you prefer a Machiavellian president?

April 18, 2011

By: Brendan Lapinski

Before I start I want to you to assume that our president is completely honest and frank with us and he only acts morally in everything he decides for our country and would never deceive us or other countries. Now, with that out of the way, would you prefer a president who followed a Machiavellian way to ruling (for lack of a better word)? In my opinion I think our country would be a little better off that way. If Barack Obama did what needed to be done and didn’t have to rely on the Senate or the House to get things done or at the very least slow bill or law passing down to a snail’s crawl, then I think our country would be in a better spot than it is now. We would still have watertight ways of checking his power and make sure he didn’t get too out of control but if we skip all the formalities of the processes then this country would get stuff done much faster than it does now. We would see results faster and, in my opinion, create a better country to live in where a president might actually follow through on his promises and agenda if not slowed by legal formalities. I may be speaking blasphemy here but it’s my opinion and I’m interested to hear what you think or point out any blaring mistakes I made, which I’m sure I have because I’m not too political savvy. But leave a comment below and let me know.