Political Philosophy Research Paper

Pages: 5 (1602 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Government


Political Philosophy

Political Philosophy: Government

The role and function of government has over the centuries been at the centre of debate and even conflict among various political theorists and activists. The question of what the "job" of government should be, hinges to a great extent on the underlying philosophical trajectory that determines the shape, form and function, the extent of powers and control and how the government is expected to act in certain circumstances.

In other words, the central question of the job or function of government is predicated on a range of prior questions, which relate to the way in which the nature and function of government is perceived. For example, the ideal of government in an elitist and aristocratic model will differ considerably from a more democratic model; as will a Marxist view of the nature of government differ to a certain extent from a model put forward by a thinker like Locke. The central point being made which it will be further explored in this paper, is that different philosophical views of government will determine their role and function.

2. The Job of Government

In very general terms the function of government is based on priorities; such as making sure that the country functions smoothly and that its citizens protected from danger. Among the other common functions of modern government that are often mentioned are the following:

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Protect and regulate the sustainable use of natural resources.

Enforce and regulate fair and responsible business practices.

Determine and enforce civil laws of property and conduct

Provide public goods and services for the well-being of the community.

(What is the function of government?)

Research Paper on Political Philosophy Assignment

However, the government is also representative of a certain way of thinking about society and politics. In this sense the function of government forms an integral part of a political and philosophical worldview of a people or a country. The shape and nature of a government depends to a great extent on the underlying philosophy and political system of thought. Therefore, in order to answer the question what is the job or function of government, we have to explore certain political philosophies. As Wilson writes:

What are the Functions of Government? - the question has its own difficulties and complexities…we must ask in return, of what government? Different states have different conceptions of their duty, and so undertake different things. They have had their own peculiar origins, their own characteristic histories

( Wilson)

3. Different Views of Government and Their Function

In a democracy, the ideal form of government is one that is representative of the people. The people choose the government through an electoral system that is, at least theoretically, representative of the people. In this political system government is seen as the 'servant' of the people. This system has its own problems as Karl Marx and other have pointed out. For example, there have to be checks and balances to ensure those in government do not exceed their mandate. As will be discussed, Marx was of the opinion that government is by its very nature elitist and therefore suspect.

However, if we delve even tentatively into the history of the different forms and ideas of government we begin to understand some of the reasons for the often radical differences in ideas of what the role and functions of government should be. A good example is the idealistic early Greek model proposed by Plato.

In order to understand the Platonic ideal of government we have to take into account a number of factors. These include the difference between ancient and aristocratic forms of government in comparison to the more modern constitutional types of government. As one commentator note, in understanding the evolution of ideas and conceptions of government we should consider the ancient state, "...when the State ... knew nothing of individual rights as contrasted with the rights of the state." (Wilson)

In other words, an essential difference between modern and ancient views of government is that the more traditional view was that the individual was subordinate to the government. (Wilson) it is this conflict between the power of government or the state and the rights and legitimate claims of the private individual that has been the cause of much conflict and dissention in the world and which, it can be argued, has led to the development of different models of government, which reflect different degrees of this conflict.

The more controlling system of government is advocated in the philosophy of Plato and his view of the Ideal Republic. "The ideal Republic of which Plato dreams is to prescribe the whole life of its citizens." (Wilson) However Plato's view of the state and government was not essentially autocratic but has been described as a form of meritocracy, where every individual would have his or her place according to their merits -- and that this would be prescribed by wise elite.

In contrast, theorists like Karl Marx in a more contemporary context was radically opposed to an elitist form of government or ruling class. He saw government as being essentially suspect and opposed to the revolutionary changes required to attain the historical rights of the masses.

One can compare this Marxist view to that of thinkers like John Locke in order to understand the way of government is shaped by political philosophy. Locke was of the view that,"… a government was only functional if it had the will of the people behind it and a social contract between people and state was formed." (Comparison of Marx and Locke: Views on Government, Property and Labor). According to Locke, a government was also supposed to protect and ensure various natural rights, such as life, liberty, and the right to own property. In other words, "….Locke was asserting that government had to be fair and equitable in order to be sustainable." (Comparison of Marx and Locke: Views on Government, Property and Labor).

While there are similarities between these views and those of Karl Marx, such as the issue of the rights to liberty, there are also major differences in terms of political phiolosophy. Central to these is the issue of private property which is contrary to the Marxist philosophy and vision. Mark was also opposed to the idea of government particularly in relation to the reality of class.

He saw that there were inherent problems in a government where there was an upper class or ruling elite and advocated a government that was part of the people -- a government that was not based on the principles and revolution-inspiring problems class inequity. (Comparison of Marx and Locke: Views on Government, Property and Labor).

2. Different Styles of Government

The following is a brief overview of the different type of governance based on Plato's views.

Aristocratic. This form of government is one that Plato envisaged, where government rules by virtue of a philosopher king. The positive aspect of this philosophy is that governance takes place on the basis of reason, rationality and the wisdom of the ruler. This view is obviously susceptible to corruption by the power hungry.

Timocracy. A timocracy occurs when an autocratic form of government becomes corrupt and when those who rule do not have the required wisdom to govern properly. Power tends to be the central focus of this form of government, supported by the military.

An oligarchy is defined as a system of government which distinguishes between the rich and the poor, and wherethe rich become the governors. "Oligarchy is a form of government where most political power effectively rests with a small segment of society (typically the most powerful, whether by wealth, military strength, ruthlessness, or political influence). (What Is an Oligarchy)

Democracy is defined as government by the people; where power is vested in the people who… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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