This is a continuation of Part 1, where I discuss the French Revolution, the philosophers who provided the framework for it, and try to explore where we are today in our march for Democracy. Today, I will discuss the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) and his book Leviathan.
Up to the time of Hobbes, I would say that Western Civilization had the game of life pretty well worked out. If a problem came up not detailed in the Bible, the solution was to refer to Natural Law. There were tons of books written on the subject and it was supported by ancient philosophers that had never heard of Jesus. I will give you some examples.
Aristotle said that the goal of life is happiness. The goal is not money, nor property, nor glory. Life should be a balance of all those things and thereby achieve happiness. Since man is part of the animal Kingdom, man needs to sleep, rest, be social, have children, but also use his brain. Since man is the only animal that can think, he finds the most happiness in doing what is natural to him: contemplation.
Socrates said that the only one that can hurt you is your own self. If you do good to others, this builds your character and you actually receive more good. If you are unjust to others, then you actually do more damage to yourself. It was all about having a sound and balanced mind. If you accumulate a billion dollars, what good is it if you lose your mind in the process?
I know more about Latin American and Texas history than I do about any other history. In my opinion, this type of natural law thinking was used in the conquest of the Americas. For instance, it was believed that the central job of a soldier was to restore justice. Thus, when the Spanish arrived in Mexico City with Cortez and they witnessed human sacrifice, natural law would say that these soldiers were duty bound to restore justice. If more force was used than necessary, then these soldiers would face the Spanish Inquisition. Furthermore, at the time, natural law stated that since the Aztecs resisted the restoration of justice, then their city can be SACKED. Contrarily, had they submitted to justice, then Mexico City would have been spared.
Then comes along Thomas Hobbs and that whole group of Enlightenment thinkers, and the entire world is turned upside down. It was like a dam had broken, unleashing a torrent of twisted philosophies. At the heart of this new type of Enlightenment thinking, as far as I can see, is redefining ancient terms and concepts that were previously well established – like I mentioned in Part 1, “clean slate”.
“Self Interest”, for these new thinkers, did not mean working to establish a sound mind and body any more. The term is redefined as striving for money. The new self interest manifests itself in all the things that are used to get money, like political power, weapons of mass destruction, sabotage, and subterfuge.
Thomas Hobbes says that the natural state of man is warfare. The world is nothing but lying, cheating, bullying, advantage, exploitation, and violence. Thus, society is held together by an invisible “social contract”. In other words, the savagery of mankind is tempered when force meets force. By entering into the social contract, it is in man’s self interest to play along in the game of force, to conduct trade, follow the rules of the road; otherwise, man is met with police, courts of law, and jail. It is no longer about living life so as to keep mind and body in good functioning. Nope, submitting to the courts is simply man’s way of playing his alternatives to his highest material advantage, according to Hobbes.
Please read below and see how Hobbes describes it in his own words:
Covenants entered into by fear, in the condition of mere nature, are obligatory. For example, if I covenant to pay a ransom, or service for my life, to an enemy, I am bound by it. For it is a contract, wherein one receiveth the benefit of life; the other is to receive money, or service for it, and consequently, where no other law (as in the condition of mere nature) forbiddeth the performance, the covenant is valid. Therefore prisoners of war, if trusted with the payment of their ransom, are obliged to pay it: and if a weaker prince make a disadvantageous peace with a stronger, for fear, he is bound to keep it; unless (as hath been said be-fore) there ariseth some new and just cause of fear to renew the war. And even in Commonwealths, if I be forced to redeem myself from a thief by promising him money, I am bound to pay it, till the civil law discharge me. For whatsoever I may lawfully do without obligation, the same I may lawfully covenant to do through fear: and what I lawfully covenant, I cannot lawfully break.
I will be honest with you guys. Most of my life has been on the journey of “what is it all about?”. I read books for guidance that made sense to me. Then, I found related material; and kept those books that made sense. Checking the references in these books helps in the endeavor. I was forced to read these Age of Enlightenment guys because I taught economics for awhile. Modern economics and political science are pretty much based on the Age of Enlightenment. If it were not for my job, I would have never given these “philosophers” 2 seconds of thought.