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Thomas Hobbes thought that all human beings were equal in the state of nature, but all equally greedy, violent, vengeful and brutal. As he argued in Leviathan, this was a universal trait of humanity and that the purpose of contracting to form a state and civil society was basically to keep order. As he put it in his famous formulation in Chapter 13, the state of nature was a stake of chaos and war that made life "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Only by transferring their natural rights of self-defense to a higher authority could they end this state of nature and find peace, order and security. Hobbes did not particularly care what form the government took after the contract, since its task was to maintain control over the instruments of violence and coercion and provide security. His sovereign state was highly authoritarian rather than democratic, and ideas like justice, freedom and equality did not exist in his version of the social contract, but Hobbes thought that the alternative was much worse, and that even a bad government was worse than none.
The first section of the paper will consider the empirical and materialistic basis of human nature in the political philosophy of Hobbes, who was basically an atheists and skeptic about the existence of God and the souls. Human beings were corrupt, self-interested animals, made up of atoms, and programmed to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. In his state of nature no rules or morality existed, but a state of war of all against all. This leads to the next section of the paper, where Hobbes asserts that even though these brutes are engaged in perpetual violence, feuding and aggression, their fear of death forces them to contract together to form a government. This was the type of fear that all could share equally, whether they had property or not, since death was the great equalizer. Since Hobbes had doubts about God, he could not advocate the divine right of kinds, but only humans contracting together to form a state and a legal system that would secure their lives and property against others. As noted in the next section, these basic assumptions about God, the soul and humanity led Hobbes to insist that the main purpose of government is to have a monopoly on the means of violence so that it can maintain order. This would hardly be a democratic state, but it would be very effective and efficient at using force and punishing disorderly persons with death.
Hobbes's views about human nature and the type of government he advocated were quite pessimistic (or realistic) given the circumstances of the 17th Century world as he experienced it. Given his doubts about God, he could only regard religion as a means to maintain order and social control. He could hardly support the divine right of kings, though, in the absence of any divinity, and did not believe that natural rights or a moral sense existed at all beyond the right of self-defense. In the state of nature, "the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by a confederacy," and all believe they are at least as cunning and clever as the others (Hobbes Chapter 13). Some enjoy conquest, rape, murder and plunder, while others are content to exist within their modest bounds, defending themselves only if attacked. The causes of war in this state of nature are desire for gain, the need for security, or the defense of honor and reputation, but ultimately "every man is enemy to every man" and human beings are wolves toward each other (Hobbes Chapter 13). Those with money and property are armed, hire guards and live behind locked doors, for with no sovereign or common power to control and overawe them all, and in this state of perpetual civil war "notions of right and wrong, virtue and injustice, have…no place" (Chapter 13). In the Hobbesian state of nature, there are no laws, rules or natural rights, and therefore everything is permitted. Without a contract or covenant, "there hath no right been transferred, and every man has right to everything and consequently, no action can be unjust" (Hobbes Chapter 14). Human beings are free to steal rape, plunder, enslave and kill each other at will, for no sovereign authority or law restrains them. No morality or politics can really exist in this dismal state of brutality and chaos, at least until people learn to band together for their own security. They killed each other "to make themselves masters of other men's persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue" (Hobbes Chapter 13).
Strictly speaking, there are no real natural rights in the Hobbesian state of nature, beyond the right of self-defense against all other human predators. For Hobbes, natural rights simply mean the liberty of each person "to use his own powers as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature," and to protect his life, property and honor (Hobbes Chapter 14). He makes a distinction between this right and that natural law that forbids any man to do anything that is "destructive of his life or takes away the means of preserving the same" (Hobbes Chapter 14). Law imposes and obligation, while a natural right means the liberty to do or forbear from doing something, and in Hobbes the natural law is the law of the jungle or survival of the fittest. Natural rights compliment this anarchic and violent condition, since they permit people to do anything necessary to survive. Hobbes even changed around the Golden Rule of the Bible so that it basically permitted people to do unto others before something was done unto them. Yet they still have the ability to voluntarily transfer their natural rights to a higher authority in the form of a social contract, placing a "common power" over all that would "constrain those that would otherwise violate their faith" (Hobbes Chapter 14).
For Hobbes, the anarchy of the state of nature and fear of death and violence inspire human beings to create a more stable and orderly society and which the sovereign state has a monopoly of violence, including military and police powers. Even though human beings are brutes, they still have just enough rational and cognitive power to recognize that the war of all against all is not a satisfactory condition. All of them "naturally love liberty, and dominion over others," and the purpose of the state and civil society is to force them to put "restraint upon themselves" (Hobbes Chapter 17). Only in a Commonwealth or civil state where there was "some coercive power to compel men equally to the performance of their covenants" could law, justice and morality even exist. Hobbes was probably being sarcastic when he described this as the Kingdom of God, but he thought that the violence it inflicted to maintain order was justified, and that in the civilized state "injustice, ingratitude, arrogance, pride, iniquity…can never be made lawful," while they were just the norm in the state of nature (Hobbes Chapter 15).
For Hobbes, the power of the sovereign state must be absolute and undivided, and he did not particularly care if it was a monarchy, aristocracy or legislature as long as it maintained order. It should be able to coin money, make war, issue laws and regulations "and all other statute prerogatives may be transferred by the sovereign" (Hobbes Chapter 13). The sovereign makes laws, controls the military, judiciary, the punishment of criminals and the death penalty, issues money, regulate markets. All were equal in the state of nature, but in civil society, "inequality that now is has been introduced by the laws civil," and the new rules decide who will command and who will obey, who will be a master and who a servant" (Hobbes Chapter 14). Hobbes does not regard slavery as a natural condition based on differences of color, morality or intellect, but simply as the power of some men to dominate others. The society Hobbes envisioned was hardly going to be a democracy of equal rights, free elections and free speech, since that was not its primary purpose. He did expect that all future citizens would consent to the creation of the new contract of their own free will, and "no man is obliged by a covenant whereof he is not author, nor consequently by a covenant made against or beside the authority he gave" (Hobbes Chapter 15). Once the contact is made, all must conform to it and "he that dissented must now consent with the rest; that is, be contented to avow all the actions he shall do, or else justly be destroyed by the rest" (Hobbes Chapter 18). Finally, a sovereign cannot be punished, executed or overthrown, as long as he keeps order and abides by the terms of…[continue]
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