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 11, 2010

Golden Rule in Thomas Hobbes

THE GOLDEN RULE WAS SOILED by the philosophers and political thinkers of the of the Enlightenment. We can start with Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the English philosopher of Leviathan fame, and from him look at Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, and finally John Stuart Mill. Hobbes may be called the first liberal in a manner of speaking since, at, least with respect to the Golden Rule, he transformed it from a rule regarding duty or law, to a rule regarding liberty, or the absence of law. The difference is subtle, but of significant importance, and it comes from his anthropology, where he rejects the natural social tendencies in man.

The English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes begins his radical re-interpretation of the Golden Rule with his famous assumption that the "condition of Man . . . is a condition of War of every one and against every one." For Hobbes, since man is naturally in a state of War, there are no natural rights, nor are there any natural duties, which is the odd result of his doctrine that "every man has a Right to every thing; even to on another's body." If others have a right over even my own body, then it follows that I have no rights. Thus already, Hobbes is using language in a manner that is novel. As a matter of expediency, then, we have a second Hobbesian right: "the sum of the Right of Nature; which is, "By all means we can, to defend ourselves." There is thus a certain self-interest to "endeavor Peace, as far as [man] has hope of obtaining it." And at this point, Hobbes comes up with his radical re-working of the Golden Rule, a rule that is derived not from the fact that we have a common God, or that we share a common nature, but that we are natural enemies to each other:
From this Fundamental Law of Nature, by which men are commanded to endeavor Peace, is derived this second Law; "That a man be willing, when others are so too, as far-forth, as for Peace, and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself." For as long as every man holds this Right, of doing any thing he likes; so long are all men in the condition of War But if other men will not lay down their Right, as well as he; then there is no Reason for any one, to divest himself of his: For that were to expose himself to Prey, (which no man is bound to) rather than to dispose himself to Peace. This is that Law of the Gospel "Whatsoever you require that others should do to you, that do ye to them." And that Law of all men, "Quod tibi feiri non vis, alteri ne feceris."
(p. 100) For Hobbes, the Golden Rule is not part of the fundamental law of our nature; it is, as it were, a secondary natural law, one that comes into play only as we transfer out of the state of war into a state of peace following the social contract. As Jeffrey Wattles puts it:"Hobbes proposed [the golden] rule as a mark of the radical transition from anarchy to order." Wattles, 77.

In Hobbes's view, then, Golden Rule is essentially a convenient summary of the various secondary "natural" laws that are necessary concomitants of our movement from a state of war to a state of covenantual peace, otherwise the covenants would not be kept and we would revert to our state of war. We are therefore to keep our promises and covenants, we ought to be gracious, complaisant, forgiving, limit our revenge, avoid contumely, pride, and arrogance. We are also to do equity, accede to equal use of things that are owned in common, respect private property and the law of primogeniture and first seizing. We ought to give safe passage to "men that mediate Peace," and submit ourselves to the decision of an independent judge or arbiter, and never be a judge in our own cause, when in the throes of a dispute with our fellow man. These we are not to keep because they are part of our nature, but because they are necessary to maintain the covenant that keeps men from being caught in internecine warfare, that state where life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," that would otherwise exist. The Golden Rule is a summary of these concomitant requirements.
And though this may seem too subtle a deduction of the Laws of Nature, to be taken notice of by all men; whereof the most part are too busy in getting food, and the rest too negligent to understand; yet to leave all men inexcusable, they have been contracted into one easy sum, intelligible even to the meanest capacity; and that is "Do not that to another, which thou wouldest not have done to thy self;" which shows him, that he has no more to do in learning the Laws of Nature, but, when weighing the actions of other men with his own, they seem too heavy, to put them into the other part of the balance, and his own into their place, that his own passions, and self-love, may add nothing to the weight; and then there is none of these Laws of Nature that will not appear unto him very reasonable.
(pp. 120-21) This entire way of looking at thinks is markedly different from the Golden Rule as perceived by Hillel or by Christ. This is something altogether different than the Golden Rule as we find in the Analects or in the Mahābhārata. There is, in fact, something already rotten in the Denmark of Hobbes's philosophy.

(Quotations to Leviathan are taken from the reprint of the 1651 edition by Oxford University Press, 1929; they have been modified somewhat so as to be spelled in modern English.)

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