Science shows Thomas Hobbes was right – which is why the Right-wing rule the Earth

Discussion in 'The Pavilion' started by Apocales, Feb 28, 2017.

  1. Apocales 4:35a.m. just one more episode..

    Member Since:
    Apr 20, 2010
    Message Count:
    Your head - rent free.
    Ratings Received:
    +13,264 / 84 / -145
    The state of nature is a war of all against all. Hooray!

    A Tory MP once told me, when I complained that I couldn’t identify my political tribe, that all politics boils down to one question. Who was right: Hobbes or Rousseau? It was surprising – and somehow consoling – to think that behind every parliamentary skirmish over tax credits or NHS funding lies something much deeper: a 300-year-old philosophical dispute about the origins of evil. Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.Jean-Jacques Rousseau In the Right-wing corner we have Thomas Hobbes, founding father of political philosophy, who argued that man is born wicked and must be civilised. Left in a “state of nature”, Hobbes famously argued, our lives would be “nasty, brutish and short”. We would fight continually over power and resources. Deference to authority is therefore an act of self-preservation: we put our faith in strong leaders, and civic institutions such as the law, to save us from ourselves. And on the Left we have Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the original romantic, whose gist was that humans start out innocent and get corrupted by society. “Nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state,” he declared; it is greed, inequality and the class system that bend us out of shape. All humanity’s woes, argued Rousseau, could be traced back to the first person to enclose a plot of land and claim it as his own: “You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau meditates in the park in a painting by Dunouy Credit: Alexandre-Hyacinthe Dunouy/Bridgeman Art Library

    Like so much Left-wing rhetoric since, this has a wonderfully rousing, noble ring to it. But is it actually true? Were humans really happier and gentler before we divvied up the earth and ensnared ourselves in civilisation? The short – and scientific – answer is: no. This week, a team of Spanish researchers pretty much settled the debate. Hobbes was right: man is inherently bad, but civilisation can make us less so. The scientists examined “homicide rates” in more than 1,000 different species of animal. Some, such as bats and whales, almost never kill their own kind, whereas wolves are practically serial killers. Among primates about 2 per cent of deaths are the result of murder – the same as in the few remaining human hunter-gatherer tribes. The researchers then combed through archaeological evidence of lethal violence among humans, from prehistory to the present day. They found a steady 2 per cent murder rate until about 10,000 years ago. It went up for a while as people came out of their caves and started organising themselves into larger societies (often at the point of a sword).

    Nasty, brutish and short: Thomas Hobbes' description of life before society Credit: Alamy

    But in the post-medieval world it has steadily declined, to about 1.3 per cent. And in those countries where peace and the rule of law prevail, like Britain today, it’s less than 0.02 per cent – a hundredth of the uncivilised rate. You could argue, in fact, that the Hobbesian view of humanity isn’t just right – it is thrillingly upbeat. Violence may be in our genes, but we go to extraordinary lengths to contain it. The fact that I can leave my bedroom window open at night, even in a city of 8.5 million inherently wicked people, shows how determinedly, and successfully, we have civilised ourselves. Rousseau, by comparison, was just a bitter nostalgic. “Everything degenerates in the hands of man,” he grumbled – quite wrongly, as it turns out. I don’t know about the politics, but I prefer the philosophy of hope.

    Latest Given Reputation Points:
    Georg Schoenerer: 13,902 Points ("The greatest evil is fear of a violent death.") Feb 28, 2017
    • Informative Informative x 1
    • List

Share This Page