Perhaps silly musings from a Christian libertarian socialist
Why Thomas Hobbes and His Followers Miss the Boat
Published on July 23, 2004 By People of the Sun In Politics
One of the best things about returning to the states from overseas (even if you're going back again) are the magazine racks at the airports. We could probably feed every family in our community for a week with the money we spend on everything from In Style to Sports Illustrated to the Economist. This year we went back for a wedding and I was able to pick up a copy of the Atlantic Magazine and was struck by an article about "The Dawn of the Daddy State." It went something like this:

1. 9-11 fundamentally changed the globlal context for western democracies
2. This new, non-secure context means western democracies must first and foremost promote security for their citizens
3. This means things such as basic freedoms, limited government, and parlimentary democracy must take a back seat to strong actions to promote security.

The article went on to talk about making the "daddy state" more efficent and less onerous, all the while using the ideological/philosophical backing of one Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes' arguement, which seems to be the current ideological underpinning of US policy, domestic or foreign is that "the state of nature" is one of "nasty, brutish and short" life for humanity. Therefore, humanity gives up rights and freedoms to a strong state, which in turn protects them, essentially, from themselves and outside evils. (apologies to the philosophers reading)
What my experience in Guatemala has taught me is thus: Hobbes is wrong. What Hobbes forgets or couldn't see is that by surrenduring their rights and freedoms to a strong state, humanity merely institutionalizes the "nasty, brutish and short" anarchical state of nature in the "State." In other words, instead of individuals or small groups acting greedily and violently, a massive new bureaucracy is created with its own logic, ends, and means to achieve them. The State never simply acts as the protector and the adjudicater of disputes between citizens but becomes a Leviathan in its own way.
I think US history bears this out, and here I rely on the works of Noam Chomsky and Chalmer Chambers in "Blowback." Especially after the Second World War, but also before, the logic of state preservation has led to the US acting very badly in the international arena, thereby creating a climate of hate and vengance that has the potential to and has "blown back" on the average, innocent American citizen. I am not cold hearted enough to blame US policy for 9-11 (too many people I know were victims), but none of the individual Americans killed in the World Trade Center had any responsibilty for the grievances expressed by Al-Queda or others. But their government, the institution intended to defend them from the Leviathan, ends up bringing the Leviathan to their doorstep.

An interesting point that makes somewhat of the same point is about Africa, entitled "The Graves Are Not Yet Full." The main arguement is that ethnic conflict in Africa is not a natural state of being on the continent, but was rather stirred up by a combination of greed, political manipulation, and cold-war politics. It's not because of some "natural tribal emnities," but rather because of the greed and avarice of governments and leaders. The book argues that if not for the active role of states and governments the majority of the genocides in Africa in the last 30 years would not have occured.

States fight each other and other "Al-Queda like international entities", obstentiably to protect their citizens, but really in essence to protect their own interests, as defined by the apparatus and the institutions of the state itself. 9-11 did not change this logic or basic truth any more than the Soviets obtaining the atomic bomb did. The logic of Hobbes and the neo-Hobbesians escapes me a bit. If we believe that humans are basically evil and will revert to violence and greed, why do we invest so much power in an institution (the state) made up of humans? Does this make me an anarchist? (or a libertarian socialist, as Noam Chomsky would say). I think so, especially in terms of what to do about "globalization." The evil of globalization is that it centralizes everything, cultural influence, political power, economic power, social status at the expense of local communities. Someone whose working in community development almost automatically becomes an anarchist of sorts because we are working to strength, empower and democratize local communities in order that they may confront the world on their own, self-defined terms.

Thomas Hobbes missed the boat when he advocated the "daddy state." He should have listened to Mayor Daley of Chicago's immortal words in 1968: "The policeman is not here to create order. He's here to create disorder."


on Jul 23, 2004
Thomas Hobbes missed the boat when he advocated the "daddy state." He should have listened to Mayor Daley of Chicago's immortal words in 1968: "The policeman is not here to create order. He's here to create disorder."

Thomas Hobbes died centuries before Mayor Daley was even born - I doubt he considered his words when writing his theories. Good article though.
on Jul 23, 2004
And of course, Hobbes didn't advocate relinquishing all your rights to the state... just enough for the state to protect you from your fellow citizens and other countries.