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Remember, Remember the 5th of November…

November 5, 2010

Happy Guy Fawkes day.

For those of you that don’t know what I am talking about, Guy Fawkes (also known as Guido Fawkes) was an English Catholic who planned the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. He was caught, and the good King James escaped assassination.

Today the legacy of Guy Fawkes is that of treason. And today, I am currently celebrating by wearing a fake mustache and watching V for Vendetta. Now to clarify, I am not saying that I support the actions of Guy Fawkes, I am merely saying that today is a great excuse to wear facial hair and watch an awesome film.

That aside, it crossed my mind that this incident preceded the English War. It also crossed my mind that this plot against government violates the very thing that Thomas Hobbes was about–obedience to the sovereign.

Thomas Hobbes argued that in the state of nature, the life of humans are, “nasty, brutish, and short.” For this reason, they contract with a sovereign for their own protection. According to Hobbes, this protection means that the sovereign may never be revolted against, even in the case of an unjust government.

So what would he have said about the treasonous plot of Guy Fawkes?

He would have denounced it. Plain and simple.

But is Hobbes theory correct?  Or more appropriately, what are the other arguments over the people’s rights against the government?

V for Vendetta highlights the idea that if the government abuses it’s power, then revolution is necessary. In this film, the government biologically attacked it’s own people in order to gain power. Any reasonable person would see this as an unjust act. In this case, the main protagonist “V” saw it as unjust. He took matters into his own hands and attacked the government. He violated Hobbes’ theory of the sovereign’s authority.

But at the end, the audience isn’t condemning “V”‘s actions as Hobbes would. We are applauding him for fighting against the unjust regime that controlled his society. This film reveals an alternative to the political philosophy of Hobbes. It shows us that perhaps government shouldn’t have the right to be all-controlling over us. It shows us that people should have the right to rebel. And it shows us that human nature is not always driven by fear as Hobbes suggests.

3 Comments
  1. matteric9 permalink
    November 6, 2010 10:41 AM

    In a Hobbesian state of nature, Hobbes would not approve of this act for these reasons. According to Hobbes, the sovereign is there to protect the people, and all actions of the sovereign are determined by the people. In a Hobbesian state of nature, this topic would never arise simply because the people of the sovereign would never choose to attack its people in such a manner.

  2. Amani permalink
    November 6, 2010 3:53 PM

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I like how you related V for Vendetta to Hobbes theory of the sovereign authority. According to this theory, the people should not rebel against their government; they should take the government as they are. In V for Vendetta one of the characters in the film mentions “ the people shouldn’t be afraid of their government, the government should be afraid of the people”. When it comes to an unjust government, I disagree with Hobbes and believe people should rebel against their government. Sometimes the government becomes too bad that the people can’t do anything but rebel, so they take matters in their own hands. Though, the people vote for laws, and our contributors to the government, sometimes the government takes advantage of this, and they became too unjust for the people. In V for Vendetta, the government was not protecting the people; they were only looking to protect themselves, so therefore this is why the people rebelled.

  3. Zach permalink
    November 6, 2010 4:19 PM

    While Hobbes might have argued against revolt or revolution by Faux, or “V” in V for Vendetta, I think it is quite clear that without an external push on the government, a stagnant government becomes “nasty, brutish and LONG”. A sovereign is established to protect people from the “State Of Nature” which Hobbes views as a poor place to live, but when, in my mind, the government is in a state of war with people, opposing them and causing undo harm to the subjects of the sovereign, the subjects should be granted revolt because the contract has been violated.

    When the social contract is made, one group agrees to give power in exchange for protection. When the protection is lifted by the party that swore to uphold it, the contract should become void. The power, in my opinion, is conditional. So long as the people are protected, they will give up their freedom for protection, however, when the protection is gone, the people have a right to exercise their freedom in order to correct the contract.

    I do not believe Hobbes’ view is correct because if applied out, there is no incentive to enter into a contract to begin with. If a person signs a rental agreement, for the price of money, they expect a place to stay. No rational human being would agree that the renter should continue to pay, when the one renting the room out decides that the renter no longer has a right to that room. If one day, the renter came home to find his room belonging to another, cleaned of his goods, he would demand justice. The one renting the room couldn’t logically demand they keep paying for rent when they no longer have the right to the room. Similarly, no one should expect to pay the “rent” of protection when none is given.

    Contracts are conditional, otherwise there is no incentive to enter one to begin with.

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