“Can’t We All Just Get Along?” Hobbes Says, “No.”Stephen Paul Foster
“Can’t we all just get along?” — Rodney King
“[M]en have no pleasure, (but on the contrary a great deal of grief) in keeping company, where there is no power to over-awe them all.” — Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
Thomas Hobbes. For anyone who has a serious interest in fathoming the depths of human nature as it relates to the engagement with political power and the sources of human conflict, reading Thomas Hobbes is an exhilarating experience. Hobbes, of course, had an enormous impact on a twentieth-century political philosopher of great interest to Counter-Current readers: Carl Schmitt. There are copious references to Hobbes in Schmitt’s works. His friend-enemy concept of the political, and his decisionism — “who decides?” — reach back to Hobbes.
[T]he possibility of dying for what one was was the final quality of the human. Schmitt’s existential Hobbesianism thus saw the moral claims [of liberalism] as implicitly denying the finality of death in favor of an abstract universalism in which human beings were not involved in what they were.
“The possibility of dying for what one was” meant that one was willing to risk existential combat with the enemy. “War,” says Schmitt, “is the existential negation of the enemy.”
This [“Who will decide? Who will interpret?”] is the big question posed by Thomas Hobbes, which is the center of my Political Theology from 1922 and led to a theory of decisionism [Dezisionismus] and of the inner logic of the act.
Few were better qualified to reflect upon the far reaches of human conflict than Hobbes. Throughout the course of his long life — he lived to the age of 91 — he had witnessed the its extremes, was personally affected by it, and had great discernment of its dynamics. Even his birth was attended by dark shadows of conflict. Born in 1588, it was said that his mother went into labor with him from fright of the invading Spanish Armada.
One of his biographers writes that his extraordinary longevity was due in part to the efforts he took to look after his “political health.” He lived through the tumultuous reign of Charles I, the English civil wars, Cromwell’s rise to power, and his Protectorate. He had to flee England to France to escape the wrath and revenge of the rebels for his loyalty to Charles I. The French royalists didn’t much care for him, either. He had attacked the Papacy as an agent of superstition and priestcraft. Hobbes as a thinker was a troublesome fellow whose opinions always seemed to make him someone’s enemy.
In thinking about Hobbes and human conflict, I was struck by the fact that conflict is so abundant and multifarious that it comes at us with a rich vocabulary to distinguish its many manifestations: battle of the sexes, family squabbles, major-minor tiffs, cat fights, law suits, hostile corporate takeovers, union strikes, industrial sabotage, cold war, civil wars, wars of foreign aggression, Kulturkampf — and on it goes.
Obvious to anyone who looks around and observes how people act, from simpletons to savants, whether it’s the smallest gathering of collectives (a family) or a big one (a nation), is conflict. What is a more constant occurrence in the world than war? America’s civilized, peace-loving people, in every generation like clockwork, send its soldiers to war. Typically, it’s to faraway places to fight and kill people most Americans know and care nothing about and are no threat to them. Vietnam? Iraq? Afghanistan?
Here I want to focus on a passage from the Leviathan that speaks to the causes of human conflict (quarrel), and why we can’t all just get along: “So, that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel: first competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.”
This succinct passage hits like a lightning bolt. Hobbes has captured the entire range of human motivations that inevitably and perpetually drive human beings into conflict with each other. He continues:
The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third for reputation. The first use violence to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children and cattle; the second to defend themselves; the third for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons, or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.
Competition? Well, of course. Hobbes speaks here of competition causing men “to invade for gain.” He had war and invading aggressors at the center of his thinking when he was writing this. More broadly, however, competition puts men into conflict with each other over the vast array of valued goods, most of which are in limited supply. That means winners, losers and bad feelings.
[I]f any two men desire the same thing, nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies.
Think of the bitterness felt when someone loses the affection of a lover to a competitor. Think of the hatred politicians conceive for those who defeat them in elections — Hillary Clinton at her finest. Think of the envy one feels for the undeserving competitor who won the promotion by sucking up to the boss. This competition for finite resources that creates winners and losers suggests why the apothegm “Anything of value will be stolen or faked” has such an uncomfortably close-to-home bite.
Diffidence, the second cause of conflict, is the fear of the weaker for the stronger invader, fear of the violence that results in the dispossession of their possessions or death. That fear stokes suspicion and arouses in the weaker the disposition to fight. Both the weak and the strong — pretty much everyone (for differing motives) — are disposed to fight each other. When everyone is riled up and ready for war, it’s already war.
So the nature of war, consisteth not in actual fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary.
Glory, Hobbes’ third cause of conflict, is the one I find the most fascinating. Glory is derived from reputation, and one’s reputation is established by being “special,” that is, “standing above” the crowd. Herein lies a major source of conflict: the natural inclination to elevate one’s self higher than one’s fellows.
For every man looketh that his companion should value him at the same rate he sets upon himself. And upon all signs of contempt, or undervaluing, naturally endeavors, as far as he dares . . . to extort a greater value from his contemners by dommage; and from others by the example.
By “all signs of contempt,” Hobbes means all such signs: “trifles.” Human beings are so constituted that they will set against each other over the most insignificant affront to their prickly sense of self-regard, their vanity, or their imagined reputation. A petty discourtesy, any sign of a slight, an insinuation, a gesture of contempt, or an undervaluing of the opinion that someone has of himself may be the source.
Trifles are the cause of festering resentment, long-nurtured grudges over insults, affronts, and slights that people hold against each other. Trifles poison the workplace, bring down friendships, and wreck the affection and trust that makes the vicissitudes of life more bearable.
“My pay raise was less than John’s.”
“You didn’t accomplish as much as John.”
“I’m filing a complaint with Human Resources.”
Think of the normalization and proliferation of divorce that began in mid-twentieth century America in a clear-eyed Hobbesian vein: as a socially sanctioned, legally refined outlet that enables those once “joined together by God” to seek compensation – revenge, even — for the “contempt” and “undervaluing” they experience on a daily basis from living with each other.
“You’ve put on a couple extra pounds, honey.”
“You just don’t like my brother Fred because he’s better at golf than you, honey.”
“For trifles . . . ”
“Any occasion suffices for anger, as small as it may be.” — Juvenal, “Satires, XIII”
How, we should ask, would Hobbes’s three causes of quarrel translate themselves into a multicultural society? We all know that “diversity is our strength,” so causes for conflict or quarrel should be greatly reduced.
Competition, as noted, inevitably creates winners and losers and, with respect to potent causes of quarrel, hard feelings, resentment, envy, and desire for revenge. In a racially, ethnically homogeneous society, the shared heritage, language, customs, and manners play a huge role as mitigators of bitter feelings that will always arise when competition, as it always does, shakes out the winners and losers. Winners will incline toward being gracious; losers will believe the game was fair. They accept and live with the outcome. Being part of the same tribe as the winners makes the losers much more inclined to forgive and forget. It makes the winners less of an irritant to the losers.
The mitigating possibilities for such hard feelings in a multicultural society are reversed. “Diversity” — the supposed “strength” of contemporary America — turns out to be a force multiplier of feelings of resentment and envy, and it is the source of the rationalizing the losers engage in to paint their motivation for revenge as a desire for justice. “White privilege,” “systemic racism,” “reparations,” and “underrepresentation” all come from the lexicon of grievances (“Revenge for Dummies”), the Bible of those who worship at the altar of “diversity.” These are some of the core propaganda elements used to delegitimize the winners and to refuse assent to the outcome of the competition.
In effect, it can be said that diversity is an aggravating cause of conflict in America’s multicultural society where, for the people in it, as Hobbes puts it: “there is no power to over-awe them all.” Cowardly politicians, terrified of the “racist” tag, refuse to enforce the law against marauding Black Lives Matter and antifa thugs. Through active encouragement, our tribes are disposed toward diffidence — suspicion and fear of each other. Blacks fear and hate white police. Blacks are suspicious and resentful of white achievement. Whites fear and resent accusations of “racism” from blacks. Fear and suspicion feed on each other and ramp up the disposition to conflict. Multiculturalism fuels the dynamic that pushes a society toward a Hobbesian state of war.
We move on to glory-seeking and reputation enhancement as it plays out multiculturally. Preserving or enhancing one’s reputation is a major preoccupation in the game of power seeking.
“Reputation of power,” says Hobbes, “is power.”
What passes for mainstream journalism in our multicultural paradise is the ass-covering routine of “spin-doctoring”: reputation enhancement or repair. Spin-doctoring is about manipulating opinion and elevating the reputations of those of the favored sects in order to intimidate those cast under suspicion and to rationalize the depredations of the favored ones. It also aims at the uncovering of “all signs of contempt” (“racism”) for black and brown people that come exclusively from white people. “Anti-racism” thrives on the accusations of whites “undervaluing” the colored races, no matter how recondite the “signs” (the “microaggressions”) might be.
Anti-racists, in Hobbesian language, “extort a greater value from [the so-called] contemners by dommage; and from others by the example.” “Extort” perfectly describes what the forces of racial grievance against European heritage whites are up to: forcibly extracting “greater value” from white people “by the example” of public shaming and through the leveraging of moral guilt.
Thus, removing “all signs of contempt” takes the form of a cultural purge resembling Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s: struggle sessions; monuments torn down; places, institutions, and buildings renamed; street hooliganism encouraged by the political bosses. The ruling class has turned into a dictatorship of the triflers with “systemic racism” as the operational force. “Systemic racism” can be decoded as a performative ritual that announces, “Gottcha! You’re undervaluing us. Give us your stuff as compensation while we erase all publicly visible signs of your accomplishments and existence.”
Multiculturalism exacerbates Hobbes’ three principal causes of quarrel, and as we see it now, is pushing American society into civil war. That means that “conversations about race,” “racial healing,” “apologies,” Affirmative Action, reparations, and so on are a ruse. We need to think about our situation as war and Carl Schmitt’s friend-enemy concept of the political:
Hegel also advanced a definition of the enemy which in general had been evaded by modern philosophers. The enemy is a negated otherness. But this negation is mutual and this mutuality of negations has its own concrete existence as a relation between enemies; this relation of two nothingnesses on both sides bears the danger of war.
The long-underway selling of white “negation” to whites by the ruling class also involves their efforts to conceal the “mutuality of the negations” and “its own concrete existence as a relation between enemies.” With the supine good whites in tow, the concealment has dropped away. The ruling class, using its propaganda organs, has openly declared war with calls for “the abolition of whiteness.” “Whiteness” is us: We are an enemy among enemies, “a negated otherness.”
Schmitt then refines the notion of the enemy at war with a quote from Hegel: “This war is not a war of families against families, but between peoples, and hatred becomes thereby undifferentiated and freed from all particular personality.”
Hobbes’ three principal causes of quarrel and Schmitt’s friend-enemy concept of the political give us a powerful conceptual apparatus to explain what is taking place today and why we should think of it as war. Anti-racism is the engine of an intensified hatred that becomes “undifferentiated and freed from all personality.” It is not personal or familial; it is an undifferentiated hatred of “whiteness,” of anyone white — those of us who, as President Obama put it, carry “racism” in our DNA. The language, the emotion, the actions of our enemies have made it clear. We are indeed in a war between peoples.
“Men love in haste, but detest at leisure.” — Lord Byron, “Don Juan”
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 Tracy B. Strong, “Forward: Dimensions of the New Debate around Carl Schmitt,” in Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, George Schwab, translator (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2007), p. xvii.
 Ibid., p. 33.
 Carl Schmitt, Political Theology II, Michael Hoelzl and Graham Ward, translators (Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 2008), p. 115.
 C. B. McPherson, “Introduction,” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (New York: Penguin Books), 1968, p. 13.
 Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 185.
 Ibid, p. 184
 Ibid, p. 186.
 Ibid, p. 185.
 Ibid, p. 150.
 Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, p. 63.