What are the benefits of using politics to protect the weak from the stronger?

Rather than allowing for, say, slavery?

By stronger I mean stronger by nature, i.e. particularly physical power and health, but also intelligence / ability and social / community skills. And by weak I mean those that are physically or mentally weak and that may not manage on their own (were they not supported by the stronger and e.g. political policies). or that stress the community by requiring more support or consuming more than they produce.

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    I'm new to this place and I'm not an expert on philosophy either, so I might be out of line here, but isn't this question a bit too broad and general to be entirely appropriate? Wouldn't it be better to ask about which ethical theories support protecting the weak from the stronger, and why? Or even narrower, ask about a specific ethical theory and how it deals with this question. You might get a lot more interesting answers. Jun 13, 2016 at 11:04
  • @MartineVotvik I think the problem is that political ideologies "presuppose" that people must be protected from people. I have not seen a political ideology that would hold otherwise. Which is why the question. However there have been political ideologies that have incorporated e.g. racial oppression in their programs.
    – mavavilj
    Jun 13, 2016 at 12:04
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    But again, if you are not dealing with spesific ethical theories in asking this, then the scope of the question is impossibly wide. Or alternatly you'll end up getting peoples personal opinions on the matter, which might be interesting, but irrelevant to any further application. Jun 13, 2016 at 12:15
  • @MartineVotvik Are ethical theories not opinions?
    – mavavilj
    Jun 13, 2016 at 12:15
  • Maybe you should considder the difference between a theory and an opinion man :/ but depending on how you are planning on utilising the information you get from asking, the difference might be insignificant to you personally. Jun 13, 2016 at 12:21

9 Answers 9


In short: You have a happy, reliable workforce / think-tank available, with minimal risk of rebellion or general disorder. Some of 'the weak' may become strong and may become an asset to keeping your government going. In fact, if you encourage everyone to do the best they can, you will not have weak people.

Slavery is a flawed system (other than for the moral reasons) because it creates an 'half-assed' work force that at best will do an half-assed job because they're not motivated to perform better. They do what they're told, nothing more. Plus, if you really push them, life expectancy is low forcing you to rebuild at regular (economically unhealthy) intervals.

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    This is a good point.
    – mavavilj
    Jun 13, 2016 at 12:03
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    I disagree with your comments on slavery. While morally reprehensible, slave labor is incredibly efficient versus salaried workers. There are no rights to be concerned with, and your workers are also assets. Especially given the OP, this presents a flaw in your argument. Jun 14, 2016 at 14:03
  • @alampert22: Consider the pyramids, they were built in an era where slavery was normal, yet the workers were paid wages and provided with basic necessities including housing, food and (limited) leisure. And again, slaves will never be motivated to do anything beyond the minimum they are told to do. I don't see what you're saying as contradicting what I'm saying.
    – user22002
    Jun 14, 2016 at 14:10
  • @Spikee The minimum of what a slave is told to do may exceed the maximum freely offered by an individual. Also, we went from talking about American slavery to Egyptian slavery. Yes, many societies (including African, Jewish, and Arab societies) had both voluntary and involuntary slavery which usually had set limits. But in American slave labor, where slaves were considered property, there was an entire functioning economy built on the backs of slaves. Jun 14, 2016 at 14:21
  • Just to add, I don't mean to in any way endorse or imply a morally acceptable benefit of slavery. I am merely posing that a stronger defense is needed for your claim in the second paragraph; "Slavery is a flawed system (other than for the moral reasons) because it creates an 'half-assed' work force that at best will do an half-assed job because they're not motivated to perform better. They do what they're told, nothing more. Plus, if you really push them, life expectancy is low forcing you to rebuild at regular (economically unhealthy) intervals." Jun 14, 2016 at 14:25

Nietzche would claim this effect is not purposive, but is a natural effect of the ability of the majority to slowly take control of the whole of any society. There are so great a number of the weak that it seems inevitable that their dominant point of view should eventually prevail.

(Lately some see this as becoming such a strong current in our society that we have adopted victimhood as the ultimate source of deservingness: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/the-rise-of-victimhood-culture/404794/)

In particular, religions tend to be occupied by the less successful part of the upper class, who can see themselves as representatives of the weak, yet hold onto their own estimate of their personal value (unlike the truly downtrodden who have often already relinquished their sense of deservingness). Thus, once the sentiment arises in a culture, the culture becomes more religious, and religion focusses more and more strongly on this goal. So, once established, this is always a major organizing principle of great societies.

He argues particularly that in the case of Europe, this sentiment works to a global disadvantage: that late-term Christianity 'suffocates' the continent, creating endless standing paradoxes, complex counter-intellectual and self-destructive eddies and a general waste of the power of the human will.

Under this odd sort of reversed oppression, the leadership becomes hostile to religion as a concept, eventually dragging the rest of society with it and leading to a dominant anti-spiritual philosophy, in our case materialism.

So in that sense, you can blame this evolution for our modern skewed reluctantly democratic culture, which lacks spiritual vitality, evades really thinking through moral and intellectual questions and focuses on science instead. But, if so, it is also the cause of our vibrant, rapid, clinical development of technology, and the wonders of the modern world.

Nietzsche may not see this as a positive outcome. He wished to push us in a rather different direction. But many of us would.

  • just a note to say that few contemporary philosophers think nietzsche was concerned with politics, or that his aristocratic higher man has or needs political (or econpmic) power
    – user6917
    Jun 13, 2016 at 15:16
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    This is not from Zarathustra, which has a different orientation, but from The Gay Science and The Genealogy of Morals. It is hard to read the latter as not being about the historical evolution of political manipulation. Its focus is on the herd and its evolution, and not on the 'higher man', who may well be above politics. From a herd-member point of view, "wretched contentment" is not such a terrible thing.
    – user9166
    Jun 13, 2016 at 17:01
  • hm well i just said what i thought was obvious, much of the intros in 2ndary literature say as much, are they sweetening the pill? if you disagree then that's not my business
    – user6917
    Jun 13, 2016 at 17:13
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    It is just not obvious what your observation and the source material here have to do with one another. Nietzsche has a philosophy of exceptionalism. But he also has a theory of how normal 'herd morality' evolved to begin with. The former is more important, but this is the latter. (Philosophers are allowed to say more than one thing at a time...)
    – user9166
    Jun 13, 2016 at 19:05
  • because of the question, i guess. no bother, i don't want to argue
    – user6917
    Jun 14, 2016 at 4:58

What are the benefits of anything we do? To answer that question, we need to define what we consider beneficial. This is actually surprisingly hard to do well. Our definition of what is beneficial will radically affect our answer to your question.

The simplest one to explore is utilitarianism, because it is willing to be questioned enough that we can build hypothetical situations and see how it acts without offending anyone. It makes a good straw man. In utilitarianism everything has a value, and actions are done to maximize that value. That sounds like a utopian system, but there's a trick: how do we define the utility of something anyways, based on our past observations. It's easy to define the utilitarian value of something in omniscient hindsight, but that's not very helpful.

If we assume utilitarianism, and recognize that no individual fully grasps the utility of everything in the universe, we can see some natural value in the strong protecting the weak. Just because they are weak does not automatically mean they have no value. They may have something in them that is hard to see, but has great value later. It is beneficial for the strong to protect the weak, such that the weak may help the strong in some unexpected way.

An extreme example might be a hypothetical world where the strong fight and kill with knives, and the weak have no knives. However, in their strength, the strong often lose sensitivity. It's easier to be sensitive when everything is soft, and the strong combatant types often are not in soft areas of the world. They come across a gun safe. Those guns would be very beneficial to the strong, but they can't open it. A weak person may have the manual sensitivity to open the safe for them. Until the safe is discovered, there's no way to know just how valuable that manual sensitivity was.

In a less violent example, we often trap ourselves within the walls of our own heart, hardened against the world around us. Historically speaking, there is a trend of the weak being the ones who successfully whisper that one phrase that melts our heart and let us feel again. If we value feeling, then it is reasonable to value the weak for that reason alone, much less any other reasons which may come up from other definitions of "beneficial."


From a natural rights' perspective, you may ask yourself: why the weak has the same right to life that the stronger has? And if that's true (that the weak has the same right to life that the stronger has), is there any benefit for human societies to respect and protect the right to life of any individual, either if one individual is weaker or stronger than other individuals?

But to answer any of those questions, you need to understand (or, at least, define) what is a right. And once you have defined what a right is, the next step is to find out which rights are common to all individuals of the human specie? (spoiler: in descending order of vitality, those are: the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to truth and the right to liberty).

I've found the answers (or, at least, my favorites answers) to those questions on the Cultural Liberty blog, by Crosbie Fitch.

To discover our rights we must examine our own nature, we must determine what power nature has given us individually, and how it is balanced among all individuals in equilibrium (harmony).

A natural right is an individual’s natural power in equilibrium. A right is not the power of a strong man to crush a weak girl, but the equal power of all individuals to protect their lives, their bodies from harm, their dwellings from intruders, etc. Thus, a strong man may have more physical power in his body than a weak girl, but the strong man has the same right to protect his body as a weak girl has.

(quoted from one of Crosbie's comments on his article Questioning Copyright)

But your question is still looking straight at me: what are the benefits of protecting the weak from the stronger?

In a gregarian society (as the human societies are), particularly on those where individuals are seen as equal (ie. egalitarian), and the rights of individuals are recognized, you may expect that society to look for and reach some kind of harmony, equilibrium, balance. You might intuitively feel that that equilibrium might get broken if we just accept that stronger people could do whatever they want (ie. to kill, to invade, to deceive, to slave) to weaker people, violating their rights to life, privacy, truth and liberty.

And here is the catch: the "this is not right/harmounious/balanced" feeling even applies if a little weak girl, while holding a gun, tries to kill or rob or slave the strong man. As you can see, "stronger" and "weaker" become very relative once we introduce guns (or knifes, or chains, or armies) into the equation. So, once again, Crosbie Fitch shed some light when I asked him: "What is just and unjust? Where does the reasoning or feeling of fairness or justice come frome?"

The symbol for justice is the scales - because justice is about the maintenance of equality and its restoration or remedy in the event of inequality - the maintenance and restoration of balance.

Rights are a priori the equal powers of individuals, in balance, in equilibrium, in harmony. Thus, should one person not respect the boundaries of equilibrium between them and their fellows, and overstep them, then they have created an imbalance (inequilibrium), and eventually, if this is noticed, those who notice it will probably seek to remedy the imbalance and/or restore the balance - to maintain social harmony.

We intuitively recognise when boundaries of equilibrium are breached because it is easy to see when another person seeks to be superior to another, to assert more power for themselves (physically or opportunistically), and more of what follows as a consequence, than if they were equal. We know what would happen if people were equal, and therefore what is just (fair), and that if something has happened through inequality, it is unjust (unfair).

We may well recognise that another person is more physically powerful than ourselves, but we know that enabling people do to what they will based upon brute force (or opportunism or guile) is not a civilised/harmonious/egalitarian basis on which to socialise.

We therefore seek justice (restoration of balance) when one person violates the rights of another, e.g. injures them, burgles them, defrauds them, kidnaps them, etc.

Injustice is when justice cannot be obtained, or when those in a position to provide it fall short of doing so, or even make things worse.

Injustice is also when legislation (established judgements or instructions in the provision of justice) is made that make things worse, that effectively make some people superior to others, i.e. give powers to some at the expense of others.

As Thomas Paine observed:

"It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect - that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few... They... consequently are instruments of injustice ... "


What are the benefits of using politics to protect the weak from the stronger?

government should protect everyone, not just the weak. it should treat everyone equally instead of define a privileged class (e.g. those deemed "weak" by some criterion).

the point of government is to protect men from force and keep that defensive force organized and careful instead of just a bunch of chaotic vigilante justice.

defense against force (e.g. robbery or enslavement) is an important value for everyone (strong or weak).

a hard part is who pays for this defense, and how much from each person? ideally funding would be voluntary. currently that isn't figured out yet.

  • You're answering "should", even when I'm asking "what are the benefits"
    – mavavilj
    Jun 11, 2016 at 10:14
  • the benefits of protection for the weak is they are protected. i didn't think this was the answer you wanted, so i tried to address the topic.
    – curi
    Jun 11, 2016 at 10:14
  • @curi I agree. I wrote my own answer below that I think supports the same concept. Jun 15, 2016 at 1:38

What are the benefits of using politics to protect the weak from the stronger?

Well obviously it depends on who you are asking about. Seems obvious that it's better for the slaves.

Notwithstanding any moral duty toward your slaves, or some kind of prohibition against slavery, which clearly you are dismissing out of hand, you may find that owning slaves doesn't work out best for you, because they revolt and make you their slave, steal all your goods, whatever.

As to the dangers to your humanity as a slave owner, I'm not quite sure.

You may enjoy reading Hobbes, who IIRC makes his sovereign absolute and above any concern with morality etc., on the grounds that it's only them that stops everything for us being worse still.


To a Machiavellian, the benefit is implicit, because there is a moral obligation as a leader to provide structure and security for the masses - i.e. it is the right and role of the strong to rule the weak. And strength is demonstrated by the reach of control exercised by the ruler.

Alternatively Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Thomas Jefferson would argue that the sovereign protects the weak, so that we can all co-habitat, transcend the "state-of-nature" and allow for the collective efforts of all to flourish. The state-of-nature is identified as "might equals right", because in the state-of-nature everything exists in the "commons" and ownership is only exemplified through direct control. In order to lay claim to anything requires a constant defense. However, to form the foundation of society, a sovereign is created through the concession of a portion each individual's power (unencumbered freedom) into a single entity that then represents the collective might of the community. This collective concession creates equality amongst its members. The strong and the weak are nominalized into citizens, unified by the understanding that the collective output of a society exceeds the sum of its individual parts.


We are all born weak so I'm unclear about the question other than to say "by protecting the weak"(our children) "we are becoming strong." (a family, a community, a society, a Nation.)

Killing children as a policy is usually frowned upon...but certainly "blotting out bloodlines" is quite replete in History...so one answer might be "they're an easy kill."

Not all pups all welcome in the litter.

  • Some ideologies have a concept of "inferior humans" and "normal or capable humans" or even "superhumans". The idea being that wouldn't it be better if the gene pool had more of the stronger ones, rather than stupid, weak, overweight, sick etc. people. Some prehistoric cultures have known to distribute more resources to the stronger members of the group, the idea being that they're most useful for the group, since they're the strongest. One can also hypothesize whether "nature" or "human nature" would be harsher for the weaker, were there not politics to protect them and make them "equal".
    – mavavilj
    Jun 16, 2016 at 3:32
  • Then again, there are other ideologies, such as those promoting some inherent value of every individual.
    – mavavilj
    Jun 16, 2016 at 3:34

I'd rephrase the question.

What if all the weak die and only a few strong survive?

Would it not be better to share the workload? I.e. some produce food, some make weapons, some wield weapons? Some rule?

It's simple sustainability.

  • Down-vote - sorry, I don't think this address the OP. Maybe add a bit more to explain how that answers the original question. Jun 16, 2016 at 3:23
  • I'm not quite grasping how this is an answer to the question. Could you expand or delete?
    – virmaior
    Jun 20, 2016 at 2:19

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