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Thomas Hobbes: Perhaps too harsh on humanity?

October 4, 2010

In Hobbes’s Leviathan, he explicitly announces his rather pessimistic opinion of the nature of man, stating that “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe… whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man… and consequently no culture of the earth… no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”(159). He makes it very clear how negatively he views the inherent “morality” of mankind. Is this really a fair assesment, however?

Obviously, I am not suggesting anarchy in questioning the famous philosopher’s outlook on people, for the existence of a government not to infringe upon, but to protect the rights of the people is something that is certainly a sacred value in our society. But, I am simply wondering if Hobbes’s criticism of men as being solely selfish unless restrained is a bit unfair. I think that a fact that provokes such questioning is the universal derivision of some sort of established social and political order throughout all facets of time and all regions of the world. If people are so self-serving and full of pursuit of only their interests, then why have almost all people from every time period subjected themselves to some sort of restrictive government order to their personal wants? I understand that Hobbes is suggesting that fear is what has caused such a universal, the fear that all others are just as selfish in nature and thus the only factor that can prevent everyone from pursuing all of their desires is a contract in which the other members of society sacrifice similar rights also so that everyone is ideally identically constrained. However, I am basically getting at the fact that maybe governments have come about not just from fear, but from the pervasive wish of people to ensure that not only themselves, but their fellow members of society are protected from the assortment of people that may actually be innately “illwilled”. I am suggesting, perhaps optimistically, that the origin of governement could be to keep in check the FEW that do not have any concern for the will of many, the tyrants, thieves, and cheaters, for most people lay claim to certain moral values and rely on guilt and mental assesment to prevent themselves from being seflishly abusive, instead of the actual order of the law. I am saying that maybe, just maybe, government has proven to exist not for the entirety of society, but to prevent those misguided people and groups of people that wish to oppress those around them.

Additionally, if all people were inherently”brutally” selfish, if unbound by the constraint of law, then why have all people, over the course of history, consented to the ruling of some sort of government. You would think that if everyone was so similarly self-concerned, probability would allot that at least some races, tribes, or groups of people that lived within the same reason, would resist the establishment of government for its restraint of personal will. You would think that some of the many, separate, often isolated groups of people would let their general selfish nature dominate their decisions and choose to live ungoverned, instead of granting power to whatever official or tacit political order they agreed upon.

One Comment
  1. rhampton27 permalink
    October 4, 2010 1:47 PM

    I think you missed Hobbes’ point. He states that human kind is “nasty, brutish, and short,” (159) as well as selfish for the reasoning behind their desire for law. People’s selfish motives highlight their wish for safety and survival. For their own self-interest, they are not going to resist law or establishment because they recognize that government protects them. The contract between the people and the state is made because people consent to it. Therefore, according to Hobbes’ theory, people are going to let their selfish nature dominate their decisions and choose to live governed, instead of choosing the unstable path of living ungoverned.

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