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Government as the Hobbean State of Nature

Crazy Ivan

In his Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes described man's state of nature as "nasty, brutish, and short". It was his contention that the only way to save man was to establish a government through a kind of social contract. Because of the horrors of this natural state, this contract was to be irrevocably binding on those who entered into it. Additionally, in order to ensure absolute stability, the government's power, according to Hobbes, must be total. Hobbes is correct in only one facet of his theory: there is a terrible state of nature from which man must be protected. However, rather than being the protector, government is the offender.

As social animals, it is part of human instinct to form hierarchies. By doing so, we acquire a measure of power while abdicating total responsibility. In exchange for the sacrifice of an actual measure of liberty; we attain a theoretical degree of security. However, far from being a true guardian, hierarchy is the prime instrument for the application of the will of one person upon other. Our "stable" society dictates how we dress, how we live, even how we think. Our thoughts, our values, our emotions, and our ideals are molded and welded against us. Hobbes contemporary, Locke, argued that we are shielded from hierarchical harm by "natural rights". If natural rights were a reality, it would be unnecessary to fight for liberty. Instead, the natural condition is one of subservience, of self-subjugation not to the will of the majority, but to the will of the majority-supported masters.

Therefore, the fight against nature must not be one of organization versus innate chaos, but chaos against innate organization. We must fight out hierarchical instincts and assert our individuality. The proper place for the human race is not a mindless shackled collective, but a collective of free, individual minds. The stability shall not come from a group of men willing a man not to do something, but by each man refusing to allow himself or others to be subjugated to the will of another. Men will cooperate not from some perverse social need, but from mutual benefit.

It has been said that a system in which men only pursue their self-interests will inevitably fail, but this is exactly what the current system thrives on. In order to acquire some degree of power, which men perceive as being in their self-interest, people are willing to acquiesce to the social hierarchy. They can then use this power to exert force upon others who will cooperate because they perceive it to be in their self-interest. What they fail to realize is that it is never in one's self-interest to capitulate to hierarchical decrees for the sake of acceptance. True self-interest can only be recognized, not within a quasi master-slave relationship, but as a relationship of genuine equals working toward common goals. To accomplish successful, lasting radical changes, the transition against the currents of social inertia and away from the state of nature cannot be accomplished with a single revolutionary stroke, but must be the process of deliberate social evolution. Yet there is still hope that we can rise above our primal, instinctual need for government and create a higher level of civilization.





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