22 Kasım 2010 Pazartesi

Democratic Criticism of Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan"

In this assignment, I will try to put forward my own ideas about the ideal relation between the sovereign (ruler) and the people (ruled) by refuting British philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ (1588-1679) pessimistic ideas on human nature and his authoritarian state model called Leviathan. I will claim that today we do not need authoritarian states that will give harsh punishments and monitor our behaviors closely, but rather we need democratic states in which decisions would be taken by people and the state would just have the responsibility of creating a secure environment in which free political, economic and social activities can take place. In order to arrive at that point, I am going to begin with my ideal picture of the proper relation between the sovereign and the people. Later, I am going to focus on Hobbes’ ideas and try to understand why Hobbes would reject my views.

As far as I am concerned, one of the most important necessities of the proper ruler-ruled relation is the free electoral system mechanism. Democracy as a dictionary definition means “government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives”. In ancient Greece, democracy was tried to be applied for citizens in squares by the participation of a small elite citizen group. However, in modern states it is not possible to meet in big squares and discuss issues all together. That is why modern democratic states adopted representative democracy in which people have right to select their rulers as well as to be candidate for being ruler. Another important quality of the free-elections is that all citizens can become candidates for offices. Moreover, we all accept that individuals have inviolable rights that should not be abolished even by the states. These rights are secured by the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and some institutions like European Court of Justice etc. Another important characteristic of modern democracy is that even the deeds of sovereigns and elected people are controlled by different legal institutions (independent courts, Supreme Court or Constitutional Court etc.) and civil society organizations (ngos). This means that sovereigns do not have right to do whatever they want because they come to their office for a limited period of time in the name and upon the decision of people and their acts are open to legal control. Unfortunately, in countries like Turkey deputies can use their parliamentary immunity to prevent their corruptions to be known by everyone. One more thing about real democracy is that although rulers are chosen by votes, people still have the right to resist to the decisions of the sovereign by using democratic means like court appeals, demonstrations, civil disobedience acts etc.

After drawing the picture of ideal democracy, let us now look at Thomas Hobbes’ theory of Leviathan. According to Hobbes, the state of nature (natural life time before the emergence of the state) is not peaceful but instead it is very wild full of violence. Hobbes believes that the state of nature is nothing but a “state of warre” during which all individuals struggled against all other individuals and finally ended this chaotic life by making some kind of social contract. The central point of Thomas Hobbes’ theory is human nature and especially the selfishness and the greed of human beings. He even claims “For it is a voluntary act: and of the voluntary acts of every man, the object is some good to himself” (Leviathan, p. 192). This understanding of the enormous selfishness of human beings directs Hobbes to a very dark theory, which does not trust in human beings and thus creates a regime of absolute monarchy with strict, severe rules and little space for freedoms. Hobbes thinks that humans are naturally somehow equal and there is not too much difference between their mental and physical abilities (Leviathan, p. 183). So, in a stateless stage individuals have the motive to compete with others in a very hostile sense; in addition, they live with the fear of being killed or loosing what they have. Hobbes calls this fear “diffidence” and explains it as the lack of confidence people have in the state of war due to their inevitably unsafe lives. Hobbes concludes his theory by the realization that rational egoist human beings will profit more in an organized state, and thus, to make a social contract among them and give their power to a sole person who would be like a mortal God called “Leviathan”, who would provide peace and order in society by making laws deriving from laws of nature and by punishing guilty people severely. In Hobbes’ view, Leviathan should be the sole authority and should give severe punishments in order to prevent egoist people to act within the limits of laws. Also, Hobbes believes that “the sovereign power cannot be forfeited” (Leviathan, p. 230). Moreover, “no man without injustice protest against the Institution of the Sovereign declared by the major part” (Leviathan, p. 231). In addition, Hobbes asserts that “the Sovereign’s actions cannot be justly accused by the Subject” (Leviathan, p. 232). Another strange point in Hobbes’ theory is that he claims that whatever Sovereign does, his actions cannot be punishable by the subject. These are all evidences showing that Hobbes would never defend a democratic state like I mentioned and he wants an absolute monarchic regime where there would be no personal freedoms. Hobbes does not trust in humans, he thinks humans are selfish and power-seeking. So, as far as I am concerned he would definitely reject any kind of civil society organizations since they will also follow their own interests and break the peace in the state. For these reasons, Hobbes gives the whole ruling power to a mortal God called Leviathan who would decide on all issues and rule the state with an iron hand.

One objection Hobbes can make is that a democratic regime would never exist with the existence of egoist individuals. Egoist individuals always run for their personal benefit and they would try to profit from laws in an environment in which laws and punishments are not very strict. However, Hobbes does not know about the democratic culture and the role of education in the modern world. Hobbes witnessed to Spanish Armada, 30 Years War, First & Second Bishops’ War, Scottish invasion of England, Irish Rebellion and English Civil War and that is why his ideas about the human nature are very pessimistic. However, he seems to forget that humans are shaped according to the conditions of their period and they socialize in different atmospheres. Humans can act egoistically and there is no problem in this if they do not violate the laws and other people’s rights. It is important to impose this understanding to all citizens. I think Hobbes’ perception of human nature is not right and people are not that egoist. That is why, his objection about the failure of democracy is not realistic. Hobbes completely ignores the social needs of human beings. Human beings are social creatures and they have emotions like love, hatred, pity etc. Moreover, humans need communicating with each other and Hobbes’ idea of the state of warre seems very unrealistic. I wonder how Hobbes can explain a mother educates, raises her children by making many sacrifices. From Hobbesian perspective, it is not very absurd to think that people do not make love and raise children in the state of warre. Also, Hobbes’ thesis about the reason of human acts may not be true in all cases. I believe that we can sometimes think of the benefit of another person more than our own benefit; and it is not our own profit that always directs us to do something. Human beings are complex creatures and their behaviors cannot be calculated easily like a mathematical equation. In addition, Hobbes thinks that humans are more or less equal and this equality leads to the conflict between them for obtaining things they all desire but could not have at the same time. “From this equality of ability, arises equality of hope in attaining of our ends. And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies” (Leviathan, p. 184). In this way, Hobbes thinks that there are limited resources in a state. However, if in a democratic society a fair distribution system is arranged there may not be any problems. This is I think another weakness in Hobbes’ theory.

Finally, in my opinion, Thomas Hobbes because of his dark ideas about the human nature would never defend a democratic state. His ideal relation between the sovereign and the people is very authoritarian and anti-democratic. However, today we live in democratic states and we accept the basic individual rights that should always be protected and the supremacy of democratic decision making process. Hobbes would reject these things and the notion of democracy because he never trusts in human beings and his understanding of human nature is selfish and power seeking.

- Hobbes, Thomas, “Leviathan”, 1985, London: Penguin Books Ltd.

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