But for such as have strong bodies the case is otherwise; they are to be forced to work; and to avoid the excuse of not finding employment, there ought to be such Lawes, as may encourage all manner of Arts; as Navigation, Agriculture, Fishing, and all manner of Manifacture that requires labour. The multitude of poor and yet strong people still increasing, they are to be transplanted into Countries not sufficiently inhabited; where nevertheless they are not to exterminate those they find there; but constrain them to inhabit closer together, and not range a great deal of ground to snatch what they find, but to court each little Plot with art and labour, to give them their sustenance in due season. And when all the world is overcharged with Inhabitants, then the last remedy of all is Warre; which provideth for every man, by Victory, or Death.The revulsion that Leviathan produced upon its release in 1651, and continues to produce today, is not grounded in just misgivings about its argument. Rather, it seems to be purely a desire to draw back the veil over the naked face of power; for what most instinctively feel is that the book does not describe an optimal or potential commonwealth but the undeniable fundament of the actually existing State. There are numerous rationalizations of this move, including the pervasive, Intentional Fallacy-baiting claim that Hobbes's book was merely the product of his anxieties about the English Civil War, but the veil continues to gape open, defying all later ages.
- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
This fear of confronting the Hobbesian abyss has driven innumerable attempts at revising his account of the original contract--foremost among them being, of course, Locke's Second Treatise. If we read Locke from a Hobbesian point of departure, we find a critical inadequacy, namely, that the social contract might never be effective at all. Why? Locke claims that in cases of conquest and usurpation the people are released from their allegiance and must give explicit consent to fall under the social contract again. Now, in the murky historical state of nature, it is possible to posit that at some point the allegiance was explicitly given--a fact we can extrapolate from the existence of government without any positive evidence in that regard. But considering that every polity since then has been the victim of conquest or usurpation, it becomes necessary to establish a precise historical moment (post-dating the conquest) at which this allegiance was explicitly reestablished by the people independently of the existing governmental structure, which is conquered and thus divested of contractual privileges. Locke makes no attempt to do so, which fits his immediate political goals but not his philosophical ones.
For Hobbes, who has no truck with questions of legitimacy, there is no problem here: conquest establishes as firm a right to rule as anything else, since the vanquished accept the foreign rule of the sovereign to avoid getting enslaved or slaughtered instead. This is characteristic of the Hobbesian approach, the opposite of Locke's: he is perfectly willing to make his theory maximally unpalatable and politically incorrect if it yields him some analytic leverage. (Heterodox religious ideas may be harmful to the polity. Lockean solution: the government must promote toleration except insofar as there is a concrete illegality taking place. Hobbesian solution: the sovereign has the right and obligation to control thought!)
But the cited passage suggests that Hobbes also faces a collapse of the contract, though not in the form of conquest. Hobbes is saying that it is the sovereign's obligation to ensure that the unemployed be cared for by the commonwealth, not left to the uncertainty of private charity. The able-bodied are sent to colonize distant shores (a very Greek solution to Malthusian crises). What happens when there is nothing left to colonize? "Warre; which provideth for every man, by Victory, or Death." In other words, Hobbes' political theory leads directly to its own negation! The sovereign is instituted to avoid the war of all against all; he is obligated to care for the health of the polity; yet these obligations inevitably entail a state of war against all. Remember, too, that this is not optional or ancillary: Hobbes is a determinist, so if he says something ought to happen in his commonwealth, by God, it will happen. By moving on to a discussion of laws, Hobbes just leaves the conclusion hanging and undeveloped, with nary a hint of what is really at issue.
If we keep in mind the Straussian dictum that we should always be suspicious of accidental slip-ups in a great philosophical text, we find a much broader vista of anguish opens up before us. It seems that for Hobbes, Leviathan can never be more than a temporary solution to the permanent condition of war: the state of nature whence we arose is where we will return. It's unsurprising, then, that Charles II proved so ungrateful for the gift Hobbes gave him--an elaborately handwritten manuscript copy of the text.