Friday, October 08, 2004

Hobbesian Libertarianism

I've latched onto the term neolibertarian, which was coined at QandO. I think a neolibertarian might also be called a Hobbesian libertarian.

Wikipedia summarizes Hobbes's views on the state of nature:
The seventeenth century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, is famous for presenting a sort of useful fiction in political philosophy, which has come to be called the state of nature. Hobbes himself does not use this term in Leviathan: he describes it as a "warre, as is of every man, against every man" (bellum omnium contra omnes).

The state of nature is presented as the condition humanity would be in if government did not exist....

Hobbes does not base his argument on the historical existence of such a state.

Hobbes believed that human beings in the state of nature would behave "badly" towards one another ("badly" in the sense of the morality that we would commonly apply: but Hobbes argued that people had every right to defend themselves by whatever means, in the absence of order). Famously, he believed that such a state would lead to a "war of every man against every man" and make life "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Hobbes's negative view of human character was shaped at least in part by the Christian doctrines of original sin and total depravity; the Christian tradition is generally at one with Hobbes in supporting the need for government. However, Hobbes would strongly disagree with the Christian view of the innate, inherent, and inescapable sinfulness of human beings: in Hobbes's view, these problems are soluble by good government. As he incisively stated in its "De cive. Epistola dedicatoria", borrowing a well known aphorism from Plautus's Asinaria: "homo homini lupus" (man is wolf to man).

Hobbes's view was challenged in the eighteenth century by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who affirmed instead that people in a state of nature would be born good; their bad habits are the products of civilization, and specifically social hierarchies, property, and markets. Rousseau's view underlines much of the Romantic period's political thinking, including the thought of Karl Marx.
John Locke, who is thought to have been a greater influence than Hobbes on Jefferson and the other Founders, was more Rousseauvian in his view of human nature, according to infoplease:
...Contradicting Thomas Hobbes, Locke believed that the original state of nature was happy and characterized by reason and tolerance. In that state all people were equal and independent, and none had a right to harm another's “life, health, liberty, or possessions.” The state was formed by social contract because in the state of nature each was his own judge, and there was no protection against those who lived outside the law of nature. The state should be guided by natural law.

Rights of property are very important, because each person has a right to the product of his or her labor. Locke forecast the labor theory of value. The policy of governmental checks and balances, as delineated in the Constitution of the United States, was set down by Locke, as was the doctrine that revolution in some circumstances is not only a right but an obligation....
It is evident that the "state of nature" is more like Hobbes's "warre, as is of every man, against every man" than it is like Locke's state of "reason and tolerance." Merge that understanding with Lockean rights (though they flow from experience and not from a Platonic ideal); throw in a Hobbesian government to secure those hard-won rights; stir in Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Friedrich A. Hayek; and you have modern libertarianism -- or, better yet, neolibertarianism.