Calling Thomas Hobbes

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Cover of Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

This week, Israel’s Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post newspaper in which he attempted to sound a dire warning about developments he believes have the potential to bring humanity into a terrible period of anarchy and chaos such as it has never seen before. All of these trends are feeding into and off of each other, according to Liberman, and the solution he offered was for the G7 countries which include Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, the UK and the US, to join their efforts with Russia and China to create a new, stronger international framework to manage these trends.

As my academic studies were in the area of international relations I find Liberman’s comments fascinating for all kinds of reasons. I believe the first part, where he warns about the potential for the trends he’s identified to take the human race into a period of chaos and anarchy, to be quite valid and convincing. At the same time, I find the solution he’s offered to be a tragicomic joke that I doubt even he himself takes very seriously. If there was ever any hope that these countries (all of whom have their own catastrophic internal problems) could put their many disagreements aside and cooperate for the good of humanity in general, that hope is nowhere to be found today.

Speaking metaphorically, the train he’s advising us to catch reached and subsequently left the station many years ago, and it’s long gone.

However, Liberman has done us all a favor by reminding us of Thomas Hobbes.

Hobbes was an English philosopher who was born in 1588 and managed to live until 1679, witnessing many things, including technological advancements and developments in the economic, cultural, political and sociological spheres that dramatically changed the patterns of everyday life for people living in England (and further afield). 

Many of these changes had tragic results, perhaps none more so than a civil war which broke out in England in 1642 and lasted for most of the next decade. 

The chaos, anarchy and general breakdown of order in his homeland (he was living in Paris for most of this period) had a profound effect on Hobbes, and led him to write a book called “Leviathan” which had an enormous amount of influence, for good and bad, on nearly every country in the Western world and many beyond it.

So, what were his ideas?

Hobbes believed that government was a monster that human beings created in order to manage their passions because they realized that, if left to themselves, they would be in what he called a “state of nature” in which the only law would be one of “survival of the strongest” and that even the strongest would have to sleep eventually and that’s when their rivals would destroy them in order to take what they had for themselves. However, he also believed that in order to be truly effective at, as Thomas Jefferson might say, ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, etc. of a given polity or population, the government must have absolute power over every aspect of life, including everything from the value of money to the meaning of words and even scientific theories. 

In other words, Hobbes believed that if a dispute arose between scientists over whether, for instance, water froze at 32 degree Fahrenheit or 36 degrees, the government should determine which of those two numbers was more likely to create social stability and impose a law that that was the correct number, regardless of any other consideration.

For Thomas Hobbes, truth, logic and even reality itself were less important than social cohesion, political stability, economic prosperity and peace. Individual freedom and justice were things he did not appear to place much value on, as they had the potential to put pressure on the government to do things which might not be advantageous to the general population. You can imagine what he thought about freedom of religion.

There’s a lot more to Hobbes than what I’ve written here, but you can go check him out for yourself if you’re really interested.

All of this brings us back to Avigdor Liberman.

Liberman is worried that the world is moving into a season of chaos and anarchy and he appears to be almost desperate to avoid it. He’s so desperate, in fact, that he’s willing to contemplate/advocate for Israel and many other small to medium sized countries in the world to cede a great deal of their power and sovereignty to the traditional great powers who, he hopes/believes, will be able to take that power and use it to avoid this terrible season he is predicting will soon be upon us. Perhaps he even understands that this will mean that these great powers will impose things on smaller countries which will be very much against their own wishes and interests, but if he does understand that, he appears to think that this is acceptable in light of the potential alternatives.

Brothers and sisters, Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman is far from being the only one who is thinking along these lines. Everywhere you look in the world today, there’s fear that things are getting worse and worse. This widespread fear has many people looking for a savior, someone who will deliver us out of this terrible mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. The problem is, they’re not ready to admit that only God could save us out of a mess this big. They’re still looking for salvation to come from their own efforts.

How long can it be before the anti-Christ figure prophesied in Revelations is revealed?

Thomas Hobbes was ready for such a figure almost 400 years ago. Liberman and many others appear to be ready to at least contemplate the possibility of giving power to such a figure today. I think it’s safe to predict that as time goes by and the situation inevitably deteriorates, more and more people will become fearful and desperate enough to go the same route. Tolerance for those who insist on retaining individual freedoms will become hard to find when the exercise of such freedom is being presented as an existential threat to the species (indeed, a recent book published by a respected British paleontologist predicted that the human race will be extinct by the end of the next century if not sooner, due in part to a lack of governing structures powerful enough to manage the enormous problems of a human population approaching 9 billion people).

So, the question, as always, is what is to be done?

You and I have a message that the world needs to hear about the only Savior who has the ability to save us out of this terrible mess we’re in. In the time we have left, we need to be doing everything we can to share this message with everyone who needs to hear it. That is what we can and must do now. 

I know it might seem like this blog is ending somewhat abruptly, but that really is all there is to say. I hope it blessed someone to read this.