Throughout human history, the issue of power has been the source of countless wars and violence, and so has it sparked inspiration in many philosophers to develop potentially better systems of government. The Age of Enlightenment saw many philosophers sprout with new ideas on forms of government to replace or refine the archaic norm of absolute monarchy; one such controversial thinker was Thomas Hobbes.
In his widely-recognized book, The Leviathan, he claimed that, because human beings are naturally selfish and evil, one must cede his or her rights to the absolute monarch so that peace can be established and maintained. However, if all human beings are cruel, then monarchs are not any different from the evil of those he rules.
In William Golding’s 1954 novel The Lord of the Flies, Golding reflects Hobbes’ ideas about human nature as he depicts the governing of a cluster of stranded boys on an island, from the lack of cohesion of Ralph’s attempt to rationally lead them back to civilization, to Jack’s manipulation of the children into savagery. William Golding thus qualifies Thomas Hobbes’ position, supporting that humans are naturally selfish and evil but refuting his claim that an absolute ruler would make “wise” decisions through his illustration of Jack’s greed for power, hostile acts to Ralph and Piggy, and manipulation of his followers.
Thomas Hobbes, an Enlightenment philosopher, claimed that mankind is naturally evil and selfish and will cause conflicts “if any two men desire the same thing, which they nevertheless cannot both enjoy” or have differing opinions, in order to gain more power so that they can freely pursue their selfish desires, especially “during the time men live without a common power” and “in that condition which is called war, every man against every man,” and are therefore incapable of self-governing.
Hobbes’ position on human nature is easily observable; intolerance and bigotry causes violence and general public fear, which leads to a lack of productivity, mostly caused by “continual fear and danger of violent death. ” For example, numerous countries from ancient Rome to America have seen its own people clash violently in civil wars rooting from controversies in which different ideas are not tolerated by one another. The battle at the frontlines and warzones spread paranoia to citizens, who feared their lives and property might be suddenly destroyed, and therefore were not prolific in their work.
As each country’s economy rests heavily on the productivity of its workers, this wide-spread fear caused many economies to decline and collapse. In the American Civil War, the utter destruction of the South’s resources, basic units of production (plantations), and cities, left over a third of America in a state of desolation, which did not display signs of rationalism. In reality, the “rationalism” humans have attempted to maintain is a mere, thin suppressor of the selfishness and savagery of human nature. William Golding fully reflects and supports Hobbes view on human nature in The Lord of the Flies.
In the book, the several boys try to set up a temporary “government” in which Ralph, one of the older boys, plans rational approaches to return to civilization that incorporates everyone’s effort but later fails due to the little kids’ selfishness and immaturity. For example, when Ralph, for the first time, instructs the group to build a signal fire and a select few to monitor it so that they might get rescued, the kids rush up the mountain and hastily start a fire “like a crowd of kids,” complains Piggy, a scholarly boy who is looked down upon for his appearance.
A large portion of the group join Jack in hunting pigs with wooden sticks. Ralph also tells some of the schoolboys to help build shelters, but with the impatient kids escaping towards the beach to play, they achieve very little progress on them. Worse still, the unguarded fire burns out while a ship sails by the island, signifying a missed opportunity to return to civilization, and possibly, surviving. The self-seeking and belligerent nature of the little kids (known as “littluns”) in leaving their temporary jobs already indicates their lack of intention to get rescued and creates conflict with frustrated Ralph.
As Jack jousts with Ralph for power, the two become enemies, and later in the book, Jack stops at nothing to eliminate Ralph personally and nearly slays him by setting the island ablaze, only stopped by the intervention of a naval officer. If left unchecked, evil and savagery have no bounds. According to Hobbes, if people are evil and self-seeking by nature, absolute monarchy is then the most effective method to governing as a monarch can use various tactics including secret police and unquestioned laws, with severe punishments for violations, to completely control his country and maintain peace among the people.
On the other hand, if people are naturally “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short [lived],” as stated in Hobbes’ Leviathan, the citizens whom an absolute monarch rules would be subject to a greater magnitude of cruelty and evil at his discretion. For example, though there are numerous others similar, in the late-18th century, Louis XVI of France abused his power and neglected even the basic needs of survival and health of the peasants which made up over 80% of France’s population.
In return, those peasants along with others in the middle class of France started the violent French revolution full of savagery and bloodshed. Through Jack, Golding refutes Hobbes’ proposal of an absolute monarchy. In the first half of the novel, Ralph’s ineffectual leadership gradually declines as Jack Merridew, an arrogant and vicious biggun (that represents an absolute monarch), gains power in promoting the violent nature of hunting and appealing to the boys’ innate belligerence.
As a leader, Jack gives his followers approval to be savage, and even on their first successful hunt, they develop a wild, energetic chant, “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! ” (69). At the same time, many littluns experience nightmares of a “beastie” lurking in the island forests. While only one boy, Simon, seems to understand the beast as the common fear inside all humans that causes savagery as a group, the others let fear control them and even gradually spread to some bigguns.
Jack uses the paranoia of the littluns to his advantage and forms a tribe of his own; his brutal pig-hunting attracts many littluns, whose savagery from shared fear excites their innate capacity for violence, as Golding claims in his article “Why Boys Become Vicious. ” Jack further manipulates his followers into more vicious acts, and blinded by their fear, together, they hurt themselves in insane simulations of hunting and accidentally kill wise Simon, their only hope for an immediate exit out of savagery.
Through this, Golding demonstrates the heightened intensity of evil an absolute ruler can cause to his subjects. In Golding’s perspective, Thomas Hobbes’ theory on the evils of human nature is correct and observable, but his proposal for continuing absolute monarchy almost contradicts his own ideas that all humans are naturally selfish and evil, as an evil and selfish monarch exacerbates the wickedness of the people. The negative human nature can only be halted or diminished by rules in an organized civilization.