Hobbesian solutions to Hobbesian problems

Emily Skarbek, lecturer in political economy, Kings College London, Tweets a plug for her new course:

“Smithian solutions to Hobbesian problems? Fall 2015 Constitutional Political Economy begins now!”

Very interesting, I’m sure. But these “Smithian solutions”, assuming they exist, would be quite superfluous.

From Jasay’s “Prisoners’ dilemma and the Theory of the State”:

In two key passages of Leviathan the Foole tells himself that, as “there is no such thing as Justice” and “every man’s conservation, and contentment (is) committed to his own care,” … “there is no reason why every man might not … keep or not keep Covenants.” He then finds to his dismay that if justice does not demand the keeping of covenants, expediency does: for if he breaches his covenant, he “cannot be received into any Society” […] “but for the errour of them that receive him.” It takes a Foole to rely on “errour” and collective foolishness to let him get away with it. Foolishness is surely an inadequate source from which to draw the imperative need for an enforcer of covenants.

Yet such are the workings of the “sociology of knowledge” that public consciousness does not retain the Foole, but does retain the bowdlerised War of All Against All.

pp42-42 Justice and its Surroundings

The “bowdlerised War of All Against All” refers, roughly, to this: In Hobbes, “war” has a special meaning. A state of “war” exists whenever there is no guarantee of peace. For Hobbes only Leviathan can guarantee peace. (Leviathan, Chapter 13, Paragraph 8.) That is, it follows from his definitions that Hobbes is right; and if we don’t pay attention to his peculiar definitions, we will feel that he must be right.


One thought on “Hobbesian solutions to Hobbesian problems

  1. A commonplace error.The appeal to the Hobbesian premise to justify whatever pet theory of the socially just state. There was reason it was called “Leviathan” and not the “Parliamentarian.”

    The heart of the Hobbesian premise is an intractable compliance problem. As with Locke, the State inherits the violence of the state of nature. So with Hobbes, then, the only resolution is “singular ruler.”(any legislature would simply inherit the war of all against all)

    Interestingly, libertarianism can be thought as explaining how you arrive at the positive demonstration of the Hobbesian conclusion from the Lockean premise(lockean premise==the state of nature is only suboptimal in the sense of the opportunity cost of contractual compliance enforcement) .

    With the de Jasay method of Rational Choice, you can describe the thing you end up with as something that acts as if it were a singular entity.


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