The State of Nature and its Implications for Civilization in Hobbes and Rousseau
In his Leviathan Thomas Hobbes expresses a philosophy of civilization which is both practical and just and stems from a clear moral imperative. He begins with the assertion that in the state of nature man is condemned to live a life “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” It is in the interest of every man to rise above this “state of nature” and to give up certain rights so that the violent nature of the human animal can be subdued. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s vision of the state of nature parallels that of Hobbes but for its more optimistic tone: “I assume that men reach a point where the obstacles to their preservation in a state of nature prove greater than the strength that each man has to preserve himself in that state.” In general, Rousseau’s words prove reasonably less severe than Hobbes’s.
According to Hobbes the bestial rights that a man is forced to give up must also be given up by every other man if civilization is to quell the state of nature. This surrendering of rights then forms covenant of peace which mankind has agreed upon collectively to rise above the state of nature. Hobbes argues that it is human reason that has necessarily led men to embrace this covenant: “And Reason suggesteth convenient Articles of Peace, upon which men may be drawn to agreement . . . .” These Articles of Peace Hobbes calls “Laws of Nature” and argues that while they do not exist in a state of nature they are nonetheless natural laws which potentially exist there. “A Law of Nature (Lex Naturalis,) is a Precept, or generall Rule, found out by Reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved.” That is, a natural law is a result of a reasoning which commands that each man protect his own life.
With the state of nature as terrible as Hobbes describes it, it is reasonable for a man to wish to put an end to it, as he then has a greater chance of protecting his own life. Without certain agreements between individuals they interact in a manner in which they are all a constant threat to one another. Therefore Hobbes arrives at the first fundamental law of nature: “That every man, ought to endeavour Peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of war.” Hobbes suggests a natural desire for peace arising out of reason, but he is wise enough to recognize that this desire is still a self-serving one, and that men are still required to defend themselves when others show no sign of attempting peace.
Hobbes argues for the rule of a monarch for his peace centered civil society. He believes that a monarch who understands the basis for the covenant, who adheres to it and truly recognizes the importance of justice for all of humanity, is the most...