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Zombies + Political Theory= TV Hit

December 6, 2010

Sunday nights are usually nothing more than reading and completing POLSCI 101 quizzes and studying for the week’s many challenging academic hurdles. But, at 10PM on Sunday, my new favorite cable TV show, The Walking Dead, airs. The Walking Dead follows select members of society as they persevere and endure a post-Zombie apocalyptic world. Somehow, a massive virus infected the world’s living population, taking down cities, continents, and reigning governments. The virus infected living humans turning them into mindless, zombie walkers. These zombie walkers search for humans as they provide sustenance. Eventually, the walkers are able to devour the military and government might of all global superpowers, rendering all of society a desolate, chaotic, and zombie-infested ghost town. The show focuses on Rick Grimes, a sheriff who emerges from a coma, finding himself thrown in this world completely overrun by zombies.  After the coma, Rick searches for his wife and son, believing that they and others had fled to the military stronghold of Atlanta. However, on the streets of Atlanta, he ends up cornered by zombie walkers. Almost about to be consumed by the walkers, a small, civil society formed by survivors hunkering down in the Atlanta warehouses comes to his rescue by distracting the zombies and offering Rick shelter. In turn, he joins the group, offering the survivors weapons and protection and organizing access to government help.  It was only after Episode 4 did this mini-series’ storyline start to underscore some of the political philosophy that we have covered in class.

First, Hobbes’ idea of the State of Nature is a key facet of this post-apocalyptic world. Since the zombies have usurped humankind, government disappears and there is a state of license given to the zombies. The zombies now have license to eat people, because there is no functioning government to enforce laws. Locke’s conception of the State of War is also important. The State of War is described by Locke as

“a state of enmity and destruction” where “he that in the state of society would take away the freedom belonging to those of that society or commonwealth.”

Here, we see that the zombie walkers have declared a State of War on all of civilization by preying on the freedom of life granted to Rick and the human survivors. Consequently, The Walking Dead follows this Lockean line of logic when the remaining humans offer Rick shelter and camaraderie in exchange for his leadership and weaponry. This of course, is the formation of a civil society where

“other men join and unite into a community, for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living” and for the “secure enjoyment of their properties.”

Here, we see that the property of life itself is unprotected in a Zombie apocalypse. With general fear of survival, the survivors enter an agreement with Rick to form this civil society and to therefore protect the property of life.

Though a zombie-apocalypse is probably not on the horizon for the world, we should wonder if we too, could use the political philosophy of Hobbes and Locke for our own survival.

  1. Sara Mitchell permalink
    December 6, 2010 11:23 AM

    I found this post to be very interesting and it immediately grabbed my attention. I have never heard of or seen The Walking Dead but after reading this post I may check it out. I really like the connection made between the show and Hobbes and Locke. I think that the way the show was described directly represents both Hobbes’ state of nature and Locke’s state of war, although probably not intentionally. In Hobbes’ state of nature, the best way to describe it is chaotic, and in the show the zombie world is very much chaotic, lacking any form of government. In Locke’s description of state of war, it is a state of destruction, which is very much the case in the zombies destroying the human race. I wonder if other aspects of this show can be further linked to other philosophers as well.

  2. mbhilton permalink
    December 6, 2010 11:35 AM

    This was a really nice post. I’ve often wondered what a post-zombie world would look like and which of the theories about human nature would emerge true. Seeing parts of multiple theorist’s views in this particular world was interesting and a line of thought that I’ve never taken before.

  3. jacobjam permalink
    December 6, 2010 11:38 AM

    I too am a fan of this tv series. It is interesting that you brought up Locke’s and Hobbes’ political philosophies to analyze survival in a society where zombies have taken over. I think that in the case of the zombie take-over, I would focus on Hobbes’ theory of fear. It is clear that Hobbes saw fear as a vital aspect in order for a society to survive and progress, and I believe that regardless of the society, this type of view should definitely be taken into account. Even if a world were being taken over by zombies or being run by any other supernatural creature, it is the fear enlisted in the people that cause them to follow the law and remain civil in their society. This is a key notion for a society to remain successful. I also wonder as well what other philosophers would have a strong opinion or a theory relating to this notion.

  4. Joe D'Angelo permalink
    December 6, 2010 3:39 PM

    I found this post most intriguing. The zombie apocalypse is not a subject one would typically relate to political science, but you did a pretty good job. The state of nature comparison is very accurate here. The fear instilled by the zombies would cause the survivors to unite in an effort to not get eaten. This looks like a great show and I think I may have to start watching it.

  5. Jameson McRae permalink
    December 6, 2010 3:43 PM

    I think this show sounds very interesting and recently we have all seen many tv shows and movies about apocalypse. Producers have leeched on to this idea because it clearly has interest to a mass audience. People are fearful about an apocalypse or a state of mass chaos, and in a day in age were almost every developed country has weapons of mass destruction maybe this fear is justified. I think everyone should go back and read these political theorists as they do offer great connections to a state of chaos. It relates much to the state of nature, and if people were to read these theorists they would be able to form these strongholds more effectively using the principles described by the theorists. I have seen another show exactly like this titled The Colony, were the people believe they are the last surviving humans and throughout the show they try and survive by all means necessary. They use war in order to fend of attackers and see themselves in a perfect example of the state of nature were it’s every man for themselves.

  6. chrisbbarnes permalink
    December 6, 2010 3:59 PM

    I too am a fan of this show, and I agree with you that there are parallels drawn to political theory. The show touches on questions of natural right (burying the bodies of the dead), the right of the strongest (Merle on the roof), how a ruler controls his people (Shane beating up Ed at the lakeside) and many others.
    Definitely worth a watch.

  7. eghat2 permalink
    December 6, 2010 7:05 PM

    This is a very interesting post! I am interested in responding to the final question posed, which reads “Though a zombie-apocalypse is probably not on the horizon for the world, we should wonder if we too, could use the political philosophy of Hobbes and Locke for our own survival.” I believe that we certainly could utilize certain ideas of political theorists, if it became necessary.
    For example, this blog explains that the remaining ‘humans’ joined together into a civil society, because they realized that this was in all of their best interest. This is certainly something that would likely occur during times of natural disaster, very similar to Rebecca Solnit’s views in her essay “The Uses of Disaster.”
    What could likely also happen, is the formation of a form of government, as Locke discusses, where when men enter into a state of war, it is helpful to have a non biased judge in order to return the people to a comfortable state of nature.

  8. Rebecca Marber permalink
    December 6, 2010 7:55 PM

    I think all post-apocalyptic fiction interestingly addresses questions central to political science. In this series it seems that the zombies are banding together to attain general needs, rather than fighting for themselves. However, they are still threatened by the humans- an opposing “state” with different interests. Perhaps this is what makes story lines such as these stimulating; all viewers are intrigued by the tendencies of human nature in such obscure and unknown situations.

  9. Molly Niedbala permalink
    December 6, 2010 7:57 PM

    While I do see what you mean about the state of nature, I believe Hobbes is referring to a purely human condition. He doesn’t expect irrational beings like animals or zombies to ever be able to form civil society, so their state of nature is more like a permanent state of being. Hobbes’ state of nature, on the contrary, is suggested as something that can be grown out of. Reason and the ability to come together and discern common interests are necessary pre-requisites for forming a commonwealth, so the term “state of nature” can’t really be applied to beings without those abilities. Forgive me if I’m being way too technical! Interesting and entertaining post.

  10. Kathleen Duddy permalink
    December 6, 2010 8:21 PM

    The post-apocalyptic setting of the show you wrote about reminded me a lot of Cormac McCarthy’s book, “The Road”. The story is basically comprised of a father and son traveling together in a post-apocalyptic world, trying to find a better place. While many people end up on their own, fending for themselves, it is learned that two different types of groups form; there are the groups of people that hunt and enslave others for food, and at the end of the book the reader finds that there are people who are willing to take others in, and not so that they can satiate their appetite. Although I would say that McCarthy’s book deals a little more with the philosophical issues of morality and upholding the status of “the good guys”: to steal or not to steal? to kill or not to kill?, than political philosophy, there still is an evident Hobbesian state of war that is going on: “every man is an enemy to every man”, life has become “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”, and “every man has a right to everything”.

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