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The individual and the State - Essay Example

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If the 20th century taught us anything, it is that the centuries old tension between freedom and control, between liberty and authoritarianism, between the individual and the state, has yet to be resolved, and may never be. If the last one hundred years demonstrated the severity of the catastrophe that such a tension might produce (in the form of Soviet authoritarianism, the Gulag, the Nazi Holocaust, and even U.S…
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The individual and the State
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Download file to see previous pages These configurations alternate between those put forward by two of the founding figures of Western political thought—Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau—who each offer different understandings of the relation between freedom and equality. No version is decisive, due in part to the problems with each account. With both Hobbes and Rousseau, we cannot understand their thoughts on freedom and equality without first recalling their different takes on the reality of lived experience, what Hobbes calls the state of nature. In Leviathan, Hobbes outlines a state of nature in which war and conflict are the natural way of things. Human beings, fundamentally insecure in their person, able to kill and be killed, cannot gain a sense of safety in the state of nature. Instead, the risks always remains that some individual, or group of individuals, will plot and carry out one's demise. Because of the intrinsic scarcity and uneven distribution of goods, people tend to use their capacity to kill each other to suit their own needs, as nature demands. As such the state of nature far too often induces a state of war, wherein the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes). ...
ality and freedom is essentially negative, which is to say that it is when man is most equal that he is most in danger, and thus constantly beset by impediments that impinge upon his freedom. In the state of nature, all are equally able to kill or be killed, to steal or to be stolen from, but such a situation is untenable, and reason demands that it be redressed and the situation improved. Some might contend that this state thus produces ultimate freedom, but Hobbes seems to think otherwise, since the risk of death and even the threat of danger impede one's ability to pursue their own objectives. It is for this reason that social compacts are produced, and common-wealths agreed to, even though they limit one's freedom. In Hobbes' thinking, freedom “signifieth (properly) the absence of Opposition” and a “Free-Man, is he, that in those things, which by his strength and wit he is able to do, is not hindered to do what he has a will to” (Hobbes). At the same time, the state that comes in to rectify these problems and produce a civil society does not actually generate new, more robust liberties. Instead, Hobbes argues that with the inequality of the state comes new forms of “oppositions.” He writes: “But as men, for the atteyning of peace, and conservation of themselves thereby, have made an Artificall Man, which we call a Common-wealth; so also have they made Artificiall Chains, called Civill Lawes, which they themselves, by mutuall covenants, have fastened at one end, to the lips if that Man, or Assembly, to whom they have given the Soveraigne Power...” (Hobbes). In a civil society, in a common-wealth, some are better off than others, and the society is thus less equal; the role of the state, if it is a just state, is to ensure those negative freedoms ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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