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Tutor profile: Michael N.

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Michael N.
Writer/Editor/Researcher with several years experience
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Questions

Subject: Philosophy

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Question:

Are human rights inherently universal? What would it mean if they weren't universal?

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Michael N.
Answer:

Human rights are the inalienable rights that all humans have by virtue of simply being human. The definition of human might be up for debate, but for these purposes we will consider homo sapiens as humans. It is widely known that human rights should be considered universal, as it is contained in the definition and also gives the term its power. The debate here is what rights exactly are universal. For example, can we say that the right to privacy is universal? What about giving up some of our privacy for the sake of national security? What are the limits of that tradeoff and how much personal sacrifice are we willing to give up? These are all questions of relativity, which means that perhaps those rights are not universal. We could agree that the most commonly cited human right would be the right to life. But that right could be breached if someone commits a crime heinous enough to warrant the death penalty. But even that differs between states and countries. Ultimately this is the question between universality and relativity (or particularity) and where they overlap. Perhaps we might not agree that universality can even exist, especially if we all have different definitions of what fits inside that descriptor. The fact remains that human rights are important because of their core idea or universality, while in practice it is more up for debate.

Subject: Political Science

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Question:

What are the different mechanisms of social movements? Or in other words, what do social activists consider when fomenting a movement?

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Michael N.
Answer:

There are some classic thinkers about social movements including McAdam, Tarrow and Meyer, who all touch on similar points about movements. First is the sense of injustice, or what is called insurgent consciousness, consisting of feelings that a group of people have that engender grievances about their situation. Once this is achieved, the strength of movements depend largely on what resources are available to them, including financial, political and social. Obviously, funds are needed to get the word out and to pay workers to organize. It helps to have political connections to powerful, sympathetic actors who can be advocates for your cause. And it is also beneficial to have already existing structures within the community that can facilitate organizing. These could include schools, churches, social clubs, etc. An important aspect of movement building is being conscious of what are called political opportunities - which consist of being acutely aware of the political structure and how it could benefit the movement. This could look like 'working the system', finding cleavages or weaknesses within the political structure you could exploit, waiting for a change of power, or simply increasing the amount of people involved in the democratic process.

Subject: International Relations

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Question:

What is the thesis of "The End of History" and why is it so important to IR theory?

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Michael N.
Answer:

Fukuyama's "The End of History" asserts that Western liberal democracy is the only viable form governance remaining after the resolution of the Cold War. It is in stark contrast to Marxian ideas of the timeline of political economy and falls more in line with a Hegelian notion of evolution of governance. In Fukuyama's mind, liberal democracy has emerged victorious as the last standing and ideal form of government, one that upholds individual liberty and the free market. Fukuyama's polarizing theory is so important because it reveals the quandary of the Cold War's relic - that because the United States outlasted the Soviet Union, it should be the model for the rest of the world. Fukuyama's theory supports Democratic Peace Theory, the idea that democracies do not go to war with each other (which is problematic in itself), and shares commonalities with ideas like Samuel Moyn's, that human rights is the last utopia. Because Fukuyama tacitly supports fashioning liberal democracies in every society, critics worry about the squashing of culture, different ways of doing politics, more radical forms of democracy and different economic structures. It is worrisome because it could be an argument for imperial intervention, to force every country to adopt the tenets and institutions of liberal democracy, even though it might be against the peoples' will.

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