Hobbes and the Order Requirement

Friday, October 21st, 2005

It would seem that in the contemporary state of the States there can be a “legal reality,” where legislation may nullify certain other realities, such as the existence of negligence. Laws protecting against frivolity, for example, typically aren’t proposed for a class of people, but may be proposed for an industry class. Does such action promote order or disorder given that one consequence often neglects others, such as the need for figuring whether negligence happened in the first place? I wonder what Thomas Hobbes would say. Here’s a brief overview as a recast of a prior short essay.

In Hobbe’s Leviathan, especially in the Introduction, we have the writer/mathematician/philosopher grounding his work in the notion of the artificial and establishing an analogy between man and machine, which allows for a subtle distinction between human law and natural law that will come later. He writes:

For what is the heart but a spring; and the nerves but so many strings; and the joints but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body such as was intended by the artificer [“maker,” or, in Aristotelian terms, the “efficient cause”]. Art [making] goes yet further, imitating the rational and most excellent work of nature, man. For by art is created that great Leviathan called a Common-Wealth or State . . . which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defense it was intended . . . . (1588)

He closes the analogy (but the idea really doesn’t go away) by noting the other parts of the State that are analogous to the body: the sovereign as the soul, state official, joints, and so forth.

In Leviathan, Hobbes is going to argue from the natural state of humans, what he will call the “natural condition” of mankind or the “state of nature,” to the justification for, in his case, a sovereign power (which really bugs the parliamentarians), or any other constitutional power as long as it maintains peoples’ security: in other words, what people fear most is anarchy, and if the State can solve or prevent anarchy then we can’t really complain about the state or dismiss it, which is what I was doing as I watched Tony Sanchez go down in Texas. In all this, Hobbes must be concerned, it seems to me, with how a “thing” is made, how an object works or functions, whether it’s the human sense mechanism or a telescope or a State. As far as the idea of materialism that’s being thrown around, we don’t want to obsess over the idea that materialism means that we’re concerned only with fabric or bricks, that is only with the material of an object, but more about the nature of existence or of a things nature, in Hobbes’ case following the standard materialist view that everything that exists is material or physical. In the language of Descartes, this means that everything that exists must be “spatially extended” or have some sort of quantity. We can’t just say, “Oh, my desk is made out of metal” and leave the inquiry there. I think we have to go further and ask–“but what about steel, why steal, why not paper?” This question asks us to distinguish between the properties, the nature of, steel and paper. At least this cluster of ideas is what seems to be pushing at me–at the moment. It’s important that Hobbes build his contentions from the ground up, block by block, let’s say and continually come back to the idea of nature, and perhaps we’ll even test Hobbes’ state of nature notions against Milton as he develops Lucifer and Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost.

For Hobbes people are essentially equal, both in intelligence and strength, although he doesn’t qualify this all that much for us. But note where Hobbes takes us next: “From this equality of ability ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of our ends” (1590). Mankind has equal strength and intelligence but also an equal need or ability to strive hence relationships are a problem: ” . . . if two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless, they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies . . . [endeavoring] to destroy or subdue [wow!!!] one another.” Hobbes, given this “condition,” claims that there are three causes of this destroying or subduing: competition, diffidence, and glory (1591). Thus we have the hypothetical illustration by Hobbes that in the “state of nature” life is pretty nasty. Which is why we need agreements, covenants, and social structure, big sticks and the MLA. Without these, without, according to Hobbes, a power that “awes” mankind, “every man has the right to every thing; and consequently no action can be unjust” (1594). It would seem to me that we could hark back to Grendel and apply Hobbes’ scheme here. Grendel, a figure exiled from Hrothgar’s meade hall, and thus not subject to its conventions, attacks willie nillie. Edmund in King Lear, as a bastard, tends to conniving because he remains in a latent “state of nature” by virtue of cultural convention; he is not admitted and thus must force his way in. Nevertheless, with Hobbes I think we can begin to finally see how the theory of “nature” begins to take hold in the judgment of people as well as how it is applies to the Civitas. For Hobbes, we need George W. Bush. Why? Check it out: “And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of every one against every one, in which case every one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies; it followeth that in such a condition every man has a right to every thing, even to one another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to every thing endureth, there can be no security to any man” (1593).


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