Friday, October 16, 2009

Politics and Human Nature

From at least the time of Aristotle, if not earlier, until the present day, political theories are built upon an understanding of human nature. Different understandings of human nature yield different ideologies. In the words of William Voegeli at Claremont McKenna College,

human nature is something we can understand and a basis on which we can found a political order

Thus, Aristotle saw human nature as essentially social, designed for the basic relationships of marriage, parenthood, and workplace; his political theory saw society as unfolding organically from the basic facts of human nature. Hobbes, on the other hand, saw humans as essentially selfish and violent; his view requires a government which strictly controls society to preserve peace and safety (Hobbes will later revise this view, which appears in the first half of his book, the Leviathan).

Before we develop any political theory, then, we must first answer this question: what are the unchanging and essential features shared by all human beings? What is it that makes us human? Across different races, religions, languages, cultures, and locations, we all have certain basic characteristics. This is why it is possible for people to understand each other, and this is the basis for any understanding of society on the one side, government on the other, and the relationship between the two. What is human nature?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

JFK Quotes Thucydides

In 1963, President Kennedy toured Germany, giving several speeches. He hoped to strengthen the working of NATO against the communists who were threatening to take over Europe. Pointing out that the western nations needed to set aside their individual interests in order to protect their common freedom, he offers the following comment about the Pelopponesian war:

Our partnership depends on common political purpose. Against the hazards of division and lassitude, no lesser force will serve. History tells us that disunity and relaxation are the great internal dangers of an alliance. Thucydides reported that the Peloponnesians and their allies were mighty in battle but handicapped by their policy-making body - in which, he related “each presses its own ends... which generally results in no action at all... they devote more time to the prosecution of their own purposes than to the consideration of the general welfare - each supposes that no harm will come of his own neglect, that it is the business of another to do this or that-and so, as each separately entertains the same illusion, the common cause imperceptibly decays.”

Thucydides brings to our attention the political problems which seem to occur over and over again through the centuries.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Will Obama Meet with the Dalai Lama?

The Dalai (often spelled "Dali") Lama is the leader of most, if not all, of the world's Buddhists. By millions of non-Buddhists, he is viewed as a source of wisdom and moral insight. He was warmly welcomed in Washington by President George H.W. Bush, and later, President George H.W. Bush awarded him the medal of honor. Why, then, has President Obama said, at first, that he would not meet with the Dali Lama? And only after pressure from conservative Republicans stated that he will reconsider his decision, but has not yet actually said that he would meet with him?

Obama hesitancy to meet with the world's foremost Buddhist leader, whether or not he ever actually does, is motivate by his fear of angering the mainland Chinese communist government, and its supporters among American left-wingers. Although Obama seeks to pose as a figure of religious tolerance, Buddhism is not politically correct among the leaders of communist China.

Conversely, the two presidents Bush, known as publicly Christian, embrace the Dali Lama as a symbol of religious freedom, understanding that the intolerance of the Maoist Chinese government toward the Tibetan Buddhists is essentially the same as the anti-Christian leaning which pervades certain branches of the American media, bureaucracy, and educational institutions.

Politics makes odd bedfellows; religion does, too: President George W. Bush warmly embraced the Dali Lama, yet President Obama is hesitant to decide if he will even speak with him, much less support him.