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Thomas Hobbes set out to account for political authority with the use of the State of Nature. He illustrated what life outside of society without any overall authority keeping anyone in check would be like. Hobbes identified the State of Nature with a State of War but used “war” in an extended sense, to include not just armed hostilities but any situation where there is no reasonable expectation that hostilities will not erupt. He argued that the known readiness to engage in acts of aggression amounts in itself to a State of War. Specifically there are “three principal causes of quarrel” (lev) which throw people into hostilities. These causes are “competition”, “diffidence” and “glory” (Lev p. 88) and together they ensure that the State of Nature is a State of War.
The State of Nature put simply is a situation in which human beings have no government, no political institutions and the feelings that they engender and no executive forces such as a police force or army – in other words, it is a condition of anarchy. The State of Nature is an idealisation, a model. (Engaging P.19) Hobbes uses the State of Nature to justify political authority, or as Hobbes calls it, the “commonwealth”. He does not describe literally everything that would be the case in the absence of political arrangements, but only those things that matter for explaining political authority. What Hobbes did, was to identify features of human nature and the human condition that are universal, that in no way depend upon political authority relations, and that are relevant to explaining political authority causally. The State of Nature can be considered as a condition from which people are to escape if political authority is to be justified. So the sole alternative to political authority is the State of Nature, however according to Hobbes, the State of Nature is unbearably nasty as what is crucial to the state of nature’s justificatory role is the fact that life in it is pretty grim. Therefore the sole alternative to political authority is unbearably nasty, hence imposing political authority is justified. Hobbes attempted to illustrate that subjection to authority is vastly preferable to anarchy – the State of War; he held the view that if we had reasons to believe that political authority is much better than the State of Nature, then imposing political authority is justified.
Hobbes attempted to demonstrate that the State of Nature is a State of War in order to justify political authority. He depicted the State of War as a place full of insecurity and uncertainty in order to further substantiate his claim. The State does not necessarily consist in actual fighting, but “a known disposition thereto, during which there is no assurance to the contrary”. (page 86 Leviathan). Hobbes depicted the State of War as a condition in which civilisation and its benefits are absent. Only through the organisation of society and the establishment of the commonwealth can civilisation be attained. One thing that Hobbes recognised about the “natural condition of mankind” was the relative equality of individuals within it. When Hobbes spoke of equality he did not mean equality in a moralised sense, but more the distribution of physical and mental endowments. Nature has made men so equal that, although some humans are “manifestly stronger in body” or “of quicker mind”, these endowments are distributed in such a way that even the weakest, slowest and dumbest among them can kill the strongest, fastest and smartest. Hobbes claimed that “when all is reckoned together, the difference between man and man is not so considerable”, all human beings are, in other words, vulnerable to assault at the hands of all others. Equality, for Hobbes, is based upon the equal ability to kill or conquer others so inevitably equality leads to conflict, a State of Nature will be “a war of all against all”.(leviathan p. Vii)
In the State of Nature, there are three causes of conflict: competition, distrust and the desire for glory. Competition leads to fighting for grain, diffidence to fighting to keep what has been gained and glory to fighting for reputation. These sources of conflict arise from what Hobbes calls the “equality of ability” (lev) in men. This natural equality of men is not equality of rights or of worth but an equality of ability, which leads to equality of hope in attaining one’s ends and so to competition. The right of each to all things invites serious conflict, especially if there is competition for resources, as goods -are in relatively short supply in the State of Nature.(Stamford) So if any two men want a single thing which cannot be attained by both, they will “become enemies” (page 84 Leviathan) Conflict can occur for example when someone has come to possess a better piece of land. If an invader would have nothing to fear but that one man’s individual power, then it is more than likely that someone will choose to invade this estate and attempt to deprive the owner of his possessions. But then the successful invader will then be in similar danger from someone else. It is an endless cycle of conflict in the State of Nature, which inevitably creates hostile conditions. However, Hobbes claim that all men are equal is false. The very young, the very old and the infirm generally pose no mortal threat to able bodied persons in the prime of life and therefore there would be no competition in some circumstances. Whilst it was not Hobbes’s aim to describe what is literally the case, this does demonstrate that not all of his reasons were convincing when explaining why the State of Nature would be a State of War.
Hobbes further illustrated a State of as a State of War as it is a place where nobody feels secure, each person has a reason to attack any other person, for fear of being attacked first; this is what Hobbes referred to as “diffidence”. Because of this distrust amongst men, the most reasonable way for anyone to make themselves safe is to strike first, so attack can be seen as the best form of defence in a State of War. And, because each person has roughly equal killing power, everybody is both a potential killer and a potential victim. The fact that each of them is liable to aggression from others means that each person has to treat every other person as an enemy. People don’t just regard everyone as possible enemies, in the State of War everyone is an enemy. Hence diffidence makes people “invade” one another for “safety”. Hobbes quite rightly held that the State of Nature would be a State of War therefore as people would fear that others may invade them, and may rationally plan to strike first as an anticipatory defense, a natural human instinct to preserve their own safety. Hobbes also said that The State of War arises from the nature of some people, mainly those who want others to value them as highly as they values themselves. Glory drives people to attack others to raise their value in the eyes of others. Glory is therefore a source of unwarranted aggression and when there is no common power to keep people at peace, conflict will occur which Hobbes quite rightly said.
Hobbes had a particularly good reason for believing that the State of Nature would be one of war as morality has no place in this pre-political world that Hobbes created. Everyone has an interest in killing everyone else pre-emptively, whenever possible, and this is acceptable as nothing holds any individuals back from committing any immoral acts, humans would merely act as their interests dictate. In a State of Nature, by definition there are no rules, not even unenforceable ones that might deter some from committing such acts. Therefore even “moral” restrictions to do or withhold from doing certain things – for example, not to kill – have no effect in a State of Nature. Hobbes’s view was that in the natural State of War there are no objective moral distinctions. In this State of War of every man against every man nothing can be unjust. “The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have n place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice”.
Hobbes assumed that the state of nature would be a state of war as taking people as they actually are, if you were to remove all political institutions, the natural proclivities that would ensue would lead to a state of war. Notably, without political institutions, the natural impulses to self-preservation are doomed to failure. In the state of nature, that is our unhappy predicament.
Natural right of self-preservation (ch. 14): the liberty each one has to use her/his own power for self-preservation.
A central claim of Hobbes:
It is rational to give up one’s right to self-governance to a sovereign, if everyone else agrees to do the same. (See chapter 17, section 13)
The natural state of war, therefore, is the state of affairs in which the individual is dependent for his security on his own strength and his own wits. In such conditions “there is no place for hard work, because there is no assurance that it will yield results; and consequently no cultivation of the earth, no navigation or use of materials that can be imported by sea, no construction of large buildings, no machines for moving things that require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no practical skills, no literature or scholarship, no society; and-worst of all-continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
Perhaps we would imagine that people might fare best in such a state, where each decides for herself how to act, and is judge, jury and executioner in her own case whenever disputes arise-and that at any rate, this state is the appropriate baseline against which to judge the justifiability of political arrangements.
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