Hobbes: What’s a Body to Do?

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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9 Responses

  1. Stillwater says:

    Good post Jason. It’s subtle and very nicely written and clarifies an aspect of Hobbes that certainly isn’t in the forefront of my mind when I read and think about his writing. What you wrote is also a bit slippery too. I find myself nodding in agreement without clearly understanding what I’m agreeing with. A feeling almost. Or a shade of color that completes a picture.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater says:

      I’m being Hayekian, as is my wont.  Some institutions are the products of human action, but not of human design.  Much of the state is like that, I think.  Evolution is the product of actions, but not of intentionality, and it produces things with the appearance of design.  The same is true with the state — it is the product of actions, but much of it is not intentional.  Though it still has the appearance of design.Report

      • Christopher Carr in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        “We can’t deny, of course, that there do exist consciously willed fashionings of the state-body, but the overall design just can’t be ascribed to any one legislator, not even in the most totalitarian regimes.”

        A couple questions/qualifications:

        (1) Does anyone believe that all aspects of the state can be controlled? Do liberals believe this? (I’m asking Jason and any self-described liberals to weigh in here.)

        (2) Isn’t what we call “the state” comprised of only those institutions that we do actively create? I agree with your points here (I’m a Hayekian as well), but I’m curious whether you’re making a category error.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Christopher Carr says:

          Does anyone believe that all aspects of the state can be controlled?  Probably not, except perhaps that theists may think them controlled by God.

          Still, I find in politics frequent appeals to ideal act theories — theories, in Derek Parfit’s system, that “[say] what we should all try to do, simply on the assumptions that we all try, and all succeed.”

          In the real world of course we don’t all try, and those of us who do try don’t all succeed. This to my mind causes the failure of many ideologies and policies, including radical pacifism, drug-warriorism, and many forms of anti-immigration thinking.

          What this means is that state actors form an intention based on claims about how great life would be if only we had a state of the type Hobbes seems to envision — fully designed, fully subject to will — and the results, in the end, are the same:  unintended and underappreciated consequences, which we are tempted to dismiss because we find them metaphysically annoying.


        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Christopher Carr says:

          Isn’t what we call “the state” comprised of only those institutions that we do actively create?

          I find it very difficult and in a way meaningless to consider those institutions apart from their effects, both intended and unintended.  Possibly this doesn’t count as an answer, I know.


  2. Michael Drew says:

    This one is good. Well done.Report

  3. Rufus F. says:

    There’s a great comparison of the state to a body in Coriolanus- the mob is held to be like members of the boy attacking the stomach for taking the food directly instead of giving it to them. I’m pretty sure Hobbes didn’t have Shakespeare in mind though. I think it was a common metaphor.Report