Home
Up

NATURAL MAN IN A STATE OF WAR

In the last chapter we discussed Hobbes' theory of knowledge at some length. The quest now becomes, can we apply his method to determining the proper structure and function of government? To begin with he taught that we must deal only with what we find in experience. In other words, as we examine society as it is today can we determine how and why it is like it is? From Hobbes point of view what we find when we look at society is that people are only able to get along together because the structure of society forces them to. This is a far cry from the Thomist view that man is naturally a social animal. But it argues from efficient causes rather than final causes. If this is true then we must not argue from a state of innocence as Aquinas did, but from perpetual state of war. This is his description of the motivation for a society of men as he found it taken from his book, Leviathan.

For the Laws of Nature (as justice, Equity. modesty, Mercy. and (in Summe) doing to others, as wee would have done to,) of themselves, without the terror of some Power, to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural Passions, that carry us to Partiality, Pride. revenge. and the like. And covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all. Therefore notwithsnnding the Laws of Nature, (which every one hath then kept. when he has the will to keep them, when he can do it safely,) if there be no power erected, or not great enough for our security; every man will and may lawfully rely on his own strength and art, for caution against all other men. And in all places, where men have lived by small Families, to robbe and spoyle one another, has been a Trade, and so farre from being reputed against the Law of Nature, that the grater spoyles they earned, the greater was their honoar; and men observed no other Lawes therein, but the Lawes of Honour; that is, to abstain from cruelty, leaving to men their lives, and instruments of husbandry. And, as small Families did then; so now do cities and Kingdoms which are but greater Families (for their own security) enlarge their Dominions, upon all pretenses of danger, and fear of Invasion., or assistance that may be given to Invaders, endeavor as much as they can, to subdue, or weaken their neighbors, by open force, and secret arts, for want of other caution, justly; and are remembered for it in after ages with Honour.

The difference between arguing from a state of war among men who are constantly at each others throats, and arguing from a state of innocence among men who are naturally social implies a very great difference in the kind of institution required to bring about a just society. Remember, now, we are arguing from the need to overcome a state of war amongst all men to a social institution that would bring about a just law-abiding society. We are arguing too using Hobbes' methods, that is starting from definitions, treating them like axioms, and applying logical arguments to them. Thus, let us begin with his definition of civil law.

Civil Law, is to every subject, those rules, which the common-wealth hath commanded him, by word, writing, or other sufficient sign of the Will, to make use of, for the distinction of Right, and Wrong; that is to say, of what is contrary, and what is not contrary to the Rule.

This is a definition that makes sense if you are coming from an assumption that man in a state of nature is in a state of constant war with every other man. From this basic definition Hobbes then was led to the implication that an absolute sovereign is necessary in order for there to be a peaceful society, though that sovereign may be a single man or a committee.

The legislator in all Common-wealths, is only the Sovereign, be he one man, as in a monarchy, or one assembly of men, as in a Democracy, or Aristocracy.

It is important to realize that Leviathan was published while Cromwell was Lord Protector of England and following its publication Hobbes returned to England from the continent. The deduction above shows us that he meant his description to apply to any form of government, and not simply to monarchies. This left it open to express the concept of absolutism in a way that applies to parliaments as well as Kings. He did this as a second deduction from the initial assumption.

The Sovereign of a Common-wealth, be it an assembly or one man, is not subject to the Civil laws. For having the power to make and repeal laws, he may when he pleaseth, free himself from that subjection by repealing those Laws that trouble him, and making of new; and consequently he was free before. For he is free who can be free when he will.

The absolute power of the Sovereign extends even over Unwritten laws. These obtain their legitimacy from the silence of the Sovereign. They serve only at the will of the Sovereign and may be terminated by him at any time. Natural law and Civil law, he said, contain each other and are of equal extent. Natural law pertains to the moral virtues which are simply those qualities that dispose men to peace and obedience. The necessity of a sovereign, and of the necessity of power to exercise that sovereignty implies that power defines the sovereign. Thus, if the Sovereign of one commonwealth should subdue the people of another the laws that are in power are the laws of the victor, not those of the vanquished.

These deductions are derived directly from the first assumption (taken as a definition and thus as an axiom) that men are naturally in a state of war amongst each other, and that Civil Laws are the set of rules men must be forced to obey in order that there be civil society.