My Cardboard Box

On Hobbes

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Sippican’s recent post, It’s A Calvin and Hobbes World, is definitely a Monday post. But one passage jumped out:

In short, I find myself living in a Calvin and Hobbes world, and I don’t like it. Predestination and barbarism are man’s lot in life. But it’s not the Calvinists against the Hobbesians, no; it’s one faction, half and half, against another faction, half and half. Half the Calvinists say their money is the sign of God’s approval of them, and the other half say money is the mark of the devil and evidence only of some great crime. 50 percent of the Hobbesians say the world’s fine except there are too many nasty, brutish people that end up having indoor plumbing and golf clubs, and the other 50 percent say the world would be fine except for the nasty, brutish people who haven’t got a pot to piss in ruining it for everyone else. In both cases, they’d like the other half to have nasty, brutish, short lives and stop leaving big carbon footprints — or smoking department stores, depending on budget — in their wake.

At the risk of sounding pedantic, I’d studied Hobbes many moons ago at college. The “nasty, brutish” is a fragment from Chapter XIII Hobbes’ Leviathan and perhaps taken out of context:

Nature hath made men so equall, in the faculties of body, and mind; as that though there bee found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of quicker mind then another; yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man, and man, is not so considerable, as that one man can thereupon claim to himselfe any benefit, to which another may not pretend, as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others, that are in the same danger with himselfe… if any two men desire the same thing, which neverthelesse they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their End, (which is principally their owne conservation, and sometimes their delectation only,) endeavour to destroy, or subdue one an other…

…Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man. For WARRE, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting… the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE… Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry… consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

It may seem strange to some man, that has not well weighed these things; that Nature should thus dissociate, and render men apt to invade, and destroy one another: and he may therefore, not trusting to this Inference, made from the Passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by Experience. Let him therefore consider with himselfe, when taking a journey, he armes himselfe, and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his dores; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knows there bee Lawes, and publike Officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall bee done him; what opinion he has of his fellow subjects, when he rides armed; of his fellow Citizens, when he locks his dores; and of his children, and servants, when he locks his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions, as I do by my words? But neither of us accuse mans nature in it… The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have there no place. Where there is no common Power, there is no Law: where no Law, no Injustice. Force, and Fraud, are in warre the two Cardinall vertues. Justice, and Injustice are none of the Faculties neither of the Body, nor Mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his Senses, and Passions. They are Qualities, that relate to men in Society, not in Solitude.

Hobbes based his philosophy on his experiences during the English Civil Wars. Those times were a much meaner and brutal display of “one faction, half and half, against another faction, half and half” (although the majority of England remained neutral). Although he favored a monarchy, his conclusion was that whatever form of government existed, it must have absolute authority with its subjects freely submitting to that authority in order to escape the State of Nature. Any other form of government was at the mercy of the State of Nature, resulting in eventual degradation, brutality, and war. However, Hobbes argued that the government’s subjects had the liberty of disobeying some of their government’s commands, a right to self-defense, and a right to disobey or resist their government when their lives are in danger or their families (and even their honor) were in jeopardy.

I guess one could argue that Sippican’s Calvins and Hobbeses(?) are simply a product, a feature of this American democratic republic. Because it is not absolute in its authority, it’s going to be flawed and fractious.

And you could call that somewhat Lockean.


Written by PappyBro

August 29, 2011 at 19:12

Posted in Blogroll, Musings, Politix

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