In Memoriam

This site is also dedicated to Stan Sargent. Stan and I grew up in Grenada, Mississippi, and both of us left for college at about the same time. Stan served in Vietnam while I joined the Peace Corps. Stan won the Silver Star for heroism. Read Stan's story (1 MB download pdf).

Friday, May 8, 2009

Leviathan - A Hobbesian View of the World

An article in Parameters, Winter 2006-07, pp. 4-13, entitled "The Hobbesian Notion of Self-Perservation Concerning Human Behavior during an Insurgency" posits that gaining control over the population and providing for its security is a key first step in winning an insurgency. Using Thomas Hobbes' classic, Leviathan, the article points out that an individual initially seeks membership in the society for security. Only after the need for security is met does a person pursue a more complete life. This gets complicated in that man's perception of his security is a determining factor of whether he joins an insurgency or not.

English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, wrote Leviathan in 1651 regarding human nature and the foundation of states based on social contract theories. Hobbes describes the need for a strong central authority to prevent social unrest and civil strife because the common nature of man presents a situation in which each person fights for his or her own existence. Preventing chaos caused by man's inherent nature to seek his own will without limit and the situation that arises from that nature -- an unending conflict of "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes) -- is a primary motivating force for man to accept a form of social contract and establish civil society. According to Hobbes, society is a population beneath a central authority to whom all individuals give up their natural rights for the sake of protection. Submission to this authority is accepted as the price of peace however excessive abuse of power can lead to civil war.

The Hobbesian view of the world, that security of the individual is the primary motivation to the acceptance of authority, is contrary to Aristole's contention that man is by nature a social animal. While social needs may play a part in the formation of society, Hobbes believes the overwhelming need is for security -- everything else, social interaction, economic development, justice, spiritual fulfillment, etc. follows. Failure to secure the population dooms any counter-insurgency effort.

"The Hobbesian Notion of Self-Preservation Concerning Human Behavor during an Insurgency" tries to answer the question of why some people join an insurgency and others don't. The key is the perception of the population as to who is in control. Most people will choose to be impartial as the struggle between government and insurgency fight for control but the overriding factor determining their eventual loyalty is Hobbesian self preservation. Perceived loss of control of an area by the central government is sufficient for the population to be passive in the face of the insurgency and for a portion of the population to join the insurgency. The majority of the population is waiting to see which form of society will prevail in order to enter new social contracts that ensure their survival.

This approach reinforces a key tenant of General David Petraeus's counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan that the population must be protected at all costs.

1 comment:

  1. More on Hobbesian Theory and social contract theory can be found at