Canadian-American philosopher David Gauthier described this social contract theory of morality in his 1986 book Morals by Agreement.According to this view, there is no right or wrong in the nature, there is only self-interest. We define right and wrong based on mutual agreements.
This morality from mutual consent theory originated from Thomas Hobbes. He was an English philosopher. His life was between the years 1588 and 1679. He is considered one of the most powerful intellects of the seventeenth century. Some people call him the greatest philosopher in the English language. He is known as the founder of modern social contract theory. His best known work, Leviathan (1651) tremendously influenced the moral and political philosophy of the modern era.
When we talk about modern social contract theory, we start with three individuals. Thomas Hobbes (1651), John Locke (1689) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762). They shaped our modern worldview of politics. Hobbes’ Leviathan is considered the first genuine work of political science.
In the Christian worldview, God’s moral values are revealed in his word, the Bible. As the children of God, we inherit those moral values and conduct our affairs in the family, in the church and in the world. We might choose a king or form a democratic government, but they are still under the moral precepts revealed in the Bible.
Thomas Hobbes challenged this Christian worldview. He contended that human beings decide what is right and wrong. We are made up of matter, we are determined, we seek pleasure, we are self-centered and self-interested. Our morality springs from us, not from God.
Hobbes brought together materialism, determinism, empiricism, hedonism, relativism, authoritarianism to construct a worldview which contradicts Christian worldview and has been so influential ever since he published his theory in his Leviathan. ‘Leviathan demonstrates with geometric mathematical precision how to create a world in which individuals, freed from fear of their fellow and of eternal damnation, can apply themselves to the mundane but rewarding task of improving their lot. This is how man was originally meant to live, freely, before the invention of the gods’
In the history of ideas, it is vital to look at the historical background from which those ideas evolved. So, let me give you some biographical details about Hobbes’ life before we analyze his moral philosophy.
Thomas Hobbes was born on Good Friday, April 5th, 1588, the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The people of England were living in fear of the Spaniards, who were restless to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I and put an end to England’s Protestantism. Hobbes was born prematurely. When his mother went into labour, she was under the dreadful prospect of the Spanish Invasion. Hobbes described those frightful days with the memorable expressions:
‘my mother gave birth to twins: myself and fear’, “Fear and I were born twins”
Hobbes was a precocious child. At the age of fourteen, he was sent to the famous Oxford University. There, in Magdalen Hall, he immersed himself in the Greek and Latin classics.
In 1610, he took a journey to the Continent which further propelled his interest in natural philosophy.
Queen Elizabeth died in 1603. James I (1566 – 1625), the king of Scotland became the King of England. He sponsored the famous King James Bible. During those relatively peaceful years, Hobbes worked as the last secretary of Francis Bacon, between 1621 and 1626. Under Bacon, Hobbes cultivated a curiosity for sciences. Yet he did not abandon his love for the classics. In 1629, he published the first translation into English of Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War.
King James I died in 1625. Then his son Charles I (1600 – 1649) became the King of England. He believed that God gave him absolute powers to rule his people according to his own conscience. The Parliament of England was not kind to this view. He married a Catholic princess. The Puritans did not like this marriage. Charles lost his control over the Parliament and the Puritans. Both sides wanted to settle their differences through war. The English Civil War was erupted in 1642. Charles was defeated, tried, convicted and executed in January 1649.
In 1640, two years before the Civil War, Hobbes left England and went to Paris. Europe was not in peace during those years. From 1618-1648, Thirty Years’ War ravaged Europe. Under the clouds of war, Hobbes did not abandon his passion for mathematics, science and philosophy. He went to meet Galileo, who was under house arrest. He debated the disciples of Descartes. During the English Civil War, the royal court was in the exile in France. Hobbes became the mathematics tutor to King Charles II, the future King of England.
Between 1642 and 1658, Hobbes published three works of philosophy: De Corpore (On Body), De Homine (On Man), and De Cive (On Society). Out of De Cive came Leviathan, which was written in France and was published in London in 1651.
Hobbes returned to England in 1651. He was sixty-three years old. England was still in turmoil. After the execution of Charles I in 1649, a republic was declared known as the Commonwealth of England. After a series of wars, in 1653 Oliver Cromwell became the Lord Protector. In 1658, when Cromwell died, there was a power vacuum in England. In 1660, The monarchy was restored, Charles II, who was in exile in France was invited to return to Britain and become its King. Hobbes spent the final years of his life under King Charles II, who was once his student while they were in France. He led a very productive life. When he was eighty four, he rewrote his autobiography. At eighty-six he published the translations of the Iliad and Odyssey. In between, he was playing tennis. He never retired from active life. He died at the age of ninety-one in Hardwick, Derbyshire.
If you take a look at the breadth of his life – Queen Elizabeth, James I, Charles I, Charles II, Oliver Cromwell, Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, John Locke, Descartes, Kepler, Galileo……Hobbes lived among the great giants of history – in science, philosophy, theology and politics. This historical backdrop is essential to understand his worldview.
Main Ideas of Thomas Hobbes
Now, let us look into the main ideas of Hobbes.
1.Application of science to ethics: Hobbes thought of himself as a scientist. He wanted to explain human behavior using scientific methods. He rejected the metaphysical explanations. God has no place in his philosophy. We are creatures dominated by appetites, desires and physical needs. To meet these needs we engage in constant warfare with others around us. Our only way to come out of this war zone is to sit down and create a social contract.
Hobbes was a materialist and his political philosophy was founded upon his materialism. He opposed dualism. Hobbes befriended Pierre Gassendi, the chief proponent of a thoroughly materialistic philosophy and psychology. We know Descartes’ dictum, Cogito ergo sum, I exist because I think. Hobbes would retort to Descartes, ‘I exist because matter in me can think.’ Hobbes would see nothing immaterial in his being. He is 100% matter, nothing else. He wrote in Leviathan,
‘For seeing life is but a motion of Limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within; why may we not say, that all Automata (Engines that move themselves by springs and wheeles as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the Heart, but a Spring; and the Nerves, but so many Strings; and the Joynts, but so many Wheels, giving motion to the whole Body, such as was intended by the Artificer?’
‘Of the interior beginnings of voluntary motions, commonly called the passions, and the speeches by which they are expressed’.
You are like an engine which move by springs and wheels. Your heart is like a pump. Your nerves are like strings and your joints are like many wheels. That’s it. You have no soul. You are simply a moving machine.
Hobbes holds that human society is part of the natural world. Reality is physical reality,nothing else. If the universe is like a big machine, and, every one of us a part of that machine, then, why should we exclude ourselves from the study of nature based on the science of mechanics? Why shouldn’t we apply the same laws of physics to human society? Why shouldn’t we treat human beings as the mere collection of atoms just like everything else in the nature? Hobbes thought that the same scientific laws of Newton and Galileo which are used to study the nature should also be used to study human composition, behavior and politics.
Was Hobbes an atheist?
Was Hobbes an atheist? We have individuals like David Kyle Johnson, a professor of philosophy at King’s College, PA who try to portray Hobbes as a theist, who puts all power under God, who ordains a monarch with absolute power. But the fact is, Hobbes had no place for God in his philosophy. Author Mark Lilla notes in his book The Stillborn God,
“In the opening pages of Leviathan we see how one can turn questions about God completely around and restage them as questions about human behavior; reduce that behavior to psychological states; and then portray those states as artifacts of desire, ignorance, and the material environment.”
For Hobbes, theology is just anthropology. The questions about God are nothing but enquiries about man and his behavior. This is two hundred years before Ludwig Feuerbach, who treated God nothing more than a feature or need of human nature. Leviathan is suffused with verses and stories from the Bible. Hobbes used material from the Bible to make a case for his materialism, not for Christianity.
Hobbes’ contemporaries were no fools. They called Hobbes ‘propagator of atheism in England’. After the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666, people searched for reasons for God’s wrath. Parliament passed a bill to suppress atheism. Hobbes’ Leviathan was investigated. His effy was burnt. Sensing danger to his life, Hobbes burned some of his books. At the right time, King Charles came to rescue his life.
His body was interred in St John the Baptist’s Church, Ault Hucknall, in Derbyshire. Some say Hobbes was buried in a church like a good Christian gentleman. It’s like saying ‘Stephen Hawking must be a Christian because he was buried in the Westminster Abbey’. On his deathbed, Hobbes’ final words were, ‘A great leap in the dark’. No true Christian would utter such words of uncertainty on his deathbed.
Hobbes was an atheist. Let us put it to rest.
State of Nature:
Hobbes believed that our natural condition is war, which he called ‘the state of nature’. In his famous words, life in a state of nature is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. We have seen how Hobbes lived through some of the most destructive conflicts in human history, the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598), the Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648), the English Civil War (1642-1651). He projected his living experience into his philosophy. Human society did not start with the Garden of Eden. It started with a Darwinian jungle, in which ‘survival of the fittest’ is the only natural right. There is only one natural law: the law of self-preservation. Life is like the Lord of the Flies or one inner city gang going after another gang. Unless you kill, you get killed. A war of all against all. No organized society. No government.
How to get out of this quagmire?
Social Contract Theory
Hobbes says we can end this ‘war of all against all’ by entering into a social contract. I want to kill you to preserve myself. You want to kill me to preserve yourself. Rather than killing each other, let us draft a social contract. Earlier theories envisioned society to be made up of families. But Hobbes sees society as a collection of individuals.
These individuals sit down and decide what is right and what is wrong. They decide what is moral and what is immoral. They decide what is just and what is unjust. They decide what is good and what is evil. All laws are based upon the quality and quantity of pleasure and pain they produce. Then they choose a Leviathan to enforce these laws. This Leviathan could be a king, a dictator, an oligarchy or a central government. This Leviathan will control us with its power.
A Critique of Hobbes’ Ideas
Hobbes states that in the original state we were brutal animals. Our life is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. There was no Garden of Eden, only a jungle in which everyone prepares to kill his neighbor to preserve his life. The architects of other social contract theories -Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Locke did not agree with this view.
Rousseau begins his most famous work, The Social Contract with the words, ‘Man is born fee, and everywhere he is in chains’. To Rousseau, the state of nature was peaceful and blissful. Life became nasty, brutish and short due to the authority of the state. Civilization turned us into savages.
To Locke, our original state was one of ‘peace, good-will, mutual assistance, and preservation’. In his 1689 work, ‘Essay Concerning Human Understanding’, Locke accepts the Hobbes’ philosophy of mind to some extent but draws different conclusions. Our minds are fallible, they are susceptible to error and receptive to false ideas and caricatures. We are too lazy to use evidence and our rational faculties to combat the errors of the mind. But if we train our minds in proper ways, we can overcome its common fallacies. Even in the state of nature, we were moral and rational. Man can often return to the state of nature like genocides in Uganda, Rwanda, Nazi Germany have proved, but that is not his permanent condition.
Many recent advances in anthropology side more with Locke than Hobbes. Even very primitive societies had built stable societies based on morality rather than ‘self-preservation’. They developed customs and societies based on curiosity rather than survival instincts. Anthropologists in today’s academia no longer describe these societies as ‘primitive’. The Bible supports this view. Humanity started with the Garden, then after the sin entered into this world, it was thrown into a jungle full of violence and death. The Book of Genesis describes a world of mutual assistance right from the beginnings of human races. Abraham risks his own life to save the life of his nephew Lot (Genesis 14:1-17). He pleads with God for the souls of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:21-33). Joseph sees his enslavement as a good thing happened because it paved the way for the survival of his family members during the famine. Other ancient literature also reflects this view. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, King Gilgamesh has unbridled appetites. He kills his subjects and deflowers virgin brides. When his subjects complain to gods, a goddess creates Enkidu, a primitive man covered with shaggy hair, who drinks from mud pools and eats grass. Enkidu confronts Gilgamesh and subdues him with his tricks. They become friends, consider each other ‘other self’. Together they hunt down Humbaba, the monster guardian of the forest who kills those who enter it. The ideal of the Epic is that people join hands to kill Humbaba, who represent the fear of the unknown. Even in the state of nature, people saw their existence one of cooperation, not killing.
“Let your clothes be clean,
Let your head be washed,
may you bathe in water!
Gaze on the child who holds your hand,
Let your wife enjoy your repeated embrace!
For such is the destiny of mortal men” (Epic of Gilgamesh)
It is a pleasant experience to be human even in the Epic of Gilgamesh. It seems Hobbes adopted his view based on the prevailing ideology at that time, which portrayed modern Europeans as the enlightened ones while the multitudes who existed before them were in ‘dark ages’.
The trivialization of Reason and of Natural Law
Since time immemorial, humanity honored the perception that natural moral laws and rational laws exist even in the state of nature. But in Hobbes’ worldview, they have no reality. The only natural law is the law of self-preservation. Rational laws were only instruments created by human beings.
Scientism : Metaphysics without metaphysics
Religious violence provides fertile soil for the cultivation for the advancement of the materialistic worldviews. We have seen this after September 11, 2001 when many atheists called for the adoption of scientism, that science should be the answer to all of humanity’s age old problems. Hobbes paved the way to this modern phenomenon four centuries ago by applying atomism and materialism of the science of his day to metaphysics.
But the view that science is the answer to all our moral failures is not a scientific fact. It is a metaphysical belief. It is similar to what Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein did with his positivism in twentieth century. His proposition that ‘only empirically verifiable facts are valid’ is not an empirically verifiable fact! Hobbes’ proposition that ‘only materialistic statements are valid’ is not a materialistic statement. He joins the club in which every atheist has to join, ‘metaphysics without metaphysics’. In the place of metaphysical supernaturalism, he constructed metaphysical naturalism!
Hobbes contended like everything else in the world, religion has only human roots. But this is a non-sequitur. He did not prove that Moses did not receive supernatural revelation from God. He did not prove that Jesus did not raise from the dead. He did not prove Saul of Tarsus’ claim of speaking to risen Jesus is indeed false.
Hobbes rejected Descartes’ dualism of mind and body. He argued that only material things are real and all language of immaterial beings is incoherent, nonsensical and irrelevant.
Everything in the universe is matter in motion according to mechanical laws. He rejected Bacon’s inductive method and debated ferociously against Robert Boyle’s experimental methods to derive scientific truths. His system of knowledge was based on the first principles of matter and motion without the need for experimental verification.
In ethics, he believed the only natural lex (‘law’) is: No one has a right to destroy himself or herself. We wonder how did Hobbes derive this universal law? What is his source? In line with his materialism, what is the mathematical formula to express this law? How many atoms and molecules contained in this law? What is the chemical structure of peace he envisioned? How much is the weight of ‘civility’ he longed for?
While rejecting the existence of all immaterial things, he created his own immaterial things!
What is the meaning of existence?
Hobbes explained in length how humans fear death, make concessions to create a stable state. Then what? What gives meaning to existence? Allan Bloom in his book Closing of the American Mind probed this question.
“The road from the state of nature was very long, and nature is distant from us now. A self-sufficient, solitary being must have undergone many changes to become a needy, social one. On the way, the goal of happiness was exchanged for the pursuit of safety and comfort, the means of achieving happiness. Civil society is surely superior to a condition of scarcity and universal war. All this artifice, however, preserves a being who no longer knows what he is, who is so absorbed with existing that he has forgotten his reason for existing, who in the event of actually attaining full security and perfect comfort has no notion of what to do. Progress culminates in the recognition that life is meaningless(Italics not in the original). Hobbes was surely right to look for the most powerful sentiments in man, those that exist independently of opinion and are always a part of man. But fear of death, however powerful it may be and however useful it may be as a motive for seeking peace and, hence, law with teeth in it, cannot be the fundamental experience. It presupposes an even more fundamental one: that life is good. The deepest experience is the pleasant sentiment of existence. The idle, savage man can enjoy that sentiment. The busy bourgeois cannot, with his hard work and his concern with dealing with others rather than being himself.”
Our fear of death cannot be the fundamental experience, quipped Allan Bloom. Yes, we can create a big government, build strong homes, feed every one, give out gadgets, hire police officers but such progress does not give meaning to our existence. The rampant drug abuse and rising suicide rates in the developed world attest to this emptiness of human existence.
What is the value of a person?
In Hobbesian worldview, power creates morality. But such a position is untenable. History shows us that moral respect dissipates in an environment where only power is the sole arbiter. We have seen this in the concentration camps, the epitomes of absolute power in the modern era.
“Many survivors have described the camps as a place without morals, as a place where everyone fights against everyone, in line with Thomas Hobbes’ interpretation of the condition of man…..David Rousset also observed that respect for the elderly disappeared in the Helmstedt-Beendorft subcamp: “One of the most surprising consequences of this plight is the destruction of all hierarchies of age….The old man is an object of scorn and ridicule because he is physically weak. This is possible because power alone counts. It is based on cunning and physical strength”
If power alone counts, there is no point in respecting the weak among us. Consequently, giving absolute power to the monarch results in enslavement, not freedom. Such a materialistic worldview devalues human personhood.
“This materialistic view of Hobbes leads him to define human relationships in terms of POWER….All humans, then, want, more power. This is because the worth of a person in Hobbes’s view is the amount of power the person has (or what another would pay to use it – leading to the labor market). So, the worth of a person in this materialist philosophy is the person’s price. This reduces people to being products to be bought or sold. It violates the CLASSICAL and CHRISTIAN view of human dignity as a moral being created in God’s image, capable of noble deeds. Hobbes reduces human dignity to social prestige, especially honors (such as titles) conferred by the state (awards, knighthood, earldoms, etc).”
In contrast to Christian worldview in which each person is valuable irrespective of his or her power, in Hobbes’ worldview people are reduced to products to be bought or sold. In his book James Bond and Philosophy: Questions Are Forever, author James South describes how in Hobbesian world, both James Bond and his supervillains objectify human beings in their own way.
“Most James Bond supervillains seem to believe that subjugating, destroying, or restarting the human race is good because they are virtuous in this sense. Hugo Drax and Stromberg think they are born to make the difficult decisions no one else can. But is this a correct description of Bond as a virtuous agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service? If we adopted this view of virtue, then objectification would be morally permissible – contrary to our intuitions about it-because Bond would be fulfilling his natural station in life, while the women he uses and throws away would be acting naturally as slaves or playthings”
Hobbes’ materialism soon would send the Western world down the spiral of secularism. At the bottom of our existence, we find only matter and motion.
“Far from using science as a way of expanding man’s access to God’s truths, Hobbes’ natural philosophy had become the means by which that access was systematically contracted, to the point at which it was doubtful that man could have any natural knowledge of God at all. The only certain knowledge of which man was capable was knowledge of matter and motion. The logical consequence of Hobbes’s materialism was the systematic exclusion of everything else from ethical discourse, most controversially, spirit, and the nature and attributes of God.”
Psychology is literally the study of the soul. Thanks to Hobbes, soul has no place in modern psychology. He railed against the concept of the soul. His Leviathan is a radically individualistic natural law for the modern man without a soul.
Rabbi Avi Shafran explains how this soulless metaphysic deprives us of meaning and value.
“The issue is more than academic. If we humans are nothing more than our physical cells, and the innate human awareness of our souls and sense of free will are mere illusions, we have no ultimate value beyond that of any insect. And no compulsion, beyond an ultimately meaningless utilitarian social contract, to bind ourselves to any ethical or moral system. A society that denies the soul idea is, in fact, in the word’s deepest sense soulless.”
But, the modern atheist proclaims he found no evidence of the soul in human brain. The Rabbi mocks them with these words, ‘ finding no evidence of the soul in a brain is like finding no trace of Yo-Yo Ma in a stereo speaker’. It is akin to ‘concluding that the cello concerto that just ended, and Mr. Ma for that matter, are only imaginary’. He says that our brains are conduits for consciousness and necessary for contemplating our souls, but not identical with them.
In the state morgue of Concord, New Hampshire, chief forensic pathologist, Dr.Thomas Andrew was slicing through the lung of a 36-year-old woman who died of opioid overdose, a white foam seeped out onto the autopsy table. The foam is a sign of acute intoxication caused by an opioid. Day after day, more and more bodies piling up in and around the morgue. THey had to bring in tractor trailers to store the bodies because there was no place in the morgue. Dr.Andrew said, ‘It’s almost as if the Visigoths are at the gates, and the gates are starting to crumble’.
Dr.Andrew concludes with these words: “After seeing thousands of sudden, unexpected or violent deaths, I have found it impossible not to ponder the spiritual dimension of these events for both the deceased and especially those left behind.”
We are living the heyday of materialism. We’ve chemicalized our existence. Drugs, Drugs and more drugs. I remember the days I spent in our medical school’s morgue when I was a medical student. As I strolled around the big hall, I found it difficult not to think of the spiritual aspect of life and death. Yet, Hobbes bulldozed this spiritual dimension to human existence in his philosophy.
No Free Will, No liberty
Hobbes affirms determinism and then concludes freedom was a fact of the state of nature. He sees on contradiction between determinism and freedom. If everything is determined, how can anyone claim to be free? Not surprisingly, Hobbes proposed a state religion and believed that religious freedom is dangerous.He proposed that the Sovereign should have a state religion imposed on people.
In his political philosophy freedom is an illusion. He defined freedom as the ‘silence of the law’. If the law is silent, you can indulge in whatever you are tempted into. If the law is silent on prostitution, can it be justified? If the law is silent on child abuse, can it be justified?
For Hobbes, freedom is the ‘silence of the law’, but in Christianity, freedom is ‘the voice of God’. When I visited the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, I saw Leviticus 25:10 inscribed around the Liberty Bell: ‘Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof’. It is the voice of God that proclaimed liberty throughout all the land, not the silence of the law.
Following a Biblical worldview, John Locke maintained religion is a matter of private conscience and the religious freedom should be the essence of modern democracy.
Only Descartian system allows us to say certain things are evil. That is not possible in Hobbes worldview in which everything is matter in motion.
Christianity preaches a politics based on moral virtue. Machiavelli and later Hobbes openly criticized the moral effects of Christianity. If everything is matter in motion, where is the place for moral virtue?
Evolutionary biologists often quote Hobbes as the predictor of reciprocal altruism. Survival of the fittest echoed in Hobbe’s philosophy before it found scientific respect in the work of Herbert Spencer, an English evolutionary biologist. Social Darwinism, its eugenics, sterilization of the weaklings, laissez faire capitalism, scientific racism grew out of this ‘survival of the fittest’ ideology.
Modern evolutionists painstakingly distance themselves from the dark history of Social Darwinism. They point to the pervasiveness of cooperation among living species. E.O.Wilson, the founder of sociobiology, described two aspects of this cooperation, kin selection and reciprocal altruism. They describe altruism among relatives and among unrelated strangers respectively.
In their book Demonic Males, Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson show that chimpanzees beat, rape, and kill other chimpanzees. In contrast, evolutionists like Frans de Waal describe the virtues of bonobos like cooperation and altruism. Darwinian evolution only describes how individuals dance to their DNA. It does not tell us who to follow: Chimpanzee or Bonobo. There is place for both Chimp like behavior and bonobo like behavior in Hobbes philosophy. But because all individuals are only molecules in motion, it cannot argue for moral standards. Like in Darwinian system, it can not elevate bonobo over chimpanzee.
The monarch exerts his power and promises security and peace. He is not concerned with moral virtues. Both Hitler and Stalin imposed absolute power on their subjects, promised them security, peace and wealth. Like Hitler and Stalin, Hobbes also justified slavery.
In Hobbesian philosophy, there is no right or wrong in the nature. There is nothing evil about evil things in and of themselves. His Leviathan starts with materialism, plods through moral relativism and ends with Big State. The definition of ‘good’ is that which is the object of any person’s appetite. The collective good of a community is the collective appetites of its citizens.
I read about a Florida mother who has has been sending her children’s nude pictures to her boy friend for his sexual gratification. If the collective appetites of all mothers in the world prompt them to share their children’s nude photos with their boyfriends, does it make it good? Can doctors make a social contract if their collective appetites approve of such behavior?
‘When they go low, we go high’ said Michelle Obama inspiring Americans. Nay said, Eric Holder, ‘when they go low, we kick them’. Who should we follow? Michelle Obama or Eric Holder? Hobbes materialism like the materialism of any other age leads us to moral relativism. It asks us to follow Eric Holder because ‘we kick them’ is an expression of power.
Hobbes proposed that human beings are just machines of matter and motion. If that is true, why bother about moral responsibility? If I am just a robot, why should I be held responsible for any immoral deeds? Why should I be punished? We don’t punish our machines for malfunctioning.
Who proposed the separation of religion and state? Who argued for religious toleration? Some think these ideas started with Thomas Hobbes. History shows us that even before the outbreak of Thirty Years War, King Henri IV of France struggled to promote religious tolerance in France. After Thirty Years War, Westphalian system was created to promote tolerance and peace, years before the publication of Leviathan.
Elder statesman and political scientist Henry Kissinger describes in his book World Order,
“With the Treaty of Westphalia, the papacy had been confined to ecclesiastical functions, and the doctrine of sovereign equality reigned. What political theory could then explain the origin and justify the functions of secular political order? in his Leviathan, published in 1651, three years after the Peace of Westphalia, Thomas Hobbes provided such a theory. He imagined a ‘state of nature’ in the past when the absence of authority produced a ‘war of all against all’.
Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, both lived through English Civil War (1642-1651) and came out with different prescriptions for religious tolerance. Building on his atheistic philosophy, Hobbes argued for an absolute state with the establishment of a state religion and abolition of all religious dissent. John Locke constructed a political philosophy of tolerance directly from the Christian doctrines of grace and forbearance.
Author Mark Lilla explains in his book The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West,
“Locke, therefore, proposed an indirect therapy to the theological-political illnesses that Hobbes had so ably diagnosed. Above all, he pressed the case for religious toleration and the disestablishment of state religion. He had been preceded by many deists, and also by Spinoza, who was the first to see that Hobbes’ new, disenchanted view of political life could be exploited to build something like a liberal democratic order.But it was Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), which lays out the theological, moral, and prudential case for this liberal approach, that proved the most influential in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.”
“Given Hobbes’ conviction that an existential struggle is implicit in all human interaction, he could see in religious toleration nothing but an invitation to murder thy neighbor, on the supposition that the victory of an alien religious sect threatens my eternal repose. Locke was not so melodramatic. He thought that man’s natural state without political society could be one of peace, and that a state of war was neither natural nor necessary. Human beings had come to form political societies, he speculated, not out of an overwhelming fear of a violent death but out of the prudent desire to protect their life, liberty, and estate – all of which, in his Second Treatise on Government (1689), he called ‘property’. If we rely on that peaceable attachment to property, Locke reasoned, it should be possible to convince people to create a state with limited powers and respectful of individual rights, with authority distributed among different branches of government, with an elected, representative body taking the lead. In such a political system religious toleration would increase attachment to the social compact rather than challenge it”
For Hobbes or for Darwin, man’s natural state is one of born in violence and struggle for existence. With his perennial propensity to violence, Hobbes thought, man cannot be trusted with religious freedom. Locke started with a biblical worldview that man was created for good. Hobbes thought it would be a waste of time to sit down with religious sects and convince them to tolerate each other. But Locke engaged in several debates with Protestant leaders of his day.
He made a case for tolerance right from Christian scriptures. He illustrated his thesis from the example of the apostles. He claimed that toleration is ‘the chief characteristical mark of the true church and ‘there is absolutely no such thing, under the Gospel, as a Christian commonwealth’
In his The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), Locke stood for the validity of Christian revelation. His argument was simple: Get rid of the superstitions, eliminate mysteries, discourage rituals, diminish the power of bishops. Follow the simple creed of Christ as your Savior.
Building his case on this ‘mere Christianity’, Locke argued against religious persecution of all kinds. This view tremendously influenced the founding fathers of the United States when they formulated the separation of church and state in the U.S.Constitution.
To summarize, the peace we enjoy in the West and other parts of the world from religious persecution is a fruit of Christian worldview seeped from Locke’s pen. This would not have been possible if the world had adopted Hobbes’ atheistic and materialistic philosophy, which argued for a state religion under an absolute tyrant.
It is a recipe for tyranny
Masada in southern Israel was built and used as a palace by Herod the Great (74 – 4 BC), the kind of Judea. When I visited Masada in southern Israel, I was impressed by its engineering, luxurious palaces, great cisterns, and exquisite natural beauty around it. As I walked around the ruins of the opulent palace I could not resist recounting the massacre of innocent children at the time of the birth of Jesus.
Herod’s idea of erecting a palace on a cliff was replicated around the world. Prominent among them is Villa Jovis, the 23,000 square feet villa of Roman emperor Tiberius on the easternmost point of the island Capri on the south side of the Gulf of Naples in Italy. Historian Suetonius gives a degenerate picture of the emperor. Capri became a place of his monstrous acts. Special palaces were built to serve every appetite he could crave for. Medals were distributed that bore a room number on one side and the type of depravity practised there on the other.
The emperor forced young people of both sexes to make love in his presence. Those who cause displeasure were sent to Salto di Tiberio (Tiberius’s Leap). As the emperor watch, they were hurled headlong over the precipice into the sea some 1000 feet below. When their bodies fell in to the sea, the Roman guards hurry to break their necks with boat hooks and oars. Hobbes asks us to tolerate all these wicked things of the monarch as part of the social contract.
After the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, at G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave each other a robust high five. Both killed journalists who criticized them. The world was taken aback by the light hearted joviality of their friendship.
Who sets limits on the powers of an emperor? Hobbes sets no limits on government or an emperor’s power. During his exile in France, Hobbes published Elements of Law, in which he argues for the absolute power of the monarch.
Hobbes was a moral relativist. He believed there are no natural moral laws in the state of nature. We create moral obligations when we enter into the social contract. One of our moral obligations is to obey the sovereign. Sovereign power cannot be divided because division weakens power. We make the promises to the sovereign. The sovereign can’t break promises because he didn’t make any promises! The sovereign can’t violate our natural rights because we don’t have any. You can’t call a tyrant ‘evil’ because the standard of good and evil is relative to what the sovereign decides. Hobbes was a virulent critic of Athenian democracy. In his worldview, power belongs to the king, not to the people. When the Parliament of 1628 drew up the Petition of Right, Hobbes published a translation of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War . His intention was to show the evils of democracy. Christian God lives in heaven. In Leviathan, ‘earthly god’ lives just over the people.
Hobbes argued our rebellion against a tyrant is never justified. It fact, there is no greater crime than to presume to judge the sovereign, let alone rebel against him. Donald Trump would love to hear that! If one of us succeeds in over throwing the emperor, he or she would be the legitimate sovereign. Because legitimacy comes from power, once you lose power, you are rendered illegitimate. The next guy with more power calls the shots.
We see how Hobbes worldview fulfilled down the history. The architects of French Revolution and later Emperor Napoleon were deeply influenced by Hobbes ideas. Bertrand Russell once said Machiavelli would have approved of Hitler’s burning of the Reichstag and other violence. Many neo-Hobbseans also supported Hitler. Prominent among them was Carl Schmitt (1888 – 1985) who was a German political theorist, famously described as the ‘crown jurist of the Third Reich’.
In his 1922 book Politische Theologie, Schmitt starts his book with the words, ‘Sovereign is he who decides on the exception’. Sovereign can take exceptions to the rule of law in the public interest. The book’s title comes from Schmitt’s assertion that “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts, not only because of their historical development – in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver – but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology.”
In other words, modern political theory addresses the state and the sovereign in the same manner as theology does God
In modern politics, the omnipotent God is replaced by the omnipotent government. Like God who gives himself the exception to the natural laws when he performs miracles, the monarch can give himself the exceptions to the rule of law.
In March 1931, Schmitt published The Protector of the Constitution. His goal was to address the dilemma: What to do when the state is not strong enough to perform its tasks? His solution was to bring Hobbesian spirit into modern politics, and to establish a more powerful and authoritarian state, freed from the shackles of parliamentary politics. Not surprisingly, he joined the Nazi Party on May 1, 1933.
Hobbesian materialistic philosophy thus paves the highway to totalitarianism and tyranny. From Machiavelli’s Prince to Hobbes Leviathan to Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra to Marx’s Das Kapital, atheistic, materialistic philosophies justifies tyranny in the name of public good.
Hobbes looked at us species born out of violence trapped inside a bloodthirsty ‘state of nature’. His solution was to put us in the hands of a strongman, who could be equally brutal. British historian Eric Hobsbawm reported that, 20th century is the most violent of all happened under strong men.
I saw Christian world offering better solutions to human predicament. French Revolution was such a mess because it followed Hobbes while American Revolution was such a success because it followed Locke. Unlike Hobbes, Locke possessed a more optimistic view of human nature. Unlike Hobbes who started with a jungle, Locke started with a garden, the Garden of Eden. Unlike in Hobbes, in Locke’s State of nature, we find God.
It is evident from history that God has been used to justify tyrannical rule. In his Two Treatises of Government, the First Treatise is a refutation of Robert Filmer, an English political theorist who defended the divine right of kings using the Bible selectively. Locke dismantled Filmer’s argument stating that ‘God hath given the world to men in common’, not to particular individuals born with special privileges. Hobbes’ argument is a secular equivalent of Filmer’ argument in that, instead of God giving all the power to the king, in Leviathan people give all the power to the king.
Locke starts Chapter II Of the State of Nature in his The Second Treatise of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration with these words,
“To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.
A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the Lord and Master of them all should by any manifest declaration of his will set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.”
He starts Chapter V Of Property with these words, “God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience.”
Quoting from the New Testament, 1 Timothy 6:12, Locke says, ‘God has given us all things richly’, is the voice of reason confirmed by inspiration’.
For Hobbes, humanity started in a state of nature, a world in which all is against all. For Locke, the state of nature started with a ‘God, who gave the world in common to all mankind’. It was ‘a state of perfect freedom to order their actions’. Unlike Hobbes, Locke believed that the sovereign can do wrong. If the sovereign fail to protect the natural rights to life, liberty and property, rebellion is justified. Magna Carta, one of the most celebrated documents of freedom in history starts with the words – KNOW THAT BEFORE GOD (Capitals in the original). It established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law because we are all ‘before God’.
In Genesis 14, we see mighty Mediterranean kings abducting Lot and seizing his property. On hearing this news, Abraham made up a small army, fought and defeated the kings. Then he worships the Lord, the Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth’ (Genesis 14:12-24). From the very first book of the Bible we see God’s children take on powerful kings when they see injustice.
In 1644,when the English Civil War was at its zenith, English poet John Milton published Areopagitica, one of most influential philosophical defences of the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Areopagitica takes its title from Areopagus where St.Paul made a defense of his faith against the charges of spreading false religions (Acts 17:18-34). Milton wrote that like Apostle Paul, every one of us is endowed with divine faculties of reason, freedom, and conscience to judge ideas for themselves and discern the truth.
Paul wrote in Romans 13, ‘Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but from God; the powers that be are ordained by God’. All powers – kings, queens, princes, presidents, prime ministers, every one with power is under God and are accountable to God. In verse 8, Paul says their laws must be coupled with love. ‘to love one another, for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law’.
Thomas Hobbes can be considered the father of secularism. We can trace many secular ideas of our time to his influential treatise – Leviathan.
We can see Darwin in him, humanity started in ‘survival of the fittest’ in a ‘war of all against all’.
We can see B.F.Skinner in him, freedom is nothing but an illusion
We can see Nietzsche in him, the superman should possess unquestionable power
We can see Michel Foucault in him, power, only power defines all relationships.
We can see Stephen Hawking in him, only empirical facts have validity.
We can see Sam Harris in him, science is the only answer to our problems.
We can see Daniel Dennett in him, everything in the universe is determined.
We can see Richard Dawkins in him, we are nothing but atoms dancing to our DNA.
Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) was ruling England when Hobbes retired to his farm. When the British Parliament offered the kingship to Cromwell making him Oliver I, he, like George Washington did later, declined the offer. Cromwell and Washington thought of themselves as servants of God in a long line of divine appointments to serve their generations. In the last words of Thomas More (1478-1535) who said before his martyrdom for denying the authority of Henry VIII, Christian political philosophy calls men and women to be ‘the king’s good servant, but God’s first’.
After analyzing Hobbes’ ideas, I am convinced that Christianity offers the best political philosophy than any other system of thought.
Author Paul Kattupalli MD can be reached at email@example.com
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