Thomas Hobbes Essay, Research Paper
In 1651, Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan, his famous work that detailed his physicalist outlook and his concept of the value of a social contract for a peaceful society and the nature of man. His major belief was that man is a beast that defines his identity through the need to be controlled under some kind of external, oppressive power. This essay will explain Hobbes? views of man?s identity in the society and will demonstrate how it was mirrored in the political structure.
In Hobbes? work, he explained that if individuals within a society continually lived by their own self-interests, they would continue to hurt each other and be stuck in a “state of war,” or chaos. If the members of society were made to live within certain bounds that made it impossible for them to harm each other, the members of society would be in a “state of peace.” The only way to achieve this peaceful society, Hobbes explained, was for all members to unconditionally transfer all of their ability and will, to defend themselves to the power of a “big brother” or “parent.” This power would accept responsibility for mediating all disputes concerning the society, both internal and external. If any member of society violates an agreement with another member of that society, then that individual would be guilty of violating their unconditional agreement to support the social contract, which would then render them unjust and subject to punishment. Conversely, if the “parent” violated its own responsibility to protect the members of the society, that society could then find itself another power to rule it. All of this comes down to the fact that Hobbes truly believed that man would act as savages or beasts if left alone without the presence of a higher power or laws, and the only thing stopping people from acting in this unruly manner is the fear of punishment.
In this “state of war,” says Hobbes, the continual fear of our neighbors would reduce our lives to: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
It would be “solitary because we have no reason to trust anyone else; poor because we have no possible benefit of commerce in such war; nasty because we are continually threatened and fearful of one another; brutish because we only have time to act on our passions like our fellow animals; and short because war of all against all results in many untimely and violent deaths.”1
This incredibly pessimistic account of the nature of human life, Hobbes says, is born in part by the actions of all of us, when, without any thinking, we arm ourselves and lock our doors.
“Does not there as much accuse of mankind by his actions as I do with my words? But neither of us accuse man?s nature in it. The desires and the other passions of man, are in themselves no sin. No more are the actions, that proceed from those passions, till they know a law that forbids them: which till laws be made they cannot know: nor can a law be made, till they have agreed upon the person to make it.”2
Accordingly, by arming ourselves and locking our doors, Hobbes? political recommendations reflect the way we live. In today?s society it seems that no one believes in anything but money, which is leaving us morally bankrupt. People do what meets their own self-interests. This moral disintegration pulses through people and makes everyone nervous. If you look around, the cause of this disintegration is present in everyday society where man is taking drastic measures to protect himself; i.e. locking doors, carrying guns, placing cameras, lighting walkways, and the placement of emergency telephones. All of this is done for the fear that one?s neighbor might stab the others back when not looking because all men have this aggressive, destructive impulse. If there were no consequences for these impulses, one would become a moral barbarian. It is the fear of punishment of the “big brother” power that keeps the individuals under control.
Ironically, during the time that Hobbes wrote Levianthan in 1651, there was no such technology in his society. Hobbes foresaw the importance of governmental restraints to control the beast -like impulses found in the individual. He also possesses an inclination that people would accept such a government voluntarily because society realizes man is born with a savage nature, and without this control, society would be in complete chaos.
1 Martinich, A.P., Thomas Hobbes: A Biography, New York, NY, Harper
Collins Publishers, 1999, pg. 154.
2Somerville, John and Ronald E. Santoni, ed., Social and Political Philosophy, New York, NY, Anchor Books, 1963, pg. 143-144.