The Noble Savage, Caliban, and Hobbes

The great divide in early modern philosophy is still that which fundamentally divides politics today: what is man in the state of nature, when without state or society? To the romantic imagination it was the noble savage roaming the virgin plains of America without sin or care, but this opposed all experience and Biblical principle. The attraction of the ‘noble savage’ idea is obvious – if only we could cast off all the constraints and expectations of society and be free, then we might find a prelapsarian idyll. The realist and the theologian (which are by no means exclusive terms) will look with pity at the naïvety, while wishing in the dark hours of the soul that they could find the idyll themselves.

The ills of the world, the evils committed and the relentless need to labour without relief for little reward until death have been the realities of life forever, so it is a very attractive idea that all this is the result of oppressive powers and the dead hand of previous generations’ ideas. If that so then there must once have been that wild idyll and it is possible to reach it once again.

The Biblical picture has Adam and Eve living in a garden where all is provided for them until they eat of the fruit of knowledge, after which all is toil and a struggle with inborn sin. This fruit of knowledge is the moment when they became human. The brief prelapsarian age cannot be regained unless we cease to be human.

Hobbes in Leviathan burst the noble savage idea. The natives of America were not sinless dwellers in an idyll, and for man, the state of nature is such that:

they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man . . . Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall.

In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short

This observation naturally upsets all those who believe in the perfectibility of mankind as it overturns the fundamental idea on which such a project must be built, but every experience of human nature proves Hobbes right.

Hobbes did turn to the ‘noble savages’ of America (whom the English settlers in America knew far better than the romantic philosophes of Paris):

For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small Families, the concord whereof dependeth on naturall lust, have no government at all; and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before. Howsoever, it may be perceived what manner of life there would be, where there were no common Power to feare; by the manner of life, which men that have formerly lived under a peacefull government, use to degenerate into, in a civill Warre.

The idea of the noble savage and the inherent goodness of natural man is too attractive to have been lost though. It is strongly held by some today.

Anthony Burgess, in the commentary section of his book 1985, characterises the division of ideas as ‘Pelagian’ and ‘Augustinian’ after the two theologies which battled in the twilight of the Roman Empire; Pelagius claiming that men are good but corrupted by society and Augustine of Hippo asserting that all are born in sin and must seek salvation. He acknowledged the attraction of the Pelagian idea, but who could ever believe in the basic goodness of man after the Holocaust?

The same divide – Augustinian v Pelagian or noble savage v Caliban – echoes in the division of conservative and radical, and specifically socialism. The attraction of the Pelagian idea is what keeps the latter discredited, disproven philosophy alive: the idea that all ills are caused by state and social structures which could be dismantled. Conservatives in contrast see the seething evil lurking in the pit of man’s soul and recognise that only a strong, established society and the apparatus of state can prevent it from bursting out. The two seem irreconcilable.

Burgess wrote in an age when idealists wanted to remake man and honestly believed they could do better than the Creator, and he satirised this more famously in A Clockwork Orange. Other writers have done the same – H G Wells wanted to believe in the scientific perfectibility of man, which he planned out in In The days of The Comet and The Shape of Things to Come, but his own works knew the uselessness of the idea, from The War in the Air, which reaches a Hobbesian conclusion, The Island of Doctor Moreau where a scientist literally tries to make men, and best known of all the bifurcation of the human race in The Time Machine – Wells though sympathised with the useless Eloi who are merely farmed cattle for the Morlocks, a far better representation of humanity. His Pelagian view was comprehensively refuted by a better writer, and his old tutor’s son, Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World, where ironically the Savage is noble, as having been brought up not in a state on nature but in a strong, tribal society.

In every age we see proof that natural man is Caliban and in every age are many who convince themselves and others that the prelapsarian idyll can be achieved, and so society and political philosophy can never reach a consensus.


Of the Natural Condition of Mankind …3 – nasty, brutish, and short

Continued from:

Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.


Of the Natural Condition of Mankind …2

Again, men have no pleasure (but on the contrary a great deal of grief) in keeping company where there is no power able to overawe them all. For every man looketh that his companion should value him at the same rate he sets upon himself, and upon all signs of contempt or undervaluing naturally endeavours, as far as he dares (which amongst them that have no common power to keep them in quiet is far enough to make them destroy each other), to extort a greater value from his contemners, by damage; and from others, by the example.

So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.

The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation. The first use violence, to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.


Of the Natural Condition of Mankind as Concerning their Felicity and Misery

Nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he.  For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself.

And as to the faculties of the mind, setting aside the arts grounded upon words, and especially that skill of proceeding upon general and infallible rules, called science, which very few have and but in few things, as being not a native faculty born with us, nor attained, as prudence, while we look after somewhat else, I find yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength.  For prudence is but experience, which equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they equally apply themselves unto.  That which may perhaps make such equality incredible is but a vain conceit of one’s own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree than the vulgar; that is, than all men but themselves, and a few others, whom by fame, or for concurring with themselves, they approve.  For such is the nature of men that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance.  But this proveth rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal.  For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything than that every man is contented with his share.

From this equality of ability ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of our ends.  And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end (which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only) endeavour to destroy or subdue one another.  And from hence it comes to pass that where an invader hath no more to fear than another man’s single power, if one plant, sow, build, or possess a convenient seat, others may probably be expected to come prepared with forces united to dispossess and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life or liberty.  And the invader again is in the like danger of another.

And from this diffidence of one another, there is no way for any man to secure himself so reasonable as anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can so long till he see no other power great enough to endanger him: and this is no more than his own conservation requireth, and is generally allowed.  Also, because there be some that, taking pleasure in contemplating their own power in the acts of conquest, which they pursue farther than their security requires, if others, that otherwise would be glad to be at ease within modest bounds, should not by invasion increase their power, they would not be able, long time, by standing only on their defence, to subsist.  And by consequence, such augmentation of dominion over men being necessary to a man’s conservation, it ought to be allowed him.


The doctor and the silent usurpers

Something struck me about the latest jeremiad for free speech.  The Archbishop Cranmer blog does an excellent job recounting the persecution of those who are open about their Christian beliefs, and I know it is difficult to say “persecution” when elsewhere in the world that word takes on its full horror, but in the genteel malevolence of the woke class there is a relentless attack which is aimed squarely at driving dissentient voices out of public life and Christians in particular.

Still, there was something that struck home in today’s post, “If a Christian doctor can be forced to deny biology, there is no hope for theology”.

– but also an opportunity to strike to resist

It was not the involvement of the egregious Piers Morgan – anyone who appears on his show must expect to be shouted at and insulted as that is his only approach. No, it is the ability to locate the enemy position.

In brief, Dr David Mackereth worked as a benefits assessor in the Department for Work and Pensions, and in the course of his employment he was required to attend a diversity training course.  Most of us in the course even of a long career have no occasion to encounter these courses but somehow Government departments have been persuaded that they are a requirement.  On the course the trainer asked Dr Mackereth ‘If you have a man, 6ft tall with a beard, who says he wants to be addressed as “she” and “Mrs”, would you do that?’, and he replied in all honesty “No”.  We has sacked at once. He had not actually encountered a six-foot bearded man insisting on being called ‘Miss’, but the hypothetical approach was a sacking offence.  Never mind that Dr Mackereth is a doctor who presumably knows more about biology that the whole DWP personnel department put together.

There is no Act of Parliament that refuses employment to those who disagree with a set of doctrinal formulae, not since the repeal of the Test Acts in 1828. Someone though is exercising power over the livelihoods of a great many men and women as if they had authority to impose such a statute.

Dr Mackereth’s case may be a rare example someone in a position to find out who is exercising the power. The diversity trainer exercised this pretended power, except that she or he did not effect the sacking as her formal authority does not go that far.  Presumably she, or he reported the incident to a diversity officer, who used his or her influence.  The personnel department actually issued the dismissal – either they agreed with the diversity officer or they were terrified of her: we ought to know.  We can be pretty sure that such actions were not authorised by the Secretary of State, notwithstanding that he takes ultimate responsibility for his department.

It has got more murky though:  first the Department seem to be saying that he was not sacked at all and simply disappeared from work, while in the middle is an agency, also being sued for discrimination.  Getting any truth out of these cases is well nigh impossible, it seems.  Somewhere though, in some corner there are names, names of those forcing their own opinions into the powers of the state, and someone with less integrity or intelligence than an experienced, Christian doctor.

Therefore who is in the frame: a diversity trainer and a diversity officer, a terrified agency clerk, but terrified of whom?  It would be useful to hear their testimony.  The personnel department too:  did they make a decision, or do what they were told and by whom? Names are needed: names.

Next: if this goes to court someone will have to advise the Government legal service to pursue it, when they could easy say “Our mistake, welcome back, Doctor.” so who makes that decision?