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In 1651, philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote the book Leviathan. In the book, Hobbes uses a monster from the Bible, the Leviathan to describe the government. Hobbes then gives his outline for the political monster and the political machine inside the government and states that the best form of government is an absolute monarchy. Which when compared to the United States’ government, it looks very different. Using the metaphor of a monster from Hobbes’ work, or the term political machine accurately describes the central government because it describes what the political landscape has looked like in America, in the past and how it continues to appear present day.
Viewing the central government as a monster proves to be beneficial for the politicians, their lobbyists, and citizens who support their causes. An example of this can be found in the 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. On the contrary, the political machine can provide drawbacks for the government, its officials, and the ignorant and or innocent citizens; because it can lead to a series of negative outcomes for the people, specifically those whose views or opinions contradict that of the machine. The political machine will affect the United States in the future as it has done in the past and the present day. Due to partisanship and its relevance in the United States’ political landscape, the machine’s past and future effects will continue to prove to have both beneficial effects and negative effects on the country and the people.
The United States government is divided into three branches; the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Within each of the three branches are various organizations, groups, and committees with various jobs. In the United States’ government the three branches create a checks and balances system and allow for the power to be distributed throughout the government system. During the American Revolution the founding fathers desired a strong, fair, government that protected the people’s individual freedoms. However, Hobbes believed in the idea of contractarianism, which is the idea that people are mostly self-interested; but rational people are willing to act morally and obey government authority. During the English Revolution Thomas Hobbes argued that the best form of government was an absolute monarchy. Hobbes proposed the concept that the absolute monarch would keep order and provide services essential to running an efficient form of government.
The Political Machine and the Monster
Officials and politicians involved in the machine put their focus on staying in government power for as long as possible, rather than providing a well running government. However, to their supporters and the innocent or ignorant people it may appear that the government is running well because it benefits them. For example, in the 1780’s the political machine Tammany Hall primarily gained its popularity and loyal voters because of the machine’s willingness and effort to help the poor and immigrant citizens. These immigrant and poor citizens benefited from the machine and therefore thought that the political machine was providing services and providing a well running government. The machine or the monster therefore exists because the people allow it to.
Thomas Hobbes states in his introduction to Leviathan that: “For by art is created that great Leviathan called a Commonwealth, or State which is but an artificial man….” Found on the cover of Leviathan it features a monarchy; or the Leviathan holding a sword and a bishop’s crosier, and wearing a crown. The sword represents military powers, the bishop’s crosier represents religious power, and lastly the crown represents the monarch itself. The Leviathan’s body consists of the people of the state, making the monarch’s head the literal head of state. The cover of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan symbolizes how the Leviathan is directly connected to and supported by the people. The monster featured on the cover of the book is made up of various parts. As Hobbes describes as an artificial man which he uses as a metaphor to further his point of what the government looks like. Thomas Hobbes goes on to argue that this monster is necessary because it protects the people from their law of nature. Hobbes goes on to state that:
“For the laws of nature, which consist in equity, justice, gratitude, and other moral virtues on these on these depending, of mere nature are not property laws, but qualities that dispose men to peace and obedience.”
Both the concepts of the political machine and the monster accurately describe the United States’ central government. The machine accurately describes the central government because similar to the Leviathan, within the machine the pieces of the government are all connected with each other. As seen in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the head of the machine is an individual or organizations who run the machine. With the head the mouth represents the media which seeks to promote the head’s agenda. The body is connected to the head, and is made up of the ignorant or innocent citizens; whose primary goal is to keep their head in their position. The hands symbolize the senators and other officials who do the work for the heads of the machine. Lastly, the feet symbolize the innocent victims who are under the machine; and get trampled.
Viewing the government as a monster or political machine is beneficial because it can be observed how a monster relates to federal government today. The monster directly relates to a monarchy, because people fear the monster the way people fear the monarchy; and the monster rules completely on its own. However, viewing the federal government as a monster has its drawbacks because it goes against what the machine wants the person to do and say. The machine wants the person they put in office to believe in what the machine is for regardless of what they really feel or say, which causes political partisanship. Political partisanship causes people to have a blind loyalty to a particular cause or party.
This viewpoint directly relates to the current political landscape today, because people believe that the United States president can make all of the decisions and is treated like the sole ruler. Which then allows for the president to be viewed as a monarchy. When the president is given the image of a monarchy, it allows the people to create a Leviathan or new monster. Viewing the federal government as a political machine can affect the United States’ political future.
Viewing the federal government as a political machine has both advantages and disadvantages. An example of this can be found in the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the film politicians are seen being influenced by machines bosses and other outside sources. Throughout the film, those that supported and listened to what they were told by the machine were able to stay in office for long periods of time. This can be observed present day in politics by politicians who are kept in the office for extended periods of time and seemingly fly under the radar. This proves to be an advantage because it rewards those who support the machine and fall in line with it.
On the other hand, this can be a disadvantage for politicians who go against or voice an opinion against what the machine tells them to say or do. This then makes the politician pits themselves against the party as a whole. As an example, if a politician is up from removal from office or going through an impeachment process regardless of how the politician may feel the party may tell the politician not to vote for it. Should the politician decide to go against the machine, so the politician involved with the machine would be going against the party and may lose its support.
The Political Landscape
The political machine has affected the past political landscape and continues to do so today. As an example, throughout the United States’ history a total of three presidents have been impeached. Due to partisanship and the blind loyalty it causes, during each impeachment the politician was mostly opposed by the opposite party. Therefore, it can be reasonably inferred that since the politicians from the same party as the politician on trial mostly did not vote in favor of impeachment that the politicians from the machine would not want to risk losing their position or support from their party. In George Washington’s farewell address he addresses the concepts of political parties by stating: “Let me now take a more comprehensive view and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.” Washington ultimately states this warning, because he feared the political parties would divide and tear apart the new nation. As previously mentioned, the American people frequently treat the president as the sole ruler of the nation, thus allows people to create a new monster. Therefore, as long as the American people create this new political monster, and side with two main political parties; political monsters and machines will continue to affect the United States’ federal government. Conclusion
In conclusion, philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ book gives the metaphor of a Leviathan from the Bible and compares it to the government. Hobbes then gives his outline for the political monster and the political machine inside the government and states that the best form of government is an absolute monarchy. A form of government that Hobbes argued would most efficiently run and govern the commonwealth. Which when compared to the United States’ government, it looks very different. The metaphor of the Leviathan or political machine accurately describes what the federal government looked like in the past and continues to look like in the present day. Viewing the federal government as a machine or monster proves to have both advantages and disadvantages for the people of the United States and those involved within the machine itself. Having the viewpoint of a political monster or machine offers an explanation as to why partisanship is very relevant in the United States’ government today.
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