Freedom's Progress?: A History of Political Thought, by Gerard Casey
Proponents of liberty cannot escape confronting the issue that came to full fruition in the Enlightenment: liberty and tyranny both found freedom as a result. Classical liberals cannot just point to Locke and Jefferson as the offspring. In this post I will examine the Enlightenment’s evil twin – as represented in Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
His ideas…are especially challenging to any libertarian who would wish to see the state minimised or eliminated. That said, there are elements of his thought that any liberal would welcome.
Casey offers that more than half of Leviathan is about religion, and some take this as the most important part of his work. One can glean Hobbes’ view on religion by the following:
Hobbes’s overall thought was fundamentally materialist…. For Hobbes, all that ultimately exists is matter in motion. …even the extremely complex social and political world too was explicable in materialistic terms.
Hobbes treated all of nature – human nature as well as non-human nature – as a vast system of mechanical causes from which purpose was to be excluded.
No room for religion there; no man created in God’s image; no possibility of an afterlife; no reason to think beyond the immediacy of the moment; no reason to consider the means to an end; no reason to consider any ends other than he who dies with the most toys wins.
Hobbes, like many thinkers of his time, was enamored with the logic of mathematics and applying this logic to human action and behavior. We today would call this the axiomatic method: starting with as few axioms as possible – and using only pure reason – producing “a rich and complicated set of theorems (deductions), all interconnected and all derived, in a strict logical chain, from the basic axioms.”
Two things can go wrong: first, one can make a mistake in reasoning; second, one’s axioms might not be as axiomatic as one believes. One cannot read this and not ask, “what about Austrian Economics?” Casey addresses this:
This isn’t to deny that any given empirical science may have at its theoretical heart a core of conceptually interrelated elements as, for example, does Austrian economics; it is simply to reject the ultra-rationalist idea that the axiomatic method is the scientific method par excellence.
I will leave it to those who are far more qualified in both understanding the conceptual underpinnings of Austrian Economics and Hobbes’ methodology to separate one from the other. On the surface, it seems clear to me that Austrians, unlike Hobbes, accept that not all values are material – a factor that will greatly reduce error by Austrians. But this might explain the different conclusions, and not necessarily offer an explanation as to why such deductive reasoning is or is not a valid tool. Perhaps it is not any more complicated than challenging the axioms….
Hobbes finds man to be “spontaneously self-seeking, acquisitive and aggressive.” Although man is not only these things, it is on these things that Hobbes builds his philosophy. Based on this, Hobbes offers that there is no such thing as right and wrong, no such thing as civic virtue, no such thing as justice or injustice. No room for natural law here.