13. The Sovereign State: Hobbes’ Leviathan

13. The Sovereign State: Hobbes’ Leviathan


Professor Steven Smith:
Where else are we? Today we’re going to continue
the state of nature, Hobbes’ most famous discovery,
his most famous metaphor, his most famous concept. At the end of class last time,
I tried to identify Hobbes’ central problem,
is the problem of authority, what makes authority possible,
what makes authority legitimate, and in order to
answer that question, I suggested,
he created this idea, this metaphor again,
of a state of nature, a state in which he says we are
naturally in. Hobbes’ state of nature is
virtually the opposite of Aristotle’s conception of the
natural end or the natural telos of man.
It does not consist of our perfection, a condition of our
perfection as Aristotle believed,
but for Hobbes the state of nature is something like the
condition of human life in the absence of authority,
in the absence of anyone to impose rules,
order, law on us. What would human beings be like
in such a condition, a condition of the type that he
imagined maintains in periods of crisis,
civil war of the kind that was true of England in the 1640s?
And I suggested at the end of last time that in many ways
Hobbes’ idea of the state of nature can be understood in a
sense as an extension of his scientific methodology set out
in the opening chapters of the book.
Let’s imagine, as he says, human beings as if
they were in a sort of laboratory test tube.
Let’s strip human beings of all their social ties and customs
and traditions. Let’s see what they would be
like in abstraction from all of the social and political
relationships which they enjoy and see how they would interact
with one another almost as chemical properties.
And you can see Hobbes working along that line but I would say
this as it were scientific or proto-scientific conception of
the state of nature is not the whole answer to this story
because underlying Hobbes’ conception of the state of
nature is a powerful moral conception,
a moral idea of the human being, and that’s what I want to
talk a little bit about today. Hobbes is a moralist,
which seems odd in some ways. How could grim and dour old
Thomas Hobbes be regarded as a moralist or someone with a moral
conception of human nature and the human condition?
But that’s what I want to suggest to you today.
The term, in a sense in which we might better characterize his
conception of the state of nature, is one of individuality.
Hobbes shows us what it is to exercise the qualities of moral
agency; that is, to say to do for
ourselves rather than to have things done for us or for you.
Hobbes introduced into our moral language the idiom of
individuality. And this concept,
the concept of what it is to be an individual,
a moral agent, isn’t really–is really not
older than or at least not much older than the seventeenth
century. Until the Renaissance or not
much later, people considered themselves primarily not as
individuals but as members, members of a particular family,
of a caste, of a guild, of a particular religious
order, of a city or so on.
The idea that one is first of all a self with an “I,” an ego,
would have been regarded as unintelligible and even as late
as the nineteenth century Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy
in America says, “individualism is a recent
expression arising from a new idea.”
That idea appeared new to Tocqueville as late as the
nineteenth century and this idea of the individual,
I want to suggest, is at least in part and maybe
in large part traceable back to Hobbes. What is Hobbes’ individual?
Hobbes conceived us through a process of abstraction from the
web of attachments in which we find ourselves.
We are beings, he argues again in the opening
chapters, whose fundamental characteristics as human beings
are willing and choosing. We are beings for whom the
exercise of the will is a preeminent feature and much of
our happiness as human beings depends upon our capacity to
exercise our will and our ability for choice.
Life for Hobbes is an exercise in continual willing and
continual choosing that may be temporarily interrupted but can
never come to an end except with the end of life itself.
Hobbes’ individuality or individualism is closely
connected to this conception of a human being or human
well-being as success in the competition for the goods of
life. “Continual success,” he writes
in chapter 6, “continual success in obtaining
those things which a man from time to time desireth is what is
called happiness or felicity. Our well being depends on our
ability to achieve the objects of our desires,
the objects of our choices, for there is no such thing,” he
continues, “as perpetual tranquility of mind,
no such thing as perpetual tranquility, while we live here,
because life itself is but motion and can never be without
desire nor without fear no more than without sense.”
These are the characteristics of human life,
sense, fear and desire, continual desire for one thing
after another, and for Hobbes this fact is not
simply a physical or factual description of human behavior
but it is a moral condition because we are each of us
bundles of activity and initiative,
of likes and dislikes, of desires and aversions.
Life for Hobbes is competition or struggle not just over scarce
resources, although that might be part of the struggle,
but for honors, for anything else that a person
might value or esteem. Hobbes is fascinated and,
is again like Montaigne and a number of others,
he is fascinated with the diversity,
the sheer diversity, multiplicity of human desires.
What leads one person to laughter, leads another person
to tears, what leads one person to piety and prayer,
leads another person to ridicule and so on and so on.
Even moral terms, Hobbes says,
terms like “good” and “evil,” he says are expressions of our
individual likes and dislikes. We like something,
he says, not because it is good but we call something good
because we like it and the same with other moral qualities and
attributes. They are expressions for him of
our psychological states and aspirations and it is this
individualism that is the ground of the general competition that
we all experience for the objects of our desires that he
says the–or from this he infers that the natural condition is
one of competition, of struggle,
of enmity and of war. In a famous passage from
chapter 11 he posits, as he puts it,
“a general inclination of all mankind,
a perpetual and restless desire of power after power that
ceaseth only in death.” This is, as he puts it,
“a general inclination of all mankind,” this constant
restlessness and motion and expression of our individuality
and what I have been calling Hobbes’ individualism is
connected, in fact even is underwritten by
another attribute that is central to Hobbes.
It is his skepticism. Like many of the great early
modern philosophers, Montaigne, Descartes,
Spinoza, Hobbes was obsessed with the
question about what can I know or, maybe put a different way,
what am I entitled to believe, and there are many passages in
Leviathan that testify to Hobbes’ fundamentally skeptical
view of knowledge. Right?
He is a skeptic not because he believes that we can have no
foundations for our beliefs whatever but he is a skeptic in
the sense that there can be no, on his view,
transcendent or nonhuman foundations for our beliefs.
We cannot be certain, he thinks, of the ultimate
foundations of our knowledge and this explains,
you may have wondered about this, this explains the
importance he attributes to such things as naming and attaching
correct definitions to things. For reason, he writes in a
famous passage, “for reason is nothing but
reckoning, that is adding and subtracting
the consequences of general names agreed upon.”
Knowledge, in other words, is for Hobbes a human
construction and it is always subject to what human beings can
be made to agree upon and that skeptical view of knowledge or
at least skeptical view of the foundation of knowledge has far
reaching consequences for him. If all knowledge,
according to Hobbes, ultimately rests on agreement
about shared terms, he infers from that that our
reason, our rationality, has no share in what Plato or
Aristotle would have called the divine Noos,
the divine intelligence. Our reason has within it no
spark of divinity. Our reason does not testify to
some kind of inner voice of conscience or anything that
would purport to give it some kind of indubitable foundation.
Such certainty as we have about anything is for Hobbes always
provisional, discovered on the basis of experience and subject
to continual revision in the light of further experience,
and that again experiential conception of knowledge.
That kind of skepticism about the foundations of knowledge has
further implications for Hobbes’ views on such things as religion
and religious toleration. “There are no signs or fruit of
religion,” he says, “but in man only,” he says in
chapter 12. That is to say,
the causes of religion can be traced back and are rooted in
the restlessness of the human mind in its search for causes.
And it is because, he says, we are born ignorant
of causes, we are ignorant of the causes of things,
that we are led to search out beginnings and origins and this
leads us ultimately, he says, to posit the existence
of God who is, so to speak,
the first cause of all things. Hobbes does not,
despite this kind of rationalistic view of religion
and his view that religion has its origin again in the
restlessness of the human mind, Hobbes doesn’t deny the
possibility of revelation or some kind of direct
communication of God to us. But what he does deny is that
anyone who has claimed to receive such a revelation,
he denies that any such person has the right to impose that
view on anyone else because nobody else can correctly have
the means to verify a person’s claim to revelation.
No one can impose their claim of revealed knowledge on
another. Does this make Hobbes an
atheist, as many would have maintained in his day?
No. It makes him a skeptic about
revealed religion. So it is because of this
individualism and skepticism, a view of life as willing and
choosing, that there are in the state of
nature so to speak no standards to adjudicate conflicts,
that the central issue of politics arises,
namely what makes authority possible,
how are people who are biologically individually
constituted, so to speak, how can any of them ever–any
of us ever be capable of obeying common rules or having moral
obligations to one another? How is that possible,
Hobbes continues to ask in a manner of speaking on almost
every page of the book. But before answering that
question, consider a little further Hobbes’ account of the
state of nature and what makes it seem like a plausible
starting point to answer the question of what makes authority
possible. To say that the state of nature
consists primarily of individuals with again diverse
likes, dislikes, beliefs,
opinions and the like is not to say that the state of nature is
a state of isolation, as it sometimes attributed to
him. People in the state of nature
may have regular and continual contact with one another.
It is just that their relations are unregulated.
They are unregulated by law; they are unregulated by
authority. The state of nature is simply a
kind of condition of maximum insecurity, an unregulated
market with no common laws or rules to sustain it.
The emphasis on the individual is just another way of saying,
again unlike Aristotle, that no one has natural
authority over anyone else. Relations of authority exist
only by, so to speak, the consent or the will of the
governed. And the fact that relations in
the state of nature are unregulated for him makes
it–it’s synonymous with making it a condition of war,
of “all against all,” in his famous formulation.
Now, you might look at that formulation, the state of war is
one against–of all against all and you might say that such a
condition of civil war, of maximum insecurity,
of the total breakdown of condition of rules and laws is
if anything the state of the exception.
How often does that really occur in our experience in human
life? But Hobbes, like Machiavelli,
as we saw, likes to take the exceptional situation and turn
it into the norm. It becomes the normal
condition, state of security, insecurity, fear,
conflict and the like. This is not to say,
again, that the state of nature for Hobbes is one of permanent
fighting. But it is one of permanent fear
and distrust and he asks his readers…there are so many
wonderful passages in this book, this just happens to be one of
my particular favorites, he asks his readers if you
don’t believe me, again think of his skepticism,
don’t believe me, he says, check your own
experience and see if I’m not right.
And this is what he writes. “Let him, the reader,
therefore ask himself,” Hobbes writes, “when taking a journey
he arms himself and seeks to go well accompanied.
When going to sleep, he locks his doors even when in
his house, and even when in his house he locks his chests and
this, when he knows,
he says, there be laws and public officers armed to avenge
all injuries shall be done to him.
What opinion, Hobbes asks,
he has of his fellow subjects when he rides armed?
What does that say about your thinking about your fellow
citizens when you arm yourselves going for a trip,
of his fellow citizens when he locks his doors at night or of
his children and servants when he locks his chests?
Does he not therefore as much accuse mankind by his action as
I do by my words?” You can see the mischievousness
of Hobbes in that delightful passage.
What about you, he says, and this is not in
some kind of state of nature. This is in a completely fully
functioning society when you go armed, when you lock your doors,
when you lock your chests at night, don’t your actions and
your experience simply confirm what I’m saying?
And this tells us another thing about the state of nature which
it is easy to forget. The state of nature,
at least for Hobbes, is not some kind of primitive
anthropological datum that we find by going back in time
somehow. Rousseau will speak about it
more this way. For Hobbes, the state of nature
exists, he says, whenever authority is not
enforced. The state of nature fully
continues, in many ways, oddly even in civil society,
he says, whenever we have reason to believe that our lives
or our properties or ourselves are not secure. In fact, we can never be fully
free of the fear and of the anxiety and uncertainty of the
state of nature, even within to some degree of
fully constituted civil society. The only exception to this of
course in Hobbes’ account of the state of nature when he says
“don’t you lock your doors at night” are of course Yale
students living here on campus who are so trusting that they
never lock their doors at night in the entryways and so on and
then of course are always stunned to find when something
is stolen from them, how could this be?
And I tell them lock your doors but they still don’t believe me.
Maybe you’ll now believe Hobbes if you don’t believe me.
So the state of nature, it’s a state of insecurity,
it’s a state of conflict. How do we get out of it?
This is of course the huge issue that Hobbes asks for the
rest of–for much of the book. What do we do to get out of
this state of nature to enter a condition of civil society and
civilized life? How do I give up my right to do
whatever is in my power to secure my person or my
possessions, when I have no expectation,
you might say, that others around me are
prepared to do so as well? This is sort of a classic
example of what economists and other people like them call the
prisoner’s dilemma. Why should I act in such a way
if I have no expectation or reasonable expectation that
those around me will reciprocate?
Hobbes’ members of a state of nature seem to be in a classic
prisoner’s dilemma problem. Maybe we can say,
we could say or Hobbes could say, that laying down our right
to do all things in seeking peace with others is the
rational thing to do in the condition of nature.
We are all rational actors and therefore it is rational for us
to seek and to desire peace, but note that that is exactly
what Hobbes does not say, he does not say this.
Far from having a sort of rational actor model of
politics, he operates with an irrational actor model.
He assumes that it is not reason but our passions that are
the dominant force of human psychology, our desires,
our aversions, our passions.
And although I have said that Hobbes has emphasized the
diversity of our passions there are still two main passions that
he feels universally dominate human nature and these two
passions are pride and fear. Pride and fear,
these are the Hobbesian equivalents of the two
great–what Machiavelli called humors you remember,
the two humors of the two great social classes,
the desires of the rich and powerful as it were to rule over
others and the desire of the weak not to be ruled.
Machiavelli called those the two umori,
the two humors. And Hobbes similarly works with
a kind of model. He’s a great political
psychologist, the two great passions of pride
and fear. Pride, he says,
is the passion for preeminence, the desire to be first and also
to be seen to be first in the great race of life.
Prideful people, he tells us,
are those overflowing with confidence about their own
abilities to succeed and we all know people like this,
don’t we, like Yale students? They’re all overflowing with
confidence, kind of alpha types. Machiavelli might call them
sort of manly men who are fully confident about their abilities.
And yet Hobbes is a great debunker of human pride.
Pride is equivalent to what he calls vanity or vainglory.
It is a kind of exaggerated confidence in one’s own power
and ability. It is pride,
the desire to lord it over others and to have one’s
superiority acknowledged by others,
that is the great problem for Hobbes to be averted.
But if pride for him is one of his great universal passions so
is its opposite, fear.
Hobbes makes the fear of death that may come to us at any time
in the state of nature, perhaps he exaggerates this,
by making it appear that the state of nature is a kind of
existential condition in which death can come to you at almost
any moment. But there is more to fear than
this, simply fear of death, although Hobbes emphasizes and
dramatically perhaps overemphasizes this.
Fear is not just the desire to avoid death but to avoid losing,
you might say again, in the great race of life,
to avoid losing and to be seen as a loser.
It is the desire to avoid the shame of being seen by others as
losing out somehow. There is a social quality
clearly to both of these passions, pride and fear,
one again the desire to have one’s preeminence esteemed by
others, fear, the desire to avoid shame and
dishonor. How we are seen by others is a
crucial cardinal part of Hobbes’ moral psychology and each of us,
he says, contain. These do not simply represent
two classes of individuals, two classes of persons.
Each of us contains these two warring, you might say,
elements within us, both self-assertion and fear of
the consequence of self-assertion.
The question is for Hobbes, how do we tame these passions?
It is most of all pride that Hobbes wants to tame and of
course the very title of his book, Leviathan,
he tell us later on comes from what?
Do you remember? Where does it come from?
Who remembers? Passage from what?
Job, Book of Job, where he refers to Leviathan as
king of the children of pride. The book is based on a biblical
metaphor about overcoming or subduing pride.
As the great Marsellus Wallace says in the film Pulp Fiction,
pride never helps, it only hurts,
if you remember that magnificent speech.
Fear, Hobbes says, is the passion to reckon on,
is the passion to be reckoned on.
It is fear, not reason, that leads us to abandon the
state of nature and sue for peace.
The passions that incline men to peace, Hobbes writes,
are fear of death. This is not to say that Hobbes
believes fear to be the naturally stronger of the two
passions; in fact, far from it.
There are many people certainly even around us who Hobbes
believes do not fear death as they should,
the proud aristocrat who prefers death before dishonor,
the religious zealot prepared to sacrifice his life and of
course those of others in order to achieve the rewards of heaven
and of course just the risk taking individual who seeks to
climb Mount Everest just for the honor and esteem involved.
And it is part of the broader educational or pedagogic
function of Leviathan to help us see,
Hobbes thinks, the dangers of pride and the
advantages of peace. Properly directed,
fear leads to peace. Fear is the basis,
even of what Hobbes calls the various laws of nature,
that lead us to civil society. The laws of nature for Hobbes
are described as a precept or a general rule of reason that
every man ought to endeavor peace and it is out of fear that
we begin to reason and see the advantages of society;
reason is dependent upon the passions, upon fear.
The first and most fundamental law of nature,
he says, is to seek peace and follow it.
Not only should one seek peace but we have an obligation,
he says, to lay down our arms, to lay down our right to all
things on the condition that others around us are prepared to
do so as well. And Hobbes goes on to enumerate
19 laws of nature, I won’t go into all of them,
19 laws of nature that constitute a kind of framework
for establishing civil society. These laws he even compares as
his equivalent of the Golden Rule which he states in the
negative: Do not do unto others what you would not have them do
unto you. Here is Hobbes’ rewriting of
the Golden Rule in terms of these laws of nature but these
raise a question for us as readers of Hobbes. Right?
Don’t they? What is the status of the laws
of nature? What is the moral status,
if any, of these laws? Hobbes, as we see,
sometimes writes as a sort of scientist or proto-scientist for
whom nature and one supposes the laws of nature operate with the
same kind of necessity as the laws of physical attraction.
That’s how he often writes about human behavior,
that we obey the same laws of physical attraction as do any
other bodies that we might choose to describe.
They describe how bodies in motion always and necessarily
behave, these laws of nature. And yet at the same time,
Hobbes writes as a moralist for whom the laws of nature,
he calls “precepts of reason” or general rules according to
which we are forbidden to do anything destructive of life.”
In this sense, the laws of nature,
as he describes them, appear to be moral laws with
moral commands, commands you not to do anything
that is destructive of life, your own or that of others,
and these moral laws, in this sense,
we have presumably the freedom to obey them or disobey them.
If they acted with a kind of mechanical necessity or even
geometric necessity, they could not possibly be
moral laws in that way. They can only be moral if there
is some semblance of human choice or will expressed in the
relationship, our ability to do otherwise.
So these laws of nature, seek peace and so on,
do not simply seem to be descriptive of how people do
behave. They seem to be prescriptive of
how people ought to behave and this Hobbes even suggests at the
end of chapter 15 when he writes about the laws of nature,
“these dictates of reason men used to call by the name
‘laws’ but improperly for they are conclusions or theorems
according to what conduces to the conversation of mankind.”
These used to be called laws of nature, he says,
but improperly. So if they are only improperly
laws of nature why does Hobbes continue to use the term?
Why does he use this terminology of “laws of nature”?
In a sense, this might simply be Hobbes’ way of paying homage
to the ancient tradition of natural law going back to the
medieval scholastics, to the stoics,
and perhaps even beyond them. The natural laws for Hobbes are
not divine commands or ordinances, he says,
but they are rules of practical reason figured out by us as the
optimal means of securing our well-being.
These laws of nature, as he describes them,
do not issue categorical commands so much as sort of
hypothetical rules. If you want X, do Y;
if you want peace, here are the means to it.
And he calls these laws, these 19 laws of nature,
the true and only moral philosophy.
So you can see in that passage Hobbes takes himself to be a
moralist writing within the great tradition of moral
philosophy. These laws of nature are for
him the true and only moral philosophy.
Well, this brings me to some criticisms or at least some
questions about Hobbes’ conception of the laws of
nature. What are we to make of these
laws, as I’ve asked before? In one sense,
there seems to be a genuine moral content to Hobbes’ laws of
nature which can be reduced to a single formula:
Seek peace above all other goods.
Hobbes, more than anyone else, wants us to value the virtues
of civility. Those, you might say,
summed up in a word are what the 19 laws of nature command.
The civility entails the virtues of peace,
equity, fairness, playing by the rules.
Peace is for Hobbes a moral good and the virtues are those
qualities of behavior that tend to peace and vices are those
that lead to war. Consider the disadvantages of
war and the benefits of peace. Here is what Hobbes writes.
“In such a condition, that is the state of nature,
there is no place for industry because the fruit thereof is
uncertain and consequently no culture of the earth,
no navigation nor building nor instruments of moving and
removing things as require much force,
no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time,
no arts, no letters, no society and which is worst
of all continual fear and danger of violent death.”
This is again the sort of existential condition in which
Hobbes wants to put us in the state of nature and all the
benefits he lists there, he enumerates,
that are denied to us in such a condition, again no knowledge,
no geography, no cultivation of the earth,
no navigation or building. All of these things are the
fruits of peace, he tells us.
But at this point, a careful reader such as all of
yourselves no doubt, would no doubt be suggesting,
I’ve gone too far in suggesting or calling Hobbes a moral
philosopher whose motto in a way could be summed up in the phrase
“Give peace a chance.” Is that what Hobbes believed?
Why is the peace the highest good anyway?
Why not justice? Why not honor?
Why not piety? Why not the examined life?
What makes peace so good for Hobbes?
Well, I’ve given a number of… have quoted him on a number of
reasons but one suggestion might be that it is not so much peace
alone that Hobbes cherishes as life.
Peace is a means to life. Every creature,
he says, has a built-in desire to preserve itself,
to persevere in its own existence,
to continue in its own steady state you might say,
and to resist invasion or encroachment by others.
We are all endowed, he says, with a kind of natural
right to life and the desire to preserve oneself is not just a
biological fact, although it is also that,
it is for him a moral right, it is a moral entitlement,
every being has a fundamental right to its own life.
We not only have a right to our lives but to do whatever we
regard as needful to protect our lives.
And again, this is not simply a brute fact of nature.
It is a moral entitlement for Hobbes, the source of human
worth and dignity. But now you will suggest,
I’ve really gone too far, attributing to Hobbes a
doctrine of human dignity that one might expect to find in a
philosopher like Kant or someone else.
Didn’t Hobbes cynically write in chapter 10,
“the value or worth of a man is of all things his price,”
what price we will fetch in the marketplace no doubt,
the value or worth of a man is his price,
a phrase incidentally quoted by Karl Marx to indicate the sheer
heartlessness of the kind of the bourgeoisie society that Hobbes
was hoping to bring about. And doesn’t Hobbes’ materialism
and his sort of mechanistic theory of nature seem to detract
from any inherent worth of the individual?
There seems to be something to that and yet Hobbes certainly
regards life as a precious good, perhaps the most precious good
of all, and he writes with a lively sense of how fragile and
endangered life is. The work as a whole can be seen
as an effort to dispel what he believes to be false beliefs,
false doctrines and beliefs, that disguise the truth from
us, truth about the value of life;
for example, beliefs about the afterlife and
all beliefs that detract from an appreciation for the value of
life as it is. This provides the moral basis
of what I would call Hobbes’ humanitarianism and yet that
humanitarianism seems to raise further problems.
Doesn’t Hobbes or does Hobbes’ attempt to instill in us,
the readers of his book, his attempt to instill in us an
appreciation for life and the value of life,
does this simultaneously create an aversion to risk,
an extreme fear of conflict and challenge or disorder?
You could say is this constant fear that Hobbes harps on fear
of death and the value of life, to put it rather rudely,
is this not another word for cowardice?
Does Hobbes’ emphasis on the preservation of life as the
supreme moral value, does this turn his mighty
Leviathan into a kind of commonwealth of cowards?
Where Aristotle made the courage of men in combat a
central virtue of his ethics, Hobbes pointedly omits courage
from his list of the moral virtues.
At one point, he even suggests that courage
is really just a species of rashness and his example of
courage comes from duels and duel fighting which he says will
be always honorable but are unlawful.
“For duels,” he says, “are many times effects of
courage and the ground of courage is always strength or
skill though for the most part,” he says, “they be effects of
rash speaking and the fear of dishonor in one or both of the
combatants.” In other words,
courage for him again is a form of vanity or pride,
the desire not to appear less than another.
It is a form of rashness, he says.
And that suspicion is further carried out in Hobbes’ very
interesting treatment of military conscription which he
talks about in chapter 21. There he describes battle,
as he says, “a mutual running away” to armies confronting one
another he describes as a mutual running away,
and furthermore he says when it comes to conscription there
should be allowance made for those that he calls “men of
natural timorousness,” cowards in other words.
A man that has commanded as a soldier, Hobbes writes,
to fight against the enemy though his sovereign has the
right enough to punish his refusal with death may
nevertheless, Hobbes writes,
in many cases refuse without injustice as when he
substituteth a sufficient solider in his place.
In other words, Hobbes’ view of this is why do
the fighting yourself, if you can get someone else to
do it for you? There is no intrinsic virtue in
courage or battle, if you can get somebody else to
do the job for you, a sort of perfect description,
I think, of our volunteer army, how we pay people to do this
difficult and dangerous work for us. But the question is,
can even a Hobbesian society, one which insists on rules and
so on, can a Hobbesian society do
entirely without– Professor Steven Smith: Anyway, can a Hobbesian society do
without what we might call them the manly virtues,
the civic virtues, pride, love of honor that
Hobbes seems to condemn? Consider the case of Ralph
Esposito. Who is Ralph Esposito, you ask?
His name is not in the index of Hobbes’ book but Mr.
Esposito is a New York City fireman who came to Branford
College to be a Master’s Tea guest not long after 9/11 and at
length he discussed there people like himself who daily risk
their lives running into building burning–burning
buildings to rescue total strangers.
Why do people do this? Is it because some people have
a kind of built in sense of thumos,
that wonderful Platonic term, pride, courage,
love of risk that no society, not even a Hobbesian one,
can do without? Even Hobbes’ society presumably
cannot do without a fire department or a police
department; yet, if one were to follow
Hobbes’ risk averse psychology, if one were to follow the 19
laws of nature that advise us to seek peace and to avoid
conflict, why would anyone ever become a
fireman, a soldier, a risk taker,
a policeman of any sort? Why would anyone ever risk
one’s life for one’s country or a cause just to help other
people, people that we don’t know and probably will never
know? Even in the passage that I
cited earlier, where Hobbes describes the
benefits of civil society, he speaks of activities like
navigation, exploration and industry.
Presumably, these are activities that are all engaged
in risk taking behavior of one kind or another that seem not to
be able to be explained by Hobbes’ law of nature alone.
So the question I want to leave you with today and that I want
to pick up again on Wednesday is, in the end,
what do societies require more of?
Do they require more of Hobbes’ men of natural timorousness or
do they require more Ralph Espositos?
And on that we’ll finish up Hobbes on Wednesday.

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