Standing at the Cross Roads

As we find ourselves at a crossroads today, with our society trying to decide – once again – do we choose the path of liberty, or travel down the road to serfdom in the name of security once again?  Let us seek the wisdom of two men who most nearly represent these two divergent ideologies as they argue this case once more.  If you will, imagine Thomas Hobbs and John Locke standing at a fork in the road. There is a sign standing between the two divergent paths. One arrow points to the left and reads “The State,” the other arrow points to the right and reads “The People.” We now join their conversation – already in progress:

Hobbs: “We should take the left fork because the natural state of man is eternal war with every other man and we will need a strong government to protect us and grant us rights.”
Locke: “I disagree. We should take the right fork because the natural state of man is not one of constant warfare but of a yearning for peace and cooperation. In this sense, we only need that government sufficient to help us preserve the rights we already have as an inherent part of our existence.”
Hobbs: “How can you claim you have rights outside of government? Without the forces of government to protect the things you claim are rights, you can’t rightly say you possess any rights at all. No, we need to take the left path because the only way any of us can be secure in any right is under the umbrella of government protection.”
Locke: “How can you claim you have a right without recognizing that rights must come from the Creator? For it is only if our rights come from our Creator that we can even claim to have a right in the first place. This means we should take the right path as our rights are inherent in each of us as a gift from our Creator, and that places the duty to protect these rights in each of us equally.”
Hobbs: “If you claim your rights as a gift from the Creator, then how are you to know what your rights are? From whose Creator are you going to draw your authority to claim what you call rights?”
Locke: “Our innate sense of right and wrong guided by our sense of reason are sufficient to determine what is and isn’t a right.”
Hobbs: “Again, according to whose sense of right and wrong, and whose reasoning? What you consider to be a wrong may be something I consider to be proper. Then who is to say what the Creator intended? As we have no Creator to make these decisions, they can only be made by government, and that is why the left path is the correct path.”
Locke: “Let me ask you this question. If the government grants us rights, then by what justification do you call them rights instead of privileges?”
Hobbs: “I’m not sure I see a difference between the practical effects of those two terms.”
Locke: “Well, by my thinking, a right is something to which I have a just claim, no matter what the circumstance; while a privilege is something I can claim only under certain conditions. Now, if I can claim my rights are due me because the Creator gave them to me as an inherent part of my being, I can claim them at any time and under any circumstance so long as I still live. No man can justly infringe on my rights because the created can never rule over the Creator. But if my rights are a product of whatever government I live under, then who is to say that government will not restrict, change or even resend my rights according to the whim of whoever is in charge? In this case, the case of a government grants without any recognition of origin or authority outside itself, it is more proper to say I have privileges, not rights.”
Hobbs: “Again, I do not see a difference. If I accept that your Creator grants my rights, then I still have to rely on government to enforce them or I can’t say I have them. You are arguing a point without consequence.”
Locke: “Oh, but that is where you are wrong. The point makes all the difference in the world. In one case, the case of a right, I am justified in defending my rights against anyone who tries to take them and, if lost, I am justified in trying to reclaim them.  But if privileges, then I have no justification to do either if the granting authority says I don’t.  Suppose I am a one-armed man living under a government where one-armed men have no right to live. How can you claim that such a society that doesn’t grant the most basic and most fundamental protection – the right to life – is in any way a just society?  And if I find myself in such a society, by what authority can I defend or reclaim the right to my life if it isn’t a right but merely a privilege? ”
Hobbs: “Well, that is where the righteousness of the ruler comes into play. If you live under a democracy, I should think the people wouldn’t vote such a law into existence for fear that they may one day lose an arm. And if you live under a king or other legislative body, they would not allow such a law for the same reason.”
Locke: “But suppose such a law was legally passed and now I find I am a one-armed man living in a society where one-armed men do not have a right to their own life. Is this justice?”
Hobbs: “If such a society were to ever exist, then yes, that would be justice according to that society. But a just society would never allow such a law, so it is an irrelevant point.”
Locke: “Is it? Didn’t you tell me that we must have government before we can have rights because only government can protect those rights and that without protection, the idea of having any sort of right is an irrational concept?”
Hobbs: “Well, that’s not exactly what I was trying to say, but I suppose it’s close enough. Why?”
Locke: “Well, how are you going to make sure the government will never be used to pass a law that takes away our most fundamental right, the right to our own life?”
Hobbs: “By making sure you choose good leaders who are interested in justice and the well being of the people.”
Locke: “But didn’t you tell me the necessity for government is because we have to have protection so we can be removed from the natural state of war between all men?”
Hobbs: “Yes, but…”
Locke: “I’m sorry to tell you this, Hobbs, but your idea of government and rights does not do this. All it does is switch the battle from one of person-to-person to one of person-to-government. So long as you are in charge of the government, I can see the appeal of your system. The people have no justification to change anything under your ideology because you – as the person in control – essentially become god.”
Hobbs: “But this won’t happen because…”
Locke: “Excuse me, my friend, but you just said it would. You told me the natural state of man is to be at war with all of mankind. All you have done by claiming your system of rights as granted by government is made it easier for one man to rule the world. Now, instead of having to personally subdue every man alive, the tyrant need only subdue the system of control. In this case, that is the government. What’s more, you’ve provided a moral justification for his doing so, as well, as you have claimed that the government grants rights so, if he seizes control of government, he has every justification to take or give as he pleases without reproach.”
Hobbs: “You misunderstand. That is not what I am saying at all! Stop twisting my words!”
Locke: “I’m not twisting them, Hobbs; I am merely taking them to their logical conclusion and weighing those conclusions against the historical evidence available to us. The truth is right there for you to see, but your pride blinds you from seeing the fallacies in your reasoning.”
Hobbs: “There is nothing in what I argue that dictates things must end the way you suggest.”
Locke: “Maybe not, but it is the inevitable result of the left path you propose. That path always leads to the same result. How can you not see that? The French Revolution was fought according to your ideas and look where it led. Fascism, Communism, Socialism, Progressivism: they are all variations of your ideology, and they have all led to the ruin of the individual and – eventually – society. No, Hobbs, the path that insures Man’s liberty is the right path because it recognizes that we draw the authority to claim our rights from our Creator, not from ourselves.”

2 thoughts on “Standing at the Cross Roads

    • Thanks. I’ve been told by many that I am at my best with these sort of pieces, and with the Socratic method when face to face. I suppose I should consider writing this way more often.

      Incidentally, that book about Natural Rights, Natural Law and the Social Contract is written in this manner. In fact, the two main characters are loosely based on Locke (Stick) and Hobbs (Twig). We should have some in print form sometime next month.

      and/or their FaceBook page here.

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