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Hobbes and Internationalism - Essay Example

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This paper will explore Hobbes’ theory of the state of nature and assess whether it is applicable to nationalism and demonstrable in international relations…
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Hobbes and Internationalism
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Hobbes and Internationalism

Download file to see previous pages... Hobbes’ State of Nature It would be taxing for anyone vaguely familiar with Hobbes to not be aware of his widely quoted vision of man’s brutal and short life in the state of nature. For Hobbes, man’s equality in the state of nature is the cause of his terrible existence in that every man has the right to everything, which causes conflict. Man possesses an inherent selfishness which causes him to strive constantly for self-preservation, and in turn is the cause of his suffering (or seeking) competition, glory, and distrust. Such a state is ultimately “no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death” (1996: xiii). This is not to say that man is a blundering, blind fool simply seeking to grab that which promises to bring greater comfort and success to his life. Rather, man is in possession of reason, which causes him to grasp an understanding of right and wrong conduct. Yet, because no formal standards of right and wrong exist in a state of nature, opinions and rights clash and differ. This is not to assume that Hobbes denies the universality of morality or natural law, rather man is governed by agreements and contracts. However, Hobbes’ contracts are a product of the selfishness of man, and hence are not based upon any form of honour or trust because they will be valid to the point that an individual believes that another will not fall foul of his promise. An example would be that Y does not punch Z because Y does not want Z to punch him. This ‘contract’ is formed on pure selfishness, and only extends to the point that Z complies with the agreement. If Y feels that Z’s agreement lacks strength, he will quickly feel free to break his part of the contract. Such contracts, because they are without honour and because they are a product of selfishness, are very likely to be breached. If we are to apply these points on an international scale, some contradictions emerge. While on the surface it would appear that each state has the right to do anything, the existence of equality is highly questionable. Hobbes evidently thinks that a “genuine condition of war” exists between states (Hokestra 2007: 118), though not their individuals; rather their sovereigns who are constantly “in the state and posture of gladiators” (1996: xiii, 12, 63/78). The lack of common power on an international level today is evident, yet could this be utilised to lead to the conclusion that each state is constantly read for, or under threat of war? The temptation to answer this query negatively is backed by the concept of equality. Indeed, there is a great deal of “radical uncertainty” surrounding the cooperation between states (Newey 2008: 161). Though Hobbes saw men as equal in a state of nature, it could not be said that all states are equal; the opposite is actually evident. America certainly does not feel the need to harbour pre-emptive aggression against countries such as Iceland, for example. This leads to the conclusion that internationally, states are in a state of war as man is in the state of nature (Bull 1977: 49). This concept can also be applied to Hobbes’ view of man in nature as essentially unsociable: states across the globe often enter into mutually beneficial agreements. Even larger states provide aid to third world countries, particularly after crises and where poverty is extreme. Although these distinctions may be rather primitive, they gather much ground in establishing weaknesses in Hobbes’ theory being applied on an international level. Man in the state of nature is certainly more equal than countries in the ‘ ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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