Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
sum game: a gain for one prisoner does not result in an equivalent loss for the
other. The explanation of how, through cooperation, each prisoner might move
from his third to his second preference is a contemporary rendition of the reasoning
behind Hobbes’s contract theory. The third preference represents the non-
cooperation characterising the state of nature, the agreement to remain silent is
equivalent to the contract itself, and the satisfaction of the second preference equates
to life under a state. There are burdensas well as benefitsto submitting to a state

  • we are required to conform to laws which will in many different ways restrict
    our freedom. But we also gain the benefits of security, and with security comes
    increased prosperity, and a guarantee that we will enjoy a significant amount of
    personal freedom.
    Some commentators argue that the rational strategy for each prisoner is to forgo
    his first preference in order to achieve his second preference. This is incorrect: for
    each prisoner, achieving his first preference should remain his goal. What he wants
    is an agreement with the other prisoner that each will remain silent, but then to
    break the agreement in the hope that the other prisoner will honour it. Individual
    rationality dictates he will aim to free-ride on the other’s compliance; that is, gain
    the benefits of cooperation, which is the avoidance of four years (five less one) in
    prison, without paying the cost of cooperation, which is one year in prison. Of
    course, as rational actors each prisoner understands the motivations of the other,
    and so a ‘voluntary’ agreement is ineffective. What they need is a third-party enforcer
    of the agreement. The enforcer imposes sanctions on free-riders, such that there is
    an incentive to comply. If each can be assuredof the enforcer’s effectiveness then
    a move from each prisoner’s third preference to his second preference can be
    achieved. In political terms, the enforcer is the state, an entity that, in the words
    of Max Weber, successfully commands a monopoly on the use of coercion in a
    particular territory.
    There are three difficulties with the Hobbesian solution to the prisoner’s dilemma:

  1. The existence of an enforcer, or state, does not fundamentally alter the
    motivations of those subject to it: each still seeks to satisfy his own interests.
    This engenders a fundamental instability in the political order: we are always
    looking over our shoulder at other people, convinced that given the opportunity
    they will break the law. Such law-breaking might, for example, take the form of
    evading payment of taxes necessary to maintain a police force.

  2. The second objection to Hobbes can be broadened out into a critique of the aims
    of classical contract theory – as distinct from the aims of the contemporary
    contractarianism of Rawls. Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Kant were occupied
    above all with the question of an individual’s obligation to obey the state and
    its laws. A law by its nature commands obedience, but what is termed ‘political
    obligation’ is concerned with the existence of moral reasons for obeying the law:
    by asking whether a person has a political obligation we put into question the
    legitimacy of law. From the preceding discussion it is not difficult to see how a
    contractarian might argue for political obligation. We are all better off under a
    state than in a state of nature and therefore we are under an obligation to obey
    the state. But what if the benefits of cooperation are unequally distributed?
    Consider another version of the prisoner’s dilemma:

180 Part 2 Classical ideologies

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