Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)
Thomas Hobbes wrote this classic during the era of the English revolutions and the dictatorship of Oliver
Cromwell. Hobbes sided with the Royalists and the Stuarts; hence, he faced political persecution. From these dark and bloody events, he came to have a low opinion of human nature and believed that people’s sovereignty should be alienated to a greater power, whether monarchy, aristocracy, or parliamentary democracy. The new Leviathan would be outside the newly drawn up covenant, which was to preserve the peace and prosperity of the land by the sword. Once surrendered by an individual, he no longer had power, except in extreme conditions where a ruler put himself into a state of nature because he could not preserve the peace and warred against the people, destroying the legitimacy of the origins of his absolutist government. John Locke was his successor as the philosopher of natural law theory in England. He had a more liberal interpretation of man’s basic goodness, whereby the people could never surrender their authority. Sovereignty is indefeasible; it cannot be given away, even under threat. It inheres in the pursuit of life, liberty, property. The American Declaration of Independence changed property rights to the right to happiness. Perhaps, political philosophers can say that Americans are Lockean or keen individualists in civil society, but in the international sphere, we Americans entertain a Hobbesian view of the world of a war of all against all. Note the following quotes to be discussed.
Natural laws are precepts or general rules, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is harmful to life or takes away the means of preserving it. Rights and laws should be distinguished.
Rights are written in nature and laws in statutes.
A precept of reason says do unto others as you have them do unto you; otherwise, you live in a state of nature and disorder. Hobbes argues for the power to pardon by the Sovereign and advocates that people refrain from acts of vengeance. “And covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all." (Levithan, ch. 17, para. 2) That is how individual men come to rely on the state to protect their selves while foregoing the right to act unilaterally to right a wrong by violence.
Key Quotes (from Leviathan, chs. 17, 18)
"I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up the right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one person is called a COMMONWEALTH."
"This is the generation of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather to speak more reverently, of that mortal god to which we owe under the immortal God,” our peace and defence. For by this authority, given him by every particular man in the Commonwealt, he hath the use of so much power and strength conferred on him that, by terror thereof, he is enabled to form the wills of them all, to peace at home, and mutual aid against their enemies abroad. And in him consists the essence of the commonwealth; which, to define it is: one person, of whose act a great multitude, by mutual covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their peace and common defence. And he that carries this person, is called SOVEREIGN, and said to have sovereign power; and every one besides, his SUBJECT.
"The attaining to this sovereign power is by two ways. One, by natural force; as when a man makes his children to submit themselves, and their children, to his government, as being able to destroy them if they refuse; or by war subdues his enemies to his will, giving them their lives on that condition. The other, is when men agree amongst themselves, to submit to some man, or assembly of men, voluntarily, on confidence to be protected by him against all others. This latter, may be called a political commonwealth, or commonwealth by 'institution; and the former, a commonwealth by “acquisition.'"
The consent of the governed entails their alienating their power in the following fashion. "A commonwealth is said to be instituted, when a multitudeof men do agree, and covenant, every one, with every one, that to whatsoever man, or assembly of men, shall be given by the major part, the right to present the person of them all, that is to say, to be their representative; every one, as well he that voted for it, as he that voted against it, shall authorizeall the actions and judgements of that man, or assembly of men, in the same manner, as if they were his own, to the end, to live peaceably amongst themselves, and be protected against other men."
If he attempts to depose the sovereign, the sovereign shall kill him as if he were the author of that deed. However, a person can never be commanded to kill others or kill himself because that would be unnatural.
Hobbes believes that ideas can be subversive, so he advocates censorship. (18)
"For doctrine repugnant to peace, can no more be true, than peace and concord can be against the law of nature. It is true that in a commonwealth, where by the negligence or unskillfulness of governors and teachers, false doctrines are by time generally received, the contrary truths may be generally
offensive....For those men that are so remissly governed that they dare take up arms to defense or introduce an opinion are still in war; and their condition not peace, but only a cessation of arms for fear of one another; and they live, as it were, in the precincts of battle continually. It belongs therefore to him that hath the sovereign power, to be judge, or constitute all judges of opinions and doctrines, as a thing necessary to peace; thereby to prevent discord and civil war."
Men should act with propriety; yet they may appeal to right judicature to right a wrong and to resolve controversies in civil society. On the international scene, the sovereign has the right to decide on war, for that strengthens the people and enhances their safety. The sovereign by necessity is head of the militia.
“To the sovereign therefore it belongs also to give titles of honour; and to appoint what order of place and dignity each man shall hold, and what signs of respect in public or private meetings they shall give to one another.”
Hobbes was a forerunner of laissez-faire capitalism, as seen in the following quotation. “The liberty of a subject, lies therefore only in those things, which in regulating their actions, the sovereign hath pretermitted: such as is the liberty to buy, and sell, and otherwise contract with one another; to choose their own abode, their own diet, their own trade of life, and institute their children as they themselves think fit; and the like.”
There is a right to resist a ruler who becomes a tyrant and there is an inherent right to form alliances with to protect themselves from being put to death, if that would place civil society in a state of nature. Sovereigns must abide by natural laws or face consequences. “But in case a great many men together, have already resisted the sovereign power unjustly, or committed some capital crime, for which every one of them expects death, whether have they not the liberty then to join together, and assist, and defend one another? Certain they have: for they but defend their lives, which the guilty man may as well do as the innocent. There was indeed injustice in the first breach of their duty; their bearing of arms subsequent to it, though it is to maintain what they have done, is no new unjust act. And if it be only to defend their persons, it is not unjust at all. But the offer of pardon takes from them, to whom it is offered, the plea of self-defence, and makes their perseverance in assisting, or defending the rest, unlawful.”
Nonetheless, if there are no forthcoming pardons, the people may form a new covenant. A new sovereign emerges, who has not been a part of preparing the contract, and the authors of the covenant must abide by its absolute prescriptions. There will be the rule of law, though dictated by the sovereign, for the subjects are the authors of his deeds.
The Natural Right to Revolution
The whole basis of overturning a sovereign lies in the reasoning of the final quotation.
“The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasts, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no covenant be relinquished. ..The end of obedience is protection; which, wheresoever a man sees it, either in his own or in another’s sword, nature applies his obedience to it, and his endeavor to maintain it. And though sovereign, in the intention of them that make it, be immortal; yet is it in its own nature, not only subject to violent death, by foreign war; but also through the ignorance, and passion of men, it hath in it, for the very institution, many seeds of natural mortality, by intestine discord.”
In conclusion, factionalism and warfare can bring sovereignty to destruction with the social contract nullified, to be rewritten by another generation of noble but self-interested men. In the Atlantic democracies, Hobbes has proven much more applicable to foreign affairs where there is not a world government exercising sovereign powers. America has not been able to exercise its military supremacy by translating it into diplomatic successes. That contradiction drains precious resources from the preeminent superpower in world history and could be the seed of its ultimate destruction.
FRANZ NEUMANN (1900–1954), BEHEMOTH (1941, 1944)
“If Germany is willing to transform Europe into a primarily agricultural state, if she is willing to reduce the standard of living of the masses in Europe, she may indeed renounce the conquest of the world. But is it conceivable that a highly industrialized state should voluntarily abandon economic progress? In our opinion, it is not. Germany, if defeated, may be compelled to withdraw from the society of highly industrialized states, but that is certainly not the policy of her present government. It would be a complete negation of the whole history of German industrial capitalism. On the contrary, it is the high productivity of the industrial apparatus, the pressure for foreign markets and the need for satisfying the vital material interests of her masses that have driven Germany into a policy of conquest and will continue to drive her to still further expansion until she is defeated or has fulfilled her aim. It is the dynamics of a fairly young, aggressive, monopolized country that is the prime mover of Germany’s expansion.”
Such is the definition of totalitarian monopoly capitalism whose tentacles have infiltrated every dimension of the political economy and private life to allow a dictator to emerge who rules by terror, however rationalized by an incoherent Social Darwinism and irrational racism. Nonetheless, with the use of the profit principle by cartels to obtain a "fair" market price, with subsidies from the state, monopoly capitalism maintained a vestige of traditional capitalist forms. The monopolists owned the means of production. By making the forces of production more efficient, they drove competitors from the market by lowering prices, making a problem of massive unemployment. Classically, when workers lost their jobs, then their purchasing power shrank because they had no countervailing power in unions, which Hitler destroyed at the beginning of his regime. Paramilitary forces and the army absorbed millions of these workers. With total war, Nazi Germany had to conscript millions of foreign workers under the most draconian working conditions. The Allied Powers destroyed the Third Reich. However, ironically, Big Business concerns survived because they were needed for reconstruction after the war by all the victors.
Hitler came to power legally on 30 January 1933. Quickly, he dissolved state and society by substituting his personal charisma and party organization to rule by emergency decree for the duration of his tenure. The racialized Leadership Principle displaced governmental institutions and the plural groups of a democratic society. A totalitarian monopoly capitalism emerged that administered by terror the political economy, particularly through the instrument of Big Business. The nihilistic decisionism of Hitler substituted for the rule of law and the Judeo-Christian ethos of the equality of all men and the injunction to Love Thy Neighbor. The Other becomes the enemy to be killed. Hitler could easily have said “I am the State and the embodiment of the will of Das Volk.
Hitler dictated war against the Jews and invented a bastardized Monroe Doctrine for the whole of Europe. Now totalitarian monopoly capitalists could make super profits guaranteed by the National Socialist movement. War means opportunities for profits in a command economy. The War Lords of cartels found it efficient to rationalize industry by creative destruction to destroy the middle and lower middle classes. The constituents of these classes provided the cadres of the National Socialist movement. The deracinated middle class and the lumpenproletariat found equality in the mythology of identity with a superior Aryan race that compensated for the devastation of the Great Depression.
Hitler had four community (Volkish) groups to feed his insatiable lust for power and quest for undefeatible sovereignty: party, civil service, army, and Big Business. The global reach of Big Business coincided with the aim of global imperialism. The party terrorized the people into abject submission (atomization of society’s differentiated social strata and liberal belief value systems). The civil service did Hitler’s will by applying his commands. The army waged a racial war against the world to fashion a new revolutionary world order. Hitler misconstrued a novel Social Darwinist ideology that impelled a war of all against all that was its own self-justification.
This world goes beyond that of Hobbes, however, because the rights of conquest entitled the conquerors to confiscate property and destroyed the sanctity of the legal commercial contract. Hobbes’s moral justification for his Leviathan entailed a moral argument to protect property and property in life. Contrarily, the Behemoth (a people’s movement to dominate inferior nationalities and creeds) was a monster whose anti-bourgeois values contradicted almost every normative dimension of Hobbes's social contract theory. The Behemoth pays no heed to legal niceties and civil rights of individuals. The state is no longer the focal point of sovereignty as understood in Western democratic normative political theory. The only recognized loyalty was an oath sworn solely to Hitler, the charismatic leadership described so well by Max Weber.
The essential problem with charismatic dictatorship is that there can be no institutionalization of power, so when the leader dies the movement dies.
The only legacy for Germany was to lay waste to the world and, in the end, to its own political status as a nation-state as a partner in a multilateral world that now no longer even has a center of gravity. Even the United States, with all its military might, cannot impose its political will on the Islamic world, which has become its enemy through poor statesmanship. Germany never earned the obedience of its subject nations; neither has the American imperial power been able to win over the masses of the poor from which terrorists can be recruited. No matter how many combatants are killed, the number is transfinite, so the seeds of our destruction await us by borrowing money to fund a war that can only lead to fiscal bankruptcy.