Thomas Hobbes philosophy of civics had a twofold purpose: it intended to produce civil peace, and it encouraged man to fulfill civic duties. A close examination of his writing, particularly that of Leviathan, reveals a consistency of those thoughts. Additionally, Hobbes maintained in his writing that he had actually succeeded in providing this philosophical advice where others had previously failed. To begin, it must be first considered how Hobbes defined the civic realm. The treatment of his entire philosophy is dependent upon understanding to whom (personal and corporate) it applied to.
He saw the civic realm, which he would apply the title of ‘Leviathan’ to, as being the whole of society including both its superstructure, which we understand as bureaucracy, and its infrastructure, which we can call citizens. This is the entire realm. Notice that the definitions apparently lack specificity when it comes to identifying nations, states, governments. It will be proven later that Hobbes foresees no necessary problem with this. The components of the civic realm are also worth taking a look at. In breaking down these elements, it can then be considered as to what responsibilities are inherent within them.
And this is a key to understanding Hobbes, as well: according to rules of nature, each part has a particular role to play that is specified by nature. Any differences in these roles are just artificial versions, and perverted versions, of what should be. As a result, the civic rules tend to degrade and cause havoc. As seen above, two primary components are the larger corporate component which represent society as a whole, and the smaller component (in a hierarchical sense) of the individual citizens. Strangely enough, he interprets the smaller elements to be more vital than the larger one.
That is because all of the power and organization of the greater relies directly on the power and organization given to it by the smaller. This, again, is governed by following nature. Civil peace is the result of adhering to Hobbes’ philosophies. That being said, the result, since it is contingent upon the practice, is not the place to begin a discussion. Rather, there is necessary to start with the individual citizen, who that person is, and the responsibilities laid upon that citizen. To begin, and the use of maleness when referring to citizens is merely utilizing Hobbes’ archaic language, the citizens are the individual men of society.
Man is no longer following his nature that God provided, according to him. Thus his philosophy begins with a comprehension and admission of a superior creator that is naturally ordered. It is only in denying that and following man made artifice that chaos and therefore lack of civic peace take place. The nature dictates what the specific role of man should be. That role is submission, to paraphrase the sum of Hobbes’ thoughts. The two primary examples he shows are lack of personal judgment (criticism) of others and the obedience to any and all social systems that he may find himself subject to.
The former is a role, and the latter is a responsibility. Man’s role, then, is to acknowledge his place as being equal to all other individuals. Many personal beliefs exist in which the single person’s belief is paramount to all. In believing this, there is a natural tendency to disregard other people’s opinions and feelings and to additionally make a judgment call upon persons that are not agreed with. Difference is not to be admired, and rarely to be tolerated. Any such things are to be denigrated as being unusual. Naturally, this creates discord, which is the opposite of civic peace.
If man looked with interest and concern over others’ views, there would be a natural tolerance between men and understanding, not divergence would come. This lack of friction is the first step in the process of civil peace, according to Hobbes’ view of human nature. Then Hobbes’ move on to take this process to the next step. This is where the responsibility fulfills the role. Once individuals are in concord, instead of discord, they will all act the same way – with peaceful and harmonious agreement. Then their actions will likewise be unified. This is the foundation of overall civic peace itself.
This is also where Hobbes’ philosophies regarding the power of society being dependent upon the powers of the individuals comes into play. The supportive actions of the members of society will support the system through lack of anxiousness about results. This obeisance occurs because citizens who seek peace will begin to find the value in following whatever system is placed in power over them. It is in keeping with their nature, as opposed to their artifice. This is a circular sort of thought. All citizens are to support their own government entity because it is their primary responsibility in keeping order and remaining equal.
However, if for some reason that entity is overrun and replaced by another, then these citizens are now citizens of the new society. Therefore, they are to act in the same manner as they would have under the old regime. Without any form of disturbing transition (as much as is possible if it was a violent overthrow) the members of society are to go on as if nothing happened. Man is supposed to support the civic realm. In the above discussion, then, it is easy to see why Hobbes felt that his philosophies would lead to civil peace. If everyone acted in accordance with these philosophies in total, then the results described should naturally flow.
Civil peace can and must occur by definition if all citizens are acting as a whole, with one purpose, aim and action. More importantly, the additional quality of these purposes being to support the civic realm must be present. The sum of these parts is civil peace, Hobbes’ philosophies argue. So how does Hobbes’ philosophy encourage man to fulfill his civil duty? Even if men are doubters because they are fooled by their notions about current governments and peoples, they can at least understand what the end result would look like.
Needless to say, men would also see that end result as a very good thing. What person or society would say no to the possibility of a peaceful world? So where does the problem lie and why worry about Hobbes’ philosophies not compelling this action? It is because of the confusion of experiences. Hobbes understood this. He would argue that as much as the negative experiences of mankind would tend to create cynicism regarding his philosophy, it is because they are relying on the wrong definition of experience. His understanding, and therefore his belief in its success is reliant on redefining the word.
Experience can be of two forms. The more common version known to cynical man is the experience of leaders – in other words, the statements of men from the past who have said that ‘this thing is right’ or ‘that thing is right. ’ Because man is not perfect, there are bound to be problems and fallacies, especially in retrospect, of these leaders’ actions. And yet those memories are called experience. It is no wonder that people would doubt that, and therefore doubt that civil peace through duty alone is possible. Hobbes offered a new solution to that.
His telling of experience is that it is not dependent upon the memories of one individual, such as above, but of the expression of the larger society’s experience, and therefore wisdom, to guide one’s actions. Looking back at situations, instead of personalities, most citizens are able to recall good times in which there was peace and civic good. So obviously this memory indicates the presence of a possible good reality. In fact, Hobbes continued, this type of memory is actually the best bet for finding wisdom and being able to tell future events and prevent the repetition of bad ones. It is nearly a self fulfilling prophecy.
Because of this ability to shift paradigms through this philosophy of Hobbes, he believed that his contribution to societal and ethical philosophies would ultimately be able to encourage to the point of participation of citizens fully realizing their civic duties and responsibilities. This would then create more of the positive societal memories, which would in turn encourage more activity. It would be an ongoing success. Finally the issue of just how Thomas Hobbes could believe that he succeeded in the areas of contributing to civic peace and disposing of man toward fulfilling their civic duty?
The answer to that question lies exactly in the arguments laid out above. He fully believed that he had overcome the hurdles that mired previous philosophers and idealists. First of all, he started from a most unusual starting point: with God. Generally speaking, the philosophies of man and their duty to society are very human-based. They deal with very personal choices based upon character, beliefs, upbringing, cultural implications and the like. Hobbes discarded that as being one of the reasons why a simple, across the board plan of civic peace would not work. There were too many human introduced (artifice, in his words) variables.
He started instead with a truth he found to be inherent in all men – that they come from a creator of order and therefore have the ability to all become ordered and peaceful together as one group. It would have nothing to do with any of the strictly human elements. This perhaps didn’t ensure that he succeeded more than others before him, but it gave Hobbes the comfortable position of starting from a unique and unanticipated angle. The second reason that Hobbes would have felt this success where others failed is that his philosophies accounted for a direct plan for peace.
This wasn’t the ‘inner peace’ to the individual based upon emotions, but of the very real, global sort of peace that is vital to all mankind. Other philosophers had not addressed a method of obtaining an entirely peaceful and ordered society on the global scale. They didn’t provide a plan for this, perhaps assuming that peaceful individuals would make for peaceful communities which would make peaceful societies and so forth. But that is getting way ahead of themselves, and Hobbes knew that. By convincing humankind that this sort of lawful and restful Commonwealth was a real possibility he felt he was more than halfway there.
Then there was only to have man not judge each other as superior or inferior, and then to obey for the common good. Therefore the common good would only increase. This comparisons to other philosophies and philosophers with nothing but pure ideas must have reinforced Hobbes’ belief that he had truly succeeded in this arena where previous attempts failed. For further thought and testing of this position of his, it must be acknowledged that there are some points that must be investigated further for their ramifications to be proven. To begin with, how does Hobbes account for getting everyone to the same starting point as him?
The issue of a creator that imbues natural and inherent order into humans is not a universal idea – and as discussed it is manifest that Hobbes’ philosophy must begin at that point to be truly unique, and perhaps truly successful. A natural discussion point, too, comes from the ‘obey all systems’ philosophy. Again, it seems common sense to the purpose of peace. But in violent struggle situations, where the ‘enemy’ system or Commonwealth has just destroyed things and/or people loved and valuable to someone, it would seem to necessitate more than a simple paradigm shift to get one to fully follow this philosophy.
These two points, and perhaps others, should be looked at and tested thoroughly before success can be assigned to Hobbes. In the end, Hobbes did make valuable contributions to the ideas of civil peace and civic responsibility. His logic demands that to be acknowledged. To paraphrase his final thoughts on the matter, there is nothing fundamentally inconsistent in his philosophy regarding the protection of public tranquility.