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Perhaps what has become so dominant in the affairs and the nature of man, almost exclusively, is the need to be treated well. What seemed as latent but constantly boiling in every individual of all ages is a quest to get a fair share of one’s natural entitlement. In other words, man searches for justice. Philosophers through the ages are not left out as they have contributed tremendously to the development and reorganization of human society. Hence their clarion calls for a better society. Thus it is on this note that we are going to review the opinions of philosophers, both past and present, concerning the political situation of any given society; paying more attention to the nature of political power and its structural systems regarding the affairs of the state in general.


1.1 Ancient Period

This period witnessed the concern of man to have a well ordered and organized state whereby its citizens will uphold the issue of moral values, especially as it pertains to the issue of justice and equity. As such, there are many philosophers in this period that were involved in the reformation of the state, but we are going to look at the contributions made by few of them. One of the philosophers of this period we are going to see is Aristophanes. He opined in his political philosophy that the system of governing the state should not be democracy but communism. Therefore he criticized democracy saying that many unqualified and lazy persons joined the legislative for the sake of financial rewards. And this is very obvious with regard to Nigerian political situation which we are going to see shortly. Thus many politicians are in politics simply because of money. He goes further to say that “in democracy, people are given political posts even if they were not equipped for it.”[1] In other words, many politicians are given certain positions they do not merit, that is, those we can call political office seekers. Hence he argues for communism as the best option for proper governance of the state. Communism for him will incorporate every member of the state and proper justice will be maintained.


Plato in his view outlined five forms of government, namely, aristocracy, timocracy, plutocracy, democracy and despotism, but he favours aristocracy. According to him, aristocracy stands as the best form of government where only Philosopher-kings should be rulers. He intended to establish an ideal society where the state of affairs and the people’s moral conscience will rule. However, he was deeply disenchanted with the type of politics practiced in Athens, particularly with the way the Athenian government executed Socrates, and had consistently failed to produce good leaders. Hence his clarion calls for upholding morality and the agitation for Philosopher-kings to be rulers. Moreover, his intention was to establish an ideal society where its leaders would be guided by reason and justice maintained. He saw them (Philosopher-kings) as the best option in the search for good leaders and the need to promote morality especially among the youths who are future leaders. Thus, Plato envisioned leaders with the aptitude for wisdom to govern the society and legislate for it.

Aristotle in his contribution viewed the state as the association of human beings where all man’s needs are provided. The existence of the state is for the provision of the natural needs of man; thus, the state is viewed as the natural association of man. And man being a rational and political animal should best secure good life in the society. ‘The good life’ here according to Aristotle includes political good, economic independence and virtuous life. As regards power, he said that, “the citizens at large administer the state for the common interest, so that the government is called by the generic name, a constitution.”[2] The power of those in office should be controlled by the law since good laws are supreme in the state. Aristotle as we could see in his politics elevated the citizens to the level of the administration of the government and as it pertains to the political power in the society. Equally, he opined that the common interest matters as much as it gives everybody equal opportunity to participate in the affairs of the government. Therefore he saw the government as involving, virtually, every citizen, as it is called by a generic name. So the constitution forms part and parcel of the government and it must be properly established and executed.

1.2     Medieval Period

Having seen the contributions made by some political philosophers in the preceding period, let’s now talk of the medieval period. Here we have many philosophers to consider, as it were, but we shall concentrate on a few of them. Among them was St. Augustine. He was not a political philosopher as such, but contributed immensely as far as commonwealth and social order of any organized society are concerned. According to him, true commonwealth can never exist if there is no real justice in the community. “But”, he said, “true justice is found only in that whose founder and ruler is Christ . . . we cannot deny that it is the ‘weal’ of the community.”[3] As we can see, he is more of a theologian since he makes Christ the terminus ad quem of man’s existence. Nevertheless his defense of commonwealth and justice are very much indispensable in any political society. Hence for any meaningful political society to exist there must be real justice and commonwealth. Lack of these two principles of government characterizes the Nigerian democracy. And these, no doubt, must have their foundation in Christ just as St. Augustine upholds. However this justice must be equitably distributed and maintained. This, by implication, means that the power holders must pay attention to the citizens’ well-being; and the citizens must not be found wanting in obedience to the leaders. Secondly, Thomas Aquinas in his part also presented us with his doctrine of justice which begets common good. These principles are never found in a vacuum for they are within the reach of men with common good. For Aquinas, the object of justice is “right.”[4] What this means is that every individual’s right ought to be respected. Therefore, every member must respect his or her individual right and the right of others. On this point Isidore opined that, “a man is said to be just because he respects the rights of others.”[5] Finally Aquinas concluded that justice means rendering to an individual his right, all for the common good of the political state.

1.3    Modern Period

From the medieval to the modern period we have seen the contributions of some political thinkers and their ideologies. We can see in those periods the indispensable role of ethical values and how they contribute to the establishment of an ideal state. It is their view that true justice contributes to the shaping of the society, if well appreciated. However their thought appears to be more of utopia than real, especially, when we consider the political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle.

The modern period could thus be seen as the high point of political theory and ideologies. The philosophers of this period were so much concerned with the nature of political states and their governance. They were so much interested in how best a state could be governed through reasonable and courageous leaders, and at the same time ensuring good relationship among its citizens. Let’s see the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, in this modern period, which was summarized in the concept, SOCIAL CONTRACT. The “Social contract”, according to him, “is a contract by which men avoid the state of nature and enter into civil society…”[6] But prior to this civil society man was in a natural state that was characterized by warfare; a situation, where because of man’s freedom, there was struggle for glory, diffidence and urge for competition. A state of war, as opined by Hobbes, where ‘men live without a common power to keep them all in awe; they are in that condition which is called “war”. This happens when one sheepishly follows his inclinations and dispositions. However it is in this contract (social contract) that men surrender their powers and strength to sovereignty to be governed and legislated for. Thus he says, “…by conferring all their powers and strength upon one man, or upon an assembly of men, to bear their person, to reduce all their will into one.”[7] This contract so enacted is called a commonwealth. The contract establishes an absolute government. Commonwealth becomes the sovereign to whom the people entrust their power to provide for their peace and security. The sovereign exercises his authority by prescribing rules where every man may know what goods he may enjoy and what actions he may perform without being molested by any body. Summarily the sovereign exercises the political power, hearing and deciding disputes.

John Locke was also of the view that social contract should remain the best option for the civil society. In fact he was one of the flag-bearers of social contract, just as Hobbes. He did not see it as a situation of servitude on the part of the citizens to their rulers. Rather the citizens submitted their legislative and executive powers in order to be governed. Hence the pact makes them a “single body politic”[8], making them equal and free men, both the rulers and the ruled. It is important to note that this power is a fiduciary power, which means that it is given on trust. Therefore, the legislature must ensure good, justified governance, otherwise dissolved. Consequently, “there remains in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them.”[9] Since it is only a power on trust, it means that the people are still in charge, unlike the absolute monarchy of Hobbes. Rousseau was also in this line of thought when he was talking about the ‘General Will’, which he said, belongs to the people. And so the people’s sovereignty cannot be alienated from them for it belongs to them. Having seen this, let’s see the situation of politics as it pertains to contemporary period.

1.4               Contemporary Period

Political thought and theories continued up till the contemporary period. However, the period witnessed a serious political crisis. There is less interest in politics as long as this period is concerned; and Alfred Cobban viewed political philosophy of this period as a discipline that has less attention. This view does not mean that the philosophers of this period were not concerned with political society and the system of governance during their time, but they lacked the interest and the zeal in redirecting their thought towards political situation of the society. In fact, there is a kind of decline as it pertains to political philosophy. The philosophers rather, paid much of their attention to the reality of the universe and the place of man’s existence in the world. They questioned how best one can live an authentic life in the world, not excluding the society, in which one lives. However these not withstanding, we shall see how they directed their thought towards the shaping of the individual’s reason in the society. Here we see John Stuart mill who began his essay “On Liberty” by writing: “The subject of this essay is not the so-called Liberty of the Will… but civil or social liberty: the nature and the limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by the society over the individual.”[10] This civil liberty offers every citizen an opportunity of participation in the government. A liberty that involves: liberty of conscience, which is, of expressing and publishing of opinions, liberty of association, and so on. As regards democracy, he voted Representative Democracy as the best form of government. The reason for this option is that it makes people more active and gives the individual better opportunity for intellectual growth, virtue and socially responsible life. Also the community, according to him, possesses the power of governance. Therefore, everybody has legitimate freedom to take active part in the government. Thus he says,

 “the best form of government is that in which the sovereignty or the supreme controlling power in the last resort is vested in the entire aggregate of the community, every citizen not only having a voice in the exercise of the ultimate sovereignty, but being, at least occasionally, called on to take on actual part in the government, by the personal discharge of some public function, local or general.”[11]

This in no doubt presents a true government that is devoid of tyranny and despotism. Power is reasonably and considerably utilized.

The next person is Karl Marx who brought about his theory of dialectical materialism. According to him, the state is divided into two unequal parts, namely the bourgeoisie and the proletariat classes. It is a state of class struggle and conflict between the bourgeois class and the proletariat class. Such a state could be referred to as “a state of the survival of the fittest”; each of the classes struggling to survive. In fact, it is a situation, which involves a serious struggle of opponents. Thus, the state, according to him, is the society under the control of the bourgeois class. They, as the rulers, dictate their will and interests in the state in the form of law and institutions. This situation was viewed as characterized by struggle, antagonism, domination and all sorts of inhuman treatment. Therefore, it is his dream that there will be a time when everything will be normalized. This will eventually give birth to a classless society of citizens with equal rights. This will come about when the proletariat revolts against the ruling class and overthrow them in order to set up communism. Then this state of equal right will give everybody equal opportunity of participation in a true democracy. Communism according to Marx is:

“The positive transcendence of private property or human estrangement, the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man…genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature, and between man and man…”[12]

By communism Marx meant a time when capitalism (the oppressive system), with its concomitant evils, will be destroyed through revolution by the oppressed (masses). This will bring to an end the exploitation of man by man, the end of alienation, the end of conflicts and antagonism among men. Also, private property and private ownership of the means of production will be abolished and the goods of the society will be owned by all. The same revolution will introduce a classless society where everybody will be equal and man determines for himself in his natural state. With the disappearance of class distinction in this new society which communism will usher in, the state will equally disappear since the state is simply an instrument of class rule. Thus, the final goal of Marxism is to set up “a classless and stateless communist society in which there will be no more conflicts, antagonism among men, exploitation, poverty, everybody will be free, happy and live in peace with his fellow man.”13 And so, the positive transcendence of human estrangement which Marx is talking about is realized when man has been able to subdue his tendency to keep acquiring, which is done through revolution against capitalism. This will then give man the opportunity to use and make real appropriation of the human resources to reach everybody in the communist society.    

[1]M. I. Nwoko, Basic World Political Theories ( Ancient- Contemporary ), p. 15

[2]M. I. Nwoko,  Ibid. p. 28

[3] City of God, bk. ii. chap. 20, p.75

[4]Summa Theologica, IIa Hae, Quest. 57, Art. 1 ff.

[5]M. I. Nwoko, op. cit., p. 53

[6] M. I.  Nwoko, op. cit., p. 72

[7]T. Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 100

[8] M. I. Nwoko, op. cit., p. 82

[9]S. E. Stumpf, Philosophy: History and Problems, 5th ed., 1994, p. 273

[10] J. S. Mill, On Liberty, ch. 1, p. 267

[11]J. S. Mill, Representative Government, ch. 2, (p. 336 of G. B. W. W. vol. 43)  

[12] K. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844

13 J. I. Omoregbe, A Simplified History of Western Philosophy, vol.11 Modern Philosophy,  (Lagos: Joja Educational Research and Publishers Ltd., 2001) P. 149 

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