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Hobbes on the Account of the State of Nature

The focal point of the paper is to present an argument that would analyze and evaluate whether Hobbes’s account of the state of nature and the social contract provides a convincing justification for political authority. Thomas Hobbes is regarded as the philosopher of modern times who instrumented the theory of social contact for the first time in 1651 in his book Leviathan. However, there are other noted philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke but the balance and justification of social contract and state of nature based on political authority make him a true and important predecessor of both the noted philosophers (Mclean, pp.339-351).

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He formulated a relation between the state of nature and social contact and stated in his canonical theory that the state of nature would exist only if there is no existence of society and there each individual would live in a state of natural freedom with unlimited autonomy. This can be stated as a situation where there is an existence of a right to everything possible that includes the right of causing harm to others. Hobbes identified this situation as “Bellum omnium contra omnes” where there is an ongoing war against everything and everybody (Hobbes, p. 75).  To avoid such a situation there is a need for order and law where civil community or society would maintain the population with the help of a social contract where each would be provided with civil rights and would be controlled. This, in other words, is the establishment of a political institution and thus it can be stated that the transition from the state of nature to the social contract is based on a convincing justification for political authority.

The aspect of social contract theory based on a convincing justification for political authority can be stated as an orientation. Here it is has been observed that people will respect the fact that other may have different perspective and opinions. In this stage, the choices made by each individual are not judged as correct or wrong. Here the rules and regulations, as well as the law, are social guidelines rather than strict dictums. Here is what is called democracy (Hobbes, p. 25).

Hobbes believed that man as an individual or community cannot be trusted and thus should be kept on constant vigil. He said these about his Social Contract. His point in this statement is that everyone must take their steps one at a time. Everything should be done carefully at the right time and in the right places so that it will be meaningful and productive. His writings made a divergence in different parts of the world. He became popular and famous with the help of these writings.

After all, logic and rationality was not the only answer to living a better life. There is something better from thinking and reasoning. With these lines, there is a realization about the effects of his situation. The philosopher witnessed his journey and this journey made him believed that living is not always a form of reasoning and logic and thus it is important to base on political authority. As it is, sometimes, as humans we need to rest our minds for more important things to think of. To provide this opportunity it is necessary to possess a convincing political authority (Hobbes, p. 167).

Hobbes had noticed a lot of fundamental differences between human nature and society. He believed that humans were better when an individual is in a state of nature. It is the common state of all the other animals and is the condition humans were in long before the beginning of society and civilization itself. The idea of his has often been led to assigning the use of noble savage to him. He, however never used this expression himself and it does not properly present his thinking for the natural goodness of all humankind. His idea concerning natural goodness is complicated and thus, very easily misunderstood.

An informal reading of his work suggests that his ideas do not simply mean that humans in this state of nature always act morally. On the contrary, terms, like wickedness or justice, are merely not applicable to pre-political societies. Humans, there can behave like a ferocious animals. They are nice since they are self-contained and are, thus, are not the focal point to the frailties of the political society. Hobbe viewed society as an artificial entity and thought that the growth of any society, mainly the development of public interdependence, is unfavorable for the welfare of the humans and thus there was a constant need for a vigil in the form of political authority (Hobbes, p.39).

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However, he realizes that although the power of human love is a driving force, it was not enough to resolve the various social problems and ills. The power of human love could be applied to stop conflicts between individuals but not for the whole nation or the racial groups. Similarly, the goodness of humankind is like the goodness of the animals and not of their virtue, which has been mentioned in The Social Contract. A very extraordinary change in man is produced in the passage, which is from the state of nature to the civil state. Here justice has been substituted for instinct in man’s conduct and his actions have been given morality, which they formally lacked. He also instead of listening only to his inclinations consults his reasoning power. Even though being in this state man is deprived of certain advantages he earlier had from nature, he gains a lot, more which develops and stimulates his faculties. His ideas are extended, his feelings are dignified and his entire soul is lifted (Rosenfeld, pp. 291-319).

He said that the advancements in the various fields of knowledge have made the governments more and more powerful letting them squash a person’s liberty. In his text, Hobbe creates concepts of equality and personal liberty. He believed, to obey the natural state of man and for the total survival of a state, we continuously need to change our ideas of equality. Poor representation of some citizens, in the interest of the state, is clearly shown as an exit way for leaving the society. This was Hobbe’s political way to stabilize the inconsistent relations in the self-interest of the people and for the expansion of political freedom. When the minorities leave a state, its survival and the various reasons for creating conflict forever remain unchecked.

In his work, he also pays a lot of attention to shifting individual rights onto the formation of the state. When the state has been created, it should be due to the realization that the different elements humans cannot handle on their own can be handled better by an added centralized power, which is the state. However, Hobbe also believed that the state could fail humans at certain times and it should never enjoy an unequal share of power in comparison to the humans in the previous state of nature. If humans gave up their liberty then it would mean that they are giving up their ability to negotiate with other members of the state. This would be like slavery (Mclean,pp.  339-351).

There is also a realization of the fact that life is what we make it. There is no such thing as a deeper explanation of how man lived and survived during his lifetime. There mere fact of living is that you must live your life to the fullest. All of us need our minds to decide on how our future will be. However, certain things in life sometimes do not need any logician, mathematician, or reasoning aspect of our minds – we just need to take the risk and try to take all the opportunities no matter how hard or risky it will be. The most important thing that we should remember was faith. Faith will bring us to our final destination no matter how good or bad it will be it will always be our destiny. This would become a strong force in changing the way of thinking of the people. In this context, it is logical to believe that the basis of a convincing justification for political authority is becoming weak. However, there should be situations where the individualistic approach of a human being should be respected and valued and this can be termed as one such rare occasion where Hobbes allowed independence to the population without the vigil of a system that is based on a convincing justification for political authority (Hobbes, p. 187).

However, the theorist builds upon notions of personal liberty and equality discussed in previous writings by Hobbes. Yet for Hobbes, there is less flexibility given for maintaining a state of imperfect equality. Following such a belief, the complete survival of a state requires absolute and continuously changing notions of equality, without which a mass exodus from the state might occur. Those citizens who are ill-represented by the interests of others citizens in a state are given a clear exit path for leaving society, one that is encouraged by the state as a whole. This becomes a practical way for Hobbes to balance the conflicting relations of multiple self-interests and stagnation of expanded political freedoms. With the minority leaving the state, its existence and reasons for conflict are left unchecked. Hobbes’s beliefs avoid a much larger revolution by the lower class of humankind. Hobbes attempts to stave off the downfall of capitalism, which inevitably leads to a Marxist view of society (Mclean, pp. 339-351).

Hobbes pays great attention to the transfer of individual rights into the creation of a state. When a state is created, it should be out of the realization that the things man cannot handle on his own will be better managed by a more centralized power in the form of the state. However, Hobbes also gives great pause to the fact that the state can fail man, and at no time should it have a disproportionate share of power in comparison to man in the prior state of nature. By giving up liberty man gives up any ability to compromise with others in the state. This is akin to slavery. For everything that he puts in, man gets nothing in return. Surely this is not the reason for creating a state since man would be better off on his own than to sacrifice all of his liberties for the good of others above himself. Out of this belief is born the concept of perfect equality.

Every right that is put into a state should flow back into the hands of those who form it, otherwise, it is not a representative political state. But this creates a problem, as Hobbes notes, in that while society may be formed by total unanimity, it is entirely likely that this unanimity will crack at some point in the future. Hobbes believes that a state should be guided foremost by the notion.

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It is this realization that allows man to feel secure in agreeing to join collectively with others to form a state in the first place. For Hobbes, power flows from the people into their government and back down to them. As a citizen and a subject, all men (and women) have equal right to be dually represented, both as a servant to their government and a benefactor of its equal rule, application, and enforcement of the law. From this idea comes the true realization of representative democracy, whereby those who create the law do not lose sight of the people (Rosenfeld, pp. 291-319).

They also do not drift away from the reasons the state was created, when all people came together in unanimity. However, this unanimity does not last forever. It is altogether likely that the state of nature would require such; that eventually, the self-interest of man would splinter the consensus that had been made in a previous generation. What is important today may not be important tomorrow. As time passes, issues of the past lose a prominent spot in the thoughts of man, replaced instead by the current social and economic pressures. It is for this reason that a political formation cannot be so rigid as to ignore changing values of its citizenry.

In a more recent time, such notions have been echoed by civil rights leaders in decrying how America has lost its way by disregarding the rights of a minority or even deliberating excluding some from the process. Future generations are but an extension of those citizens who originally formed a state years before out of one unanimous voice. If the rights of future generations are either ignored or deliberately denied, the state is ultimately weakened. This says that while unanimity was important in founding the state, such a principle is no longer necessary or important in continuing it. Whether it be the right of women to vote, people of color to co-exist without various forms of discrimination, or most recently, civil marriage rights of gay and lesbian citizens, there are many examples to the contrary. However, for Hobbes, it is more important than this idea of equality be realized above the survival of the state (Mclean, p. 339-351).

Hobbes also realizes the cause of such problems arises from multiple interests and problems of proportion. When the rights of one person are denied, the rights of another are artificially inflated. The stronger party has doubled its voice by suppressing the others. This is how people lose sight of unanimity and lead to a weakened state. If the proportion is not realized, a deformed, corrupted state is the result, whereby one person or a group has more power than others are.

It may seem unrealistic that Hobbes’s society can be sustained. However, if those rights, which are contentious, and not afforded to all, were removed from the government’s oversight the state is more likely to survive. There would be less reason for citizens to feel compelled to leave and a return to proportional representation and equality. It is only when the majority can see the relationship between themselves and those who they seek to deprive of rights, that the process of inequality can be stopped. In recent times, voting on the rights of all citizens to marry would certainly initiate such a discussion.

Yet it is unlikely to happen in a society where religious views hold an upper hand to logic, reason, or justice. Those who deprive rights to others do so out of that disproportionate power they receive when the other party is weakened. Without realizing his notions of equality, citizens do an injustice to their state. As the share of power held by one part of the state increases disproportionately, the state as a whole becomes weaker. People become slaves to those who hold the most power. By suppressing the rights of a minority, the state moves further away from the ideals surrounding its inception. Those who are involved in suppressing rights also feed into giving their power to others (Williamson, pp. 97-107).

In this context, it can be stated that philosopher like Habermas finds it easier to establish his philosophic framework based on political authority based social contract system of Hobbes. Under such parameters, political parameters are organized based on obedience and punishment orientation where the stage uses the fear of direct consequences of the action the individual does. This does not pay any attention to any difference in the views of the other person. Hence, if the deed is morally wrong, it will be punished. This stage is also called the authoritarian stage. Again, as per Self-Interest orientation is takes into consideration the individual’s self-interest and does not limit itself to only morally wrong or right behavior. This stage is hence known as the morally relative stage (Habermas, p. 165).

Similarly, Interpersonal accord and conformity based on social contract refer to the individual self-interest is superimposed by the outside social roles. In this stage, the behavior and conformity to the social recognition get the individual. Here the upholding of the rules and regulations are effected only in terms of recognition and relationship. Alongside, Authority and social order maintaining orientation indicate that the society becomes bigger than the individual and the principle of fundamentalism is obvious. In this stage, the belief is that if one crosses the law, so would others and hence no one should. Hence, here the culpability of the individual takes precedence over all other things (Habermas, p. 167).  Yet again, it is a certainty that the idea of the social contract is predominantly backed by the existence of firm political authority.

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In conclusion and as a result, it can be stated that no matter how the post-Hobbes philosophers place the idea of liberal social structure it is certain that the balance and justification of social contract and state of nature-based on political authority are well formulated and accounted. Though occasionally the philosopher revealed his liberal ideas about humanity and individual desire, the focal point always remained fixed on the ideologies of justice and social and political justifications. His basis of the use of law and authority are primal factors to social contract and transition from a natural state to the social formulation. Thus, it can be well established that Hobbes’s balance and justification of social contract and state of nature are firmly based on the existence of a well-organized and fundamental existence of a powerful political authority.

Works Cited

  1. Habermas, J. Ethics, Politics and History, from an interview conducted by Jean-Marc Ferry in Philosophy and Social Criticism, ed. D. Rasmussen, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1990
  2. Hobbes, Thomas; Leviathan; 1651; Edwin Curley (Ed.); Hackett Publishing; 1994
  3. Mclean, Iain; The Social Contract In Leviathan And The Prisoner’s Dilemma Supergame; Political Studies; 29, 3, 339-351; 1981; University College, Oxford
  4. Rosenfeld, Michel; A Pluralist Critique of Contractarian Proceduralism; Ratio Juris; 11, 4, 291-319; 1998; Blackwell Publishers Ltd
  5. Williamson, Oliver E; Opportunism and its critics; Managerial and Decision Economics; 14, 2, 97-107, 1993; University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA

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