America in Statist Decline: Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan Vs. John Locke's Self Determination

By the Left Coast Rebel

I'm currently enrolled in an early American history course, unfortunately there's quite a bit of revisionist-leftist history; for example I'm required to read a vile novel by some America-hating leftist called "Jefferson's Pillow." I shudder to think of the material that awaits me.

Nevertheless some of my course work and material is quite fascinating...

For example, almost 400 years ago a war was raging in the hearts and minds of both colonists and Europeans, particularly the English. Amidst the mid-17th century, two diametrically-opposed political philosophies were at the forefront of people's minds.

And like today, it came down to liberty versus tyranny.

Seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke's vision of self-government and individual freedom was pitted directly against English philosopher Thomas Hobbes' alternate vision of man as a beast to be tamed; one that was always in a state of conflict, or "war" against one another with a super-monarch and "leviathan" state/individual leader as the only alternative to man's animal-like nature.

Inspired by this vision, Hobbes put pen to paper and wrote "The Leviathan" and if you ever wondered just what the term leviathan means -- as you have seen it across pages and pages of this site -- enter this difficult, dark read oozing with eery parallels to modern America.

I read several chapters and came away thinking that Barack Obama and the entire federal government is nothing more than the personification of Hobbes' ultimate Leviathan-state vision:

Cover to Hobbe's "Leviathan". Note the all-powerful monarch (dictator) with sword in one hand, religious scepter in the other. The Leviathan towers over an English city; his coat of armor is comprised of the many faces of the faceless super-state. (High-res image here)

England overwhelmingly rejected Hobbes' dark, despotic vision of humanity and government and instead opted for Locke's belief that man had a natural right to defend his “Life, health, Liberty, or Possessions." If you think this phrase, coined by Locke decades before the American Revolution sounds familiar to Jefferson's "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence, you are correct: In many ways Jefferson and the Founders were simply carrying Locke's philosophical torch as they fought the tyranny of the crown some 100 + years later.

Understand that I am paraphrasing and by no means an expert in this realm of history. Nevertheless, I find it fascinating and sadly relevant to America's own Leviathan government and the dark place we have been led to.

Anyway, although clearly liberal, my history professor seems relatively open-minded and encouraging of discourse and debate. She asked me what I thought of the classic philosophical clash between Hobbes and Locke.

Thus, I wrote:

Hello Professor:

Thank you for your feedback. This topic in particular (Hobbes vs. Locke) really ignites my imagination; I find that if I am interested in a historical topic I learn and retain so much more. It is an interesting note that you make that Hobbes was in line with Puritans and puritanical thinking of that time. The Puritans were what we would consider fundamentalists today and according to the text they were strict believers in predestiny -- that being that only certain people were chosen by God to be saved, etc. I believe that this belief led Puritans to a very gloomy outlook on humanity as a whole. They essentially held that man was an insufferable beast and generally evil. Conversely, the Founders believed that man, simply put, was generally good. John Locke echoed this sentiment as well. Locke -- as well as Founders like Thomas Jefferson -- believed in a state to carry out the most strictly limited functions of a society, ie. the court system, military, etc. and tarriffs, I believe to fund the government. Locke's held that an individual should have the freedom and ability to choose his destiny, free from the constraints of a Hobbes-esque Leviathan-type government. In essence, this was and is the political philosophy knows as classical liberalism. The closest equivalent in today's America is the libertarian train of thought. I believe that Locke would argue against the heavy hand of state/federal government and the policy of redistribution. I believe that he would argue that the redistributive state robs everyday citizens of their most basic freedom -- that of their blood sweat and tears; that of the liberty to own the fruit of their labor.

To quote Thomas Jefferson,

"To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father’s has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association—the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it."

Food for thought...


  1. Well written Reb.

    Of course many of us are with you on this that Locke's philosophy is the correct one, I just hope your response doesn't overwhelm your professor.

  2. LCR, Not bring an expert either, although my major was European and American history, I believe you have it right. Well penned.


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