Prompt 1 (3290: War and Morality 2020)

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.


Filed under 3290_2020: War and Morality

12 responses to “Prompt 1 (3290: War and Morality 2020)

  1. Billy D.

    I believe that if citizens lack the ability to hold their government account then that does create a just cause for engaging in a revolution against said government. Traditionally, to conduct a war one or more sides need a ‘jus a bellum’ or a just cause of war (McMahan 2). That is to say, there needs to be a reason to go to war, typically one that goes beyond “the war is morally justified” argument (McMahan 1). This same statue applies to oppressed citizens as well. There are countless examples around the world of authoritarian dictatorships where the citizens would be morally justified in rebelling, however, they do not because it is still not in their own best self-interest. While the lack of recourse against one’s government is a moral issue, it is also an economic and social one and that is why revolutions are justified.

    The decision to go to war must be a rational one; will one’s life get better after a revolution? The decision must be based on expected utility. To go to war one must only ask a single question: Is the expected utility of going to war greater than the expected utility of remaining at peace (Fearon 386)? A war may be morally justified but if taking down the government leads to a power vacuum and another 5 years of conflict, it may not actually be worthwhile for the citizens to rebel instead of remaining oppressed. This is a difficult decision to make, especially when the expected utilities of both options is incredibly low.

    Part of the issue of revolution is the uncertainty of expected utility. Many revolutions have hidden motivations from 3rd party interest groups who are not the citizens doing the fighting. Many of these revolutions that are framed on the basis of identity to the ‘proletariat class’ are really about security, economic goals or political power gains for the ‘bourgeoisie’ (Levy and Thompson 13). What I am trying to say here is that some revolutions are fought because the middle class does not have recourse against the government and in an effort to extract more utility they frame a revolution in a way that appears to give the lowest in society a better life, even if that is not the case.

    In conclusion, the lack of recourse does provide a just cause for revolution. A simple moral reason is not enough, there must be economic, political and social power to be gained in order for it to be rational. The problem occurs when that just cause applies only to a subset of society because the expected utility will not be felt equally across all socioeconomic classes.

    • Michael T.

      How can one change an unchangeable government?

      Response to Billy

      I disagree, the inability to hold one’s government accountable does not create a just cause for engaging in revolution. The reason I think this is because while you are correct, people must way out the tangible pros and cons of revolting against there government. the economic, social, and ethical ramification of revolution to determine whether a revolution is justified, I think you are correct in this but this is all predicated on there is no way to change the government in a legal way. Take the example of Josef Broz Tito the leader of communist Yugoslavia from 1944 till his death in 1980. As a leader of a country in the communist block, his people had no recourse if they disagreed with his policy’s, while they didn’t and he was largely beloved by his people, the inability for his people to change the government with mean other than revolution would not have made a revolution justified. The inability to hold one’s government accountable does not create a just cause for engaging in revolution, it does create the “cause” reason for engaging in revolution.

      “A just cause is, indeed, always required for engaging in war”(McMahan 2) If this is true, then for any peoples to revolted against there government there are two conditions for the people to revolt. One, there is no alternative, why can people just sit down and get along(levy and Thompson 1-14, Idea from their work), this condition is fulfilled by the condition that there is no recourse against one’s government if a government will never “make a deal” with its people then when the status quo needs to be changed then the only way to do this is through violent revolution. The second consideration is what makes the armed conflict just. I think the reasons you provided are adequate, I think the idea from Fearon “Is the expected utility of going to war greater than the expected utility of remaining at peace”(386). Whether the upside of going to war ( this being dependent on the revolutionaries winning the conflict) there must be political, economic, or social factors that would improve. While you restrict moral reason for being capable of making war just on its own, I would disagree contingent that we have the same understanding of what a moral reason might be. Image if during Hitler’s regime, the people found out what would happen to the Jewish people, even if the German people would be worse off without Hitler (I am in no way espousing this belief, simply stipulating this for the thought example) wouldn’t that make the revolution innately just?

      There is also the consideration that Tito’s people had a just cause for revolting even if their government was largely benevolent, if voting is a fundamental right that all people should have, then I am wrong, and lack of recourse is an innate just cause to revolt.

      Causes of War. & Thompson – Causes of War.pdf.

      Fearon, James D. “Rationalist Explanations for War.” International Organization, vol. 49, no. 3, 1995, pp. 379–414., doi:10.1017/s0020818300033324.

      Mcmahan, Jeff. “Just Cause for War.” Military Ethics, 2017, pp. 75–95., doi:10.4324/9781315248943-4.

    • Andrzej L.

      When Revolting is Just: The Conditions that are Necessary for a Just Cause for Revolution

      Response to Billy

      I do agree with the statement that a lack of recourse against one’s government can create a just cause for revolution. Much of your explanation makes sense, especially that a just cause is not just one that is morally just, McMahan mentions this in the passage “proportionality to be fully subsumed within the requirement of just cause.” (McMahan 3). What he means by this is that a just cause is one that is morally just as well as proportional which means the benefits outweigh the risks, which includes social and political factors.

      One of the problems I have with your argument in the second paragraph though is that you go on to state that, “To go to war one must only ask a single question: Is the expected utility of going to war greater than the expected utility of remaining at peace (Fearon 386)?”. I think the problem with this logic is that you are blurring the lines between what is rational and what is moral. A just cause is one that is morally right as well as has a positive expected utility, you can’t have one without the other.

      I think another important point to mention is that for the cause of a revolution to be just it must be with the consent of the majority, Locke mentions this idea in the passage, “When any number of men have consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest. (Locke 52).” When the majority’s property,liberty, and life are being infringed or threatened by the government this gives credibility to a just cause for a revolution. The majority’s consent for revolution also ties into proportionality since the majority has a better chance, hence a better benefit to cost ratio, to overthrow the government. I think Rousseau would agree with this claim, he mentions “Each of us puts his person … under the supreme direction of the general will. (Rousseau 61)”. When the majority believes that the government is no longer legitimate, as is partly the case most of the time when there is a lack of recourse with a government, then the majority will no longer be represented which is a just cause for revolution.

      I think just considering utility as justification for a revolutionary war is not adequate by itself. Take for example the Cuban Revolution, where Fidel Castro led an armed revolt and eventually managed to overthrow the Cuban president at the time Fulgenico Batista. At the time it might have been seen to have positive expected utility since the dictatorship under Batista was oppressive. I do not believe this to be a just cause by itself though, because it was not morally justified since Fidel planned on instituting an even more oppressive communist dictatorship. In conclusion a lack of recourse of one’s government is a just cause for revolution, if it is morally just, and rational in terms of positive expected utility.

      Works Cited

      Locke, J. (1690). Second Treatise of Government p. 5-69. Cambridge.

      Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1762. “The First Societies.” In The Social Contract, by Jean-Jacques
      Rousseau, 61. Amsterdam/France: Marc-Michel Rev.

      McMahan, Jeff. “Just Cause for War.” Military Ethics, 2017, pp. 75–95., doi:10.4324/9781315248943-4.

    • Janie P.

      How Can One Justify War?

      Response to Billy

      Great post you have here, however, I disagree with you that citizens lack the ability to hold their government accountability that creates a just cause for engaging in a revolution against said government. People should think about both positive and negative outcomes that can come from war and revolting against the government. If people are fighting to prevent wrong from occurring, then I agree that this is justifiable. However, the military must have justifiable reasons to participate. We can see this in the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia. The warsaw pact was an alliance made between the soviet union and Eastern Europe. The alliance included Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany. The purpose of the pact was to show a sense of control over West Germany. All of the members agreed to defend each other when things got rough. The members invaded Czechoslovakia and ended up killing more than a hundred people and ended up making 70,000 citizens relocate (“Soviet Invasion” n.d.). Hobbes defines liberty as the ability of a subject to perform a lawful act without being blocked from doing so (Hobbes 189). Rousseau makes it an important part that sovereignty can force people to obey its rules (Rousseau 50). If it does, it is not removing liberty but actually ensuring freedom. However, by over throwing a government, the people are in fact constructing a new one. Locke’s views serve to provide a foundation for parliamentary government because he views for a system to be in place in which the general population may confer with if they disagree with the king (Locke 8). This system would therefore limit the king’s power tremendously. Rousseau and Hobbes both agree that by revolting you revoke your membership of the union. Therefore, revolting to establish a new better union is justified by the gains to everyone from the state of nature. For example, the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia was justified because the members in the Warsaw Pact thought if Czechoslovakia continued to carry out their reforms, other countries would follow. This was also justifiable as self-defense since the members in the pact were fearful of their lives due the fact that they were unsure about Czechoslovakia’s motives. This was also a defense of socialism as an interference in the internal affairs of Czechoslovakia. The people wanted socialism. There are clear moral justifications to such an ideal. People want to embed more of themselves into the union forming something more ideal to Rousseau’s definition of sovereignty.Though you are right about the middle class having revolutions with lack of recourse, your information was a bit unclear to me, but It is possible that anybody in the class system may wish to revolt against the government no matter what their status is.

      Works Cited

      Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. “Leviathan.” In Chap. XVI; Chap. XIX, by Thomas Hobbes, 189. Penguin Books.

      Locke, J. (1690). Second Treatise of Government p. 8. Cambridge

      Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1762. “The First Societies.” In The Social Contract, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 50. Amsterdam/France: Marc-Michel Rev.

      “Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State,

  2. Christian M.

    Accountability and Revolution

    The American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Egyptian Revolution, and so many more are all examples of situations in which citizens engage in revolution with their own government. While many factors can contribute to revolution, most occur because of some combination of economic, political, or some other external factors that become so severe that the people have no choice but to revolt. Economic woes and political hardships are bound to happen in most nation-states, the disconnect and subsequent revolution however comes when citizens lose their ability to hold the government accountable and are thus forced to live under the circumstances of their government unless they revolt.

    To hold one’s government accountable implies that they are held to a high standard where their mistakes are rightfully punished, and they are removed from their elected position if they are deemed unfit. Equally, citizens have the opportunity via elections to voice their political opinions. For example, in the United States, although many may be dissatisfied with the current President, citizens are still able to hold the government accountable through things like the impeachment process and voting in the upcoming primary elections which drastically decrease the desire to revolt. In addition, there are no major violations against the rights of citizens that would make a revolt a proportional action. In his work “Just Cause for War”, Jeff McMahan states that “proportionality requires, roughly, that the relevant bad effects attributable to the war must not be excessive in relation to the relevant good effects” , which shows a revolt has to be deemed worthy through cost benefit analysis.

    The idea here is that everyone in a society be held accountable for their actions no matter what title or position they hold so that society can run equally and without conflict. When the government is not held accountable for their actions, they are free to do whatever they choose and are no longer obligated to follow the social contract. As Rousseau states in his “The Social Contract”, “As soon as the multitude is united thus in a single body, no one can injure any one of the members without attacking the whole.” The inability to hold one’s government violates the social contract and thus gives just cause in engaging in revolution.

    Although Jack Levy and William Thompson argue that “the causes of war is limited to those violent conflicts that cross some kind of threshold of magnitude. The fighting must be sustained rather than sporadic in order to differentiate war from “lesser” uses of military force.” , he fails to recognize they fail to recognize the possibility of other non-violent factors that can contribute to revolution. For example, the inability to hold an authoritarian regime accountable for economic difficulties or the oppression of large societal groups could give just cause since the only alternative is to endure the negative treatment without end.

    • Jacob J.

      When Accountability Fails

      Response to Christian

      I agree with Christian that each citizen of a nation is held accountable no matter his station or title. I also agree with your statement about the fact that the politicians in officers and from that our government must be held to a higher standard. This is a necessity as the governing body holds the fate of the nation and therefore not only ourselves but also every other citizen that is apart of it. Locke references this by mentioning how each citizen must agree to the social contract from each generation and how those in leadership must put aside their own bias and look towards the greater good. “And thus every man, by consenting with others to make one body politic under one government, puts himself under an obligation, to every one of that society” Locke, Second Treatise of Government, pg. 52.

      I would have a disagreement though upon the idea that most revolutions are based on politics and/or economics. I would disagree with this as it may be a feud of religion as well. There are many examples of how religion has created a split upon the people of various nations. And from this split comes animosity between its people. These cases can be found from the Middle East, to some Asian revolutions of history, to our own U.S.A and how the first pilgrims moved away from the English to settle a new area and practice their own religion in peace. I believe that there needs to be a way to solve disagreements that could possibly arise from these conflicts, hence why I believe that a third part of a nation besides politics, and economics must be taken into consideration. The judiciary system. Which may allow for an avenue to avoid a state of war with these sort of conflicts in mind.

      I would also hold in question the idea that a revolt must be deemed necessary via a cost benefit analysis. I believe that sometimes a government may cross the line and commit acts of barbarism against its own people or of others. This would then bring up the issue of morality. Locke states “for, by the fundamental law of nature; man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred” (Locke, Second Treatise of Government, pg. 14”. So in this regard I believe that if innocent people are being harmed by the government to a certain degree the people who exist in that government must take some form of action. I would agree that there must be some form of proportionality. Without this there can be no dialogue. And without this form of dialogue a state of war cannot be avoided. This avoidance of war also gives credence to your idea of proportionality. In a revolution you are essentially fighting against your own people. Since you are fighting your own people it would be detrimental to act in a proportional way and hurt too many on one side. Once the revolution is down no matter the outcome there needs to be citizens to help build the country back up.

  3. Maxwell H.

    Lack of Accountability, Right of Self-Preservation, and Principles of ‘Last Resort’ Justified Cherán’s 2011 Uprising

    The 2011 uprising in Cherán, Mexico demonstrates that inability to hold one’s government accountable is a just cause for revolution because lack of accountability negates the possibility of productive of other recourse.

    Cherán’s resistance was justified because not only was the government failing to act for “peace, safety , and public good of the people” (Locke 1690, 68), it also intentionally violated these principles through the distortion of the property rights it was intended to uphold. Cherán is a majority-Purépecha community in Mexico, whose national constitution affords indigenous communities specific property rights, like control of ancestral lands such as the forests of Cherán (Salazar 2015). Instead, Cherán’s suffered as their government accepted bribes and collaborated in illegal deforestation (Salvaje 2015). By definition, this violates the duty “to govern by established standing laws, promulgated and known to the people, and not by extemporary decrees; by indifferent and upright judges” (Locke 1690, 68)—bribes and rigged elections violate impartiality as well as constitutional law (Agren 2018). The people did not consent to the deforestation, and the initial group attempting diplomacy were representing the majority and aiming to protect the public good of Cherán’s potable water (Pressly 2016).

    While one may argue those who participated in the standoff and subsequent dismantlement of the existing government and the establishment of a new direct democracy violated the absolute power of the sovereign, one may also argue they were justified on the basis of self-preservation. While Hobbes does suggest joint resistance to the sovereign is unlawful, he suggests this is because it “takes away from the Soveraign [sic], the means of Protecting us…[however] if it be onely [sic] to defend their persons, it is not unjust at all” (Hobbes 1651, 270). Given the dependence of the community on the Aquaphor for survival—a concern made known to the government and dismissed —Cherán’s resistance falls under that of Hobbesian self-preservation.

    Similarly, one too may argue that lack of accountability alone does not justify revolution in Cherán, however, Cheran’s uprising illustrates why lack of government accountability justifies revolution because from a rationalist standpoint uprising was the last attempt after diplomacy failed. While Fearon is discussing inter-state conflict, the logic of why diplomacy fails—because either “private information about relative capabilities or resolve…. mutually preferable bargains are unattainable because one or more [parties] would have an incentive to renege on the terms…[or] issue indivisibilities (Fearon 1995, 381)— are all present in Cherán. Where the government functions as “state A” who “transgressed some interest of” Cherán’s community, or “State B in the erroneous belief that B would not fight a war over the matter” (Fearon 1995, 395), the only feasible recourse after diplomacy is war and therefore Cherán’s revolution justified. Just as Locke argues in the right to hold others accountable, Rousseau too suggests that “[f]orce made the first slaves; and their cowardice perpetuates the slavery” (1762, 52). As such, given that diplomacy failed and inaction is equivalent to tacit consent, resistance is not only justified but obligatory in the case of Cherán.

    Works Cited

    Agren, David. 2018. “The Mexican indigenous community that ran politicians out of town.” The Guardian, April 3.

    Fearon, James D. 1995. “Rationalist Explanations for War.” International Organization 379-414.

    Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. “Leviathan.” In Chap. XVI; Chap. XIX, by Thomas Hobbes, 268, 272, 364. Penguin Books.

    Locke, John. 1690. “Of the State of Nature; Of the State of War; Of the Beginning of Political Societies; Of the Ends of Political Society and Government.” In Second Treatise on Government, by John Locke, 8-16, 52-68. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

    Pressly, Linda. 2016. “Cheran: The town that threw out police, politicians and gangsters.” BBC, October 13.

    Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1762. “The First Societies.” In The Social Contract, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 52. Amsterdam/France: Marc-Michel Rev.

    Salazar, Giovanna. 2015. “The Cherán Indigenous Community’s Remarkable Road to Self-rule in Mexico.” Our World, April 24.

    Salvaje, Niñx. 2015. “Cherán K’eri: Political parties are dead to us in this town.” El Enemigo Común. February 9. Accessed May 14, 2020.

  4. José O.

    Justification and Rational: Reason for Revolution Against the Standing Government

    Essentially the government is created by a group of people with common interest and intent. The common interest and intent of these people is often self-preservation. In order to do this people form a collective and agree to leave the state of nature along with relinquishing some natural rights. Essentially the self-interest of the individual is the same self-interest of the collective which is self-preservation. This creates a society with just constraints which helps preserve the collective and basically the individuals self-interest. Fundamentally, the government is there to protect and provided security to the self-interest of the collective that consented in creating the government and is obligated to intervene when the self-interest, protection and security or basically the self-preservation of the collective is endangered. On the other hand, the lack of recourse against the government can be interpreted as unjust when it directly threatens the life of the collective and/or falls short of acting justly. This lack of accountability creates a just cause for engaging in revolution against the standing government leading to a state of war.

    The three characteristics that come with forming a collective and establishing a government included: One, an established, settled, known as law, two, a known and indifferent judge, three, power to back and support the sentence when right and to give it due execution (Locke, 66). When the standing government fails to provided these three essentially characteristics that it was created in ensuring; it has failed in acting justly leading to just cause in revolution. Essentially, Hobbes argues that no man without injustice protest can go against the Sovereign [government] (Hobbes, 231). But if the state fails to provide what it was created to ensure then man is just in protesting against the standing government. Revolting against the standing government the collective not only be just but also be rational and by doing so the collective must do a cost-benefit analysis. This analysis is based on the self-interest of the collective and essentially is the risk of revolution against the standing government outweighs the expected results of the ongoing situation. Basically, the benefit of revolution exceeds the expected cost of not revolting. If the benefits outweigh the cost then it is a rational decision for revolution but if the cost outweighs the benefits then this is irrational and essentially also unjust to revolt against the standing government.

    But this also brings about an issue even people that consider the risks and cost of war may often end up fighting no matter the cost-benefit analysis (Fearon, 379). Even though the collective may try and rationalize their revolution it might turn out to be irrational but the collective will still engage in revolution because their self-interest has been endangered.

    In conclusion, the lack of recourse does provide just cause for revolution against the standing government. The collective has to be find a just reason that they are not being treated justly by the government and intern make a rational decision to revolt.

    Work cited:

    Fearon, J. D. (1995). Rationalist explanations for war, p. 379-414 (No. 3, Vol. 49).

    Hobbes, T. (1651). Leviathan p. 183-376.

    Locke, J. (1690). Second Treatise of Government p. 5-69. Cambridge.

    • Corey M.

      Unaccountability Alone Doesn’t Justify Revolution

      Response to José

      A government that is created by a group of people with common interest may not be the government that is in place. Take a government that has provided for its people and has protected them with absolute power. If this government is one that has taken power from a past government, then it wasn’t created by the subjects that it serves. It may still provide all that its citizens wish but, if there is no way to keep it accountable, then why should this be a just cause for revolt? I do concede that if a government is failing to protect its subjects then there is a just cause to revolt, but this comes independently of whether or not recourse against the government is possible. This type of government could be a monarchy and there is no recourse against a monarchy in the eyes of Hobbes.

      Unless the government threatens the lives of its subjects, there is no just reason to rebel. “…to be obedient to any other, in any thing whatso-ever, without his permission. And therefore, they that are subjects to a Monarch, cannot without his leave cast off Monarchy,” (Hobbes pg. 229), by this, Hobbes has stated that the subjects of a monarch must give their unyielding loyalty to him regardless of the ability to stand against him. The monarch was instituted with the common interest of the subjects in mind but Hobbes would argue that the people have a duty to obey the monarch regardless of having a way to keep the monarch accountable. Here I would disagree that the inability to hold one’s government accountable creates a just cause for revolution. If a government does manage to provide law, an indifferent judge and power to back and support the sentence, but rules absolutely and out of the hands of the citizens that it serves, is this not a working government that has no accountability? A lack of recourse does not provide a just cause for rebellion in this manner.

      Fearon discusses the idea that through conflict where both sides suffer some cost for fighting, they would have been better off not fighting in the first place (Fearon pg. 383). What has been argued about a cost-benefit analysis of the prospect of revolution would leave both sides worse off if the conflict were solely over the ability to hold one’s government accountable. In this way, the government would have to be mistreating their citizens and putting them in danger for a just cause to be met but this is the primary reason for the just cause. McMahan would support this claim by noting the measure of proportionality is imbalance and the conflict would not be just if a lack of accountability were the primary reason to rebel (McMahan pg. 4).

      In short, the inability to hold one’s government accountable by itself does not lead to a just cause for revolt. It must be accompanied by mistreatment of subjects that puts their lives in danger as well to qualify for a just cause.

      Works Cited

      Fearon, James D. “Rationalist Explanations for War.” International Organization, vol. 49, no. 3, 1995, pg. 379–414., doi:10.1017/s0020818300033324.

      McMahan, Jeff. “Just Cause for War.” Military Ethics, 2017, pg. 75–95., doi:10.4324/9781315248943-4.

      Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. “Leviathan.” Chap. XVI; Chap. XIX.

  5. Tina H.

    Can Conflict Be Blamed on the Sovereign?

    Proportionality, which requires the “good be great enough to outweigh the relevant bad effects of war,” can determine whether an unaccountable government brings justifiable conflict upon themselves (McMahan, 4). A revolution against a government that doesn’t respond to its subjects’ needs is justified because the benefits of winning such a revolution can outweigh the costs of the conflict. The Algerien War of Independence can prove the costs of conflict are less than the benefits achieved. Additionally, if a sovereign violates their right to govern over their subjects, their accountability can be questioned and conflict can be justified. Under certain specifications on proportionality, legitimacy, and authorization as laid out by philosophical thinkers and political theorists, there can be just cause for engaging in revolution against a government that isn’t accountable to its subjects.

    The Algeriens fought for independence because they determined the risks of war with France would be worthwhile if they gained freedom from social, economic, political, and cultural repression. The 1.5 million deaths during the conflict were justified, as Algeria is now a functioning state with self-governing capabilities. Therefore, it can be argued that Algeria has seen more benefits over time as a result of their conflict with France than costs during the conflict.

    Rousseau argues that the legitimate authority of the sovereign comes from its subjects, and each new generation of subjects must have the power to either accept or reject the sovereign government (Rousseau, 55). Based on these points, the Algerien War was justified because a new generation of Algeriens did not believe the French government to be legitimate. Along those lines, Hobbes, who believed revolution is impermissible, describes that every man must “authorise” the transfer of their rights to the sovereign to stave off the state of nature (Hobbes, 227). If every subject is the author of the sovereign, then they should be able to keep their sovereign accountable to the needs of society (Hobbes, 228). If, even as the authors of their own sovereign, the people cannot expect accountability, a conflict would be justified in order to replace the unaccountable sovereign with one that wouldn’t displace the peoples’ role as author.

    Alternatively, a conflict against a sovereign if based on its reasonable hope for success may not be deemed justifiable (McMahan, 4). Roughly 15% of Algeriens were killed during their revolution, but was it worth it? The FLN gambled 1.5 million lives on the success of their revolution against one of the world’s great powers. In my field of history, it is easy to look back at an event and call it justified based on the end-result. But the moment when conflict broke out and Algeria’s reasonable hope for success against France was small, the assumption that deaths would be justified would have been difficult to make.

    An unaccountable government may bring justifiable conflict upon themselves if the sovereign is deemed illegitimate or violates the rights of subjects so thoroughly that the benefits of conflict outweigh the costs.

    Works Cited:

    Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. 1651. p. 183-376.

    McMahan, Jeff. Just Cause for War. 2005.

    Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. 1762. p. 49-69.

  6. Will S.

    A citizen’s right to autonomy, and a reflection on the Communist revolution of 1949

    I believe that a lack of recourse against one’s government does make revolution morally permissible. I believe this because autonomy or a citizenship’s ability to create the country in which they would like to live is a right. A legitimate government only arises out of consent, and a government that lasts without consent of the masses can only do so by direct, or indirect violence.

    If a government isn’t addressing the pressing needs or desires of its citizenship, and there aren’t peaceful means for the citizens to make a change, then it can become rational for the citizens to engage in the revolution. For example, if a leviathan forced his subject to spend there much of their labor making statues for himself, and they hated it but had no recourse, it is in their best interest to overthrow the government and create a new system which reflects their own goals. Hobbes believes that this is immoral because one is breaking the agreement that he’s made with his fellow people at the start to have the leviathan (Hobbes 229). However, no rational person would consent a contract to have a leviathan with the condition only that he tries to do his best in regards to promoting wellbeing. This is because people can understand their fundamental rights independently from power through reason, and can know when it’s been violated. Therefore, I think Hobbes’s picture of what the people consent to is wrong. A leviathan trying to do his best, but not actually satisfying the rights and needs of the people sufficiently could be a just cause for a revolution.

    I believe that the Lockean picture which says that our rights include life, liberty, protection of property, and punishment is correct (Locke 9). The right to punish or claim reparations on your own is withheld to the state when it is formed, and I believe that this is acceptable. I think, though, that the state in its judgment should be constantly informed by the needs of the people. People consent only to a state which is serving their needs, as it would be irrational to consent to anything else, especially when this is always a possibility. A state which is designed to serve people’s needs, yet won’t listen to people’s concerns, is a contradiction. I believe that this is a condition that makes revolution morally permissible.

    I think that the communist revolution in 1949 may have been permissible under the Lockean view. People have a right to reparations from property that was stolen from them, and a system with reliant on the stolen property would be unjust (Locke 10). The proletariat believed that the landlords with swaths of land had stolen it from them, while this is disputed, assuming it is true the proletariat could be in the right. As well, the state wasn’t impartially, or fairly judging the reparations on behalf of the grievances of the proletariat, who are who the state should be designed to satisfy. The state was no longer operating on the consent of its, which I believe creates a condition that makes revolution permissible.

    A qualm could be made though by Walzer’s perspective that the landlords executed in this revolution still should be protected by civil liberties, which would include the right to life (Walzer 137). The killing of the police state soldiers may be permissible as they are under the laws of war, but landlords should be protected as civilians. An important distinction may be whether the landlords actually had involved in planning the police state’s attack on the proletariat.

    Work Cited

    Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. “Leviathan.” In Chap. XVI; Chap. XIX, by Thomas Hobbes, 268, 272, 364. Penguin Books.

    Locke, John. 1690. “Of the State of Nature; Of the State of War; Of the Beginning of Political Societies; Of the Ends of Political Society and Government.” In Second Treatise on Government, by John Locke, 8-16, 52-68. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

    Walzer, Michael. 1992. Just and unjust wars : a moral argument with historical illustrations. [New York] :Basic Books

  7. Mike C.

    Lack of Government Accountability: An Insufficient ‘Just Cause’ for Engaging in Revolution

    Accountability is undoubtedly an important aspect of good governance in society. However, considering circumstances in which the lack of such recourse is a non-factor in terms of negative public sentiment towards a government, we see that it is not enough to supply a ‘just cause’ for revolution. Referencing the lack of recourse as a ‘non-factor’ implies situations where a government possesses no accountability yet provides for its people thus eliminating the desire to engage in revolution. Although few historical examples exist that illustrate such a government, logically, if it were to exist, there would likely be no reason for a people to want to rebel against. As Locke states, the obligation of subjects to a sovereign extends all the way until it is no longer able to protect them. (Hobbes 272) In other words, we rationally enter a social contract to create an absolute sovereign that cannot be accused of injustice or rebelled against unless it poses a direct threat to one’s life. In the context of Locke’s argument, we see that the lack of accountability is not enough to satisfy a ‘just cause’ for war because there are more pressing natural rights that must be infringed upon before revolution is justified.

    Reforming the system of governance via extra-governmental methods means that revolutionaries cannot use existing political processes for determining political aims and have not yet developed new processes for performing that task. So, there may be serious disagreements among revolutionaries as to what the goal of the revolution is, alongside a much less legitimate process for resolving it. Many may agree that the regime must fall, but there may be violent disagreements as to what should follow which could end in a civil war. As Rousseau states, humanity will perish if allowed to return to a state of nature which is entirely possible during a revolution. (Rousseau 59) In other words, the social contract is a mutually beneficial necessity where the authority is legitimate in its power to prevent the return to the state of nature. The absence of accountability does not directly anticipate a return to the state of nature nor does it address the various disagreements that might arise in the quest of increasing government accountability. In terms of Walzer’s ideas of proportionality, the possibility that revolution might return humanity to a state of nature means that the attacks by the sovereign must be substantial to resort to revolution. The lack of government accountability is not proportional to the risks of revolution because it is a broad idea; accountability can take a variety of forms such as a constitution, representative democracy, a ‘right to rebel’ clause, etc. Therefore, the disagreements that might arise in pursuit of government accountability are not worthy of risking a return to the state of nature.

    The only means of uniting revolutionaries towards a common goal and that qualify revolution as legitimate is if the social pact is violated in terms of an individual’s right to life and liberty. Rousseau concurs, he states, “the only way in which [the people] can preserve themselves is by uniting their separate powers in a combination strong enough to overcome any resistance.” (Rousseau 60) Revolutionary power must be motivated by a single motive such as the right to life or liberty because these issues are indivisible. As Locke argues, these issues invoke natural law in which we are all rationally capable of understanding. (Locke 63) If these natural rights are violated, revolutionaries will not only be effectively united towards a concrete goal but also, it is proportional to engaging in a risky revolution.

    If we look at the Jordanian protests form 2011-2012, we see resentment stemming from corruption, inflation, and economic conditions that included crippling levels of unemployment. While the protests also called for the implementation of a constitutional monarchy, and electoral reforms, if we look at this revolution separate from the Arab Spring, it is unlikely that these protests would have occurred if the people retained their quality of life in which the economic conditions within Jordan were more acceptable at the time. Clearly, there were more pressing economic issues at hand that pushed Jordanians towards revolution. Accountability itself is important to ensure that a government acts in the best interest of its citizens, but the lack of recourse itself is not sufficient to provide ‘just cause’ for revolution.

    Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. (1651). p. 270-272.

    Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. (1762). p. 59-60.

    Locke, John. (1690). Second Treatise of Government p. 50-70. Cambridge.

    Thousands protest in Jordan. (2011). Retrieved May 16, 2020, from

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