Hobbes and Rousseau, Conservative and Liberal?
The recent midterm elections once again brought to the forefront of everyone’s minds the agendas and goals of both the Democrats and the Republicans. As I listened to the arguments over propositions and candidates, I began seeing connections to political figures whose work we have recently read.
I began to find many connections between Hobbes’ ideas and those of a more right wing policy. When an individual has a more selfish view of what the government should do, they will often align with many Hobbesian ideas. Hobbes believed that we are all driven by our own self-interest and in a constant state of war. This draws connections with many conservative ideologies. If I may provide a crude and generalizing example, a conservative political view can be found often in more rural areas. In a rural setting, people are less interconnected. A man may work hard for his money through personal labor, and this man does not want to give up his hard earned money to another entity for a service he may rarely use. This makes self-interest apparent in many political views of individuals in America. Without government, every individual does what he/she can to survive and succeed. When one is more self-dependant, they will have more selfish views. Hobbes states that in the state of nature we are all driven by self-interest. This then translates into politics in a dislike of taxes, for example, which takes one’s money and gives it to the government. This taxation requires every man to interact and work together because everyone may improve or attain benefits if they work in collusion with their neighbors, which can find dislike among those who gained everything he/she needed through his/her own work. This self-interest can then translate from the philosophy of Hobbes to modern day conservative political views.
The more liberal view attains an often adapting idea of society and government. More leftist ideas often involve a cooperation and inter-dependency of all men and women in society, which in the end can better the lives of all. I have found that Rousseau’s ideas in his Social Contract connect in many ways to those of the more leftist agenda. Healthcare, for example, makes everyone citizen give a proportion of their money to the government, which in turn distributes this money to those who need health insurance but cannot afford a plan. This system makes the individual make a sacrifice for the betterment of the whole population, which connects directly to many ideas of Rousseau. The self-interest takes a back seat to the importance of the common good. These liberal goals are often (once again, a generalization) found in large metropolitan areas, where each individual is more inter-dependent. They will pay a tax, then receive plumbing and electricity, etc. Advantages can be found for the whole as one makes a sacrifice such as Rousseau outlined.
The perfect government in America would have the ability to look at both left and right wing policies to decide what is best for both the individual as well as for the whole, but this is a balance that is unattainable in reality. The ideas of both Hobbes and Rousseau have proved true in certain ways in modern politics, but neither system has provided a “perfect government” and a balance between self-interest and the common good. There will be a constant state of battle between the left and the right, between the self-interest and the good of the whole, as society advances. The interaction and the give and take of both the ideas of Hobbes and of Rousseau is what defines modern American politics today.