In book two of Plato’s Republic, Glaucon continues Thrasymachus’ argument against Socrates. Glaucon says that Justice systems were invented to mediate between people who have power and those who are powerless to make justice for unfair treatment given them by people in power. This idea counters the idea of “Might makes Right.” However I don’t see justice systems today as serving this purpose or achieving this goal, as this idea of the application of a Justice System in society can only exist in an idealistic state, not a real or practical one. This is shown by the lenient sentences given to rich or famous people in many cases. Celebrities who are caught with drugs often check themselves into rehab and never serve any jail time, all while at the same time writing a sob-story to make people feel bad for them and making it seem like it was not entirely their fault, whether it be the result of a “rough upbringing” or peer pressure, these people seem to easily win over public opinion simply because of their celebrity status. And all of this goes on at the same time as common citizens can spend years in jail for softer amounts of drugs and suffer devastating blows when it comes to careers, social lives, and family, because of the notion that they are now horrible people and don’t deserve anything;even though they did the same things that people of privilege are almost able to shrug off as just a mistake or a rough patch in life. This unequal treatment by the justice system seems to me to point to at least some grain of truth behind the idea of “Might makes right,” at least if not ideally the right way to do something, it seems to always be the way it turns out in practice.
Though if we look more in-depth at Socrates’s idea of justice, we see that beyond “Might makes right,” rulers can still lose their authority or “ruler-ness” if they take actions upon themselves for their own advantage. If we look at both President Bush and Osama bin Laden and realize that they have a personal agenda between themselves that has nothing to do with the people of either of their countries. They had a negative past and were against each other long before September 11th occurred. Through this philosophy, we can almost legitimately say that “might makes right” takes away a ruler’s “ruler-ness” and that there is no justice in actions made in this manner by rulers.
While both President Bush and Osama bin Laden thought throwing fire, literally and figuratively, at each other would bring justice to their people, it only brought hate and further injustice. Their personal motives and egos got in the way of their judgment and led to a poor end to their careers and death in the case of Osama. This example makes it clear to me that “Might makes right” does not work, at least not towards a utopian society. While actions which are made with this thought in mind may make a temporary fix to a problem or show courage on one side, it usually comes back from the other side much stronger and leads to unhappy endings on both sides. If anything, I believe that “Might make right” leads to a dystopian society, or whatever the opposite of a utopian society is.
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Jane Wiseman teaches at Averett University. This blog reflects her interest in imaginary realms and fictions of all types.