"In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he will divest himself of prejudice and prepossession, and suffer his reason and his feelings to determine for themselves; that he will put on rather than off, the true character of a man, and generously enlarge his views beyond the present day." - Thomas Paine, Common Sense

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Two Types Of People And Why Hobbes Was Wrong

While I hate to generalize, in my experience it seems that there are two predominant types of people in the world: those who believe that people are generally bad, and those who believe people are generally good. A person's stance on this issue will have a huge influence not only on their political beliefs but also how they interact with the world around them.

An ugly man with an ugly world view.
People have been debating whether people are good or bad for centuries. In the 1600s, philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote the famous book Leviathan (click to purchase from Amazon.com), in which he made the claim that humans are inherently selfish, evil creatures and therefore need to be controlled by an all-powerful ruler in order to "protect" themselves from their evil ways. According to Hobbes, all actions taken by the government are just because the ruler defines justice, freedom does not exist because we exchange it for protection against ourselves, and as government is the foundation of society, without it society would decay to the point where everyone would be constantly fighting against everyone else in a "war of all against all."

Statists generally use Hobbes to argue against a stateless, anarchist society, but Hobbes' ideas are absurd. If Hobbes is right and all men are selfish, evil creatures, then his "solution" - to give these inevitably corrupt(-ible) men the power to control the whole of society - is completely backwards. Are the kings, nobles, Prime Ministers, Presidents, and Senators not human beings themselves? Don't they have faults of their own?

"Well, that's why we have elections. So the bad ones get voted out," says the Hobbesian statist. But how could a population of evil and/or ignorant people pick a "good" candidate? Another problem is the more powerful government becomes, the more it attracts sociopaths to politics because the people most likely to win an election are the ones that are willing to lie, cheat, and steal all the way to the top. Government is the perfect environment for a sociopath. The only plausible solution in a Hobbesian world is to decentralize and spread power out as evenly as possible (anarchism), not to monopolize violence (government) and give control to one person or group.

But we don't live in a Hobbesian world, and anarchy does not mean "chaos." It's tempting to call other people bad, but we have to remember exactly what "evil" means. The guy who cuts you off in traffic and then flips you off might be an irresponsible douche, but he's probably not evil. Be honest, how many people in the world do you think are legitimately evil? Someone with no morals, no empathy, no conscience - a sociopath - is truly evil.

The truth is that people are generally good. I'm not saying that everyone is inherently good, since everyone is different and about 4% of people are legitimate sociopaths (according to psychologist Martha Stout, a clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Med., in her book The Sociopath Next Door [Click to purchase from Amazon.com]). But the thing is, unless there's a cop around, the government isn't really "present" during the clear majority of interactions between people. Government itself is an abstract concept and doesn't actually exist, so technically you're already living in a state of anarchy for the majority of your life. Government or not, bad people do bad things despite the law, while good people don't need laws to be moral. After all, there are laws against murder and theft, yet there are still people who commit those crimes.

Without government, we'd find a way to continue peacefully, and in the long run that means voluntary, mutually-beneficial exchange with other people in the free market: for example, I need a cake. You have one. I could stab you for your cake but then I risk getting hurt myself, vengeance from you or your friends/relatives, a tarnished reputation, the elimination of future trade with you and whatever products/services you may have offered, loss of a possible friend, and alienation from the rest of the community. It's much easier and smarter for both of us if I simply offered money, labor, other baked goods, etc., for your cake. It's ridiculous and contrary to experience to assume that people would abandon this system of mutually beneficial exchange just because there isn't a cop with a gun standing next to them.

For your protection!
Despite this, statists believe that if we abandon government, then robbery, murder, rape, and destruction will ensue on massive scale. I find this claim interesting because "mass robbery" sounds a lot like taxation and eminent domain while mass murder, rape, and destruction sounds like war. In truth, the government is the most powerful criminal organization in (almost) any given country, but because it has elections and a pretty flag we excuse it. So even though we supposedly have government to keep us safe, our leaders routinely send us to war while stealing money and property from us and, despite the laws, there are still murderers, rapists, and thieves walking our streets. Thomas Paine would call that an "intolerable evil."

Like I said, even in a free society there are still bad people, but a free society doesn't mean there wouldn't be any courts or police. Self-policing would be just as important as it is now since, like now, police can only respond to crime and rarely prevent it. Courts and justice in a libertarian society would concentrate more on restitution to the victim rather than punishment of the criminal, although that may depend on the crime itself.

No rulers.
Basically, Hobbes argued for fascism and slavery and is the ideological predecessor of men like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. After all, according to Hobbes, disgusting acts of democide like the Holocaust (which claimed 12,000,000 lives) are justified simply because they are acts of government. Hobbes and the still-growing popularity of his claim that tyranny is somehow better than freedom has set humanity back hundreds of years. His claim that government is the foundation of society is clearly false; the truth is that government destroys society by institutionalizing barbarism. Only by turning its back on the Leviathan and embracing statelessness and private property rights will the human race ever free itself.

Recommended reading (click to purchase on Amazon.com):

by John Locke

by Murray Rothbard

by Thomas Hobbes

by Martha Stout

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  1. DaVinci said there are 3 kinds of people:

    1) Those who see
    2) Those who see once shown
    3) Those who don't see

  2. As for are people 'good' or 'bad,' the answer is that we are all both-in varying degrees along a continuum. Hence the controversy. The question is not either/or, it is where abouts on a continuum are you?

  3. "Hobbes...is the ideological predecessor of men like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin". You forgot to add Bushama.

  4. Anarchy (anarcho-capitalism) might work in theory, but it is not attainable in practice. If Person A decides he wants to "unshackle" himself from restraints and obligations laid on him by his community, he will soon find himself in jail, and possibly without his property, because the local and federal governments have the resources to enforce their will. Further, not only must you have the ability to withstand the pressures of your government(s), but of hostile foreign powers as well.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Anarchy is definitely not something that can be accomplished overnight (without some sort of miraculous V-For-Vendetta-esque moment). First, it requires a massive amount of education and, second, individual secession on a huge scale.

      However, the points you bring up are the exact same ones brought up by monarchists during the 18th century about the American Revolution. Most people at the time thought of a Constitutional Republic as nothing more than anarchy and destined to fail. None of us can predict the future, and I bet that if you were to go back to the 1600s and early 1700s, even up to the French and Indian War, and tell people that America would rebel against the greatest superpower in the world, win, and then establish a government based on individual liberty and equality under the law and actually have it be a success (at least for a while), they'd call you a madman.

      About defense against foreign nations. If an anarchist society were to be implemented, it would rely on volunteer militia. However, its decentralized nature would lend itself to guerilla tactics, which have been used with great effectiveness against powerful armies throughout history but especially recently. The point would be to bog the opposition down as much as possible with guerilla attacks while building a volunteer force large enough to actually fight the invaders.

      Remember, this whole time the other country has been transporting billions upon billions of dollars and millions of barrels of oil moving supplies across the ocean, then the thousands, probably even millions of soldiers necessary to first gain a foothold in the country and then hold everything they've fought for as they keep pushing forward.

      Unless Canada or Mexico is invading, or the world is further centralized under UN control, which is, admittedly, very likely, I don't see foreign invasion as a very large threat to an American anarchist society simply due to the logistics involved in conquering such a large (300 million people over a huge amount of land), decentralized society.

      I plan on writing an article about that topic actually, since it tends to come up a lot in discussions about anarchy.

      Thanks again!