- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2008

COMMENTARY:

Thomas Hobbes is a famous British political philosopher whose 17-century book, “Leviathan,” remains a masterwork of Western political theory. What concerned Hobbes then and, as we look upon war-plagued Somalia what concerns us now, is what life would be like without legitimate governments to keep the peace within their borders and, if possible, beyond them.

For without a legitimate government, man would live in what Hobbes called “a state of nature,” which would mean, for example, that what we call private property would cease to exist. There would be no rule of law. In a state of nature, you would have a permanent civil war, what Hobbes called “a war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes). Result? Hobbes put it dramatically: in such a world the lives of men would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Hobbes knew what he was talking about because he was writing during the English civil wars where nobody in the British Isles was safe. A rule of law means crimes are defined and punishment is predictable.

Somalia exemplifies Hobbes’ dire warnings about life in a state of nature. Nobody without an armed bodyguard is safe in Somalia. And even with an armed bodyguard, in a world of suicide bombers who is safe in the era of Sept. 11, 2001-type terrorist attacks?

Hobbes argued that men in a state of nature came to an agreement that he called a “social contract” by which they establish a “civil society” under a sovereign authority to whom the citizenry cede their natural rights to a government for their own protection.

Hobbes rejected the idea of separation of powers. The sovereign, he argued, must control civil, judicial and ecclesiastical authorities. The Founding Fathers in Philadelphia rejected Hobbes’ conception as did Canada’s later leaders. Hobbes would never have accepted the idea of provincial autonomy.

We are witnessing in Somalia and in other parts of the world - Iraq, Darfur, Ossetia, Afghanistan, the Middle East - the inability and even unwillingness of government leaders to seek a durable peace based on democratic principles. For, as President Bush has pointed out, in modern history no two democracies have ever gone to war against each other.

Arnold Beichman is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.