Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

By Nature Equal: How Are Men Created Equal? Hobbes's Hobbling Equality

THOMAS HOBBES WAS A TERATOPHILE, a lover of monsters, perhaps even a teratodule, a worshiper of them. And his creed advanced a monstrous philosophy, a monstrous jurisprudence, and a monstrous government. He loved the creatures Leviathan and Behemoth, far above either God or Man. He was the harbinger, the morning star, of modern liberalism, and advanced a notion of man and his nature that was radically at odds with Western tradition up to that time. He was father to an "insurrection in the Western conception of the moral self." (p. 101). (For other postings relating to Thomas Hobbes, see Ectasis and Telos: Thomas Hobbes and His Monsters and Golden Rule in Thomas Hobbes) In their book By Nature Equal: The Anatomy of a Western Insight, Professors Coon and Brennan analyze whether Hobbes's individualistic moral and political philosophy is reconcilable with their notion of human equality. Their notion of human equality requires a belief in four propositions: (1) rational human beings have the capacity to choose freely to pursue or reject the details of correct behavior; (2) there exists a "preinstitutional order of such correct behaviors" that is extrinsic to the will of each human and that he owes to every other human; (3) moral self-perfection is obtained through the diligent pursuit of seeking that objective content; and (4) rational persons possess that capacity to make that effort, and possess that capacity uniformly.

Although Hobbes's philosophy fails on numerous of these requirements, we will develop the most obvious failure, that being a belief in a "preinstitutional" lateral order of objective (that is moral) norms that define how man should treat his fellow man. For Hobbes there is no such preinstitutional lateral order. In Hobbes's view, before the social contract man has no such moral obligations to his fellows. Hobbes plainly states in his Leviathan that there is "no obligation on any man, which ariseth not from some act of his own; for all men equally, are by Nature free." [chp. 21] For Hobbes, however, freedom is not defined as freedom under law, but freedom from law. There are no constraints upon many prior to the institution of government: "For where no covenant hath preceded, there hath no right been transferred, and every man has right to everything and consequently, no action can be unjust." [chp. 15] It is a remarkable lawless freedom that Hobbes envisions, where "every man has a right to every thing, even to another's body." [chp. 14] Every man has a right to every thing? What sort of monstrous natural law is that?

Thomas Hobbes, Teratophile

In Hobbes's view, therefore, before man instituted government through a social contract, there was no law except self-preservation, and in exercising self-preservation man was "morally unbounded." Fundamentally, therefore, Hobbes advances a "radical autonomy." (p. 103) Hobbes's view of natural law is exceedingly thin: "[A]side from sheer survival, nature tells us nothing in particular concerning the good life." (p. 104) Manifestly, Hobbes advances something untraditional here. Hobbes has performed a "moral lobotomy" upon man, and "reintroduced the ancient possibility of nihilism." (p. 106)

Although Hobbes gives some sort of lip service to human equality, it is not the sort of human equality as conventionally understood in the inherited Western tradition. Recall that Coons and Brennan proposed five criteria to identify the host property for human equality: importance, goodness, laterality, singularity, and uniformity. It is rather apparent that Hobbes's view of human equality is lacking in a number of these. For Hobbes, man is not morally bounded prior to the institution of government, and so he fails most plainly the laterality requirement:
Hobbes's radical autonomy is so different as to be virtually the opposite of that required by the convention; for the latter asserts not that the will of man legislates what is good, but that the good has already been legislated for man whether he chooses or rejects it. . . . The more precise term for this human condition is "bounded autonomy," and we will use that label to distinguish our view from that of Hobbes and company. . . .

The gulf that separates "radical" from "bounded" autonomy is wide. Bounded autonomy, which represents the stronger tradition in the West, claims to be the exclusive form of moral liberty. It rejects the Hobbesian idea of an autonomy that is empty of duty and declares it is a contradiction; for law itself is a condition of freedom . . . .

Hobbes defines freedom negatively, as the absence of constraint. Once can give this a positive form by saying that the individual will is the sole author of whatever rules it chooses to recognize; in any case, Hobbes represents a strong form of "moral subjectivism," but we must pause to clarify this usage. The subjective/objective distinction does not capture the crucial difference between radical and bounded autonomy; the bounded version, too, is subjective insofar as the recognition of and submission to the lateral moral imperative also occur within the self. In bounded autonomy reason interprets its own experience, string to present to the self the specific behavior that would fulfill the lateral imperative regarding fellow humans. But the self's consciousness of its own subordination, its search for correct answers, and the act of choice itself produce no empirical trace. To this extent bounded autonomy is indeed subjective.

It is definitely not subjective, however, in the Hobbesian sense that choices are made in isolation from all authority but the choosing self. In Hobbes's version of natural man . . . there is no external moral order to be sought. Indeed, order exists neither inside nor outside until the self decrees it.
(p. 105) There is simply no laterality recognized in a moral philosophy which "would offer as the host property for human equality . . . the individual capacity for caprice." (p. 106) As Coons and Brennan also point out, Hobbes fails in the area of singularity, importance, and goodness criteria. (pp. 106-07, 288 n. 12)

In fact, that Hobbes failed to meet the requisite terms of the inherited Western convention of human equality with its basis in the natural moral law is by design. As Coons and Brennan observe:
Hobbes had strategic reasons for slaughtering preinstitutional obligation. Principally, he wanted to clear the way for an order of public sovereignty that would be insulated both from ecclesiastical claims and from the constraints of the law of nature, as those claims and constraints had been understood by prior generations.
In short, Hobbes wanted to act as midwife in the birth of the monster of secular government. And he did so by founding obligations on contract, and not on law.

Coons and Brennan wrap up their treatment of Hobbes by suggesting why it might be that the liberal and Western infatuation with "equality" has been difficult for intellectuals modernly to uphold. The very basis for equality was undermined by Hobbesian assumptions of unbounded autonomy and the rejection of a bounded autonomy defined by a reference to preinstitutional and objective order of natural law. "It may be," they conclude, "that the idea of equality became popular in Western history as intellectuals began to abandon the only commitments that could have sustained it." (p. 114)

A Procrustean "Equality" [ΙΣΟΤΗΣ] by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

That suggestion seems probable. If it is so, it would explain why much of the modern cri de coeur for equality sounds so vacuous, so banal, and so lawless. Modernly, the cry for equality may be nothing but another way to say non serviam. Indeed, the discrepancy between the cry for equality and the lack of law may explain why, in some cases, the cry for equality departs from mere banality and libertinism into the realms of positive evil itself. Those that cry for equality sometimes have bloody hands that have sacrificed their fellow men to the devil who has donned the name of Isotes or Aequalitas, and shows himself as an angel of light. When these folks came on the scene, they did not speak Latin or Greek, but a vulgar French and they wore funny red hats (though now they speak in all the tongues of Babel and wear all sorts of regalia, such as ugly pantsuits, bottomless pants, or even nothing at all). If we listen well, we can hear the non serviam in the revolutionary cry for égalité, a cry positively demonic, for the devil keeps no law.


  1. Ohhhh---WoW!!!! You posted that painting by Eric von Kuenhelt-Leddihn! He is my main man! Ohhh---how I love that guy!

    It is from his book Liberty or Equality, I hope all people read this book. It awakened me. It is soooo nice to his picture of Proscrutes here!


  2. Ohh WOW! What a fabulous ending! Can I quote that?

    Hobbes is a monster. "Man is totally free"? This moron was never a farmer. A farmer must obey the Laws of Nature---or Nature kills him. Obligation? When a milk cow moans, he better go out there and milk her, and she must be milked twice a day and at predetermined times, exactly everyday! Hobbes does not know nature whatsoever.

    I also would like to point out this discrepancy: "founding obligations on contract, and not on law."

    Man is first part of a family, and then, Man, which of course does not exist, but Frenchmen, Englishmen, Russians, Persians, Phonecians, have as their first obligation to Blood. Our first obligation is to our Family, then to our blood relations. There is no contract, no law. Blood demands loyalty and obligation, duty. A Mother would throw herself at the devil himself, if he tried to harm her child. Mothers become she-bears and will defend to the death her child.

    There is no law, no contract. No child signed a contract, there is No law. The Mother acts on Instinct.

  3. I thought you would like that picture.

    It's been some time since I last read Liberty and Equality. Maybe I need to pick it up again.