Sunday, June 12, 2016

If I'm Calvinist is God Hobbes? Part 3: Leviathan or What Happens When You Pick On Tommy Hobbes

This is part three of a three part tale.  Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.

I think Thomas Hobbes must have been picked on a lot at school. Tommy Hobbes getting pantsed, Tommy being hung from the flagpole by his training codpiece. You know, the normal fruits of being small, irritating and self righteous in a society of boys.

After all, in his book Leviathan he describes the natural state of man's existence as being among other things "nasty, brutish and short" which would have made perfect sense to anyone sentenced to a stretch at an English boarding school. His book is the dark, Hobbesian (I know but it is the mot juste) masterpiece of the English Enlightenment. And it clearly shows the fruits of years of brooding on human nature and its defects whilst hanging from flagpoles being pelted with rotting vegetables.

In Leviathan Hobbes makes essentially two arguments: the first that man in his natural state behaves like a bunch of adolescent English boys in school or stranded on a tropical island and if you think that's bad, you should spend a day with their sisters. His second argument is that the only way to stop the little shits from beating....I mean the only way to establish order and peace where the talented, tiny, tinny tenth can flourish is for an all powerful force to impose order from above. Sort of a Terminator Skynet version of Mr. Chips.

But Hobbes argued that the Leviathan didn't have to be a super intelligent globe spanning satellite and robot network dedicated to the enslavement of humankind. Well actually he didn't argue that but what he did argue was that Leviathan didn't necessarily need to be the 17th century version of Skynet: the Absolute Monarch ruling by Divine Right. Although he believed that it was probably the best most stable form of Leviathan until robots got invented. This was because in his view monarchy best facilitated the orderly transition of power for example, from from King "Potato" Chips I to King "Fritos" Chips II and so on.

Instead, Leviathan could be a self perpetuating oligarchy, sort of a school board on steroids who didn't monkey around with detention and suspension but was willing to expel the disorderly from their bodies with extreme prejudice. It could even be a democracy where the people create an all powerful government and then revel in its democratically endorsed persecution of themselves, sort of a Hobbesian masochist nirvana.

Regardless of form, the key attributes of Leviathan were that it be both an all powerful and self perpetuating institution. He argued that if it didn't have both of these attributes then society would suffer constant disorder interrupted by bouts of dynastic or electoral chaos. Like those he experience while hanging from flagpoles.

"Lookit:  I'm a Monster King!"
The one thing that Hobbesy - I guess I should pause for a biographical note: at the start of the 9th grade Hobbes decided that his bully problem was attributable to his lack of bling and threads that were far from being 'de rigueur' so he briefly became Home Boy Hobbesy. For his efforts he was tossed into the school pond and nearly drowned from all the damned Spanish bling.

So anyway, one thing Hobbes didn't include in his conception of Leviathan was God, or at least the Judeo Christian deity of that name. And you can understand why: aside from Golgotha or a men's communal prison shower, the English boarding school is considered to be the most God forsaken place on the planet. Reflecting on this while dodging flying produce was in fact how he developed the concept of an all powerful ruler in the first place. A Leviathan who by strange coincidence sure looked like a cross between God and Tommy Hobbes which is why his selfie is on the cover of the early editions of his book. On the cover, I might add, as a 1,000 foot tall giant King. Who says that academics are modest?

Well not me and certainly not Hobbes because between their obsession over their own point of view in their area of expertise (and damned near everything else) their towering rage at the other boffins for denying their peculiar brand of 'truth', contempt for the the hoi polloi who couldn't (as they would say in their quaint vernacular) 'give a shit' and their utter estrangement from what was then called 'ye olde reality based village' making one of these cats or even worse a sackfull of them Leviathan was an incredibly life shortening proposition. Think Robert Mugabe crossed with Robspierre and Pol Pot all on a toasted Paul Krugman bun. Yuck.

And this is where Hobbes and Calvin parted ways. Hobbes thought it would be swell to ruled by a crowd that called all the shots, couldn't be deposed and had a vigorous if obscure fantasy life. Mind you, he was fine with religion so long as it was civic and national in nature being run by and for Leviathan. In this he was a real Mussolini: 'everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing above the state'. Although not being Italian he didn't have Il Duce's fashion sense or penchant for high drama much less his stable of on-call starlets.

Calvin by contrast was God's man. He had seen Mr. Big in the Vatican and knew that combining lawyers, guns and money with an absolutist religion was a recipe for one helluva toot followed by a continental scale hangover. His definition of a good Leviathan was one with powers limited by God's commands ideally interpreted by a brilliant judge namely himself. Now mind you this didn't make him a liberal but distrust of Mr. Bigs and the fear that if there was only one slot Luther or Zwingli might get in and if he had to listen to Luther's plodding prose one more time or sing 'A mighty fortress is our God' when it was obvious that God never ever played defence he'd probably go full Torquemada on someone. Preferably Luther.

Now where was I? So anyway this resentment and fear of the other guy drove Calvin who was a theocrat at heart to support republican governance. Limited by God's Constitution so to speak. Which is how an exiled Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey became more American than a Brit with the Kick Ass name Tommy Hobbes. Which just goes to show that ideas and faith matter more than putting yourself on the front of your book as a 1000 foot monster king.

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