Friday, 8 May 2020

HOBBES'S LEVIATHAN - Part of "The State In Economic Theory"

Hobbes managed for the rising capitalist bourgeoisie an epistemological feat that has not been equaled since he wrote: - he managed, that is, to combine the positivist scientific hypothesis of Galileo-Newtonian mechanics with the jusnaturalist political convention of innate human rights, and thereby to erect bourgeois political practice on effectual scientific grounds. Hobbes begins with the positivist scientific hypothesis of the “universal conflict” between human beings taken as wholly egoistic atomic individuals, and from there he develops “rationally” - with the “rationality” of the “laws” of mechanics - the jusnaturalist political convention (common-wealth) that will make social life possible based on the “natural rights” of these conflicting individuals. (This astute twining of positivist authoritarianism and jusnaturalist contractualism is masterfully unjumbled by N. Bobbio in Da Hobbes a Marx.)


In order to erect his political theory, Hobbes starts from the Euclidean axiom that each human being represents a “point” or “body” entirely unconnected to other human “points” or “bodies” and entirely self-interested or, mechanically put, having its own momentum or “appetitus” or “conatus” – which Hobbes calls “Power”. From this axiom he deduces that the original, most “natural” state of human beings, the “state of nature” or status naturae, is a state of civil war (bellum civium) or “the war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes). This “clash of wills” or appetites, this “war of all against all”, can lead logically only to a deterministic mechanical equilibrium in which there is no “room for manoeuvre for the individual freedom of the will” (Schumpeter quoted above) because each individual will is bound by the wills and boundless appetites of other wills, or else to the assured self-destruction of human beings. This is Hobbes’s scientific hypothesis taken directly out of Galileo-Newtonian mechanics.


The way out of equilibrium or stasis is provided by the ultima ratio, the absolutely indispensable right to and need for self-preservation, which leads these atomic self-interested individuals to reach freely a political con-vention, an agreement or “social contract” that can avert mutually assured destruction. Here the positive empirical evidence of a society that the bourgeoisie has reduced coercively to little more than a moral jungle from which all notion of “natural law” has been expunged meets with and satisfies the jusnaturalist (natural-law) requirement that individuals must agree freely and rationally to a political regime that will protect them from civil war. Hobbes acknowledges that what coerces individuals to accept this bourgeois political regime based on “the laws of the marketplace” is the metus mortis, the fear of death at the hands of any other individual. And given that each individual is axiomatically defined as being “equal” in the ability to harm another in the state of nature, then it follows axiomatically that each individual decides freely (by political convention, otherwise known as “social contract”) and rationally (by scientific hypothesis, following the definition of in-dividuals in conflict) to erect a “common wealth” or State or status civilis that will protect them from certain death.


The central feature of capitalism is that the bourgeoisie has tried as far as is humanly possible without tearing asunder the very fabric of human society to reduce this society to the state of absolute possessive individualism. That is why all accounts of bourgeois economic theory must start with the axiomatic postulate of this possessive individualism. Hobbes did not neglect to include in the “possessive” part the ability of individuals to buy or sell their own “power”, meaning both their physical possessions and their labour-power, in exchange for physical possessions. In the Leviathan, he describes “the value or worth or price of a man” as “so much as would be given for the use of his power”. Clearly, Hobbes had already an embryonic notion of what Marx would theorize later as “labour-power”, the commodified form of living labour in capitalist industry.


As Loasby has very perceptively pointed out (in Equilibrium and Evolution), the “complete decentralization” of economic decisions that is implicit in Hobbesian political theory and then in Walrasian equilibrium economic theory makes the co-ordination of economic decisions “a matter of life and death”. This is indeed another factor that makes the Hobbesian-Walrasian schema or blueprint absolutely axiomatic for the analysis of capitalism. But this interdependence of human economic action is still subordinated to the axiomatic primacy of individual self-interest; consequently, it cannot form part of equilibrium theory except as a Hobbesian ultima ratio or dira necessitas ob metum mortis, dire necessity in fear of death, as we explained above.


Make no mistake: the Hobbesian mechanical science we mean here is not an “objective science”, - for as Nietzsche demonstrated, there is and there can be no such “thing”! The science we intend here is a political practice based on the inflexible application of axiomatic rules to human society by a historically specific social class – the capitalist bourgeoisie. It was Max Weber who undertook the monumental project to separate the spheres of “value-rationality” whereby ends can be adjusted and connected rationally to available means and “purposive rationality” whereby means can be adjusted and approximated to chosen ends that remain irrational by definition. The bourgeoisie would be blind deaf and mute without this inflexible science, which is why it has erected the most fabled monuments to it. This science consists for the bourgeoisie in placing political decisions in a precise relationship to the existing relations of power in society that it has imposed to its own advantage so as to be able to reproduce them according to its own axiomatic postulates or schema. And then, of course, in presenting these political decisions as “that peculiar jumble of conditioning and freedom, which economic life shows us”, which is how Schumpeter defines “economic science”.

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