Lunch with Mr Hobbes


Michael McManus in 3:AM Magazine:

Who from history would you like to invite to lunch? A question we’ve all pondered
in an idle moment, and for me it’s Thomas Hobbes author of Leviathan, 1651. Having just joined Labour as a 70th birthday treat for myself the appointment has become urgent. Hobbes was a rottweiler, but I’m finding the party more like a goldfish. Why are we not proposing to nationalise some of our egregious companies – at least one bank and one power firm – to show what can be done without prima donna management and astronomical salaries? What is to be done about the vile pay inequalities. Where does it say we are going to break the spines of the people who have plundered and wrecked our economy?

Nasty, brutish and short was how Hobbes described life without the rule of law and it’s possible that lunch might share some of those aspects too. For a start it will be at 11am: we’ll be having fish, probably whiting, but absolutely no wine as on the rare occasions when he drank he made sure he took in enough ‘to have the benefit of vomiting by which neither his wit was disturbed nor his stomach oppressed’. So reported the garrulous and meandering John Aubrey who also holds out the unpleasing prospect of Mr Hobbes’ ‘greatest trouble’, which was ‘to keep off the flies from pitching on the baldness’ of his head.

Hobbes was accused of being an atheistical cynic with a falsely pessimistic view of humanity as irredeemably selfish, distrustful and violent. Then as now, we all like to think we’re not like that – Don’t we help others? Are we not basically altruistic? Do we not trust one another?

Hobbes had a ready response:

‘Let him therefore consider with himselfe … when going to sleep he locks his dores; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knows there bee lawes and publicke officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall bee done to him; what opinion he has of his fellow citizens when he locks his dores; and of his children and servants when he locks his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind, by his actions, as I do by my words?’

More here.