The History department is concerned with what some of the great thinkers have had to say about societal structure, in regards to justice, morality, democracy, economics, etc. As there have been many great thinkers throughout history to disclose their opinions on this subject within their various works, our team was naturally forced to narrow our research subjects. Currently, we have each decided on a social philosopher to research and have dived head first in some of their most important contributions on the subject matter.
Brendan Bakala has been researching the great 18th century Swiss born French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Brendan is currently working on Rousseau’s Second Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and The Social Contract. The first argues that the worst thing to ever befall the world was the invention of agriculture and therefore property. He further states that government was a human construct designed to defend property. War, organized attacks, was invented by the state which of course is a product of property. He also discusses the idea of new emotions emerging in human groups: self-love and compassion for others. In this new state, people have begun to have a self-love based upon the opinions of others. Rousseau sees this as unnatural and problematic which will lead to corruption and suffering. In the latter work he states that the people are sovereign, and that the general will is where the real power in any society lies. Rousseau states that man’s natural condition is to be free and that the government construct where one person can call themselves sovereign is slavery. He also deconstructs different types of governments and points out their basic problems in this work. He goes onto say that the there is no one universal form of government which will be best for all nations.
I have been researching the early 20th century French social theorist and philosopher Georges Sorel (1847-1922). I am currently working on his major contribution Reflections on Violence. In this work he discusses his theory Syndicalism, which is a society entirely composed of syndicates, or trade unions. His theory is based on Karl Marx’s ideas of a socialist society, though he considers the class struggle to be the downright essence of socialism. He argues that the so-called socialist politicians of France in the early 20th century, particularly Jean Jaures, are using socialism to gain the support of those who it appeals to the most, the proletariat, in order to climb the social ladder while gaining wealth and power. He goes on to say that all politicians in general, as well as the middle class and virtually all other members of society that are not of the working class, are a parasitic group that exploits the working class and make the money capitalism produces without producing anything at all. Capitalism is necessary for syndicalism and capitalism was once a virtuous system full of booms and busts and risk taking entrepreneurs. But those days are gone, and now the capitalist system is corrupt and exploitative. Sorel argues that violence, and the idea of a unified General Strike involving the entire producing class, is the greatest weapon of the proletariat. Their use can threaten a catastrophic social disturbance that will bring capitalism to a grinding halt. The desired result will be the destruction of capitalism and the birth of a syndicalist society, one that is run, from government to industry, entirely by the syndicates made up of the proletariat.
Our group meets regularly with the guidance of Dr. McKinley, who is more than happy to answer our questions and discuss further how these thinkers relate to each other and their relevance to our topic and history in general. We have also met with the political science group lead by Dr. Hebert to discuss how our research relates to theirs in the overall theme of issues within societal structure. If history has taught us anything in this matter, it is that there have been many bumps along the road of our evolving civilization and that there has never been a shortage of great thinkers willing to share their thoughts for us to indulge and contemplate at our leisure.
Jon Kelley and Brendan Bakala