Monday, July 18, 2016

The Leviathan

Baton Rouge. A few days ago, a word association test would have had me responding with Janis, but now it's more likely to be murder, cops, revenge and war: that Bellum omnium contra omnes Thomas Hobbes warned us about: that war of all against all.  It's a small and lopsided war. It's a big war about big principles. It's a crazy war with revenge killings and reprisals on one side and an apparently trigger-happy paranoia on the other side, but I'm trying to be careful of tendentious oversimplifications. Both sides real have grievances and there are a lot more guns than innocence in America. It's complicated and reality always is.

But it's Hobbes' observation about the "state of nature," so reminiscent of the kind of Libertarian paradise half our country seems to be longing for, that gets my attention: that repugnance for government, for authority -- that insistence that any law limits our freedom. Without that authority we have no civilization, no culture, no industry but a climate of fear and a war of all against all, said Hobbes in The Leviathan.

As it is in Baton Rouge, so is it in America. Everyone in everyone's face and at each others' throats. Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. You've heard those words many times.  Against our ruin we create the buttresses of a social contract, a moral, a civil authority and give up a part of our natural liberty that we can enjoy enough security to avoid chaos and enjoy our freedom without undue fear.. We cede some power and make it legitimate and authorize it for our own good. We create laws and we authorize the enforcement of those laws. That's an oversimplification of course but although it informs our American founding documents, that social contract is being portrayed as the cause of our ills rather than the failure of implementing that contract or defining the laws to benefit all rather than some. Some of us believe that racism will always make justice impossible and therefore authority is always to be resisted and with violence.

Is Libertarianism the gateway to Liberty?  I think Hobbes says otherwise and although we, in theory, have the power to change and improve that contract and to reform the way it's enforced, we seem for the moment at least to prefer to shoot it out in the streets and to remember when we shot it out on the battlefield 150 years ago with longing. On the TV,  today's real world, the war drums beat all day and all night, the bullets fly and the blood runs red in Baton Rouge. Police are the enemy, government is the enemy, guns are the enemy, gun control is the enemy. We're all the enemy.

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