Hobbes and Locke: Journal 2
Notes on Hobbes
Hobbes’ writings deals much with how society has been defined in the past, and though some language and ideas may seem outdated, these are the building blocks for the modern view of how society should be run. One of the key points of Hobbes is how societies come into being, with man moving from a ‘state of nature’ into a contract, or society, with others. In a ‘state of nature,’ man lives by no rules but what he himself creates, and everything, from the taking of food to the taking of life, is within his right. Now while this may seem the ultimate freedom, a boundless equality among men, it is also an existence of uncertainty, and with this uncertainty comes fear, which according to Hobbes is a driving force behind people creating social contracts, or ‘societies.’ Now the point of entering a social contract is to gain something, be that security, easy access to food, etc, but in order to get this, some of the rights that one had in the ‘natural state’ will have to be forfeit, i.e. a man will no longer be able to do whatever he wants, but must abide by the rules of the society he has entered, even if he does not agree with them, for that would undermine the power of the sovereign of the society to protect, and keep order. And in Hobbes’ mind, the most perfect society is that of a monarchy, where all the power is vested in one individual.
Hobbes also makes some interesting comments about war, that it is not simply about battles and fighting, but that the mere threat of war can be an incredible power. (Cold war, anyone?)
Hobbes’ personal interpretation of ‘natural state’ vs. society sparked some debate in class, namely how he seemed to consider some groups of people as being in a natural state, when they were in fact not at all. For example, he believed that the Native Americans had no society, and lived in a savage, lawless state, which was far from true. While it may have been different from the bureaucratic monstrosity that was Britain’s large, incredibly-organized government system, Native Americans still had a very functional society, replete with laws and leaders. Granted, Hobbes was stating much of the imperialistic bullshit that was so ingrained during the time of British colonialism.
However, it would seem that, even though we will definitely accept that a tribal system is a form of society today, people today tend to see the huge, expansive form all 1st world countries employ today as being far more advanced. And in some ways, it may be true. We have more luxuries, more technology, more safety. But the question was raised of the consequences of this advanced system failing. What would happen if a modern city got cut off from the rest of its nation? It might last for a time, but as most cities today depend on import of supplies to keep them running, it would only be a matter of time before things would run out. A disaster of that magnitude would uncover the greatest weakness of modern metropolises, which is a complete lack of self-sufficiency. In such a situation, a tribal society would survive much better, due to already living off the land. Getting cut off from a larger alliance of tribes would not cripple them, as they would have a much easier time adapting, with no dependence on outside products and ease of mobility. So it makes one wonder which is truly better, the safer one, or the one that can adapt?
And perhaps adding a bit of a modern example to the ‘state of nature’/society dichotomy, I think that can also fit into what America has done, and is doing now, by involving itself, or creating, struggles in other countries (Iraq, Vietnam, Korea,…), with the idea of bringing these people freedom, and democracy. The message these actions send seem to be one of ‘our society/government is better, lets force it on other people,’ or some sort. Just food for thought.
Another point that came up during discussion that I found interesting was the notion that Hobbes’ definition of ‘state of nature’ could be applied directly onto society itself, especially in the instance of war between two or more countries, so instead of being man versus man, it would become sovereign versus sovereign. There would naturally be some very marked differences, as even if a man or woman was in total political control of a nation, and decided to go to war against another nation, it would not be the instantaneous action that a man would have while fighting another. His striking fist or foot would be unable to desert, or disagree, or have any free will, unlike the people and armies of a country.
Within ‘Leviathan’ itself, an issue I was strongly affected by, although it didn’t come up much in class, was that of Hobbes’ idea that one should restrain from any forms of resistance against one’s sovereign. Perhaps this is the American in me, but this rubs me the wrong way. Not that I’m saying there should be outright rebellion every time something doesn’t go your way, but I believe that people have the right to fight back, if their rights are being abused.
All in all, an interesting read, and one that lets you see where today’s political ideas began.