Thomas Hobbes is as a pessimist who had major governmental upheaval during his time. This social unrest is what shaped his view of the balance between personal liberty and security. He believes that societies are in need of a strong rule, whether it be a monarch, dictator or oligarchy, but that humans are rational in their ideas and can comprehend a “Social Contract. ” People are rational and clear about their interest and are able to govern themselves. At the same time, these people are bad and need strong laws to control and direct.
As with most philosophers seeking to legitimatize their political conjectures, Hobbes developed his theory of the state of pre-political people. He hypothesized that all people are very individualistic, alone and solely self interested. With this, they are in a constant state of war; not necessarily fighting, but living with “the Will to contend in the nature of Warre; as is known in the nature of Weather” (Hobbes 133). Without safety or security, advancement of the Human Race is impossible, because if one’s focus is solely on survival, there is not time for culture, progress of the arts, record keeping or even social developments.
This type of society is not acceptable, because even though all people are only looking out for themselves, they are not totally irrational should be willing to enter into some type of agreement to guarantee their protection. Using this idea of guaranteed protection, Hobbes developed his Social Contract Theory. In this, a sovereign is created that has complete power over all, but the power is distributed equally. The people to be ruled give their consent to be governed. So, those who were at the short end of the stick during the state of continual war because of lack of
physical strength are now on equal footing with those who are endowed with more muscle. With this grant of power, the sovereign is now above the rules set for the others. Hobbes’ contract was not to be made with the sovereign, but with the people agreeing to be ruled by the sovereign. According to Hobbes, he needs to have complete power in order to keep order of the state. This contract can only be effective if the ruler is immune to those wanting to remove him if they disagree. This is a very paternalistic view of government. The sovereign knows better than his people, and therefore needs to be able to enforce what he deems is best for them.
In a way, this is true for any form of government, not only the absolute monarchy Hobbes favors. Every government is coercive and limits the freedom of those under its power in some way. In the United States, it is against the law to rob a Starbucks coffee shop. If it were not, I would have the freedom to walk into a Starbucks, grab a Grande Mocha Frappuccino with the contents of the cash register to go. After all, I need a cup of coffee and money to live. If everybody felt the way I did, there would be no incentive for any Starbucks to remain open, because there would be no money to be made, other than by the people stealing.
This is why our system of government creates laws protecting stores and people from being held up by punishing those who do not care to follow the law. With a paternalistic government, however, Starbucks would not exist for the hypothetical coffee spree stick up. Coffee is not good for the human body. People can and do get addicted to the effects of caffeine of the nervous system. When the government knows what is good and what is bad for its people, guilty indulgences that can damage the human body are outlawed.
Like a strict father with a rebellious teenager, this government would severely limit personal freedoms. Although Hobbes’ ideal government seems very noble, it seems somewhat idealistic. In order to maintain this government, it would be to the affect of “one man, one vote, one time. ” Hobbes does not leave any room for the removal of the chosen sovereign. If the people are not irrational, why are they not free to decide when their government is being unreasonable with its taking of liberties? What if the liberties exchanged are not being exchanged equally with protection promised?
The chosen ruler also has to remain pure in heart, with only the peoples’ and state’s interests at heart, or else the entire concept is ruined. Also, one generation would choose the leader for future generations, which would not give that generation the option to choose. Hobbes does not believe this direct consent is necessary because, “[Y]et if their actions be directed according to their particular judgments, and particular appetites, they can expect thereby no defence, nor protection, neither against a Common enemy, nor against the injuries of one another” (Hobbes 150). There is no room for removal of a poor ruler with Hobbes.
Although Hobbes believes men are inherently bad, he does seem to have some hope for the human race by stating, Therefore a Righteous man, does not lose that Title, by one, or a few unjust Actions, that proceed from sudden Passion, or mistake of Things, or Persons: nor does an Unrighteous man, lose his character, for such Actions, as he does, or forbearers to do, for feare: because his Will is not framed by Justice, but by the apparent benefit of what he is to do. ” (Hobbes 143) So, men do not always do good just to avoid punishment. They can also be good just because that is in their nature.
Those who agree to adhere to the Social Contract are not only obligated by that particular governmental system, but also certain laws of nature. The Laws of Nature, “[O]blige in foro interno; that is to say, they bind to a desire they should take place: but in foro exerno; that is, to the putting them in act, not alwayes” (Hobbes 147). Each person may be chosen to judge between people, but cannot be allowed to judge themselves. No one can be an objective judge with their own situation. Thomas Hobbes writes that “Do not that to another, which thou wouldest not have done to thy selfe” (Hobbes 147).
He states the golden rule, one in which many rulers choose to ignore and therefore spoil an otherwise good governmental system. Maybe his statement would have been better if said like this, "Do not let be done to another what you would not have done to thy selfe. "
Works Cited Arnhart, Larry. Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Rawls. 3rd ed. Long Grove: Waveland Press, Inc. 2003. Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan. ” Political Philosophy: Essential Selections. Ed. Aeon J. Skoble and Tibor R. Machan. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1999. 131-157.