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Tutor profile: Spencer M.

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Spencer M.
Graduate in History
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Questions

Subject: Philosophy

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Question:

How did German philosopher Hannah Arendt problematize the notion of human rights, and how does her view intersect with her thought more broadly?

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Spencer M.
Answer:

Arendt argues that the notion of rights is very well established within the international state-system, however they are always couched within the aegis of a particular community. For example, one might have rights as an American citizen guaranteed by the bill of rights and backed up by the apparatus of the American military and judicial system. What is particular about "human rights" is both that there is no enforcement mechanism for them as there is for citizenship rights, and also that they represent a reconceptualization of political society as a whole. Arendt inherits Aristotle's conception of man as a "political animal," one which can only meaningfully exist in relation to his or her political community. In this way, Arendt argues that human rights are as of yet meaningless because there is no political community comprising all of humanity. Arendt cited the problem of refugees, an equally poignant criticism in her day as in the twenty-first century, as proof that human rights rhetoric is not taken seriously even by those politicians who profess to respect them. As stateless individuals, refugees have no capacity to make claims upon states, the basis of a meaningful system of rights, because there is no state that claims them as citizens. As such, Arendt’s analysis reflects the extent to which universal human rights is an ideal rather than a statement of fact.

Subject: International Relations

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Question:

What was the geopolitical context of the rise of the European Union, why was it important, and how might more recent changes in the Union's geopolitical context explain the rise in Euroskepticism and anti-EU political agitation?

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Spencer M.
Answer:

The European Union grew from the European Coal and Steel Community, initially founded in 1952. The six signatories to the Coal and Steel Community sought to both prevent the possibility of future European war and to increase both economic and defense cooperation between European nations. This was especially important at the time because those nations had recently been devastated by the Second World War and because they feared the growing influence of the two superpowers, the United States and Soviet Union. The European Union grew and developed from this Community, growing particularly from the fall of the Warsaw Pact regimes during the 1990s, however much of the Union's initial purpose is now gone. Many, particularly liberals, argue that the European Union's member states benefit economically and diplomatically for several reasons, however the veritable existential threats which underlay the rationale of the EU's formation are now more or less gone. With this in mind, many European politicians, those who sponsored the "Brexit" campaign for instance, are able to argue that a more assertive Brussels (seat of the European Parliament) is becoming more dangerous to their particular nation's interests than Moscow or Washington, D. C.

Subject: European History

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Question:

What is the relationship of nationalism to the process of European political development over the nineteenth century, and how did states adapt nationalism for their own purposes?

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Spencer M.
Answer:

Nationalism was initially a disruptive force in European geopolitics, as it subverted the so-called "social contract" between the "people" and the elite aristocrats and monarchs who ruled states. According to the prior mode of envisaging society, authority came from the educated class who governed because they were most fit, whereas advocates of nationalism understood authority to be properly emanating from the "people" or the nation as a whole. During the French Revolution, the revolutionary government explicitly rejected the prior social order and organized its society around the principles of political equality and national belonging. This meant that all citizens would have political rights, but also that they would have political duties, most particularly military service. Thus, other monarchical European states could not compete with the vast scale of French military mobilization and had to adopt the principles and rhetoric of nationalism in order to survive and maintain their sovereignty. Over the course of the nineteenth century, then, it was states and elites who more and more appropriated nationalism for their own purposes because nationalism functions to give political leaders legitimacy and the resources of the entire citizen body if they are able to leverage it successfully.

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