Amalgamating Hobbes and Locke

In which I mock libertarians and paint a sadly pragmatic view of the world

As many of us learned in school, there are two famous schools of thought about the state of nature, those of Hobbes and Locke. In the Lockean school, where right and wrong are real and knowable, rights are inherent, and the state exists to protect them. Peace is the natural state of affairs, and we can give up the right to exact retribution for crimes against us in return for impartial justice backed by the force of the state, retaining the rights to life and liberty.

In the Hobbesian world, on the other hand, life is nasty, brutish, and short. Good and evil are defined by rulers, as are rights and justice. Nothing exists but for the state. There is no right to rebel, and men can live in peace only by submitting themselves to the will of a dictator.

Both of these are absurd, and thoroughly contradicted by empirical facts. The truth, as is so often the case, lies somewhere in between the extremes[1]. Since Hobbes has few adherents, particularly among you liberty-loving folk, we can dispense with him quickly: the literature on spontaneous order, such as diamond merchants in NYC, cattle in Shasta County CA, and Iceland's centuries of statelessness, prove that peace and order can arise from below without being imposed from above. Bellum omnium contra omnes is not inevitable.

It is the libertarian (or minarchist) version of the Lockean view which seems to me an oft-unrecognized impossibility.

The Lockean view, on the other hand, bears much in common with conventional libertarian philosophy, despite the fact that it can reasonably be characterized as a demented pipe-dream produced by smoking a mixture of opium and some mild dopamine and serotonin agonist, producing a state of (respectively) mellow complacency, where everyone is trying to achieve some goals, and happy and friendly about helping each other get there. The part I most take issue with is the idea that you can give the state an inch, and only an inch, without it taking a few astronomical units. From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, on Social Contract:

Political society comes into being when individual men, representing their families, come together in the State of Nature and agree to each give up the executive power to punish those who transgress the Law of Nature, and hand over that power to the public power of a government. Having done this, they then become subject to the will of the majority. In other words, by making a compact to leave the State of Nature and form society, they make “one body politic under one government” (par. 97) and submit themselves to the will of that body. One joins such a body, either from its beginnings, or after it has already been established by others, only by explicit consent. Having created a political society and government through their consent, men then gain three things which they lacked in the State of Nature: laws, judges to adjudicate laws, and the executive power necessary to enforce these laws. Each man therefore gives over the power to protect himself and punish transgressors of the Law of Nature to the government that he has created through the compact.

I agree fully with this general concept, of course. People have rights, they form societies in order to protect those rights, they have the right to rebel against such societies. The problem comes (as it so often does) in implementation. There appears to be an assumption here (I am not familiar enough w/ Locke's work to know if it is explicit) that by signing a social contract, one can

Actually, attacking this claim lets us bash both of these dead white guys simultaneously, since this same error is an element of Hobbes' Leviathan as well. From Wikipedia:

According to Hobbes, society is a population beneath an authority, to whom all individuals in that society surrender just enough of their natural right for the authority to be able to ensure internal peace and a common defense. This sovereign, whether monarch, aristocracy or democracy (though Hobbes prefers monarchy), should be a Leviathan, an absolute authority. Law, for Hobbes, is the enforcement of contracts...

Hobbes's leviathan state is infinitely authoritative in matters pertaining to aggression, one man waging war on another, or any matters pertaining to the cohesiveness of the state. It can say nothing about what any man does otherwise – so long as one man does no harm to any other, the sovereign should keep its hands off him (however, since there is no power above the sovereign, there is nothing to prevent the sovereign breaking this rule).

Only enforces contracts, but with a mighty fist, eh? Sounds almost minarchistic - but the right-libertarian, objectivist sort, where the strong arm of the state is charged with nuking the islamofascists, except when it decides to torture them first. Now, let's add some Lock to the mix:

There is a little bit of disingenuity (or at least incompleteness) to this argument, which is best seen in the context of the conservative criticism. The conservative critic says: "Sure, all states have slid from the supposed state of nature, casting great doubt about whose nature it's a state of. And sure, that's the natural result of how human greed interacts with the forms of government we've tried so far - monarchy, dictatorship, democracy. And sure, the way to fix it is to come up with better rules, that give better incentives. But why does that set of rules have to be as wacky and different as your suggestions? Can't we find a more conservative change, with less risk, that will accomplish the same thing?"

[1] If no one else has named this one yet, can we call it Patri's Razor? Please?[2]

[2] It's not about who stole the idea first, but who stole it today.[3]

[3] At least, today it is.

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