De Cive (The Citizen)

All Against Them2

In his 1642 publication of “De Cive” (The Citizen), Thomas Hobbes introduced the idea of “bellum omnium contra omnes” or translated, the “war of all against all”. Hobbes deduces that this is the state of nature in which each man has equal right to resources and this equal right eventually results in violent conflict over those resources. He notes:

“I demonstrate, in the first place, that the state of men without civil society (which state we may properly call the state of nature) is nothing else but a mere war of all against all; and in that war all men have equal right unto all things.”

Hobbes hinges this description of man in nature on the absence of “civil society” – which later in “Leviathan” he proposes three structures of government supporting such a society. These are democracy, aristocracy and monarchy. Of these three and as a practical matter, Hobbes judges the monarchy the best – albeit he proposes it to be lead by a munificent and benevolent monarch (the Sovereign):

“The difference between these three kinds of Commonwealth consisteth not in the difference of power, but in the difference of convenience or aptitude to produce the peace and security of the people; for which end they were instituted. And to compare monarchy with the other two, we may observe: first, that whosoever beareth the person of the people, or is one of that assembly that bears it, beareth also his own natural person. And though he be careful in his politic person to procure the common interest, yet he is more, or no less, careful to procure the private good of himself, his family, kindred and friends; and for the most part, if the public interest chance to cross the private, he prefers the private: for the passions of men are commonly more potent than their reason. From whence it follows that where the public and private interest are most closely united, there is the public most advanced. Now in monarchy the private interest is the same with the public. The riches, power, and honour of a monarch arise only from the riches, strength, and reputation of his subjects. For no king can be rich, nor glorious, nor secure, whose subjects are either poor, or contemptible, or too weak through want, or dissension, to maintain a war against their enemies; whereas in a democracy, or aristocracy, the public prosperity confers not so much to the private fortune of one that is corrupt, or ambitious, as doth many times a perfidious advice, a treacherous action, or a civil war.”

In order to remove that basic fear between individuals or groups, Hobbes suggested that people should “contract” with a protector as their sovereign. Under this social contract individuals give up all rights, while those of the protector are absolute (Hobbes did not believe in a divine right to rule, the sovereign would be contracted by the people – although just how that could be accomplished without the consent of the people is a bit murky).

And there was no guarantee that the “sovereign” would be effective or could be trusted to be benevolent and munificent. In history, some kings and queens were, many were not.

Fast forward to today and it seems that many jurisdictions have devolved into a government by a de facto Sovereign, it is just that that entity is not a person, it is a political party.

It occurs to me that there is something far worse than no government (Hobbes’ “natural state of man”) that produces lives that are, in Hobbes’ words, “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short” – and that is ineffective government.
Ineffective government could be the result of incompetence, indifference or simple corruption – but I would argue that as the arbitrary and capricious application of law is indistinguishable from lawlessness, the same is true of the greater functions of government. Ineffective government is indistinguishable from no government at all. Actually, it is worse because ineffective government becomes a malignant, maleficent force, sowing the seeds of the aforementioned bellum omnium contra omnes.

Think about how government controlled schools and the resulting ignorance of basic subjects – history, civics, our republican form of government, the concept of natural rights and how our founding documents join all those matters – are at the root of our current civil unrest.

It is difficult to look at the riots in Minneapolis or the weekly body count in Chicago and make the case that those city governments are effective. These are examples of parasitic governments surviving on unfulfilled promises.

In the Declaration of Independence, the 33 year-old Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Good advice. It is up to us how that change comes about.

Talk Amongst Yourselves:

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