There are several books that deal with philosophical questions of liberty, social restrictions, pursuit of property and freedom versus enslavement. I have selected six related to these themes to be reviewed and closely analyzed to understand those themes better. The second treatise of Government by John Locke has been ever since its first publication in 1689 an influential source of political and social interpretation. The USA constitution is based on the principles and themes John Locke deals with in this master piece of philosophical reasoning.
His main argument in the book is that the sovereignty is in the hands of the people and that the government is in their service. Locke underscored the importance of being aware as people of our natural and fundamental rights but that we have had to relinquish certain aspects of this human freedom to be able to coexist peacefully within a society regulated by laws established to maintain the order. People are thus originally endowed with certain inalienable rights in a state of nature where freedom exists in absence of laws or rules to abide to.
This law of nature does thus not require people to obey each other but instead people are free to be themselves. The state of nature is defined by Locke himself as: “To properly understand political power and trace its origins, we must consider the state that all people are in naturally. That is a state of perfect freedom of acting and disposing of their own possessions and persons as they think fit within the bounds of the law of nature.
People in this state do not have to ask permission to act or depend on the will of others to arrange matters on their behalf. The natural state is also one of equality in which all power and jurisdiction is reciprocal and no one has more than another. ” Locke deals thus with the topic of civil society in this book and how we can politically coexist together as people. To understand the true and best form of a civil society we need to comprehend the fundamental right we are born with as humans which is simply freedom in its complete sense.
Taking this into consideration we have also to acknowledge the full meanings this brings along with it for everybody despite color, ethnicity, religion or race. Since all people are born with this right then it follows that all people are equal and deserve to live in a system that secures this equality and freedom of pursuit of one’s dreams. Locke’s second main argument is how governments should only rule with the consent of the people and that any government that does not becomes as a result illegitimate and deserves to be overthrown by the people through their right to revolution.
He also deals with the themes of conquest and slavery, property and representative government. Property for instance lead to the creation of the civil society as men sought to protect his property through the law. People exchanged some of their natural rights in order to achieve this form of civil society where they could coexist peacefully with other people in a safe and secure atmosphere. The representative government on the other hand is only legitimate if it is acknowledged by the people and serves the needs of the people.
It is this way that Locke established the rule that governments should be there for the service of the people rather than vice versa. Locke’s ideas about slavery on the other hand are that it is essentially a form of involuntary servitude and the only way slavery could be justified as a system that goes against the order of the natural state is through the absence of the state of nature and the presence of the opposite which is the state of war during which exceptions were allowed.
The discussion of slavery leads us to another major work concerned with the subject: The Life of Olaudah Equiano which is an autobiographical work that was first published in the 18th century and recounts the story of slavery and its horrors. The story of his enslavement, acquired freedom and pursuit of work as a seaman and merchant is a very fascinating tale of forward movement and determination at achieving success, despite the hardships encountered along the way, in order to earn the natural right of freedom back.
Olaudah, like Locke, was a fighter for a cause. Locke’s book helped revolutionize the ideas about government and shaped the USA constitution the way we know it now. His defense of the rights of the human continues to influence the discourse on democracy, human rights and politics. Olaudah’s journey and struggle for freedom has also left tremendous impact in the literature of slavery and he also helped in the process of abolishing slavery later on. Those two prominent men had a social vision of what a society was supposed to be like and fought to achieve it.
The book starts with the recount of Olaudah’s personal life before enslavement when he used to live in an African region called Assaka. He was kidnapped and forced into slavery(something that enforces Locke’s opinion about the forced status of slavery as an institution) at the age of ten and transported to the New World or to be more specific the plantations of Virginia. He was purchased by a lieutenant in the Navy called Michael Pascal who named him Gustavus Vassa, a name he also came to be known by. His life as a slave was a continues struggle and suffering.
He could not tolerate the idea of deprivation of his right of freedom and chose to rebel through denying the new name his owner gave him which lead to his punishment as if he was a mere dog whose job was to obey without reluctance. Being deprived of his freedom reduces the human being into an animal. The life of the slave was really hard according to the journals of Olaudah. He was later sold in the Caribbean and acquired by a Philadelphian Quaker who taught him how to read and write better and educated him in the Christian faith.
He allowed him to trade to earn the money required to buy his freedom as young man in his twenties and traveled to England where he fought for the cause of slavery abolition. Olaudah observed in his book how slaves were treated as inhuman subjects with no feelings. It was almost as if the masters considered them to be a different specie or an alien creature. Our third book or novel is concerned with a creature that displays those characteristic: Frankenstein.
Frankenstein by the author Mary Shelley refers to the scientists within the book Victor Frankenstein who knows how to create life and decides to create a creature that is like man but with more powerful characteristics. The novel is made up of the correspondence between the Captain Robert Walton and his sister. Walton happens to know about Frankenstein’s creature and recounts the story to his sister in his letters. The story starts with Walton traveling to the North Pole where he will be trapped by a sea of massive ice rocks.
This is how Walton meets Victor Frankenstein and this is also how he comes to know about the monster Victor had created. Victor is himself terrified by what he has created and runs away thereby allowing the monster to be released. The troubled scientist feels sick with guilt and his depressed state only worsens when he hears about the murder of his brother. It appears that the monster was who murdered his brother and this was explained by the monster himself as an attempt at taking revenge of Victor who had treated him with horror and disgust.
He begs Victor for a companion since he cannot stand the loneliness. Victor does decide to oblige but later on regrets it and destroys his second creation to which the monster vows revenge that he soon fulfills through killing one of his friends. The monster manages to also kill his bride and Victor decides to follow the monster which led him to meet Walton and dies a few days later on. Walton concludes his letters by recounting how surprised he was to find the monster weeping on his body in agony and loneliness.
It turns out that the monster had feelings like any other human being and could be good or evil like any other normal person. But Victor’s fear and prejudice blinded him from seeing that. The same thing happened with the white owners of slaves in the era of Olaudah. They stopped seeing the slaves as human beings and regarded them as mere properties to be feared and doubted if they acted differently the way Olaudah did through educating himself.
The fear of the unknown is a characteristic of the human psyche but what is also a common aspect between the white and black man and the monster of Frankenstein is the need of freedom. Our fourth book is the Communist manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The first publication of the book took place in 1848. Just like John Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government the Communist Manifesto is a very influential political manuscript. The main theme of the book is the class struggle and the weaknesses of the capitalist system.
The Communist Manifesto is what the communist party strengthened the ideology of the Communist party. The Manifesto’s main aim was to make communism more understood by a larger number of people since the party was feared and doubted by many. Karl Marx continues then to mark the differences between the bourgeois and proletariat class since his main focus will be throughout the paper on how the proletariat has been victimized by the capitalist system and bourgeois class. He states in the first section that: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. ” Marx arguments of class struggle resemble those of Locke to a certain extent. He also echoed the claim that the human need for property is what leads to the creation of civil society as we know it today.
Marx acknowledges this human need for the acquisition of property but seeks to regulate it more through establishing laws that do not allow for a minority of rich people to subject and benefit from a larger group that is the real driving force of any society: the proletariat class. The proletarians will, according to Marx, rise to power through class struggle. The bourgeois continues exploiting the proletarians but the latter will use their right to revolution (Locke again) to throw this form of social establishment and create a new reality more fit for the general and larger public.
This vision was eventually realized by the Bolsheviks in the former Soviet Union. Our human need for freedom equality and development is according to Locke, Olaudah, Marx and Shelly a fundamental aspect of our psychological nature. This leads us to the fifth book to focus on: On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin who explains in this work how humans have developed from their natural state to their current one and how they have been able to survive. The natural state described by Darwin in his book is different from that of Locke in that he focuses on how we developed physically as people from the shape of monkeys to that of humans.
It is needless to say that his book has caused the necessary controversy in the religious circles. Darwin presents a very interesting evolutionary idea in this particular book to explain the process of human evolution: the survival of the fittest. The idea of the transmutation of the species was however not welcomed by the Church establishment of that time and is still not looked at with favor by several even nowadays and despite the many scientific data that has been supplied to enhance his theory. Natural selection or to use the other phrase, the survival of the fittest, has been described by Mr.
Herbert Spencer as: “Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring. ” Charles Darwin’s book has also helped in reshaping the human thought regarding its origin and nature and developed the notion of the necessity of strength and relentlessness to succeed and earn the right to exist since only the fittest survive.
Our last book is also closely related to the themes we have seen so far in relation to human rights and natural states and the preservation of an efficient civil society. Civilization and its discontents was first published in 1929 and became one of Sigmund Freud’s most renowned works. Freud’s main theme in this book is the state of conflict between the individual and his society. Just like with Locke’s book we come to wonder how much the relinquishment of our fundamental right of total freedom affects our psyche and therefore our performance within the civil society we created.
The primary source of conflict, according to Freud, is the individual’s desire of freedom and the clash that creates with society’s expectation of the individual to conform to the general rules. The majority kills with this the individuality and our natural states are denied for the sake of preserving the general picture agreed upon by the majority of the citizens. Humans have certain desires and characteristics that are hard to control. The desire for sex is the most prominent one which has lead to the creation of many laws to regulate sex conduct in public and punish the acts of rape and sexual aggression.
The natural instincts come to be subjected to laws and regulations to allow for the peaceful existence within a society. The six books that we have seen so far all deal with several issues related to humanity’s primal needs that can clash at times with society’s expectations of the individual. Our quest for freedom and property creates conflict all along but we never are able to let go of one of the two. Humans have always wanted the two together and the need for more property led to the enslavement of millions to satisfy the need for cheap labor thereby violating the natural human state of being free by birth.
But humans are creatures who seek pleasure and understanding and bonding with the other. That is also another reason why we co-exist within a society and try to abide to the rules to sustain the civil form. Works Cited Darwin, Charles (2002). The Origin of Species. W. W Norton & Company. Equiano, Olaudah (1999). The life of Olaudah Equiano. Dover Publications. Freud, Sigmund (1989). Civilization and its discontents. W. W Norton & Company. Locke, John (2002). The Second Treatise of Government. Dover Publications. Marx, Karl (1998). The Communist Manifesto. USA: Oxford University Press. Shelley, Mary (2004). Frankenstein. Pocket.