The Leviathan in the room
21/07/09 Jamie Bartlett thinks that Jon Cruddas and others have misunderstood Hobbes...
Go to any debate about the future of the left and you'll hear at least one person argue that the right believes in Hobbsian atomised individuals, and that the left doesn't. John Cruddas was textbook last night at the Open Left launch, where he said that what's gone wrong with the left is that it's encouraged the emergence of these Hobbesian beasts, who float around with no sense of commonality, cooperation, incapable and unwilling to act together.
The use of Hobbes in current political discourse is lazy. The term Hobbesian gets confused between two distinct meanings (either people are selfish & must be controlled OR selfishness isn't a problem - greed is good). Hobbes said the former, which puts speakers like Cruddas in a bit of a tight spot.
Hobbes said (I am simpliying of course) that, without government, humans would live in a state of nature - where they would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. No-one could define what is a good or just jugement, and life becomes a war of all against all. Hobbes didn't just think that humans were all selfish - but that some are selfish cowardly and vainglorious. And when that is the case, "the wickedness of bad men also compels good men to have recourse, for their own protection". To avoid that nightmare, or course, he proposes some kind of social contract between individuals and an unelected unaccountable monarch.
At the core of Hobbes' belief - which is what differentiates him from Rousseau - is the fear that individuals, given freedom, will have trouble acting collectively. And this is what Cruddas thinks too - his view is that all these free individuals automatically become atoms with no regard for each other. And so it is Cruddas himself that is Hobbsian. Presumably Cruddas' answer is for the state to make sure people act more collectively? Some kind of Leviathan figure perhaps?