This essay will consider what rights if any there are under government of any sort and how much freedom, if any, people have to create their own culture or social sphere. It will then go on to discuss whether the cultural and social sphere, be they created by the citizens or the rulers of society, may be considered separate or autonomous from the state and people in power.
Thomas Hobbes believed that in a state of nature, a state with no common power, people had unlimited freedom and rights. He also believed, however, that once a social contract was formed people gave up every right they had except the right to self-preservation. The only freedom under government in Hobbes’ view was where there was no law specified. In contrast John Locke believed in a state of nature, a state with no common judge, we also have unlimited freedom and rights but under a government we have the rights to life, liberty and property. Locke didn’t think government meant giving up freedom, he thought “the end of law is not to abolish or restrain but to preserve and enlarge freedom”(II 6 57, Locke, 1796). Personally, I would more agree with Hobbes. Law may guarantee safety but it does not guarantee freedom. No matter what type of government, it is placing restrictions on its citizens. These restrictions are meant for the good and safety of the citizens but whether they fuffill that goal or not they are still restrictions. One of the rights Locke believes is innate, even under government, is the right to property. He does not just mean this in the sense of material possessions but that our body and our self is our property. He argues “every man has a property in his person, so the labour of his body and work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.” (II Ch. 2.6-8, Locke, 1796) This does seem reasonable but if one puts it into the context of our modern society, a capitalist society, it becomes questionable. Although our labour, of course, should be our property it does not necessarily follow that it actually is. If you consider Marx’s theory of alienation, that we become alienated from our labour because in our modern capitalist society most people are forced to sell their labour to survive, we can see how a government not only poses restrictions upon us but also can even take away what may be a natural right. The only right that I could never see a possibility of being abolished by the state, if they so chose to do so, would be the right to survival.
So how is it that no one seems to have a problem with something like our right to property, as Locke means it, being taken away from us? Why is it that if people are supposedly free they do not question the injustices and inequality of their society? I believe the answer to this is socialization. People are undeniably affected by the society they live in. In Rousseau’s “Emile” he makes the point that for a person to be able to develop free of limitations, except those limitations that are physical, they would have to be taken out of society so as their imagination and mentality not be limited by the society they are in. I believe in our modern society this socialization results in people not questioning anything that is integral to the system in which they live and so they believe there’s no right being impeached. In my opinion, this is the only reason there could be for the fact people accept injustices and inequalities and things that make their life worse as natural and unchangeable. So, it would follow, that if the social sphere is in fact upholding a system of exploitation of most people it must be created by whomever this system and set of values is benefiting. In the case of our modern society this group would be the rich, the ones that aren’t being exploited by the system but are in fact gaining from it.
So to what extent do the social and cultural sphere, having been created by state and the ruling class, operate separately from them? In Gramsci’s concept of hegemony he argues that civil society reinforces the state, it contributes to the smooth running of the system and will act to uphold the state should it be threatened. The social and cultural spheres are part of an overall system that reinforces the state. They are never free of the control of those in power and politics, “this domination is not simply coercion or wealth; its ultimate sanction and expression of social authority is pervasive cultural supremacy.” (P.73, Weiner, 1981) Those in power have control not only of what we see in the media and what is acceptable in society but of the very way we view and interpret the world around us. Even movements against the system and deviance from social norms are only possible from within the restraints that have already been placed on our mentality by the dominant ideology. “As a constitutive cultural form and a structure of intentionality, ideology has the power to communicate and direct cognitions, evaluations, ideals, and purposes” (P. 75, Weiner, 1981). I believe the women’s movement or the civil rights’ movement are a good example of the power of ideology. These movements have achieved equality for women and people of different races in law but inequality still exists. Although technically in the political sphere sexism and racism have been dealt with to the most extent, in the social sphere they are still rampant. This is because the social sphere extends the political sphere. It was beneficial to those in power to promote the ideas that black people were less than white people and women should be submissive to men because those in power were white men. What suited them was to have black people as their slaves and women to satisfy their needs and run their household. So even now after women and black people’s freedom and rights have been won there is still the overlying ideology from these times past to be eroded and this takes a lot longer than it does to pass a law. The fact that racial discrimination and patriarchy are still such strong forces in our society shows the extent of the hold the dominant ideology has on our minds and consciousness.
So in conclusion I don’t believe we have the freedom to create our own social and cultural sphere and I don’t believe these spheres act independently of the political sphere. In fact I would be of the opinion that the cultural and social sphere are the most powerful tool the ruling class have to maintain their control. It is much easier and much more affective to rule with the consent of the people you’re ruling and what easier way to get people to think that you are justified in your right and ability to rule than by controlling the way they think?
Of course we have freedom of thought and so have the freedom to think critically about the world around us. And we may attempt to create an alternative culture and alternative ideology. I do not believe that the ruling class’s control over culture and society is absolute but it is very powerful. From the age of four until the age of 18 anyone who is going to have any real function, part or power in society is in the education system. This system is one of passive learning. It’s a system that teaches you to accept what you are told as fact, to learn off information and regurgitate it. Those in power have chosen even the information that you are being taught for you. The first time a person is introduced to critical thinking is almost always in third level education. This means that, first of all, not all of the population even comes into contact with the idea of critical thinking and, second of all, those who do have already spent eighteen years (including the years of their life in which they do the most social learning) being socialized to accept and not question the system they live in. This means that by the time an individual is in the position to attempt to create an alternative culture or view of the world the ruling class’s hold on their views is already very strong. And so any alternative culture or lifestyle they may create will be limited and affected by the dominant culture and ideology of the ruling class and thus could not be considered created completely free from it. Also if any alternative culture or ideology is successfully created it will still have to function and exist in a world where there is already an ideology dominant in society and ingrained in the minds of the citizens and so it could never be considered autonomous.