Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes, the 17th Century English philosopher who lived through the chaos of the English civil war and the Thirty Years War, built his political philosophy on a conception of security that has become dominant in modern society. In his 1651 masterpiece, Leviathan, Hobbes argued that humans unconstrained by laws would, through competition for wealth and pre-eminence, create a persistent state of insecurity that would ultimately prevent them from attaining either:

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of earth; no navigation, for use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing such things that require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’
Hobbes’s conception established a total and binary opposition between peace, a state of physical and material security, allowing the pursuit of higher goals, and war, a pervasive, debilitating sense of foreboding of “every man, against every man”.

For war, consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known for as the nature of foul weather, lieth not in a shower or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war, consisteth not in actual fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all time there is assurance to the contrary."

In this conception, Hobbes was being faithful to the etymology of the word “war”, which derives from the old French “guerre”, meaning “confusion”, “discord” and “strife”. According to a long Western tradition, then, insecurity and security are mutually exclusive physical and material conditions that fundamentally determine the quality of human life. In Hobbes’s theory, “man is a creature civilised by the fear of death”. Hobbes’s entire system of civil society and the state are built form a single “purging emotion” – the fear of death. The Hobbesian conception of security builds an intimate dynamic between physical and material security, in which unconstrained acquisitiveness and competition lead to physical insecurity, and in which physical security is the essential precondition to humans’ bounded pursuit of physical and other achievements. This conception ahs informed our understanding of the human condition, and the widespread popularity of Abraham Maslow’s argument that only physiological necessities precede security in the hierarchy of human needs demonstrates that most people find this conception to be intuitively correct. The priority of physical and material security has informed domestic and international natural and positive law, providing a widely recognised basic right of self-defence that trumps most other rules, norms and considerations. According to this conception, war is only justified when it is required to re-establish conditions of physical and material security or forestall physical and material insecurity.

Michael Wesley – “The search for moral security” : Australian Financial Review, 28th January, 2005.

Otter and Budd Street:  27_April_2012_8pm

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There is another, more fundamental danger, namely man's restriction of himself and constriction of his horizons to include only his work to which, so the Book says, he has been sentenced to after his expulsion from paradise. If he accepts work as his only obligation, and 'what works' as his only criterion of worthwhileness, he may become the conformist and thoughtless slave of his technology and of those who are in a position to exploit it - Eric Erikson, Childhood and Society, 1950