Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

By Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes argues that man’s natural condition is one of constant war – every man against every man. He argues that there are natural laws that define the virtues necessary to peace, but the only way to put these laws in place is to create a power that can enforce the following of the laws. He argues that to do this, people must transfer their rights to one person – the sovereign leader – who will be above everyone else, and enforce these natural laws for the multitude of people.

Chapter 13: Of the Natural Condition of Mankind as Concerning Their Felicity and Misery
Hobbes argues that all people are essentially equal in body and mind. He acknowledges that some bay be physically stronger than others, but that by using surprise or getting help, a physical weaker person could kill a stronger one, so in that sense they’re equal. He argues that people fight for their own gain, for self-defense, and for their reputation. If there is no common power to keep them in line, people live in a constant state of war – every man against every man.

In the constant state of war, it isn’t worthwhile to build anything or accumulate anything, because it will only make you more of a target. Therefore, people live in a state of continual fear, and life is “nasty, brutish, and short.” He argues that when there is no common power to enforce laws, then laws do not exist, there is no notion of right and wrong, and nothing is unjust. In this state, people have a right to do anything at all, including killing others.

People can choose to lay down this right in exchange for others doing the same, with a goal of having peace. Hobbes describes quite a few “natural” laws in chapters 14 and 15. He explains that virtues, such as justice, gratitude, modesty, equity, mercy, and other laws of nature, are good. He also describes various forms of contracts, promises, and oaths that people can use to agree to transfer or lay down a right. However, he argues that just making contracts using words does not work, and that there must be some system of enforcement.

Hobbes’ Natural Laws:
1. Seek peace and follow it
2. It is a person’s right to defend themselves by all means possible
3. If no agreement has been made to give up rights, then a man has a right to everything and no action is unjust. If a covenant is made, then breaking the covenant is unjust.
4. If someone gives up a right without getting something in return, his goal is that others will follow his lead, since no person would give something away without intending to do something good for himself.
5. Each person should try to accommodate himself to everyone else – if a person will not give up rights along with the group, he can be cast out of the group.
6. If a person repents, it is ok to pardon offenses in order to ensure peace in the future.
7. In seeking revenge, the focus should be on correcting the offender and others to ensure greater security in the future, not on getting even for the offense.
8. No person should declare hatred or contempt of another.
9. Every man should acknowledge that he is equal by nature – a breach of this law is called pride. (This is contrary to Aristotle’s belief that some people are by nature slaves, and meant to serve, and others are by nature masters, meant to lead. Hobbes thinks Aristole’s reasoning here is irrational.)
10. When people enter into conditions of peace, no person can keep a right that he wouldn’t want everyone else to have.
11. If a person serves as a judge between two people, he must deal equally between them.
12. Each person should get an equal distribution in relation to what belongs to him – this is distributive justice.
13. Common things should be enjoyed in common, or otherwise distributed equitably.
14. If something cannot be shared in common, then first possession should be determined by lot or by first seizure.
15. Disagreements should be submitted to the right of judgment by an arbitrator.
16. No one can be an arbitrator in his own case, or for a case in which he has a vested interest.
17. Controversies must be settled by gaining more evidence until a judgment is possible.

He concludes these chapters by noting that a person can make a commitment for someone else if he is given authority by that person to do so, and that it is possible for multiple people to give one person authority to act on their behalf. This is often necessary if there is a great multitude of people.

In chapters 17 and 18, Hobbes moves on to discussing the creation of a commonwealth. The Commonwealth is created by a willingness of people to put constraint on themselves to help ensure their own preservation and to get out of the state of war. In a commonwealth, there is a power greater than all the people to enforce their agreement to give up some of their rights and live in peace.

He has an interesting digretion in Chapter 17 in which he talks about bees and ants. Bees and ants are able to live in society with each other in a natural state without war, and some suggest that this means people could as well. Hobbes argues that this isn’t possible because men compete for honor and dignity, a person’s private good is often different than the common good, people think they are smarter and better able to lead than others, people can deceive each other while ants can’t, and ants don’t get offended by the acts of other ants. Finally, ants work together naturally, and for humans cooperation has to be based on an agreement, which does not exist naturally.

He argues that humans can only create a society by giving all of their rights of governing themselves up to one person – this is the leviathan – the sovereign power.

In chapter 18, Hobbes elaborates on the rights of a sovereign ruler. A commonwealth is created when every person gives up their right to a representative and allows that person to make judgments for everyone.

1. Having given up their rights, they cannot make a new covenant with another leader or person – it would be void, since they no longer have the right to do so.
2. It is impossible for the sovereign to breach the covenant, because the covenant is only between all the subjects, and does not include the sovereign – the sovereign is above everyone else. If the sovereign wasn’t above everyone else, then people could disagree, and there would be no power to arbitrate and enforce – people would be back to a state of war.
3. If a majority consent to the sovereign, if someone dissents, he should be destroyed, since he is still in a state of war with everyone.
4. Since they have given the sovereign their own right to make judgments, the sovereign’s actions are, by definition, the will of the people. Therefore, subjects must follow the judgments, because they are the authors of that judgment.
5. It is impossible to justly put the sovereign to death, because this would mean breaking the covenant, and the person breaking the covenant would be unjust, not the sovereign.
6. The sovereign has the right to judge what opinions and doctrines are conductive or averse to peace.
7. The sovereign has the right to make rules (laws) so that each man knows what he is allowed to do or own without being molested by his fellow subjects.
8. The sovereign has the right of the judiciary – the right to hear and decide all controversies relating to law.
9. The sovereign has the right to make war and peace with other nations.
10. The sovereign has the right to choose all of the counselors, ministers, and officers in peace and war.
11. The sovereign has the right to give rewards and punishments to encourage men to serve the Commonwealth.
12. The sovereign has the right to give titles of honor to people.

Finally, Hobbes argues that all of these rights are inseparable. If sovereign has the right to control the army, but not to collect taxes, then he would not be able to support an army. Similarly, if the sovereign had the right to make laws, but not to enforce them by acting as judge, then the laws would not be useful.

No comments: