Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Leviathan (Book One) - Hobbes

At first I didn't care much for 'Leviathan'.  The first half dozen or so chapters involve Hobbes spelling out his definitions.  He opens by describing how the senses work, of all things.  ("The cause of Sense, is the Externall Body, or Object, which presseth the organ proper to each Sense...".)  Stylistically, I want to change every semi-colon to a period and limit the capital letters but, after some time you get into the rhythm of the piece.  There is a plan to all of this.  Hobbes says:
When a mans Discourse beginneth not at Definitions, it betinneth either at some other contemplation of his own, and then it is still called Opinion;
He didn't want to fall into that trap and her avoided it at length.  I'll admit that my mind wandered at times while going through these chapters of definitions.  I was looking forward to the political thoughts and this was definitely not that.  Oh, there were gems mixed in there.  After speaking about how sometimes a name can embody a whole set of concepts he says:
For all these words, Hee That In His Actions Observeth The Lawes Of His Country, make but one Name, equivalent to this one word, Just.
Another that I liked:
If Livy says the Gods made once a Cow speak, and we believe it not; wee distrust not God therin, but Livy.
It really wasn't until about two thirds of the way through the first book that Hobbes had me hooked.  Ready?
Out of Civil States, There is Alwayes Warre of Every ONe Against Every One Hereby. It is manifest, that 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. For Warre, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of Time, is to be considered in the nature of Warre; as it is in the nature of Weather. For as the nature of Foule weather, lyeth not in a ahowre or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many dayes together: So the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known dispostion thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.
In other words, without some kind of strong central power that everyone fears (respects?), then every person must be distrustful and in possible conflict with every other person.  If the police force disappeared tomorrow, and all laws were struck down, there would be some short time in which cultural inertia would keep us just.  But that would disappear in time and we would have bloody anarchy.
I'll admit that when I first read through this, I was doubtful.  Blame it on my libertarian leanings, if you'd like.  But it makes perfect sense.  In our modern society we have created certain institutions that are trusted as common power.  I mentioned the police force.  They are (mostly) trusted to do the right thing.  If my neighbor decides that he wants my TV, the police will be on my side.  As will the justice system, the legislature, public opinion, etc.  These common Powers are known and trusted and as a result I can live in PEACE with my neighbors.  Without this, Hobbes notes, then "the life of man [is], solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

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