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March Pages 2017

172 V O L . 7 5 P A R T 2 M A R C H 2 0 1 7 THE ADVOCATE tend by battle” simmered and would occasionally boil over, unchecked by a central power. Hobbes warned that the laws of nature (among them justice, equity, modesty, mercy and doing unto others as we would be done to) were contrary to our “natural passions” and alone would not prevail. Correspondingly, “Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.” Therefore, he said, “if there be no Power erected, or not great enough for our security; every man will and may lawfully rely on his own strength and art, for caution against all other men.” Hobbes’s state of nature involved a “continual fear and danger of violent death” in which activities with which we associate our society were profoundly impeded or could not occur at all. What prefaced the famous “nasty, brutish, and short” wording quoted earlier was Hobbes’s also dramatic caution: Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. At first blush the Hobbesian view seems impossibly old-fashioned and alarmist (and, indeed, Hobbes’s rendition of how terrible were the threats in the state of nature is perhaps at a philosophical extreme). His Leviathan was published soon after the English civil war, fuelled by an uncertain and unhappy context. By contrast what, one might ask, could go wrong these days even without a government in the wings to keep the peace? In a land populated by individuals who go to Starbucks, use and debate bike lanes, and wander through Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom, is there any risk of reverting to the “state of nature”—or at least an unpleasant, “state of war”–like version of that natural state—even if there were no central power to keep the peace? Though we live in what is (by various measures of comparison to other areas of the world) a very fortunate society, one can still glimpse signs of the ugly reality that Hobbes described as requiring a common power to suppress. The peaceful and “civilized” veneer seems fairly thin when we see the harsh street life at Main and Hastings, events like the Stanley Cup riot and families torn apart by a domestic assault. When viewed from an already apprehensive stance, even the jostling and stridency of Granville Street


March Pages 2017
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