Saylor.org's Comparative Politics/Hobbes and Sovereignty
- 1 The Sovereign State: Hobbes, Leviathan
- 1.1 Who Was Hobbes?
- 1.2 Hobbes on Art, Science and Politics
- 1.3 Hobbes's "Great Question": What Makes Legitimate Authority Possible?
- 1.4 What Makes Hobbes's Story a Plausible Account of "The State of Nature"?
- 1.5 Hobbes on Individuality
- 1.6 Hobbes's Skeptical View of Knowledge
- 1.7 The State of Nature
- 1.8 Pride and Fear: Passions that Dominate Human Nature
- 1.9 The Laws of Nature
- 1.10 Hobbes's Theory of Sovereignty
- 1.11 The Doctrine of Legal Positivism: The Law Is What the Sovereign Commands
- 1.12 Hobbesian Liberalism
- 1.13 Hobbes and the Modern State
The Sovereign State: Hobbes, Leviathan
by Professor Steven Smith (lecture transcript)
Thomas Hobbes was the author of the first and, I believe, undoubtedly the greatest, work of political theory written in the English language. He was a master of English style and prose, and his work ranks among the very greatest in this or any other language. Leviathan is to prose what Milton's Paradise Lost is to epic poetry. Think about that. Hobbes was in many ways a perfect foil for Machiavelli. He played the part of Doctor Watson to Machiavelli's Sherlock Holmes. Hobbes, in other words, carried out what Machiavelli had helped him make possible. Machiavelli, you remember, claimed to have discovered a new continent, new modes and orders. It was Hobbes who helped to make this new continent habitable. Machiavelli, you might say, cleared the brush. He was the Lewis and Clarke or the Columbus. Hobbes built the houses and institutions. Hobbes provided us with the definitive language in which even today we continue to speak about the modern state.
However, and this is what I want to emphasize throughout our reading of Hobbes, he has always been something of a paradox to his readers. On the one hand, you will find Hobbes the most articulate defender of political absolutism. Hobbes in the Hobbesian doctrine of sovereignty, or the Hobbesian sovereign, to have a complete monopoly of power within his given territory. In fact, the famous frontispiece of the book, which is reproduced in your edition, although it is not altogether very clear. It is not a very good reproduction, the famous frontispiece to the original 1651 edition ofLeviathan depicts the Leviathan, depicts the state, the sovereign, holding a sword in one hand and the scepter in the other, and the various institutions of the civilian and churchly ecclesiastical authority on each side. The sovereign holds total power over all the institutions of civilian and ecclesiastical life, holding sway over a kind of peaceable kingdom. Add to this, to the doctrine of indivisible sovereign power, Hobbes's insistence that the sovereign exercise complete control over the churches, over the university curricula, and over what books and opinions can be read and taught. He seems to be the perfect model of absolutism and of absolute government.
You have to consider also the following. Hobbes insists on the fundamental equality of human beings, who he says are endowed with certain natural and inalienable rights. He maintains the state is a product of a covenant or a compact, a contract of a sort, between individuals, and that the sovereign owes his authority to the will or the consent of those he governs, and finally that the sovereign is authorized only to protect the interests of the governed by maintaining civil peace and security. From this point of view, it would seem that Hobbes helps to establish the language of what we might think of as the liberal opposition to absolutism. And this paradox was noted even in Hobbes's own time. Was he a defender of royalism and the power of the king, or was he a defender or an opponent of royalism? I mean, in many ways, to be sure, Hobbes was a product of his time, and what else could he be? But Hobbes lived at a time when the modern system of European states, even as we understand them today, was just beginning to emerge.
Three years before the publication of Leviathan, 1651, the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, famous peace treaty, brought an end to more than a century of religious war that had been ignited by the Protestant Reformation. The Treaty of Westphalia officially put an end to the 30 Years War, but more than that it ratified two decisive features that would be given powerful expression by Hobbes. First, the Treaty declared that the individual sovereign state would henceforth become the highest level of authority; you might say, putting an end once and for all to the universalist claims of the Holy Roman Empire. Each state was to be sovereign and to have its own authority. And secondly, that the head of each state would have the right to determine the religion of the state, again thus putting an end to the claims of a single universalist church. This is what the Treaty of Westphalia put into practice and, among other things, what Hobbes attempted to express in theory in his book: the autonomy and authority of the sovereign and the sovereign's power to establish what religious doctrine or what, even more broadly, what opinions are to be taught and held within a community, within a state.
Who Was Hobbes?
Who was Hobbes? Let me say a word about him. Hobbes was born in 1588, the year that the English naval forces drove back the invasion of the famous Spanish Armada. He grew up in the waning years, the last years, of the Elizabethan era, and he was a boy when Shakespeare's most famous plays were first performed. Hobbes, like many of you, was a gifted student, and he went to college. His father, who was a local pastor from the southwest of England, sent him to Oxford, although he went at the age of 14. And after he graduated, he entered the service of an aristocratic family, the Cavandish family, where he became a private tutor to their son. His first book was a translation of Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War, which he completed in 1629; Thucydides, the great historian of the Peloponnesian War, who we mentioned before when we talked about Plato.
Hobbes was a gifted classical scholar. He spent a considerable amount of time on the European continent with his young tutee, Mr. Cavandish. And while he spent time in Europe, he met Galileo and Rene Descartes. It was during the 1640s, the period that initiated the great civil wars in England, and the execution of the king, Charles I, that Hobbes left England to live in France, while the fighting went on. He left England with many of the royal families, the aristocratic families, who were threatened by the republican armies organized by Cromwell and that had executed the King. In fact, the three justices, the three judges, who were in charge of the judicial trial of Charles I, King Charles, the one who lost his head, those three judges later found a home where? In New Haven. They came to New Haven, the three judges, Judge Whaley, Goff, and Dixwell. Does that sound familiar? Yes. New Haven was in part started by, founded by, members of the, you might say, the republican opposition to royalty and to the English king. And any way, Hobbes, however, was deeply distressed by the outbreak of war, and he spent a great deal of time reflecting on the causes of war and political disorder. His first treatise, a book called De Cive, or De Cive, depending on how you pronounce it, On the Citizen, was published in 1642, and it was a kind of draft version of Leviathan that was published almost a decade later, again in 1651. Hobbes returned to England the same year of the book's publication, and spent most of the rest of his long life, Leviathan was written well into his 60s. He was 63 when it was published. He spent the rest of his long life working on scientific and political problems. He wrote a history of the English Civil Wars, called Behemoth, which remains a classic of the analysis of the causes of social conflict. And as if this were not enough, near the very end of his life, he returned to his classical studies translating all of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. He died in 1679 at the age of 91.
From the various portraits and descriptions of Hobbes, we can tell he was a man of considerable charm, and I wish that in the book we had had his picture, a reproduction of his portrait, on it. But I just want to read one brief passage from his biographer, a man named John Aubrey, who knew him. It was written during Hobbes's lifetime. Aubrey wrote about Hobbes: "He had a good eye and that of hazel color, which was full of life and spirit, even to the last. When he was earnest in discourse, these shone, as it were, a bright- as if a bright live coal within it. He had two kinds of looks. When he laughed, was witty, in a merry humor, one could scarce sees his eyes, and by and by, when he was serious and positive, he opened his eyes round. He was six foot high and something better." So that was very tall in the seventeenth century. "He was six foot high and very better. He had read much, if one considers his long life, but his contemplation was much more than his reading. He was want to say that if he had read as much as other men, he should have known no more than other men." So his point was he had read a lot, but what was most important was his thinking. If he had read as much, he would know as little. Gives you a little sense of Hobbes's spirit, his humor, the wry wit that becomes apparent on almost every page of this book, but you have to be a careful reader.
Hobbes was deeply controversial, as you might suspect, during his lifetime. Leviathan was excoriated by almost every reader of the text. To the churchmen, he was a godless atheist. To the republicans, he was tainted with monarchy, or monarchism. And to the monarchists, he was a dangerous skeptic and free thinker.
Hobbes on Art, Science and Politics
"For by art", he says in the introduction, "For by art is created that great Leviathan called a commonwealth or a state, which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural for whose protection and defense it was intended." The sovereign, he says, or Leviathan, this great artificial man, the sovereign is something more like what we would call today an office, rather than a person, as when we speak of the executive as an office. And it is simply the person who inhabits the office, although that might be somewhat questionable in some of our recent executive decisions. But for Hobbes, Hobbes creates this office of a political called the sovereign. Now, his language in that sentence that I just read from the introduction, "For by art", again, "is created that great Leviathan called a commonwealth or a state." When Hobbes uses the term "art" there, "For by art is created," that term is deeply revealing of his purpose. Again, for Aristotle, by contrast, art presupposes nature. Or in other words, nature precedes art. Nature supplies the standards, the materials, the models, for all the later arts, the city being by nature, man by nature, nature provides the standard. Nature precedes art and human artifice or human making. But for Hobbes, think of this by contrast, art does not so much imitate nature, rather art can create a new kind of nature, an artificial nature, an artificial person, as it were. Through art, again, is created the great Leviathan. Through art properly understood and by "art," of course, I mean something like human making, human ingenuity, human artfulness, through art we can begin not just to imitate, but we can transform nature, make it into something of our own choosing.
"Art" here is not to be understood also as the antithesis of science, as when we speak of the arts and the sciences. Rather, science is the highest form of art. Science is the highest kind of human making. Science, or what Hobbes simply calls by the name "reason," is simply the fullest expression of human artfulness. "Reason," he says in chapter 5, "reason is not a sense and memory born with us, reason is not born with us, nor gotten by experience only," he says, "but is attained by industry, first in the act imposing of names and secondly, by getting a good and orderly method." Think of those terms. "Reason," and again, he uses this synonymously with other terms, like science or art, is not simply born with us. It is not simply a genetic endowment, nor is it simply the product of experience, which Hobbes calls by the name "prudence." But rather reason, he says, is attained by industry, by work, and it is developed first, he says, by the imposing of names on things, the correct names on things, and second by getting a good and orderly method of study. Reason consists in the imposition of a method for the conquest of nature. By science, Hobbes tells us, he means the knowledge of consequences, and especially, he goes on to say, "when we see how anything comes about, upon what causes and by what manner, when like causes come into our power, we can see how to make it produce like effect." We can see how to make it produce like effects. Reason, science, art is the capacity to transform nature by making it, imposing on it, a method that will produce like effects after similar consequences. There is, in other words, a kind of a radically transformative view of reason and knowledge and science, political science, civil science, running throughout Hobbes's work. Reason is not about simple observation, but rather, it is about making, production, or as he says, "making like consequences produce the desired effects."
We can have a science of politics, Hobbes believes. We can have a civil science, because politics is a matter of human making, of human doing, of human goings on. We can know the political world. We can create a science of politics because we make it. It is something constructed by us. Hobbes's goal here, as it were, is to liberate knowledge, to liberate science from subservience or dependence upon nature or by chance, by fortuna, by turning science into a tool for remaking nature to fit our needs, to impose our needs or satisfy our needs through our science. Art, and especially the political art, is a matter of reordering nature, even human nature, first according to Hobbes, by resolving it into its most elementary units, and then by reconstructing it so that it will produce the desired results, much like a physicist in a laboratory might. This is Hobbes's answer to Machiavelli's famous call in chapter 25 to master fortuna, to master chance or luck, fortune. But you might say, Hobbes goes further than Machiavelli. Machiavelli said in that famous chapter 25, that the prince, if he is lucky, will master fortuna about half the time, only about 50% of the time. The rest of human action, the rest of statecraft, will be really left to chance, luck, contingency, circumstances. Hobbes believes that armed with the proper method, with the proper art, or scientific doctrine, that we might eventually become the masters and possessors of nature. And I use that term "masters and possessors of nature," a term not of Hobbes's making, but of Descartes from the sixth part of the Discourse on Method, because I think it perfectly expresses Hobbes's aspirations, not only to create a science of politics, but to create a kind of immortal commonwealth, which is based on science and therefore based on the proper civil science, and therefore will be impervious to fluctuation, decay, and war and conflict, which all other previous societies have experienced.
You can begin to see, in other words, in Hobbes's brief introduction to his book, as well as the opening chapters, you can really see the immensely transformative and really revolutionary spirit underlying this amazing, amazing book.
Hobbes's "Great Question": What Makes Legitimate Authority Possible?
So where do we go from here? We turn from methodology and science to politics. What is Hobbes's great question? What was important when reading, starting out with a new book, asking yourself, what question is the author trying to answer? What is the question? And it is not always easy to answer, because sometimes they do not always make their deepest or most fundamental questions altogether clear. In the case of Leviathan, I would suggest to you, Hobbes's central question is, what makes authority possible? What is the source of authority? And you might say, what renders it legitimate? Maybe the question is, what makes legitimate authority possible? This is still a huge question for us when we think about nation building and building new states, how to create a legitimate authority. Obviously, there is a tremendous issue with this in Iraq today. People there and here struggle with what would constitute a legitimate authority. Perhaps we should airlift copies of Leviathan to them, because that is the issue that Hobbes is fundamentally concerned with. His question goes further. How can individuals who are biologically autonomous, who judge and see matters very differently from one another, who can never be sure whether they trust one another, how can such individuals accept a common authority? And, again, that is not just what constitutes authority, but what makes authority legitimate. That remains not only the fundamental question for Hobbes, but for the entire, at least for the entire social contract tradition that he helped to establish.
You might say, of course the question, what renders authority legitimate, is only possible, or is only raised when authority is in question. That is to say, when the rules governing authority have broken down in times of crisis, and that was certainly true in Hobbes' time, a time of civil war and crisis. What renders authority legitimate or respectable? And to answer that question, Hobbes tells a story. He tells a story about something he calls "the state of nature," a term he did not invent, but with which his name will always and forever be associated, the idea of the state of nature. "The state of nature" is not a gift of grace or a state of grace from which we have fallen, as in the biblical account of Eden, nor is the state of nature a political condition, as maintained in some sense by Aristotle, when he says the polis is by nature. The state of nature for Hobbes is a condition of conflict and war. And by a "state of nature" he means, or by a state of war, he means a condition where there is no recognized authority in his language to keep us in awe, no authority to awe us. Such a condition, a state of war, may mean a condition of open warfare, but not necessarily. It can signify battle, but Hobbes says it can also signify the will to contend, simply the desire or the will to engage in conflict, renders something like a state of nature. A state of war can include, in other words, what we might call a "cold war," two hostile sides looking at each other across a barrier of some type, not clear or not certain what the other will do.
So the state of nature is not necessarily a condition of actual fighting, but what he calls a "known disposition to fight." If you are known or believed to be willing to fight, you are in a state of war. It is a condition for Hobbes of maximum insecurity where in his famous formula "life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Perhaps he should have said fortunately short. This is the natural condition, the state of nature, the state of war that Hobbes attributes to, again, the fundamental fact of human nature. Now, his claim that the state of nature is the condition that we are naturally--the state of war, rather, is a condition that we are naturally in, is to say, among other things, that nature does not unite us in peace, in harmony, in friendship, or in solidarity. If nature is a norm, it does not, again, mandate or incline us to peace, friendship and solidarity with others. Only human art or science or art, human contrivance, can bring about peace. Conflict and war are primary. Peace is derivative. In other words, for Hobbes, authority and relations of authority do not arise naturally among us, but are rather, again, like civil science itself, the product of contrivance or art.
What Makes Hobbes's Story a Plausible Account of "The State of Nature"?
So the question for us remains, which deeply challenged readers in Hobbes's own time, what makes Hobbes' story, as I am calling it, his story about the state of nature being a condition of war, what makes it plausible? What makes it believable as an account of, again, the condition we are naturally in? Why should we believe Hobbes's story and not some other story? I just want to say a word about that before closing.
From one point of view, reading Hobbes, his account of the state of nature seems to derive from his physics of motion and rest, in the opening chapters of Leviathan. He begins the work, you remember, with an account of human nature, account of human psychology, as a product of sense and experience. We are bodies in motion, and who cannot help but obey the law or the physics of attraction and repulsion. We are bodies in constant motion. He seems, in other words, to have a kind of materialistic psychology in which human behavior exhibits the same, as it were, mechanical tendencies as billiard balls that can be understood as obeying, again, geometric or causal processes of cause and effect. Right? The state of nature is not seen by him as an actual historical condition in some ways, although he occasionally will refer to what we might think of as anthropological evidence to support his views on the state of nature. But the state of nature, for him, is rather a kind of thought experiment after the manner of experimental science. It is a kind of thought experiment. It consists of taking human beings who are members of families, of estates, of kingdoms, and so on, dissolving these social relations into their fundamental units, namely the abstract individuals, and then imagining, again, in the manner of a chemist or a physicist, how these basic units would hypothetically interact with one another, again almost like the properties of chemical substances in some ways. How would we behave in this kind of thought experiment? That would be one way of reading that Hobbes seems to, wants us to think about the state of nature as akin to a scientific experiment. Hobbes is the, again, the great founder of what we might call, among others, is the experimental method in social and political science. And there is a reason, perhaps a reason for this, too. And I will end just on this note.
When Hobbes was a young man, he worked as a private secretary for a short time, a private secretary to another very famous Englishman by the name of Francis Bacon, the great founder of what we think of as the experimental method, the method of trial and error, of experience and experiment, and arguably Hobbes was influenced in many ways by Bacon's own philosophy of experience and experiment. And Hobbes took Bacon's method in some ways applying it to politics, tried to imagine, again, the natural condition of human beings, and what we are by nature, by a process of abstraction, and abstracting all of the relations and properties that we have acquired over history, through custom, through experience, stripping those away like the layers of an onion, and putting us almost, as it were, in an experimental test tube or under a microscope, seeing how we would under those conditions react and behave with one another.
Hobbes on Individuality
Today we're going to continue the state of nature, Hobbes's most famous discovery, his most famous metaphor, his most famous concept. At the end of class last time, I tried to identify Hobbes's central problem, is the problem of authority, what makes authority possible, what makes authority legitimate, and in order to answer that question, I suggested, he created this idea, this metaphor again, of a state of nature, a state in which he says we are naturally in. Hobbes's state of nature is virtually the opposite of Aristotle's conception of the natural end or the natural telos of man. It does not consist of our perfection, a condition of our perfection as Aristotle believed, but for Hobbes the state of nature is something like the condition of human life in the absence of authority, in the absence of anyone to impose rules, order, law on us. What would human beings be like in such a condition, a condition of the type that he imagined maintains in periods of crisis, civil war of the kind that was true of England in the 1640s? And I suggested at the end of last time that in many ways Hobbes's idea of the state of nature can be understood in a sense as an extension of his scientific methodology set out in the opening chapters of the book. Let's imagine, as he says, human beings as if they were in a sort of laboratory test tube. Let's strip human beings of all their social ties and customs and traditions. Let's see what they would be like in abstraction from all of the social and political relationships which they enjoy and see how they would interact with one another almost as chemical properties.
And you can see Hobbes working along that line but I would say this as it were scientific or proto-scientific conception of the state of nature is not the whole answer to this story because underlying Hobbes' conception of the state of nature is a powerful moral conception, a moral idea of the human being, and that's what I want to talk a little bit about today. Hobbes is a moralist, which seems odd in some ways. How could grim and dour old Thomas Hobbes be regarded as a moralist or someone with a moral conception of human nature and the human condition? But that's what I want to suggest to you today. The term, in a sense in which we might better characterize his conception of the state of nature, is one of individuality. Hobbes shows us what it is to exercise the qualities of moral agency; that is, to say to do for ourselves rather than to have things done for us or for you. Hobbes introduced into our moral language the idiom of individuality. And this concept, the concept of what it is to be an individual, a moral agent, isn't really--is really not older than or at least not much older than the seventeenth century. Until the Renaissance or not much later, people considered themselves primarily not as individuals but as members, members of a particular family, of a caste, of a guild, of a particular religious order, of a city or so on. The idea that one is first of all a self with an "I," an ego, would have been regarded as unintelligible and even as late as the nineteenth century Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America says, "individualism is a recent expression arising from a new idea." That idea appeared new to Tocqueville as late as the nineteenth century and this idea of the individual, I want to suggest, is at least in part and maybe in large part traceable back to Hobbes.
What is Hobbes's individual? Hobbes conceived us through a process of abstraction from the web of attachments in which we find ourselves. We are beings, he argues again in the opening chapters, whose fundamental characteristics as human beings are willing and choosing. We are beings for whom the exercise of the will is a preeminent feature and much of our happiness as human beings depends upon our capacity to exercise our will and our ability for choice. Life for Hobbes is an exercise in continual willing and continual choosing that may be temporarily interrupted but can never come to an end except with the end of life itself. Hobbes's individuality or individualism is closely connected to this conception of a human being or human well-being as success in the competition for the goods of life. "Continual success," he writes in chapter 6, "continual success in obtaining those things which a man from time to time desireth is what is called happiness or felicity. Our well being depends on our ability to achieve the objects of our desires, the objects of our choices, for there is no such thing," he continues, "as perpetual tranquility of mind, no such thing as perpetual tranquility, while we live here, because life itself is but motion and can never be without desire nor without fear no more than without sense." These are the characteristics of human life, sense, fear and desire, continual desire for one thing after another, and for Hobbes this fact is not simply a physical or factual description of human behavior but it is a moral condition because we are each of us bundles of activity and initiative, of likes and dislikes, of desires and aversions. Life for Hobbes is competition or struggle not just over scarce resources, although that might be part of the struggle, but for honors, for anything else that a person might value or esteem.
Hobbes is fascinated and, is again like Montaigne and a number of others, he is fascinated with the diversity, the sheer diversity, multiplicity of human desires. What leads one person to laughter, leads another person to tears, what leads one person to piety and prayer, leads another person to ridicule and so on and so on. Even moral terms, Hobbes says, terms like "good" and "evil," he says are expressions of our individual likes and dislikes. We like something, he says, not because it is good but we call something good because we like it and the same with other moral qualities and attributes. They are expressions for him of our psychological states and aspirations and it is this individualism that is the ground of the general competition that we all experience for the objects of our desires that he says the--or from this he infers that the natural condition is one of competition, of struggle, of enmity and of war. In a famous passage from chapter 11 he posits, as he puts it, "a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power that ceaseth only in death." This is, as he puts it, "a general inclination of all mankind," this constant restlessness and motion and expression of our individuality and what I have been calling Hobbes's individualism is connected, in fact even is underwritten by another attribute that is central to Hobbes. It is his skepticism.
Hobbes's Skeptical View of Knowledge
Like many of the great early modern philosophers, Montaigne, Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes was obsessed with the question about what can I know or, maybe put a different way, what am I entitled to believe, and there are many passages in Leviathan that testify to Hobbes's fundamentally skeptical view of knowledge. Right? He is a skeptic not because he believes that we can have no foundations for our beliefs whatever but he is a skeptic in the sense that there can be no, on his view, transcendent or nonhuman foundations for our beliefs. We cannot be certain, he thinks, of the ultimate foundations of our knowledge and this explains, you may have wondered about this, this explains the importance he attributes to such things as naming and attaching correct definitions to things. For reason, he writes in a famous passage, "for reason is nothing but reckoning, that is adding and subtracting the consequences of general names agreed upon."
Knowledge, in other words, is for Hobbes a human construction and it is always subject to what human beings can be made to agree upon and that skeptical view of knowledge or at least skeptical view of the foundation of knowledge has far reaching consequences for him. If all knowledge, according to Hobbes, ultimately rests on agreement about shared terms, he infers from that that our reason, our rationality, has no share in what Plato or Aristotle would have called the divine Noos, the divine intelligence. Our reason has within it no spark of divinity. Our reason does not testify to some kind of inner voice of conscience or anything that would purport to give it some kind of indubitable foundation. Such certainty as we have about anything is for Hobbes always provisional, discovered on the basis of experience and subject to continual revision in the light of further experience, and that again experiential conception of knowledge. That kind of skepticism about the foundations of knowledge has further implications for Hobbes's views on such things as religion and religious toleration.
"There are no signs or fruit of religion," he says, "but in man only," he says in chapter 12. That is to say, the causes of religion can be traced back and are rooted in the restlessness of the human mind in its search for causes. And it is because, he says, we are born ignorant of causes, we are ignorant of the causes of things, that we are led to search out beginnings and origins and this leads us ultimately, he says, to posit the existence of God who is, so to speak, the first cause of all things. Hobbes does not, despite this kind of rationalistic view of religion and his view that religion has its origin again in the restlessness of the human mind, Hobbes doesn't deny the possibility of revelation or some kind of direct communication of God to us. But what he does deny is that anyone who has claimed to receive such a revelation, he denies that any such person has the right to impose that view on anyone else because nobody else can correctly have the means to verify a person's claim to revelation. No one can impose their claim of revealed knowledge on another. Does this make Hobbes an atheist, as many would have maintained in his day? No. It makes him a skeptic about revealed religion.
The State of Nature
So it is because of this individualism and skepticism, a view of life as willing and choosing, that there are in the state of nature so to speak no standards to adjudicate conflicts, that the central issue of politics arises, namely what makes authority possible, how are people who are biologically individually constituted, so to speak, how can any of them ever--any of us ever be capable of obeying common rules or having moral obligations to one another? How is that possible, Hobbes continues to ask in a manner of speaking on almost every page of the book. But before answering that question, consider a little further Hobbes's account of the state of nature and what makes it seem like a plausible starting point to answer the question of what makes authority possible.
To say that the state of nature consists primarily of individuals with again diverse likes, dislikes, beliefs, opinions and the like is not to say that the state of nature is a state of isolation, as it sometimes attributed to him. People in the state of nature may have regular and continual contact with one another. It is just that their relations are unregulated. They are unregulated by law; they are unregulated by authority. The state of nature is simply a kind of condition of maximum insecurity, an unregulated market with no common laws or rules to sustain it. The emphasis on the individual is just another way of saying, again unlike Aristotle, that no one has natural authority over anyone else. Relations of authority exist only by, so to speak, the consent or the will of the governed. And the fact that relations in the state of nature are unregulated for him makes it--it's synonymous with making it a condition of war, of "all against all," in his famous formulation. Now, you might look at that formulation, the state of war is one against--of all against all and you might say that such a condition of civil war, of maximum insecurity, of the total breakdown of condition of rules and laws is if anything the state of the exception. How often does that really occur in our experience in human life? But Hobbes, like Machiavelli, as we saw, likes to take the exceptional situation and turn it into the norm. It becomes the normal condition, state of security, insecurity, fear, conflict and the like.
This is not to say, again, that the state of nature for Hobbes is one of permanent fighting. But it is one of permanent fear and distrust and he asks his readers…there are so many wonderful passages in this book, this just happens to be one of my particular favorites, he asks his readers if you don't believe me, again think of his skepticism, don't believe me, he says, check your own experience and see if I'm not right. And this is what he writes. "Let him, the reader, therefore ask himself," Hobbes writes, "when taking a journey he arms himself and seeks to go well accompanied. When going to sleep, he locks his doors even when in his house, and even when in his house he locks his chests and this, when he knows, he says, there be laws and public officers armed to avenge all injuries shall be done to him. What opinion, Hobbes asks, he has of his fellow subjects when he rides armed? What does that say about your thinking about your fellow citizens when you arm yourselves going for a trip, of his fellow citizens when he locks his doors at night or of his children and servants when he locks his chests? Does he not therefore as much accuse mankind by his action as I do by my words?" You can see the mischievousness of Hobbes in that delightful passage. What about you, he says, and this is not in some kind of state of nature. This is in a completely fully functioning society when you go armed, when you lock your doors, when you lock your chests at night, don't your actions and your experience simply confirm what I'm saying? And this tells us another thing about the state of nature which it is easy to forget. The state of nature, at least for Hobbes, is not some kind of primitive anthropological datum that we find by going back in time somehow. Rousseau will speak about it more this way. For Hobbes, the state of nature exists, he says, whenever authority is not enforced. The state of nature fully continues, in many ways, oddly even in civil society, he says, whenever we have reason to believe that our lives or our properties or ourselves are not secure. In fact, we can never be fully free of the fear and of the anxiety and uncertainty of the state of nature, even within to some degree of fully constituted civil society.
The only exception to this of course in Hobbes's account of the state of nature when he says "don't you lock your doors at night" are of course Yale students living here on campus who are so trusting that they never lock their doors at night in the entryways and so on and then of course are always stunned to find when something is stolen from them, how could this be? And I tell them lock your doors but they still don't believe me. Maybe you'll now believe Hobbes if you don't believe me. So the state of nature, it's a state of insecurity, it's a state of conflict. How do we get out of it? This is of course the huge issue that Hobbes asks for the rest of--for much of the book. What do we do to get out of this state of nature to enter a condition of civil society and civilized life? How do I give up my right to do whatever is in my power to secure my person or my possessions, when I have no expectation, you might say, that others around me are prepared to do so as well? This is sort of a classic example of what economists and other people like them call the prisoner's dilemma. Why should I act in such a way if I have no expectation or reasonable expectation that those around me will reciprocate?
Hobbes's members of a state of nature seem to be in a classic prisoner's dilemma problem. Maybe we can say, we could say or Hobbes could say, that laying down our right to do all things in seeking peace with others is the rational thing to do in the condition of nature. We are all rational actors and therefore it is rational for us to seek and to desire peace, but note that that is exactly what Hobbes does not say, he does not say this. Far from having a sort of rational actor model of politics, he operates with an irrational actor model. He assumes that it is not reason but our passions that are the dominant force of human psychology, our desires, our aversions, our passions. And although I have said that Hobbes has emphasized the diversity of our passions there are still two main passions that he feels universally dominate human nature and these two passions are pride and fear.
Pride and Fear: Passions that Dominate Human Nature
Pride and fear, these are the Hobbesian equivalents of the two great--what Machiavelli called humors you remember, the two humors of the two great social classes, the desires of the rich and powerful as it were to rule over others and the desire of the weak not to be ruled. Machiavelli called those the two umori, the two humors. And Hobbes similarly works with a kind of model. He's a great political psychologist, the two great passions of pride and fear. Pride, he says, is the passion for preeminence, the desire to be first and also to be seen to be first in the great race of life. Prideful people, he tells us, are those overflowing with confidence about their own abilities to succeed and we all know people like this, don't we, like Yale students? They're all overflowing with confidence, kind of alpha types. Machiavelli might call them sort of manly men who are fully confident about their abilities.
And yet Hobbes is a great debunker of human pride. Pride is equivalent to what he calls vanity or vainglory. It is a kind of exaggerated confidence in one's own power and ability. It is pride, the desire to lord it over others and to have one's superiority acknowledged by others, that is the great problem for Hobbes to be averted. But if pride for him is one of his great universal passions so is its opposite, fear. Hobbes makes the fear of death that may come to us at any time in the state of nature, perhaps he exaggerates this, by making it appear that the state of nature is a kind of existential condition in which death can come to you at almost any moment. But there is more to fear than this, simply fear of death, although Hobbes emphasizes and dramatically perhaps overemphasizes this. Fear is not just the desire to avoid death but to avoid losing, you might say again, in the great race of life, to avoid losing and to be seen as a loser. It is the desire to avoid the shame of being seen by others as losing out somehow. There is a social quality clearly to both of these passions, pride and fear, one again the desire to have one's preeminence esteemed by others, fear, the desire to avoid shame and dishonor.
How we are seen by others is a crucial cardinal part of Hobbes' moral psychology and each of us, he says, contain. These do not simply represent two classes of individuals, two classes of persons. Each of us contains these two warring, you might say, elements within us, both self-assertion and fear of the consequence of self-assertion. The question is for Hobbes, how do we tame these passions? It is most of all pride that Hobbes wants to tame and of course the very title of his book, Leviathan, he tell us later on comes from what? Do you remember? Where does it come from? Who remembers? Passage from what? Job, Book of Job, where he refers to Leviathan as king of the children of pride. The book is based on a biblical metaphor about overcoming or subduing pride. As the great Marsellus Wallace says in the film Pulp Fiction, pride never helps, it only hurts, if you remember that magnificent speech. Fear, Hobbes says, is the passion to reckon on, is the passion to bew reckoned on. It is fear, not reason, that leads us to abandon the state of nature and sue for peace. The passions that incline men to peace, Hobbes writes, are fear of death. This is not to say that Hobbes believes fear to be the naturally stronger of the two passions; in fact, far from it. There are many people certainly even around us who Hobbes believes do not fear death as they should, the proud aristocrat who prefers death before dishonor, the religious zealot prepared to sacrifice his life and of course those of others in order to achieve the rewards of heaven and of course just the risk taking individual who seeks to climb Mount Everest just for the honor and esteem involved. And it is part of the broader educational or pedagogic function of Leviathan to help us see, Hobbes thinks, the dangers of pride and the advantages of peace. Properly directed, fear leads to peace.
The Laws of Nature
Fear is the basis, even of what Hobbes calls the various laws of nature, that lead us to civil society. The laws of nature for Hobbes are described as a precept or a general rule of reason that every man ought to endeavor peace and it is out of fear that we begin to reason and see the advantages of society; reason is dependent upon the passions, upon fear. The first and most fundamental law of nature, he says, is to seek peace and follow it.
Not only should one seek peace but we have an obligation, he says, to lay down our arms, to lay down our right to all things on the condition that others around us are prepared to do so as well. And Hobbes goes on to enumerate 19 laws of nature, I won't go into all of them, 19 laws of nature that constitute a kind of framework for establishing civil society. These laws he even compares as his equivalent of the Golden Rule which he states in the negative: Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. Here is Hobbes's rewriting of the Golden Rule in terms of these laws of nature but these raise a question for us as readers of Hobbes. Right? Don't they? What is the status of the laws of nature? What is the moral status, if any, of these laws? Hobbes, as we see, sometimes writes as a sort of scientist or proto-scientist for whom nature and one supposes the laws of nature operate with the same kind of necessity as the laws of physical attraction. That's how he often writes about human behavior, that we obey the same laws of physical attraction as do any other bodies that we might choose to describe. They describe how bodies in motion always and necessarily behave, these laws of nature.
And yet at the same time, Hobbes writes as a moralist for whom the laws of nature, he calls "precepts of reason" or general rules according to which we are forbidden to do anything destructive of life." In this sense, the laws of nature, as he describes them, appear to be moral laws with moral commands, commands you not to do anything that is destructive of life, your own or that of others, and these moral laws, in this sense, we have presumably the freedom to obey them or disobey them. If they acted with a kind of mechanical necessity or even geometric necessity, they could not possibly be moral laws in that way. They can only be moral if there is some semblance of human choice or will expressed in the relationship, our ability to do otherwise. So these laws of nature, seek peace and so on, do not simply seem to be descriptive of how people do behave. They seem to be prescriptive of how people ought to behave and this Hobbes even suggests at the end of chapter 15 when he writes about the laws of nature, "these dictates of reason men used to call by the name 'laws' but improperly for they are conclusions or theorems according to what conduces to the conversation of mankind." These used to be called laws of nature, he says, but improperly. So if they are only improperly laws of nature why does Hobbes continue to use the term? Why does he use this terminology of "laws of nature"? In a sense, this might simply be Hobbes's way of paying homage to the ancient tradition of natural law going back to the medieval scholastics, to the stoics, and perhaps even beyond them. The natural laws for Hobbes are not divine commands or ordinances, he says, but they are rules of practical reason figured out by us as the optimal means of securing our well-being. These laws of nature, as he describes them, do not issue categorical commands so much as sort of hypothetical rules. If you want X, do Y; if you want peace, here are the means to it. And he calls these laws, these 19 laws of nature, the true and only moral philosophy. So you can see in that passage Hobbes takes himself to be a moralist writing within the great tradition of moral philosophy. These laws of nature are for him the true and only moral philosophy.
Well, this brings me to some criticisms or at least some questions about Hobbes's conception of the laws of nature. What are we to make of these laws, as I've asked before? In one sense, there seems to be a genuine moral content to Hobbes's laws of nature which can be reduced to a single formula: Seek peace above all other goods. Hobbes, more than anyone else, wants us to value the virtues of civility. Those, you might say, summed up in a word are what the 19 laws of nature command. The civility entails the virtues of peace, equity, fairness, playing by the rules. Peace is for Hobbes a moral good and the virtues are those qualities of behavior that tend to peace and vices are those that lead to war. Consider the disadvantages of war and the benefits of peace. Here is what Hobbes writes. "In such a condition, that is the state of nature, there is no place for industry because the fruit thereof is uncertain and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor building nor instruments of moving and removing 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 continual fear and danger of violent death." This is again the sort of existential condition in which Hobbes wants to put us in the state of nature and all the benefits he lists there, he enumerates, that are denied to us in such a condition, again no knowledge, no geography, no cultivation of the earth, no navigation or building. All of these things are the fruits of peace, he tells us.
But at this point, a careful reader such as all of yourselves no doubt, would no doubt be suggesting, I've gone too far in suggesting or calling Hobbes a moral philosopher whose motto in a way could be summed up in the phrase "Give peace a chance." Is that what Hobbes believed? Why is the peace the highest good anyway? Why not justice? Why not honor? Why not piety? Why not the examined life? What makes peace so good for Hobbes? Well, I've given a number of… have quoted him on a number of reasons but one suggestion might be that it is not so much peace alone that Hobbes cherishes as life. Peace is a means to life. Every creature, he says, has a built-in desire to preserve itself, to persevere in its own existence, to continue in its own steady state you might say, and to resist invasion or encroachment by others. We are all endowed, he says, with a kind of natural right to life and the desire to preserve oneself is not just a biological fact, although it is also that, it is for him a moral right, it is a moral entitlement, every being has a fundamental right to its own life. We not only have a right to our lives but to do whatever we regard as needful to protect our lives.
And again, this is not simply a brute fact of nature. It is a moral entitlement for Hobbes, the source of human worth and dignity. But now you will suggest, I've really gone too far, attributing to Hobbes a doctrine of human dignity that one might expect to find in a philosopher like Kant or someone else. Didn't Hobbes cynically write in chapter 10, "the value or worth of a man is of all things his price," what price we will fetch in the marketplace no doubt, the value or worth of a man is his price, a phrase incidentally quoted by Karl Marx to indicate the sheer heartlessness of the kind of the bourgeoisie society that Hobbes was hoping to bring about. And doesn't Hobbes' materialism and his sort of mechanistic theory of nature seem to detract from any inherent worth of the individual? There seems to be something to that and yet Hobbes certainly regards life as a precious good, perhaps the most precious good of all, and he writes with a lively sense of how fragile and endangered life is.
The work as a whole can be seen as an effort to dispel what he believes to be false beliefs, false doctrines and beliefs, that disguise the truth from us, truth about the value of life; for example, beliefs about the afterlife and all beliefs that detract from an appreciation for the value of life as it is. This provides the moral basis of what I would call Hobbes's humanitarianism and yet that humanitarianism seems to raise further problems. Doesn't Hobbes or does Hobbes's attempt to instill in us, the readers of his book, his attempt to instill in us an appreciation for life and the value of life, does this simultaneously create an aversion to risk, an extreme fear of conflict and challenge or disorder? You could say is this constant fear that Hobbes harps on fear of death and the value of life, to put it rather rudely, is this not another word for cowardice? Does Hobbes' emphasis on the preservation of life as the supreme moral value, does this turn his mightyLeviathan into a kind of commonwealth of cowards? Where Aristotle made the courage of men in combat a central virtue of his ethics, Hobbes pointedly omits courage from his list of the moral virtues. At one point, he even suggests that courage is really just a species of rashness and his example of courage comes from duels and duel fighting which he says will be always honorable but are unlawful. "For duels," he says, "are many times effects of courage and the ground of courage is always strength or skill though for the most part," he says, "they be effects of rash speaking and the fear of dishonor in one or both of the combatants." In other words, courage for him again is a form of vanity or pride, the desire not to appear less than another. It is a form of rashness, he says.
And that suspicion is further carried out in Hobbes's very interesting treatment of military conscription which he talks about in chapter 21. There he describes battle, as he says, "a mutual running away" to armies confronting one another he describes as a mutual running away, and furthermore he says when it comes to conscription there should be allowance made for those that he calls "men of natural timorousness," cowards in other words. A man that has commanded as a soldier, Hobbes writes, to fight against the enemy though his sovereign has the right enough to punish his refusal with death may nevertheless, Hobbes writes, in many cases refuse without injustice as when he substituteth a sufficient solider in his place. In other words, Hobbes' view of this is why do the fighting yourself, if you can get someone else to do it for you? There is no intrinsic virtue in courage or battle, if you can get somebody else to do the job for you, a sort of perfect description, I think, of our volunteer army, how we pay people to do this difficult and dangerous work for us. But the question is, can even a Hobbesian society, one which insists on rules and so on, can a Hobbesian society do entirely without what we might call them the manly virtues, the civic virtues, pride, love of honor that Hobbes seems to condemn? Consider the case of Ralph Esposito. Who is Ralph Esposito, you ask? His name is not in the index of Hobbes's book but Mr. Esposito is a New York City fireman who came to Branford College to be a Master's Tea guest not long after 9/11 and at length he discussed there people like himself who daily risk their lives running into building burning--burning buildings to rescue total strangers. Why do people do this? Is it because some people have a kind of built in sense of thumos, that wonderful Platonic term, pride, courage, love of risk that no society, not even a Hobbesian one, can do without? Even Hobbes's society presumably cannot do without a fire department or a police department; yet, if one were to follow Hobbes's risk averse psychology, if one were to follow the 19 laws of nature that advise us to seek peace and to avoid conflict, why would anyone ever become a fireman, a soldier, a risk taker, a policeman of any sort? Why would anyone ever risk one's life for one's country or a cause just to help other people, people that we don't know and probably will never know? Even in the passage that I cited earlier, where Hobbes describes the benefits of civil society, he speaks of activities like navigation, exploration and industry. Presumably, these are activities that are all engaged in risk taking behavior of one kind or another that seem not to be able to be explained by Hobbes's law of nature alone. So the question I want to leave you with is, in the end, what do societies require more of? Do they require more of Hobbes's men of natural timorousness or do they require more Ralph Espositos?
Hobbes's Theory of Sovereignty
Today, I want to talk about sovereignty. There are two great concepts that come out of Hobbes that you have to remember. One is the state of nature and the other is sovereignty. I spoke a bit about the first one yesterday or Monday rather. Today, I want to talk about Hobbes's theory of the sovereign state, the creation of the sovereign. Hobbes refers to the sovereign as a mortal god, as his answer to the problems of the state of nature, the state, the condition of life being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. And it is only the creation of the sovereign for Hobbes, endowed or possessed with absolute power, that is sufficient to put an end to the condition of perpetual uncertainty, anxiety and unrest that is the case of the natural condition.
Let me talk for a while about some of the formal features of Hobbes' sovereign power, of the Hobbesian state. In the first place, what I want to impress upon you is that the sovereign is for Hobbes less a person than it is or he is an office. The sovereign is described by Hobbes as an artificial person by which he means the sovereign is the creation of the contract or the covenant that brought this office into being. The sovereign does not exist by nature but rather, Hobbes tells us again, the sovereignty is the product of art or science. It is the product, the creation of the people or of what we might call, in Jeffersonian language, it is the product of the consent of the governed. The sovereign and, again, this is crucial, is for Hobbes, the representative of the people. He is the sovereign representative. It is the people who endow the sovereign with the authority to represent them on their behalf. And, in that respect, Hobbes's sovereign has many of the features or characteristics that we come to associate with what we call modern executive power or executive authority. When Louis XIV of France famously said L'état c'est moi. "I am the state," he was expressing a peculiarly pre-modern in that way conception of the state; that is to say, he regarded the state as in some ways his personal property. "I am the state. The state am I."
But this is very different from Hobbes's sovereign. The state for Hobbes is not the possession of the sovereign. Rather, the sovereign does not own the state. He is appointed or authorized to secure for the people the, in many ways, limited ends of peace and security. He has much the same function and to some degree much of the same personality as what we would call a modern day CEO, that is to say there is a kind of anonymity and impersonality about the sovereign. I mean, unless you're in the Yale entrepreneurial society who can name the CEOs of many companies? And the answer is you probably can't. They are for the most part relatively anonymous individuals unless, you know, they get into trouble like Ken Lay or someone like that or do something amazing like Bill Gates. For the most part, they are rather impersonal and anonymous and that is in many ways the characteristic of Hobbes' sovereign. Hobbes's theory of the sovereign, interestingly, contains within itself elements of both secular absolutism and, in some ways, modern liberalism and it is the tension between these two that I want to bring out in my discussion here.
The power of the sovereign, Hobbes continually insists, must be unlimited. Yet, at the same time, he tells us that the sovereign is the creation of the people whom he represents or it represents. Although Hobbes is widely taken to be a defender of monarchical absolutism, you will note, in your readings, that he displays a kind of studied neutrality over actually what form the sovereign should take. He only insists that sovereign power remain absolute and undivided whether it belongs to a single person, a few, or the many. And among the powers that the sovereign, he insists, must control are, for example, laws concerning property, the right of declaring war and peace, what we would call foreign policy, rules of justice concerning life and death, which is to say criminal law, and, of course, the right to determine what books and ideas are permissible, that is to say the right of censorship.
The Doctrine of Legal Positivism: The Law Is What the Sovereign Commands
In a sense, the core of Hobbes's theory of sovereignty can be boiled down to the statement that the sovereign and only the sovereign is the source of law. The law is what the sovereign says it is. Does that sound in any way familiar from what we have read this term? Anyone? Sound familiar? Thrasymachus? Do you remember that name, Book I of theRepublic? Justice is what the stronger say it is. Hobbes tells us that the law is what the sovereign commands.
This is sometimes known as the doctrine of legal positivism, which is to say that law is the command of the sovereign, a sort of command theory of law. And, again, that seems to point back to Thrasymachus' point of view in the first book of the Republic. There is for Hobbes, as for Thrasymachus, no higher court of appeal than the will or the word of the sovereign, no transcendent law, no divine law, no source of authority outside sovereign command. And sovereign is appointed for Hobbes to be much like an umpire in a baseball or a football game, to set the rules of the game. But the Hobbesian sovereign, unlike umpires, are not just the enforcers of the rules or the interpreters of the rules, the sovereign is also the creator, the shaper and maker of the rules. And Hobbes draws from this the startling conclusion, in many ways the infamous conclusion that the sovereign can never act unjustly. The sovereign can never act unjustly, why? Because the sovereign is the source of law and the sovereign is the source of the rules of justice. Therefore, Hobbes concludes, he can never act unjustly. And he supports this example by a deeply perverse and amusing, I have to say, reading from a biblical story, do you remember this? He refers to the story of David and Uriah. Everybody will remember that story from Sunday school or from Hebrew school or whatever. Does anyone remember that David was the king at that time? He was the king of Israel and he coveted Uriah's wife Bathsheba. He wanted to sleep with Bathsheba, so what did he do? He had Uriah killed so he could sleep with her. And Hobbes reasons from this story that while David's action may have sinned against God, he did no injustice to Uriah, imagine that. I think Uriah might have had a different point of view about this. He did no injustice to Uriah because, as the lawful sovereign, he could do any, not just anything he liked but whatever he did was set by the rules of the law. And when Hobbes tells that story, which he mentions a couple of times in the book, one can only imagine he must have had a kind of wry grin on his face when he wrote that out. In fact, next semester I'm teaching an entire course devoted to Hobbes' critique of religion in which this will, among other things, figure prominently.
But Hobbes's teaching about law is, in some ways, less Draconian than it might first appear. He makes clear that law is what the sovereign says it is. There can be no such thing as an unjust law, he infers, again, because the sovereign is the source of all justice. But he does distinguish, he tells us, between a just law and a good law. All laws are by definition just, he tells us, but it doesn't follow that all laws are by definition good. "A good law," he says in chapter 30, "is that which is needful for the good of the people." A good law is needful for the good of the people. But then one asks, what are the criteria by which we determine the good of the people? How is this determined? And Hobbes makes clear that the sovereign is not invested with the authority to exercise a kind of absolute control over everything that people do. The purpose of law, Hobbes tell us, is not so much to control but to facilitate. Consider just the following passage from chapter 30, section 21. Hobbes writes: "For the use of laws, which are but rules authorized," he says, "is not to bind the people from all voluntary actions. It is not to bind them from voluntary actions but to direct and keep them in such motion as not to hurt themselves by their own impetuous desires, rashness or indiscretion as hedges are set not to stop travelers but to keep them on their way."
This is the force or purpose of law to set rules, to keep people, as he puts it, on their way, a law that is intended simply to constrain and control for its own sake, Hobbes says, cannot be a good law. The purpose of a good law is to facilitate human agency in some ways. And I think, again, that too is central to Hobbes's theory of the sovereign. Its purpose is to facilitate, not simply to control and inhibit. But the power to control or the power of law for Hobbes also very much applies and here is one of his most controversial doctrines. It must certainly apply to matters of opinion to what we would call today First Amendment issues. This is something that Hobbes insists upon. "For the actions of men," he says, "proceed from their opinions. Actions proceed from opinions. And in the well governing of opinions consisteth the well governing of men's actions." So, if we are going to govern or regulate human behavior, we have to begin by regulating opinion. And it follows from this, Hobbes believes, that the sovereign has the right to decide what opinions, what books, what ideas are conducive to peace and which ones aim simply to stir up war and discontent? And these comments of Hobbes's about the sovereign's power to control opinions are directed at two principal institutions, the Church and, guess what the other one is, the university. Both of these for Hobbes he considers to be locus, the focus of or centers of seditious opinion that require to remain under sovereign control.
By the churches, Hobbes is speaking of the reformed church but, in particular, he is concerned with those radical puritan sects of the type that later came and founded America, these radical sects that elevate matters of conscience and private belief over and above the law, that is to say arrogating to themselves, to the rights of conscience and the private belief, the powers to judge the sovereign. It was these dissenting Protestants, it was these dissenting sects, that formed the rank and file of Cromwell's armies during the Civil War in England. They formed the rank and file of the republican armies in England against the rule of the king. And, Hobbes tell us he would banish all doctrines that profess to make the individual or the sect, more importantly in some ways the sect, the judge of the sovereign. It is only in the state of nature, he tells us, that individuals have the right to determine just and unjust, right and wrong for themselves. Once we enter society, once we engage or conclude the social compact, we transfer our power to do this to the sovereign to determine these matters for us.
And just as important as the radical churches and the reformed sects is for Hobbes the university and its curriculum. In particular, Hobbes faults the universities for teaching what, for teaching the radical doctrines of Aristotleanism in the seventeenth century. Aristotle in this period was the source of modern republican ideas, ideas about self government, ideas about in some ways what we might call direct democracy or participatory democracy, people who believe that the only legitimate form of government is one where Aristotle says citizens take turns ruling and being ruled in turn. It was, above all, the influence of the classics, Aristotle and Cicero in particular, that Hobbes regards as an important cause for the recent civil war and the regicide of Charles I. Consider the following passage that he writes: "As to rebellion against monarchy, one of the most frequent causes is the reading of the books of policy and history of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Reading of those books leads people to rebel against monarchy, for which young men like yourselves," he says, or young women too, "for which young men and all others that are unprovided by the antidote of solid reason," who are susceptible that is to reading these stories and reading these books, "receive a strong and delightful impression of the great exploits of war." "From reading of such books," Hobbes continues, "men have undertaken to kill their kings because the Greek and Latin writers in their books and discourses of policy make it lawful and laudable for any man to do so provided before he do it he call him a tyrant."
That's what you learn, Hobbes believes, from the reading of Aristotle and the Greeks and Romans, regicide, that the only legitimate form of government is a republic and that it is a lawful and even it's your duty to kill your king. Of course, before doing so, he says, "you must call him first a tyrant." It's a wonderful passage. And this is so interesting, I think, not only because of its humor and Hobbes's in many ways characteristic exaggerations, but because it shows how much emphasis Hobbes puts on the reform of opinion, the reform of ideas, in many ways like Machiavelli and like Plato too before him, Hobbes regards himself as an educator of princes, an educator and a transformer, a reformer of ideas. There is a kind of internal irony here I think because Hobbes sometimes writes as if, as we've seen, as if human beings are nothing more than complex machines that mechanically obey the laws of attraction and repulsion. But he also obviously writes that we are beings with will and purpose who are uniquely guided by opinions, ideas, and doctrines and it is in many ways the first business of the sovereign to act as a moral reformer of ideas. Hobbes realizes this is a difficult and uphill task that he has set for himself.
And, in a rare moment of sort of personal self-reflection or self-reference, he notes somewhat drolly that the novelty of his ideas will make it difficult for them to find an audience. "I am at the point of believing, he says, "that my labor will be as useless as the commonwealth of Plato," he says in a moment of sort of uncharacteristic despair, "will be as useless as the commonwealth of Plato." "For Plato" he says "also is of the opinion that it is impossible for the disorders of the state ever to be taken away until sovereigns be philosophers." And while, in many ways, initially despairing of the possibility of finding a sort of friendly reception or audience for his work, Hobbes then goes on in a more optimistic note to observe that his book is considerably simpler and easier to read than Plato's. Again, you might have a discussion about that over which is the easier one. But, Hobbes believes it is simpler and easier and therefore more likely to catch the ear of a sympathetic prince. "I recover some hope," he says. "I recover some hope that one time or other this writing of mine may fall into the hands of a sovereign who will consider it for himself, for it is short and I think clear." Well, we might question that. He says it's a short book and "I think clear" he writes. Well, it's complex and long. But nevertheless, perhaps hoping that his advertising it in this way will gain the ear of a sovereign and that "without the help" he continues, "of any interested or envious interpreter and by the exercise of entire sovereignty in protecting the public teaching of it convert this truth of speculation into the utility of practice," the very end of chapter 31, "will convert this truth of speculation into the utility of practice."
So, Hobbes clearly believes or thinks that this will be a useful book for a sovereign to read and hoping it will gain the ear of a sympathetic sovereign or potential sovereign. Hobbes may, I think, overestimate or maybe I really should say underestimate the difficulty of the book but he returns to this again at the very end of Leviathan. "The universities" he says there, where he talks again a little bit about the audience for the book, "the universities," he says, " are the fountains of civil and moral doctrine. The universities are the fountains of civil and moral doctrine and have the obligation to teach the correct doctrine of rights and duties." And this means for Hobbes, first of all, adopting his book as the authoritative teaching on moral and political doctrine in the universities. This should be the required textbook of political science of political teaching in the universities to replace the older textbook, i.e. Aristotle's Politics. "Therefore," he says, "I think it may be profitably printed and more profitably taught in the universities," he confidently asserts. "The ideal audience for the book," he says "should be the preachers, the gentry, the lawyers, men of affairs, who drawing such water as they find from the book can use it," he says, "to sprinkle the same both from the pulpit and from their conversation upon the people." This is how he sees it, that it should be taught from the pulpit. It should be taught from the universities and from this conversation will be sprinkled upon the people. Hobbes' hope, like that of all the great political philosophers, was to be a kind of legislator for mankind. This again is a book with epic, epic ambition.
Let me mention, I've emphasized in many ways the absolutist and authoritarian side of Hobbes's teaching. Let me talk about something that might sound oxymoronic. Let me call it for the moment Hobbesian liberalism. Hobbes enjoys describing the sovereign in the most absolute and extreme terms. Sovereign is to have supreme command over life and death, war and peace, what is to be taught and heard. And yet, in many ways, this Hobbesian sovereign aims to allow for ample room for individual liberty. And he even sets some limits on the legitimate use of sovereign power. For all of his tough talk, Hobbes takes justice and the rule of law very seriously, far more seriously than, for example, does Machiavelli. At one time in the book or at one point he maintains that a person cannot be made to accuse themselves without the assurance of pardon. You can't be forced to accuse yourself, what we could call the Fifth Amendment. You cannot be forced to accuse yourself. Similarly, he says, a wife or a parent cannot be coerced to accuse a loved one. And, in a similar point, he maintains that punishment can never be used as an instrument of revenge but only for what he calls the correction or what we would call the rehabilitation of the offender.
Add to the above Hobbes's repeated insistence that law serve as an instrument for achieving social equality. In a chapter called, "Of the Office of the Sovereign Representative," Hobbes argues that justice be equally administered to all classes of people, rich, as well as poor, equal application of justice. He maintains further the titles of nobility are of value only for the benefits they confer on those of lesser rank or they're not useful at all. Equal justice, he tells us, requires equal taxation policy and he seems to be proposing a kind of consumption tax so that the rich, who consume more will have to pay their fair share. And he argues that indigent citizens, who are unable to provide for themselves, should not be forced to rely simply upon the private charity of individuals but should be maintained at public expense. He seems, in this way, to anticipate what we might think of as the modern welfare state that public assistance be provided, and the poor, not simply depend on the private goodwill of the others.
But most importantly, I think, is to go back to the importance given to the individual in Hobbes's philosophy. Hobbes derives the very power of the sovereign from the natural right of each individual to do as they like in the state of nature. And it follows, I think, that the purpose of the sovereign is really to safeguard the natural right of each individual but to regulate this right so that it becomes consistent with the right of others and not simply again a kind of open war against all. What is significant about this, I think, is the priority that Hobbes gives to rights over duties. This, in many ways arguably, makes him the founding father or maybe we should say godfather of modern liberalism, the importance given to rights over duties, of the individual over in many ways the collective or common good.
And I think this is expressed in Hobbes's novel and in many ways altogether unprecedented teaching about liberty in chapter 21, a very famous and important chapter. And here he distinguishes the liberty of, what he calls the liberty of the ancients, or what he doesn't exactly call but I'll call the liberty of the ancients and the liberty of the moderns. The ancients, he believes, operated with a defective understanding of human freedom. For the ancients, liberty meant living in a self-governing republic, living in a republic in which everyone again took some share in the ruling offices. Liberty, in other words, for the ancients was not just a property of the individual. It was an attribute of the regime of which one was a member. "The Athenians and the Romans," he says, "were free, that is they were free commonwealths, not that any particular man had the liberty to resist his own representative but that his representative had the liberty to resist or invade other people." In other words, liberty for the ancients was a collective good, the liberty, as he says, to resist or invade other people. It was a property of the commonwealth not of the individuals who inhabited it. But that sense of collective liberty, the freedom to resist or invade is, in fact, even opposed to the modern idea of liberty that Hobbes proposes. And by liberty Hobbes means something that sounds very familiar to us. Liberty means the absence of constraints or impediments to action. We are free to the extent that we can act in an unimpeded manner. And, it follows from him that political liberty means the freedom to act where the law is silent, as he says. Think of that, that where the law is silent, we have the freedom to do or not to do as we choose, very important to the way we think of liberty today in a modern and you might say liberal democracy.
Hobbes's sovereign is more likely to allow citizens a zone of private liberty where they are free to act as they choose than in the classical republic where there is a kind of coerced participation in collective affairs or in political deliberation. And Hobbes here takes a dig at the defenders of the view, in his own day, that only the citizens of a republic can be free. "There is written," he says, "on the turrets of the city of Lucca…" and let me just ask before I continue this passage, anybody here in Pearson College? So, you will know the Dean Mr. Amerigo, yeah, your dean? Your dean is from the city of Lucca. Ask him if this is true when you see him. "There is written on the turrets of the city of Lucca in great characters, meaning great letters, that this day the word libertas, libertas is written on the walls of the turrets of the city of Lucca." Let's find out if that's still true. "Yet, no man," Hobbes continues, "can thence infer that a particular man has more liberty or immunity from the service of the commonwealth there than in Constantinople, the city of the Caliphs, the Caliphate. Living in a republic alone doesn't guarantee you more freedom. He says, freedom in that interesting passage, freedom here requires, as he puts it, immunity, "immunity from service." A regime is to be judged for Hobbes on how much private liberty, how much immunity it grants each of its citizens, an idea of individual liberty in many ways unknown and unprecedented in the modern world. And, in this respect, one can say that Hobbes has some connection to the creation of what we think of as the modern liberal state with its conception of private freedom as immunity from forced participation or forced participation in politics, very different from the ancients. So what does this all mean?
Hobbes and the Modern State
Let me talk about what Hobbes has to say for us today, we who have in many ways become Hobbes's children. Hobbes gives us the definitive language of the modern state. Yet, he remains in many ways as contested for us as he was in his own time. For many today, Hobbes's conception of the Leviathan state is synonymous with anti-liberal absolutism. And yet for others, he opened the door to John Locke and the liberal theory of government. He taught the priority of rights over duties and he argued that the sovereign should serve the lowly interest or the lowly ends of providing peace and security, leaving it to individuals to determine for themselves how best to live their lives. Nonetheless, the liberty that subjects enjoy in Hobbes's plan falls in that area that he says the sovereign omits to regulate. Hobbes does not praise vigilance in defense of liberty and he denounces all efforts to resist the government. At best, one could say Hobbes is a kind of part-time liberal at best.
But Hobbes is best when he is providing us with, in many ways, the moral and psychological language in which we think about government and the state. The state is a product of a psychological struggle between the contending passions of pride and fear. Fear, you will remember is associated with the desire for security, order, rationality, and peace. Pride is connected with the love of glory, honor, recognition and ambition. All the goods of civilization, Hobbes tells us, stem from our ability to control pride. The very title of the book comes from this wonderful biblical passage from Job where Leviathan is described as king of the children of pride. And the 19 laws of nature that Hobbes develops in his book really are there simply to enumerate or instruct us about the virtues of sociability and civility, especially directed against the sin of pride or hubris. So, the modern state, as we know it and still have it, in many ways grew out of the Hobbesian desire for security and the fear of death that can only be achieved at the expense of the desire for honor and glory. The Hobbesian state was intended to secure the conditions of life, even a highly civilized and cultivated life but one calculated in terms of self-interest and risk avoidance. Hobbes wants us to be fearful and to avoid dangerous courses of action that are inflamed by beliefs in honor, ambition, and the like. The Hobbesian fearful man is not likely to become someone who risks life for liberty, for honor, or for a cause. He's more likely to be someone who plays by the rules, avoids dangers, and bets on the sure thing. The Hobbesian citizen is not likely to be a risk taker, like a George Washington or an Andrew Carnegie. He is more likely to think like an actuary or a CPA or an insurance agent, always calculating the odds and finding ways to cover the damages. Later political theorists, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Nietzsche would even develop a word for Hobbesian man. They would call him somewhat contemptuously the bourgeois.
But nevertheless, Hobbes was remarkably successful in converting us to his point of view. The type of individual he tried to create, careful, self-interested, risk averse, this has become the dominant ethos of our civilization, has it not? We even have entire disciplines like economics and psychology and I dare even say modern political science that reinforced this view of human nature. We have all become, whether we choose to admit it or not, Hobbesians. And yet at the same time, and here is the paradox I think, even a Hobbesian society cannot entirely exist without some individuals who are willing to risk life and limb either for the sake of honor, for self-respect or even just from the sheer joy that comes from risk itself. Remember my example on Monday of Ralph Esposito. Why do people become firemen, policemen, soldiers, freedom fighters, all activities that cannot be explained in terms of self-interest alone? Will not even a Hobbesian society again require fire departments? And where will people come from that, if they all follow the psychology of fear and self-interest that Hobbes wants to instill in us? Hobbes regards these passions, what Plato called by the word thumos. Hobbes regarded these passions in many ways as barbaric, as uncivilized and warlike and to some degree he was right.
But even the Hobbesian state, Hobbes admits himself, the Hobbesian state lives in the midst of a Hobbesian world; that is to say, the world of international relations is for Hobbes simply the state of nature at large. The Hobbesian state will always exist in a world of hostile other states, unregulated by some kind of higher law. States stand to one another on the world stage as individuals do in the condition of nature; that is to say, potential enemies with no higher authority by which to adjudicate their conflicts. And in such a world, even a sovereign state will be endangered either from other states or from groups and individuals devoted to terror and destruction. Think of September 11, 2001. This is a problem that a profound political scientist by the name of Pierre Hassner, a French student of international politics, has described as the dialectic of the bourgeois and the barbarian, a struggle that is to say between the modern Hobbesian state with its largely pacified and satisfied citizen bodies and those pre-modern states or maybe in some ways even post-modern states that are prepared to use the instruments of violence, terror and suicide bombings to achieve their goals. A Hobbesian state, paradoxically, still requires from its citizens, men and women prepared to fight to risk everything in the defense of their way of life. But the Hobbesian point, the paradox being that the Hobbesian bourgeois cannot entirely dispense with the barbarian, even in its own midst. Can Hobbes explain this paradox? He seems to avoid it.
This problem has been brought out I think brilliantly in a recent book by a man named James Bowman, a book called Honor: a History. He wrote a history of honor. And here he points out that while affairs of honor, as they are quaintly called, have largely disappeared from advanced societies but honor still remains a consuming passion in many parts of the world today including for him most importantly the Middle East. Honor, in most societies, is thought to be not merely a personal quality, something like medieval chivalry but is above all group honor, the honor that surrounds the family, the extended clan, or the religious sect. An assault on one is an assault on all. This helps us to explain, for instance, why in so many cultures the concept of saving face is so important, even if to most modern Americans it seems relatively trivial. And one reason Bowman believes this is that we have such a difficult time in understanding other peoples and other cultures is that the very idea of defending one's honor has largely been devalued in the modern west. We tend to look at human behavior as a matter of providing rational incentives for human action while most people, in fact, are driven by a need for esteem and a desire to avoid humiliation.
I remember, for example, during the Vietnam War when Richard Nixon spoke about achieving peace with honor, and this was largely mocked as a kind of ludicrous idea. Honor to so many of us sounds quaint, like an honor code or the Boy Scouts' code or something like that or something primitive, some kind of primitive ethic which we therefore don't really understand. We don't often see that it was in large parts Hobbes' efforts to discredit this kind of warrior virtue, this kind of virtue of honor that is so much a part of cultures that is also responsible for our current blindness.
And that brings me to my final point about our Hobbesian civilization that conceals from us a very uncomfortable truth. Peace, the peace, security, and safety, what we might call our bourgeois freedoms that we enjoy, rest on the fact, on the uncomfortable fact, that there are still people who are willing to risk their lives for the sake of higher goals like honor or duty. Is that irrational for them to do so? Hobbes would believe it is. I think he would say yes. It doesn't make sense from a purely Hobbesian point of view that encourages us to think like rational actors interested mainly in safety and beating the odds.