There is a new-ish theory going around conservative and Catholic circles, and it was expressed by two recent thinkers who spoke at our college this month. The theory goes like this:

1.  Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) had a terrible view of man. Without the benefit of civil society, human beings would be cutthroat beings, “seeking power after power, a search which endeth only in death.” Therefore they need a dictator to keep them in line.

2.  John Locke (1632–1704) had the same view of man, only slightly moderated. The whole purpose of government was, similar to that in Hobbes’ thought, to protect man’s ability to do what he likes signified by the protection of life, liberty and property.

3.  Our Founding Fathers were Lockeans, which means that they were modified Hobbesians— only concerned with people doing whatever they wanted.

4.  Our current problems stem from the Hobbesian nature of our government.
 
I objected to these thoughts as a person who has a Jesuit Ph.D. in political philosophy, and who studied under some famous political philosophy scholars. Both of these speakers did not address my objections, but merely repeated what they originally said, as if I did not hear them the first time. They took no trouble to refute anything I said.
 
I believe that this new theory is, first of all, false. Secondly, the theory is dangerous, because it spurs hatred for our government as originally intended, not just the way it has been deformed. Thirdly, it gives fuel to those Catholic monarchists and others who hate this government in the first place.
 
So, my refutation:
 
1. Those who hold this theory are basically correct about what Thomas Hobbes thought about human nature. However, one thing I learned from my Jesuit professors was teleology, which has always been a Thomistic principle. Teleology means that to understand the nature of anything, one must understand its end or goal. That will tell you what it is. For instance, a baseball bat may be used for many things—propping open a door, bashing someone over the head, but its nature is to “bat” baseballs. Thomas Hobbes wrote his book Leviathan to justify the dictatorial, Divine right rule of Charles II.
 
2. What about John Locke? Locke has no such view of human nature. A close
reading of John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government shows that, first of all, civil society is already in existence. He distinguishes the private civil society, which the people already set up and which, with the market, is sui generis (self-generating) and exists due to the natural propensity of people to better their lives in every sense of the term, and the government, which the civil society sets up to protect this bettering of lives, and which comes under his heading of ‘life, liberty and landed estate.” Note, Locke does not use the word “property” in this trilogy. This is because these three things are all your property. All three are under your care, custody and control, to use the terms of tort law. You as a human being have the responsibility properly to use these to the end of human flourishing. “Life,” obviously because I cannot flourish if I am dead; “liberty,” if I cannot use my free will, my life is not worth much in terms of flourishing; and “landed estate,” because in the agricultural society of Locke’s day, one might starve if one’s land were taken away. The purpose of any government is to protect this human flourishing. If government does not, you can set up a new one.
 
It should be noted that Locke’s Second Treatise has a teleology of its own. He was trying to justify the removal of James II of England and the replacement of him with William of Orange. The treatise is decidedly NOT a treatise on how people should live their lives. It is not a treatise on morality or on human natureper se. If fact, a close reading of Locke shows that he takes human nature as we experience it.
 
It is also necessary to see the Second Treatise in the light of the First Treatise. The First Treatise on Civil Government was meant to refute the argument from Scripture that all kings were essentially descended from Adam, which was made by James I’s court theologian, Sir Robert Filmer. Since God made Adam the ruler of creation, Filmer said, absolute monarchy was the only form of legitimate rule. Locke, using Scripture, effectively refuted Filmer. Therefore, it is easy to see that the Second Treatise is continuing the argument, “If absolute, Divine right monarchy is not the proper form of government, what is?” This has nothing to do with Hobbes. In fact, look at this quote from the early Father of the Church, St. Isidore of Seville, often quoted by St. Thomas:
 
Law should be honesta (respectable, worthy), just, possible, according to nature, conformed to the customs of the country, suitable to place and time, necessary, useful, clear, also not to contain anything which by its obscurity might lead to wariness; it should be devised for the common good of all the citizens, and not for the interests only of some individual.
 
And who would make the decision, assuming the beginning of a new state? The pre-existing civil society. This conforms to St. Robert Bellarmine’s thought, when he says that although government comes from God, the authority of God is given to the civil society, which decides what form the government should take and who should exercise the authority, since the whole society cannot actually exercise it. How is Locke different from this genre of Catholic thought?
 
3. Was Jefferson a Lockean, that is, a modified Hobbesian? Persons holding this
theory take the popular myth that the words of the Declaration, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” are the same as “life, liberty and property.” But there is no proof that Jefferson had this in mind. Firstly, these were common terms used in the colonies—life, liberty and property, that is. Secondly, there is no proof that Jefferson was a Lockean. In a great study by the famous Jesuit scholar, Father Joseph Costanzo, it is demonstrated that Jefferson frequently spoke out of both sides of his mouth on many subjects. Father Costanzo attributes this to ignorance of these matters by Jefferson, whose education was mostly in science, and was neither a political philosopher nor a theologian. Thirdly, as the book by Kendall and Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, definitively demonstrates, the teleology of the Declaration is to prove that the PEOPLE who are now Americans should be free from another PEOPLE, the British. Hence, the American people, as a mature people, are, and should be, free to live and pursue happiness, the path to which is never exactly the same for all peoples—see St. Isidore’s quotation above. Oddly enough, to demonstrate his case that the Declaration is the source of the moral decline of this country, one of the speakers placed the words “. . . any old happiness” after the word “happiness” in the Declaration. But the Declaration does not say that, nor does its teleology nor its context imply that in the least.
 
4. Scholars in political philosophy generally admit that the Founders of this
country knew that the keeping of this government required a virtuous people. But where do they get this virtue?—from the already existing civil society, which includes parents, schools, for those lucky to go to one, and from the mainline denominations, all of which teach the Ten Commandments. In hisFarewell Address, George Washington said exactly that. A good government required virtue, and he said we should not be fooled into thinking that this is possible without “revealed religion.” 
 
5. Last point: Was Locke justifying a “do whatever you want” ethics? Take this
point from his Second Treatise. Thinking obviously of the virgin territory of the new world, he said that if one roped off a piece of land that no one ever owned, one had to farm it. Unused land deprived others of the necessary fruits of the earth, and others could take it away if they were going to farm it.  He also said that one was not allowed to accumulate food, because hoarding also deprived the needy of necessary food. He disliked money, because he said money was just another way of hoarding. Now I don’t agree with his economics, but you cannot doubt that he cared for the well-being of others and encourages sharing. That’s not Hobbes.
 
6. The argument that our society has become corrupt because its founding principles were defective is a post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this) fallacy. There are a myriad of reasons that can reasonably be given for the decline of our culture.  One big one is the defective philosophies that come over from Europe and are taught in our secular universities; then there is the decline of the Church; the actual deviation of the courts from our founding principles; the removal of prayer and moral teaching from the schools; the advance of the liberal media elite and their political favorites. The founders are way too removed from this current crisis to blame for it, even it the argument was true, which it patently is not.
 
This entry has already gotten too long, but I think that people ought to read more closely prior to tearing things down.

 
This past week, President Obama forced the CEO of General Motors to resign. The real significance of this may be lost on most people. Some might say, “Well, if General Motors is not doing well, the CEO should be replaced.” The major difficulty with this is that this is a special power of the GM Board of Directors, not the President of the United States. Effectively, this makes President Obama the Board of Directors of General Motors, and any other company he wants to control, and makes the Board a mere figurehead. Slowly but surely, this is moving us to a fascist form of government. In fascism, the companies still exist, but the government tells them what to do. This was similar to Mercantilism, which was the predominant economic system in Europe from about the 1600s until 1800, more or less. Mercantilism was the system of economics that Adam Smith wrote against in his famous An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which most people shorten to the cryptic Wealth of Nations. Smith was trying to show that government control of business impoverishes nations. Instead, he posited “a system of natural liberty,” which allowed people to follow their natural pursuits, take on the risk of doing so, and allow the market, that is, the countless decisions of people, to decide the outcome. It was the realization of the truth that Smith expressed in his work that subsequently brought prosperity to countless nations. 

Now we are returning to the old system, under a new guise. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner recently asked Congress to grant him unprecedented power to shut down any company that, in his opinion, is dangerous to the overall economy. Note that there are no specifics to this power—it would be at his discretion. For those who have read my blog entries “The Economics of Politics,” you can see that all of this is a grab for what politicians live for—power, and power alone. Politics attracts those kinds of people. When asked by a Congresswoman where in the Constitution he went to get justification for this type of power, Geithner expressed incoherent babbling. It did not seem ever to cross his mind that he needed Constitutional justification for such an assumption of power. Again, this is typical of fascism. A crisis is, if not created, then hyped, panic flamed up, and people in this panic are willing to trade their freedom for security. Only too late will they realize that the situation was not as bad as the self-interested government officials portrayed it. The power will have been granted, and only a miracle will pry it away from the hands of the government. Once taken, government almost always keeps a power. 

Getting back to General Motors, its problems go all the way back to government-imposed protective tariffs, which are a remnant of Mercantilism. Corporations seek to be protected from foreign competition so they do not have to work to keep up. The government, bowing to pressure and false economic theories, puts tariffs and quotas on imports to raise their prices higher than those of the domestic product; in this case, cars. The car makers then can do whatever they want because consumers face a choice of either us or nothing. In the 1970s, when we began allowing imports, the American car companies were caught, and almost went out of business. They finally got their act together when a new wave of government regulation on cars was imposed, thus raising the cost of domestic cars. To boot, the latest situation is that the Federal government is dictating to the car companies what types of cars to make, all in an effort to be “green.” The problem is that the market does not want these cars, so the company is forced to spend millions on cars they cannot sell. Then the government says, “Oh, it would be terrible if the companies failed; so many would be put out of work. So we have to bail them out again, and since we are ponying up the money, we now have a controlling interest in them, we can call the shots, we can tell the company what to produce, we can fire the executives, and when the company comes in with a loss, we blame the company again, bail them out again . . . .” And the circle continues. Remember, this government is the same one that has brought us the Post Office, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the public school system. All those who believe that the government can bring us out of a recession should remember that it was the government that caused it in the first place. Remember the housing bubble? 

What a racket!