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Stand up to Corruption?

October 8, 2010

In my reading of Hobbe’s The Leviathan, I find myself stuck on the same question. A sovereign leader is supposed to show no injustice, but what would happen if they were to act unjust- who would act against them? The first thing I think of when I think of Hobbes’ picture of a sovereign power is the image at the front of The Leviathain– an overpoweringly large king-like man, crown included, his shirt made up of the faces of the men who he rules over, wielding a very large sword. The sovereign is the one with the weapons, the one that is to protect the masses. The commonwealth says that men will give up the right to governing themselves in return for protection. That is all and well in my opinion, but returning to my initial question, if the sovereign acts unjustly, who is to stand up against the large sword-wielding power illustrated on the front of The Leviathan?

 

While my understanding of Hobbes is improving every lecture and discussion in which he’s a topic, I think my question is a fair one. On page 177 of The Leviathan, Hobbes says that the sovereign can do no injury or injustice to his subjects. Once again, who is to stand up if any injustice is carried out? I think of the first post on this blog that I wrote about the corruption of politics. Many unjust acts go unnoticed, or they slip under the table. There is a post on this blog about the secret life of MLK, a view of this American hero that scathes the adoring picture we all have in our minds of MLK. I feel as though a lot of the time no one does stand up to injustice or corruption, a lot of times it slips under the radar and no one notices. Even if we do notice, do people always take action? Conversation or debate may be generated, but conversation or debate versus action are two very different things.

 

8 Comments
  1. Andrew Berman permalink
    October 8, 2010 2:51 PM

    I think you bring up a strong point. There are many times in history when people ‘stood idly by’ and let horrific acts take place. One example of this is the Holocaust. The people of Nazi Germany gave up their up their rights to Hitler in order to have Germany rise from the ashes, and in addition gain protection. Throughout Hitlers reign he committed many unjust acts, but the people didnt care because Germany was thriving economically and was becoming a world power. In essence Hitler was nearly a perfect Leviathan according to Hobbes. The reason why he wasnt perfect was because he did lose the war, which basically means he did not protect the commonwealth. Was it wrong for the people of Germany to ‘stand idly by’? Should they have taken action against someone who promised them security and hope?

  2. Alexis Biaggi permalink
    October 8, 2010 2:52 PM

    I definitely agree with the points you are making. However, one needs to also realize that the “Leviathan” described in the reading makes all of his decisions based on our original consent for him to have such powers. I think it is just as important to remember the impossibility of pleasing everyone. Too frequently do people intertwine injustice with not receiving what is beneficial to themselves. This problem is very common in today’s society. I believe that a question, just as important as yours regarding standing up to corruption, is at what point do individuals stand up for their own needs and, in such a “leviathan” society, if they should at all?

  3. thacarter4 permalink
    October 9, 2010 9:04 PM

    I think that Hobbes believed that the sovereign could not be unjust because of his contract with the people. Even if we view the actions of a ruler to be unjust, in Hobbes’ mind their actions are totally valid.

  4. zsalexa permalink
    October 9, 2010 10:51 PM

    “On page 177 of The Leviathan, Hobbes says that the sovereign can do no injury or injustice to his subjects. Once again, who is to stand up if any injustice is carried out? ”

    I’ve picked this quote because something comes to mind: The limitation of the sovereign by a document that both groups have agreed to. While Hobbes doesn’t bring up written documents insofar as agreements, and focuses on spoken word, I think an important note should be made of written limitations of leaders. If the leader/government is limited by an election, term limits or written limits on their power, the populace can stand up to the sovereign and call for their removal. This is where I believe a flaw of Hobbes’s philosophy comes into place. His use of governments via covenants and non-written agreements is terrible for a modern government and really any agreement relying on human nature because, one, you need a limiting document, and two, if there is one, ‘injustice’ will be called by the people, and the leader will be removed by force.

  5. David Hunt permalink
    October 9, 2010 11:20 PM

    This is a very valid question. According to the reading Hobbes would answer that nothing should be done to inhibit the power of the ruler. All men enter a covenant with the ruler, which gives him or her all of the power. As Hobbes states in Chapter 15 on page 165, “when a covenant is made, then to break it is unjust: and the definition of INJUSTICE, is no other than the not performance of covenant.” There is no room for resistance for not only would it break the covenant, but it would also lead to anarchy. This can be seen in the French Revolution for although the monarchy was “unjust” according to the people, the rebellion led to worse times. During the revolution complete anarchy ensued and thousands of people died every week at the hands of the rebels. Although this was after Hobbes’ time, such a situation is exactly what he wanted to avoid.
    Later in that same page though, Hobbes goes on to say “where there is no coercive power erected, that is, where there is no commonwealth, there is no propriety; all men having right to all things: therefore where there is no commonwealth, there nothing is unjust.” I take this to mean that nothing is unjust where there is no “coercive power erected”. Hobbes’ writing is hard to understand so I may be wrong, but does this mean that some forms of power can be completely unjust? If so what exactly would Hobbes define as a coercive power? Would this be something like a Hitler or a Stalin? Could Hobbes even consider the rulers of France before the revolution a coercive power? I find this point to be extremely confusing for as far as I saw, he failed to mention what a coercive power is. Not only does he not mention what a coercive power is, but what is his theory on how to deal with such a power? I doubt that he would approve of such extreme methods as were used in the French Revolution, but I wonder what his thoughts about the pre WWII situation in Germany would be. I believe that almost everyone in the world views the Holocaust as completely unjust, but would Hobbes? What would he say we should do in response to such a threat?

  6. Neil Rabinowicz permalink
    October 10, 2010 7:09 PM

    In one of my previous posts I wrote about how sovereign’s should be held responsible for their actions, whether just or unjust. To answer your question, I believe that the people who elected the ruler should be the ones to stand up to him. When President Clinton and Johnson were elected to office, no one thought they would end up being despised by the people. Their actions were not the correct ones for the nation and its people, and as a result, the people decided to stand up to them and impeach them (House of Reps. impeached them but the Senate ended up acquitting them).

    If the people don’t stand up to the ruler then the ruler will never be taken away from power and will continue making unjust decisions. If the people aren’t happy they should act against the ruler, since after all it’s the people that make a nation, and without them a ruler is a nobody.

  7. jaclburr permalink
    October 19, 2010 1:09 PM

    Interesting points. I believe when the sovereign does indeed act unjustly, he fails to protect his people and so is no longer the sovereign – or something to that effect.
    I agree that action must definitely be taken to stand up for corruption. I think, in modern life, of examples such as Tiger Woods’ infidelity. He was immediately dropped by numerous sponsors when news of his transgressions surfaced. Though this may seem a minor repercussion, it does show that society was not pleased with his actions and aw not willing to support him in any way.

  8. David Hunt permalink
    December 8, 2010 10:03 PM

    Sorry for reposting this, but I did not get credit for it last time.

    This is a very valid question. According to the reading Hobbes would answer that nothing should be done to inhibit the power of the ruler. All men enter a covenant with the ruler, which gives him or her all of the power. As Hobbes states in Chapter 15 on page 165, “when a covenant is made, then to break it is unjust: and the definition of INJUSTICE, is no other than the not performance of covenant.” There is no room for resistance for not only would it break the covenant, but it would also lead to anarchy. This can be seen in the French Revolution for although the monarchy was “unjust” according to the people, the rebellion led to worse times. During the revolution complete anarchy ensued and thousands of people died every week at the hands of the rebels. Although this was after Hobbes’ time, such a situation is exactly what he wanted to avoid.
    Later in that same page though, Hobbes goes on to say “where there is no coercive power erected, that is, where there is no commonwealth, there is no propriety; all men having right to all things: therefore where there is no commonwealth, there nothing is unjust.” I take this to mean that nothing is unjust where there is no “coercive power erected”. Hobbes’ writing is hard to understand so I may be wrong, but does this mean that some forms of power can be completely unjust? If so what exactly would Hobbes define as a coercive power? Would this be something like a Hitler or a Stalin? Could Hobbes even consider the rulers of France before the revolution a coercive power? I find this point to be extremely confusing for as far as I saw, he failed to mention what a coercive power is. Not only does he not mention what a coercive power is, but what is his theory on how to deal with such a power? I doubt that he would approve of such extreme methods as were used in the French Revolution, but I wonder what his thoughts about the pre WWII situation in Germany would be. I believe that almost everyone in the world views the Holocaust as completely unjust, but would Hobbes? What would he say we should do in response to such a threat?

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