CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF THE STATE OF NATURE AND POLITICAL RIGHT IN THOMAS HOBBES

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No of Pages: 72

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

1.1  State Of Nature      …      …      …      …      …      1

1.2  Laws In Prepolitical Society      …      …      …      6

CHAPTER TWO

2.0 THE EVALUATION OF SOCIAL HUMANITY    …      11

2.1 Theories Concerning The Origin Of Civil Society... 13

2.2 Hobbes Concept Of Social Contract   …      …      17

2.3 The Commonwealth   …      …      …      …      …      29

2.4 The Sovereignty …      …      …      …      …      …      34

 

CHAPTER THREE

3.0 POLITICAL RIGHT IN HOBBESIAN THEORY   …      39

3.1 Concept Of Political Right     …      …      …      …      39

3.2 The Individual Right In The Society …      …      …   40

3.3 The Right Of The Sovereign …      …      …      …      46

3.4 The Weakness Of The Sovereign…      …      …      51

 

CHAPTER FOUR

4.0 EVALUATION AND CONCLUSION      …      …      54

4.1 Criticisms     …      …      …      …      …      …      54

4.2 Conclusion      …      …      …      …      …      …      61

BIBLIOGRAPHY …      …      …      …      …      …      63

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Hobbes is the founding father of modern political philosophy. He was directly or indirectly known to have set the terms of debate about the fundamentals of political life right into our own time. His thesis based on the political philosophy proposes that a society, should accept an unaccountable sovereign as a sole political authority. He strives to make this modern system broad enough to account, on the scientific principles, for all the fact of nature, including human behavior both in its individual and social aspects.

 

He intends to show not what government actually infant is, but what it must be so as to control successfully bags whose motivation is that of machine. He exhibited human nature as governed by a single fundamental law.

    

 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

The problem of social unrest in all ages generated a lot of questions and inquiring into the natural state of man. Many philosophers came up in attempt to answer these questions. Thomas Hobbes (1568-1679) an English philosopher witnessed this type of social unrest and strife in his country England in the 17th century. He witnessed the bitter fight between the king and parliament, which made him to flee to France twice during his lifetime.

So it is this background of abnormality of life situation that agitated Hobbes to delve into finding a solution to the problem of political anarchy. Hobbes advocated the coming together of people under social contract in other to achieve stable society who by means of covenant surrendered all their right and power to one man or assembly of men. This sovereign formed promulgated laws for the maintenance of peace and good of all the people. However, Hobbes did permit that if the sovereign fails to maintain order and peace, the subjects have the right to change the system of government.

 

PURPOSE OF STUDY

In this work, therefore, the aim is to examine these rights as suggested by Thomas Hobbes, the great political philosopher of the sixteenth century and explore how those rights are distributed and preserved.

In order to facilitate the Hobbes view on politics, the entire work is divided into four chapters. Chapter One discuses the natural law and the state of nature, which he discovered before postulating the common wealth, as we will see in the law of social contract. Then Chapter two talks about the theories concerning the origin of civil society especially Hobbes’ social contract. It also delved into common wealth and the sovereign. Chapter Three takes a serious look on the concept of political rights, individual rights and the rights of the sovereign. This chapter came to a conclusion with the source of the weakness of the common wealth. Lastly, Chapter Four deals with the critical evaluation and conclusion on Thomas Hobbes’ State of nature and political right.

     

METHODOLOGY

In this work of Thomas Hobbes on State of Nature and Political Right is all about a Critique and the thematic study of the nature and right etc. 

                            

LITERATURE    REVIEW

 

The problem of social unrest in all ages generated a lot of questions and enquiries into the natural state of man. It is in attempt to answer these questions that many political philosophical ideas came to lime light.

Plato’s pretext for discussing justice in the state is in order to illuminate questions about individual. He is clearly and also deeply concerned with the utopian republic, which he created.  He addressed the question of how such a political system could ever come about and concluded that the only hope is to rest power in the hand of philosopher king. In his book, the republic, he advocated that the philosopher is the best leader because he is the individual who would use his authority with utmost discretion. Plato holds thus

The state in its present form is like the ship lurching around in the hands of the unskilled crew. Only in the hands of a skilled navigator will it be kept under control: and the philosopher despised as he might be, is the only person in possession of the knowledge required to steer the state”.[1]

 

Aristotle, like Plato, opines that politics goes with ethic. He sees the society as natural and virtuous life as the end of man. It is the virtuous man that should be endowed with political authority over others. In a word, Aristotle is in support of the moral politicians rather than the political moralist who bend morality to suit their politics. For a person to rule, he must have rationality in order to bring out the master plan. He maintained that for any individual to be a good leader and a reliable authority he must be good and virtuous. And this for him could be obtained by three means thus;

                  Natural endowment we have at birth; the habit we form; and the rational principle within us .It follows that all these three power of man be turned to agree. The power of rational principle will play a great part in the              modification…’’[2]

Therefore, Aristotle holds that those who should wear the mantle of authority or leadership in the society most attain the virtues of justice, honesty and knowledge among others.

In the modern trend of thought, John Locke holds that the criterion for acquiring political authority is by public consent .By this he opines that it is the duty of everybody to democratically confer political authority on the elected body to rule the rest of the people for their common good.

Almost extremely and radically emerged a man known as Nicollo Machiavelli with a total different view of political authority. In his book The Prince he said that there is no limit to the power of sovereign. Thus he opines; Politics is a do-or –die game; therefore political authority must be acquired and maintained by all means”.[3] In the game of politics he believes with Thrasymachus that might is right. Hence the end justified the means, and he is a progenitor of power politics as it is today.

Thomas Hobbes was in absolute disagreement with the Aristotle assertion that Man is by nature a political animal. Anyone who by his nature and not simply by ill –luck has no state is either too bad or supper human. His view was that men become political animal only after the institution of the civil government

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

  

1.1            THE STATE OF NATURE

The notion that man is a creature equipped from birth for society is a view implicit in Plato and expressly formulated by Aristotle in the genesis of his politics.

Man is by nature, a political animal. Anyone who by his nature and not simply by ill-luck has no state is either too bad or too good, either sub-human or super- human[4]

 

Thomas Hobbes regards the assumption that man is by nature political animal as false. In his view, man became a political animal only after the institution of the civil society. The period prior to the civil society is what Locke, Rousseau as well as Hobbes called ‘the state of nature’ - the apolitical state of man. In the hypothetical state of nature, there lacks a central and sovereign power. Life in this state is unrest, misery, constant fear, war, and insecurity and is ruled by egoistic law of self- preservation. This is because in this state, all men are equal and equally have the right to whatever they consider necessary for their survival.  On this Hobbes notes:

The right of nature is the liberty each man hath to use his own power as he will himself… and consequently of doing any thing which in his own judgment and he shall conceive to be the aptest means there unto.[5] 

Equality here means simply that anyone is capable of hunting his weak neighbour and taking what he thinks he needs for his own protection.

In Hobbes’ state of nature, there exists the survival of the fittest for instance, a physically strong man could overcome the physically weak and take what belongs to the weak, but the weak could by his intelligence gain advantage over the strong by joining forces with those in the same danger with him. Therefore, a lack in one aspect could be compensated with some other thing. We have to note also that the right of all to all that prevails in this state does not mean that one man has a right whereas others have corresponding duties.    The word right in the state of nature is man’s freedom:

To do what he would, and against whom he thought fit and to possesses use and enjoy all that he would or could get”. [6]

 Hobbes later identified three reasons for the disorder and quarrels: he says

In the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First is competition, secondly, difference, and thirdly, glory”. [7] Hobbes said that the first makes meaning for gain, the second, for safety, and the third for reputation. Hobbes asserted that before the formation of civil society and sovereignty, men were in continuous state of war with each other. This situation he technically called ‘the threat of war’. And war here does not necessarily imply battle (fighting) but portrays the situation where man lives in continual fear, and insecurity. One sees his neighbour as a threat to his existence and obstruction to his well-being.

There is no common power ipso facto, no rules, no morality and justice, personal and selfish inclination was the principle that governed all actions. Everyone feels he is entitled to every thing. Ownership is effective only in so far as no stronger person has interrupted. And because man is constantly in want, he tries to eliminate the other. The continuous conflict of desire remains the order of the day.

The situation is precisely that of war of all against all. There exist a continual fear and danger of violent death, all individual deciding how best to survive this anarchy and disorder. Hence:

“There is no place for industry because the fruit thereof is uncertain; no navigation nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea. No commodious building, no instrument of moving and removing such things as required much force. No account of time, no art, no letters, no society and which is worst of all continual fear and danger of violent death. And the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.[8]

Hobbes held that it was man’s continuous desire for power, honour and fame that result in the disorderliness in the state of nature. Thus he writes;

I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after the power, that cease the only in death. And the cause of this, is not always that man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot assure the power and means to live well which he hath present without the acquisition of more. And from hence it is, that kings whose power is greatest, turn their endeavour to the assuring it at home by laws or abroad by war”.[9]

Rousseau, one of the political philosophers held that man is naturally good; but was corrupted by contemporary society of man. He further believed that it was competition and lust for private property that was responsible for this corruption. He equally believes in the essential goodness and sympathetic nature of man. For him, state of nature is of idyllic happiness since man is free being who enjoys equality.

Locke on his own part has a very optimistic view of the Human nature. For him,

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind… that being equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions”.[10]

Nevertheless, the state of nature as proposed by Hobbes is not a historical fact. Rather it is a situation that obtains in lawless society. The central questions how can man agree to form society since they are according to Hobbes, antisocial, politically and culturally apart. To fight these societal maladies, Hobbes found out what he referred to as natural law (Lex naturals). These laws will urge them to organize themselves into civil society.

 

1.2   LAWS IN PRE-POLITIAL SOCIETY (NATURAL LAW)

Natural law dates from the time of rational creation. It does not vary according to time but remains unchangeable, because it is written in the hearts of all men, right from birth as the scripture held it. Hobbes in his political philosophy saw natural law as:

A precept or general rule founded out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life or taketh away the means of preserving the same, and to omit that which he thniketh it may be best preserved.[11]

Nature takes the second position after the eternal law as a source of law. There are mainly three sources of law: namely God, Nature and Sovereignty. It is from these that we derive the eternal, natural and civil laws respectively. Naturally, law is a divine will discovered in nature by man through the dictates of reason, while the civil law is the law made in accordance with the rule of nature by one who has the command over others. The natural law, therefore, is the dictates of right reason. Men discovered that they must lay aside the right of nature in order to preserve their lives. None of these laws is man-made rather they are discovered by human reason which already exist from the very nature of individual existence. They are laws which man cannot change or influence, but can only conform and abide by.

Hobbes described the condition of man before civil society as a state of equality between individual freemen.  Everyman has the right to all things he desired. The condition was described by Hobbes as war of all against all, hence the condition of man becoming wolf to man. It is through nature that each man knows that he has to protect himself.  Everyman quarrels. So the need to protect his natural right of self-preservation that leads men to form a civil society. The laws of nature are those rules that rational man must accept, if he were conscious of his horrible predicament in the state of nature, where men are selfish. To answer the question how men move from the state of nature to form social state, Hobbes deduced nineteen other natural laws from the fundamental right of self- preservation.   Among these laws, deduced by Hobbes, only three of these laws will be discussed here. The first of these laws states that: Everyman ought to endevour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it, and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek all helps and advantage of war”.[12]   From the above quotation, we can see that it contains the first and the fundamental law of nature; which is to seek peace and follow it. It also contains the natural right, which we can by all means protect and defend ourselves.

The second law of nature by which we are urged to endeavour peace, this law states;

That a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defence of himself he shall think necessary, to lay down this right to all things, and be contended with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself”.[13]

It is from the compromise arising from the second law of nature that made it possible for men to come together and form a social society. This is because if everyman holds his natural right, they return to their former condition, that is, condition before civil society. The second laws also held that man has to lay down his right on the condition that others will do the same because he will make himself prey to others if they refuse to lay down theirs. Right is laid aside, either by simply renouncing it or by transferring it to another. Men are bound not to hinder those they have entrusted their right from exercising them. If they eventually go contrary to that, they have committed injustice or injury. This mutual transferring of right is that which men call “CONTRACT”.

From that law of nature, by which we are obliged to transfer right to another, such rights as being retained, hinder the peace of mankind, there followeth a third law of nature which is, “that man perform their covenants made.” Without which covenants are in vain but empty words, and the right of all men to all things remaining, we are still in the condition of war. This law of nature constitutes the foundation and origin of justice. To break the covenant made is unjust and the definition of injustice is no other than non-performance of convent. But because covenants is a mutual trust, where there is a fear of non performance, on either part…. are invalid, therefore before the names of just and unjust can have place, there must be some cohesive power to compel men equally to performance of their covenants, by terror of some punishment, greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their covenant.

Natural law according to Hobbes binds in conscience, and still maintains that all men have an obligation to obey the natural law in a state of nature. And it is obeying the natural laws that made it possible for the mutual transferring of rights, and man forming political society.

 



[1] Plato; The Republic, (New York; Penguin Bks Ltd., 1974), p. 117.

[2] Ibid. p. 59.

[3] J. Locke; Two Threaties Of Civil Government, (London: Dent, 1970), p. 119.

[4] Aristotle; The Politics, (Great Britain: Penguin Bks. Ltd, 1981), p.59

[5] T. Hobbes; English works(ed) Willian moles worth, London John Rohm, Igbo, p. 116

[6]S.E. Stumpf; Philosophy: History and problems, (U.S.A: Mc Graw- Hill Inc, 1983), p. 223.

[7]T. Hobbes; Leviathan (ed) by C.B.Macpherson (Great Britain: Penguin Bks, 1968), p. 185.

[8]Ibid. p 186.

[9]Ibid. p. 167

[10] J. Locke, Two Treatise Of Civil Government, (London: Dent, 1970), p. 119.

[11]A. Appadorai, The substance of politics, (Delhi: Oxford University press, 1975), p.27.

[12]F., Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 5, pt. 1. (New York: Image Bks, 1964),  p.  45

[13] Ibid. p. 45.

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