Monday, October 3, 2016

Immanuel Kant

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason

As Kant once said in the Critique of Practical Reason, he was very much interested on the starry heavens by which he meant positive science and the laws of human behavior from the ethical perspective. This was certainly not a coincidence that he puts these two concepts together, nonetheless, later in his life he revealed the laws of human moral just as firmly accurate as laws of physics and mathematics.
Kantian ethical theory is one of numerous moral systems that provide a method for deriving moral rules and reasoning for evaluating the ethical value of human actions. Kant wanted to establish a scientific approach to how human morality is shaped and particular actions can be assessed and classified in terms of moral legitimacy.
We should consider the context in which Kant formulated his structural approach to the morality in the 17th century when the age of reason and enlightenment began in Europe. Enlightenment brought the belief that all aspects of nature and life can be understood and explained by reason through empirical research. While his contemporaries like Newton and Pascal discovered the laws of nature by reason, Kant decided to conduct the same scientific method to explain the rules of morality. This structural and scientific approach eventually caused the morality to be secularized and also had a significant impact upon the relationship between the morality (moral faith and evil) and religion.
Kantian deontological theory is based around guidelines and duties, and considers moral to be unconditional, compulsory and universal. Kant says or should I say “he scientifically proves” that morality is grounded in reason not in religion, tradition, conscience and emotions. Well, wasn’t the age of reason at the end of the day?
Kant believed we all have a duty and that duty is to obey the “Categorical imperative”, that strange sounding term where he introduced with his book, “Groundwork of the metaphysics of moral”. I think we should pay attention to the definition he used for the imperatives: categorical which means unlike hypothetical, it doesn’t vary from one person or instance to another, it is always true under all circumstances, thus it is unconditional. Kant said an action can only be correct if we do it out of a duty. The moral worth of an action depends exclusively on the rule of obligation, not on the outcome of those actions. This can be quite interesting as according to Kant, if we don’t lie or steal because we are told to (in case of religion…) or because we are afraid of being caught and get punished, this is not moral. It is only moral not to lie or steal if we “reason” that we should not and we only act out of that duty.
The categorical imperative has three basic formulations:
-          Universalizability:
o   We should do something only if it would be acceptable and sustainable when the rest of the world would do the same. It might sound ok to steal the magazine from your neighbor’s post box every once in a while, but then we should think about what if everyone would do so. If we break a promise we should always think what the world would be like if everyone break their promises: there wouldn’t a concept called “trust” or there wouldn’t be a banking system for example. You can also extend the example like what if everyone steals….
o   The concept of reversal: We should behave toward others as we would like to have them behave toward us; This golden rule is stated in almost every ancient writing about behavioral teachings (including the Old and New Testament, Talmud, Koran, and the Analects of Confucius).
o   When we are in doubt whether an action is morally ok or not, when it is in the grey zone and we somehow feel that it might not be a good thing to do, we should always think that it is generally practiced and we are the victim of that action. How would we feel?
-          Good Will
o   We should act solely out of good will and duty, not for any other reason. Below is Kant’s famous “Shop keeper” case study:
§  A shopkeeper can give correct change to customers because he believes that a reputation for honesty will bring him greater profit in the long run, and he is honest in order to maximize his long-run profit. According to Kant, this is not moral as his motive is to maximize profit.
§  A shopkeeper loves his customers and is honest in his dealings with them because he wants to do nice things for those he loves. More surprisingly, Kant again says it is not moral because he just wants to be nice to the prople he loves, he doesn’t act out of duty.
§  A shopkeeper gives the correct change to a very naive and gunsel customer that he personally doesn’t like and he does it only out of a “duty”. In this case Kant says this is a moral action.
-          Treat humans as an end within themselves rather than means:
o   The idea here is that everyone, as long as he or she is a rational being, is intrinsically valuable; we should therefore treat people as having a value all their own rather than merely as useful tools by means of which we can satisfy our own goals. Or in simple and today’s terms, “don’t use people, treat them with dignity”
However what strikes me the most about Kant is from one of his other books: “What is enlightenment?” and it is not about religious ethics but indeed religion itself. Religion is a concept that I have thought and discussed a lot about till today but I believe Kant’s below argument is the most striking religion argument that I had ever encountered in my whole life. I even remember the exact moment  when I first read the below paragraph as I got so excited, even shocked by the idea that I immediately called out my wife and read her the paragraph out loud to see her reaction. 
But should a society of ministers, say a Church Council, . . . have the right to commit itself by oath to a certain unalterable doctrine, in order to secure perpetual guardianship over all its members and through them over the people? I say that this is quite impossible. Such a contract, concluded to keep all further enlightenment from humanity, is simply null and void even if it should be confirmed by the sovereign power, by parliaments, and the most solemn treaties. An epoch cannot conclude a pact that will commit succeeding ages, prevent them from increasing their significant insights, purging themselves of errors, and generally progressing in enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature whose proper destiny lies precisely in such progress. Therefore, succeeding ages are fully entitled to repudiate such decisions as unauthorized and outrageous”
And yes, I fully agree with Kant, considering it is not possible to commit to a single set of doctrines even for a single life time, what a serious crime against humanity that a generation forces all the following generations to commit themselves by oath to a certain unalterable set of doctrines. All possible future improvements of their thought system by the next generations are strictly prohibited. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Treat humans as an end within themselves rather than means


Pericles – Funeral Oration

Xenophobia in Greek or with the simple general name; fear of or hostility against strangers is one of the oldest and most cruel diseases of human kind. It is pretty understandable that one wants to live with the people like him /her however rather than a simple preference, it’s a serious problem if people treat strangers as enemies. The speech that I quoted below belongs to Pericles, the Greek statesman and the commander. If you feel sorry and hopeless like me, when you listen to the politicians who wants to ban strangers to enter from the borders of their countries, then maybe reading the Pericles’s speech can make you feel good and give you hope.

Pericles Bust - Vatican Museum

The funeral speech was held to commemorate the soldiers who died in wars every year in Athens. Pericles delivered the famous “funeral speech” in 432 BC which is a sort of lesson to all contemporary political leaders although it has been delivered thousands of years ago by Pericles, who led Athens during its golden age, between the Persian and Peloponnese wars.

The Athenians as the citizens of the richest and largest city state of the antique ages were involved to the management of their city with its first of its kind democracy. The half of the city population consisted of “strangers” who came from all corners of the Mediterranean Sea. Pericles delivered this speech to rally the Athenians at the end of the first year of the Peloponnese war which was supposed to last many years. Although Spartans who raised their youth with a fierce indoctrination and who was afraid of strangers won this war, Pericles speech will become immortal and carried away for thousands of year. The Athenians opened the doors of their city to the citizens of other nations fearlessly and encouraged the diversity in their city. I believe it’s a bitter fact that we don’t have many politician who can give such a speech nowadays.

Without further due, please go ahead and read the original Pericles funeral speech on your own and please also bear in mind that the below lines were written 1600 years before Magna Carta and 2200 years before the declaration of independence.

Pericles Funeral Oration (Perikles hält die Leichenrede) / Philipp Foltz / 1852

Pericles – Funeral Oration

"I shall begin with our ancestors: it is both just and proper that they should have the honour of the first mention on an occasion like the present. They dwelt in the country without break in the succession from generation to generation, and handed it down free to the present time by their valour. And if our more remote ancestors deserve praise, much more do our own fathers, who added to their inheritance the empire which we now possess, and spared no pains to be able to leave their acquisitions to us of the present generation. Lastly, there are few parts of our dominions that have not been augmented by those of us here, who are still more or less in the vigour of life; while the mother country has been furnished by us with everything that can enable her to depend on her own resources whether for war or for peace. That part of our history which tells of the military achievements which gave us our several possessions, or of the ready valour with which either we or our fathers stemmed the tide of Hellenic or foreign aggression, is a theme too familiar to my hearers for me to dilate on, and I shall therefore pass it by. But what was the road by which we reached our position, what the form of government under which our greatness grew, what the national habits out of which it sprang; these are questions which I may try to solve before I proceed to my panegyric upon these men; since I think this to be a subject upon which on the present occasion a speaker may properly dwell, and to which the whole assemblage, whether citizens or foreigners, may listen with advantage.

"Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbour for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly such as regard the protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute book, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.

"Further, we provide plenty of means for the mind to refresh itself from business. We celebrate games and sacrifices all the year round, and the elegance of our private establishments forms a daily source of pleasure and helps to banish the spleen; while the magnitude of our city draws the produce of the world into our harbour, so that to the Athenian the fruits of other countries are as familiar a luxury as those of his own.

"If we turn to our military policy, there also we differ from our antagonists. We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality; trusting less in system and policy than to the native spirit of our citizens; while in education, where our rivals from their very cradles by a painful discipline seek after manliness, at Athens we live exactly as we please, and yet are just as ready to encounter every legitimate danger. In proof of this it may be noticed that the Lacedaemonians do not invade our country alone, but bring with them all their confederates; while we Athenians advance unsupported into the territory of a neighbour, and fighting upon a foreign soil usually vanquish with ease men who are defending their homes. Our united force was never yet encountered by any enemy, because we have at once to attend to our marine and to dispatch our citizens by land upon a hundred different services; so that, wherever they engage with some such fraction of our strength, a success against a detachment is magnified into a victory over the nation, and a defeat into a reverse suffered at the hands of our entire people. And yet if with habits not of labour but of ease, and courage not of art but of nature, we are still willing to encounter danger, we have the double advantage of escaping the experience of hardships in anticipation and of facing them in the hour of need as fearlessly as those who are never free from them.

"Nor are these the only points in which our city is worthy of admiration. We cultivate refinement without extravagance and knowledge without effeminacy; wealth we employ more for use than for show, and place the real disgrace of poverty not in owning to the fact but in declining the struggle against it. Our public men have, besides politics, their private affairs to attend to, and our ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, regarding him who takes no part in these duties not as unambitious but as useless, we Athenians are able to judge at all events if we cannot originate, and, instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all. Again, in our enterprises we present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point, and both united in the same persons; although usually decision is the fruit of ignorance, hesitation of reflection. But the palm of courage will surely be adjudged most justly to those, who best know the difference between hardship and pleasure and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger. In generosity we are equally singular, acquiring our friends by conferring, not by receiving, favours. Yet, of course, the doer of the favour is the firmer friend of the two, in order by continued kindness to keep the recipient in his debt; while the debtor feels less keenly from the very consciousness that the return he makes will be a payment, not a free gift. And it is only the Athenians, who, fearless of consequences, confer their benefits not from calculations of expediency, but in the confidence of liberality.

"In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas, while I doubt if the world can produce a man who, where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility, as the Athenian. And that this is no mere boast thrown out for the occasion, but plain matter of fact, the power of the state acquired by these habits proves. For Athens alone of her contemporaries is found when tested to be greater than her reputation, and alone gives no occasion to her assailants to blush at the antagonist by whom they have been worsted, or to her subjects to question her title by merit to rule. Rather, the admiration of the present and succeeding ages will be ours, since we have not left our power without witness, but have shown it by mighty proofs; and far from needing a Homer for our panegyrist, or other of his craft whose verses might charm for the moment only for the impression which they gave to melt at the touch of fact, we have forced every sea and land to be the highway of our daring, and everywhere, whether for evil or for good, have left imperishable monuments behind us. Such is the Athens for which these men, in the assertion of their resolve not to lose her, nobly fought and died; and well may every one of their survivors be ready to suffer in her cause.

"Indeed if I have dwelt at some length upon the character of our country, it has been to show that our stake in the struggle is not the same as theirs who have no such blessings to lose, and also that the panegyric of the men over whom I am now speaking might be by definite proofs established. That panegyric is now in a great measure complete; for the Athens that I have celebrated is only what the heroism of these and their like have made her, men whose fame, unlike that of most Hellenes, will be found to be only commensurate with their deserts. And if a test of worth be wanted, it is to be found in their closing scene, and this not only in cases in which it set the final seal upon their merit, but also in those in which it gave the first intimation of their having any. For there is justice in the claim that steadfastness in his country's battles should be as a cloak to cover a man's other imperfections; since the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual. But none of these allowed either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to tempt him to shrink from danger. No, holding that vengeance upon their enemies was more to be desired than any personal blessings, and reckoning this to be the most glorious of hazards, they joyfully determined to accept the risk, to make sure of their vengeance, and to let their wishes wait; and while committing to hope the uncertainty of final success, in the business before them they thought fit to act boldly and trust in themselves. Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour, but met danger face to face, and after one brief moment, while at the summit of their fortune, escaped, not from their fear, but from their glory.

"So died these men as became Athenians. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may have a happier issue. And not contented with ideas derived only from words of the advantages which are bound up with the defence of your country, though these would furnish a valuable text to a speaker even before an audience so alive to them as the present, you must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honour in action that men were enabled to win all this, and that no personal failure in an enterprise could make them consent to deprive their country of their valour, but they laid it at her feet as the most glorious contribution that they could offer. For this offering of their lives made in common by them all they each of them individually received that renown which never grows old, and for a sepulchre, not so much that in which their bones have been deposited, but that noblest of shrines wherein their glory is laid up to be eternally remembered upon every occasion on which deed or story shall call for its commemoration. For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb; and in lands far from their own, where the column with its epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in every breast a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that of the heart. These take as your model and, judging happiness to be the fruit of freedom and freedom of valour, never decline the dangers of war. For it is not the miserable that would most justly be unsparing of their lives; these have nothing to hope for: it is rather they to whom continued life may bring reverses as yet unknown, and to whom a fall, if it came, would be most tremendous in its consequences. And surely, to a man of spirit, the degradation of cowardice must be immeasurably more grievous than the unfelt death which strikes him in the midst of his strength and patriotism!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Basilica of San Vitale

The Basilica of San Vitale is the point where Christianity, which had originally emerged as a non-visual/non-iconographic religion, became harmonized with the late period antique art and Roman mosaics to form classical middle age Christian art and iconography. Mosaics of Basilica can be referred neither as the early period Christian art nor as the late period antique Roman art. The magnificent one thousand five hundred years-old mosaics on its walls symbolize a transition. Stories we will see for one thousand years after the Old and New Testaments, in the hands of the artists whose names we do not know began to find shape here in Ravenna. Whereas the Christian church fathers, who appeared in their togas among the flowers, trees and birds of the antique pagan art, told the people of Ravenna about the new ruler of “Sky”, the Christ; Emperor Justinian, who was pictured in purple clothes with a crown on his head, called himself as the new ruler of “Earth”.

Ravenna is a small coastal town at northeast of Italy where you can reach in 3 hours from Florence by car. From 5th to 7th centuries, it was used as the capital of Western Roman Empire and then, Italian State of the Byzantine for a small period. This was how it came to possess this masterpiece, the Basilica of San Vitale and those magnificent and astonishing mosaics. 

The Basilica of San Vitale was named after Saint Vitalis. Its construction started in 526, when Ravenna was under the control of Ostrogoths. The rich Greek banker Julis Argentarius financed the basilica. One of the main properties of the basilica, which was constructed on an octagonal base, is that, its throne and reception rooms were similar to Chrysotriklinos part of the Great Palace in Constantinopolis, which have been vanished without a trace. If Chrysotriklinos had managed to survive today, it would be at where Topkapı Palace is today and it would most probably be much more beautiful and flamboyant than that, as its mosaics would be the same style as the ones in San Vitale but this time, they would be inside the throne room of the Great Palace in Constantinopolis.
Wall mosaics at Arian Baptistery/ Naked Jesus Christ is 
being  baptised in a river, the Pagan God of Rivers, 
Okeanos is  on his right

The parts of Basilica that have survived today are the apse and altar found on the right side of the Basilica that is engraved with mosaics. As I have mentioned at the beginning of the article, these mosaics have Pagan features. In this regard, you can find a unique Pagan-Christian hybrid art in Ravenna. In the dome of the Arian Baptistery, which is 500 meters away from the Basilica, Jesus Christ is pictured as naked in a river. John the Baptist is on his left side and Pagan God of River, Okeanos is on the right. After that, we do not see such a mixture of Pagan-Christian art in the Middle Age. In the following centuries, Pagan times would be cursed as times of perversion and its traces would be removed from Christian iconography in time. Referring back to our Basilica, San Vitale, we can see several peacocks on the mosaics of its walls as common in Orthodox churches. As well as the several popular stories of Cain and Abel and the prophets Isaac and Abraham from Old and New Testaments, on the arch of the first part of the altar at the right, towns of two Abrahamic religions are pictured in representation of all humanity; there is Jerusalem representing the Jews and on the opposite, there is Bethlehem representing the new Christians. The message intended to be given with the 12 men’s mosaics representing the 12 Israeli tribes and the Moses next to those mosaics is clear: the Moses, who had been law-maker with his famous 10 commandments was now replaced by the new law-maker Roman empires and all societies (Christian and Jewish) were living under the command of Roman Empire.

Mosaics of the Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora, which are the very source of the fame of the Basilica, are on the altar of the structure. One has goose bumps when looking at the faces of the couple who have been on the mosaics in Italy for 1500 years, are also from Istanbul. In my previous articles, you can find information on the most interesting couple of not only the Byzantine but also Roman history.

Emperor Justinian is in the middle in his purple clothes, Commander Belisarius  and soldiers on his right, Banker Argentarius, Bishop Maksimianus and clergymen on his left, respectively
Justinian and Belisarius duo expanded the lands of empire significantly, just like the old days they took over Italy and almost all of the Northern Africa. Thanks to the duo, Rome managed to take the Mediterranean region under control for the last time in its history (By the way, as Romans had ruled the Mediterranean region for centuries, they called the Mediterranean Sea “Mare Nostrum”, which meant “Our Sea”). Although Justinian had Belisarius judged for fraud and sent him to jail for a few years as he thought he had gained too much power, he restored his honour and gave him a place in his palace. Justinian and Theodora are buried under today’s Fatih Mosque whereas Belisarius and Antonina are buried in Kadıköy.
Empress Theodora in the middle, her guards on her right,
Antonina and bridesmaids on her left
On the right side columns of the altar; Justinian is pictured with the soldiers on his right and the clergymen on his left; Theodora is just on his opposite with her bridesmaids. Chief Commander Belisarius in on the right of Justinian, Ravenna’s most supreme religious official, the Bishop Maksimianus is on his left. Financer of the Basilica, the banker Julius Argentarius is between Maksimianus and Justinian but at the back. As Argentarius used his money to find a place for himself in the picture, he looks weirdly shy, almost irrelevant. On the opposite, the wife of Belisarius, Antonina is next to Theodora. Thanks to these magnificent mosaics, now we know how Justinian, Theodora, Belisarius and Antonina looked like. I think Byzantine mosaics are kind of funny in that, the feet of people look like they are on air, stepping on each other. You can see the same flying feet on the walls of the Chora Church in Istanbul. 

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Friday, April 17, 2015

John Locke and Liberalism

When I first took "The Second Treatise of Government" in my hand, I was disappointed because of its size; I had difficulty in believing that this small book of about 100 pages in fact altered the course of history. Evidently, I guess one expects such an important book to possess more grandeur. But after reading this small book, it also influenced me so much that I wrote this article about it. For all things or people we dub today as "liberal" (and I am one of them), almost everything we know about parliamentary democracy or civil rights began with the said book by John Locke.
Locke gives us the modern state with its contemporary meaning, it moves onwards from the secular path caved by Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes but carries Enlightenment to a point that could never be envisaged by them. At an age where the entire Europe was governed by absolute monarchies that claimed to be vested with divine authorities, Locke's thesis that started with the explanation of “Natural law” continued with the claim that all people are equal and that everybody possesses three basic and indispensable rights, which are namely "life, liberty and property". Thomas Jefferson will later incorporate these three components into the “Declaration of Liberty” and render Locke one of founding fathers of United States America (“USA”).

Locke was born in 1632 in Bristol, England in a puritan family; his father was a country lawyer that fought for the Parliament during the English Civil War.  Locke began to study scholastic philosophy in Oxford University but he didn't like the subject much; he shows more interest towards empirical philosophy and the contemporary philosophers of the age like Descartes, and this interest of him will later push him into medicine. Locke looked for a career and in 1667 moved into Shaftesbury's home at Exeter House in London and served as his personal physician. When Lord Shaftesbury was put into trial on the grounds that he was involved in the "Rye House Conspiracy" against King Charles the II; Locke consequently thought that his life was in danger and fled to the Netherlands in 1683 and stayed there until 1688, until the Glorious Revolution when William took the crown. 1689, he published “The Second Treatise of Government” anonymously. The book did not attract much attention at the beginning, and half a century would be needed for the disclosure of its impact.
It would be wise to begin from “The First Treatise of Government” before discussing about “The Second Treatise of Government”. Locke wrote this book in response to "Patriarcha; the Natural Rights of Kings" by Sir Robert Filmer; in sum, the book is a counter-thesis to Patriarcha. Filmer, who was declared Chavelier by Charles the First and who was awarded by a fortune, is more royalist than the king, so to say. He claims that he is of David's descendants, to whom God gave ruling authority, and that therefore, he possesses an unquestionable and divine governing right on his citizens.  Locke's first treatise is a criticism of the theses contained in Patriarcha and throughout his entire book, Locke responds to Filmer's thesis beginning with the fact that nobody could truly know David's descendants. In the first treatise, Locke explains why absolute monarchy is wrong and in the second treatise he explained what should replace absolute monarchy with a plain and concise language. The second treatise can be summarized with the following main headings.

Natural Thesis of Law, the Hobbesian and Lockean Approaches
The Second Recital begins with the "Natural Law" thesis. Natural Law is a hypothesis that is based on people's lives during the primitive life on earth, before States emerged. In natural life, the primitive person has the right to punish others that harm him or his property. The Concept of State means that the primitive person has, and within a social agreement, transferred to the State the rights he owns for punishing personally. Hobbes handled this subject shortly before Locke and whereas these two philosophers shared the same opinion on the people's right of natural life and citizens' transfer of their "personal punishment" right to the State, they nevertheless diverged on the most fundamental issue. In Leviathan, which describes the pre-State life where natural law prevailed, Hobbes describes this life as "short, brutish and nasty"; according to Hobbes, people were in a full state of war before the introduction of the State.  Only a State under the iron fist of an authoritarian leader can, and through absolute monarchy, govern these wild people who incessantly fight with each other. On the contrary, Locke defines the pre-State primitive life as "peaceful and calm", meaning that people only fight back when they are attacked within the natural life and in exchange, they generally pursue a peaceful life. At this point, the Hobbesian philosophy that advocates absolute monarchy and the Lockean philosophy that advocates liberalism diverge from each other. Despite the 300 years' period elapsed since then, the foundation of all conservative and liberalist regimes is based on the assumption that questions whether wars & chaos or order & peace will prevail if people are set free. Still today in the United States of America, the Republicans has a Hobbesian philosophy and a conservative approach, Democrats pursue a Lockean and liberalist approach. In fact this fundamental separation, meaning the doctrine of natural law, and the converse positions taken by Hobbes and Locke, represent today the main belief behind the policies of all conservative and liberalist regimes & parties in the entire globe, not just the USA.

The Legitimacy of the Government
In the second treatise, Locke states that governments are only legitimate if and only if those being ruled give their consent, the governments exist for protecting the liberty of their citizens. This may seem very natural to us now, but when we consider the year when this was said, we can understand the importance of this event; who knows what the French King Louis the XIVth, who said "l'état c'est moi" ("I'm the state"), thought when he heard about this thesis of Locke, or how furious the British King Charles the IInd got when he read that his rule depended on the consent of people. This was one dangerous and revolutionist phrase that could be worded for the 17th Century. 

Three fundamental and inalienable rights: life, liberty and property:
Locke continues his thesis on natural law with the assertion that all people are equal and they possess three fundamental and inalienable rights. Rights of life, liberty and property. Later, Thomas Jefferson will incorporate these 3 rights into the US Constitution as "Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness". We may even see the second treatise as "the Capitalist Manifest" in that it considers property as one of most basic human rights. Deeming ethical "property ownership and trade", which was on the contrary considered "unethical" by the Church during the middle ages, the emergence of a trading community, Locke's legitimization of the property and property accumulation rights (savings and creation of capital) as the most basic humans right in the 17th century will altogether lay the foundation, on which Adam Smith will base the Wealth of Nations in the 18th century, meaning the foundations of the modern economy. According to Locke "God has given the world to the industrious and rational". All these will inscribe Locke’s name into history, and will constitute the first steps that lead to the "Night Watchman State", which will become the foundation of the libertarian view in the future; the State only exists for protecting the liberties, lives and properties of the citizens, it has no other authority or duty and the best State is therefore the smallest one.

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson working on the Declaration of Independence
 (Jean Leon Ferri, 1900)

Criticism of the Treatise
Personally, my biggest challenge with the Second Treatise is that Locke tried to explain everything through revelation. During Locke's years in Oxford, he was called the monument of silence because even his closest friends did not know his political views. It makes perfect sense; If you have very sharp and bold views that can cost your life, you may choose to keep them to yourself. Let alone, Locke wrote down what he thought, even anonymously. You may feel a bit strange when you are reading Locke, Sometime Locke may seem to take back what he had just said in the previous page while trying to support his ideas with revelations.
Let's touch upon the most important criticisms on the contents; surely, the first criticism is that Locke only defended the rights of the property-owner middle class, of which he was also a member. Maybe the disappointing point for Locke's readers is not the book's contents but Locke's personal life: As Locke wrote all these liberalist lines, he was a partner of a company that conducts slave trade from Africa to America (what I do right now is called "Ad Hominem", and it’s definitely wrong, whatsoever...). Another point that should be discussed about is the extreme importance attached by Locke to property; from the current set of values possessed by an ordinary US citizen and even from the US Laws in effect, you can see the importance of property.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, Locke is the very person expressly writing that all people are equal and have the rights of life, liberty and property, and the government's main duty is to protect these rights. This will alone enable him to alter world's entire history; but Locke does not stop at this point, he states in his thesis that a legitimate government can only be formed by the consent of those being ruled and if the citizens believe that the Ruler abuses his authorities, they can then revolt, and concludes by stating the segregation of duties for the first time in history (as opposed to the general belief, he has done this before Montesquieu). So that the genie is now out of the bottle and Locke has prepared the foundations of enlightenment related to the political philosophy; the French and American Revolutions will take place in the following centuries, the American Constitution of 1787 will be based on Locke's principles, the absolute monarchies in Europe will be collapsed one-by-one, and relying on the liberalist principles of Locke, first constitutional monarchies and later modern states based on parliamentary democracy will be established.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

On Political Philosophy and Freedoms

If only we were able to resolve political discussions, which probably makes up most of the discussions, by saying that I am right in this issue because Socrates says …” or This is the right thing to do because Marx wrote…”, but we cant. Thank God we cant. Taking Platos Republic as the starting point, discussions on what the best regime is, what makes a government legitimate, who shall make the laws, or most significantly, who will educate the students and according to what, havent been resolved for the last 2400 years, they are only getting improved and shaped with each philosopher. This might be the reason why political philosophy is so different and interesting for an engineer like me, who has been trained with numbers and single correct answers: political philosophy has no single correct answers, indeed.
Obviously books that were written centuries ago cannot answer todays questions; we read philosophers not for the answers they gave centuries ago but for the questions they asked. Plato and Aristotle, who witnessed temporary collapse of Athenian Democracy founded by Solon and Pericles, considered Aristocratic Oligarchy as the best regime. This is not valid today, at least not for the civilized world. Yet, we still read Plato and Aristotle, because they had asked the questions Why do we need laws? and What is real justice? for the first time. Likewise; there is no slavery now in the modern world, but we still read St. Augustines books where he told why slavery was necessary and ethically right, though these books have no validity today. This is because we evaluate each book and philosopher in their own historical circumstances and we want to see and understand each step of the development of political philosophy or in other words, the development of individual rights and freedoms. We know that issues which would be even ridiculous to discuss today, such as the idea that the ruling power of kings is not divine, cost lives when it was expressed 500 years ago. We now admiringly read the philosophers questions where they challenged their periods rules, which were accepted as unarguably true then. This make us think of the facts we might be unable to see or our blind spots. We feel encouraged to question the rights of today that everybody agrees on (which will most probably become the wrongs of the tomorrow). We certainly do not intend to regulate todays social life or seek answers to todays problems according to the books that were written centuries ago; that method is already available, we call it religion and it is definitely irrelevant for us in this discussion.
In mankinds struggle to find the best regime, which has lasted for thousands of years, everything progresses in a relevant way and it is surprising to find out that even schools of thought which seem totally opposite are actually interrelated. It is not a coincidence that, Niccolo Machiavellis Prince where he made a secular interpretation on the administrative science that had been shaped by religion for thousand years at the expense of showing the ruler cruel and people with bad will, was followed by Thomas Mores Utopia, where everybody was as good as angels or the monarchic state monster disregarding individual rights in Thomas Mores Leviathan was followed by John Lockes Second Treatise on Government which was founded on individual freedoms so wide that they formed the base for the American Constitution to be established one century later; on the contrary, this is action and reaction. Every philosopher asks the questions of his own age and prepares the intellectual context for the next philosopher to study on and ask his own questions.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651 First Edition Book Cover /

Leviathan is the name of a mythological monster in Old-Testament; apparently Thomas Hobbes
 made the best choice to symbolize absolute monarchy.
It is not auspicious to deal with political philosophy, indeed; because it would be inevitable for a person who starts to read the history of views on state and regime, to start questioning his own believes when he recognizes that, not only even the most basic questions have not been answered precisely for centuries but also there are "rights" and "wrongs" in every shcools of thought. And maybe the most importantly, one who starts to read political philosophy will realize that some rights that were agreed on only two centuries ago are todays wrongs, which means, the values we truly believe might become ridiculous two centuries later and one will have to replace the comfort provided by beliefs and the thought that he/she knows the rights with the uneasiness caused by skepticism. On the other hand; how nice and safe it is to believe in something which we have no doubt about its rightness, to belong to a community/party, to act in coherence with our society, to talk with slogans to walk with anthems together with millions of people like us.
Who knows, maybe a few centuries later there will be an order like Universal League of Nations embracing all free and equal people of the world instead of the countries and dogmatic beliefs in todays sense. Lets imagine a world where individual rights and freedoms, intellectual freedom and equality of opportunities are far beyond the present day, knowledge is shared unbelievably fast thanks to advanced technology, all world population is represented in the same parliament regardless of religion, language or nation. Would that be possible? We dont know this, yet. Nevertheless, it would be wise to be precautious. We should think twice before supporting any notion other than widening of individual rights and freedoms for everybody. Particularly if the notion or idea we support includes terms such as almighty, holy, glorious, supreme etc., twice wouldnt be enough, we should think ten times. The only sustainable tendency we can observe in long term in this centuries old adventure we call as political philosophy is that, the more information gets accessible, the more mankind gets free.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

History of Civil Disobedience

Do we have to obey the laws even when they are unjust? Or just the opposite, is it right to disobey unjust laws? Who can decide whether the laws of state are fair or not?.. Humanity has been unable to satisfactorily reply these questions for centuries. Here comes up the concept of civil disobedience where the citizens try to amend laws they regard to be unjust by performing events that violate them in a non-violent way. In 1849, American activist-author Henry David Thoreau mentioned about civil disobedience for the first time in history in his book named as “Resistance to civil government, civil disobedience” . Thus, he can be considered as the eponym of the term. In his book, he expressed in brief that citizens had to prioritize the voice of their conscience over the laws of state.
As it is violation of laws, civil disobedience has always been identified with anarchy, chaos and crime by the governments. However; civil disobedience is not an action against democracy or a state of law. On the opposite; it is a must for democracy and the acquisition of civil rights and it is almost as old as democracy. The first known civil disobedience in history, i.e. the Athens rebellion of 507 BC helped the emergence of today’s democracy. Consequently; democracy and civil disobedience are inseparable, it can be said that one wouldn’t emerge without the other.
Now let’s discuss the first civil obedience act known in history and emergence of democracy;
In the 6th century BC, Athenians founded an assembly under the leadership of Greek philosophers and the statesman Solon after a struggle that had lasted centuries. Though final decision was given by the oligarchic administration, the society voted in significant issues and participated in the management. In 507 BC, Isagoras seized control of management and closed the general assembly with an intention to become tyrant. The people rebelled in the evening of the day the control of management was seized and the general assembly was closed. They cornered Isagor and his Spartan soldiers in the main square of the city following a rebellion that had lasted for three days. Isagoras and his soldiers ran away to save their lives. The people, who had dismissed the tyrant, assigned the reformist statesman Cleisthenes into power and re-opened the assembly. They gave equal voting right to every citizen and gave the right of decision to the assembly exclusively and thus, they established the first democracy known in history. The history is full of thousands of rebellions before and after that event, indeed. The thing that differentiates this rebellion from others and makes it the first known civil disobedience act in history is that, it does not have any leader or an organization behind. Athenians went out to streets with a collective anger on that night when their general assembly was closed. The anger did not rise out of an organization or guidance of a rebel leader who intended to overthrow the dictator Isagoras, everybody acted on their own and went to the main square of the city. They had resisted against their brand new tyrant and his Spartan soldiers until they overthrew him and founded their own management.

 It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.

American Constitution and the abolition of slavery

American historian and author Howard Zinn said “civil disobedience and protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy, it is absolutely essential to it”. When we look at the emergence story of the American constitution which is regarded as the world’s most liberal constitution, we can see that the very basic human rights were gained through civil disobedience acts. Foundation story of America is in fact a civil disobedience act against the British government. In 1773, Americans threw the teas into the sea from Boston port to protest against the unjust taxes taken by the colonist British. Thus, they not only founded the Boston Tea Party but also planted the seeds of an independent country.
The fugitive slave act organized in 1850 in America required that the slaves who had run away from Southern states and taken shelter in Northern states were returned back to their owners and it imposed not only a penalty fine but also imprisonment for the citizens who helped those fugitive slaves and for officers who had ignored these slaves. The Americans in Northern states who did not surrender the slaves that had run away from Southern states were also violating the laws by listening to their conscience. This was an individual civil obedience act, indeed. Many American citizens violated that law under the leadership of Thoreau (mentioned in the beginning of the article) by listening to their conscience. They helped fugitive slaves and they even hid them at their homes when necessary. This civil obedience act was the most significant step for the complete abolition of slavery.

 One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights
Abolition of slavery in America was the first step in the long path for gaining civil rights for African Americans. This struggle continued in the following century under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. with non-violent civil obedience acts and reached a result. Montgomery bus firm which had been conducting discrimination gave up this attitude after Luther King’s boycott which had lasted for 13 months and discrimination imposed on the black people in buses came to an end. Luther King and his fellows entered into parks, public areas and restaurants where black people were banned from. They sat there and waited for the police to come then they got arrested without any resistance. In that way, they drew attention to the unjustness of the ban and they had these bans lifted one by one. In his non-violent civil disobedience acts Luther King took inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi who had brought the Great Britain down in that way. 

12th March 1930, “Salt March”, Gandhi is walking to protest the salt production ban
Mahatma Gandhi and Satyagraha (insistence on truth)
Gandhi protested against the discriminative policies of the Colonist British Government by non-violent civil obedience actions and gained a definite success in the matters of equal rights and independence. Satyagraha (“insistence on truth”) is a concept found by Gandhi. I explained it by the words “insistence on truth” but actually, it is difficult to express its full meaning in just a few words. With this concept, Gandhi aimed to defeat his force-imposing enemies by good means and in calmness without using force and to make them “good”. Many years later, Martin Luther King Jr. used the English correspondence of the Satyagraha, “silent force”, in his speech “I have a dream”.
The first civil disobedience action of Turkey’s recent history; 555K
The first civil disobedience act that took place on 5th May 1960 in Ankara Kızılay was named as “555K” as it occurred in 5th month on 5th day at 5 o’clock in Kızılay. University students gathered in Kızılay to protest against the Democrat Party which had been tensing up the country with their oppressive policies, they did not clear away despite all the warnings and they resisted the police.
Rumour has it that, Prime Minister of the period, Adnan Menderes who had come to Kızılay Square for DP meeting, found himself among the protesters all of a sudden. When Menderes asked “What do you want?”, ex leader of CHP (Republican People’s Party) Deniz Baykal who was as student then, collared prime minister and shouted “We want freedom!”. And Menderes gave his popular reply:
 “You are collaring the prime minister, is there a freedom greater than that?”
A short time after 555K action, the first military intervention of the republic took place on 17th May 1960. Cemal Süreyya, who also joined the action that took place on 5th May 1960, wrote a poem named as 555K. The poem passed to the youth resisting for the future of their country many years later and it became hope for them;
“We are talking in low voice now,
In silence we are gathering together and clearing away
Our mums are steeping tea for the coming happy days
And our darling is putting flowers into the vase
Quietly again we are going to work in the mornings
Yet it doesn’t mean these will go on like that
Now we are coming side by side and mounting up
When we chant the song of freedom together
Then nobody can save you, not even the Gods.”
Cemal Süreyya, 1960