The Civil Rights Movement and the Black Freedom Struggle

The following is the final paper I wrote for a course on the Civil Rights Movement.

      American political history is, in its most basic form, a history of struggle between those who experience the full benefits of citizenship and those who are left out of the American experiment. This struggle of “haves” and “have-nots” means legal, social, and economic demands are levied against the ruling classes constantly, with the Black Freedom Struggle representing an important phase of the broader conflict of American history. The Civil Rights Movement was one of the most important steps forward in equalizing the legal rights of black citizens in the United States, but it must be understood under the critical lens of progress, understanding that the Civil Rights Movement did not end the Black Freedom Struggle in the United States. With the shift to the right in American politics leading up to the presidency of Ronald Reagan, much of the struggle between American “haves” and “have-nots” was set back, including the struggle of black people. This rightward shift opened up a new space of economic and social demands to be made by black people, which are still being made today.

The successes of the Civil Rights Movement were primarily in the legal sphere, with leaders like Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King Jr. making clear the disparity in legal rights between whites and blacks in the U.S. The work of the movement in Mississippi, for example, was primarily focused on achieving equal voting rights for black people. Activists, black and white, traveled to Mississippi in order to register African Americans to vote. This was intended to highlight the vast gap between black and white people in the South in terms of their access to the most basic right Americans have as citizens of a democracy, the right to vote. (Carson et al. 1991, 170-171) The demands of mainstream activists in the SCLC and SNCC tended to be legal in nature, and leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many of the important victories in the struggle for black freedom were victories for equal rights. The division between the legal challenges of the Civil Rights Movement and the social, legal, and economic demands of the radicals was in its infancy in the 1930’s, but it was already visible in the class divisions within the NAACP. (Fairclough 2001, 182-183) Black people less directly affected by the plight of poverty and economic inequality had less interest in demanding fundamental societal changes in these areas, instead they sought legal victories and slow, legislative change.

This interest in legal and civil rights was the special focus of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s, with economic questions taking a backseat due to cold war concerns about the radical labor movements which were once to close to the black freedom struggle. (Ransby 2003, 161) Even radical activists like Huey P. Newton focused on the disparities in Constitutional rights between African Americans and whites before later tackling the social and economic conditions of the black community. Influenced by Bobby Seale, Newton and his supporters carried guns to their protests, an act meant to “intimidate the authorities,” and to demonstrate the disconnect in legal rights between citizens of the same country, who supposedly all had the right to carry weapons in self-defense. (Newton 1973, 113) This was a clear departure from what the most radical activists would have been most interested in accomplishing 20 or 30 years earlier.

Since the Civil Rights Movement was so closely tied to legal and civil rights, the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 represented the culmination of the movement’s efforts toward legal equality. In this sense, the movement can be said to have been “successful” in terms of the goals it established for itself. The equalization of legal rights and access to certain social accommodations for black people, at least on paper, was achieved by the end of the 1960’s. The broader Black Freedom Struggle was far from finished with the end of the Civil Rights Movement, however, with equality of social and economic opportunity never being fully secured for African Americans. The goals of the radical black freedom movements in the 1930’s and 40’s, and the efforts of the radical labor movement, were never accomplished in America. The material conditions of black people remain substantially inferior to those of whites, despite the legislative accomplishments of the 1960’s.

Division in the Democratic Party and disillusionment with Democratic leadership during the period of stagflation in the 1970’s, along with a general unhappiness with liberal policy among more conservative Americans, led to a hard right shift in American politics. People, especially white people, felt their voices were not being heard in government, and many Southern Democrats were turning toward the Republican party in response to the Democrats’ support of the Civil Rights Movement. The active pursual of the “Southern Strategy” to turn the South toward the Republican party also directed America to the political right. Conservative voters, seeing themselves as a “silent majority,” forced right-wing leaders like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan into power, without regard for how such a rightward turn might affect the least well-off members of American society. Liberal leaders like Jimmy Carter were kept from accomplishing much, with the Carter administration only managing to slow the destruction of the New Deal social safety net, failing to meaningfully reverse the trend. This shift marked the rise of neoliberalism as the leading position in American politics and economic policy, as change which would have profound effects on poor and black people.

African American economic inequality was exacerbated in the 1970’s and 80’s when American politics turned rightward, leading up to Ronald Reagan’s presidency. This shift meant the application of neoliberal austerity measures against poor people in America, with black people being some of the hardest hit. Major cuts to public spending, especially in the area of social welfare programs and social safety net programs, meant that poor people were expected to pull themselves out of their conditions without assistance. The image of the “welfare queen,” usually depicted as an urban black woman abusing the welfare system, was proliferated in order to turn public opinion against social spending. Most recipients of public benefits were, and still are, white, but Presidents Nixon and Reagan both attempted to paint black people as the chief users and abusers of the welfare state. Despite the total falsity of this narrative, racial feelings among whites were used to destroy the systems of social security which had been built up since the New Deal and the Roosevelt administration in the 40’s. The new negative feelings toward black people among whites, along with the reduced support of the state for poor people, meant that the social and economic status of black people slid back substantially during this period.

Mass incarceration also became an issue under Nixon, whose instigation of the drug war specifically targeted black people and his political opponents, often one and the same group. Nixon pushed a message of “law and order,” meaning increased policing of urban black communities. This meant potentially racist and violent police were instructed to monitor and control the behavior of black people, leading to a disproportionate rate of arrests and abuse of black people by police. Reagan, with the help of his wife Nancy, pushed the “War on Drugs” to become a national political phenomenon in the 1980’s, to the extreme detriment of the, now heavily policed, black communities. The mass incarceration of black people, especially black men and fathers, combined with the defunding of social programs designed to help the poor and working classes, severely damaged the structure of the black family. (Class lecture, 12/7) Whereas in the first half of the 20th century, despite great inequality between blacks and whites, the black family unit was stable, the late 20th century saw it destabilized. This, and its broader effects on the economic status of black communities, was probably one of the greatest losses of the rightward turn of the 70’s and 80’s, leaving a permanent mark on the relationship between black people and the rest of American society.

Specific social programs, like affirmative action and public housing, were targeted by the Reagan administration, likely from a racial angle. Defunding of public housing as African Americans began to use such programs was extremely detrimental to the wellbeing of African American families. The already destabilized black family was thrown into further chaos by way of lack of decent housing. (Class lecture, 12/7) By framing the urban black mother as the “welfare queen,” neoliberal politicians and policymakers managed to push black people out of the systems of social support on which white people had been able to rely for almost 50 years. Additionally, black people were kept from taking advantage of programs like affirmative action, which made up for so many lost opportunities for black people, on the grounds that white people and politicians saw them as “unfair.” By depicting black people as atomistic individuals, in this specific case only, the idea that they could pull themselves out of poverty without help was popularized. The possibility of this was actually marginal, but it was solidified in the public imagination along with the implication that poor black people were “too lazy” to do it.

Right-wing social views, specifically on drugs and issues of race, did great damage to the place of African Americans in the U.S., and racism was enforced systemically, despite no legal provision for it anywhere on paper. Though this was partially related to the new War on Drugs and the right shift of politics, it was also a failure of the Civil Rights Movement in a certain sense. The lack of explicit economic demands, and the failure to prepare for continued systemic racism in a post-Jim Crow era, are distinct failures of the Civil Rights Movement. The arrival of “New Jim Crow,” in the form of mass incarceration, police abuses, and political marginalization, was the natural reaction of the racist white establishment to the arrival of new rights for black people; the reaction of the “haves” against the successful assertion of demands by the “have nots.”

If the hard-right turn of American politics in the 1970’s represented any kind of political gain for the Black Freedom Struggle, it was the realization that alternative means of resistance were needed for the next phase of the struggle, and that solidarity among black people, outside the state, was an essential component of liberation. The rise of the Black Power movement in the 70’s is related to the changes undergone in the way black people related to the government, and the way they thought about their place in American society. Even in the late 60’s the struggle turned, under leaders like Huey P. Newton, into a demand for social and economic power previously never accorded to black people. In a post-1964 world, Newton realized that the consciousness of African Americans needed to be raised and directed toward the assertion of power, not just the demand for rights. (Newton 1973, 176-180) Even with rights achieved on paper, without Black Power, those rights were largely worthless. Systemic forces could, and would, remove them again and send black people back to their previously second-class state. This shift to Black Power is partially a recognition that the struggle for black freedom, like the broader American struggle between the powerful and the marginalized, wouldn’t end in 1964, 1965, or 68. It was an ongoing social struggle which, in Newton’s view, tended toward revolutionary ends.

Huey P. Newton’s Black Panther Party, as part of this shift in consciousness, developed programs of mutual aid and social support, systems designed to keep impoverished black people fed, clothed, and educated, and to instigate consciousness and solidarity among the members of their communities. These programs were in direct response to the cutting of funding to New Deal and Great Society programs on which poor African Americans had previously relied. Because the gap in social safety net spending was so detrimental to black people, mutual aid efforts, outside the state, were the most effective way of holding the black community together in the face of neoliberalism. Efforts like the “Breakfast for Children Program” sought to bring support to the people and to spread the ideals of black power and pride in being a part of a black community. These programs were intended to make people “practice that theory [socialism] and inspect that theory,” according to Fred Hampton. (Carson et al. 1991, 505) In addition to serving the people, the Black Panthers were spreading consciousness to the people.

Huey P. Newton said in Revolutionary Suicide, “I do not think that life will change for the better without an assault on the Establishment, which goes on exploiting the wretched of the earth.” (Newton 1973, 3) Without a direct “assault” on the established forces of power, a militant demand for power to be given to the marginalized, real social change is impossible. This is the central failure of the Civil Rights Movement, in its legal victories it forgot that the empowerment of black people was the real goal. The movement was successful on the terms of the establishment, that is on the terms of the legal authority of a racist state, but it failed to bring about radical, fundamental social change. Equality before the law, and the true equality found in radical social change Newton describes in Revolutionary Suicide, are by no means the same thing.

The economic and social demands of the radical struggles in the 1930’s and 40’s remain to be achieved. (Ransby 2003, 155) A program of economic liberation which would repair the harm done by centuries of marginalization of black people must be the goal of the Black Freedom Struggle in the coming century. In light of increasing inequality of wealth and income for all Americans, especially African Americans, policy must be directed toward repairing the fabric of our society, and building a better, more inclusive, new one. The privileges of the ruling class must be abolished, and the benefits accorded to some individuals, and not others, must be equalized. Though the civil rights movement managed to achieve legal equality, the systems of oppression which still inhibit the success of black Americans must be broken up, and the gains made from these systems by white people must be reversed.

The future of the Black Freedom Struggle must be focused on addressing the lack of social and economic means for black people, and the lack of power for the black individual. Huey P. Newton references Friedrich Nietzsche’s Will to Power in his explanation of the purpose of a revolutionary, to work toward the expression of his purpose and power. Nietzsche’s ideas about the individual, in relation to large groups which seek to control him, are influential in Newton’s effort to shift consciousness among black people. “The rising level of consciousness,” says Newton, “led us [black people] to redefine ourselves. People once ashamed to be called Black now gladly accept the label, and our biological characteristics are a source of pride.” (Newton 1973, 172-173) Power and pride in oneself is both a Nietzschean value, and a revolutionary value. This is why the future struggle for black freedom must be about demanding power, and asserting pride in the individual black person, along with pride for the collective population of African Americans.

The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is making substantially more radical demands on the establishment and ruling class to repair the damage done by the marginalization of black people, represents a vehicle for the future of the Black Freedom Struggle. Police violence, and the systemic racism inherent in the drug war, must be tackled head on. By joining hands against the corruption and harm the system does to the black community, Black Lives Matter activists are making it clear that they are opposed to the systems, built on hate, which have kept black people from achieving their full potential as american citizens. This seems to be the direction in which the struggle must move in order to carry on the broader struggle between the privileged and underprivileged classes in American society.

Carson, Clayborne. The Eyes on the Prize: Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches,and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle, 1954-1990. New York;Penguin, 1991. Print.

Fairclough, Adam. Better Day Coming. New York; Penguin, 2001. Print.
Newton, Huey P. Revolutionary Suicide. New York; Penguin, 1973. Print.

Ransby, Barbara. Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. Miami; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Press, 2003. Print.


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Adam Smith Reflection

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The following is a reflection on the work of Adam Smith for an economics course, which ended up being more of a defense of private property to my professor.

Adam Smith is one of the foundational thinkers, not just of modern economics, but of modern thought in general. His work surrounded the issue of wealth, why it is valuable, how it is produced, how it can be increased, and how it ought to be distributed. Wealth, in this sense, is measured mostly by the growth of economies. For Smith, economics is essentially the science and study of increasing the wellbeing of humanity. Though he is often held up by the most conservative economists as a proponent of free markets and trade in a simple sense, Smith’s political economy is actually substantially more complex and egalitarian than many contemporary readings of him would suggest.
The two main causes of wealth, according to Smith, are trade and the division of labor. The division of labor is prior to trade, with trade having a kind of multiplying effect on the wealth produced by the division of labor in the form of accelerated growth. Whereas conservatives like Gregory Mankiw tend to focus on the role of trade in the production of wealth, Smith’s political economy is especially interested in the place of the division of labor in the creation of the wealth of the community. All wealth, according to Smith’s analysis, is created by the division of labor. (Sackrey, 31) The division of labor creates wealth by making it possible to produce goods which could otherwise never be produced. Individuals, in isolation from others, are incapable of producing most of the goods used by society, therefore they have gone about dividing labor to allow the production of a wider and better array of goods. Because the most useful and valuable goods couldn’t be produced in isolation, much of the value available to society is created via the division of labor, and wealth is thus a product of that labor.
Smith’s understanding of wealth is important because it places the laborer in the position of value-creation, and it recognizes the interdependent nature of members of a community. This runs in direct contradistinction to many economists and thinkers who tend to place trade, and by extension capital, above labor in terms of its importance as a mechanism of value-creation. These more conservative attitudes about value have the possibility of being used to roll back the causes of labor and the gains of egalitarians in the political sphere by serving as an economic and philosophical defense of the status quo. That Adam Smith himself stands on the opposite side of the aisle on this issue shows that the entire subject of economics has the potential to provide a critical stance for the analysis of growth, wealth, and their relationship to societal good.
Gregory Mankiw provides a specific example of a conservative view of wealth as a product of trade. “Trade can make everyone better off,” says Mankiw, a position based on the assumption that it is the trade and use of goods produced by the division of labor, and not the division itself, which produces wealth. This is the basic premise of our current system of wealth, and it can easily be seen as a defense of the capitalist mode of production, a system under which property is privately owned by individuals. Because it is trade, and not simply the division of labor, which creates wealth, and private property is an essential component of trade, the promotion of the current property system becomes possible on the basis of its promotion of trade. Economists like Mankiw would suggest that the current system, or even one which has more extreme laissez-faire elements, is the best system for creating wealth. (Mankiw, Chapter 2) The argument would further run that a society with large amounts of wealth will see that wealth reaching all of its members by way of investment.
The difference between these views lies in certain premises underlying their respective arguments. It essentially comes down to a difference about the origin and cause of wealth, that is they disagree about whether wealth comes from the division of labor or from trade. This difference makes for some important broader philosophical differences as well. If, for example, wealth comes from the division of labor, then wealth could never exist without a community. This logic could be used to argue that all wealth, once created, becomes the wealth of the community, never produced or owned in isolation from others. The alternative, trade-focused philosophy would tend to suggest that wealth is created by those who trade and use goods most effectively, therefore that wealth becomes the property of those individuals. The social and economic implications of each of these positions are vastly different from one another, the former being a system of totally collectively owned wealth, and the latter being a system of private wealth akin to our present one.
Adam Smith’s actual position, in relation to these two, appears to be a moderate position lying between them. Smith, living in the period of the decline of mercantilism, is most interested in critiquing that older system. (Sackrey, 35) He advocates a less heavily regulated, less monopolistic system, because he sees those mechanisms as being too heavily influenced by the old mercantile interests to be beneficial to society. This part of his political economy is of most interest to conservatives. Smith’s concern for the working class, however, especially their relationship to the wealthiest members of society, seems to suggest a much more critical understanding of freedom of trade, exchange, and property. (Sackrey, 35) Smith recognizes that there is a certain level of inequality inherent in the system which must be dealt with. Economics, and political economy by extension, serve to answer the question of how these inequalities might be dealt with, and how dealing with them will affect the broader system and its ability to produce wealth in the future.
If Smith is right, and all wealth is due to our shared division of labor, I don’t think it necessarily follows that all wealth must be collective wealth. Clearly Smith, who saw one of the functions of government to be the protection of one individual against another, recognized some kind of private right of property, at least in one’s person. Additionally, the argument that all wealth is collective because it is produced collectively fails to recognize the actual nature of the relationship between labor, capital, and the division of labor in practice. A just accounting of the ownership of wealth must consider who invested the various factors of production allowing that wealth to be produced, and how much each individual actually invested.
The argument that all collectively produced wealth is collectively owned ignores the fact that the labor of individuals, being the property of individuals, can be sold. If it is assumed that man owns himself and the product of his labor, then it is understood that anything he produces independent of anyone else is his alone. If one owns something, it is usually understood that he has the right to exchange that thing with others at will. This means that the labor of the individual, by way of the product of that labor, can be sold. Supposing one man has enough goods to temporarily buy the labor of ten men, he can buy that labor and its product from the men and make it his to use as he pleases. If the man then organizes the ten other men on the basis of the division of labor, knowing that he can multiply the output of the labor he has purchased, then the resulting wealth and goods are in one sense “collectively produced,” but they are justly the property of the single man since he has purchased the labor and product used to produce them. The product of the division of labor in this case is great wealth, but being the property of the single man through a fair and voluntary exchange, it still is not collective wealth.
The investment of capital, too, presents a problem with the collective ownership of wealth. If three men invest some goods they’ve produced, capital, in building a house, but they invest unequally, a fair accounting of the ownership of that house depends on how much each invested. If one man invests 60% of the necessary capital, but the others invest only 20% apiece, it seems just that the house ought to be 60% the property of the first man, and only 40% the property of the other two. The idea that capital, and the thus the portion of the new wealth which it comprises, ceases to be the property of its original owner after it is contributed to the division of labor seems to result in a kind of injustice. In a just world, these men do not equally own the house they built together, and the wealth they produce is not collective.
Adam Smith’s political economy is an important commentary on the way contemporary economists think about wealth, but it also has certain things to say about the justice of inequality. Smith’s ideas run both in line with, and in opposition to, conservative and capitalist economics, which means that he is an essential source of controversy on the issue of the justice of any economic system. It is important to consider that his views, taken to their extreme, may not be completely consistent with justice, but that taken moderately they are important for criticizing and deconstructing the most harmful parts of the present system.

N. Gregory. Mankiw. Principles of Microeconomics. South Melbourne, Cengage Learning Australia, 2008. Print.

Sackrey, Charles, Geoffrey Schneider, Janet Knoedler, and Hans Jensen. Introduction to Political Economy 8th ed. Dollars and Sense, 2016. Print.

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Outline of Hylomorphism


The following was written last fall for an introductory philosophy of mind course.

In chapters 10.1 through 10.5 of Philosophy of Mind, William Jaworski works through a summary of the philosophical/psychological position of Hylomorphism. Hylomorphism is the metaphysical theory, stemming from Aristotle, that objects are composites of matter and form. This means that physical objects exist as matter (the material out of which they are arranged) ordered into forms (the order according to which that matter is arranged.) Hylomorphism uses the idea of structure, the form of an object, as the criterion by which things are organized and ordered according to type or kind.

Hylomorphism is based on the idea that a full understanding of an object arises from understanding both its matter and form. According to the Hylomorphic worldview, the qualities of objects are determined by these two features, and they have a direct causal impact on the objects which have them. Hylomorphism describes an understanding of objects according to emergent properties, or properties which an object has because of the organization of its components. These properties are held only by the object, according to its form, not by the components which make that object up. They are also not simply ways of describing the activity of lower-level matter. Hylomorphism and emergentism both posit the existence of features of the universe which exist only in the sense that the constituent parts making them up are ordered in a specific way so as to produce those features.
A property is said to be emergent (as per emergentism) if

  1. A system possesses the property in virtue of its components organization.
  2. The system possesses the property but none of the components possess the property.
  3. The property has causal powers which explain the system’s behavior.
  4. It is not a higher-order property constructed out of lower order properties.

This way of conceiving of properties in objects is distinct from Aristotelian Hylomorphism in terms of its understanding of causation, which in Hylomorphism is based on a “functional analysis” of the object to see the relationships between its parts. The parts of an object are the things which contribute to its overall activities.
The argument for Hylomorphism follows

  1. Structure is a real and irreducible explanatory principle. (Premise)
  2. If structure is real and irreducible as an explanatory principle, then the best explanation for structure being real is that Hylomorphism is true. (Premise)
  3. If the best explanation is that Hylomorphism is true, then it is true. (Premise)
  4. The best explanation is that Hylomorphism is true. (— E, 1,3)
  5. Hylomorphism is true. (— E, 2,4)

This way of conceiving of the objects in a system appears to be valid by modus ponens. I think Hylomorphism seems to be a sound explanation of the relationship between lower and higher-order components and their structures, though I question whether perhaps premise 2 is not overly generous toward a Hylomorphic understanding of matter and form. I think the potential for the premises to be flawed is the biggest issue with the argument, as presented in the text. Assuming Jaworski’s argument is sound, I would generally agree with his ultimate conclusion about the relationship between the material components of a whole and the whole itself, as well as how that relationship relates to seeing objects as composites of matter and form.

Jaworski, William. Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2011. print.

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Outline of Humean Ethical Non-Rationalism

david hume

Another outline for my ethics course.

In chapter 1 of his “On the Influencing Motives of the Will,” David Hume makes an argument for ethical non-rationalism on the basis that decisions are not primarily derived from rational ideas but from passions and components of the will not fully under our control. In Hume’s view, the Will, a result of pain, pleasure, and other passions, is the driving force of decision making. This means that decisions are not made rationally, and ethics is not based in reason alone, but in the non-rational drives of passion which guide the will.

Hume argues that morality, which is based in reason as a part of “practical philosophy,” informs moral decision-making, thereby connecting moral decision-making and reason, but that it can never totally eclipse the passions as the driving force behind decisions. The direct cause of an action is never reasoning based in practical moral reason, rather that kind of reasoning informs the decisions made on the basis of the passions and other drives of the will. Decisions are based more directly in our perception of whether we will experience pleasure or pain as a result of the action being performed.

The argument essentially runs along the lines of rational moral decisions being based in causal relationship. If A causes B then rational moral decisions are based on whether A should cause B to produce the best decision from a rational point of view. This basic pattern of thought doesn’t reflect the way decisions are actually made because the additional factor of pleasure or pain as a result of the action A changes the way decisions may be made in response to A. Because these passion-based factors have a greater influence over the decision than simply the rational following of A to B, the decision itself is not a primarily rational one, but a passionate decision informed by reason.

This argument seems to make logical sense and is valid by modus tollens from the premises. It also appears to be sound in the sense that the relationship between the premises and their truth is solid. Moral decisions, viewed as Hume views them, are not primarily reasoned decisions. They are based, instead, on the passions and the drive toward pleasure and away from pain. This drive, informed by certain rational decisions, results in morality as it is between people.

Hume’s arguments, which is followed by an assertion that passions are, in fact, amenable to reason and related to reason, is important because it points to a certain flaw in the way prior philosophers described moral decision-making. Rather than a reasonable, thoughtful decision, most decisions are based in simpler more immediate causes which can only be analyzed in terms of reason after the fact. I agree with his argument generally, and I see its role in relationship to morality because it changes the way individual decisions are seen in terms of their relationship to rational, practical morality.

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Outline of J.S. Mill’s Argument for Utilitarianism

js mill

This is a brief outline prepared for my Ethics course.

In chapter 1 of his Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill puts fourth an argument in favor of the “Greatest Happiness Principle” or GHP. That is, he argues that a thing is good insofar as it produces the greatest happiness for the largest number of people. While his ideas may seem at first to be an intuitive extension of the Hedonistic Value Theory, when examined carefully through logical analysis, it can be shown to be not only unsound, but actually totally invalid as an argument.

The argument follows like this:

1. If everyone desires his own happiness, then individual happiness is desirable. (Premise.)
2. Everyone desires his own happiness. (Premise.)
3. If everyone’s individual happiness is desirable, then the happiness of everyone is desirable. (Premise.)
4. Every individual’s happiness is desirable. (By conditional elimination from 1 and 2)
5. Therefore the happiness of everyone is desirable. (By conditional elimination from 3 and 4)
6. If the happiness of everyone is desirable, then an action is right, if and only if it produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. (Premise.)
7. Therefore, an action is right, if and only if is produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. (By conditional elimination from 5 and 6.)

While this argument seems to flow logically, it encounters a problem in the fact that the argument itself is actually invalid. Assuming this is the argument made by Mill, the argument is invalid because it relies on the Fallacy of Equivocation. Mill falsely conflates two different variations on the meaning of desirable, making appear as if something being “capable of being desired” also means it should be desired. The use of the world desirable to refer to the former in the first several premises of the argument, followed by the use of the latter in the conclusion, makes the argument inconsistent, and by consequence, invalid.

In order to make this argument function, one would need to eliminate the false equivocation of the two forms of “desired” by the addition of a premise. Changing the word “desirable” to “capable of being desired” and “ought to be desired” to draw distinction between the two variations would clarify the meaning of the argument, and the addition of the premise “If something is capable of being desired, then it ought to be desired” would add to the validity of the argument. This argument would still be unsound, however, due to the fact that this additional premise is not necessarily true. It seems the problems with the premises and the reliance on fallacies are difficult to overcome in this argument.

Mill’s argument, taken in this way, is both unsound and invalid, and it is difficult to make an argument along the same lines which doesn’t fall into the same issues. The basis of the GHP as a useful ethical principle is quite flawed, and its use in practice is not philosophically viable. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate Utilitarianism as a potentially valid ethical theory, it only draws into question the value of J.S. Mill’s Utilitarianism and his argument for it.

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Campaign Finance and American Democracy

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The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, or FECA, was established with the express purpose of protecting the sanctity of American Democracy through careful regulation. Requiring and regulating the disclosure of campaign donations at the federal level and detailing the legal limits of campaign contributions served as the basis of a body of campaign finance law intended to protect the equality of influence of the individual American over the political system against the power of wealthy individuals and corporate groups. The FECA has since been challenged and weakened through a series of legal cases dealing with its relationship to the First Amendment and the nature of campaign contributions as a kind of political speech. The relationship between sensible campaign finance law and the freedom of speech of individuals donating to federal campaigns is a long and complex one. In terms of its practical application, the FECA has been largely neutered by the alteration of a variety of its provisions as a result of the cases surrounding it. In order to restore the power of the FECA to function effectively as the cornerstone of US campaign finance law, these altered provisions must be returned to their original state or altered in some way, allowing them to better function as limits on campaign spending.

The arguments which have been put forward in disarming parts of the FECA have been primarily based in an appeal to the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The implication here is that campaign donations act as a variety of political speech by donors, and are therefore protected by the Constitution. Because the Constitution protects “the rights of ‘life,’ ‘liberty,’ ‘property,’ and ‘equal protection’” for persons, (Clements, 70) the Constitutional question hinges on two important factors, the nature of the “personhood” of donors and whether the kind of influence campaign contributions can have represents a substantial detriment to the public good. The question of personhood deals with the rights of corporations to contribute fund in the same manner as individuals; and more importantly, the issue of harm to the public good draws into question the entire Constitutional argument of campaign contributions as protected speech. If, for example, the courts were to interpret the dangers of the influence of money in politics as sufficient to warrant a prudent legislative response, such donations would no longer be considered constitutionally protected, rather they would be a regulated variety of finance. The complexity of interpretation here has made the FECA an important part of the history of Supreme Court rulings in the 20th and 21st centuries. Both of these factors have been dealt with by the Supreme Court in relation to this issue, but it remains clear that the rulings handed down have weakened the FECA and fundamentally changed the structure of American campaign finance, as well as the electoral system by extension. A reexamination and alteration of the FECA and the rulings which have contributed to its current structure is essential to strengthening US campaign finance law.

Some of the most important alterations to the FECA must surround the limits placed on campaign contributions. Originally, these limits were introduced as part of the 1974 amendment to the FECA, but they have been heavily altered recently, allowing for a much greater degree of flexibility in the volume of money being donated to campaigns by individuals. Supreme Court cases like McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission have effectively removed the capacity for the Commission to act on the FECA’s provisions about limiting the number of contributions made by individuals. (Clements, 126) In this case, while the limitations on spending directly to candidates and committees remain the same, limits on total spending on the campaigns of all federal candidates have been lifted. By eliminating these limits, the Court has allowed individuals to contribute an unlimited total amount of money toward the election of federal candidates. The result of this change is an unnecessary expansion of the ability of individual donors to influence elections outside their own states. Overturning McCutcheon v. FEC would restore a certain standard limitation to this kind of spending, and it would restrict the spending of individuals to primarily the campaigns within their states. Individual donations, under a system structured in this way, would primarily serve to support the work of campaigns limited to certain areas of local interest, preventing wealthy donors from attempting to influence elections in a wide number of distant states. In order to make these kinds of localized contributions effective, overturning McCutcheon v FEC, which would limit total spending by individuals on federal campaigns, would have to be paired with a tightening of the limits on the total spending by the campaigns themselves.

The FECA currently allows for unlimited spending by campaigns on activities to increase voter turnout and spread the message of parties and candidates nationally. This is a part of the later Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo, which challenged the Constitutionality of contribution and expenditure limits found in certain 1974 provisions of the act. The court eventually upheld contribution limits, but expenditure limits were overturned as restrictions of the quality of campaign speech. (FEC) The issue with this provision, as it stands in light of Buckley v. Valeo, is that it incentivizes massive spending by campaigns, and it indirectly promotes the kind of large-scale “money-races” and “money-elections” which can be seen in modern elections by making a large budget an essential component of a successful campaign. Altering the FECA to limit all spending by individual campaigns would allow campaigns to focus their spending on targeted work, and it would equalize the field of competition in terms of the availability of money. Campaigns would, under these conditions, be forced to compete equally on the issues rather than campaign for money from other interests.

Further, cases like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission have fundamentally changed the way corporations are viewed in terms of their personhood and their ability to participate in campaign contributions. In this decision, the Supreme Court upheld the right of nonprofit corporations, like Citizens United, and individuals to unlimited political expenditures, but this decision also extended that right to labor unions and for-profit corporations. In terms of the Constitution, this case deals with the question of the nature of personhood as regards corporations. The question of what constitutes legal personhood is important in regards to the legal rights of corporate entities to contribute to campaigns nationally. Corporate legal personhood, a principle dating back to the 19th century, has been used to claim Constitutional protection of corporate speech, and by extension, donations. While the concept of this personhood is relatively old, the way it was upheld in the Citizens United decision represents a shift in that understanding and a strengthening of the value of corporate personhood in the 21st century. The relationship between corporations as “persons” and the Constitution has been strengthened by making individual people and corporate “persons” equal before the First Amendment.

Overturning Citizens United is essential to any kind of reform of the FECA. This alteration is not only practically important, in the sense that it will give the FEC greater power in regulating total political expenditures and the influence of corporations in politics, but also legally important because of the precedent set by the Citizens United decision. This decision establishes the relative equality of corporate legal personhood and the personhood of individuals. Whereas corporations previously acted as bodies of individuals acting with a single will, “persons,” now they are viewed in a similar light as individuals with full Constitutional rights and protections. By establishing this role for corporations, the court has fundamentally reshaped the way future legal decisions must view corporations and corporate money. This decision affects the way large corporate interests can interact with the political world, but it also affects all other cases in which those interests appeal to the first amendment for their protection. Beyond the world of campaign finance, this decision has the capacity to change legal interpretation surrounding advertising, financial and other regulation, and any other federal relationship with corporations. Giving corporations this level of personhood actually undermines the ability of individuals to govern themselves by subordinating the political power of the individual to that of larger groups and corporations. Justice Stevens’ dissent in the Citizens United decision pressed this point and argued for a distinction between human-beings and “persons” which would allow for federal regulation of corporations regardless of the First Amendment. (Clements, 14) Stevens saw the decision, and the resulting influx of corporate money into politics, as threats to an already imperfect American democracy. According to this thinking, making corporations “people” gives them a kind of power which they were previously denied outright, the power to shoot down federal regulation using the First Amendment.

The result of previous decades of challenges and alterations to the FECA has been its weakening, and with it a weakened system of campaign finance law. Beyond the restoration of previously removed portions of the act and the overturning of important decisions surrounding it, certain provisions could be added to strengthen the campaign finance system moving forward. The power of Super-PACs in light of Citizens United is huge, and they must be regulated and controlled in a more effective way. These organizations allow large donations of money which effectively go directly to campaigns. In this sense, the presence of Super-PACs totally negates any other limits on total campaign contributions by creating a method for donating unlimited amounts of funds. The volume of funding coming into campaigns through this method has the added effect of making it nearly impossible to stage a grassroots resistance to corporate power. Democracy with Super-PACs is effectively controlled by corporate interests with very little potential federal oversight or popular resistance. Categorizing Super-PACs as a separate kind of organization under the FECA, a kind which can be regulated by the FEC, would make it feasible to place contribution limits directly on the Super-PACs themselves. This alteration could be one way of undoing some of the damage of Citizens United by providing substantial regulations for Super-PACs and equalizing corporate donors and extremely wealthy donors with the donations of small, individual citizens.

The danger of a weakened FEC and campaign finance system is that American democracy will be weakened along with it. The capacity for corporations and wealthy donors to influence the outcome of elections totally reshapes the way our democracy functions by placing final decision-making power in the hands of a relatively small number of Americans. Functional democracy requires broad participation in order to prevent a decay into a plutocratic oligarchy. Fundamental changes must be made to both the FECA and to the broader legal decisions surrounding it. With these changes, the FEC will be able to more effectively regulate the behavior of campaigns, major donors, and corporations as they relate to American electoral politics. In total, the freedom of speech and Constitutional rights of individuals can be effectively maintained while also reasonably limiting the spending of federal campaigns and the power of corporations and large interests to control the outcome of major elections.

Works Cited
Clements, Jeffrey. Corporations Are Not People. Berrett Koehler, 2014. Print.
Federal Election Commission. “The Federal Election Campaign Laws: A Short History.” FEC. N.d. Web.
Foltz, Philipp. The Age of Pericles. 1853. Image.
McChesney, Robert. Dollarocracy. Nation Books, 2013. Print.
Schweizer, Peter. Extortion. HMH, 2013. Print.

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Rain Poem

The poetry of rainy evenings and lo mein boxes.

An iron sheet of heaven’s malice beats
The face of this, my forgotten city.
Night children, aimless, seek absolution
From sins they did not know they had performed—
Neon confessionals and liquor store
Priests hear stoned apologies for nothing.
That unholy shower washes away
These souls which find salvation in a bottle.

-Michael Sweeney


Filed under poetry