Contrasting views of lawless society

PSCI 120 Take Home Exam, Summer 2012

Glenn Booker, 8/28/2012



This paper addresses the following topics, divided into three sections for each of the three respective questions.

2. While Augustine, Luther and Hobbes are equally pessimistic about how human beings might conduct themselves in a world devoid of law and government, they provide different reasons for their pessimism. Why do these thinkers think that government is necessary and what would the world look like without it? According to each, what are the sources of human conflict and political authority? What functions must government provide to allow individuals to live peaceful, decent lives?

All sources for this paper are from Cohen, M., & Fermon, N. (1996) Princeton Readings in Political Thought. Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, which is cited as (Princeton Reader, page number).  The papers discussed are St. Augustine’s City of God (413-425 C.E.), Martin Luther’s The Christian in Society (circa 1520), and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651).

Why is Government Needed?

According to St Augustine, government is needed because of the foul nature of man after original sin.  Government exists because of the will of God; “because God does not wholly desert those whom He condemns … the human race is restrained by law and education, which keep guard against the ignorance that besets us.” (Princeton Reader, 134) Without government, the world would be ruled by “wicked men” who produce “gnawing cares, disquiet, griefs, fears, wild joys, quarrels, …, plunderings, and innumerable other crimes that do not easily come to mind.” (both Princeton Reader, 133-4)  St Augustine compares the restraint of the human race through government to corporal punishment for children using “the birch, the strap, the cane” which are justified by: “why all these punishments, save to overcome ignorance and bridle evil desires – these evils with which we come into the world.” (both Princeton Reader, 134)

Under Luther’s view, government is needed to control the lawless and unrighteous, e.g. quoting the apostle Paul “The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless” (Princeton Reader, 195)  Laws are needed to tame the ‘unrighteous’ who are too ignorant to know the right things to do; “but the unrighteous do nothing that the law demands; therefore, they need the law to instruct, constrain, and compel them to do good.” (Princeton Reader, 195-6)  In the absence of laws, “men would devour one another, seeing that the whole world is evil” and “the world would be reduced to chaos.” (both Princeton Reader, 196)  Even in a world with the spiritual government alone, “there wickedness is given free rein and the door is open for all manner of rascality, for the world as a whole cannot receive or comprehend it.”  (Princeton Reader, 197)  Christians should support the temporal government, so that “the essential governmental authority may not be despised and become enfeebled or perish.  The world cannot and dare not dispense with it.” (Princeton Reader, 198)

Hobbes believes that government is needed to keep unrestrained conflict from breaking out among men.  “During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war” where war means both active conflict and a time when “the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known.” (both Princeton Reader, 208)  In wartime, “there every man is enemy to every man” and there is “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (both Princeton Reader, 208)  Hobbes defines the commonwealth as a needed government structure, because “where there is no commonwealth, there nothing is unjust.” (Princeton Reader, 215)  Similarly, if a man refuses to be part of the commonwealth, “he must either submit to their decrees, or be left in the condition of war he was in before.” (Princeton Reader, 224)  Hence without government there can be no justice, and man is in a permanent state of war with everyone else.

St Augustine and Martin Luther agree that man, without God, is fundamentally evil and ignorant, and laws are needed to bring about control and guidance to the masses.  Hobbes believes man is eager to attack his fellow man in order to survive, so laws are needed in order to tame that hostile nature.

Source of Human Conflict and Political Authority

The fundamental source of human conflict for St Augustine is the biblical concept of original sin.  Referring to the downfall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he says “for by them so great a sin was committed, that by it the human nature was altered for the worse, and was transmitted also to their posterity.” (Princeton Reader, 133)    However in the city of flesh, without God, “the bad man … is a slave … of as many masters as he has vices” (Princeton Reader, 139)  therefore one’s vices could be seen as the basis for political authority in that environment.  In contrast in the city of spirit “the soul consequently rules the body and reason the vices” (Princeton Reader, 142) and the arbiter of justice is divine, namely “true justice has no existence save in that republic whose founder and rules is Christ.” (Princeton Reader, 143)  For “the one supreme God rules the obedient city according to His grace” (Princeton Reader, 142) so divine grace is a key element of political authority.  Under St Augustine, the source of conflict is original sin, and the source of political authority is either one’s vices, or divine grace.

Under Luther, civil law (the ‘temporal sword’) “has existed from the beginning of the world.” (Princeton Reader, 194)  Like St Augustine, Luther has two worlds, called the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world.  “Those who belong to the kingdom of God are all the true believers who are in Christ and under Christ” (Princeton Reader, 195) and the kingdom of the world is presumably everyone else.  Luther recognizes the authority of temporal law over both Christians and others; “the Christian submits most willingly to the rule of the sword, pays his taxes, honors those in authority, serves, helps, and does all he can to assist the governing authority” because “he concerns himself about what is serviceable and of benefit to others.” (both Princeton Reader, 197)

In contrast, Hobbes believes a fundamental equality among men.  “Nature hath made men so equal, in the faculties of the body, and mind.” (Princeton Reader, 207)  Conflict arises from a natural limitation on resources and the resulting competition among men; “if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies.” (Princeton Reader, 207)  Hobbes establishes three origins of conflict; “So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel.  First, competition; second, diffidence; thirdly, glory.” (Princeton Reader, 208)  Competition to take from other men, diffidence to defend them, and glory for the perceived superiority of “their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.” (Princeton Reader, 208)  In war, Hobbes claims “nothing can be unjust” because “where there is no common power, there is no law.”  (both Princeton Reader, 209)  To remedy that situation “the only way to erect such a common power … is, to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men.” (Princeton Reader, 221)  Clearly Hobbes is strongly democratic in the sense of forming government by the will of the people, but the structure of that government can vary.  The sovereign must be a single person or assembly, for “a kingdom divided in itself cannot stand” (Princeton Reader, 226) and civil war will result otherwise; or restated as “powers divided mutually destroy each other.” (Princeton Reader, 238)   A commonwealth can be represented by one man (monarchy), an assembly of part of the people (aristocracy), or all the people (democracy). (Princeton Reader, 228)

The source of human conflict is original sin for St Augustine, the beginning of time for Luther, and contention for limited resources for Hobbes.  The source of political authority is one’s vices or divine grace for St Augustine, temporal law for Luther, and the will of the people selecting a sovereign for Hobbes.

Functions of Government

Under St Augustine’s vision, there are two forms of government, described in terms of two cities.  “The one consists of those who wish to live after the flesh, the other of those who wish to live after the spirit.” (Princeton Reader, 135)  In the former “the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love” (Princeton Reader, 136)    Even primitive man strives for peace, “the most savage animals … encompass their own species with a ring of protecting peace,” (Princeton Reader, 138)  so that “the laws of man’s nature move him to hold fellowship and maintain peace with all men.’ (Princeton Reader, 139)

Under Luther’s view, the civil government (temporal sword) is defined by “it is certain and clear enough that it is God’s will that the temporal sword and law be used for the punishment of the wicked and the protection of the upright” (Princeton Reader, 195)  To accomplish this, there are two governments, “one to produce righteousness, the other to bring about external peace and prevent evil deeds” (Princeton Reader, 197)  Hence the functions of government for the masses are fairly similar under St Augustine and Luther – they are needed to control people because they are fundamentally evil but want peace.  However under Luther’s view, Christians need no government; “if all the world were composed of real Christians … there would be no need for or benefits from prince, king, lord, sword, or law.” “For this reason it is impossible that the temporal sword and law should find any work to do among Christians.”  (both Princeton Reader, 195)

In Hobbes’ view, the second law of nature provides a reason for government; “that a man be willing … as for peace, and defence of himself … to lay down this right to all things; and be content with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.” (Princeton Reader, 210)  Part of the role of government is to help enforce covenants “there must be some coercive power, to compel men equally to the performance of their covenants … such power there is none before the erection of a commonwealth” and to achieve justice; “justice is the constant will of giving to every man his own.” (both Princeton Reader, 215)  Government also depends on the fifth law of nature, complaisance; “that every man strive to accommodate himself to the rest.” (Princeton Reader, 217)  He who fails to comply with this law “cannot be corrected, is to be left, or cast out of society, as cumbersome thereunto.” (Princeton Reader, 217)  In order to form a peaceful commonwealth “it is necessary for all men that seek peace, to lay down certain rights of nature” but “to retain some; as the right to govern their own bodies.” (both Princeton Reader, 218)  Or more generally, “every subject has liberty in all those things, the right whereof cannot by covenant be transferred.”  (Princeton Reader, 233) “Force may be used to enforce covenants; “covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.” (Princeton Reader, 220)  The size needed for a secure commonwealth depends on the threats it faces; “the multitude sufficient to confide in for our security, is not determined by any certain number, but by comparison with the enemy we fear.”  Under Hobbes, the sovereign is immune to prosecution, “no man that hath sovereign power can justly be put to death, or otherwise in any manner by his subjects punished.”  (Princeton Reader, 224)  This is a necessary result of the people giving their power to the sovereign.  A key role for the sovereign is to protect the people, so “the obligation of subjects to the sovereign, is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them.” (Princeton Reader, 234)  Hobbes is eager to give up rights for the individual in order to achieve peace and stability.  They give rights to a sovereign monarch or group of people, which makes them a superior class of people, immune to the laws they write.

Under St Augustine, government serves the love of ruling or love of one another, in order to achieve and maintain peace.  Luther says government is to punish the wicked and protect the upright; but if all were true Christians, there would be no need for government at all.  Hobbes recognizes a need for people to lay down some of their rights in order to provide peace and defense, enforce covenants, and achieve justice.  Government also maintains forces needed to maintain security against its enemies.

— fin —


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