I was recently debating with a friend, who also enjoys the study of political science, which political philosopher he most aligns himself with. My friend is a big supporter of Rousseau’s theory that man is inherently good and noble. In the state of nature that Rousseau lays out man’s morality is an inherent trait that keeps him virtuous and uncorrupted. As much as I would like to believe that his characterization of man’s benevolence toward others to be the truth, I am a realist and know this not to be the case. The truth can be found in Thomas Hobbes’s description of man in his state of nature being self-serving and concerned with only his own needs and self-interests. Man then only enters “civil society” because of his desire not to be at war with all, all the time. Civil society can best be described at first as villages, then towns, cities, and eventually sovereign nations or countries. The idea that the union of many is stronger and safer than individuals living apart is where this theory comes from. We give up certain rights in order to guarantee other rights. It is essential to our survival to enter into this social contract. They both agree on that, but that is where it ends and the divergence of their theories begins. Rousseau tries to describe man’s willingness to enter into this contract, as being based on man’s own idea of an understanding that is will create a better place for all. Then eventually the evils and wickedness of society is what eventually corrupts man. On the other hand Hobbes realized the truth, man enters into this social contract out of fear and necessity to stay alive and not out of some understanding of a better good for all. From the beginning man is being selfish and only agrees out of necessity. Which means that what is necessary for his survival today might not be necessary tomorrow, allowing him to break his social contract and act outside the norms of society. If you accept Hobbes’s theory about the true character of man, then you also must accept that in civil society there are those that are still in the “state of natures” he describes that are the miscreants and grifters of our society. Which can easily be seen in all societies. The formation of societies must first establish rules, laws, a police force to enforce the rules, and eventually jails to hold the people that choose not to cooperate.
After reading an article on line today about a terrible tragedy in the Philippines, I am once again given fodder for my argument proving that Hobbes and I are correct. In the Philippines on Monday a terrible gruesome event occurred. A man by the name of Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu wanted to run for governor of a town in the southern part of the Philippines. After receiving numerous death threats from the incumbent governor he decided that it would not be safe for him to travel into the city and deliver his nomination himself. He sent his wife, his sisters and some of his children to do it for him, rationalizing that because they are women and children that nothing would be done to them. Once they got into the city, a group of 100-armed men surrounded their motorcade, and absconded with them into the mountains. Remember, this is happening within the city limits. Not one cop, guard, or army troop did anything to help these people as 100-armed men were abducting them. That is a lot of people. I want you to imagine 100 people now surrounding your home. That is a lot of people to go unnoticed through a city with that kind of weaponry. With Isamael’s family members were 12 reporters from “Reporters without Borders.” In all, 21 people were taken into the mountains, and none of them returned. Officials report that they found the bodies, 13 women and 8 men, some beheaded, some raped, all murdered in the jungle. It is reported that the guerrilla force that brutalized and murdered these 21 people are loyal to the current governor of the region, who is a puppet of the president of the Philippines. Does corruption know no bounds?
This is the point I am getting at. Man is inherently wicked. We do not always show our true colors, our selfish tendencies, because at the time it does not benefit us to do so. But as soon as that “contract“ no longer benefits us, we change the rules, we break them, and we manipulate them in order to get some advantage for ourselves. We are always on the look out for the bigger better deal for us. These men had these people in the middle of the jungle. Even if there orders were to kill brutalize and torture these people the Rousseaean morality should have kicked in and they should have not done what they did.
They should have realized that killing these children and raping these women were wrong. But they don’t because they realize that if they don’t do it, they will themselves be killed. They are not concerned with anyone else’s welfare other than their own. And this can be said for all the atrocities that have happened over time. You don’t think there were German’s that opposed the Nazi’s, or White southerners that thought slavery was wrong? Of course there were, but they couldn’t do anything about it. If they did, they would land themselves and their families in the same boat as those they were trying to help. So rather than face that kind of persecution they went along with that status quo as long as it kept them safe.
Self-serving, self interested, survivalists; this is what we do as humans, myself included. What sucks even more about this story is that the United States of America has a huge military presence in the Philippines because it is a strategic island to hold in that area. I say this because America has an image of being a champion of human rights and being concerned with the welfare of all people. But once again, we are showing that America (in the Hobbessian manner) does what is in its own best interest. Number one, we don’t want to upset the balance of power (i.e., the current government) over there since we are not there as their allies, but are squatting on that land in order to keep a better eye on the North Koreans. Number 2 we only care to help people who in turn can help us. If this village were sitting on a diamond mine or an oil field we would be there so fast to do something about it, it would make your head spin. But there is nothing of value there other than the location of the island itself in proximity to country that is a larger perceived threat. It would not; I repeat does not benefit our country to do anything about this that might in turn make our occupation of that area “uncomfortable” for the troops waiting for the N. Koreans to do something. Once again our morals and virtue are cast to the wayside for our desire to gain something for ourselves, selfishness. Hobbes one, Rousseau, zero.