Discuss how the ideas of Plato, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Kant, Grotius, Smith, Rousseau, and Marx may or may not have influenced notions of interstate conflict, security, and peace.
The relationship between Western intellectual tradition and the functioning of political states is clearly one of influence: theory, on the one hand, is developed through thinkers from Plato to Marx, finding its correlative in political practice.Plato’s views on politics are most explicitly developed in the text The Republic. What is most striking to the contemporary reader when approaching this text, insofar as he or she essentially lives in an age where democracy is taken to be the ultimate political truth, is that Plato advocates a non-democratic hierarchical system. Plato believes in a clear distinction of classes, however, one that is based on merit and potential. Plato’s influence is arguably most visible in the realm of state security, to the extent that highly stratified states are often viewed as more stable. Simultaneously, this stratification is based on ability; Plato’s scheme can be considered a form of meritocracy. Historically, examples of meritocracy are found in Napoleon’s France, where the ancient power based was liquidated in favor of those Napoleon felt were suitable for duty. Napoleon clearly opined that in the light of his aggressive wars, state security could only be maintained in the forms of such a meritocracy, thus recalling this Platonic idea.
Thucydides often is interpreted as a realist: he feels that what is ultimately important in politics is power and strength, as opposed to a particular idea. Arguably, Thucydides’ realism is felt in the current era: the United States, despite preaching messages of freedom and democracy, realizes wars against distant nations using superior military might to dethrone sovereign countries. The United States’ long history of supporting dictators, despite its public face of democracy (Pinochet in Chile) is a reflection of Thucydides’ realism.
Machiavelli is also commonly interpreted as a realist: his rejection of idealism in the name of the maintenance of power is one of the foundational touchstones of this approach. Machiavelli’s realism is clearly reflected in terms of interstate conflict, where realism and state power is emphasized above all else.
Hobbes also acknowledged the chaos of human relations, yet advocated a form of social contract which could bring the social order stability. Hobbes’ primary political concern is arguably security: Hobbes posits a political system that emphasizes order over a chaos that always exists under the surface.
Grotius differs in that he tried to emphasize a certain idealistic perspective: in his defense of the seizures by the Dutch of foreign territories in the Indies, he did not reference any type of natural self-interest, but instead a principle of universal justice. Grotius’ arguments, however flawed they may be, can be read as consistent with idealist state policy, e.g., in terms of interstate conflict, whereby one party proclaims the right to intervene militarily because of some notion of justice.
Smith’s contribution, in contrast, stresses the economic aspect of politics. Smith thus can be interpreted as developing a theory of peace between states, however debatable his own logic may be. The importance Smith gives to the free market means that states should not interfere in economic activity: Smith is trying to minimize the power of the state, and thereby effectuate peace.
Rousseau’s treatise, Of the Social Contract, can be fitted into a category similar to that of Smith’s: he is concerned with theorizing a stable political state. Rousseau’s work falls within the intersection of both state security and state peace as a defense of reform: he wishes to transfer political power to the people away from monarchy. Such a transfer, therefore, speaks to the security and stability of a state structure: radical class differences, for Rousseau, are corridors to instability.
Marx arguably also follows within the Rousseain tradition, although in a more radical form. Marx identifies class difference as the fundamental motor of history: insofar as there are class differences, conflict blossoms. Marx’s theory thus addresses state peace, interstate conflict and state security as for Marx peace and security are only possible on an internal state level if class difference is erased.
Clearly, it is difficult to remark how particular thinkers directly influenced particular states and their policies. Some of these thinkers have become so much a part of the Western tradition that there influence is implicit rather than explicit. Yet there is a clear connection between theory and practice throughout Western political history that renders the theory and practice distinction — especially when considering politics – a false dichotomy.