The Right to Rebel?
Despite the stark contrasts in the political community that Hobbes (1651) and Rousseau (1762) envision, both philosophers advocate for an absolute sovereign, which subjects (for Hobbes) and citizens (for Rousseau) are obliged to obey. Rousseau states expressly that individuals who consent to the social contract must accept the “total alienation” or “unconditional” or “absolute” forfeiture of (all of) their rights to the political community (60-1), provided that everyone else does the same. And aside from the limited right to rebel against the monarchy that Hobbes envisages—namely, if and when the sovereign creates a direct and imminent threat to the life a subject—Hobbes, too, argues that the Leviathan’s rule must be absolute (227). For both Hobbes and Rousseau are concerned that if individuals retain the right to judge the sovereign’s mandates, a state of disorder and lawlessness will inevitably prevail, the avoidance of which is precisely why rational, self-interested individuals are compelled to enter into the social contract. Accordingly, both thinkers generally reject the moral permissibilty of rebellion (of engaging in collective armed violence against the sovereign). However, if individuals (subjects or citizens) have no (or highly-limited) recourse against their sovereign—against their standing government, more broadly—when the government’s laws and institutions contradict what they believe is morally justifiable, does this not also create the potential for disorder and lawlessness by making rebellion more likely? The protests and armed uprisings of the Arab Spring (2011) seems to confirm this notion. Convinced that government must be held accountable by the citizens who entrust it to serve their individual and collective interests, Locke expressly defends the right of rebellion and maintains that preserving this right will not incite general disorder (since individuals will be circumspect in exercising this right).
Do you believe that the lack of recourse against one’s government, that is the inability to hold one’s government accountable, creates a just cause for engaging in revolution?
In answering this question, you must (a) incorporate the writings of at least three of the authors assigned this week—Hobbes, Rousseau, McMahan, Walzer, Levy and Thompson, Fearon, and Locke—(b) reference specific passages and cite specific page numbers in these readings to justify your conclusion, as well as your interpretation of these authors, and (c) discuss one real-world example that illustrates your conclusion.
PLEASE NOTE: with these sorts of normative questions that we’ll be engaging throughout the semester, where there is no clear right or wrong answer, you must do more than merely state your opinion. This would fundamentally fail to satisfy the expectations of these thesis-driven and evidence-based writing assignments. Your task is to take a stand on the issue and to defend this position by writing an educated and informed response, incorporating specific ideas from the readings that support your thesis.