April 5

Birthday of Thomas Hobbes


In Leviathan, the 17th Century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, describes a theoretical “State of Nature,” in which humans live without the controlling framework of laws and kingly government.  Their selfish instincts push them into a perpetual state of competition, a “war of all against all.”  As a result, life is “nasty, brutish and short.”

The apocalypse brings your small group of survivors into this state of nature, creating the perfect environment to test Hobbes’ political theories. You’re a theorist yourself, with some Ph.D. coursework in philosophy.

You once wrote a scholarly essay connecting Hobbes’ idea to modern politics, but it got rejected from Seventeenth Century Studies.  The rejection letter rudely stated that “you didn’t have a clear understanding of history.”

Well, that pompous editor should see you now.  In less than a week, you turned philosophical ideas into reality.  You convinced a group of warring individuals that they could work better together.  Under your leadership.

Because, as Hobbes taught centuries earlier, people would chose to give up many of their freedoms, to avoid a life of constant fear.  They surrendered their authority to you, as king.  They promised to accept all of your decisions without question.

You took the larger, more comfortable home — and the citizens allowed it, because you set laws that defined property ownership within the community.

You ate the most food at every meal — and the citizens allowed it, because you created a system for storage and rationing, giving everyone a small, but reliable daily portion.

You selected bed partners from among the most beautiful members of your community — and the citizens allowed it, because you were the king, and that was your reward.

At one of your public pronouncements, you made a casual joke that insulted a small faction of detractors — but they did nothing, because you were too powerful.

Or so you thought.  Resentments could fester.  Detractors could work behind the scenes, win others to their cause.

One night, your bedtime companion betrays you, opens the door to admit an angry mob into your home.  They tie your hands behind your back and take you to the public square, where you are forced to kneel before a raised wooden block.  A crowd cheers as a prominent detractor steps forward with a large axe.  Your captors place your head on the block.

And you think, as the axe rises:  Maybe the magazine editor was right.  Maybe you didn’t really understand history.