The Dragonfly and Raven

The Dragonfly and Raven

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Man, His House, and an Extra-Dimensional Monster Named Stan

There was a man who lived in a house,
In this house with the man lived a mouse.

This mouse was a big and brown,
And when the man found him, his screams could be heard from the nearby town.

But, fortunately for the man, it was only a mouse.
A big, brown mouse that lived in his house.

At least, that is what the man thought.
For you see, there was another thing that fought

For control of the house from the man.
An extra-dimensional monster named Stan.

This monster named Stan had a horrible plan
To open a portal in the basement of the house of the man.

From this portal the monster came through
And in its wake, terror did ensue.

Stan made its way up the stairs,
Tentacles extended—to skin, flayers.

It was in the living room that it found the man.
And the house became occupied solely by Stan

Gender and Suicide in Late Medieval England

John Tyler of Lincolnshire, on the 2nd of January 2016, while alone in his small apartment at night, decided to hang himself in the middle of his living room. He did this after a long battle with depression, wanting the pain that it caused to end. While it is awful that Mr. Tyler died in such a manner, his death, in our modern society, will cause no further harm to his family than the obvious emotional harm that is caused by the act itself. This would not have been the case if Mr. Tyler had killed himself in medieval England, for several hundred years prior, the act of suicide (otherwise known as self-killing) was considered a felony. If he had killed himself back in those times, Mr. Tyler's family would also have to deal with his post humanous trial for committing an act of self-killing. The punishment for this crime could be severe for his family, both economically, and then by means of damaging their reputation. This essay will explore self-killing in late medieval England, examining how it was viewed by both ecclesiastic and secular bodies. It will also aim to determine in what ways self-killing (and consequently, how it was dealt with by authorities) was gendered, both in the ratio in which women committed self-killings, and how they did so. Furthermore, it will look at the verdicts given by the juries of the time, comparing how they treated women and men in both cases of compassionate verdicts, and then in cases of harsh verdicts.

As can be extrapolated from the introduction of this essay, suicide or self-killing was not viewed with a positive light in medieval England. It was, after all, considered a felony. Felonies were one of the two types of crimes that could be committed by a person (the other being a trespass, or what we now refer to as a misdemeanor). Unlike trespasses, which would be punished with fines or other forms of lesser punishment, felonies were punished through the execution of the individual, and the seizing of their land, goods, and chattel through a process known as the corruption of blood. Felonies were predominately homicides and greater thefts (grand larceny, robbery, burglary), but suicide was also viewed as a felony—called felonia de se, or felony of the self. This negative view of self-killing is rooted deeply in Christian ideology and religious tradition, being voiced well by the Fourth Century Saint Augustine of Hippo in his, Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans. In this work, Augustine paints an extremely clear picture that suicide is a great and heavy sin, and that it should not be committed, unless one is directed to do so by God, as is the case with many martyred saints. This Christian foundation of a taboo against self-killing served to influence the secular attitude toward the act. As previously mentioned above, being classified as a felony, the punishment for being found guilty of felonia de se was the seizing of all assets of the victim by the Crown. An additional punishment of being buried in unconsecrated land was also given to those who committed suicide, a punishment for the corruption of the soul that occurred due to the great sin that was brought upon the individual from committing such an evil act. Such is the punishment that was given for self-killing in medieval England, but that is only if a verdict of felonia de se is reached, which was not always the case.

In addition to self-killings being ruled as felonia de se, there were two other rulings that could be given by a jury. Medieval juries could also find that an incident of self-killing was due to misadventure (essentially, that it was an accident), or that it was due to non compos mentis (meaning that they were not responsible for their actions by means of mental instability). More specifically, the reason someone who was mentally unstable could not be found (in theory) guilty of a crime was because “(1) he did not know what he did; (2) he was impelled or forced by some inexplicable necessity; or (3) he was not capable of reason--that is, he was not in charge of himself because he lacked the faculty of deliberation." If there was a verdict of misadventure or non compos mentis, then the self-killer would not have their land, goods, and chattel confiscated—nor would they be buried outside of the consecrated ground of a church—as they would not be guilty of a felony. More on actual figures of the numbers of self-killings deemed to be misadventures and excusable by non compos mentis later though. One interesting thing to note in this discussion of felonia de se, non compos mentis, and misadventure is that on multiple occasions, legal records show that self-killings were determined to be both the result of misadventure and yet at the same time felonia de se, or were both non compos mentis and felonia de se. This shows the difficulty that medieval juries had in distinguishing between the three types of self-killing, and the difficulty that they had determining the best verdict to hand-down, for reasons that will be discussed later. Now that a general foundation is established for how self-killing was viewed, and how it was treated both by secular authorities, and then by the ecclesiastic, we can now look at how suicide differed between men and women.

In medieval England, the commission of crimes by women was disproportionately low in comparison with men, given the general equality in the numbers of men and women. This was especially true in regards to felonies. Overall for felonies—which include major theft, such as grand larceny, burglary, and robbery, as well as homicide and suicide—women made up for only ten percent of the total cases that came before courts (in one study, it was determined that women were responsible for only four percent of felonies). Now, this behooves historians to ask why this is the case. Certainly, it could be chalked up to some sort of biological determinism, in which women are inherently less violent than men. Or it could be that this disproportionate representation of women in felonious crimes is resultant of social conditioning of the time to make women more submissive and pacifistic. Both of these explanations are unsatisfactory though, as they would then mean that there would be similar rates of women committing criminal acts throughout history, which is not the case. Even during the time period, the East Midlands had rates of accusation of felonia de se that were roughly even between men and women, if not leaning toward more women committing the act. If we look at modern statistics in the United Kingdom, we can see that women made up twenty-four percent of criminal cases. Both of these numbers, then, work to discredit these hypotheses. It could be that, as medieval historian Sara M. Butler posits, that medieval juries were less likely to view women as suspects for felonious acts, seeing them incapable of doing such things as murder. This then also helps explain why women were able to get treatment that was both more compassionate then what was given to men, when compassion was shown, and that was at the same time harsher than what was given to men, when harsh judgments were given down, in the case of suicide verdicts. More on this below. I would argue that this belief that women are generally incapable of performing violent, felonious crime is still held by many today, and is at least partially responsible for the still disproportionate rates of crime between the sexes.

As for suicide, the rate of women committing this felony is much higher than with any other type of felony. In looking at 718 incidents of self-killing in medieval England, between the Thirteenth and early Sixteenth Centuries, taking from the few surviving records that exist within coroner's, eyre, and assize rolls, we can see that of the 718 incidents of self-killing, 464 were committed by men, while 253 were committed by women (this adds up to 717 self-killings, with the remaining self-killer's gender being unidentified due to damage to the record). This means that women committed thirty-five percent of self-killings, which is a stark difference between the four to ten percent of felonies in general. As to why this is the case is uncertain, and Butler, whose figures I draw off of for this essay, does not seek to answer this question. I would hypothesize that it could be due to the nature of suicide as a crime as compared to homicide or theft. Suicide is, by its very nature, a crime that does not involve others, while theft and homicide do. It could be that because of this, and because of the lack of agency that women possessed at the time, that suicide was a crime that they were able to commit far easier than other types of felonies (especially if you consider that the majority of homicides at the time, specifically in urban areas, occurred as a result of altercations in pubs and taverns after copious amounts of alcohol had been consumed).

Let us dive deeper down into the rabbit hole of conviction rates among male and female self-killers. Of the 718 cases of self-killing, 565 returned verdicts of felonia de se (or roughly seventy-nine percent, with seventy-four percent of women being found guilty, and eighty-one percent of men being found so). This is an extremely high conviction rate for a felony, as at the time, the average acquittal rate for felonies was at sixty-five percent. This indicates that medieval juries were especially harsh in punishing those who had committed suicide, perhaps due to the deep religious connotations that the act held. Some scholars have argued that the reason that so many verdicts of felonia de se were given was so that the Crown could seize the chattel, land, and goods of the offenders. This train of thought is derailed at two points, however. First, there is the issue of the high rate of acquittal (sixty-five percent) for other felonies, which would also result in the confiscation of chattel, lands, and goods to the Crown. It could be that juries were unwilling to give verdicts that took the life of an individual, and that since that was not a factor in cases of self-killing that they did not have any form of inhibition in declaring a felony occurred. However, there is still the family of the accused that must be taken into consideration, as they would most certainly suffer from the confiscation of said possessions. Suppose that is not a problem, though. In that case, you still have the issue, as Gwen and Alice Seabourne point out, that oftentimes those without any chattel, land, or goods were still found guilty of felonia de se, thus pointing toward a genuine desire to punish individuals that had self-killed. We can see this tendency to be harsh, to punish, in cases of mental instability as well.

Mental instability was considered an excuse for committing felonious acts (non compos mentis), as the perpetrator did not have mens rea, or the criminal mind. Out of the 718 cases of self-killing, there were 105 cases in which mental instability was mentioned. Of these, forty-two percent were committed by women, and fifty-eight percent were committed by men. This rate of mental instability is incongruous with the rate at which women committed suicide as compared to men (thirty-five percent of the total self-killings). This indicates that medieval juries were willing to believe that a woman could be mentally unstable at a greater degree then they ought to for their percentage of the overall amount of self-killings. It is difficult to discern as to why this is the case, though it could be do to the association between the Devil and women by the Medieval Church, and its promulgation of the idea that women could be more easily possessed by the Devil, demons, evil spirits, etc.. This can be seen with cases involving demonic possession or influence, of which there were fourteen. Of these fourteen, nine were by women, and five were by men. Sixty-six percent of the women were given a verdict of felonia de se, as opposed to just twenty percent of the men. Now, of those 105 cases of mental instability, sixty-three of them resulted in the defendant being awarded a verdict of non compos mentis (twenty-seven women, or eleven percent of all women, and thirty-six men, or eight percent of all men). This shows that medieval juries were willing to believe that women were mentally unstable, and thus not responsible for their actions, than they were for men.

Another aspect of difference in gender and self-killing in late medieval England is in instances of “phrases of afforcement.” These were phrases that were used by coroners and by grand juries in order to prevent the trial jury from showing compassion to the self-killer, by using phrases such as “at night,” “ murder,” “with malice aforethought,” “behind closed doors,” and “alone.” In the highly social time, these phrases all served to paint the self-killer in such a negative light as to make it next-to impossible for the trial jury to show compassion for them. Of the 718 self-killings, forty of them contained phrases of afforcement, and of those forty, eighteen of them, or roughly half, were in cases involving women. This shows a clear bias towards women. In addition to breaking social norms by self-killing, it could be that the reason that women were given phrases of afforcement is that women were, by committing such a violent felony, also breaking the social expectations and gender roles that are assigned to women, such as McLane believes. An example of this can be seen in the case of Joan Wynspere of Basford, who, in an attempt to abort a pregnancy with pharmaceuticals, accidentally ended up killing herself. In this case, Joan was found guilty of felonia de se. This contradicted the precedent, in which she would have been found guilty of abortion, and not of felonia de se, as her death was not intended. Butler believes, however, that this is a case in which male jurors were showing their antipathy toward “loose women,” illegitimate pregnancies, and illicit abortions. It could also have to do with her status as a single woman.

To be a single woman in medieval England was to be in a minority, and it was often looked down on by society. In addition, being a single woman also brought with it financial instability, as work was, to put it lightly, limited for women. This, along with the social condemnation that came with being a single woman, might explain why single women were disproportionately represented among self-killing women. Of the 253 women who self-killed, fifty-four percent were married, while forty-seven percent were not. However, those figures do not account for widows, who were included in the married category. Accounting for them, sixty-five percent of female self-killers were single. It also is important to note then that single women fared worse than married women.

Up until now, we have been looking at cases in which medieval juries were harsh to the accused self-killers. While this harsh treatment did account for seventy-nine percent of the incidents of self-killing, there is still another twenty-one percent that needs to be accounted for. These are the cases in which medieval juries showed compassion for the accused self-killers. Take, for example, the case of Ellen wife of Thomas the clerk of Barnwell, who awoke one night, rose from bed in nothing but her underwear, and then proceeded to walk into the nearby river and drown herself out of grief for her son that she had recently lost. The record shows that she simply drowned herself, but not that she was a felon. This case shows sympathy that medieval juries had for those women who had lost their children (which happened quite often, with high mortality rates existing for children at the time). It also showed that the jury had sympathy for her husband Thomas, who had just lost his son and wife, as a verdict of felonia de se would ruin his reputation. This compassion can also be seen with postpartum depression, which it is clear, through writings that we have from the time, that they understood. Enough of anecdotes though, let us look at raw numbers. In the case of thirty self-killings by hanging, medieval juries returned verdicts of misadventure. Now, this does not make sense if the juries were giving an accurate verdict, as one does not accidentally fall into the hangman's noose. An appropriate judgment would be felonia de se or non compos mentis. However, both of these verdicts would serve to damage either the reputation and/or the financial situation of the families that survived the self-killers. Thus, death by misadventure makes sense as a compassionate verdict. Interestingly, this compassion was gender-neutral, with fifteen men and fifteen women being granted a misadventure verdict.

These were not the only ways in which medieval juries graced self-killers with compassion. In 103 of verdicts of felonia de se, the trial jury under-appreciated the value of the chattel, lands, and goods of the guilty. In seventy-seven of these cases, the self-killer was a man. It seems that, in this, juries were attempting to be sympathetic to the wives and children of self-killers. This could be due simply to empathy and sympathy on the part of the jurors, or it could also be due to a worry that by taking all of the chattel, lands, and goods of the man of a household, that they would condemn his family to destitution, and therefore create a drain on the community. Similar concerns were had when females self-killed, and the taking of joint-property from the husband.

The last element that needs to be examined in regards to self-killing is the ways in which men and women killed themselves. Thirty-four percent of women drowned themselves, as opposed to twenty-nine percent of men. Fifty-one percent of women hanged themselves, as opposed to forty-one percent of men. Eight percent of women used a sharp tool to kill themselves, as opposed to twenty-two percent of men. It is this last figure that is of great interest in determining how men and women killed themselves in different ways. For, killing oneself with a sharp object, such as a knife, is a long, and arduous process—much longer than a death by hanging or by drowning. Moreover, the use of sharp objects to kill themselves shows a trend that men have for the use of dramatic forms of killing themselves. Take for example the case of John the Welshman of Lincolnshire, who used a knife to remove both his penis and testicles before leaving himself to bleed to death. Or the case of Thomas Nulleward, who threw himself into the cogs of a mill, crushing him. Or the case of Thomas Warner of Moulton, who died of drowning after first tying his hands and feet together. All of these are cases in which men killed themselves in far more dramatic manners than women, and serve as a representative of a larger trend of dramatic self-killing for men.

The loss of a life prematurely is an awful thing, moreso when it is done by oneself. While suicide is no longer illegal in England, during the medieval era, it was, due to a foundation of suicide being a taboo by the Catholic Church, especially in the writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo. Called felonia de se, committing suicide would result in the seizing of goods, lands, and chattel by the Crown, and would ultimately serve to bring the family of the individual who committed suicide into destitution, while also ruining their reputation. There were exceptions and excuses for committing an act of self-killing, those being death by misadventure (accidental) and those which were non compos menti, or rather, where the individual who killed themselves was not in the right mind when they did so. However, juries were harsh when it came to suicide, having a twenty-one percent acquittal rate, as opposed to sixty-five percent for most felonies. Suicide was also gendered in nature, and disproportionately so. On aggregate, women committed ten percent of felonies, and yet they committed thirty-five percent of the suicides, even though they made up half of the population. While there are many hypotheses as to why this is, it seems that this is due to a lack of belief that women were capable of committing such crimes, and then a lack of desire to convict them. After all, seventy-four percent of women accused of self-killing were found guilty, as opposed to eighty-one percent of men. In addition, more women were excused of their self-killing by reason of mental instability than men were (that being by percentage of those excused to the percentage of the whole of the group). Women were disproportionately singled out and given harsher treatment than men through phrases of afforcement. Single women were treated harsher than those who were married. At the same time though, women were generally shown more compassion by juries, especially in regards to mental instability. Finally, men were more dramatic in their suicides than women were. Such is how suicide was treated in medieval England and how it was gendered both in favor, and against, women.


Alice Seabourne and Gwen Seabourne,"Law on Suicide in Medieval England, The."Journal of Legal History 21.1 (2000): 21-48. Web. 24 June 2016.

Augustine. Translated by Henry Bettenson. Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans. Pelican Books: Great Britain. 1997.

Carl I. Hammer, Jr. “Patterns of Homicide in a Medieval University Town: Fourteenth Century Oxford.” Past & Present. 78. 3-23. 1978. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Print.

Ministry of Justice. “Statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System 2011.” Women and the Criminal Justice System. United Kingdom. 2012. Web. 24 June 2016.

Rebecca F. McNamara and Juanita Feros Ruys “Unlocking the Silences of the self-murdered” Exemplora 26:1. 2014. Web. 24 June 2016.

Richard J. Sims. “Secondary Offenders? English Women and Crime, c. 1220-1348” in Early Modern Women: Victims or Viragos? Edited by Chrstine Meek and Catherine Lawless. Four Courts Press. 2005. Print.

Sara M. Butler. “Cultures of Suicide?: Suicide Verdicts and the Community in Thirteenth-and Fourteenth-Century England.”The Historian 69:3. 427-449. 2007. Web. 24 June 2016.

Sara M. Butler. "Degrees of Culpability: Suicide Verdicts, Mercy, and the Jury in Medieval England." Journal Of Medieval & Early Modern Studies. 36:2. (Spring 2006): 263-290. Web. 24 June 2016.

Sara M. Butler, "Women, Suicide, and the Jury in Later Medieval England," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 32:1 (Autumn 2006). Web. 24 June 2016.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What Was Hobbes' Idea of the State?

Preface: I feel as though this essay got away from while I was writing it. The idea of the state that Hobbes posits is an extensive one, and I had but 2000 words to summize his thoughts. So I suppose what I am trying to say is that you should take the following essay as an incomplete, a scratch on the surface of the beliefs of Hobbes.

The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries marked a tumultuous period in the history of Europe. There were wars of conquest, with the expansion of the proto-imperialist states of the time. There were wars of religion, both between different religious groups, as with the Hasburgs and the Ottomans, and within Christendom, with the Protestant Reformation. Then, there were the wars of a state against itself—both for religious reasons, as in France with the Wars of Religion fought between the Huguenots and the Catholics, and for the resistance of “tyrannical” regimes, as was the case with the mid-Seventeenth Century English Civil War between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. These internal struggles, both in France and across the Channel in England, served as a point of interest for political theorists of the time. Of particular interest to these theorists was the idea of the state, sovereignty, the role of subjects to the sovereign authority, and then whether or not resistance to a sovereign authority was justified in a legal and philosophical sense. Now, this is not the first time that political philosophers had contemplated these thoughts, as both Aristotle and Cicero wrote extensively on the subject. With Cicero, there was a focus on the duty of people to the commonwealth, and then the duty of citizens to remove a tyrant from power. This was then taken by Jean Bodin, who for the first time defined the concept of sovereignty. More famous than the Frenchman, though, was the British political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan. It is the aim of this essay to explore the idea of the state as set out by Hobbes in Leviathan.

According to Hobbes, there is a Leviathan in this world, and it is called the Commonwealth. It would be easy for one to think, upon reading that in the introduction to the book that its subject is then the commonwealth. This is only partially true. To Hobbes, because the commonwealth is a grouping of all of the people of the state together, one must first understand the inner-workings of men to understand the inner-workings of the state. In particular, one must understand what drives men to do what they do; the nature of men in the world as set out by God; and the different kinds of persons that exist in the world. To begin, let us examine that which compels men to act. In this, Hobbes has a simple explanation. According to him, man is controlled by his passions. We as a species seek to fulfill whatever passions that we have, given that they are obtainable with our strength and position in the world, with our lives being just a long string of passions, linked together with ever success or failure in the completion of them. Ultimately though, while we strive to fulfill the passions that are presently held, it is more important for us to ensure that there will be future desires that can be fulfilled. This, to Hobbes, is the object of man. It is both a Christian, and a determinist way of looking at the world, as the vision that Hobbes paints is one in which everything only happens because of a cause, except the one thing that does not have a cause—that one thing being God (an line of thought in-line with Aquinas)6. At the same time though, while agreeing in part with the thinking of classic Christian philosophers, he disagrees with the thinking of classical philosophers, with him believing that there is no such thing as a “greatest good.”7. It is through the desire for ease in life, and the fear of pain and death, then, that compel Man to civil obedience.

Now understanding that man is driven by passion, and how that relates the commonwealth (through the civil obedience that is required for a society to operate effectively), we can examine the state of nature that man has been put in by God. According to Hobbes, all of man is created by God as equal in both body and mind. Even though when comparing individuals there will be those who are stronger and wiser than others, on the aggregate, people are equal. This equality of conditions then creates a scenario where, due to the scarce resources that exist in this world, conflict arises when two or more people with the same desire compete for the same scarce resource, and since they both are equal in conditions, they both have equal claim to this scarce resource. This creates a pattern of violence and distrust in others, which ultimately creates a state of war—a state in which everyone is pitted against everyone else, ultimately trying to assert their dominion over everyone else, in order to ensure their security. Thus, war is not battle between parties, but rather a state in which battle between parties is likely to occur. This state of war degrades the greatness of Humanity, doing away with the culture and knowledge that is gained through peace, or the time without war. When in this state of war, there is not sovereign authority—there is no commonwealth, no state. Because of this, Hobbes posits, there can be no injustice in the state of war, as injustice comes from the violation of civil law, and during a state of war, there is no civil law that people are subject to. Through the fear of death and the love of ease, man is then also compelled to seek out an end to the state of war. This is the completely reasonable and inevitable conclusion for man to come to, according to Hobbes, both due to the passions that bind men, but then also do to the laws of nature that rule over all things.

The laws of nature that Hobbes prescribes govern the world, and through it, the interactions that men have with it and each other, are quite extensive. For the sake of brevity, this essay will not cover all of the laws of nature that he posits. Now, according to Hobbes, the Laws of Nature (Lex Naturalis), are general rules that are found by the use of reason of what man is forbidden or bound to do. This idea that there are laws of nature divined by man through reason is by no means unique to Hobbes, and it is routed in previous Christian thinkers, such as Aquinas and Augustine. The first law of nature, what Hobbes refers to as the “fundamentall [sic]” law of nature, is that man, by nature, will seek peace. The reasoning for this can be seen in the paragraph preceding this one. It is the belief of Hobbes that the best way to set out on this path to peace is through the use of contracts (and covenants, which are the parts of a contract that one of the parties is bound to). A contract is, in this case, the “mutuall transferring of Right [sic].”. The transferring of right, is done to create bonds between men, and to ensure peace through fear of repercussion for the breaking of ones covenant, both from some greater temporal power (here being the commonwealth) and from the ultimate judge—God. Now, transferring of ones rights is a voluntary action, and since it is a voluntary action, it is only done if it is in the interests of the individual, as we are inherently self-interested. Hobbes posits that it is in the interest of individuals to give up some rights in order to secure their safety, and thus, greater rights in the end. These rights are then given to the commonwealth.

At last, we have reached the point in which the commonwealth enters into the fold of Hobbes' political thought. As previously stated, the commonwealth is created by the transferring of the rights of individuals within a state to the state for their mutual benefit. This, the common good, is what the commonwealth seeks to protect and increase, through the establishment of laws, and the upholding of contracts. Now, commonwealths can be implemented through two main ways—either through institution or though acquisition. Both are quite simple, although there has been contention on his explanation of the commonwealth by acquisition, and in particular, by conquest. First though, there is the commonwealth by institution. In this, the commonwealth is created simply by the consent of the major part of the persons who are present to transfer their rights, and the rights of all who are under the dominion of the commonwealth, thus bestowing upon the commonwealth sovereign power, which then lies in the hands of the sovereign (more on this later). There is also then the commonwealth by acquisition. In this, the commonwealth is acquired through the use of force—most often, conquest. This, to Hobbes, is a legitimate government, and is due the same obedience as the commonwealth that is instituted. This is an important point, as the English Civil War was based, in a large part, off of the idea that the rule of the English monarchs was illegitimate, as it was achieved through force. They used this to justify resistance to the crown. Hobbes thinks this is unjustified, as, to him, the implementation of a commonwealth also implements a covenant on the part of the subjects to not resist the commonwealth, as any contract does. In addition, Hobbes believed that a commonwealth by acquisition was created through the voluntary transfer of the rights of a people to the conqueror. This is because, in Hobbes' mind, when a commonwealth is conquered, it ceases to be, and thus, with no obligations, people have the ability to do as they will. They could very well not submit to a conqueror, but they would have to face the consequences of non-submission. To Hobbes, the threat of violence, or fear of violence does not make an action involuntary. Hobbes also believed in the idea that there are actors and authors for all of the things that are done by man. In this, actors perform acts, but authors are the ones who come up with them, and then authorize actors (being their representatives) to perform them. Because the sovereign authority is a representative of the people, it is but an actor, with the people of the commonwealth being the authors. To resist the sovereign authority then would be to fight against oneself. This is the other reason that Hobbes is against the resistance of people against the state—taking an even more extreme stance on the issue than Jean Bodin.

In regards to liberty, I will say but a few short words. First, to Hobbes, liberty was not a thing that one possessed—but rather, it was the absence of external forces that stopped one's movement in the world (or, if you will, inhibit their rights)31. The liberties that a person has within a state, according to Hobbes, are those things that the law is silent on. However, there are certain liberties (rights) that cannot be transferred away, which are the right to defend oneself, the right to not accuse oneself, and then the right not to injure oneself.

When discussing the grim philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, there is a great deal to discuss. In Leviathan, Hobbes lays out his idea of the state, or as he so affectionately refers to it, the Leviathan. This commonwealth that he lays out is formed by the transferring of the rights of individuals who exist under its domain in order to avoid the state of war that otherwise exists in the absence of the commonwealth. This transfer of rights is a rational one, based off of the desires that men have—specifically the love of ease, and the fear of pain and death. By transferring these rights and creating a commonwealth, people bestow upon it sovereign power, that is then used by the Sovereign to rule over and for the people—hopefully in the interest of the common good. By linking this creation of the commonwealth to the establishment of a covenant, and then further by positing that the people are the authors of the Sovereign's actions, Hobbes uses his Leviathan to argue against the belief in just resistance that was held by Parliamentarians in the English Civil War. While there is certainly much more to say in regards to Hobbes' idea of the state, this is, in brief, the idea of the state that Hobbes lays out in his Leviathan.


Aquinas. Edited by R.W. Dyson. Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2002. Print.

Bodin, Jean. On Sovereignty. Edited and translated by Julian H. Franklin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1992. Print.

Cicero. Edited by M.T. Griffin and E.M. Atkins. On Duties. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1991. Print.

Hobbes, Thomas Leviathan. Edited by Richard Tuck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1996. Print.

Skinner, Quentin. Visions of Politics: Volume III: Hobbes and Civil Service. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2002. Print.

Friday, June 10, 2016

On the banning of hate speech

There is an adage in English that I am sure most of you know. It goes like this, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The intention of this is to help teach children to refrain from physical violence after being taunted or in some other way angered. It is reported to have first appeared in 1862, in a book published by the African Methodist Episcopalian Church. This occurred, of course, due to the horrible racism that was present, and is still present today in many parts of our society. But that is not why I am writing this. What I want to talk about is hate speech. This was prompted by a conversation that I had with someone today, who, like many others do, believes that hate speech should be banned, and while I agree with all of them sentimentally, I find this an inherently problematic view to take. I hope to make why I believe this evident in this piece.

I think that we can all agree that hate speech is abhorrent. Hate speech, according to the American Bar Association, is defined as speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits. Should it be discouraged? Yes! Absolutely, one-hundred percent, unequivocally, yes! However, by looking at this definition, I hope that you can see some of the problems that occur when we talk about banning hate speech.

Now, there are a few things to clear up when we are talking about hate speech. First, speech that is directed towards an individual, that is meant to or likely to provoke them, is not hate speech. That is speech that is inciting violence, and it is illegal. This limitation on freedom of speech was decided in 1942 by the Supreme Court, and it is known as the Fighting Words Doctrine. People do have to right to say things that the listener disagrees with and that they find offensive and hateful. This is because of several reasons, which I will be covering shortly.

Limitations on freedom of speech is not limited to the Fighting Words Doctrine, I might add. There are also limitations to speech for speech that is not directed at an individual, but that is conductive to creating disorder, violence, or harm to a person or a group of people. The classic example of this is yelling “FIRE!” in a movie theater. People are likely to get hurt as a result of this speech, and therefore, it is limited. This also applies to a person instructing others to in any way harm another individual, or a group of people.

Here, we see the distinction starting to occur. I am sure you have all heard the phrase, “actions speak louder than words?” Well, it is true—especially here. Saying a racial or sexist epithet, or some other sort of derogatory statement is reprehensible. It is disgusting. But, the question is this: does that do tangible harm? Remember, we are not talking about fighting words, we are talking about more general hate speech. Since the speech in this case is not inciting violence or other illegal activity, it must be allowed. For this, I will look to JS Mill, a political theorist who wrote extensively on the topic of liberty.

“If all of mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

The reason for this line of thinking is simple, and it is derived from a point that Mill makes earlier, which is that the sole reason that government should interfere with the lives of individuals in a society (by this, I mean limit their liberties), is for self-protection of either the individual, another individual, a group of people, or the society as a whole. Civil liberties are a fundamental right of all people, which is why they should not be infringed upon unless absolutely necessary. Being under common law, precedent is key. The limitation of hate speech could later be used to justify the banning of other forms of speech. I would like to turn back to Mill though.

In addition to the argument about restricting liberties, there is also the argument that is made by Mill that one of the most important things that exists in the dialogue that society has about ideas and opinions. In this, there is no such thing as an opinion or belief that is not valuable. Even the most horrible of beliefs have value, at the very least, in being an opportunity to teach, and to correct an opinion; or to act as a check to the tyranny that exists when thoughts and ideas cannot be questioned, regardless of how good they may appear to be.

Having covered those points in the banning of hate speech, I would next like to move on to the practicality of banning it, or rather, problems that will be had with legislating this proposed ban. One of two scenarios will occur.

The first is the scenario in which the legislation around the banning of hate speech is extremely specific. In this scenario, there are extremely specific phrases and words that are banned. This is problematic for two reasons. First, there is the issue of it not being comprehensive enough. In this scenario, it is likely that certain aspects of hate speech will be looked over, or forgotten. In addition, it is likely that those who use hate speech will adapt to the changes, and in turn, new phrases will become hateful. In this sense, like technology, hate speech will outpace the law. There is also the issue here of the banning specific phrases and words defining what constitutes hate and hate speech. Say that, for example, many phrases and words that are derogatory to blacks, Latinos, and women are banned. This still leaves open hate directed at Asians, Caucasians, Men, people with disabilities, etc. Essentially, by banning hate speech in this way, we are implicitly condoning the forms of hate speech that is not being expressly banned. Or, if it is not condoning those forms of hate speech, it is most certainly a microcosm that is allowed continued existence and flourishing. This surely is not the answer.

The second scenario is one in which the legislation around the banning of hate speech is extremely vague. In this scenario, “hate speech” is banned. This is problematic mostly because of how open to interpretation this statute would be, due to how vague it would be. In this scenario, if someone exclaimed, “I hate Mexicans!” for example, would that be hate speech? Would “Mexicans are bad! They are stealing our jobs!” be hate speech? Would “I don't like black people,” be considered hate speech? How about, “God, this old person is so fucking slow. I hate them so much.” ?  I think we can generally agree that these are awful things to say, but are they hate speech? Should people be explicitly banned from saying these things? Another thing to consider. Say that you have a person who arrested for hate speech, and the situation is brought to court. Now, say that this area is one that is racist, and most of the people on the jury agree with the person who is being charged with hate speech. In this case, the chances the person charged will be found guilty is small. This is called jury nullification, and it was used in the South to let people guilty of lynching walk free. Of course, if most people in the area shared a general sentiment like that, there is also the possibility that a person saying hate speech would not be arrested in the first place, because the definition under the law would be vague enough that the police officer would have enough leeway to say that in fact an incident of hate speech did not occur. This also happened in the South during the days of slavery.

These are some of the reasons why the banning of hate speech is problematic. While we do need to do everything as individuals, and as a society within our power to discourage hate speech, and hate in general, in any form in which it may manifest itself, we must always bare in mind civil liberties. Essentially, we need to combine the libertarian and the communitarian perspectives. We need to at a governmental level allow for the freedom on speech that everyone is entitled to for being a member of society, while at the same time at a social level work to eradicate the use of hate speech from our society.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What was Bodin's Theory of Sovereignty?

Disclaimer: This essay is in no way a complete realization of the theory of sovereignty of Bodin. While I would love to go on to better explain his ideas, this is an essay that I wrote for a political theory tutorial at Oxford, and alas, I was limited in the word count that I was allotted. Even in surpassing that limit, which I did, I could not cover all what I would have liked to in this essay. Keeping that in mind, enjoy.

In the mid to late Sixteenth Century, the Kingdom of France was in a state of turmoil. The Protestant Reformation had taken root in Northern Europe, and it was spreading to France. King Henry II worked to suppress this growing religious minority (known as the Huguenots), but was unsuccessful in doing so. Upon his death, the crown passed onto his son, Francis II, who ruled for a measly eighteen months, seeing increased rebellious attitudes in the growing Protestant minority and the loss of the Auld Alliance, before his untimely death to disease. Francis II was succeeded by his brother Charles IX, and his regent queen-mother, Catherine de Medici. It was under Catherine that the first of the French Wars of Religion broke out between the Huguenots and the Catholics—with Catherine wanting to suppress the rebellious nature of the Protestants, but still seeking a policy of toleration, until after many years, she ordered the mass murder of thousands of Huguenots, after a failed assassination attempt at their leader. Stepping back though, the conflict between the Huguenots and the Catholics led to a series of political debates between the Constitutionalists (primarily Huguenots), who argued for limits on the sovereignty of the monarchy and for religious toleration, and the Royalists (primarily Catholics), who argued for the sovereignty of the monarchy. In this debate, there is one political philosopher that stands out as special among the others, and that is Jean Bodin. Bodin was a moderate Catholic, who while originally a Constitutionalist, trained in Roman law jurisprudence, made the about-face turn to absolutism—which was at the time, very much against the precedent of traditional medieval jurisprudence.  In his salient work on the matter, Six Books of the Commonwealth, Bodin establishes a theory of sovereignty in the absolutist sense. It is important to know that the theory set out in the Six Books is in direct response to the political debate of the time between the Huguenots and the Catholics. It is the aim of this essay to explore that theory of sovereignty.

To begin, it would be prudent to understand just what is meant by sovereignty in the mind of Bodin. To him, sovereignty is the absolute, supreme, and perpetual power of a commonwealth to act and rule over their territory. Let us dissect what that means. First, there is the idea that sovereign power must be absolute. There are many reasons for this, and they will be covered in full later on in the essay. Of interest here is the relation between the absolute nature of sovereign power and the perpetual nature of that power. The relation is quite simply, really. Absolute power by definition, must not be subservient to any other power (though, as we will see, this is not entirely true), and so, in order for this to occur, it cannot be limited by time. For, if it was limited by time, it would not be absolute. However, this does not mean that laws, once established by a sovereign authority, are untouchable, far from it. But more on this later.

In order for sovereignty to exist, the most important thing that must be is that the sovereign authority must have absolute power. In this, Bodin means that the sovereign authority must be exempt from all civil, or human, laws—a concept otherwise known as legibus solutus.  This exemption from civil law thus gives the sovereign authority the ability to properly legislate in accordance to the natural and divine laws that govern all living things, which Bodin believes that sovereign authorities must govern in accordance with. This idea is both radical in one sense, and in the other sense, conforming with medieval jurisprudence. In medieval jurisprudence, there was not agreement as to whether or not the sovereign authority (chiefly monarchs), should have the liberty given to them in legibus solutus, with many of the medieval kingdoms granting only extremely specific rights of sovereignty to the ruling monarch. At the same time, there was established in medieval jurisprudence the idea that all laws are subject to the natural and divine laws of the world—an idea laid out fully in the works of St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas. This subservient role of all to both natural and divine law, then, serves as the only real anti-absolutism of Bodin.

Bodin, in establishing what makes a sovereign authority, discusses the need of their power to be perpetual. This, as previously mentioned, does not mean that the laws that are enacted by sovereign authorities will last forever, far from it. Rather, the laws enacted by sovereigns will last as long as their lives do, with the sovereign authority that replaces them deciding on whether or not to keep that laws that preexisted their reign. In deciding on which laws to keep, and which to do away with, the sovereign authority should keep those which benefit the public, as it is the role of the sovereign authority to look after the commonwealth, as described in natural law. The reason that new sovereign authorities are able to readily ignore the laws of the previous sovereign authorities is because of the previously mentioned legibus solutus, which stems from the idea of absolute power. The concept of legibus solutus is already well established, and all law made by man is civil law, and therefore the sovereign authority is not subject to it. However, there are two points related to this that require further discussion—those being the difference between sovereign authorities and those entrusted with sovereign power temporarily, and then the oddity that is contracts.

Let us first look at how the sovereign authority is distinguished from those entrusted with sovereign power. In this, Bodin is primarily discussing these roles in their relation to a monarchical form of government, though this distinction that he makes still works when applied to aristocratic and democratic forms of government (more on these later). In making the distinction between the two types of people, Bodin posits that if the power of an individual or group of persons is limited in any manner—whether that be in the realm of time, or in terms of form or function—that they are not in fact sovereign, even if they can with aspects of sovereign power. They are what Bodin calls a trustee of sovereignty. The reason that they are trustees rather than sovereign authorities in their own right is that by being limited, they lack the absolute power that is required for sovereignty. Bodin also states that if power is granted to an individual or a group of persons by another group—whether it be a monarch by appointment, or the entirety of the people through an election—that they are not sovereign, but again, trustees. This is because the power of the sovereign must not come from others granting it to you, as that would mean that they in fact have power over you. There is a difference though, in the people granting you their sovereign power as a trustee, and then the people surrendering their sovereign power to you as the sovereign authority—that being that once the sovereign authority of the people is surrendered, it does not return to them. This distinction between the sovereign authority and those who are trustees of sovereign power works well and good in a monarchy, as the distinction is clear. The monarch holds the sovereign power, and gives it to certain ministers and magistrates below him to deal with the micromanaging of their realm. Who then hold sovereignty in the realms of aristocracies and democracies? It is quite simple, really. In aristocracies, the aristocracy is sovereign, and in democracies, the people as a collective are sovereign—though individuals can hold no claim to sovereignty. These are then the ways that sovereignty can present itself in government. At the time, many argued that there are other forms of mixed governments, or governments that combine two or more of the forms of government stated above, as well as corruptions upon these forms of government. While this essay will not explore this aspect of Bodin's work, suffice it to say that he does an extremely good job at dismantling these arguments, and showing how in all of the so called “mixed” forms of government, there really is only aristocracy, democracy, or monarchy.

Now, going back to the idea of legibus solutus. This idea, while exempting the sovereign from the authority of civil law, does not exempt them from the authority of contracts. This may appear to be a contradiction to the absolute nature of the sovereign's authority, but it is in fact not. The role of the sovereign, and of any government, is to maintain the health and welfare of the commonwealth. One of the most crucial aspects of maintaining the welfare of the commonwealth is the enforcement of contracts. Without the enforcement of contracts, there is no guarantee that trade will be fair, and thus, it creates unrest with people not being able to trust each other. Thus, as the absolute and supreme leader of the government, and of the state, the sovereign must fulfill his contracts, so as to not allow for there to be doubt in their, or through them, the government's, guarantee of contracts. Contracts, and the keeping of them, also falls into the realm of natural law, which even sovereigns must follow. Thus, the needing to uphold contracts by sovereigns is twofold.

In addition to what has already been said on sovereignty, Bodin also laws out certain rights of the sovereign (which he refers to as marks). All of these rights come from the main right of the sovereign to make civil law. However, since the connections between that right and the other rights can be at time unclear, Bodin goes on to explain the greater of these marks, and how they tie back to the original, prime mark of sovereignty. I will identify those marks in this essay as well, for the sake of the reader, though a more in-depth analysis will not be had. Among secondary marks of sovereignty given by Bodin are: the ability to wage war and to make peace; the ability to establish the offices of principle magistrates; the right to final appeal or last judgment (this judicial right, it is important to note, was much more robust in medieval jurisprudence, with sovereigns serving in more of a judiciary role than a legislative one); the right to grant pardons and reprieves; the right to fealty and liege homage; the right of coining money; the right to regulate weights and measurements; the right to direct and indirect taxation; the right to the sea; the right to take the property of traitors; the right to enforce a common language; the right to judge in accordance to conscious; and the title of majesty, to name but a few. It is through these marks and the aforementioned absolute and perpetual power that sovereignty is outlined and defined by Bodin.

Writing during the tumultuous French Wars of Religion, the French political philosopher Jean Bodin served as a crucial and influential thinker of the time. He wrote in response to the Huguenots, who argued in favor of limits on the sovereignty of the French Monarchy, and in favor of active resistance against a tyrannical sovereign. In his response (encompassed in the Six Books on the Commonwealth), Bodin makes an argument for the absolute power of the sovereignty, especially in the case of a monarchy, which he viewed as the best of the three available forms of government. He also argued that there is no legitimacy in resistance to a legitimate sovereign authority, even if said authority acts in a manner that is wicked. Opposing them, no matter how vile their actions, is treason of the highest form, for it promotes a state of anarchy in the commonwealth. Bodin also included a set of “marks,” or rights, of sovereignty, all stemming from the absolute power of the sovereign and the role of the sovereign as the creator of civil law. This all together then, is the theory of sovereignty that is posited by Jean Bodin.


Bodin, Jean. On Sovereignty. Edited and translated by Julian H. Franklin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1992. Print.

Giesey, Ralph E. “Medieval Jurisprudence in Bodin's Concept of Sovereignty” in H. Denzer's Jean Bodin. Trans. By J.H. Franklin. Cambridge. 1992.

Skinner, Quentin. The Foundations of Modern Political Thought Vol. 2. The Age of Reformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1978.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Why Does Marx Believe that Capitalism will be Overthrown by a Proletarian Revolution?

The Nineteenth Century was a period of great change. Over the continent of Europe, a series of revolutions took place that would forever alter the political makeup of the continent, and the world as whole. These revolutions were the center of discussion (either directly or tangentially) for many of the political theorists of the day, including those such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Jeremy Bentham, and, of course, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Perhaps the most influential among the political theorists of the era, if not in history, Marx and Engels were known best for their The Manifesto of the Communist Party. In this work, Marx and Engels laid out the history of the world through the lens of materialism; how this history was reflected in the state of the world and socioeconomic classes of the time; the goal of the Communist Party; and how they saw the eventual end of the then-current Bourgeois Capitalistic system would occur. It is the goal of this essay to examine how Marx believed that the Bourgeois Capitalistic system would fall, through a Proletarian revolution, working off of The Communist Manifesto, John Plamenatz's Man and Soceity, and David McLellan's The Thought of Karl Marx; with consultation of Gareth Stedman Jones' introduction to The Communist Manifesto and Sheldon Wolin's Politics and Vision.

According to Marx, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” This history is seen through the relations between master and slave throughout history. It is seen between those of feudal power, and the serfs that served under them. In the time of Marx, and from then onward to the present day, it can be seen between the rich and the poor—between the capitalist Bourgeoisie and the working proletariat. It is, according to Marx, through the system of production that a society has that the general character of the social life between the classes can be determined. In earlier times, this was satisfied through the labor of slaves for mass, unskilled projects; and then the work of guilds—of expert artisans and journeymen apprentices. With the Industrial Revolution, and with the rise of the Bourgeoisie, this all changed. However, while over the course of history, the balance of the classes has always shifted, there has always been one constant—and that is that inherent in all societies with class is inequality. For, whenever a class is able to rise up against the preexisting ruling class, they have always then taken the reigns of power from that class, and asserted their own minority dominance over society. Not only does this inequality exist within the economic realm—where it is a reality that cannot be glossed over—but it also exists in the social realm with differences in the amount of respect that people have for the different roles that people in society play (in this, Plamenatz, in his analysis of Marx, is referring to the amount of respect that individuals can command due to work that they do that gives them increased amounts of rights and obligations, such as the work of a doctor or a lawyer)5. The heart of all of this exploitation lies with the possession of capital. Having taken a brief look at the history of revolution in a general sense, we turn now to the Bourgeoisie.

The Bourgeoisie are one of the two (main) classes that exist during the time of Marx—that is, according to Marx. The Bourgeoisie as a class are descendants of the burghers of the Middle Ages—a class of people that were not in the servitude of the serf, yet not of the same privilege of the feudal aristocracy. It was through the colonization of the European states, through their expansion into the new markets of the East-Indies and China, that the Bourgeoisie were able to accumulate power. Eventually, with the rise in demand for goods being high enough that guilds—and the overall feudal production system—could no longer supply it, the Bourgeoisie stepped in with industrialization and the new modern industrial model. This started a revolution that would depose the old feudal way of life, bringing in a new era. The era of the Bourgeoisie. The era of Capitalism. Since then, the Bourgeoisie have done all in there power to end all forms of non-Capitalistic forms of life.

Capitalism, and the whole of the Bourgeois way of life, is only possible due to an increase in the production of the society. The Bourgeoisie accomplished this increase in production through a series of, to Marx, unnatural developments. First, there is the transformation of industry to be a cosmopolitan, taking away any sense of nationalistic or regional style. This works to create a world that is globalized, with a single, global culture. The increase in industrialization also led to an increase of urbanization across the board. The nations that these urban and industrial centers crop up in then lose out on their previous production of raw goods, leading to a scenario where the East is being used to supply the West with raw materials, and then the West supplies the world with refined goods. This is all made possible by the stripping down of the work done by labourers to its barest components (in essence, making jobs simpler), thus, in Marx's mind, taking away the honour of many occupations. This commodification of workers—of the Proletariat—seeks to take away all aspects of individual character from them. This is then coupled with a decrease of wages for workers, as they as individuals matter less and less to the machine of Capitalism, thus leading to increased production for the Bourgeoisie, increased profit, and the creation of an essentially slave class in the Proletariat.

As previously sated, the role of the Proletariat in the Bourgeois Capitalist system is to work for the Bourgeoisie as essentially slave labour for the entirety of their existence, with little to no hope of upwards social mobility. Unlike in previous eras, though, when the population of the working class—be it the slave populations of the Greco-Roman world, or the serfs of the feudal world—stayed relatively stagnant, the numbers of the Proletariat continue to grow. This is due to two reasons. First, there is the demands of Capitalistic machine to produce ever more and more. To do this, there must be an increase not only in the supply of goods, but also in the supply of labour. Second, there is the tendency of what Marx refers to as the petty-bourgeoisie to have negative social mobility, falling down into the Proletariat class, as they are unable to compete with the Bourgeoisie. In order to increase their productivity, the Bourgeoisie pit the Proletariat against each other, or against the enemies of the Bourgeoisie (either in the form of non-Bourgeois institutions, or against other Bourgeoisie to further consolidate power). However, by doing this, the Bourgeoisie must grant additional power to the Proletariat. This is, as Marx notes, the way that the Bourgeoisie have begun to dig their own grave. But more in this later. Let us now turn to the Capitalistic system, and its major flaw.

The Bourgeoisie rule through a system of industrial Capitalism. This system is one that relies, as previously stated, on the Proletariat. It is a system that cannot exist without the exploitation of the Proletariat—through the decreasing sums of their wages, the increasing amount of units created, and the increase in the number of working hours—and the exploitation of the peoples of Africa and Asia—whose exploitation the Bourgeoisie rise to power was based off of in the first place. The other crucial aspect of the Capitalistic system is its need to constantly be growing, for without growth, it will stagnate. Since it is through this constant expansion of the Capitalist machine, and the disturbance of social conditions that it causes, that the Bourgeoisie's rule is based off of, they are constantly having to seek avenues of expansion for their creation. If, at any point this expansion were to stop, and the social conditions were to solidify, as it were, then the entirety of society would be able to see the sorry state that it was in, and the Bourgeoisie would lose all power. Ergo, there ruin of the Bourgeoisie, and their Capitalistic system will come with a financial crisis. This financial crisis can come in many forms, though it is noted by Marx that the form that it is likely to come about through a type of financial crisis that was previously unknown to society—that being the overproduction of goods.

The question then becomes who will overthrow the Bourgeoisie during one of these financial crises. The answer is quite simple, really. It will be the Proletariat. In the view of Marx, it is the role of the Proletariat to rise up against the chains that bind them to the Capitalistic system of the Bourgeoisie, establishing a new society in the wake of the revolution. This will be done in several ways, in Marx's mind. First, there is the accumulation of political power by the Proletariat. This power is given to them freely by the Bourgeoisie, as discussed earlier, for the combating of the enemies of the Bourgeoisie. It is the hope of Marx that the Proletariat will be able to use this political power to establish majority control in the parliaments of Europe. His hope was that the Proletariat Revolution would be predominately peaceful, though he did recognize that there would almost certainly be resistance to the taking-over of the governance of states from the Bourgeoisie overlords, and because of this, Marx believed that physical force was permissible in the Proletariat Revolution (though the instilling of terror was not permissible)20. Another reason that the Proletariat will rise, according to Marx, is because of their being grouped together by the Bourgeoisie in order to increase the productivity of factories. This allows for the fermentation of a revolutionary spirit among the Proletariat. Thus, you have the conditions needed—those being a financial crisis and a high degree of political power—for the Proletariat revolution to occur, and also how Marx theorized it would occur—that being with violent resistance to the taking-over of government by the Proletariat from the Bourgeoisie. However, as Marx said at the beginning of The Communist Manifesto, the history of the world is a history of class struggles. In every instance of revolution, in every change of the social hierarchy that has occurred throughout history, the revolutionary minority class has always asserted its dominance, and then summarily subjugated the rest of society to its will. How then will the Proletariat Revolution be any different than every other revolution that came before it?

The answer to this question lies within the history of the Proletariat class, and the special constitution that it holds. As we know, the Proletariat came to be as a product of the Industrial Revolution set in motion by the Bourgeoisie. They live as second-class citizens compared to them, akin to slaves. However, unlike all previous points in history, the Proletariat constitutes the vast majority of the population. This is due to the need of the Bourgeois Capitalistic machine's endless demand for labour to turn its wheels. So, unlike any other revolutionary group, the Proletariat is not a minority group. Because of this, Marx believes that the Proletariat revolution will not include the aspect of oppression that all previous revolutions have had, for oppression that was used in previous revolutions works only when oppressing the majority of people. The Proletariat Revolution then, because it is not oppressing people like previous revolutions, will seek to destroy any institutions that exist within preexisting Bourgeois, Capitalistic world. This includes any aspects of laws, religion, and morality that work to perpetuate the oppression of any of the members of society. The two chief aspects of the Bourgeois world that Marx cites as needing to be disposed of though, and a source of heavy criticism for his work, are that of private property and of the institution of the family.

The institution of the family is one that has existed for as long as can be remembered in Western Civilization. However, this institution has not always been the same. As Plamenatz points out, the reason that we have families in the first place is to raise children, who, without aid of adults, would surely perish. This is part of how we as a species live, and cannot be avoided. But, this does not mean that the current familial system is the way that children should be raised, nor does it mean that it is the only natural system can come to be. Again, as Plamenatz points out, the mere act of childbirth does not establish the social bond between a mother and her child. It is only through, in his mind, an obligation to take care of this child that the social bond between the two is formed. If we think about this idea, as foreign as it may seem to many who have grown up with their biological parents, it does make sense. After all, there are millions of children who are adopted, forming a parent-child relationship with people who are biological strangers to them, relatively speaking. Oftentimes, other family members will step in to raise a child as well, when parents die or are too busy to take care of their children full-time. Wealthy families today, and throughout history have also made use of hired servants to take care of their children. Therefore, the idea of not having the “traditional” familial system is not nearly as absurd as it may first appear to be. It must be asked though why Marx wishes to abolish the “traditional” familial system. Marx seeks to do away with it because, in his mind, the “traditional” familial system acts as a way to perpetuate the inequality that exists between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat—as the familial system allows for the accumulation of wealth into the hands of a select group of individuals, with no fear of the loss of that wealth with the death of the patriarch of the house. This is why, in addition to wanting to dissolve the institution of the family, Marx also wanted to abolish inheritance. So, by taking the family out of the picture, the Proletariat removes one of the institutions of oppression that exists in the Bourgeois world.

The other source of oppression that Marx cites as needing to be removed is private property. By this, Marx is referring more to private ownership of capital. Marx makes it extremely clear that people will still be able to enjoy the fruits of society (meaning consumer goods). They just will not be able to own capital. In this, Marx says that there will be no difference in the lives of the Proletariat, as they already have not capital. The only people who will have their lives changed with be the Bourgeoisie. This is perfectly acceptable to Marx, as the only use of capital by the Bourgeoisie has been to exploit and oppress the Proletariat. Instead of private ownership of capital, the Proletariat will incorporate capital into the possession of the community as a whole, using it for the benefit of the commonwealth, and not the lives of a few of the individuals within it. They will not destroy it. This is because, as Wolin points out, it is not the goal of Communists to destroy everything that Capitalism has created, but rather, it is the goal of Communists to inherit the world that they made, and to improve upon it.

The world as the German political philosopher saw it was divided into two main classes—the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. The Bourgeoisie were, according to Marx, the ruling class of the era. They rose to power after leading a revolution against the feudal system, and upon emerging victorious, they asserted their dominance over the rest of society through a constantly-changing system of production called Capitalism. It was from this system that the Proletariat were born, a class of workers whose sole purpose was to feed the engine of Capitalism. However, Marx believed that the age of the Bourgeoisie would come to an end with a revolution of the Proletariat. This revolution will occur in opposition to their oppression by the Bourgeoisie, and will be possible due to the consolidation of Proletarians together for increased productivity, the granting of political power to the Proletariat by the Bourgeoisie to fight the Bourgeoisie's enemies, and an inevitable financial disaster that will occur due to the instability of the Capitalistic economic system (stemming from the constant need for further expansion and exploitation inherent to the system). When the Proletariat Revolution does occur, it will be a rapid one. In it, the Proletariat will remove from power the Bourgeoisie, and will, instead of following in their footsteps and asserting their own power, oppressing others, will do away with the class system by abolishing any and all institutions existing that allow for oppression, including the institution of the family, and the idea of private ownership of capital. By doing this, the Proletariat will inherit and modify the Capitalistic world to suit the interests of the majority instead of the minority. Thus is the relationship that exists between the Bourgeoisie, the Proletariat, and the Capitalistic system they share, and how, inevitably, the Proletariat, through revolution, will overthrow Capitalism.


McLellan, David. The Thought of Karl Marx. 1971. Print.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Manifesto of the Communist Party. New York: Penguin Books. 2006. Print.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Manifesto of the Communist Party. Edited by Gareth Stedman Jones. New York: Penguin Books. 2002. Print.

Plamenatz, John. Man and Society. Vol. 2. A critical examination of some important social and political theories from Machiavelli to Marx. London: Longman Group Limited. 1976. Print.

Wolin, Sheldon. Politics and Vision. “Chapter 12.” Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2004. Web. 5 June 2016.