Saturday, May 17, 2008

Must commonwealths be able to defend themselves?

Hobbes seems to define a commonwealth as an entity of sufficient size and strength to deter would-be attackers. In an age of nuclear weapons and suicide bombers, can commonwealths or nations serve the function Hobbes assigned them?


Nathan said...

It seems as though Hobbes' charge becomes more important than ever. But the concern then would be: 'what rights do citizens have to forgo, (on top of what Hobbes requires already), for this to happen?' I think Agamben addresses these very issues in his work.

Jay said...

Given that there is a chance of a nuclear, suicide or other form of attack that shows somewhat of a failure in the commonwealth's ability to protect, there appears to be two options (outside of remaining a member of the CW) that can be taken after giving up membership to the CW; return to the mythical state of nature and be a member of no CW or become a member of a different CW.

Putting aside the difficulty in today's world of entering the "state of nature", it does not seem to be a rational decision even if possible. If you give up membership to your CW, but remain in the same location, your chances of being attacked seem to increase rather than decrease. Not only must you worry about suicide bombers and nuclear attacks, but assuming the state knows not to protect you, you must be able to fend off all attackers who are a member of the CW.

This means the only plausible option is to join a different commonwealth. However, there may be stumbling blocks to this being realistic. First, it seems as if part of Hobbes' education teach national pride. This may be required to fill the ranks of the military and police force. This being said, it may be more realistic for a citizen to move locations within his CW, one less likely to be attacked, than to change CWs.

A real world example hopefully will help clarify my thoughts. The United States is seen as a more threatening place to live than Canada. We have had a major terrorist attack and our murder rate is much higher. Therefore, one may conclude that people living in the US should just move to Canada. However, there are areas of the US that are just as safe as most or all of Canada and perhaps much safer than the most dangerous parts of Canada. It may be most rational just to move to these spots that are less likely to be terrorist targets and have low crime rates. Rather then the threat of attack and the lack of ability to stop it lead to a change of commonwealth, perhaps it is more realistic to see it as a call to move out of the "dangerous" cities and into more rural or suburban areas.

Ethan Lee Vita said...

Jay, you mentioned that leaving the commonwealth (or government) is an irrational action. In today's world, with government control at unprecedented levels, to do so openly yes. But if we could choose between a world of governments and one of anarcho-capitalism, an anarcho-capitalist society would be more rational, ethical, efficient, and peaceful.

The essence of government is using coercion to plan people's lives which at its core is unethical, while anarchy is one of voluntary contracts between individuals. Government relies on implicit consent (something that cannot exist while maintaining rights), while anarchy rests on explicit consent.

If you want to protect yourself, you can either start or pay for defensive services. This would be much more efficient than a government agency because a private company has the profit-loss motive and must satisfy demands of consumers to stay in business. If they perform poorly, they go out of business. A government agency grows if they perform poorly out of the twisted logic that we need more money to do the service better when they have an already dismal record. A government must satisfy everyone, regardless of who uses the service or not. They must maintain only a simple majority - leaving the rest who are unsatisfied with little to no options. In the private market the unsatisfied consumer can take their business elsewhere, therefore satisfying their need and forcing the original company to produce a good product or it will continue to lose business, and more importantly to them, money.

Susanne Sreedhar said...

It seems like the interesting question here is one about obligation. Suppose that because today we face threats Hobbes could not have imagined, no existing commonwealth can fulfill its purpose of protecting its subjects. (I actually think that this isn't right, but I'll grant it for the moment.) Would Hobbes then say that subjects don't have an obligation to obey their governments? If the U.S. cannot protect me from terrorist attacks or nuclear weapons, then am I not obligated to obey the law. Can I just pick up, switch allegiances, and move the Canada. Or if I stay, do I obey for merely prudential reasons? Hobbes does, of course, insist that there is a mutual relationship between obedience and protection, but I'm not sure how to apply that in these cases. The fact that the U.S. government cannot keep me safe from certain sorts of attacks doesn't seem to entail that I am freed from the social contract and so at liberty to form new allegiances to other governments at will. That seems pretty anti-Hobbesian to me.

John Turri said...

In response to Professor Lloyd's question, I think Hobbes might respond in any of the following ways.

First, clarify that a CW needn't be able to deter all would-be attackers ('WBAs'), but only most.

Second, distinguish between WBAs and could-be attackers ('CBAs'), and then argue that whereas nuclear powers and suicide bombers are, in many instances, CBAs, they are not WBAs. (Things that merely could happen are more remote from the actual world than things that could easily happen, and it is in this latter category that would-be attacks fall.)

Third, insist -- repulsively! -- that, in such a world, CWs worth their salt will ante up and acquire nuclear weapons, and train suicide bomber squads, of their own, or at least develop alternative means to deter other powers that possess such instruments (e.g. space-based weaponry). Those that develop sufficient detterence persist; those that don't perish.

Fourth -- and in connection with the third -- Hobbes might point to the development of supranational political organizations -- e.g., the European Union, African Union, Mercosur, the potential emergence of an Asian Union and North American Union -- as an indication that nowadays CWs must be larger to serve their protective function. Nations lacking nuclear weapons must join, as lesser partners, with other nations that possess nuclear and economic might. "The multitude sufficient to confide in for our security is not determined by any certain number, but by comparison with the enemy we fear," (Leviathan, ch. 17).

Aaron Garrett said...

Susanne, that's an interesting point. Schmidt interprets this to mean that it's often not clear who is sovereign until an extraordinary threat. In this situation it becomes apparent who indeed is capable of protecting the citizens under duress. But I think it would be false to then think that a warlord is always secretly sovereign because when society collapses they are the only one capable of protecting you. Instead it seems that obligations vary on the basis of the extant threats and the types of protection and service rendered. Does this make Hobbes begin to sound a lot more like Hume?

Susanne Sreedhar said...

The warlord case is an interesting one. And it seems to raise the question of how we know who the actual sovereign is (or to put it another way: what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for something being a sovereign?).

Suppose that you are protected by both a warlord and a government. The warlord protects you from immediate attacks by neighbors and the government provides protection from foreign invasion (if not nuclear attack). Is either one, both, or neither a sovereign, on Hobbes's account?

Also, I worry that Aaron's solution is too easy. We can't just say that you have varying obligations: some to the warlord, some to the government, depending on the services rendered. Those obligations will sometimes conflict, and this seems to be just the kind of thing Hobbes was worried about.