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Hobbes Has Held Us Back

For most of us the title “father” is a desirable distinction. Though it implies great responsibility, it also carries great promise and purpose. Throughout history, the title has been applied not only to the biological father of children, but to great leaders the world commemorates as committed and courageous. Though the title typically carries honor, there is one historical figure whose fatherly titles are rather infamous: Thomas Hobbes.

Hobbes, often billed the “father of modern liberalism,” poisoned western political philosophy in a way that affects us to this day. After observing the religious-political wars that defined seventeenth century Britain, ranging from the Thirty Years War to the English Civil Wars, Hobbes decided the best way to avoid conflict was to equally accept conflicting ideas. Hobbes secured his place as the first western political philosopher to purposely promote relativism, thus it is accurate to say that he is the “father of modern relativism.” Hobbes believed that, if moral absolutes existed, we would be bound by honor and duty to defend them. This, he argued, would lead to war. In his mind, being devoid of any understanding of Truth was preferable to being absent the illusion of peace.

In order not to oppose his own position, Hobbes himself acknowledged that the maintenance of peace in a relativistic world would necessitate the acceptance of political tyranny. As a result, in addition to being both the father of modern liberalism and relativism, he may also be styled the “father of modern statism.” It quickly becomes dizzying to determine where, if anywhere, Hobbes stood on anything. Inasmuch, he fully embodied his own disembodied ideology that everything is relative, and opposing ideologies (i.e. – liberalism v. statism) ought to be given equal audience. Hobbes wanted to create, as C.S. Lewis would style them, “men without chests.” Removing passion and purpose from peoples’ lives, it seemed, was the only “rational” means whereby the pretension of peace may be perpetuated. These sort of men, as Dr. Benjamin Wiker styled it, “have no desires above the belly and the groin, and if these are amply an indiscriminately satisfied, then the fires of spiritedness will die down.”

How remarkably similar is our current political environment? On the left, we have relativism run-amuck, which has collapsed into an incoherent philosophical muddle. The reaction by some on the right, championed by economics-only conservatives, is to ensure that economic prosperity is maintained while cultural values are cast-aside. Either extreme fits Dr. Wiker’s description. Hobbes is right: war, physical or otherwise, is often the result of fighting for Truth. This is a by-product of living in a fallen world; however, ignoring the reality of good and evil, right and wrong, doesn’t create peace. It ignores peril. A battle rages in the spiritual arena, regardless of our recognition of its reality. As we rebuild America’s economy, let’s rebuild her culture simultaneously. South Carolina and our Country desperately need men and women with passion in their chests for Truth and purpose. The liberal and the statist want us to live by bread alone. True conservatives know that men do not live by bread alone, but by the Word of the Lord.

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