‘According to Hobbes, the only solution to living in a state of terror is the terror of the state’.

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Post nine eleven Western society is living in a current ‘state of terror’ which, through the United States governments ‘terror of the state’ response, has led to an attrition of basic human rights. The fear of terrorism is constantly reinforced through prominent news coverage of terrorist cells, murderous attacks and prominent world leaders warnings. In accord to this, Hobbes would argue that the ‘terror of the state’ is the necessary solution to living in this state of terror - to protect us from our constant natural state of fear. Hobbes’ Leviathan monster, or the sovereign state, with the terror it both delivers and promises protection from, is much like the fear-inducing monstrous state we now live by. Conversely, the terror of the states status becomes highly problematic when under the guise of an act for greater good, a ‘state of emergency’ is put into practice, allowing for an unobstructed removal of existing legal procedures and the complete erosion of fundamental human rights. In this essay I will discuss the way contemporary Western society is strikingly similar in its manner of governing to that ideally suggested by Hobbes, and in doing so I will examine the detrimental effect on liberal individualism and the erosion of human rights this causes. This will be done by firstly examining a close reading of Hobbes’ Leviathan and drawing similarities between modern world practice and his ideal terror of the state. I will then expose the dangers in Hobbes’ ideology, proving such terror of the State is disastrous to humanitarian rights through an examination of the states use of ‘emergency powers’ allowed during the ‘terror of the state’ principle.

Whilst there are disparities between Hobbes’ absolute ideal sovereign ‘Leviathan’, whom he claims should ideally be the head of a ‘monarchy’, and the ‘democratic’ governments in charge of Western Societies today, similarities are common enough to draw solid comparisons. Hobbes says that the laws of nature for human beings require us to seek peace , something that he argues is best achieved through the establishment of contracts. What we need to uphold these contracts and consequently save us from our natural ‘state of terror’ is a common power enforced through a sovereign authority. This sovereign power should be, according to Hobbes, established by the people within the state, somewhat like the democratic system of election currently in place in Western democracies. This sovereign power is Hobbes’ Leviathan; a monster then operates through a use of fear, creating a terror of the state, through the threat of punishment and the use of fear inducing tactics to reinforce the continuation of obedience to the social contract. This in turn protects the states citizens from their ‘state of terror’. The ‘Leviathan’, an artificial person and metaphor of the state in total, would today be seen as the equivalent our governing systems whom quell our fears with terror of their own and our natural ‘state of terror’ is the terror wrought by terrorism. Hobbes’ argues that the only way to “erect such a common power” is to “conferre all their power and strength upon an assembly of men” , reducing all their wills into one will. This giving up of individual rights to govern one’s own bodies leads to the establishment of the ‘Common-wealth’. This ideally established commonwealth is then responsible for the defense of the people, such as the external forces of universally perceived terrorism today.

The safety that is provided by the monstrous state comes at a grave trade off, as the rights of individuals must be transferred to the sovereign in order for the protection offered by the terror of the state to properly come into effect. Fear is thus instigated by the commonwealth in a bid to keep societies terror under control; Hobbes argues that this use of state terror is for societies’ own protection, as it ensures peace is maintained. Whilst his ‘ideal’ is more blatantly totalitarian in its...