Would Life in the State of Nature Be Intolerable as Hobbes and Locke Believe?

Topics: Political philosophy, Anarchism, Thomas Hobbes Pages: 5 (1576 words) Published: November 18, 2012
Would life in the State of Nature be intolerable as Hobbes and Locke believe?

The state of nature is described as a primitive state untouched by civilization; it is the condition before the rule of law and is therefore a synonym of Anarchy. Anarchy means without government, anarchist thought is the conviction that existing forms of government are productive of wars, internal violence, repression and misery. Hobbes political philosophy considers what the life of man would be like without the state; of which is described as ‘brutish, short and nasty.’ This view strongly contrasts with the utopian elements in anarchist thought. The Leviathan, which is an archetypal statement of the need for strong government equates anarchy with violence and disorder. The complexity of political ideas generated by both philosophies can be examined and contrasted against one another; to generate an opposite consistent anarchist inversion of Hobbism thought that justifies life in a state of nature that is not insufferable.

Hobbes explores the logic of a situation in which human nature predisposes men to act in certain ways, and there is no superior power to stop them from warring with each other (Sorrel, 1996). Therefore in the state of nature there is no economic prosperity, as this depends on security and co-operation, no scientific knowledge ‘ no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all continual fear and danger of violent death’( Leviathan 82) This is an intense and extreme depiction of what life would be like with no government at all. Superimposed on this are images of a partial state of nature resulting from the breakdown of central government, or civil war, the realistic dangers Hobbes is trying to avert ( Gauthier, 1969)

Hobbes abstract justification for government rests on the legalistic fiction of the social contract. The contract is created between two individuals motivated to set up a government because of the miseries they endure in the state of nature of which there is no stable social organisation (Sorrel, 1986). Hobbes rationalises that individuals driven by fear and in search of peace would all come together to draw up a peace treaty, and simultaneously set up a sovereign in order to ensure that the promise is attained. Hobbes shows that it is in the interest of the people to live under a strong government, and therefore one should act in a way as to maintain the existing government (Sorrel, 1986). Moral obligation and its involvement in legal practice is something that is used to conclude that government is necessary, useful and has legitimate authority.

In comparison, the anarchist William Godwin replied to the notion of an original contract by constructing a rational anarchist philosophy. He pertained that contracts were not between the fictitious entity the ‘people’ and the government, but between specific individuals (Woodcock, 1977). Godwin’s society would not be built In an assumed past as Hobbes was, but on series of mutually and constantly renewed compacts between freely contracting individuals, permanent contracts such as marriage were seen as an infringement of freedom: this theory was based on the principle of justice in anarchist thought ( Nozick, 2006)

The impact of Hobbes theory is based on the evocation of violence, fears and chaos which ensues without the role of the government to enforce law. If theses notions are ‘reversed, it can be argued that men are by nature, when uncorrupted by the perverting influence of the government and evil societies, peace loving and activated by spontaneous sympathy towards others’ ( Nozick, 2006)

Therefore the logic of the situation is reversed; Government now ceases to be the protector of the individual and a guarantor of their lives and property. Instead ‘the state is seen as a chief threat to liberty, security and prosperity of the individual, whom it circumscribes with laws and regulations’ ( Rotberg, 2004)

‘Hobbes did concede that...
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