0 votes

The Lost Philosopher

For high school or undergraduate college students, it is probably difficult to imagine what relevance some of the dusty old books they are forced to read have to their lives. It is hard to blame the average teenager for caring little about what lights up the face of his eccentric professor, regardless of the passion said professor may exhibit for Plato, Cicero, Aquinas, or Locke. Yet, despite the understandable lack of interest an 18 or 19-year-old may have in the worldview of philosophers of several hundred years past, this is probably the last real chance he or she will have to consider them. Once out of school and faced with the realities of life and making a living, there is little time or motivation for one to go back and explore the world of ideas. Ideas and philosophy are for dreamers. Perhaps this is how a society forgets what it is trying to do.

The enlightenment that inspired our founding fathers was a period of explosive creativity and learning. Newton, Bacon, Sidney, Locke, Rousseau, Smith – these giants were all children of the enlightenment that inspired Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and the rest to create a society based upon reason which recognized that all men were created equal. However, very often we tend to think about both the enlightenment and our founders as if they all shared one, homogenous philosophy and one vision of man and his place in society. Those who have taken a closer look will tell quite a different story.

First, as to the enlightenment, there was not one new liberal philosophy, but three. While the new American society was based exclusively on one of them, it is not as if the other two were not known and even considered by the founders. It is of the utmost importance to realize that they were.

The first to talk about “the social contract” during the enlightenment was Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes believed that man in the state of nature (the absence of government or any higher authority) was in a state of perpetual war, or as he put it, “war of everyone against everyone.” This was the result of Hobbes assertion that in that state, man had “a right to everything,” following from his opinion that reason dictated only that man is restricted from doing anything to harm himself. Thus, for Hobbes man was ultimately a depraved creature who needed a strong government – an absolute ruler – to save him from himself. While for Hobbes the law of nature dictated that man should seek peace, man would never find it by employing reason, which would only ensure that he tried to preserve his own life against the “violent death” that threatened his every living moment. The purpose of government, then, was to protect man from his own depraved nature and that of his neighbors with a strong, paternal hand, sanctioned by God.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s vision of man and the purpose of government was quite different from that of Hobbes. Rousseau asserted that the idea of a “state of nature” was a purely academic one, having likely never actually occurred in human history. However, he did use the idea of a state of nature as a philosophical tool to develop his ideas about man in society and the purpose of government. For Rousseau, man had to give up his natural rights when entering society, and while society granted him individual rights, they could be set aside by society when the needs of society outweighed them. In his own words,

“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our coporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”

Therefore, government’s purpose for Rousseau was to accomplish the “general will” and achieve the common good, which included economic equality, as Rousseau recognized man’s property rights to end at what he needed to survive. “Having his share, he ought to keep it, and can have no further right against the community.”

John Locke represented yet a third philosophy of man and society. Locke’s view of man in the state of nature was vastly different from that of Hobbes, as was his definition of reason. As he said,

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

So, for Locke, reason did not merely dictate self-preservation, but the Non-Aggression Principle as well. While Locke recognized that man was not safe from harm from other people in the state of nature, he believed that the laws of nature preceded man and society, and thus individual rights were inalienable. Man did not give up those rights when entering society, but instead entered society solely for the purpose of defending them. He had a right to as much property as he could legitimately create, whether that resulted in more property than possessed by his neighbor or not. So long as he did not harm another in their “life, health, liberty, or possessions,” he was free to ‘order his actions as he pleased.” The purpose of government for Locke was to protect life, liberty, and property as the societal extension of the individual right of self defense, and this was also government’s strict limit.

It is interesting to consider how these three philosophies played out during the 18th century. In America, our founders chose the philosophy of Locke, specifically excluding the other two in writing our Declaration of Independence. However, our founders were not of one united mind on their vision of the most effective form of government. In fact, there was a deep divide between Hamilton and Jefferson. Jefferson without exception believed in the philosophy of Locke, whom he on more than one occasion named (along with Newton and Bacon) “one of the three greatest men who ever lived.”

On the other hand, Hamilton’s view of man and society was much more Hobbesian. As Jefferson put it, “honest as a man, but, as a politician, believing in the necessity of either force or corruption to govern man.” To Jefferson’s assertion that Locke, Bacon, and Newton were the greatest men the world had ever produced, Hamilton replied, “the greatest man that ever lived was Julius Caesar.” While Jefferson asserted that the power of the government was limited to defense against aggression, Hamilton advocated a “more vigorous government,” with the ultimate instrument of control at its disposal – a central bank.

This was the great struggle of ideas in early America. Very generally, it was a struggle between Hobbes and Locke. While Hamilton was able to accomplish many of his goals while serving in Washington’s cabinet, Jefferson ultimately prevailed by winning the presidency, paying off the national debt, and eliminating the central bank (an accomplishment that had to be repeated by Jackson a few decades later). It was his Lockean vision that dominated, albeit amidst constant challenge, during the great century of innovation and prosperity that followed.

Rousseau’s philosophy did not find footing in early America, but did so in his native France. While America’s revolution was based upon Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, drawn from Locke’s Life, Liberty, and Property[1], France’s revolution was based upon Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. It is no accident that one revolution was wildly successful and the other devolved into a bloody reign of terror and eventual despotism. The French had the same results trying to achieve economic equality via the force of government that later collectivist societies would under communism.[2]

While America lived by Locke’s principles, she enjoyed a meteoric ascent, leading the industrial revolution and creating much of what we now call the modern world. The explosion of prosperity for common people that occurred during America’s first century has been unequaled in human history. Indeed, while many are quick to point out that mass production was invented in America, let us not forget mass consumption – the enjoyment by the common people of the bounty that living by Locke’s principles of freedom and individual rights had provided.

By now, the relevance of discussion of these three philosophies should have jumped off the page. While there were three competing philosophies in the enlightenment, there have been only two political parties in America for the past century. It is no coincidence that today virtually all Americans feel that they must vote for “the lesser of two evils” when choosing representatives in their government. It is because they are choosing between the Hobbesian Republicans, with their strong, central government, sanctioned by God to save people from themselves, and the Rousseaian Democrats, still striving to use the force of government to achieve their perverse vision of economic equality, despite the tens of millions that have died as a result of that same vision. Gone are the individual rights, liberty, and Non-Aggression Principle of Locke, and with Locke has gone America’s greatness.

Most ominously, the two parties that previously represented Hobbes and Rousseau are now merging together into a terrifying hybrid, finding common ground in their mutual belief in the absolute sovereignty of the state over the individual. While they may have appeared radically different in decades or centuries past, the followers of these two philosophies have always had this in common. In the end, that makes them for all practical purposes the same.

However, all is not lost. While Locke has completely disappeared from the American ethos, his philosophy can never really die. Very soon, the artificial society created by the false philosophical hybrid is going to collapse upon itself, a victim of its own systemic flaws. The supreme justice in the universe is that society cannot routinely violate natural rights and continue to survive indefinitely. Just as the market eventually wins in economics, natural law eventually wins in the organization of society as a whole. When the use of force can no longer sustain society, as it ultimately never can, voluntary exchange will take its place. As the illusion of legitimacy disappears from the present paternal state, the Non-Aggression Principle will replace it. Do not fear the coming collapse. Embrace it. When the moment comes, let us seize it and shout joyously, not for equality or security, but for liberty.

Home

[1] Property being implicit in “the Pursuit of Happiness”
[2] Tragically, the cause and effect relationship between the economic policies that accompany a government striving to achieve economic equality (at the point of the sword) and the subsequent famine, war, and destruction that result still eludes us. It was demonstrated in France in the 18th century, Russia in the early 20th and China later in the 20th, yet history seems to have taught us nothing. The voices crying for government-enforced equality, perhaps this time under the guise of “spreading the wealth,” are louder than ever.

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!



Trending on the Web

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

You are...

You are an exceptionally good writer. The philosopher hasn't been lost. But he has been submerged in the mass of humanity that is (by and large) too drunk with comfort and searching for the next quick fix.

Your lost philosopher will resurface soon.

My Shelfari page

Very interesting analysis.

Very interesting analysis. I'm working on my masters' in philosophy right now, and I wrote my senior paper as an undergrad on Locke's political theory.

Just bought your book Tom and I

look forward to reading this.

I so enjoy history readings. We have all been 'compartmentalized' over the decades.

Those who pull the strings behind the curtain have been very patient indeed. Incrementalism is their weapon so we may not notice what they are up to coupled with traumatic distractions. These banking elite are the only ones who benefit from wars and terrible attacks that of course lead to war.

Thanks Tom.

Fire up the press. I ordered paperback. :)

Tom Mullen's picture

The gerbil is running on the wheel

THank you very much! Forward the link to the book if you are satisfied that other people should read it. TTYS.

Tom

Tom Mullen

As a teenager

back in the late '60s, the philosophers you mention bored me to tears. But I was a reader. I wanted to read about what people were thinking right then. Why were there huge protests? Why was the Vietnam War so wrong? How could an creep like Nixon get elected? I learned a lot.

Since then I have studied some of them but it may be time to read your book! Thanks for the inspiration.

h-daddy

This should be a sticky

This should be a sticky topic! Good job!

I think it actually was

about a week ago

Tom Mullen, I will happily buy your book and look forward to

reading it.

I love philosophy and I am a lifelong admirer of the Founders of this country and all those who came before them, and the few who came after them, risked their lives to free humanity from bondage from other humans.

Education and ideas are such a 'freeing' occupation and this country and its people, especially our youth, desperately need to be educated on this extremely important concern.

I wish you all the very best Tom, and for all the great effort you made to get such words to us. Thank you. Thank you!

Front And Center!!

Just thought Tom Mullen's book needed some more attention. I'm ordering the download edition for starters. If the book is anything like Tom's summary, it belongs with the Liberty Classics....a good companion volume to Dr. Paul's new book. Tom, do you plan an audio edition? I'm an audio book narrator and would donate my services if you have not already made arrangements with a narrator, or plan on narrating yourself. Contact me.

Tom Mullen's picture

Thank you, Maurice!

I wrote this book in desperation to get this message out. I believe that analysis is correct about it being a companion to Dr. Paul's book. In fact, I would say that it is more of a precursor. I was about halfway finished with this book when I heard that Dr. Paul was coming out with The Revolution: A Manisfesto. Quite frankly, I was afraid that I had wasted my time, because his book would do what mine tried to do, but better. However, after reading the Revolution, I was more convinced than ever that my book was necessary. While Dr. Paul's book is spot on with his positions, I believe that we must get Americans to rediscover the philosophy behind freedom - to convince them of WHY liberty is so important, and WHY Dr. Paul's political positions are correct. The first chapter of my book is "What is Freedom?" and I believe that is where we have to start with average Americans (not because they are without intelligence, but because they have been so grossly misinformed and badly educated).

Regarding your offer of narrating, I am certainly interested. Allow me to research the options of publishing an audio book, and I will get back to you.

To you and everyone who has read the book: If you believe it is helpful in the cause of liberty, I ask your help in getting the word around. It will only do any good if a large group of people read it, and that will only happen anytime soon if the book goes viral on the web. If you believe the book accomplishes the mission, PLEASE forward the link to your contacts and encourage them to do the same. Thank you again, and TTYS!

Tom

Tom Mullen

Woo woo!

Having majored in philosophy and economics, this tickles me to see in the news! Thanks for rekindling an old passion. If we can pass these ideas on to the younger generations, it will give them a chance to have the life we were blessed with.

Hooray!

Philosophy lives again!

Is this the old loft
With the paint peeling off it?
With the dust and the rugs
Where the Books go to Die?

Is this where they keep
The philosophers now?
By the Chinese police
Where the dogs roll by?

How many yez got there?
Have yez got quite a few?
Just hanging around there
With Nothing to Do?

Well, I just called yez up
'Cause I wanted to see
If a philosopher could be
Of assistance to me.

Frank Zappa c.1978

The Plumber

The Plumber

Question

Hi, this is very interesting and helpful, and I will buy the book. Are you Tom Mullen? you or Tom seem very wise are you related to Eustace Mullins? Ive been watching Eustace Mullins on you tube lately, what he says seems to pull all the bits and pieces of information ive read lately together.

If you want to start a war with iraq go out and try to do it, it's very tough and takes years of hard work.- Eustace Mullins

Tom Mullen's picture

I am Tom Mullen and I approved this message

I am not, however, related to Eustace Mullins. I came from a poor family - we couldn't afford the "s" :)

THank you so much. I hope you enjoy the book. I am marketing it myself, so if you feel it accomplishes the mission and is helpful in the cause of liberty, please forward the link to your contacts. TTYS!

Tom Mullen

Great Post

Raising the bar at the DailyPaul.

Musician, Blimpographer...Hear my music: www.myspace.com/americanpirates
my videos: www.youtube.com/conservativefunds

Check out http://iroots.org/
"If you’re into political activism, at least for Ron Paul if not for anyone else, I strongly recommend spending some time with iroots.org." - Tom Woods

Thank you

for this concise and useful summary of our history - your last paragraph puts into words something I have been trying to articulate to others lately. Something to do with the fact that as bad as the prevailing system is, the original one still exists. It is our inheritance, clearly stated and so well put by the founders in the Preamble to the Massachusetts constitution: www.mass.gov/legis/const.htm

I'M Beginning To Understand!

Hear! Hear! Here! Here! Here and Now! This sounds like the book I have been looking for to put the pieces together....to understand the competing philosophies within American politics....AND the deterioration of the founding vision.

We must first see through the clutter of self aggrandizing thinking so prevalent in politicians today to regain the clear vision of Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Here is a primer for understanding what we have to share with others to win them back to the basics of America's former greatness. Clarity is what we need ourselves to keep the message simple and convincing. Hear! Hear! Here! Here! Here and Now!

Good Post

Daniel Quinn- not a philosopher, but an author who has written a book that shatters our cultures egocentric view of the world. "Ishmael" is the book. It's a lot more than philosophy! "Beyond Civilization" is another good one. Good post to get us all thinking!

"The Great Spirit made us all--he made my skin red, and yours white; he placed us on earth and intended that we should live differently from each other." Petalesharo

Awesome post!

Thank you!

-----------------------------------
"When going through hell, keep on going!" ~Winston Churchill

. @ @ . Power to the People!
@ O @ -----> PEOPLE
. @ @ . NOT Corporate Entities!

I always wanted to write-compose

the longest poem ever...kind of like Paradise Lost by John Milton....but I would drink too much beer in the process I fear.

http://www.votenader.org/blog/2008/09/10/statement-to-ron-pa...
http://www.flickr.com/photos/57925480@N00/2660779139/sizes/l/

LL on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LibertyPoet
sometimes LL can suck & sometimes LL rocks!
http://www.dailypaul.com/203008/south-carolina-battle-of-cow...
Love won! Deliverance from Tyranny is on the way! Col. 2:13-15

good post! ----- Get

good post!

-----
Get Prepared!
Only dead fish go with the flow...

-----
End The Fat
70 pounds lost and counting! Get in shape for the revolution!

Get Prepared!

Thanks for the post

I have recently been reminded of my interest in Locke and his discussion of merchantilism (our current system) versus capitalism.

I do think one name is left out (on purpose by many of these groups), but Thomas Paine "Americanized" Locke's philosophical theories, went more in depth on property itself, and even Thomas Jefferson said that there would have been no awakening/revolt without him. He is cast aside by Christians because of the treatise in his later years 'The Age of Reason' and that he was a pretty open agnostic.

Sad, but I just ask people to read 'Common Sense' as well.

"In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot."--Mark Twain

Tom Mullen's picture

Paine for sure

Of course, I would never have named my book as I did if I did not recognize the importance of his original. In fact, I see the original Common Sense the same way that you do - it explained Locke to average Americans of the time, and then applied the principles to the problems facing the America of 1776. I have tried to do the same thing. Our problems are different (specifically, anyway), so some of the answers are different, but hopefully I have explained and applied the philosophy of liberty properly. I have done my best to do so. I hope you enjoy the book if you get a chance to read it.

Tom

Tom Mullen

Calvin and Hobbes

Your article reminded me of the Bill Waterson cartoon Calvin and Hobbes, for it's comparisons... I like your approach, philisophically, to politics, I thought of GOP being more like Calvin (Thanks to Barry Goldwater and his inviting what became the "religious right" into the party; Ayn Rand warned him!) I believe Locke is very much alive for the elite.

Wow

well done. My sons loved John Locke's book. It is times like these that make you realize how important philosophy is. It seems to be the bedrock that rules our moral and social lives. Our personal vision of what should be and what is RIGHT is truly tested during times of turbulence.

"We can see with our eyes, hear with our ears and feel with our touch, but we understand with our hearts."

Excellent post

I enjoyed reading this, absolutely loved it. The last few lines are the best, and I want to type them out here as a declaration of what I believe:

Do not fear the coming collapse. Embrace it. When the moment comes, let us seize it and shout joyously, not for equality or security, but for liberty.

One of the most positive posts I've seen on the Daily Paul in a long time. Thank you for that!

photoshopwiz's picture

embrace *the healing crisis* ~

~
7. Conservative Core Values. Boycott everything! Let the depression begin! One thing about us republicans, we are ultimate conservatives! Let's get it going! ... ~ GenghisKhan

http://www.dailypaul.com/node/49993

Tom Mullen's picture

I am glad a liberal like myself can reach some conservatives!

Of course I use the word "liberal" in its uncorrupted sense, as Locke, Jefferson, Adams, Mill, Bastiat, and Hayek were "liberals." :)

Tom Mullen