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The Leviathan By Thomas Hobbes: The State Of Nature As An Exemplum

1648 words - 7 pages

In the Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes's theory of the state of nature serves as an exemplum; an account that legitimizes and argues for the authority of the state, by providing the logic behind sovereignty. The theory illustrates the point that without government, man is in hell (an awful and evil state of nature), where peace, order and liberty are impossible. His purpose in writing the Leviathan, and in describing man's state of nature, should be seen as being an anti-anarchical aim; that is, his task was to make people accept and obey the political authority of the sovereign, in order to solve the problem of recurring disorder within society and make the state "permanently stable -internally indestructible" (Lloyd 27).Hobbes asserts that life in the state of nature would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" (Pasquino 2). This state is characterized as an anarchic existence, where man is in a constant state of warfare, due to an absent of a social contract and a central authority. Without a government, Hobbes believes, man could not coexist peacefully in freedom using only his reason, since competition, diffidence, and glory among man would create a cycle of conflict without end. The state of nature is an individualistic, self-governing existence, where everyone is an enemy, and man's primarily focus is on self-preservation.In The Elements of Law, Hobbes tries to comprehend the state of man in nature. He concludes that man in a state of nature, is equal, because all people are equally dangerous and capable of killing one another. Even the weakest man can kill the strongest, since the abilities of mind (wit) and body (strength) balance out, making our basic ability to kill, theoretically equal.Next, Hobbes asserts that man will "subdue" and try to take others under their control. They will act belligerently and attempt to enslave other men, because they are driven by competition for resources, and rational self-interested egotism which seeks glory by having "precedency and superiority" over other men (Hobbes 78). Since people cannot distinguish between friend and foe, they will live in a constant state of terror and fear (of destruction), which will lead to random killings, anticipatory preemptive attacks against other people, and "a war of all against all" (Lloyd 25).Hobbes proclaims that the state of nature is a state of war, where men "through vanity, or comparison, or appetite, provoke the rest" to violence (Hobbes 78). The three natural causes of conflict between people are competition, diffidence, and glory. People in the state of nature will compete for resources; they will distrust one another, and they will seek glory because of their perceived self-importance, or pride. This standard interpretation believes that the main "feature of the state of nature that sets in motion a downward spiral into the state of war is scarcity relative to desire" (Lloyd 25).Concerning the legal dimension of the Hobbesian state of nature, it is important...

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