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What is a Modern State of Nature?

October 6, 2010

Many people find it hard to believe that, in the 21st century, there are sections of the globe that live in constant political turmoil and decaying conflict. In the United States, we are far removed from the daily hardships that characterize life without a stable form of government. It is safe to assume that you do not wake up each morning wondering whether or not a band of militants will take your possessions or even life. Safe drinking water is an afterthought and most of us know where our next meal is coming from. Unfortunately, in some regions of Africa and the Middle East, people do not have the luxury of a strong or even marginal sovereign body. Would you say that the inhabitants of these places live in a Hobbesian “state of nature?”

In Somalia, for example, civil war has ravaged the country for close to two decades and shows little hope of slowing down. The government has received the worst corruption rating in the world in 2009 by Transparency International, a non-governmental organization that monitors international corruption. It has been estimated that approximately half of all foreign aid that enters the country is “misdirected” away from the starving populace. In addition, there is a struggle between the supporters of secular civil law, and Islamic Shari ‘a law. Clearly, the vast majority of Somalia’s people live in a state of constant uncertainty and instability. One could even say that it is a state of war “of every man against every man…” In this state, there is time for little else but self-preservation and citizens must deal with continual and overbearing fear.

Another possible example of a modern-day “state of nature” can be found in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. This region in southern Afghanistan is reportedly responsible for almost half of the world’s supply of opium. Furthermore, Helmand Province is the location of the heaviest fighting between NATO and Taliban forces. There are many tribal clans that inhabit this deadly swathe of land and they have found it increasingly difficult to live amidst the conflict. To complicate matters, it is difficult for tribal leaders to decide which group to support for fear of retribution from the other. In the end, large numbers of people have found that they must fend for themselves amidst the chaos and cannot look to outside powers for aid. The economy has largely broken down outside of the drug trade and hundreds of thousands of people live in destitute conditions.

What constitutes a “state of nature?” Do you think that these examples accurately portray life without a sovereign in a Hobbesian model? Feel free to comment and discuss this post.


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