Hobbes: Make up your mind!

I’m going to say it now, I have not finished the assigned chapters at the time of writing this post. But so far I believe I have a general idea.

Today’s lecture by Dr. Robert Crawford was very interesting, and brought  forward a lot of interesting points. One that struck me was (and this is paraphrasing from my personal lecture notes) when he spoke of one of Hobbes’ ideas as “Be a good ruler or you’re gonna wind up dead. Hobbes feels this is enough to keep them [rulers] in check.”

Now this is one point that has stuck with me. Hobbes views are shown to be very anti-rebellion. One does not question authority, and follows what those in higher positions say. Now, I do not agree with this, but this is what Hobbes believes. I’ll pretend to agree for all intents and purposes.

Here is where my issue lies. In our lecture and the reading, another idea is brought up. “Authoritarian states need to be aware of the natural punishment of going too far”. So, as Dr. Crawford explained, Hobbes believes that if the rulers are bad, people will kill them. That is a natural punishment. Even if rebellion is illegal, that will not stop an angry population.

So, what is Hobbes’ view on rebellion? It is wrong, and should never be done. But, he also says that rulers should be good enough that people will not rebel. Now this seems straightforward, but I still feel unsatisfied. Rebellion is wrong, but will happen if rulers are bad. Well then… wouldn’t that make it good? Or at the very least necessary?

I understand that if the people in charge follow what Hobbes says, he feels rebellion will not occur. But it still remains, if they don’t follow his beliefs, rebellion will happen. It will be needed.

I don’t know if anyone else sees it this way, but I feel a dissonance between ideas here. I’m curious to see what the class thinks in our seminars. Maybe I’ll change my mind!


1 thought on “Hobbes: Make up your mind!

  1. Great question, Ola. In a general sense, one might say there’s a difference between what is or ought to be allowed and what people will do anyway even if it’s not allowed. According to Hobbes, we would agree to live under a sovereign power because it would make life better for us than living in the state of nature, in terms of avoiding conflict, fear of being attacked, and continually having to defend ourselves and our property. So we can and should be content if a sovereign does this, and sovereigns can have a good deal of power in order to be able to do this (in fact, all the powers Hobbes says sovereigns should have is because he thinks those are necessary to maintain peace and security). But if sovereigns go beyond what is necessary to preserve peace, then people may feel oppressed rather than protected. The sovereign may be able to go pretty far in this direction, but eventually people are going to have enough and decide that the government isn’t better than no government. Hobbes might think they’re wrong and shouldn’t rebel, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to do it!

    Also, and we can talk about this on Friday, for Hobbes the sovereign not only has a lot of power, but has responsibility to fulfill the purpose for which states are created: to keep peace and security for people. I think I put on the bottom of the handout I gave in class today the place where Hobbes says that we no longer have to obey the sovereign if they can’t provide these things for us. So that is one way in which something like rebellion might actually be allowed, according to Hobbes.

    Hope that helps…happy to hear what you think about all this if you want to reply here, or bring it up on Friday!

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