Friday, 12 February 2010

HCJ - Lecture 1 - Semester 2 - Liberty/Liberalism

In the first semester we discussed certain philosophers who believed that the individual should have more power, therefore more freedom. These philosophers include people such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In order to achieve the Liberalism and to give power to the individual each should be given the equality of opportunity, however also freedom should be more important than equality itself. This fits in nicely with the views of three important Liberal figures: John Wilkes, Mary Wollstonecraft and J.S Mill.

John Wilkes:

Wilkes was an ugly fellow and was somewhat well known for his bad looks! Although this is the case, it did not deter from the fact that he was man of strong opinion and actually established laws that journalists use today. He was a very rebellious character and a member of the Hellfire Club, which were a group that pretty much did whatever they pleased. Wilkes was also the co-writer of, what was at the time, described as the dirtiest poem in the English language: 'Essay on Woman'. It was for his rebellious behaviour that he was liked so much by common people of England, and was elected Mayor of London.

Wilkes importantly for us today established a law that allows us to report on parliament. This consequently giving journalists of the time more freedom, and therefore more power. This links in well with the notion of liberalism and giving the public more knowledge on what actually happened in the politics of their country. In 1762 the 3rd Earl of Bute, John Stuart was appointed Prime Minister by King George III. This was extremely opposed by Wilkes, and he showed his hatred for the King and Stuart when he, although it could not be proved, published a newspaper opposing the King's 'North Briton', with the 'South Briton'. The South Briton was a much loved newspaper, and included scandalous insults on Stuart and the King, including one story claiming John Stuart was having a relationship with the King's mother. The King done everything in his power to stop Wilkes, including bribery and prosecution; neither being successful. In Issue 45 of the South Briton, the publisher accused the King of being a liar, to which a general warrant was issued and Wilkes was arrested. There was no proof and Wilkes consequently sued the government. This sort of behaviour was generally unheard of at the time, however Wilkes won the case, displaying a further power for the individual and a greater step towards a liberal England.

It began to go down-hill for Wilkes when his 'Essay on Woman' poem was read aloud in Parliament by Lord Sandwich (the inventor of the sandwich!) causing pandemonium. Wilkes fled to France, but upon his return was arrested. This did not cease his popularity though, as he regained his seat from prison, however the house voted Wilkes incapable of being elected. Wilkes also pushed for more freedom in the form of complete male suffrage, thus giving every man the ability to vote. This because at the time only people of certain standings within the community had the vote.

Mary Wollstonecraft:

Mary Wollstonecraft had a very hard early life, her father was obsessed with public standing, which led to his inevitable downfall, and she was forced to work as a governess in Ireland for extremely poor pay. She had an extreme passion for education and most importantly, giving women the same education as men. She believed that women were only given this education by which they were taught superficial things such as how to cook, clean or sew; the things that were expected of a woman in those days. She believed that women ere entitled to a freedom of knowledge and that they should be given the equality of opportunity. In Mary's opinion, women were too quick to accept this education, and she was in general critical of women as a whole, and not men, who may have been seen as the people to implement this method of education.

Wollstonecraft would have supported John Locke's theory that the human has nothing in their mind to start off with, and that everybody starts with this 'blank slate'. The majority of men at the time would have believed this applied only to men, whereas Locke and Wollstonecraft believed it to be all humans. She published her first book, 'Thoughts on the Education of Daughters', this was described as a 'self-help' book that gave women advice on not only how not to accept the conventions of education, but also gave etiquette and morality advice, as well as guidelines on how to care for infants.

Another philosopher who intrigued Wollstonecraft was Jean-Jacques Rousseau; even though she was in awe of him she was also critical of him; Mary was fully supportive of the French Revolution and the tearing down of the old regime, which was mainly driven by Rousseau, however, she had previously pleaded with the leaders of revolutionary France to ignore Rousseau's views of women and to grant them full equality.

Wollstonecraft's most famous publication was the Vindication of the Rights of Women; this was diagnosis of the current state of female manners, and was not an attack on society for treating women the way they did, but rather aimed at middle class women to ask them why they were accepting these conventions. It metaphorically put a mirror in front of the female population, and was seen as a well needed wake up call. The vindication was given a very warm response.

J.S. Mill

J.S. Mill was an important figure for political liberalism. He was a son of a philosopher, and was grandson to Jeremy Bentham, the creator of utilitarianism. He was a very smart young man, however this could have been seen to be his downfall when at 20 he had a nervous breakdown. William Wordsworth was an important figure in his life, and his poetry helped him through his tough time. Mill was a big supporter of liberty and said that 'freedom of speech is an absolute, never silence an opinion'. This something that Descartes would have approved in. Descartes believed that until something was proved beyond reasonable doubt then it could not be dismissed. Therefore, one persons opinion is as important as 100 peoples opinion. The notion Mill had was 'do and think what you want as long as it does not harm anybody'. Examples we had in the lecture was a policeman can get drunk everyday, as long as he is sober for his day of work.

Utilitarianism is the greatest good for the the greatest number and was a method thought up by Jeremy Bentham, primarily to help aid the poor law reformation in England. He believed that individuals should have economic and personal freedom, separation of Church and the State, freedom of expression, equal rights for women and laissez faire, which is free trade. All of these beliefs were held in high regards and taken upon knot only by Mill, but by others including Mill's father, James, and political leaders such as Robert Owen.