Friday, September 20, 2013

The Prisoner of Zenda and the Meaning of Love.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
-- Jesus Christ

“But is love the only thing? If love were all, I could follow you in rags to the ends of the world. But in that world, you’d have left the king to die in his cell. Honor binds a woman too, Rudolf. My honor lies in keeping faith with my country and my house. I don’t know why God has let me love you. But I know that I must stay.”
-- Princess Flavia

The Prisoner of Zenda has excited and delighted the imaginations of both young and old for many years. The Adventure novel first published in 1894 by Anthony Hope follows in the tradition of the British adventure story of the time. At the height of the British Empire, the taste for stories of adventurer in these unknown places gave birth to many well-known adventures. Hope placed a new twist, though still involving a member of the British military who had been to those far off lands. The Prisoner of Zenda is set in a European country, though not any better known. The country though matters little. Adventure is the key.

I have read the book, and I did find I very enjoyable. More recently viewed the acclaimed film adaptation, and I thought I would share some thoughts on it since it is fresh in my mind.

The 1937 film adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda may even surpass the original in publicity if not in substance. The plot follows the conventions of the ordinary man placed in a situation that quickly becomes far more than he bargained for. The unassuming and modest Rudolf Rassendyll has recently retired from military service and is looking forward to a vacation in Easter Europe. As soon as he arrives, he finds that he is a sight to the locals, who all gawk at his very presence. Rudolf finds out that he is the very image of the crown prince, soon to be crowned King Rudolf V. Upon this meeting, the two Rudolfs become quick friends.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Critical Survey of the Modern State, Part 4

By the 19th century, natural rights theory had come under attack from many different angles and fell into disfavor. Providing perhaps the most radical divergence from the natural right, compact theory of statehood was GWF Hegel and his historicism. Hegel placed reason in a primary role infused in history unfolding in time. Right became subservient to the rational will of historical progress. Hegel believed that by his time, history had rationally created the “Germanic Realm” of regimes, the modern state.

Hegel’s strict historicism saw history as a Spirit coming to know itself and unfolding through different stages of consciousness over time. This “absolute” or “universal” Spirit possesses pure rationality because the rational can only be defined in terms of the Spirit itself and its progress. The Spirit progresses through time by working itself out dialectically. Through the conflict of the thesis, as the Spirit presently exists, and the antithesis within it, the Spirit can progress to a new synthesis as the latest expression of history. The Spirit develops rational self-consciousness by knowing itself through the conflict that reveals its next step.

At Hegel’s time, the state represented the fullest expression of the Spirit of that point. The state also thinks and knows itself; it has its own self consciousness (§257). The state has full rationality because it represents actuality of the absolute Spirit in the political realm. Individuals, rather than combining via natural right to create the state, find their rational expression in subjection of their wills to the fully rational will of the state. The state provides objectivity and universality to its individual members as they align with it. Reason is embodied in the state, and rationality comes to the members of the state as its interests are infused into the individual interests (§258). By willing the objective purposes of the state, individuals become reasonable creatures in accordance with the truly rational Spirit of history.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Critical Survey of the Modern State, Part 3

As the modern state became the reality of modern politics, Hobbes' theory of the naturally sovereign state was enacted in different forms. Many thinkers after Hobbes held that reason also determined natural rights for each man beyond just self-preservation. States developed in combinations and balances of sovereignty and rights. For thinkers, this was the the struggle of nature and reason. The 18th century regime changes in England, France, and the United States show different combinations, birthed in differing conceptions of sovereignty and rights within the modern state. Most importantly, they demonstrate that the modern state reduces the players in the quest for power to two: the state and the individual.

Montesquieu studied closely the development of the British regime in the 18th century. He found it to be the best expression of a free, modern state. Montesquieu thinks that republics best preserve freedom but must adapt to the modern world (or the modern state idea). The state, for Montesquieu, must respect the individual's rights. Montesquieu sees the laws and constitution as the best expression of reason for the state. Laws are not reasonable in themselves as acts of a state. Instead, the laws must preserve the freedom of the individual within them as reason dictates they best can (128). Reason, for Montesquieu, does not belong exclusively to the state, but the state should use it.

In order for republics to survive in modern statehood they must confederate to provide external strength in addition to free institutions (126). Montesquieu follows the natural right theory of government. In external relations, rights belong to the state in terms of natural desire for self-preservation (133). Just war is rooted in natural right and defense of the interest of the state itself. Enlightenment, the development of reason, leads to peace as states respect rights internally and externally. Thus, conquering states owe a debt to human nature (137). States cannot claim an exclusive rationality to overrun the rights of other states or people.