Battle: Liberty vs. Safety
Hobbes’ suggested that the sole duty of the governing power is protection, and if this comes into question, then the conditions have returned to that of the state of nature (or state of war). He repeatedly promotes the idea of fear as a primary motivator to partake in a covenant.
If a monarch, or sovereign assembly, grant a liberty to all, or any of his subjects, which grant standing, he is disabled to provide for their safety, the grant is void[.] (Leviathan, Chapter 21)
This assertion made me wonder: What is the relationship between liberty and safety? Are they opposites, as Hobbes’ implies, unable to coexist with each other? Or can they complement one another?
To investigate these questions, I considered the role of liberty and safety in changing an individual’s perceived fear.
Liberty, in Hobbes’ opinion, is the “absence of external impediments… [that] may oft take away part of a man’s power to do what he would” (Leviathan, Chapter 14). Notice, liberty is not considered something that is given but, rather, a natural right. An increase in liberty can cause a decrease in fear because an individual is less afraid about the consequences for their own actions. But, because this increase in liberty applies to society as a whole, everyone is less concerned about punishment and this can increase the fear of other’s actions. “And from this diffidence of one another, there is no way for any man to secure himself… till he see no other power great enough to endanger him” (Leviathan, Chapter 13). From this analysis, it seems that fear has a very different effects on a personal level and political level.
Hobbes goes on to say “the safety of the people requireth further… that justice be equally administered to all degrees of people” (Leviathan, Chapter 30). To Hobbes, the idea of safety is directly related to the idea of justice. Unlike liberty, justice is not something that inherently exists in nature. Justice, and safety, are both being given. As safety increases, this can cause a decrease in fear because people are less afraid of others’ actions. On the other hand, however, safety can be the source of additional fear when justice is not being handed out fairly. In cases such as these, Hobbes reminds us that “to resist the sword of the commonwealth, in defense of another man… no man hath liberty… but [in defense of their own lives,] the guilty man may as well do, as the innocent” (Leviathan, Chapter 21).
Liberty and safety seem to have an inverse relationship when, in reality, their effect on fear changes drastically when looking at it from a private point of view and from a public point of view.