Archives for category: private property. original position

hoplite 001

How an adherence to dogma led to Spartan decline

Conservatism appeals to those who do not like to be unsettled. It is an appeal where custom is preferred over reason, and where things are so because they have always been so. Inherited customs that reinforce privileges and benefits on a few consecutive generations within a population are difficult to explain through rational means. So an appeal to tradition is one which demands a static lack of thought, and a state that relies upon such an appeal is liable to fall due to its lack of movement or change[1]. For the Spartans, the Lycurgan reforms of the 8th century BCE were the only reforms that they were ever likely to need and they conformed religiously to them even after their defeat at Leuctra.

The Lycurgan reforms are attributed to Lycurgus, an obscure figure of around the eighth century who is known more through his works than his life. In about 800 BCE the Spartans, or Lacedaimonoi, were the inhabitants of about four villages in Lacedaimon ruled by two kings. Beneath the kings was an aristocracy whose role was to be the generals in war, the priests, judges and advisors, and to run a pyramidal household supported by lesser households. This was a common social dynamic throughout Greece at that time. In Sparta, this was termed the phratry. However, although the primitive elements of phratry were kept, the Lacedaimonoi practiced them with an aspect of communal education for children and communal life for adults which was unique amongst the Greek states[2]. Lycurgus was considered the lawmaker for the Lacedaimonoi and his laws were the basis for the constitution which Xenophon wrote about in the 4th century BCE.

Xenophon begins his Constitutions of the Lacedaimonians with an account of the way Lycurgus thought women should uphold their primary duty that of bearing ‘fine children’. In order to produce ‘vigorous offspring’. Lycurgus thought that physical training through competitive games was as important for women as it was for men. Sexual intercourse between a man and a wife was to be kept to a bare minimum in order for desire to be increased, an element that Lycurgus also thought necessary for optimum reproduction. For the same reason, men were only allowed to take a wife whilst in their prime, and if an elderly man had a young wife he had to take into his house a suitable younger man to assist in reproduction. A man without a wife could also find an aristocratic married woman with whom he could father children with her husband’s consent. This was done in order that inheritance could be legitimately conferred through families and also so that the Lacedaimonoi would breed a premium race of people[3]. In comparison to the other Greek states these seemed like fairly radical reforms but they were conservative in the sense that the purpose of them was to reinforce and uphold the status quo within these tribal communities.

The sons of the Lacedaimonoi were taken from their households at six years and educated by older boys under the supervision of a warden until they were twenty. The purpose of their education was to make them as hardy as possible. Modesty, obedience, endurance, chastity and strategy were the chief characteristics that the Lacedaimonoi wished to imbue in their offspring[4]. As young men they graduated to a class of eirenes, not full citizens but liable for military service and engaged in training the next generation[5]. This emphasis on military training allowed the Lacedaimonoi to become renowned as an army and by the eighth century they had subjugated much of the people around them with the annexation of Laconia and Messenia. This produced increased state wealth and the development of an effective army which no longer relied upon the aristocracy for a military monopoly[6]. However, it was also reliant on a large slave population (helots) as its economy, unlike the rest of the Greek states, was largely agrarian-based. This new land needed a large non-Lacedaimonoi labour force which was difficult to control and seen as a constant threat[7].

While Xenophon points out the role of cooperation and sharing in the life of the Lacedaimonoi[8], and the subsequent corruption of this ideal in the Spartan society of his time[9], he neglects to mention that this was only practiced to a certain extent. The reforms of Lycurgus had implied a constitutional guarantee of equal political rights and equal allotments of public land (kleros) to all citizens. However, these so-called equalities were illusions with only a few being eligible to be part of the governing Gerousia, or senate, and the concurrent existence of private lots of land[10]. This situation was exacerbated in the period before the Spartan defeat at Leuctra in 371 BCE by subsequent gross inequalities in wealth of land after periods of Spartan military success. The kleros had to be sufficient to support the family and the helots that worked it, and also provide a contribution to the state. In the period after the 7th century BCE the Lacedaimonoi had raised their standard of living as did their perioikoi, the citizens of the largely autonomous surrounding communities that provided the bulk of Spartan troops. The kleros was not conceived for luxury living and contributed to a decline in the birth-rate amongst the Lacedaimonoi[11].

So, while obedience to the state was a virtue which Spartans appeared to practice even after Leuctra, it was this unquestioning obedience that led to the eventual ‘sclerification’ of Sparta itself. Xenophon berates the latter generations of Lacedaimonoi of his time for their corruption through the accumulation of wealth, yet it was reliance upon a militaristic life underpinned by a static agricultural society dependent upon a large slave population that contributed to Spartan decline. The conservative appeal to persist with societal values that may no longer function was apparent in the decline of the Spartan birth-rate and the danger of revolt from a large underclass upon which the society was dependent for its success. Therefore, Xenophon’s history may be coloured with his concept of a golden Lacedaimon past, and his despondent view of contemporary Spartan society.

REFERENCES:

  1. Forrest, W.C. (1969), A History of Sparta, Norton Library, N.Y
  2. Scruton, R. (2006), Political Philosophy, Continuum International Publishing Group
  3. Xenophon, The Constitution of the Lacedaimonians, in Xenophon. Xenophon in Seven Volumes, 7. E. C. Marchant, G. W. Bowersock, tr. Constitution of the Athenians. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, Ltd., London. 1925. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=xen.+const.+lac.+1.1 , viewed on 25 February 2013


[1] Scruton, R. (2006), Political Philosophy, Continuum International Publishing Group, pp. vii-viii

[2] Forrest, W.C. (1969), A History of Sparta: 950-192 B.C., Norton Library, p.40

[3] Xen. Const. Lac. 1

[4] Xen. Const. Lac. 2

[5] Forrest, (1969), p.53

[6] ibid. pp.58-62

[7] Forrest, (1969), pp.33-38

[8] Xen. Const. Lac. 6

[9] Xen. Const. Lac. 14

[10] Forrest, (1969), p.51

[11] ibid., p.136

 

Nicholas Georgouras, 2006, The Landlord, marble

Inclosure came and trampled on the grave / Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave … And birds and trees and flowers without a name / All sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came.”

                                                                                                       John Clare, The Mores (1821-24)[1]

During the Industrial Revolution in Britain, vast tracts of land were enclosed and the people who lived off them were completely disenfranchised[2]. This situation was much like circumstances the world over for indigenous peoples under colonialism. With this understanding of the enclosure of land through the acquisition of property, this essay will explore the theories of justice by two philosophers, Robert Nozick and John Rawls. Robert Nozick firmly believes in the rights of private property. Contrastingly, John Rawls argues that justice is based upon cooperation rather than competition. I will argue that Nozick’s theory is problematic through its assertion of property rights being based on the rights of the individual, and that a stable, secure society can only exist through people’s voluntary cooperation.

Robert Nozick favours libertarian principles which assert that a person who legally acquires, either directly or through transfer, some form of property is entitled to that holding[3]. This entitlement can be said to be directly related to the circumstances in which one is born or one finds oneself; for it is fortunate circumstances that allows one to secure an entitlement to the property that is transferred. They are fortunate because under entitlement theory no one is entitled to any holding unless they have legally acquired it[4], which alienates and excludes people who are too poor or powerless to own or hold a claim to land. Nozick does not believe that justice is about patterns of distribution of property but about entitlement to property[5]. He objects to patterns of distribution, such as the egalitarian principles of the equal distribution of societal goods, because of a lack of central distribution[6]. He states that there is no person or group entitled to control all resources or to decide how they should be allocated[7]. Further, Nozick contends that patterns of just distribution cannot be realised without there being an unreasonable amount of interference in a person’s life[8].

Nozick’s main principle of distribution is that is it legally and justly acquired. This condition is a problem for Nozick’s argument as, historically, much of the land that has been acquired upon the Earth has been through invasion, colonisation, war or oppression, not through any legal or just means. This assertion prioritises the rights of colonisers over indigenous peoples and undermines Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which the civil and human rights of all people are equal[9]. Nozick’s libertarian view of property rights relies upon John Locke’s assertion that property is a moral right by virtue of human labour[10]. However, an objection to this assertion could be the question: Whose labour? Is the labour of colonisers more important than thousands of generations of indigenous people’s labour? In Theory of Social Democracy[11], Thomas Meyer and Lewis Hinchman argue that Locke’s linking of freedom to property was problematic because there are people whose existence depends upon the property of others which negates their access to a moral right to liberty. Michael Thompson, in his review of Meyer and Hinchman, states that ownership, which is the province of the minority, gives inequitable access to positive liberty, thereby creating a material inequality which perpetuates into inequity at the level of human and civil rights[12].

Nozick’s objection to distributive justice can be addressed through looking at the Athenian economic crisis of 594 BCE. Civil unrest occurred because of the enslavement of farmers and their families, who defaulted upon their mortgages. The civil administrator, Solon, was chosen to mediate the dispute and he enacted social, legal and moral reforms that served as the foundation for later Athenian democracy. Through his law reforms, Solon implicitly subordinated wealth to an ethical code[13]. His authority stemmed from an agreement by both sides that he administrate the dispute, and also his reasoning that the whole society would suffer if the imbalance was allowed to continue to occur[14]. Solon’s political reforms established the basis of a moral and legal framework in which individuals could pursue wealth in a social context[15]. For Solon, it was necessary to see beyond short-term gain to long-term success through the use of reason. Reason becomes the authority that legitimises a government to control and allocate resources so that there is enough equity in society to enable it to be stable. Reason also makes it acceptable for citizens to comply with the demands of society without undue interference. In contemporary society social democracy theory reflects the ideals of Solon’s reforms. It reconciles the contradiction in libertarian appeals to civil and human rights by providing a framework for the government to provide the necessary means to enable these rights to become concrete[16].

John Rawls holds a contrasting egalitarian perspective of distributive justice to Nozick. He sees society as ‘a cooperative venture for mutual advantage’[17]. According to Rawls, people are not indifferent as to how the resources, on which society depends, are distributed. Conflicts of interests arise when there are marked inequalities between individuals or groups within the system. So Rawls advocates that we should look at distributive justice with the notion of an ‘original position of equality’[18]. The main idea of an original position is that life is a lottery, with no one having knowledge of what their place in society will be when they are born. Nor do they have knowledge of how they will be allotted natural assets or abilities, or whether they will be subject to liabilities, such as being born in a refugee camp, in wartime, in slavery or servitude, or with some form of disability. In choosing the principles of justice to which we would desire to be subjected if we were placed in the original position, Rawls contends that we would make our choice through a ‘veil of ignorance’[19]. This ‘veil of ignorance’ will ensure that, as we cannot know what advantages or disadvantages we will be placed under, we will choose principles that will be of the most benefit to the least advantaged.

Considering that, in the modern world, the production of goods and services relies upon a vast network of workers and consumers; Rawls has a strong argument that society is a cooperative effort that should result in mutual benefits. The companies that produce these items or services rely upon systems of utilities, education, health, transport and communication. Even if one of these systems fails, such as when a strike or natural disaster happens, many of the other systems may also fail with the effect upon a company or community sometimes being ruinous. Therefore, we all benefit from these systems being cooperative. Nozick rejects Rawls’ theory by stating that there is no guarantee that people would be motivated to adhere to his difference principle if they emerged from the ‘veil of ignorance’ being naturally well-endowed[20]. As far as Nozick is concerned, a government has no right to interfere with a person’s liberty in order to enact the distribution of social goods, and its only role is to protect the property of persons[21]. Just as the civil strife affected Athens in 594 BCE and no estate could be cordoned off for its own protection, under Nozick’s theory the government would have an onerous task trying to protect one person’s property from the many who do not have any property. Therefore, the motivating factor to adhere to the difference principle may be that the naturally well-endowed could not be guaranteed of keeping their position if they unfairly took advantage of their situation.

Nozick’s person does not live in a vacuum, relying upon the cooperation of others to make sure that he or she is protected. As John Stuart Mill stated:  “…everyone who receives the protection of society owes a return for the benefit, and the fact of living in society renders it indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain line of conduct towards the rest”[22]. Nozick’s theory results in an unequal society that is insecure and tenuous. Under such conditions, a person’s ability to maintain their hold upon property is also tenuous. Rawls’ theory of distributive justice recognises the benefits that people should enjoy when they cooperate for mutual advantage, and is based upon principles under which there is a balance of equality, liberty and productivity and so encourages all to adhere to it.

Nozick’s entitlement theory is weak because the legal right to property can be seen to be contentious, especially with regard to land obtained by invasion and the disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples. Rawls’ theory, that we should consider our position in society from the ‘original position’, is based upon a real understanding of the unreliability of existence, as we have no concept of our potential societal or physical position before we are born. If we can cooperate to form principles of justice based upon mutual long-term self-interest, these will have more possibility of being upheld because we all benefit from them, rather than just a select few. Therefore, for the establishment of secure, stable and cohesive communities, Rawls’ argument has the most strength.

Bibliography

  1. Clare, J., The Mores, comp. 1821-24; publ. 1935, viewed 10 July 2012, http://orion.it.luc.edu/~sjones1/mores.htm
  2. Lamont, J & Favor, C, 2007, “Distributive Justice”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Viewed on 1 July 2012, URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/justice-distributive/ .
  3. Lewis, J.D, 2008, ‘Solon of Athens and the Ethics of Good Business’ in Journal of Business Ethics, (2009), 89, Springer, pp. 123-138, viewed on 13 July 2012, DOI. 10.1007/s10551-008-9989-4
  4. Mill, JS, 1869, “Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual”, Ch.4 in On Liberty,1869, Viewed on 8 July 2012, http://www.bartleby.com/130/4.html
  5. Monbiot, G., 2012, ‘John Clare, the poet of the environmental crisis- 200 years ago’ guardian.co.uk, 9 July 2012, viewed 9 July 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/09/john-clare-poetry
  6. Rawls, J. 1972, ‘An Egalitarian Theory of Justice’, extracts from A Theory of Justice, reprinted in Tom Beauchamp & Norman Bowie (eds.). Ethical Theory and Business, 6th edition, (Prentice Hall, 2001), pp. 649-656.
  7. Shaw, WH & Barry, V,1995, ‘Justice and Economic Distribution’, Ch. 3 of Shaw & Barry (eds.) Moral Issues in Business, 6th edition, (Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, 1995), pp. 101-126.
  8. Thompson, M, 2009, ‘Theorising Social Democracy’ in Studies in the Culture and Politics of Antiurbanism, Autumn 2009, Palgrave Macmillan, viewed on 14 July 2012, http://dissentmagazine.org/democratiya/article_pdfs/d16Thompson.pdf
  9. Townley C, J 2012, Justice, Markets and Capitalism, Lecture notes distributed in unit, PHI230, Business and Professional Ethics, Macquarie University, Sydney on 2 July 2012
  10. United Nations, 1948, ‘Universal Declaration Of Human Rights’, viewed on 15 July 2012, http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ .

 


[1] Clare J. The Mores, (1821-24)

[2] Monbiot, G., 2012, ‘John Clare, the poet of the environmental crisis- 200 years ago’ guardian.co.uk, 9 July 2012.

[3] Nozick, 1974, ‘The Entitlement Theory’, extracts from Anarchy, State and Utopia, reprinted in Tom Beauchamp & Norman Bowie (eds.). Ethical Theory and Business, 6th edition, (Prentice Hall, 2001).

[4] Nozick, 1974, p.658

[5] Nozick, 1974,  p. 658

[6] Nozick, 1974, p.657

[7] Nozick, 1974, p.657

[8] Nozick, 1974, p.660

[9] United Nations, 1948, Universal Declarations of Human Rights

[10] Nozick, 1974, p. 660

[11]  Thompson, M, 2009, ‘Theorising Social Democracy’ in Studies in the Culture and Politics of Antiurbanism, Autumn 2009, Palgrave Macmillan, p.96

[12] Thompson, M, 2009, p.96

[13] Lewis, J.D, 2008, ‘Solon of Athens and the Ethics of Good Business’ in Journal of Business Ethics, (2009), 89, Springer, p.124

[14] Lewis, J.D, 2008, p.129

[15] Lewis, J.D, 2008, p.131

[16] Thompson, M, 2009, p.96

[17] Rawls, J. 1972, ‘An Egalitarian Theory of Justice’, extracts from A Theory of Justice, reprinted in Tom Beauchamp & Norman Bowie (eds.). Ethical Theory and Business, 6th edition, (Prentice Hall, 2001), p.4.

[18] Rawls, 1972, p. 12

[19] Rawls, 1972, p.12

[20] Townley C, 2012, Justice, Markets and Capitalism, Lecture notes distributed in unit, PHI230, Business and Professional Ethics, Macquarie University, Sydney.

[21] Townley, C, 2012

[22] Mill, J, S 1869, “Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual”, Ch.4 in On Liberty,1869.