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?