During the Time Men Live Without a Common Power to Keep Them All in Awe, They Are in That Condition Which Is Called Warre; and Such a Warre, as Is of Every Man, Against Every Man (Hobbes, Leviathan). How Does Hobbes' View of the ‘Condition of Ma...

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  • Topic: England, Upon Appleton House, Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron
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This quote from Thomas Hobbes ‘Leviathan,' summarizes his opinion of the natural condition of mankind as concerning their felicity and misery. He basically suggests a natural impulse for war embedded in the souls of men who do not have a ruler, or a king. They are without bounds, and without limits. It is a state of anarchy that he envisages.

He believes that ‘Nature hath made men so equal' that ‘one man can claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he.' This, taken from Chapter 11, leads us to a conclusion that three things in the Nature of man bring out complexities that cannot be resolved and lead to tyranny and war. These are competition, diffidence and glory. Mankind's self-instincts for preservation of their own well-being, and their natural urges to further their own name and have good opinions held in their regard, will lead them to destroy one another. This state of war ‘consisteth not in battle only,' but ‘in a tract of time,' where there is ‘no assurance to the contrary.'

So this also leads to a vital question that must be asked of Hobbes. Amidst all this destruction, is there a solution, which can prevent this? Obviously, his solution is a common power to govern mankind, for people would be worse off ‘under a peaceful government use to degenerate into a civil war.' However, he instantly finds this solution problematic also. Even with rulers who are strict, firm, and fair, complications would still arise, once again due to the nature of man. There would be ‘the continual jealousies' that rulers would feel for one another, who would therefore constantly have their ‘weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another.' They would be ‘continual spies upon their neighbours.'

Liberty is a concept that can be unlimited according to the reasoning of those who wish to exercise it. Each man can ‘use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature,' and is capable ‘of doing anything which, in his own judgement and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.' Basically, since ‘one is governed by his own reason,' therefore ‘every man has a right to everything.' This can result in total anarchy. There are no rules in this scenario.

I find Hobbes actual conclusion to this predicament highly interesting. He chooses a biblical solution, that ‘whatsoever you require that others should do to you, that do ye to them.' It is a highly moral ending to a completely immoral showcase of man's warlike instincts. It does not correspond with the image Hobbes has just painted. It is a dramatic difference.

The poem ‘An Horation Ode,' by Andrew Marvell is certainly reminiscent of Hobbes vision of the influence of power, and the revolt of the people, but offers its own stance. In the article by David Norbrook, ‘Marvell's Horatian Ode and the Politics of Genre,' he comments that ‘the poem has often been applauded for avoiding political partisanship, for maintaining an equal balance between Charles and Cromwell, between the arts of peace and war.' (Page 147) This idea of traversing both states of peace of war is an idea not considered by Hobbes. The opening lines of ‘Horatian Ode' can be seen as a call to arms. It has a blatant warlike tone, extremely dramatic, and exciting. Cromwell, in the opening line, is described as a ‘forward youth' who does not ‘in the shadows sing, his numbers languishing.' He is self assured. He leaves ‘the books in dust,' to ‘oil the unused armour's rust.' The language is so theatrical, particularly in the image of Cromwell ‘breaking the clouds,' ‘like the three-forked lightning.' It is heavily stylized. Marvell seems to be advocating Cromwell as a man of ideas. He embodies youth, vigour, energy, and courage. He responds to the threat of looming war, and positively embraces it. He is in fact such a campaigner for battle and action that he is compared to Julius Caesar. There is a memory...
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