Hobbes, the Person of the State, and the Beginnings of Balance

In the beginning, there was a simple thing — be that nothing, something, or everything at once. From this simple, eternal implosion of reality exploded the elaborate fantasy of this divided physical realm. Perhaps even then there were seeds of division immanent to the physicality of this world. Before time and space, however, can we even speak of physical matter? Is not evolution contingent on the lack of total singularity, and its displacement by plurality? Perhaps. If so, James Mayall’s distinction (World Politics: Progress and Its Limits) between ‘pluralism’ and ‘solidarism’ has cosmopolitical significance (akin to the ‘cosmic’ event that gave birth to the new Millennium: the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 — preceded by the ‘cosmic’ fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as noted by David Runciman on Talking Politics, a podcast about the post-History saga of ‘Corbyn! Brexit! Trump!‘ in the confused cosmopolitics, albeit with a distinctively Baltic, Mediterranean, and Atlantic focus, of the 2010s). Let me explain.

Small beginnings. (A first draft of this piece)

Pluralism accepts the divided state of nature, and solidarism hopes to overcome it in a magical reunification of reality into its original singular essence — or, at least, a closer imitation thereof than the frail existence of our world of interdependence independence (as encapsulated in philosopher Gottfried Leibniz’s Monadology). There is also, as Mayall explains, a tripartite division between ‘realism’, following Machiavelli, ‘rationalism’, following Grotius, and ‘revolution’, following Kant. Perhaps missing here is the thought of Thomas Hobbes, a uniting (albeit often divisive) figure, especially in Mayall & Runciman’s intellectual home turf of Cambridge.

For Hobbes, nature is constituted by a state of pluralistic division, and consequence conflict among warring individuals, or ‘persons’ by nature. There is, however, an escape: the person by fiction of the sovereign commonwealth, an artificial state, or ‘reall Unitie’ to overcome the fractured disunity of the condition of mere nature, in which life is ‘solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short’. Hobbes parades his middle ground as a Utopia, but the contradictory brilliance remains: through political society, we can incorporate both pessimistic pluralism and hopeful solidarism in the balance of law and power. LIBERTY, paradoxically, depends on the personal security which only political AUTHORITY affords — and secures. AMEN

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