Philosophical Quest for Political Legitimacy.


Byline: Shakila Noor Sindhu

I will begin with Plato's structural stratification and functional specialization1 which recommended a stable society and state and then move on to other philosophers to explain their shift in their narratives which link the ideal state increasingly to a capitalist structure2.

Greek philosopher Plato fabricated a system of structural stratification and functional specialization in his ideal state3 and used education as a paradigm to materialize this goal. His education was a prescribed mechanism to stratify the society based on mental abilities and physical capacities of people. The utopian system classified society into workers, businessmen, warriors and philosopher king. Objective of this whole exercise was to ensure that state was an equal opportunity employer. Everyone was given a fair chance to participate in the system and rise, but only those who would prove their worth were allowed to take up leadership roles. The rest would accept their limitations and offer unconditional support to philosopher king/leader. Education was used as an effective socialization process to build citizens' capacity, offering people prescribed participatory opportunities to make them aware of their capabilities and limitations, and breed a culture of submission to the authority.

Aristotle reinforced Platonic stance that people's capacity building, participation in system and consent to authority were prerequisites to the state. While emphasizing valuable role of citizens, Aristotle compared them with sailors. All the sailors could not be skilled in every job on a ship, nor were they required to be, all got assigned different roles to make a successful voyage. They complemented each other's work for a common goal. Similarly, the citizens would not be equal in their abilities. However, they needed to be skilled in different fields, so like sailors they could work as a community and complement each other's tasks. The success of a state was based on the jobs of its citizens and the leader who was there to give them directions4. Very interestingly Aristotle reinforced Platonic idea of 'prescribed manner of action'. Involvement of citizens in state business would give them ownership and trust.

This would be the responsibility of authority to chalk out a plan and devise a route to follow that plan5. Sixteenth century philosopher Machiavelli was an ardent supporter of state's coercive authority. However, even he admitted to the importance of power of common people. In The Prince, he rhetorically asked 'What a prince should do to be held in esteem6?' The desire of 'esteem', according to him, was a desire of legitimacy and people's support. He understood the power of masses. Therefore, he advised the 'Princes' to set high precedents to earn themselves a reputation was 'worthy of being made a Prince7'. He knew a good reputation was a foundation of power. Even if the Prince did not have many good qualities he should still pretend to possess them. He recommended to the Prince to keep people engaged continuously. This engagement could be initiating a war, construction or any new expedition.

He wanted his Prince to keep assigning different tasks to his subjects without giving them any break to sit idle and think. This could keep people in constant 'suspense, admiration and occupied with their outcome. Machiavelli had advanced beyond his predecessors' ideas by designing a system based on people's continuous struggle within that society8. Whereas Plato and Aristotle were interested in building people's capacity and making them think in a particular way, Machiavelli was eager to prevent people from thinking of anything except building their capacities by indulging them in diverse activities.

All three major social contractualists, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau were agreed to the phenomenon that state was a human created institution and government need people's support, though, they had different viewpoints about post state role of public in government affairs. Thomas Hobbes was the first among three social contract philosopher who said, people created state and government to launch peace and stability in society9. They created it to ensure freedom10. Thomas Hobbes, while explaining the state of nature, narrated that it was a time when everyone had nothing but enmity. There was no security for anyone and anything. Might is right was the supreme principal at this pre-state age and this had produced absolute uncertainty. There was no industry, no culture, no art and no development. There was a multitude, but not a society. Life was 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short11' In order to purge this obnoxious environment, people entered into a contract and they established a government.

They surrendered all their right to government to form a political society. Now this was a responsibility of government to make laws that could ensure equality, freedom and liberty in society. People's responsibility was to follow the rules of government to enjoy and maintain equality, freedom and liberty. Thomas Hobbes made unconditional support to government, a moral responsibility of its citizens.

John Locke, had a radically different position than to Thomas Hobbes on the questions of absolute power of government and obliged participation of masses. He endorsed the idea of government directed participation. He was of the view that law of nature was observed by everyone in a pre-state life. However, sometimes this state of nature was transformed into a state of war12. According to Locke, when someone could take away someone else's liberty based on his physical power what was the guarantee that this person would not rob everything else? This was something that made the system of state of nature dysfunctional. There was a need to have a political society organized under a single authority with coercive power and a bunch of rules to act in this situation and ensure liberty, peace and freedom in society13. Locke did not seem to have a blind trust on abilities of masses that they could use their wisdom to take a rational choice that was impartial14.

He agreed that man at times could be a prey of emotions, ambitions and mistakes. Although, he was in favor of the consent of governed to keep things moving, but he also believed that governed should have trust on political institutions15. Therefore, the institutions set their preferences and subjects were supposed to obey the laws of these institutions.

Rousseau the third in list among social contract theorists advocated that rules were for everybody. The masses were supposed to support government and government was meant to serve people. If governments failed to serve people, they would discover ways to put governments under pressure. They would withdraw their support and create a legitimacy crisis16. He urged government to have ability to take pulse of masses. So that it could guide...

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