Philosophical And Historical Foundations Of American Politics

The Founding Father’s views on government were influenced by both the classical republican and the natural rights philosophers. The two groups of philosophers held very different views on how a government should run. The classical republicans believed that the individual should sacrifice his or her personal freedoms in order to gain the greater good. The natural rights philosophers, on the other hand, held that a person’s individual freedoms out to be preserved at all costs. The two greatest examples of historical precedent in republican government were the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, which both gave the people a great deal of power in the government by allowing them a voice. The natural rights philosophers favored the Greeks, while most classical republicans admired the Romans.
The theory of classical republicanism is that the best society is one that promotes the common good instead of individual interests. One of the ways that this is done is by limiting individual rights. This idea began in Rome in 509 after King Servius’ successor Tarquin the Proud behaved in such a tyrannical way that the outraged aristocracy ousted him. In response to the unspeakable treatment, the Romans changed the government’s job. The elite proclaimed themselves the protectors of Rome against tyranny. This mindset became crucial to the ideology through which they justified their political supremacy. From this point on, there would be intense suspicion of any individual who tried to turn popular support into personal power.
Numerous problems can arise in a society which emphasizes both individual rights and the common good because the two goals are often conflicting in nature. Everyone desires individual rights, but to protect the common good a social contract must be in effect. This means that some personal rights must be sacrificed for the good of the community. The natural rights philosophy considered the rights of the individual to be of primary importance, but classical republicans held that the community’s interests were more important. Classical republicans required that people care for each other in small communities, and shared similarities in finances and religion. This required an official religion and a single set of family standards had to be followed. Thus it was obvious that this would not work in America, since so many people had come here to escape their official religions and to seek economic opportunity.
The classical republicans stressed the need for moral education and homogeneity in order to protect the interests of society. They believed that if society was homogenous, that there would be fewer problems. If a society did not have homogeneity, they feared that it would splinter in factions, which would oppose the common good in favor of self-interest. Classical republicans tried to avoid these differences in property, religion, and social interaction by establishing a standard, but were unsuccessful.
Democracy is founded on a combination of the classical republican and natural rights philosophies. James Madison formed the combination, called democratic republicanism. It includes the liberty and equality for a democracy (natural rights) and the need for order, and checking the corrosive effects of inequality that were involved in classical republicanism. Philosophers such as Niccolo Machiavelli and B.F. Skinner have each contributed to the principal of social welfare. This is relevant to modern society through the actions of democracies around the world. Our government and others like it strive to promote the common good, while not limiting personal freedoms. Within all three branches of our government, be they judicial, legislative, or executive, we can see the enduring imprints of classical republicanism.

Category: History