The Ancient Athenian Citizen Oath (Bartleby.com) clearly lays out the responsibility of citizens and government; but since the people made up the government — and the government reflected citizens’ values — the future was respected on a formal basis. The job of government then was to preserve the country and the society for future generations. The Oath argues that signatories promise to fight for things both sacred and profane, indicating that there was freedom of expression in that era. The statement “I will transmit my fatherland not diminished,” means that after taking the oath the person will be a good steward to the land and the society and make sure it is preserved for future generations. The Oath asks signatories to honor and obey those “magistrates” but only those who rule “reasonably.”
How did the theories of Burke, Locke, and Hume relate to how government would deal with future generations? Burke believed that it was government’s duty to give “unremitted attention” to the constituents (the people). Government should listen to the people’s opinions, respect their interests (and to “prefer their interest to his own”). But on the other hand, Burke argued, the political leader should hold fast to his “pleasuresâ€¦satisfactions,” his “opinions” and his “mature judgment” as well as his “enlightened conscience” (Bohn, 1854). The elected leader does not “derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution” but rather the leader ultimately answers to no one; instead, he receives his “trust from Providence,” Bohn presents, quoting in his book the Works of Right Honourable Edmund Burke. In other words, Burke was skeptical about democracy, believing that demagogic forces could easily arouse ordinary citizens’ passions if they actually had the right to vote. He had little faith him ordinary citizen and had his trust in government, hence government was responsible for maintaining itself.
David Hume, meantime, in his essay “That Politics May Be Reduced to a Science,” argues that the same government under one leader may institute policies of “oppression, levity, artifice” and his subjects may engage in “treachery, rebellion” and disloyalty” while an entirely different leader under the same governmental structure a “patriot and heroic prince” can come in and the society will be “totally changed” (Founder’s Constitution). In other words governments can be “the source of all disorder and of the blackest of crimes” or they can act for the public good. Bottom line: governments can’t be trusted to be consistently useful and helpful.
For John Locke, government “â€¦should be limited to securing the life and property of it citizens”; and government should allow freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. He was opposed to “hereditary monarchy” and supported human rights (especially in his more mature years).
As to how these political theories connect with environmental policy in the U.S.: first, the environmental policies in the U.S. are under attack by the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Their recent bill, H.R. 1, passed in February 2011, contained 19 anti-environmental riders that would “negatively affect air, water, and environmental quality,” the Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coalition explained. The right wing in Congress wants to take power away from the Environmental Protection Agency as well. Hume would likely approve of the Tea Party and GOP as to their disavowal of global climate change; he would agree that the U.S. federal government is too big and powerful. Those who took the Athenian Ephebic Oath would object vigorously to the GOP attempt to dismantle laws that protect the environment. Locke would (in his later years) would be intolerant of those who “threaten or undermine government through their intoleranceâ€¦” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Edmund Burke would be conflicted; he didn’t trust the masses (in this case he wouldn’t trust the agitating Tea Party types), but on the other hand he believed those in government know best what should be done. The fact is that Republicans generally think government has gone too far in regulating the air, water, land, and Republicans do not accept the facts of climate change, so in this country right now there is no widely accepted environmental policy albeit the Obama Administration is working hard to convince the nation to adopt a clean energy economy and to do what is necessary to reduce carbon releases into the atmosphere.
Bartleby.com. (2009). Athenian Ephebic Oath. Retrieved April 5, 2011, from http://www.bartleby.com/73/100.html.
Bohn, Henry G. (1854). The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Volume I (London:
Henry G. Bohn), pp. 446-8.
Hume, David. (2007). David Hume, That Politics May Be Reduced to a Science. The Founders
Constitution / Balanced Government / Chapter 11. Retrieved April 4, 2011, from http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch11s3.html.
Locke, John. (2008). Political Philosophy of John Locke. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Retrieved April 5, 2011, from http://www.lep.utm.edu/locke-po/.
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