The State of Nature: Where Does Personality Fall?
November 8, 2010
We’ve spent a great deal of time in Political Science 101 exploring the proverbial state of nature–that is, the period in time before humans came to their senses and decided to organize a government. Although Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rosseau have extremely different views on how mankind operated before government, all three of these political philosophers agree upon the fact that man was, at one point, a natural beast.
Hobbes’ idea of man in the state of nature is arguably the ugliest of the three aforementioned philosophers. Hobbes believed that man, in the state of nature was cold and brutal. He believed man to have lived in a state of persistent fear with no camaraderie, waiting to kill or be killed. The Hobbesian state of nature is, for lack of a better term, a dog-eat-dog world.
Locke’s state of nature is a bit cozier. According to Locke, humans in the state of nature (for the most part) knew the difference between wrong and right. Locke states in The Second Treatise of Government that all men are created equal by God, and before government is formed, they are capable of working together to maintain basic peace. Although violence is likely to occur in this state of nature, it is usually punished by the majority of people in that state of nature.
Unlike Locke, Rosseau ignored the biblical account of human development when concocting his idea of the state of nature. Rosseau’s account of the state of nature is possibly more animalistic than Hobbes’. Rosseau imagined man in a state of nature as a lone creature with no knowledge of good or evil. Man in Rosseau’s state of nature is a simple-minded animal cheerfully sustaining his own life. Rosseau states that shortly after humans comes into contact with each other, they begin to compare themselves to one another, and are pulled out of the state of nature.
Let’s recap on our three different natural human prototypes. Hobbes presents us with a cold brute; Locke with an assertive, level-headed team player; and Rosseau with a happy, borderline-enlightened wanderer. Each of these three philosophers assert that every human, before the development of government, matched his specific archetype. My question is this: who’s to say that all three of these achetypes didn’t exist at once?
More than “nature,” I feel that personality is responsible for these three different models. In my opinion, it makes more sense for mankind to develop when a meek wanderer meets a brute in the wilderness, rather than when a brute meets another brute. When two of Hobbes’ muscular Cro-Magnons meet in the woods, they fight over a piece of food. One wins, one loses, mankind remains stagnant. When one of Hobbes’ muscular Cro-Magnons meets one of Locke’s level-headed team players in the wilderness, they strike a deal to split food, both parties benefiting in the end. They learn from each other and mankind progresses rather than remaining in one place
Personality must play a role in the state of nature, simply because humans are not all the same. Our vastly differing genetic makeup prevents us from all being the same man or woman in the state of nature. Look at a stereotypical high school movie setting–think The Breakfast Club. You have the bully. The bully is hulking, angry, and only interested in himself. Sounds like Hobbes’ guy, to me. But who does the bully pick on when he’s surrounded entirely by other Hobbesian bullies? Throw the school’s dodge-ball target into the mix, and everything changes. All of a sudden, a naturally intelligent, scrawny fellow has to think his way out of getting his lunch money stolen. Enter Locke’s all-American quarterback stage right with a gaggle of his friends–the dynamic changes once again. The personalities of human beings are not solely nurtured by society–we have natural predispositions to act certain ways based on our psychological and physical makeup, and we must have had those same predispositions and personalities before government was formed.