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In many questions about government, the terms "the state" and "the government" seem to be used almost interchangeably: a common theme in the answer is that "the state" is a vehicle by which people agree to abide by standards of order as to how they interact with each other, and "the government" is the vehicle by which "the state" then enforces these agreements. However, in real life, "the government" is actually two different entities, is it not? a) "the government" as the agency that enforces agreements, as described above, but also (b) "the people who collectively work for the government," who often make sure that they themselves are taken care of before anyone else, and not infrequently, at the expense of everyone else. We see Congress, for example, exempt itself from laws it imposes on everyone else. We see state employees receiving large pensions (far larger than anyone in the private sector receives) even as states run large budget deficits and/or raise taxes on non-state employees to fund...

My perception is that distinctions of the sort you describe can be found but that they are both largley modern and contextual. So, one might determine the distinction in Hegel, Rawls, Foucault, etc. rather than find a uniform distinction across texts. A quick search of JSTOR raises this article that seems to offer some historical contextualization: “Theories of the Origin of the State in Classical Political Philosophy” by Harry Elmer Barnes, in a journal called “The Monist.” Vol. 34, No. 1 (January, 1924), pp. 15-62. Dwight Waldo’s book, The Administrative State (1948 but reissued in 2017 by Routledge), is a classic and makes an interesting distinction between the administrative and welfare state that may be helpful to you. As for the importance of the distinction, I leave that to others with more expertise in political philosophy, but my perception is that it is not terribly central. You will find some discussion of elite theory among political scientists. Trotsky’s critique of the Stalinist USSR...

One aspect of Muslim culture that runs against the grain of Americans is the lack of the acceptance of separation of church and state. Some (many?) Muslim sects, like the Taliban wish to institute a muslimocracy in which the religious leaders, i.e. imams and such, are also the state. Under Sharia law, it seems that religious texts determine justice in any kind of human disputes, with little regard to circumstances, and with broad interpretation by those who claim to be learned with respect to Koranic law; oh, and with rather crude sentences like stoning. This kind of society is quite different from one in which there is a civil code that can be invoked without bringing God into the equation explicitly. Certainly, some of the components of Western civil law have roots in parts of the bible, such as the ten commandments. But civil, i.e. governmental and commercial, interests pushed religion from the leading role in Western society and culture to a mostly minor footnote over the last several centuries. ...

Theocracy is indeed one of the most dangerous political phenomena the world faces today--especially Muslim, Christian, and Jewish theocracy. That having been said, what the Koran says or doesn't say isn't terribly important. Believers of all three of the Abrahamic religions commonly ignore or explain away elements of their Scriptures that contradict the norms of civil society. Ambrose Bierce famously defined a Christian as someone who adheres to the teachings of Christ to the extent they are not inconsistent with a life of sin. I think that's true of most believers. Having said that, there are plenty in all three religions who wish to import religious dogma into the business of government, and you are right to resist that. On the other hand, there may be special cases where civil law grants certain exemptions or latitude to deep matters of conscience. For example, US law grants conscientious objectors exemption from military service for reasons of religious conviction. Accommodations are often made in...

Many people believe that it is inappropriate to impose one's religious beliefs on others. A principal reason for this belief is simply the observation that not everyone shares the same religion (and many are not religious at all). But mightn't a zealot simply say that, while he recognizes that many people disagree with him, he happens to be extremely confident that they are wrong? So I guess my question is this: In the endorsement of religious toleration, the separation of church and state, etc. is it implicit that religious people don't hold their religious beliefs very strongly?

No and yes. Historically, the idea of toleration developed along side streams of philosophical scrutiny of religious belief that suggested, rightly I think, that there's just not very good reason for zealous commitment to religious beliefs. So, while a zealot may, as you describe it, be exceedingly confident or dogmatic in his or her belief, there's no sound justification for doing so. In this sense, strains of modern skepticism have tempered religious belief in the form of what early modern thinkers called "enthusiasm." But, on the other hand, there are many ways of holding a belief "strongly." There are, one might say, ways of holding religious beliefs strongly that are consistent with tolerance and ways of holding beliefs strongly that are inconsistent. Tolerance itself commonly suggests that contrary views are considered wrong and even, perhaps, obnoxious. So, analogously, we speak of a body's capacity to tolerate a toxin or to tolerate the cold, etc. So, just as we might speak of a person who...

Some proponents argue that in the judicial system, matters of policy reasons are best left in the hands of Parliament to decide. For instance, cases involving moralities which appear before the courts such as deviant sexual practices, assisted suicide and the likes where consent is clearly given and that these practices have not yet been made illegal/unlawful. In these cases, is it over the board to say that judges who decide based on the general consensus of morality in a particular society are interfering with one’s conduct (because it has not yet been made illegal/unlawful) even though it is generally understood that these practices are inherently wrong? Can this statement be countered by Dicey’s third postulate on the rule of law that the courts are the guardians of citizens’ rights and that judicial activism is necessary to solidify a common morality? Or is it best for a judge to merely sit back and apply the law as it is, despite knowing that had Parliament decided on these issues, it would be...

This question merits a much longer answer than I am capable of giving. But, with apologies for the compression, I'd say that the distinction between "activist" and "non-activist" judging is a popular-political distinction, not really one with much philosophical basis. Both the legislature and the judiciary produce new law and nullify old law, and they have always done so. They create and nullify law, however, in different ways--the legislature by enacting new legal codes, the courts by issuing rulings. Nor, however, is the line between the law and morality a clean one to draw. And, so, while I think it proper (indeed unavoidable) for the judiciary to enact new law, I also think it proper for judges to appeal to custom and common morality in rulings (for example in matters of indecency). Appeals to custom and common morality, however, must be balanced and in some cases simply limited by stipulated rights of non-interference and claim rights. They must also be balanced by countervailing lines of...

I'm a person living in a muslim country. There are lots of problems/discussions between religious and non-religious people about the limits of freedom. For example, some religious people say that they feel offended when someone nearby drinks a alcoholic drink. On the other hand the non-religious people say that it is their freedom to drink alcoholic drinks. There are many other cases of this type, that is, one say that they get offended (generally the religious ones) and the other say that it is their freedom to do such and such. My question is how should we think about such issues? Are there general principles about limits of freedom that we can use to solve such cases? Also, can you suggest introductory reading material on this issue? Thank you. Ahmet

This is a terribly and increasingly important issue, isn't it. Luckily, there has been quite a lot of work done on the topic. Two general principles to consider are these: (1) With regard to personal conduct like food, drink, sex, ornament, dress, etc., one should be at liberty to do whatever he or she pleases so long as no one else is harmed by the conduct; and (2) liberty should be maximized. One of the sticky bits here is the notion of "harm." Isn't being offended a kind of "harm"? Yes, I think it can be, but things get complicated here. In some cases, the concept of "offense" is misused. It may be in the case you describe. Can one be properly said to be offended by conduct that is not directed at one or a group to which one belongs? One can be upset, one can be disgusted, one can be outraged, but I'm not sure that offense is the right concept to use in the case you describe. It's also unclear why even if one can be said to be offended by conduct not directed at oneself or a group to which one...

I work for an organization for which the buzz word "compromise" has great appeal. However, I am not a fan of compromise - I feel that it should be used as a last - very last - resort. I think that operations generally run more smoothly if the person with the better idea gets his / her way. However, in my organization almost all differences are "resolved" by compromise even where difficult people who disagree as a matter of course are involved - on the simple belief that compromise is always the best option. However, I feel that compromise can be used as a means of control, as a way of ensuring that the other person cannot win, etc. What is your opinion?

You're right that compromise can be used as a form of control. But so can being uncompromising. Compromise can sometimes impede efficiency; but sometimes it can facilitate it. From where I sit, I don't think that one can defend as a general principle either the idea that compromise or being uncompromising is better. When and where to compromise is a matter of art--or, perhaps in more philosophical terms, a matter of prudence, in the sense of practical wisdom. Much depends upon the context: what sort of people are involved, what's at stake, what the purpose and mission of the institution is, what sort of time and resource constraints one faces. There's a great deal of difference in making a decision about what to do about an imminent ICBM attack and what sort of retirement hobbies one might explore. In addition, compromise does work better, in my experience, when those involved have cultivated certain complementary habits and sensibilities. That is compromise works best when people value...

Is it fair to require Muslims born in Britain and brought up under Sharia law to accept as universal, laws which are underpinned by and reflect Western values utterly at odds with Muslim beliefs?

It's hard to know exactly how to respond to this question, I'm afraid, without knowing what the specific conflict is. I suppose your questions might be rephrased as something like: when religious imperatives are somehow inconsistent with government law, which should be given precedence? I don't think there is a definite answer to this question. I can think of cases (such as conscientious objection to military service or the defiance of race-based segregations laws on religious grounds) where I think religious imperatives trump national law. I can also think of cases (such as laws against murder, rape, or assault), where I think national law should supersede religious prohibition. I suppose your question might refer to the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent remarks about incorporating Sharia into British law. Evaluating his remarks depends, however, upon what specific changes one might take them to imply. I think distinct judicial system for Muslims in Britain would be a bad idea, but a separate...

Should there be a human right to freely move where people want to, including crossing over into other sovereign territories, provided that this right does not infringe on the rights of others?

In a word, yes. The extent to which states prohibit people from exercising the liberty to live where they wish troubles me. In fact, it's funny you raised this question just now, as just the other day my son found himself reeling when, after announcing to me that he planned to emigrate to Scotland or Greece when he grew up, I informed him that doing so might not be possible unless the governments of those nations gave him permission. It was painful to see him come to terms with the extent we live at the discretion of others. Now, having said that, it is also important to recognize that migration, like many transactions in life, does need to be regulated. Why? Well, because unregulated migration can, in fact, as you put it, "infringe on the rights of others." It can because people are not simply individuals but social-collective beings, and sudden or overwhelming migrations of large numbers of people can disrupt and arguably undermine various social collectives--e.g. national cultures. Of...

What happens to Justice when a state is in democratic transition (that is to say, moving from a regime that was percieved as commiting atrocities against its own people or violating its citizens' human rights in some way - Taiwan and the "228" incident, Poland and the whole issue of "lustration", South Africa, etc.)? The TRC in South Africa, for example, went for restorative justice, while in other cases many opt for a retributive justice. While the former hopes to "heal" the community there is a sense in which the guilty go free; whereas the latter punsih the guilty many see this as causing further divisions. Is there any other option for justly dealing with such transition?

For myself, I see no third option and I think the trade-off between retribution and restoration to be a difficult one. It is likelly that both forms of justice should play a role in transitional situations. But it's also likely that the contingent features of a particular situation--the differences iin history, culture, the nature and extent of prior injustice, etc.--will effect the balance between the two. My own assessment of the experiments tried so far suggest that the greater a culture's capacity to achieve some sense of restoration the more promising the prospects for the establishment of a just society in the future. If that's true, then the objective should be to maximize restoration and minimize retribution.

A lot of thinkers (Martin Luther King, religious leaders and Jesus Himself were in my mind) have claimed that one day humanity will reach a higher plane, where all people will live in peace and brotherhood. It seems like some individuals would be capable of participating in such a Utopian society, but is it realistic to suppose that the whole of society could one day be transformed to this peaceful, cooperative way of living? Additionally, do you think that we should aim towards this Utopian ideal? Thank you- I’m looking forward to hearing your opinions!

For myself, I hold onto some hopes.Rather enormous changes have occurred before. They could happen again. Consider the change of status of women, the abolition of slavery, industrialization, etc. It's difficult to imagine France and Britain going to war again, even though they were combatants for centuries. If peace can be achieved between them, why not others, why not all? So, I think a warless world possible. How likely is it? Would it be possible to establish a lasting or even perpetual peace? The probabilitiies at the moment look law given the high levels of consumption demanded by modern economies. That is, modern societies are engineered for war. It will be difficult to change that, but I think it's possible. I also think working towards that goal not only morally desirable but even morally imperative. That is, it's really a duty of all civilized people to try to achieve a peaceful and just world. That's because the sort of mass killing, waste, and destruction charcteristic of war are...

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