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Is Hobbes right to see a state of war as ‘the natural condition of humankind’?

Is Hobbes right to see a state of war as ‘the natural condition of humankind’?

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Mary Brennan. Originally submitted for Politics Major & Minor Psychology at University College Dublin, with lecturer Lecturer Dr. Iseult Honohan in the category of International Relations & Politics
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Mary Brennan. Originally submitted for Politics Major & Minor Psychology at University College Dublin, with lecturer Lecturer Dr. Iseult Honohan in the category of International Relations & Politics

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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Is Hobbes right to see a state of war as ‘the natural condition of humankind’?
 Hobbes’s key political work, ‘ 
The Leviathan
’ proposes a thesis that 
forms the basisof the Realist school of thought in Political International Relations. Hobbes has been quoted as the explanation of events as diverse as the recent London riots to the breakdown of societyin the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
 Hobbes’s view of the natural condition of man
kind is thecornerstone of his argument for the creation of a sovereign as the way to avoid conflict and  provide the security needed for society to develop.
This paper reviews Hobbes’s basic thesis,
how he comes to his conclusion of the natural condition
of mankind. Starting with man’s
basic characteristics
 , his natural rights and his natural desires, Hobbes’s argument isanalysed. Hobbes’s argument for the three fundamental conditions of the natural world which combined with man’s natural characteristics
lead to war is then assessed. The paper concludes that while the argument is well made and logically presented. The basic premises
of man’s self 
-interest and individualism are too simplistic and limited for the reliable prediction of human behaviour, it may be a possible destination for humanity, but not and inevitability.
Key words:
human-nature, self-interest, desires, insecurity, competition,
In his book Leviathan, Hobbes presents us with the theoretical proposition that in aworld before society
or government, where ‘men lived without a common power to keepthem all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war…’ (Hobbes, 20
08, p 84). In
this essay I will examine what Jonathan Wolff describes as Hobbes’s ‘materialist
, mechanistview of 
human beings’ (Wolff, 1996, p 9
). I will show that ‘the life of man, solitary,
poor, bruti
sh and short’ (Hobbes, 2008, p 84
) is to Hobbes both a rational consequence of his
view on human nature and a rational requirement for man ‘to create and maintain
societies’ (Hampton, 1997, p 41). Jane Mansfield argues that Hobbes ‘reduced the world to
its analytic components of individual self-interest and built it up again from this single
(Mansfield, 1990, p 4). While I agree with Hobbes that t
his is a good predictable base ‘on
which to build a polity’ I do not agree that it fully represents the ‘natural condition of mankind’.
 Jean Hampton tells us that Hobbes begins with a hypothetical beginning and imagines
men ‘sprung up out of the earth, an
d suddenly like mushrooms, come to full maturity,
without all kinds of engagement to each other’ (Hampton, 1997, p 42). By doing this Hobbes
is introducing equality as the first of what Iseult Honohan refers to as key characteristics of 
Hobbes’s human nat
ure theory (2011, POL20010 Lecture Notes 4). Equality in that all men
are created equally and that there are no natural masters and no natural slaves. ‘Hobbes’s
point is that even though we differ in strength and intelligence, there is no superman orsuperwoman alive among us who can dominate any or all of us through muscle or
(Hampton, 1997, p 42).A second characteristic is natural rights,
that ‘everymen has a right to everything;even to one another’s body.’ (Ho
bbes, 2008, p 87). That stealing, injuring and even killing isthe right of everyman in the pursuit of self preservation.
It should be noted that in Hobbes’s
state of nature there is no common power and no authority to oblige anyone. As IseultHonohan states, everyone is the judge of good and evil, of right and wrong. Here there is no
common justice, ‘no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct but only that to beevery man’s, that he can get; and for so lon
, as he can keep it’ (Hobbes, 2008, p 85). To
Hobbes any natural laws that do exist are simply calculations or maximums to conserve anddefend self-interest. In the state of nature there is no Godly or moral law. The three mainlaws of nature according to Hobbes are first, to seek peace, because it leads to thecommodious life, but be prepared to defend yourselves. Second be prepared to give up rightsto achieve peace, but only if other will also; and in the case that these two can be achieved, beprepared to keep your promise. While Hobbes says these laws oblige us internally, as peaceand the commodious life are what we seek, externally we have to defend ourselves so we are
3not obliged, as there is no third party to enforce these laws. (Honohan, 2011, Lecture Notes5).In a third characteristic of human nature, ma
n’s passions, Hobbes shows hismechanistic approach to humanity in this description of man’s motions. He describes ‘twosorts of motion peculiar to them; one called vital … the other is animal motion, otherwisecalled voluntary motion.’(Hobbes, 2008, p 33
). Motion is conveyed by what Hobbes callsendeavour and is felt as appetite or desire if the motion is toward something and aversion if 
the motion is away or ‘fromward’. These appetites and aversions are the drivers for all
passions (Hobbes, 2008, p 36).
In other words Hobbes is implying that we are ‘physicallywired up to respond in certain ways to the stimuli of certain movements’ (Gaskin, 2008, p
xxviii).In this context Hobbes can logically reason for a natural state of war. He proposes
‘three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition, secondly diffidence; thirdly glory.’
(Hobbes, 2008 p 83). Michael Lessnoff explains these reasons particularly well. In the firstinstance, competition, he says that Hobbes is referring to man attempting to satisfy his desiresand appetites in a world of equality. Here man not only has equal ability to achieve his desirebut also
equal hope to achieve it. However, Hobbes also implies scarcity of resources ‘if any
two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become
enemies.’ (Hobbes,
2008 p 83). This cause for war logically leads to the second, diffidence.Diffidence is fear of future attack leading to the rationality of 
attack first as the best form of self-
or to
use Hobbes’s term anticipation. (Lessnoff,
1986, p 51
). Hobbes’s thirdreason for war is man’s desire for glory. Glory is ‘Joy, arising from imagination of a man’sown power and ability …’ (Hobbes, 2008, p 38) and so Hobbes says because of this
ate desire for glory man ‘as far as he dares … [
he is driven] to extort a greater value
from his contemners, by damage and from others by example.’ (Hobbes, 2008, p

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