Individual Rights and Community Responsibilities



Hocking’s general theory of the political community maintains liberty and community in tension. The purpose of the political order is to develop the potentialities of its members, and the common political action necessary to achieve this purpose and to solve social problems requires the sovereign enforcement of the community’s political experiments. The political community must be active and its laws binding; yet, there must be limits on political institutions if liberty is to be preserved. Because of this tension, Hocking cannot avoid the question of human rights. There must be a standard by which individuals can judge whether government acts beyond its proper limits, but it must be a standard that encourages political participation and the performance of political duty, not withdrawal. An adequate conception of rights will protect freedom while maintaining social unity and common political action. Hocking develops such a theory of human rights. It is grounded in his conception of ethical duty and in his theory of human nature and development.


Political Participation Political Institution Political Community Democratic Institution Political Order 
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  1. 1.
    The seminars were held in 1920–21 and 1925–26.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See “Ways of Thinking About Rights: A New Theory of the Relation Between Law and Morals.”Google Scholar
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    S. I. Benn and Richard S. Peters, The Principles of Political Thought (New York: The Free Press, 1965), p. 109.Google Scholar
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    Benn and Peters, op. cit., pp. 103–107.Google Scholar
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    Hocking states that Marx’s ethical emphasis on the right of the worker to the product of his work is more profound than the shallow claims of rights in liberalism, precisely because the right of the laborer is earned. Ibid., p. 90.Google Scholar
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    Most writers define Western liberal democracy in terms of these principles: popular sovereignty, or control by the people of governmental decisions through representative assemblies and electoral processes; political equality, or equal weight in voting; majority rule; and political freedom, which involves the right of expression and the right to organize political groups to oppose the regime in power. See, for example, Henry B. Mayo, An Introduction to Democratic Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), pp. 58–71.Google Scholar
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    “Democracy and the Scientific Spirit,” p. 432. Hocking agrees with the well-known justifications for democratic institutions. First, democracy brings security for the individuals of a society, since governors will not be likely to oppress citizens to which they are responsible for their offices. Second, a democracy is more likely to receive the support of the people than a non-democratic system, because the people will support to a higher degree those systems in which they participate most. Third, the education of the people will be furthered, for when people are trusted with power they become trained in its use. They will become more informed and more tolerant of the opinions of others as they participate in public discussion. Fourth, those who are obligated to live under a government have a moral right to a voice in its decisions. These four justifying principles are based on the assumption of “an underlying equality of mankind, among the obvious differences.” This equality is not an equality of ability or intelligence, which anthropology, psychology, and sociology have questioned. “The equality which men need to have for democratic purposes is not equality of fact, but equality of possibility, and especially equality of moral possibility.” Ibid., pp. 431-32.Google Scholar
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    He lists these characteristics (“Leaders and Led,” p. 634): “First,… integrity, justice, and an eye single to public welfare; Second, the amalgamating virtues, such as bring about a sentiment of solidarity and loyalty within the group, make a mental entity of neighborhood and community, realize the family aspect of the state, create the conviction of mutuality of lot in the commonwealth; Third, the actualizing virtues, such as bring decisions to pass out of confused deliberations, keep public business going…. Fourth, vision, the outlook and sense of direction of the statesmen….”Google Scholar
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    Hocking quotes Milton (FP, p. 13): “ ‘Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the wors [sic] in a free and open encounter. Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.’ “Google Scholar
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    He does not think that political principles can contain fiinal recommendations concerning what should be done in specific political situations. Principles are necessary if we are to think about our problems, but principles must be properly understood. He writes (“Colonies and Dependent Areas,’” p. 17): “The full meaning of any principle is not known until it is applied to particular cases…. In any concrete case, it is likely that more than one principle is pertinent, so that the attempt to judge by a single principle gives a one-sided or ‘abstract’ view…. The role of any principle is therefore to establish a presumption, not to dictate a final conclusion, about what ought to be or [not] be done.”Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1972

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Louisiana State University in New OrleansUSA

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