Saturday, December 20, 2008

Legitimacy and Leadership

The key point from this last week in relation to the history we’ve been studying has to do with the concept of legitimacy. Legitimacy in governing is key to how a government runs effectively; the less legitimate citizens feel their government is, the less abilities that government has in ruling. A leader can never rule effectively if he is considered illegitimate.

For much of world history, especially before 1700, legitimacy was determined by the mention of a higher power. If a leader could convince the people that the higher power was in his corner, he was considered legitimate. James I in England took that a step further: he felt that he (as king) was really no different than God. No one could question his power, as he had the connection to God. In a way, he argued that kings had the hotline to God and as such, their decisions were always correct. Of course, today we in this country could never imagine a president who would claim that God speaks to him, right?

The Divine Right of Kings in Europe took the concept of legitimacy pretty far. Inevitably, there was a reaction by the people. When someone claims to have spoken to God, it isn’t long before others start to wonder why God hasn’t spoken to them. This begins the questioning of government in general. In England, that took the form of John Locke’s Of Civil Government. This threw the whole concept of legitimacy on its ear. According to Locke, God was no longer an acceptable way for rulers to claim legitimacy. Locke argued that legitimacy only came from the consent of the people. At least for Europe, this was the beginning of the movement towards democracy. If one admits that government only comes from the consent of the people, it won’t be long before they realize that “consent” usually must come in the form of a vote.

This represents a fundamental change in the conversation regarding the history of government and leadership. To lead, a person now has to consider the collective power of the people to put him/her into the role of leader and thus their collective power to remove him/her. Leadership from this point forward becomes much more complicated for those in power, but much more fair for those under that power.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Machiavelli and the Prince

There is plenty to chew on when reading through Machiavelli's "The Prince." Most important to remember, however, is just how much Machiavelli is concerned with efficiency and power rather than any kind of ideas regarding "good government." Everything Machiavelli writes about has to do with HOW to run a government, not whether that government will produce anything morally correct.

Machiavelli was born into a world, especially in Europe, that was dominated by kings and queens who ruled without any consideration for the livelihoods of the people. The middle ages weren't exactly kind to the average person, so in some ways, Machiavelli was very much a product of the era in which he lived. Keep that in mind when judging his ideas, as nasty as those ideas really are.

Consider, as well, how this fits into the overall theme of this unit. Whereas Aristotle, Socrates and Confucius are utterly consumed with the idea of "good government," Machiavelli is the opposite. In a way, they complement one another quite well. This is not to say that these historical philosophers would ever agree with one another, however. I'm sure Confucius would not in any way support Machiavelli's ideas. But the question that really arises here, and the one I'd like you to think about, is to what extent does Machiavelli really compliment the other philosophers studied this unit? Can a ruler attempt to reach a "perfect" and virtuous government without using some ideas Machiavelli supports in order to get to a position of power?

We've seen over the last week in the news that our very own governor has used quite a bit of Machiavellian tactics to get to where he got. What do you think Machiavelli would have to say about governor Blagojedsfsdfhsufhsdfsoi?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Mansas

Today's discussion on the Mansas (Sundiata and Musa) raises a number of issues regarding how leadership has been implemented. Clearly, both Sundiata and Musa had very strong feelings about the manner in which a society should operate. Sundiata, in creating the Mali society, was attempting to instill a just and righteous civilization that would grow and thrive. Musa, on the other hand, inherited a society that already was thriving and made it even more successful.

The keys to Musa's success relied upon trade. Trade has helped push forward history through the interactions between societies that developed, and in the Mali example, the fact that Musa was able to use the commodities present in the society (Salt and Gold) to his advantage allowed him to make Mali a central power not only in Africa, but throughout the world. Trade (and the resulting interactions between civilizations) also encouraged cultural and social development across North Africa and into Southern Europe. Musa was able to capitalize on his advantages and the downturn in both Europe and the Middle East to further develop worldwide relations and increase his own civilization's standing in the world system.

So the question that arise from today involves trade. Specifically: can you think of other time periods in which trade/interactions have been the main motivating factor for historical development throughout the world?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Human Nature, Confcianism and Legalism

So, based on today's discussion, its clear that the Confucians and Legalists had very different ideas about Human Nature. The Legalists were generally very pessimistic, thus leading them to conclude that for a state to succeed, rules and order needed to be maintained. If people were free to choose whether or not to follow a leader, they would never do so, so in order for the society to thrive, rewards and punishments were necessary.

The Confucians, having a generally optimistic view of society, concluded that people would naturally do good if they were shown an example of goodness on behalf of the leader. Essentially, the Confucians advocated for a moderated form of anarchy, but not the negative idea of anarchy we associate with the word today, but a very positive view of anarchy in which people are so good that they don't even need laws.

So, in your opinion, which of these two is closer to getting it right on human nature? Consider things like Hurricane Katrina-when people were stripped of all laws, what happened? Then again, billions of dollars are given to charitable organizations each year, much of which is done anonymously. There are examples of both positive and negative views of human nature all around us. So what are we-good or bad?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Early Civilizations and the Environment

The first civilizations on this planet had it rough. Like…really rough.

These small groups of people stopped chasing their food from place to place around 3000 B.C.E. (beginning what is known as the “Neolithic era”) and settled down in modern day Iraq to establish permanent homes that would rely upon the environment to insure the survival of the people. Unfortunately for these civilizations, the environment is not a consistently reliable source of survival. In fact, at times it does more to insure death and destruction than health and well being.

These first civilizations settled between two major rivers: the Tigris and Euphrates. Living between these two rivers would allow for inhabitants of the civilizations access to one of the fundamental benefits presented by the natural environment: water. Of course, the people of this civilization had to find ways to get that water to the central farms that were developing, as the movement from hunting and gathering to fixed locations required people to use the available land to plant and grow food. Irrigation was born. Civilization as a whole grew tremendously as people were able to successfully grow food for both themselves and their neighbors.

Of course, living between two major rivers does have its down side. Heavy rains at any given time would flood the rivers, potentially destroying the farms and/or killing a whole bunch of people. The people of the Neolithic era had to be constantly aware of the potential for disaster. Even more unfortunately for them, there was little they could do to prepare.

A similar catch-21 developed when the first civilizations realized the benefits of domesticating animals. Possessing and maintaining farm animals was a great way to help sustain early civilizations, as these animals (both living and recently deceased) could provide a lot of different resources for humans: eggs, meat and clothing are but three tremendous benefits of having animals around. But, like the dangers associated with living near rivers, domesticating animals also brought with it some danger. These animals carried a number of diseases for which humans had no immunities. Being in constant contact with these animals would eventually lead to the deaths of a number of people in these early civilizations, as they caught and passed on the viruses and diseases carried by the animals.

The inhabitants of the first river valley civilizations had to constantly be aware of their relationship to their environment, as any sudden change in conditions could literally mean the end of their society. With each innovation that would eventually lead to tremendous growth for the world as a whole, there was inevitably a cost that would have to be paid by some members of society. And that cost usually involved a level of give-and-take between mankind and his environment. Unfortunately for the people of the Neolithic time period, the “take” tended to be a lot more severe (and happen more often) than the “give.”

Most importantly, however, it is important to understand that, from even this early time period, there was an unmistakable connection between mankind and his environment. When the environment was cooperative, the early civilizations thrived. When the environment was uncooperative, civilization stagnated.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hurricane Katrina, the Environment, and World History

Hurricane Katrina and the chaos that resulted stand as a dark time in the history of the United States. Unlike the time period immediately after 9/11, when the citizens of the United States, along with the government, came together with a spirit of unity that was almost unprecedented, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina seemed to push people even further apart and left much of the country to wonder why we weren’t able to effectively deal with a crisis in New Orleans that, from a casualty standpoint, was at least the equal of 9/11. Furthermore, the lack of a unified and successful response to this tragedy which left thousands dead brought to light some massive inequalities in this country (based on both social class as well as race) that this country is going to have to deal with over the coming years. More than a few people wondered how the response (and preparedness in the first place) may have been different if the affected area consisted of wealthy residents as opposed to the poor that lived in New Orleans and Mississippi. These types of questions, crystallized by Hurricane Katrina, are going to linger in our national consciousness for a very long time.

In another way, the discussion of the tragedy that occurred in 2005 helps us lay out the core concepts of this unit. There was an environmental crisis that forced people to react, adjust, and attempt to solve the problems. In doing so, social relationships were formed (and broken), the government attempted to solve the crisis, and (most importantly) many of the divisions that existed in the United States (social, political, economic) that were living just under the surface of our society were exposed and highlighted in a way that should make every observer a little uncomfortable. In understanding the manner in which an environmental crisis contributes to the evolution of human history, a few major questions are raised.

1. How does the interaction between man and the environment shape world history?
2. In what ways does mankind have a reciprocal (“Back-and-Forth”) relationship with the environment?
3. In what ways does that reciprocal relationship result in larger questions about the nature of our society and history as citizens of the world?
4. How do we balance the question of human needs against the dangers of environmental instability?

These questions should remain in your head as we progress through the timeline of world history. As the unit progresses, be sure to look back at these questions on a regular basis. You may find that your answers to these questions may not remain constant throughout this unit. In fact, I hope that you struggle with these questions throughout the next few weeks and, at the conclusion of the unit, can make a solid, cohesive argument in favor of a number of potential answers. Good luck.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Introduction to Environment Unit

Balance.  When considering the issues of environmental use by humans throughout history, the principle of balance plays an enormous role.  As time has progressed, the balance struck between human needs and environmental necessity helps determine the most essential elements of human history.    Much of history can be seen as an attempt to continually redefine the balance struck between these two realities, while both the greatest gains and most dramatic setbacks can, in many ways, trace themselves back to the relationship between humans and their environment.  

This breaks down very clearly.  Humans and their environment live in a constantly changing state of flux.  As human needs change, they make adjustments that impact the environment in which they live, allowing people to thrive.  As the environment responds and changes, humans either adapt to the new condition, move away, or die.  This relationship is continual and in a constant state of adjustment.  Every human advancement, be it social, economic, political, or cultural, has an environmental impact.  The adjustments to the environment made by humans go a long way towards determining whether or not civilization (in some form) can continue in that region.

As we will see in this unit, humans constantly have to adapt to their changing environment, and while it is usually a very subtle process, there are plenty of times throughout history in which the relationship between humans and their environment became so unbalanced that a massive correction took place, usually devastating the human population.  What makes the history of environmental interaction so interesting is that usually you can see direct historical progress between the actions of civilization and the resulting environmental reaction.  The give-and-take of the relationship between man and his environment is very clear and allows for students to develop some significant historical skills.  As the unit progresses, the key will be to be able to identify the causes (and effects) of human use of the environment and how that use brings about a specific and significant environmental response.  

One note: Although this is a unit that revolves around the relationship between humans and their environment, do not assume this will be a 100% pro-environmentalism, Al-Gore-could-have-written-this-whole-thing unit.  We are studying the historical relationship between man and his environment.  The conclusions you draw from this study are yours.  As long as you can back up your opinions with factual evidence, the position you take on environmentalism is up to you.  The events of history are meant to be analyzed and should result in an understanding of how things have worked in the past.  This unit will address how this relationship has evolved over time.  You should let the historical evidence guide you to your opinion on this issue.  Good luck.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pericles, Leadership, and Decision-Making

Pericles, in his funeral oration, does a terrific job of emphasizing both the characteristics of a leader as well as the pitfalls of leadership.

The essential job of a leader is to make people willing to do seemingly irrational things to promote the cause for which the leader is attempting to promote. Furthermore, a truly successful leader understands the causes that truly require him to exercise that leadership. Pericles gets an A+ on the first criteria, but fails the second.

In his funeral oration, Pericles does all of the necessary things a leader must do. First of all, he unifies the people in a common history so as to give them a sense of community with one another. Then, he highlights all the great things about Athens, so the people understand that there are greater things than themselves. Finally, he explains to them that the men who have died have made themselves great because they have died for this great place.

So what’s the results of this great speech? Well, hundreds come out to join the Athenian army in fighting the hated Spartans…and they are promptly slaughtered and taken over by Sparta. Oops.

The second part of leadership deals with making the right choices. Its one thing to convince others to give up their lives for your cause. Its completely another to have the foresight to understand the true meaning of that cause and to understand why it is appropriate to follow the path you’ve chosen. This leads back to the allegory of the cave. The true philosopher king differs from the politician creating the shadows most apparently in his judgment. He is smart enough to find the truth and lead the citizens to it. Pericles had the ability to lead, but unfortunately for him, chose the wrong “truth.”

Which, of course, leads us to question #2 in this unit: what does it mean to exercise good judgment in leadership? Who today is an example of this, and who is not?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Allegory of the Cave and the Origins of Leadership

The fundamental elements of leadership began in Ancient Greece, and the two events we studied this week exemplify two very unique, but equally important aspects of leadership. First of all, in Plato's “Allegory of the Cave,” there are a number of important leadership qualities exemplified by the author. As we saw last unit, Socrates (and his student, Plato) were products of the Democratic city-state of Athens in ancient Greece in the years (roughly) 440-399 BCE. As citizens of the world's first democracy, they lived in an environment that promoted discussion of who would make the best leader (because each citizen had a right to vote for leaders, it was only natural to discuss what characteristics that person should have. Conversely, in a dictatorship, its not really as necessary to talk about the virtues of a potential leader. Pretty much the guy with the best army is going to end all that discussion.)

As seen in the picture below, the cave consists of three parts. The average citizens of a society are represented by the individuals in chains, staring at the wall. The shadows projected by the people walking in front of the fire are the reality for the average citizens. Only by escaping the cave and entering the “light” of knowledge will the average citizen escape the false reality that exists in the cave.

So where does leadership come in? Its simple: a true leader has two abilities: (1.) the ability to escape the false reality of the cave and enter enlightenment, and (2.) the ability to return to the cave and convince the average person to join him or her outside of the cave and into knowledge. Of course, this is easier said than done, as confronting the average person with the fact that everything they have ever known is a lie might make them, ummm....not so happy. They'll probably think that leader is crazy, and if he/she persists, the group will probably kill him/her. Thus, the effective leader knows how to speak to the average person in a way that convinces them that this leader is doing things in their best interests. This is known as developing empathy. In other words, the leader understands the needs of the people, and instead of talking down to them, explains the reasons why his choice of actions will be better for everyone. This, of course, is a huge risk for the potential leader. But, according to Socrates, leadership cannot happen unless you have the willingness to accept the risk that comes with the responsibilities of leading a group of people.

A leader is both intelligent and charismatic-he knows what's best and can convince the average person that he's right. That's why Socrates referred to this theoretical person as the “Philosopher King”.

Does this kind of person exist? Socrates said he hadn't seen anyone ever earn the title “Philosopher King.” Furthermore, can this type of person ever exist? Or will we (comfortable looking at our own “shadows”) destroy anyone who ever attempts to lead in this fashion?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Civil Disobedience, or Law and Structure

The essential question raised by today's question is simple:

"Should you disobey laws you are morally opposed to, or by disobeying those laws do you destroy the state/country/nation in which you live?"

Thoreau made it simple: if you morally oppose a law, you are justified in breaking it. You do more damage to yourself and your conscience by perpetuating an unjust system and an unjust law.

This, of course, is a result of the fact that law, by the 1800s, begins to reflect a series of rights instead of a series of rules. Thanks to the Enlightenment (which built off the great steps forward that occurred throughout the ancient world), the fundamental manner in which people conceived of the law changed. No longer a series of rules that would simply insure survival and/or benefit the ruling person or group, law was thereafter a set of rights common amongst all people living in that society.

Of course, as said in class today, this opens up a number of other dilemmas with which the modern world has to deal. Thoreau raises a very important issue, that is, if the law is open to ratification by all citizens, and citizens seemingly have the power to create law, what happens when one of those citizens feels the law is wrong, and is s/he justified in breaking that law?

So, what are your thoughts about Civil Disobedience? Are you more Thoreauian or Socratesian? (Yes, I made up both those words)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Step by Step to the Universal Law and Human Rights

As established in class today, although India, the Middle East and China were significantly ahead of Europe both technologically and politically throughout the time period from 1000-1500, all three had situations that prevented them from expanding both their empires as well as their concepts about law and human rights throughout the world.

Into that void steps the major underdog that was Europe. Through a series of remarkable events, Europe comes to dominate world trade and influence the worldwide concept of human rights and, to a lesser extent, law itself. Let’s break this down, step-by-step:

1. Feudalism begins to die
-As people become more mobile and begin to trade with others around the world, they see opportunities to make a better life. The average peasant starts to realize that there’s more to life than farming all day for no money and eating dirt every night.

2. Money begins to flow into Europe, and the Bourgeoisie is Born
-As Europe begins to see money flow into it (once China shuts out everyone, it had to go somewhere), individuals start building up bigger bank accounts. Peasants have more opportunity to make money and become part of a higher class: the middle class, also known as the Bourgeoisie. The middle class has two things working for it that the peasants did not: money and time. They have the money to afford a decent life, and the time (because they don’t have to work 24 hours a day) to think about why they don’t have a voice in government simply because they’re not related to a noble. More importantly, they have the time to do something about it.

3. European Governments Start Funding Exploration Throughout the World.-Say what you want about the European kings, but each one was in a pretty desperate competition with his neighbor kings to gain or keep his power. Thus, when the opportunity arose to explore other areas of the world in the hopes of making huge amounts of money, many of them jumped on it. And who was there to take the risk of exploration and split the money made with the kings? Poor folks who were itching to get into the middle class.

4. With Time and Money, the Bourgeoisie Get Restless
-This new middle class had time to spend talking with their bourgeoisie friends about how they had money, they had intelligence, yet they didn’t have any power. As more and more of them came to realize this, a few men decided it would be a good idea to write some of these things down: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were three guys who decided that it would be a good idea to write out all the things that people like them deserved just because they were born human. Thus, a somewhat universal concept of human rights is born. These books are read by thousands of people through Europe (thank you, printing press), and people begin to want action. Its no wonder why the French Revolution (and their Declaration of the Rights of Man) isn’t far off.

5. Don’t Forget About Those Colonies
-At the same time, European kings have sponsored hundreds of trips to places all around the world in the name of making a little cash for the kingdom. The Europeans who are in these areas get hold of the writings of guys like Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, buy into them and discuss them with the native peoples in the lands they’re not inhabiting. The people in these native lands (America, Africa, India, Asia) think these ideas aren’t so bad either, and the beginnings of a universal concept of human rights and law has begun.

So, in five steps, the world has gone from “Europe as punching bag” to “Europe as legal center.” This bridges the gap between the legal codes present throughout the ancient world to the legal codes, beliefs, and controversies present in the modern world. However, its important to remember that this progress opens up a whole new set of controversies for the modern world in regard to the law and its place in the world.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Magna Carta and the 500 Year Impact

“History is a series of temporary solutions and unanticipated consequences.”

This theme really hits home when discussing the history of the Magna Carta. Through the actions of Edward Coke, this document, which was created to simply stave off a war between the upper class and the kind in England in 1215, became the beacon for men and groups seeking to create a system that was sympathetic to the rights of every citizen.

The Magna Carta was the temporary solution-a peace treaty, if you will-that attempted to solve the crisis in England between the king and barons in England. The barons were not interested in paying the ridiculous taxes the king was proposing, and the king was not powerful enough to force them to do so. In an effort to prevent a civil war, the Magna Carta was designed to limit the king’s power under a series of rules, and after it failed to really prevent a Civil War after John’s death, was forgotten by the majority of the English for the next 500 years (even though it was renewed by the king in each successive charter).

It wasn’t until Edward Coke was looking for a way to counter the oppression of the king in 1628 that the true power of the Magna Carta was realized. In reinterpreting the document, he opened up the “rule of law” to every freeman in England, and set the precedent for later generations (especially the American colonists) to take the concept of “rights under the law” even further.

So even though the temporary solution presented by the creation of the Magna Carta had little direct impact based upon its intended consequences, but the unanticipated consequences that resulted almost 500 years later made this document one of the most significant legal/human rights documents of all time. You’d be surprised at how much of history is made up of the unanticipated consequences of temporary solutions.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Legalism, Human Nature, and Historical Circumstance

The Legalists present a definite 180 in terms of the advancement of human rights. In much the same way that the Babylonians, Hebrews, and early Indians dealt with laws, the Legalists in China were concerned first and foremost with security and survival; specifically, the survival of the state. The state was supreme. And people were just the selfish pawns that should be used to make the state survive as long as possible.

It is exceptionally important to understand how the concept of human nature shapes the laws created by the legalists, and how they contrast so sharply with people such as Asoka. Furthermore, and in a general sense, it is essential to this unit to understand how a group's concept of human nature helps completely and totally shape the laws that are enacted. In a society that feels that human nature is inherently good, laws that require citizen participation will most certainly develop. In a society that feels human nature is essentially selfish and/or evil, less participation would be required (because if people are evil, their participation in the creation of laws could only make the law worse). Every law code implies a certain belief about human nature, as as you see more law codes, this will become quite apparent.

Finally, its important to recognize the variation in legal development that's going on throughout the world in the ancient era. Different localized factors are affecting the manner in which the law develops in each geographic region, so each set of laws will develop at a unique pace and in unique ways. Environmental, political, and social factors affect each region in very different ways, and as such, the law becomes an expression of those differences. As the world becomes more interconnected, however, these different law codes begin to migrate from society to society through cultural diffusion, and the resulting law codes in later generations will be comprised of a mix of all these ancient law codes in some form. Legalism, Roman republicanism, Babylonian law, and a mix of others will all influence later generations, so even though some of these law codes flame out rather quickly, their impact remains. As we continue on in this unit, be on the lookout for characteristics of these ancient law codes in later codes.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Asoka and Collective Morality

The law has evolved in chunks thus far this unit. We had the "safety and security" chunk, made up of Hammurabi, Mosaic Law and Manu. In each of these law codes, a priority was placed upon laws that would insure for safety and survival for as many members of the society as possible. In each of these cases, the survivial of the society was constantly threatened by environmental and social factors. Laws needed to be clear, concise and severe, so that no one jeopardized the entire society's existence.

As we move forward in the timeline, however, survival becomes less tenuous, and the law begins to take on a new character: emphasizing a "collective morality." As we see with Asoka, who wants to institute Buddhism throughout India and thus creates laws that emphasize Buddhist beliefs, the law can be used to both create and reflect the value systems of the collective group. "Collective morality" defines the value system that results when you take both the "state morality" expressed by the government coupled with the "individual morality" of all the citizens. What results is a set of values that all people agree upon as being central to that society. This set of values can change over time, but what's important is that the law is used to reflect those values, whatever they may be.

There is a direct relationship between the level to which the government is accountable to the people and how much the laws become an expression of the collective morality. As the government is more responsible to the needs of the people, the law becomes more of an expression of collective morality. You'll see this relationship fluctuate over time, but you should see that as the people become more of a voice in government, the laws become, in many ways, just written versions of the values and morals of the society.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Socrates and the Power of Law

Socrates provides us with a really intense look at the role of law in society, as well as an interesting character look into the guy himself. First of all, it must be mentioned that the guy wasn’t well liked by the people in power-how would you react if someone walked around all day and told you how dumb you were? But its important to understand the difference between saying “you there-you’re stupid,” and “you there-I’m smarter than you.” Socrates doesn’t claim to be smarter than anyone until he actually speaks with them and questions their knowledge. This is a key difference, because although Socrates has a fairly negative attitude about virtually all citizens, he doesn’t necessarily think that there’s no one out there who might be smarter than he. He just hasn’t found that person yet.

More significant to this unit (although Socrates will make a return appearance in our next unit) is not necessarily Socrates’ life, but his death. Not necessarily the death itself (although drinking hemlock is kinda cool), but the manner in which he decides that it is not his place to escape from prison and avoid death.

The key to his decision has a direct impact on the concept of law in society. Even though Socrates doesn’t think the city-state of Athens is populated by geniuses, he believes the city-state as a whole is greater than the collective intelligence of the people who live there. The city-state, in his opinion, is greater than anything a single individual could create. It has raised him, given him education, provided safety and security for him and his family, and generally been the center of his world for his entire seventy years. As such, to disobey their laws would be to spit on what he feels is the greatest creation in the history of mankind. Regardless of what he thinks about the citizens currently in charge of it, Athens has made him who he is and he cannot betray it.

Furthermore, if he disobeys the laws, he feels that this would give anyone, no matter how ignorant, the right to do the same, because if one citizen can decide “the law doesn’t apply to me,” then everyone should be allowed the same right. Given Socrates’ general opinion about the intelligence of the average citizen (ummm…not so good), he thinks disobeying the law will be the first step towards destroying Athens for good. People, he believes, do not have the right to pick and choose the laws they obey. If they don’t like the laws, they can go to another city-state, but as long as they stay in Athens, their presence is the equivalent to signing a contract (this word will be back later this unit) with the government, by which they will obey all the laws, regardless of whether or not they agree with them.

This is not to say that Socrates doesn’t believe people should try and change the law if they disagree with it-he believes they should absolutely do whatever they can to convince others that the law is wrong. However, if they fail, they need to simply obey the law regardless.

So Socrates presents a very clear stance about the law-if you believe in your country, you follow the law, regardless of what you think about it. This will present an interesting contrast to some of the later people we’ll study, namely Martin Luther King, who would purposely break laws that he felt were unjust. I wonder if Socrates would have marched for civil rights…

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Accountability and the Roman Republic

In walking out of today's/yesterday's class, its really important that you grasp the importance of accountability not only in the governing style of the Roman Republic as related to previous governments, but also the role of accountability in relation to the evolving concept of rights that continues throughout history.

As the Patricians were now accountable to the Plebeians, there is a fundamental shift in the basis of law itself. Prior to this (when the main concern of each society was simply survival), law was simply designed to keep things efficient and orderly so everyone would continue to do the job for which they were designed. 1200-1400 years later, when the inhabitants of the world begin to meet those basic survival needs which had been, before this, very tenuous, law no longer has to function simply for efficiency. As such, you see the development of the republican style of government, which inevitably brings also the beginnings of what we know today as human or civil rights.

As said in class, it breaks down like this: if the government is willing to give people the right to influence the government, this naturally implies that the government feels the people are important. If the people are important enough to be given a voice, it is only natural that they should then be guaranteed a number of other things. Thus the concept of rights begins to develop. As seen in Rome, the right to life is followed very quickly by the right to property-this will be a common theme throughout history.

For all this accountability and this great step forward, do not forget that we have a very long way to go. One need only look at the law within the twelve tables that states that women are essentially to remain property throughout their lives that we see the limits of a government even as revolutionary as the Roman Republic. From 1800 BCE to 450 BCE, the concept of human rights evolved quite a lot, but there is much more evolution that needs to occur. And before another step forward is made, there may need to be a step or two back.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cultural Diffusion, Religious Influences, and the Laws of Manu

As the evolution of justice and human rights rolls along like a snowball going downhill, it is important to recognize the role of cultural diffusion in the process. For those that may not remember, cultural diffusion is the process by which cultural elements are transferred from one culture to another through migration and interaction, and adopted in some form by another contemporary or future culture. Examples of this today would be things like the prominence of yoga for Americans-a cultural practice developed in Asia, then diffused into the United States and Europe.

The presence of cultural diffusion is evident in all three sets of laws studied thus far: Hammurabi's Code, the Mosaic Law, and the Laws of Manu. Each one possesses some aspects of the laws of previous societies. We see the lex talonius concept run from Hammurabi to Mosaic law, then the religious influences and concepts present in the Mosaic law filter (in some ways) to the Laws of Manu. In each of these law codes, it becomes evident that those creating a justice system rely upon previous institutions for guidance, then adopt those laws they see as most relevant to their own society for their law code. Sprinkle in some new ideas and concepts unique to their society, and the "snowball" continues to roll down that hill. New laws are initiated, and history is forever altered.

Important also in today's discussion is the influence of religion we see in both the Mosaic law and the Laws of Manu. Both invoke a higher power and the concept of morality into the law code so that people not only do things for the purpose of avoiding punishment by those in power, but also to receive some higher reward after death. Thus initiates two different ways in which to implement justice: punishment and reward. In both cases, people are encourage to act appropriately, but with religion's influence, not only will people act appropriately, they are quite likely to pass on those values to their children. As such, we can see why the majority of people in the world cite "The Bible" as the source of "an eye for an eye."

Most importantly, with each successive society we study, you should see the presence of a variety of other laws and cultures filter into their concepts of justice. As we get closer to the modern era, what we're seeing is the gradual accumulation of laws, customs, and cultures meld together to form the next society. The United States today, in regard to its laws, is in many ways simply a collection of the historical experiences of its predecessors. We see, even today, elements of all three law codes we've studied thus far, and as we continue through history examining laws and concepts of justice, it will become obvious that throughout time, this concept of justice continues to evolve in a manner that leads us to our modern world.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Changing Concept of Justice in the Ancient World

Hammurabi's Code raises a number of important points about the role of law in society. As the oldest recorded set of laws we've discovered, understanding the depth and breadth of these laws is essential to understanding the concept of law in general. However, there are a few points that need to be highlighted from today's discussion.

First of all, it is necessary to highlight that the concept of justice is an ever evolving, fluid process-it constantly changes. From society to society throughout history, the basic "truths" behind what is and is not considered just change dramatically. As seen through Hammurabi's code, there were some clear values implied in the presence of certain laws. First among these was the concept of fear within the population-clearly, Hammurabi set up some significant punishments for violations of the law as a deterrent to those who may consider breaking the code. The concept of deterrence will be a continual theme in the creation of a legal system throughout history.

Moreso than that, Hammurabi's code demonstrates a high value placed on efficiency. Remember, much of the purpose for writing the legal code down was to establish certain rules that would be followed by all people at all times, and prevent individual disputes arising from the presence of a variety of different codes. Clearly, the Ancient Babylonians valued the idea of an efficient government system that provides for a unified understanding of the rules.

Finally, its important to highlight the presence of class differences in the Babylonian society, of which Hammurabi's Code takes account. The code attempts to rectify class differences by penalizing different classes only that which they can afford. Much like our current tax system, Hammurabi's Code is an attempt by the government to place people on an even plain. (Unfortunately, unlike our tax system today where people claim that "the government takes an arm and a leg," Hammurabi's code actually took an arm and a leg).

So overall, the origins of law as seen through Hammurabi's Code exemplify the values present in that society, and set history forth in an attempt to continually re-evaluate and update those values. However, the question that remains throughout history (and throughout this unit) is this: Do the collective morals of a society come from the written laws, or do the written laws merely reflect the collective morals of the society?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Evolution of Justice and Human Rights

The essential element of this unit revolves around understanding the manner in which our very concept of justice has evolved from the beginning of time. From Hammurabi on, people have been redefining justice and reclassifying those subject to that justice. It is a constant and perpetual process.

In understanding that process, the author of today's reading points out that every jump forward in the field of human rights was met with a significant backlash in which those rights were attacked and scaled back. After the French Revolution came the dictatorships of the 1800s, for example. In this sense, the evolution of justice and human rights needs to be understood as incremental, that is, it progresses forward in small chunks which are then subjected to backlash. The sum of these jumps forward inevitable equal progress, but overall, the time immediately after a major refashioning of human rights is typically pretty tumultuous.

As we progress through the events, there are a couple things to keep in mind. First of all, what we're doing in this unit is what's called a "bottom up" version of history. Most history is written from the top-down, that is, a person of a higher class writes about the military victories, governmental decisions, and powerful people that make a country/state/nation "great." Very rarely do the average people get included-there are few average-to-poor people who have the time to write history (as I said in class, they were busy trying to, you know, make enough money to eat and stuff). The history of justice and human rights offers a look at history in the opposite direction. We'll get the opportunity to see average people step up and demand inclusion into the justice system, and in doing so, make them both part of an influential to the new system.

Overall, the history of justice and human rights offers us a unique perspective on history. We get to now see the evolution of a concept which is not only controversial today, but also at the core of what our country stands for. Hopefully, this unit will allow you to reconsider your own beliefs about justice, and fight against those things you feel are unjust in today's society.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

SIDEBAR: Super Tuesday

I know this doesn't necessarily have to do directly with class, but I thought I'd compile some links of sites that are covering the primaries today. Feel free to browse through the links and leave any thoughts you have on today's primaries.

ABC Super Tuesday Coverage
Electoral Vote
CBS News Super Tuesday Coverage

Check out some past election commercials:
The Living Room Candidate

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Guantanamo Bay and Justice

The theme of this unit encompasses the law, human rights and the concept of justice. The reason why we begin with Guantanamo Bay is because, as of right now, there isn't necessarily a universal set of laws that govern the area, and thus the concept of "justice" for the area is open to debate. And has it been debated...

Guantanamo, as we discussed in class today, is an incredibly unique place. U.S. laws don't really apply to the prisoners there, but the area is nonetheless under the control of the U.S. government. As such, questions abound about what, exactly, are the rights of the people imprisoned there.

What I really would like you to think about this unit is what the term "justice" really means: Is it a universal set of rights every has? What happens if justice for me equals an injustice for you? What is the best way to determine justice in a large society, when contrasting ideas of what is (and is not) justice contradict one another? Every event discussed in this unit should raise these questions for you.

But back to Guantanamo. You should, at this point, be researching the debate that we will be having next week. In doing so, you are really researching differing ideas about justice. That is, do the rights of the imprisoned to a fair trial and evaluation of the evidence against them outweigh the possible safety benefits for thousands of Americans if they remain imprisoned? Is justice the same for everyone?

The questions raised here are questions you should ask about every event we study throughout this unit. In doing so, it should lead you to understand better the evolution of what we know now to be justice, because (as I mentioned in D period today), the idea of human rights is a very new concept in the history of the world.