American Gov’t W1

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Civic Information Scavenger Hunt

Please complete both Part 1 and Part 2 of this assignment. Please turn in both Part 1 and Part 2 in a single assignment submission.

Part 1 – Civic Information Scavenger Hunt

The first part of this assignment is a fun scavenger hunt. Using a web search find and record the answer to following questions. (There is no need to cite sources for the questions asked in this scavenger hunt as this is commonly known information.)

Keep your submission organized, clear, and professional in look. Make sure that anyone who reads this list of information would be able to easily know what you are communicating. For example, don’t just list the name “Donald Trump” as our president.

One way to do this would be to include in your text the question asked: “Who is the current President,” followed by the answer: “Donald Trump.”

Another way you could do this is to write in complete sentence. For example: “The current President is Donald Trump.”

For Part 1, there is no need to provide any information beyond what is asked for in these questions.

Please answer the following questions:

Who is the President?

Who is the Vice President?

Who are the Justices of the Supreme Court?

Who are your two (2) United States Senators?

If you wanted to write them a letter where would you send it? –or– If you wanted to write them an email what address or website would you use to send it?

Who is your Representative to the United States House of Representatives?

If you wanted to write them a letter where would you send it? –or– If you wanted to write them an email what address or website would you use to send it?

What state do you live in?

Who is your governor?

Who are the Justices of your State Supreme Court?

Where does your State Legislature meet?

Does your State Legislature have two houses or one?

What is the name of the Upper House of your State Legislature?

What is the name of the Lower House of your State Legislature?

Who is/are your Senator(s) to the upper house of your State Legislature?

If you wanted to write them a letter where would you send it? –or– If you wanted to write them an email what address or website would you use to send it?

Who is/are your Representative(s) to the Lower House of your State Legislature?

If you wanted to write them a letter where would you send it? –or– If you wanted to write them an email what address or website would you use to send it?

What is the official website for your state where you can find information on registering to vote? (NOTE: in most cases this should be a .gov website)

Does this website contain information on finding where to vote on Election Day, information on getting an absentee ballot, sample ballots, and other voting information?

Is any information that would help you vote missing or hard to find on that official website?

Part 2 – Essay on the Meaning of Liberty

As we read in our lectures this week, philosopher John Locke asked: “If a man in the state of nature is free, if he is absolute lord of his own person and possessions, why will he give up his freedom? Why will he put himself under the control of any person or institution?”

John Locke’s answer was: “that the rights in the state of nature are constantly exposed to the attacks of others. Since every man is equal and since most men do not concern themselves with equity and justice, the enjoyment of rights in the state of nature is unsafe and insecure. Hence each man joins in society with others to preserve life, liberty, and property.”

In at least 500 words answer the following questions:

In your own words, what is freedom? (*Note: dictionary definitions of the word freedom will not be accepted)

In your own words, what is liberty? (*Note: dictionary definitions of the words liberty will not be accepted)

Does your definition of freedom agree with Locke’s definition of freedom? Why or why not?

Does your definition of liberty agree with Locke’s understanding of liberty? Why or why not?

John Locke argues that freedom and liberty are very different things. Do you agree or not? Why or why not?

Finally, how did these ideas of liberty and freedom connect to the creation of the Constitution?

Please note: APA formatting and citations rules apply to this and all essays in this course.

View your assignment rubric.

Do We Need A Government?

Often we use words like freedom and liberty without ever thinking about what these words mean. We assume that we all mean the same thing by these words; however, in reality, we all live by different personal definitions of freedom and liberty. Our definitions are not based on a dictionary but are informed by our unique personal life experiences. Consider the diversity even in this course. How might someone understand words like liberty and freedom from a background, culture, age, gender, or even race that is different from yours? Each of us has a unique story that has brought us to this point – and each of our stories is intrinsically valuable and important.

If we think about this level of diversity – how and why do such different individuals come together to exist together in a society?

The State of Nature, or Life without Government

Simply, freedom and liberty are not the same thing. Let’s consider what we mean by freedom. For our purposes, freedom is doing whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it.

If everyone had absolute freedom and could do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted what would our world look like? What would our relationships with each other look like?

These are the questions that political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke asked. These are also question that our founders asked as they pondered the creation of a new nation. They called this condition of absolute freedom the State of Nature – a state in which people lived in absolute freedom with no social structures or government.

For Hobbes, life in this state of nature looked very terrible. Hobbes described the state of nature as:

“In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short…”

Additionally, Hobbes suggested:

“For before constitution of sovereign power, as hath already been shown, all men had right to all things, which necessarily causeth war.”

For Hobbes, freedom was each individual having the right to all things. If you have new car, in the state of nature, I have right to take your new car – even by force and violence.

Hobbes is saying that in the state of nature, or trying to live life without government, no form of cooperation between individuals is possible and thus there will be no grocery stores, no computers, no smartphones, no art, and each individual will suffer a very quick and violent death.

The founders of our nation shared Hobbes’ fairly pessimistic outlook regarding human nature. James Madison famously wrote in Federalist #51:

“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

John Locke (a political philosopher that the founders of our nation held in very high regard) similarly argued:

“To understand political power, we must consider the condition in which nature puts all men. It is a state of perfect freedom to do as they wish and dispose of themselves and their possessions as they think fit, within the bounds of the laws of nature. They need not ask permission or the consent of any other man.”

John Locke also assessed “equality and justice” as being impossible to achieve in this state of nature:

“If a man in the state of nature is free, if he is absolute lord of his own person and possessions, why will he give up his freedom? Why will he put himself under the control of any person or institution? The obvious answer is that the rights in the state of nature are constantly exposed to the attacks of others. Since every man is equal and since most men do not concern themselves with equity and justice, the enjoyment of rights in the state of nature is unsafe and insecure. Hence each man joins in society with others to preserve life, liberty, and property.”

Simply put, life without government is very bad.

Social Contract

The social contract is the idea that individuals would voluntarily give up some of their rights – specifically the right to absolute freedom (freedom to whatever, whenever) – to a governing authority that would provide at least a partial escape from the horrors of the state of nature. The idea of the social contract developed from the ideas of several political philosophers. Thomas Hobbes famously called this governing authority created by the people to escape the horrors of the state of nature, the Leviathan.

For Hobbes, this escape from the state of nature was liberty. For our founders this was just the beginning of liberty. For both, liberty could only occur when the people of a society gave up their right to absolute and unchecked freedom. Liberty and freedom were not the same thing.

“THE final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as hath been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants, and observation of those laws of nature set down [above]….”

Despite his more optimistic view on human nature, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau also captures this difference between freedom (which Rousseau calls “natural liberty” or the “unlimited right to everything”) and liberty (which Rousseau calls “civil liberty”):

“What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything that tempts him and to everything he can take; what he gains is civil liberty and ownership of everything he possesses”

Much of the genius of our founders was that they understood the terrible things that humans do to each other (as evidenced by human history) and created as system of government that did not overlook our inclination toward evil.

This idea of the social contract, or that we would voluntarily give up our freedom to gain the liberty of living in society is how our founders arrived at the idea of a government that governs by the “Consent of the Governed.”

As Alexander Hamilton resolutely concludes Federalist #22:

“The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.”

Terms of the Contract: Equality

According to philosophers Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau the state of nature and social contract also produced a certain level of equality between individuals in a society.

According to John Locke:

“The state of nature is also a state of equality. No one has more power or authority than another. Since all human beings have the same advantages and the use of the same skills, they should be equal to each other. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it. Reason is the law. It teaches that all men are equal and independent, and that no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, or possessions. All men are made by one all-powerful and wise Maker. They are all servants of one Master who sent them into the world to do His business. He has put men naturally into a state of independence, and they remain in it until they choose to become members of a political society.”

For Thomas Hobbes:

“NATURE hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau highlights the equality of individuals being further bolstered by the Social Contract:

“I shall end this chapter and this book by remarking on a fact on which the whole social system should rest: i.e., that, instead of destroying natural inequality, the fundamental compact substitutes, for such physical inequality as nature may have set up between men, an equality that is moral and legitimate, and that men, who may be unequal in strength or intelligence, become every one equal by convention and legal right” (SC I: 9).

From these ideas, our founders conceive our liberty as equality for each individual before the law. That each individual has “inalienable rights” from “nature or nature’s God.” Simply your rights exist because you exist. They are not based on any sort of collective identity. Your rights are not from the government. Your rights are not from your country of citizenship. They are not from your bloodline or based on your last name. They are not based upon any condition other than that you exist.

Those were the ideas captured by our founders in the Declaration of Independence and captured by Lincoln in the Gettysburg address. In each instance, the idea of liberty as individual equality before the law was a revolution.

Terms of the Contract: Right of Revolution

The right of revolution essentially is the right to challenge, overthrow, or absolve the government and is a critical component of the Social Contract.

For Hobbes, the state of nature was so bleak that an individual only had a right of revolution if the “Leviathan” threatened an individual’s life. For in that instance, life under the Leviathan was no better than being under the state of nature.

However, for Locke, the right to revolution rested at a much lower threshold. Locke argued:

“But if a long train of abuses, lies, and tricks make a government’s bad intentions visible to the people, they cannot help seeing where they are going. It is no wonder that they will then rouse themselves, and try to put the rule into hands, which will secure to them the purpose for which government was originally organized.”

Locke’s language may sound quite familiar. Here’s the text of our own Declaration of Independence:

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

Sources

Hamilton, A., & Rossiter, C. (1961). The Federalist papers; Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay. New York: New American Library.

Hobbes, T., & Tuck, R. (1991). Leviathan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Locke, J. (1986). The Second Treatise on Civil Government. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Rousseau, J. (1968). The Social Contract. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

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