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Tuesday, December 14, 2004



from bertrand russell's history of western philosophy, book 3 chapter 8, "hobbes's leviathan":

every community is faced with two dangers, anarchy and despotism. the puritans, especially the independents, were most impressed by the danger of despotism. hobbes, on the contrary, was obsessed by the fear of anarchy. the liberal philosophers who arose after the restoration, and acquired control after 1688, realized both dangers; they disliked both strafford and the anabaptists. this led locke to the doctrine of division of powers, and of checks and balances. in england there was a real division of powers so long as the king had influence; then parliament became supreme, and ultimately the cabinet. in america, there are still checks and balances in so far as congress and the supreme court can resist the administration; but the tendency is toward a constant increase in the powers of the administration. in germany, italy, russia and japan, the government has even more power than hobbes thought desirable. (russell wrote during world war two, referring to the dictators of that time. -- gm) on the whole, therefore, as regards the power of the state, the world has gone as hobbes wished, after a long liberal period during which, at least apparently, it was moving in the opposite direction. whatever the outcome may be of the present war, it seems evident that the function of the state must continue to increase, and that resistance to it must grow more and more difficult.
i think many modern westerners consider the first half of the 20th century to be something of an aberration, a mistake really unrepeatable now. i wish i could say i thought that true.

the causes of the rise of the fascists remain active today, in fact more pervasive and deeply rooted than before. the first such wave of destructive individualism came with the anarchists of that time, and helped to foster the fascists in reaction -- but we are now faced with a much more profound and deep disintegration, which affects not a radical few but most men. as individualism metastasizes and social institutions fail for a lack of common responsibility, lawlessness grows and police states are being built to counter it. at the fringes of society, incurable constant violence and a low-intensity state of war with the police is already endemic. we can likely expect it to grow, as there is little remaining among the social morals of men to stop it.

as it does, as chaos grows, the calls for order echoing from the masses will become much louder than any favoring some abstracted notion of freedom. and perhaps hobbes will be shown to be right in the implication of his primitive analysis -- that all men finally share the goals of the absolute sovereign.

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