Hobbes
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What Would Hobbes Think About The Covid-19 Pandemic Process?

Introduction

The world faces another global phenomenon which is known as Covid-19. Besides its effects on humans’ bodies; it started affecting the whole international system, governments of the nations, and especially the daily life of people. Having been accepted as chaos throughout the world, Covid-19 has proven several facts about the states’ autonomy over people in order to provide peace within the borders. Generally, people focus on politics in terms of ‘who will win the elections? what the political parties are offering us? which one is the best for our interests?’. However, there is a bigger question that is hidden in politics: ‘How will governments exercise the power that was given by the people?’.

This research will be focusing on the concepts of Hobbes related to the pandemic area in 2020. We will see how Hobbes would react and think about the actions that are taken by the governors. In addition, we will have information about the understanding of the state of nature of Hobbes even in today’s world. Because it seems that we are living in a frightening and violent world Hobbes sought to escape approximately 400 years ago.

1. Concepts of Hobbes

We have to consider the nature of people while making assumptions about these phenomenons. Because they are the key factors by taking place in the decision making processes or as the subjects of the rules that are conducted by the authorities. According to Hobbes, people differ from other living beings from the point of speaking, striking, and other visible actions which are called as ‘endeavour’. When it is toward something which causes it, this endeavour is called ‘desire’.[1] Thus, if something is desired by a person, it means to be loved by him/her and to be hated by others that consider this action as an ‘aversion’. Accepting our well-being depends on the ability to obtain the objects of our desires, Hobbes brought ‘individualism’ to our moral discourse since the basis of general competition is individualism. He mentions: “That every man, ought to endeavour Peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre.”[2] Therefore, he examines people as bad in their nature and there should be an authority over them in order to provide peace, common defence and safety. He says: “Every man has right to everything; and consequently, no action can be Unjust. But when a Covenant is made, then to break it Unjust; And the definition of ‘INJUSTICE’ is no other than The Not Performance Of Covenant. And whatsoever is not Unjust, is Just.”[3] Hobbes definitely gives much importance on the power that puts order over people, but, he emphasizes it by saying that people are also equal: “Before the names of Just, and Unjust can have place, there must be some coercive Power, to compel men equally to the performance of their Covenants, by the terror of some punishment.”[4] In that position, we also see that he is totally fine with the punishments.

Hobbes accepts the authority as the one examining common-wealth. Because, in that perception, people are seen as if in the war position without any authority over them and they seek to get themselves out from that miserable condition of war. But how should they exercise their power? Hobbes says: “Covenants, without Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all… If there be no Power erected, or not great enough for our security; every man will and may lawfully rely on his own strength and art, for caution against all other men… Enlarge their Dominions, upon all pretences of danger, and fear of Invasion, or assistance that may be given to Invaders, endeavour as much as they can, to subdue, or weaken their neighbours.”[5] There is a tendency to hard power enabling authority to consider the enemies from the point of threat perception which will be used in order to secure people. Moreover, he determines the duty of Common Power for these perspectives as: “A Common Power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of Forraigners, and the injuries of one another.”[6] The way of giving up their rights and actions to sole authority, people should consider this not as consent but as a real unity of them. “This is more than Consent, or Concord; it is a real Unitie of them all, in one and the same Person, made by Covenant of every man with every man, in such manner, as if every man should say to every man.”[7]

In short, Hobbes thinks the state of nature as a state of war and this could be solved just by the sole authority having the duty of securing their lives and enabling commonwealth. This could be achieved by giving up the rights of people to the authority which is seen as ‘just’. In addition, his understanding of ‘fear’ has a big impact on society, because, he says “what you’re doing freely is actually triggered by the fear.” So, the authority should also use this as a tool on behalf of the state.

2. Hobbes in 2020

Firstly, let’s see how Hobbes would react to today’s people. If he was alive, he would definitely point out the people going shopping and buying things more than they need which creates a lack of basic needs for others in the society, people going outside just to wander around that puts others’ lives in danger and try to prove his state of nature understanding.[8] Also, we see many people just do not go outside in order not to get punishments. This shows the understanding of ‘fear’ Hobbes mentioned. However, we also cannot say this for all the people living in society. Because there are many people helping each other if someone needs something. So, Hobbes could be criticized by the ones taking the state of nature as good.

Since the fear of violence is the key element of the political thinking of Hobbes, he preferred monarchy as the best over other political systems. By that, we may consider the authoritarian states and how they are successful during the pandemic process. For instance, being an already warlike state, Israel seems to be doing a better job than many EU countries. Thus, since Israel has adapted already, the pandemic will be also easier to be fought.[9] Even though understanding of democratic countries are accepted as how states should be governed in today’s world, Hobbes would react this understanding by saying ‘those democratic states have power ill orders, despite they try to be democratic and nice, they will end up in authoritarian governance eventually during phenomenal processes’. Thus, compared to other parts of the world, “West’s” governmental advantage is questionable. Let’s ask yourself, would you feel safer in London or in Cuba? Thus, this process could also be a chance for Asia to go beyond European countries.[10] Showing hospitals that overreached capacities and doctors who can’t find masks and needed equipment, Hobbes would definitely show how terrific situation the Europe in. He would evoke his perception of ‘being unity so as to have their security’ to the states. Because according to him, people have a loss of liberty which will bring them security and protection as a reward by what Hobbes termed a strong government “Leviathan”.[11] In that process, good healthcare service, financial help and opportunities and protecting the borders so as not to put people in danger can be main security and protection tools for a country, and I am sure that Hobbes would definitely criticize almost more than half of the states in the world, besides, put high importance on the understanding of a “nation-state”. In that sense; national governments still matter, however, with a little difference in that pandemic era. It exists not because of the emphasis on national identity but “threat perception”. However, we still see many nationalistic slogans everywhere, this is something aims to gather people under “nationalistic discourses” which gives authorities more power over time. In addition, one reason behind that understanding could be seen in the Hobbes’ understanding which he says that a small number of men did not bring security. “Nor is it the joining together of a small number of men, that gives them this security; because in small numbers, small additions on the one side or the other, make the advantage of strength so great, as is sufficient to carry the Victory; and therefore gives encouragement to an Invasion”[12] We see that Hobbes would still agree with the concept of nation-states aiming to provide security with the threat perception, however, he would be totally fine with the nationalistic discourses such as “we are enough for us!”. Moreover, lockdowns that are conducted by the governments and closing borders of the countries would be very welcomed by Hobbes. Because he would consider this as something providing security and protection of people from any threat that could come from abroad and attempt of people to go outside since they are accepted as evil without any authority.

We are facing a survival situation in Covid-19 process. Therefore, Hobbes would say if the state needs to collect data on you, so be it.[13] Censorship, data collection of people would be welcomed by him. For instance, the World Health Organization announced a document called ‘Global Surveillance during Influenza Pandemic’ enabling to collect data of people.[14] Censorship is conducted and many arrestments happened in terms of sharing Covid-19 posts. As an example, secretly recorded video of a nurse giving information about the number of patients in Turkey could be considered as a doctrine threatening peace by Hobbes. However, I am sure that Hobbes would be in a discussion with many contradictions by the people seeking for true information.

The most crucial point that Hobbes examines and would probably criticize almost all the countries is the commonwealth of the people, because, he mentioned that people had given up their rights in order to have their welfare and to be protected from poverty. So, how successful the states are in terms of these circumstances? I am afraid Hobbes would react with anger. Considering the Covid-19 process, Hobbes would mention about National Healthcare Services, financial supports, economic applications of the states, income conditions of people, unemployment, and people who have to work even though they do not have health security. From an angle of National Healthcare Services, British government could be considered since huge fees paid by foreign healthcare workers instead of government’s help towards them.[15] Hobbes finds very crucial for people to be secured by an authority but, he would react as “You cannot even produce masks for your doctors that are trying to do their own job in order to survive and to help protect people.” In the USA, many medical professionals ran out of equipment, some are reusing masks and gloves and I do not even mention other people.[16] In addition, masks are sold in many countries such as Turkey, which Hobbes could take it as a responsibility of the state.

Being a key element of protecting people from poverty, the authority has a duty to prove economic response, would Hobbes say. His thought would change from state to state, but he would find Australian government successful because the government is providing $259 billion in fiscal and balance sheet support, which is equivalent to around 13.3 per cent of annual GDP.[17] This balance sheet has the structure as ‘support for individuals and households’, ‘support for businesses’, ‘supporting the flow of credit’. Nonetheless, there are still many countries consist of people who cannot find any money to buy bread, which Hobbes would blame the authorities.

When people are fearful of losing their lives, there is no place for industry because securing citizens’ lives is a precondition for having an economy.[18] However, we see that many shopping malls have been opened, people started going to work even though there is a risk of Covid-19 infection and a lack of masks. Many politicians reacted to this issue. Such as Jeremy Corbyn who is the leader of the Labour Party.[19] However, Jeremy Corbyn is not the one supporting the authoritarian government, so I am curious about Hobbes’ reactions since he puts so much importance on authoritarianism. I think this post shows that the facts do not need any authoritarian verifications; so, would Hobbes still put emphasis on the importance of authoritarianism or on the facts that should be put in action? In that matter, the world has adopted neo-liberal economic policies, so economists would probably contradict with Hobbes due to economical struggles of the states in terms of production. Thus, I think Hobbes would react to the economical system of the states.

Conclusion

The Covid-19 process is a global phenomenon that so many states take several actions. Almost all the world has become survival which 17th-century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes faced the same process. According to him, the state of nature is the state of war and this should be prevented by one authority over people. Having the sole power, the authority has the responsibility to provide security, commonwealth, and peace. So, people give up on their rights so as to live better.

If we consider his concepts during the pandemic process, Hobbes would feel relieved about the nature of people about how they are evil and bad. In terms of security, he would support national governments, lockdowns, data collections, closing borders, and threat perception of enemies. Because he would consider these actions so as not to threaten peace. Due to commonwealth practices of the states, Hobbes would put so many reactions in a bad way. Commonwealth could be considered under the titles of ‘protection from poverty’, ‘economic packages’, ‘unemployment’, ‘national healthcare service’, and ‘financial opportunities’. Since unemployment has increased in most of the countries, economic packages are not enough for the people, national healthcare services cannot have enough support, and people still have to work even though they do not have health security, Thomas Hobbes would definitely blame authorities for not fulfilling their duties.

Despite most of his thought would remain the same, Hobbes would think about some of his perceptions again. Those could be his idea of a political system which is a monarchy, and the conditions of the neo-liberal economical area.

 


References

Australian Government, “Economic response to the Coronavirus”, 25.05.2020, https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/Overview-Economic_Response_to_the_Coronavirus_3.pdf, Accessed: 26.05.2020.

 Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, Çankaya, Gece Kitaplığı, 2014.

Runciman, David, “Coronavirus has not suspended politics – it has revealed the nature of power”, The Guardian, 27.03.2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/27/coronavirus-politics-lockdown-hobbes, Accessed: 24.05.2020.

Lay Williams, David, “What would Hobbes say about the pandemic? Governments should protect lives — and help the poor.”, 18.05.2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/05/18/what-would-hobbes-say-about-pandemic-governments-should-protect-lives-help-poor/, Accessed: 25.05.2020.

Lohatepanont, Ken, “OPINION: The politics of epidemic immunity”, Thai Enquirer, 07.02.2020, https://www.thaienquirer.com/7478/opinion-the-politics-of-epidemic-immunity/, Accessed: 25.05.2020.

Merrick, Rob, “Anger as Priti Patel says NHS fees paid by foreign health staff must stay, just three weeks after announcing ‘review’”, Independent, 25.04.2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/priti-patel-nhs-fees-foreign-health-staff-immigration-surcharge-a9517356.html, Accessed: 26.05.2020.

Micklethwait John, Wooldridge Adrian, “The Virus Should Wake Up the West”, Bloomberg Opinion, 13.04.2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-04-13/coronavirus-pandemic-is-wake-up-call-to-reinvent-the-state, Accessed: 24.05.2020.

Nierenberg, Amelia, “Where Are All the Masks?”, The New York Times, 03.04.2020, https://www.nytimes.com/article/face-masks-coronavirus.html, Accessed: 26.05.2020.

Oliver, Christian, “Of Leviathan and lockdowns”, Politico, 30.04.2020, https://www.politico.eu/article/thomas-hobbesof-philosophy-coronavirus-leviathan-and-lockdowns/, Accessed: 25.05.2020.

World Health Organization, Global Influenza Programme, “Global Surveillance during an Influenza Pandemic”, Updated draft April 2009, https://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/global_pandemic_influenza_surveilance_apr09.pdf, Accessed: 25.05.2020.

Footnotes

[1] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Çankaya, 2014, p. 51.

[2] Ibid., p. 115.

[3] Ibid., p. 126.

[4] Ibid., p. 127.

[5] Ibid., p. 146.

[6] Ibid., p. 149.

[7] Ibid., p. 149.

[8] You can reach via: https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2020/mar/20/nurse-in-tears-coronavirus-panic-buying-leaves-shelves-empty-food-video, Accessed: 24.05.2020.

[9] David Runciman, “Coronavirus has not suspended politics – it has revealed the nature of power”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/27/coronavirus-politics-lockdown-hobbes, Accessed: 24.05.2020.

[10] John Micklethwait & Adrian Wooldridge, “The Virus Should Wake Up the West”, Bloomberg Opinion, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-04-13/coronavirus-pandemic-is-wake-up-call-to-reinvent-the-state, Accessed: 24.05.2020.

[11] Ken Lohatepanont, “OPINION: The politics of epidemic immunity”, Thai Enquirer, https://www.thaienquirer.com/7478/opinion-the-politics-of-epidemic-immunity/, Accessed: 25.05.2020.

[12] Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 146.

[13] Christian Oliver, “Of Leviathan and lockdowns”, Politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/thomas-hobbesof-philosophy-coronavirus-leviathan-and-lockdowns/, Accessed: 25.05.2020.

[14] World Health Organization, Global Influenza Programme, “Global Surveillance during an Influenza Pandemic”, Updated draft April 2009, https://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/global_pandemic_influenza_surveilance_apr09.pdf, Accessed: 25.05.2020.

[15] Rob Merrick, “Anger as Priti Patel says NHS fees paid by foreign health staff must stay, just three weeks after announcing ‘review’”, Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/priti-patel-nhs-fees-foreign-health-staff-immigration-surcharge-a9517356.html, Accessed: 26.05.2020.

[16] Amelia Nierenberg, “Where Are All the Masks?”, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/article/face-masks-coronavirus.html, Accessed: 26.05.2020.

[17] Australian Government, “Economic response to the Coronavirus”, 25.05.2020, https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/Overview-Economic_Response_to_the_Coronavirus_3.pdf., Accessed: 26.05.2020.

[18] David Lay Williams, “What would Hobbes say about the pandemic? Governments should protect lives — and help the poor.”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/05/18/what-would-hobbes-say-about-pandemic-governments-should-protect-lives-help-poor/, Accessed: 25.05.2020.

[19] You can reach via: https://twitter.com/jeremycorbyn/status/1259526267457671170, Accessed: 25.05.2020.