Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Left Loves Hobbes

In "Political Jeremiads" (, July 28, 2010), I review the fire and brimstone predictions of doom and call to political and cultural repentance that American political left has employed (and no doubt sincerely believed) over the last 40 years. In the 70s it was the population explosion and limits to growth. The 80s gave us the fear of thermonuclear exchange and (at best) the nuclear winter that would result. In the 90's, they schooled us in environmentalism to "save the planet." Our children were dished up "Captain Planet" on Saturday mornings. Seriously. But saving the planet was taken to a much higher level of alarm in this past decade with the global warming scare.

It's always, "Flee from the terrible wrath to come!" Where else, but into the arms of almighty state, whether American or global…preferably global. Even unilateral surrender was, in the eyes of some, the only safe option. Better red than dead, they used to say.

But what we hear continually is an interesting combination of secularized Christian hellfire preaching and Thomas Hobbes.

Having led us in abandoning God to make our way in the world by our own wits, the secular left has come to see terrors on every side. But instead of returning to God, the rock of ages and shelter from the storm, they call us to seek refuge under the shadow of Leviathan, the almighty state, which 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes called “that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defence.” They reject as absurd the notion that God governs all the affairs of men with perfect goodness, yet they seek to establish a human government that will administer all the affairs of men with perfect efficiency, foresight, benevolence, and justice.
Thomas Hobbes argued in the 17th century that when faced with an intolerable threat, conditions that will make life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” the only rational course is to surrender up your liberties to an all powerful government that will preserve what is most important: your life.

The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one another…is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will. …This is the generation of that great Leviathan, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defence.

In the course of preparing this column, I was charmed to notice that while during the limits to growth 70s, Frances Moore LappĂ© gave us Diet for a Small Planet (1971), now into the climate scare decade her daughter Anna LappĂ© has given us Diet for Hot Planet.

I was prompted to write on this topic by Ross Douthat's New York Times column, "The Right and the Climate," (July 25, 2010).

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