We sit on a thin crust of civilisation. We like to think our quiet civilisation is solid and eternal, able to take shocks and settle back, but the everyday is deceptive and beneath that thing crust to unfathomable depth bubbles the raw, unruled, animal nature of mankind. We may sit in tranquil comfort each beneath his vine and beneath his fig tree, but every so often we feel a tremor that should be a reminder of what is just out of sight. In places, where the bonds of society are weak, the currents beneath can be felt every day.
Peace and security are real, and of the greatest benefit to mankind. They are not, however, permanent. You may build a culture of sophisticated civilisation over four thousand years, but break it for a moment and it is as if it had never been: look at Syria.
The world is Hobbesian.
Settled society can only exist because “Desire of Ease, and sensuall Delight, disposeth men to obey a common Power: because by such Desires, a man doth abandon the protection might be hoped for from his own Industry, and labour.“, and likewise “Desire of Knowledge, and Arts of Peace” and “From Love Of Praise Desire of Praise, disposeth to laudable actions“, but this is the thin surface built by individual men and women and ready to be cast aside when the desired goals are not to be met.
Mankind at heart is motivated by the animal instinct just like the subjects of nature documentaries, in an endless quest for food, warmth and sex. Mankind is all that, but more complicated too, and Hobbes was correct to characterise of those motive forces “in the first place, I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death.“
Then comes Competition of Riches, Honour, command, or other power, and only then the causes of ease listed above.
It can soon fall apart though, and does: “So that in the nature of man, we find three principall causes of quarrel. First, Competition; Secondly, Diffidence; Thirdly, Glory.” Therein lie many causes of bloodshed and the destruction of our polite existence.
We keep the crust on society by inertia and the subtle arts of social persuasion, but we can easily start down the road to what we have seen with horror in Syria or Yemen or any number of places from which we prefer to turn our eyes as if there were another world and not the neighbours they are, the road where this structure is broken – when authority is weakened and young men see no reason to obey it or societal norms; when they are convinced maybe by a passing philosophy or an orator or just boredom, that it is no longer right to follow the law imposed by a distant authority, then he can feel the exhilaration of freedom from restraint, of personal power: that crust is broken and a pack of animals emerges.
- The Noble Savage, Caliban, and Hobbes
- The broken fence
- Quarrel of a dying empire poisoning modernity
- Of the natural Condition of Mankind as concerning their Felicity and Misery
- In fear of Jahannam
- By Thomas Hobbes:
- By Anthony Burgess:
- By H G Wells:
- By Aldous Huxley:
- By George Orwell:
- By Jordan Peterson: