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Is Hobbes State of Nature Evident Today?

February 13, 2011

In the Leviathan, Hobbes speaks about his state of nature. Within in this state of Nature Hobbes speaks to the fact that the natural right grants every person the liberty to do what they need to in order to preserve their own life. As discussed in lecture and section, Hobbes state of nature consists of characteristics such as fear, competitiveness and self-interest. It is interesting to look further into Hobbes views and discover whether his beliefs are present in our society today.

In the world of professional sports many of the factors which define Hobbes state of nature are evident. Before the 2010-2011 national football league season, New York Jets cornerback, Darrelle Revis, decided to hold out of team training camp in demand of a new contract. Were these demands evident of Revis’s desire to preserve a better life for himself and his family? Was this holdout the result of natural fear? The NFL is one of the most violent and dangerous leagues in pro-sports and the thought that his career could end at any moment had to push him to demand this new contract. Revis’s natural right to preserve his own life through health and financial security made him believe that holding out was the best for the future of him and his family.

There is also the factor of competitiveness as Darrelle Revis has always made it clear that he works hard to be the best and therefore feels he should be paid as the best. Was there self-interest involved? Of course Darrelle wanted more money and some may consider his holdout selfish and therefore consider him self-interested but at the end of the day Revis is part of the state of nature in which there is the competitive desire between every man. Revis was doing what he felt would bring him peace and better preserve his life.

In the Leviathan Hobbes continues on to discuss his view on the social contract. Hobbes seems to believe that those who enter a contract will have no reason to uphold that contract unless there is a sovereign power or fear of the sword. Obviously, the New York Jets organization lacked that fear and sovereign power as Darrelle eventually received a new contract before his previous contract was fulfilled. He broke his original contract with no care and only faced small consequences in fines and negative media exposure. This reflects Hobbes belief that without the fear of the sword covenant is broken. This idea of breaking covenants is evident throughout professional sports today as players continue to hold out and demand new contracts before their previous contracts have expired.

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan.” Modern Political Though. Ed. David Wootton. Hackett Publishing Company, 2008. 152-177.

Image: http://www.silive.com/jets/index.ssf/2010/06/what_holdout_darrelle_revis_returns_to_jets_offseason_workouts_today.html

3 Comments
  1. February 14, 2011 5:02 PM

    Jake,
    It is good to see that Hobbes can be related to sports as well. Even though I myself with Revis’s decision to holdout, you make some good points. However, I do not agree with the reasons you listed that make Revis a Hobbes man. Revis held out in order to become the highest paid cornerback in the league. Regardless of how much more money he would be paid, his family would already be living a luxurious lifestyle because he is a multimillionaire. While football is a vicious game, all of the players are well aware of this and still play nonetheless. There are clauses in contracts that protect players from receiving no money if they suffer a career ending injury. Therefore, Revis would not just have a zero income if he were to suffer an injury of that severity. The NFL also has a system that pays players after they retire if they have medical needs (although this system is currently being debated in the new CBA). Revis held out for purely selfish reasons and because in his mind, he thought he was the best defensive player even though he was only very good for one season and did not even win NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
    I do however agree with the latter part of your argument. It is evident that the owners do not have “the sword” because players hold out all the time. The NFL needs to give owners more authority to prevent players from holding out. While the owners will never be able to use physical force against force against players to get them to abide to their contracts, there has to be someway to prevent players from breaking contracts that they knowingly signed.
    Very interesting blog, and like I said, its good to see sports get incorporated to Polisci 101.
    Josh Langer

  2. Adam Evanski permalink
    February 16, 2011 7:18 PM

    Jake- Being an avid NFL fan and follower your post immediately caught my attention. I think this is a very good examples of Hobbes ideology of the state of nature, and one that many people can relate to. That being said I’m going to have to go ahead and agree with you that Revis was fully justified in his ‘antics’ this offseason. As one of, if not the best cornerbacks in the league who can put a pricetag on his skills? In a competitive game as football, the best players deserve the best salaries and Revis is no exception. Simply put football is a brutal game and a man of his skills has every right to get the biggest and best possible contract possible.

    As mentioned above nice job with the football post its cool to topics like these explored!

  3. Pierre Gerondeau permalink
    March 6, 2011 8:35 PM

    Very interesting take on Hobbes in the athletic arena. Although I am a Patriots fan and hate everything related to the Jets (except Rex Ryan who I kind of like), I agree with your analysis on Darrelle Revis’s contract situation. Revis is one of the latest of high-profile athletes that show that Hobbesian state of nature is evident in sports. It pains me to say this, but Revis is probably the best at the cornerback position in the league, and in sports when the best ability usually equates to the highest contract, he had a right to covet the most money he could from the NY Jets. As mentioned in your post and the two comments, football is a competitive sport, and someone who has reached the peak of their position may have even more self-interest than normal in getting the largest contract. It is possible that Revis truly worried about his life after football, but as the first comment mentioned, either way he will be a millionaire and have the ability to receive the best medical care. I also thought it was interesting how you compared Hobbes’ “fear of the sword” and how it played into Revis’s ability/desire for a new contract. You mention how Hobbes said that “those who enter a contract will have no reason to uphold that contract unless there is a sovereign power.” I agree with you that Revis must not have feared the consequences of asking for a higher contract and in a way disrespecting his team, or the self-interest was so great that he assumed that the Jets would eventually pay him.

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