From Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year

In the NYRB, an excerpt from J. M. Coetzee’s upcoming novel, Diary of a Bad Year:

The law protects the law-abiding citizen. It even protects to a degree the citizen who, without denying the force of the law, nevertheless uses force against his fellow citizen: the punishment prescribed for the offender must be condign with his offense. Even the enemy soldier, inasmuch as he is the representative of a rival state, shall not be put to death if captured. But there is no law to protect the outlaw, the man who takes up arms against his own state, that is to say, the state that claims him as its own.

Outside the state (the commonwealth, the statum civitatis), says Hobbes, the individual may feel he enjoys perfect liberty, but that liberty does him no good. Within the state, on the other hand

every citizen retains as much liberty as he needs to live well in peace, [while] enough liberty is taken from others to remove the fear of them…. To sum up: outside the commonwealth is the empire of passions, war, fear, poverty, nastiness, solitude, barbarity, ignorance, savagery; within the commonwealth is the empire of reason, peace, security, wealth, splendor, society, good taste, the sciences and good-will.[1]

What the Hobbesian myth of ori-gins does not mention is that the handover of power to the state is irreversible. The option is not open to us to change our minds, to decide that the monopoly on the exercise of force held by the state, codified in the law, is not what we wanted after all, that we would prefer to go back to a state of nature.