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.




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