Hobbes And Goldman: The Good Life And Political Legitimacy

1096 words - 4 pages

The nature of a good life and its relation to political legitimacy is a subject which both Thomas Hobbes and Emma Goldman examine in their writings. Hobbes claims that only basic survival is necessary to live a good life because ultimately life is more valuable than comfort. Goldman on the other hand claims that freedom is far more important than simply living and a good life can only be lived by someone who is free to do as they please. In order for a political theorist to understand how legitimate governments and communities aught treat their citizens these theories are essential. For example, if a community holds a Hobbesian view than they will have a strong authoritarian leadership, whereas in a Goldman inspired community would have no coercive government except in times of crisis. Of the two views of a good life Goldman presents a more compelling answer to the question of what makes a good life and her theories regarding political legitimacy are sounder than those of Hobbes.

According to Thomas Hobbes a good life is lived free from fear of war and the threat of violence. According to Hobbes, the most fundamental right that a person has is the right to live and therefore it is essential to have a guarantee of a life without fear of death in order to have a life considered “good”. Another aspect of a good life, according to Hobbes, is the assurance that contracts will not be broken. In a nation where contracts are not guaranteed citizens would fear that one party may not follow through with their end and potentially harm the other party. Hobbes also claims that comforts, property and even spirituality are not important for the living of a good life. These, while desirable to many individuals, are less valuable to a person than their life. Without a sovereign that has absolute power a commonwealth is not as well protected and therefore people have greater cause to fear for their own safety.

Stemming from his theories regarding the definition of a good life, Hobbes’ view of political legitimacy is very centered on the ability of the ruler to effectively govern. The first and most important aspect of Hobbes’ view of legitimacy is the idea of a “social contract.” A social contract an agreement between those who are in power and those who are ruled which is a framework which one can view societal relations within. In Hobbes’ ideal government the citizens are free to do anything that is not proscribed by the state; however, if the sovereign creates laws or “chains,” citizens must accept them as legitimate because of the social contract that they tacitly agree to. Citizens give up their rights to resources and freedom of action in exchange for the benefits of peace as well as the protection of the sovereign. In essence, according to Hobbes, any government which can provide stability for its people is legitimate (although he also claims there may be benefits to an autocratic monarchy as opposed to more democratic forms of government.)....

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