The recent demonstration/riot/insurrection at the United States Capitol building on January 6, 2021, has given all Americans a window into what life might be like in a “State of Warre.” This is not to say Americans are in a state of civil war. No, rather it is to say what could happen if America descends into what Thomas Hobbes, seventeenth century philosopher called, a “State of Warre.”
The English Civil War was a brutal conflict in which Parliamentary forces pitted themselves against those of the English King, Charles I. It culminated in the rise of Oliver Cromwell and a victory for Parliamentary forces in 1649 with the public execution, by decapitation, of Charles I on January 30, 1649. Hobbes, who witnessed these events was to say the least, horrified. He most likely believed without a king England would descend into a “State of Warre.” He published his beliefs in a book called “Leviathan” (1651).
In a “State of Warre,” almost every person is against each other. Think of it as Darwin described centuries later in his theory on the state of nature…only the strong survive. A “State of Nature” is a world where “there is no industry, navigation, nor commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving; no knowledge of the Earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society…only continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of a person was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (Fish 29).
As many watched the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021, one could not help but see this as a “State of Warre.” The initial peaceful protest quickly descended into a mob riot, pushing barriers and police back as people ascended the steps into the Capitol. Once inside, the looting and destruction of property began such as no one has ever seen in the Capitol since the War of 1812 when the British looted it and then burned it to the ground. It gets worse. The mob shouted and chanted angry slogans as they made their way through the Capitol. On top of that, a man paraded a southern confederate flag through the building. That didn’t even happen throughout the entire U.S. Civil War (1860-1865). To make matters worse, a scaffold was erected on the premises in the hopes that Vice-President Pence would be apprehended by the mob, and immediately hung without a trial. In addition, certain members of the mob were hopeful they would also apprehend some members of Congress, including speaker Pelosi. Their fate was to be executed immediately on the spot by a lone gunman or perhaps a firing squad. Several people were severely injured and died as a result of the event, including capitol police. On this day at the Capitol, there was no rule of law, meaning no one was to be arrested by appropriate authorities and tried later in a court of law before a certified and learned judge. In short, we had a glimpse of what life in a “State of War” might look like.
In this modern day “State of Warre,” people descended into a mob because one man refused to believe he lost an election and because many people believed in baseless, false radical conspiracies. What makes it difficult to understand is the election was actually the culmination of fifty different elections held in fifty different states, each with nuances of differences, making it almost impossible to rig. As for the leader, he desperately wanted to hold onto power and on this day the Electoral College votes were being counted at the Capitol which would seal his fate forever. So, he incited the protestors to march to the Capitol and take back the government for him by disrupting or ending the counting of the votes. Of course, he said he would be there with them but just like a dictator, he didn’t go. Rather, he let the mob do his bidding for him, hoping he would desperately cling to power. Such is a “State of War.” A condition where bullies take what they want from their neighbors and community mob rules.
Hobbes believed it was hard for people to govern themselves. This is why people must enter into a social contract with a king to prevent a “State of War” in society. In the modern world, a king would be known as a dictator ruling with a form of government known as fascism. On another day there will be a discussion of what is fascism. For now, Americans or for that matter people everywhere, must simply ask themselves if living in a “State of War” with a strong fascist leader is really what they want for their country? If the answer is yes, then expect more of what you saw at the Capitol on January 6th, both on a smaller and or larger scale. In addition, you will never be safe living in your home or traveling anywhere in your country. And if the bully in the neighborhood likes something you own; the bully will do whatever it takes to acquire it. If you look different or practice a religion that is different from the leader or the minority governing, you will never be safe. There is no such thing as tolerance in a “State of War.” Also, you will never be allowed to live peacefully, raising your family as you see fit. In the end, you may end up like the ten million people in World War II that were incarcerated, used as slave labor and ultimately beastly murdered.
Founding Fathers did not follow Hobbes ideas. Rather, they followed those of John Locke, another seventeenth century philosopher influenced by the English Civil War. He too believed in a social contract between the people and a leader/government. However, the difference is Locke believed people could govern themselves through some type of democracy. Our federal republic is a type of democracy that is the result of Locke’s influence on Founding Fathers. It is certainly not perfect. But Founding Fathers did give Americans the opportunity via the U.S. Constitution to reform our government without descending into a “Sate of Warre.”
So, before we lose our unique American culture, including rule by law, let us make a commitment to not only discovering the truth but to reforming the federal government to modernize it. Let us agree to compromise in an effort to resolve as much as we can, our differences and our challenges. Let us walk hand in hand into the light again, to that shining city on the hill. If America or for that matter, any country does this, they will preserve for future generations, all the good things that make their culture unique among the people of the Earth.
Fish, Stephen P. “A Call To Reform.” Self-published. 2020. Print.