Unbelief and the Politics of Fear

Thomas Hobbes: The Twin of Fear
Thomas Hobbes: The Twin of Fear

When the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes' mother was expecting him, she gave birth to him prematurely upon hearing that the Spanish were sailing their “Invincible Armada” to bring the English isle under Spanish rule and under popery. Hobbes later commented in his autobiography that on that day of his birth in 1588, his mother "gave birth to fear and myself together."

In his political treatise, Leviathan, Hobbes gives us a state predicated on fear. According to Hobbes, man leaves the state of nature, a “dog-eat dog world” where life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." They leave it cowering for their lives, only to agree to be ruled by a beast, a leviathan to protect them. Of course, this state may lack freedom, but at least man is secure. In his philosophy, Hobbes grounds sovereignty, not in God, but in the mass of the people. But Hobbes’ “people” are only valuable en masse. By themselves, men are timid puppies, cowering and whimpering. There is no nobility, no dignity. Survival is all.

About a century earlier, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) had fears of his own. Machiavelli, a minor bureaucrat in Florence, feared the instability that came with the lack of unity among the city-states on the Italian Peninsula. Machiavelli's fear of the instability was great enough that, when he penned his advice to Lorenzo de Medici on how to be an able ruler, he advised Lorenzo to be an evil prince when necessary, imposing order with deceit and trickery. His model prince was Cesare Borgia, called the “black prince," a ruler renowned for treachery and other immoralities.

Machiavelli's work, The Prince, was a watershed work in modern political theory. Machiavelli's prince, like Hobbes’ king, was a beast who ruled to bring order to the cowering masses, by whatever means necessary. Men like Hobbes and Machiavelli were unbelieving men; men who had rejected God earlier and embraced rule by the fist rather than the rule by law. Hobbes and Machiavelli gave us a theory of government to be embraced by fearful men who rule by fear.

Is this important to us today? You bet. A nation that is merely a mass of fearful people is a pitiful thing. In the end, it’s not worth defending. We need a political philosophy that will help us recognize the value of fear so that we prepare for the encroaching storm, yet not allow fear to so overpower us so that we surrender all for the sake of survival.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1769-1527) was a fearful man who wrote in his work "The Prince" that rulers must maintain their kingdoms at all cost, even if it meant that he must act immorally.
Niccolo Machiavelli (1769-1527) was a fearful man who wrote in his work "The Prince" that rulers must maintain their kingdoms at all cost, even if it meant that he must act immorally.

Fear in its Place

Now, fear is an important element of our make up. It keeps us alive. Imagine if you didn't fear the hot stove, or the oncoming train, or the narrow precipice. Fear should act as a guide in our lives, but we can’t let it control us. Yes, we fear the hot stove, but we still use it. We fear the rapidly-moving train but trains are valuable and we learn to stay out of their way, all the while using them for our benefit. Today, there is considerable uncertainty, especially economically. If we allow fear to drive us, if we must be safe above all else, then freedom will be discarded for security. And when security is all, then tyranny is our future.

The problem today is that unbelieving philosophies like those of Hobbes and Machiavelli are likely to place fear in the driver seat. Why? For the unbeliever, this life is everything. He must hold on to it and must do whatever is necessary to embrace it. He must pay any price to hold on to this life. It follows that there is nothing really worth dying for.

A Christian political philosophy, however, need not take that approach. For the Christian, some values such as love, duty, honor, and freedom are values worth dying for. For the atheists these values are just fantasies. The positivist tells the believer that these values are mere sentiments, that they are not real. But our founding fathers knew better and so does the Christian today. He knows that there is more to this life than....this life.

In this time of great fear, be it economic, international, or environmental, we need a belief system that will help us keep balance. Unbelieving philosophies, be they atheism, humanism, nihilism, or postmodernism will not carry the day. A Christian political philosophy recognizes the value of fear, but a fear that's in the back seat, not the driver’s seat. The predilection for survival must be put aside from time to time so that we can see what’s most important. The Christian desires a secure state, not because we have to survive, but because we honor God when we protect that which has been entrusted to us be that our land, our rights, our families, or our heritage.

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Comments 22 comments

Lorena 21 months ago

It's imaeiptrve that more people make this exact point.


wba108@yahoo.com profile image

wba108@yahoo.com 3 years ago from upstate, NY

I heard a christian author say that, "fear is faith in the devil". I believe this to be true and this is what drives the ungodly to seek security above all else. As you mentioned, we need to respect the dangers around us if we're not to be destroyed. I wouldn't use the word fear because we acknowledge dangers out of reverence for God.


atomswifey profile image

atomswifey 7 years ago from Michigan

All I can say is beautiful, really beautiful


Bibowen profile image

Bibowen 7 years ago Author

Yes, I have offered an opinion, but not just an opinion. What I offered is an argument which is an opinion with the reasons given. Your central concern should be whether or not the claim is true; not whether or not it's an opinion. It is my opinion that what Pol Pot did in Cambodia was wrong. But it does not invalidate the claim of its wrongness just because it’s an opinion.

Anyway, again, the discussion about God is far afield of the point of the article. I made the claim that an atheistic political framework is unsustainable while the Christian political theory has been the most fruitful in promoting both freedom and security. Your views about God are not necessary to address the historical question of whether or not unbelieving political systems have been failures and Christian ones have enjoyed greater success. Many unbelievers, for example, have affirmed that they believe the Christian west has provided the greatest liberty to the most people, even though they don't affirm Christianity per se, with its claims of Jesus' divinity, the Resurrection, the miracles, etc.

So, the question of God's existence, an important question, just is not necessary to affirm or deny the historical question of the essay. Thank you.


qwark profile image

qwark 7 years ago

Hi Bibowen:

Appreciate the response.

Your "...adequate definition of God would be "that being which is the Creator, or First Cause of the universe." is what I asked you not to provide: "...an opinion or a "ballpark" guess..."

Again, in your response to me you say: "... The central question which the article addresses is whether or not an adequate political theory can be sustained without recourse to God." If all you can offer, is opinion and guess in ref to this "god" thing, the "...central question.." of your Hub, then there can be no value in a response other than it being an opinion. Is that all you request? If this "god" thing cannot be defined in terms other than "opinion," then to this "logician," the jist of your "Hub" cannot be considered to be worthy of speculation.

I am responding respectfully and honestly. there is no intent to insult or demean.

Qwark


Bibowen profile image

Bibowen 7 years ago Author

It should be obvious from the hub that I am talking about the Christian God, the God of the Bible. In the Bible, God is not "defined," He is revealed. But, an adequate definition of God would be "that being which is the Creator, or First Cause of the universe." That's pretty basic, but it is a start.

But "defining God" is far afield of the point of the article. The central question which the article addresses is whether or not an adequate political theory can be sustained without recourse to God. Thanks again for your interest.


qwark profile image

qwark 7 years ago

Hi Bibown:

All I ask for is a definition of this god thing you mention, not proof of "it's" existence.

Before I can seriously consider a subject and offer an intellectual reply, I must know what "it" (this god thing you mention) is. If "it" is but an abstract concept or is defined by an opinion or a "ballpark" guess, and you mention it in your well written "Hub," I cannot consider it to be relevant to the subject your "Hub" is intended to cover

Thanks,

Qwark


Bibowen profile image

Bibowen 7 years ago Author

Your comments:

"You mention this "god" thing. What is "it?" How do you "know" "it?" "It" is not, factually defined in any monotheistic writing. How can you speak of that which can't be defined, can't be known and exists as only an abstract concept, as being extant? Unless you can logically explain this to me, I must consider you to be incredible in reference to your comments about this "god" thing.?"

These are typical challenges to the existence of God. I was certainly dealing with religion and even the Christian religion, but I was not interested in discussing God's existence in this hub. I took his existence as a given. It would have been too much to justify my belief in God and discuss the topic of interest in one hub.

Besides, most people believe in God and most Americans profess some form of Christianity as their religion of choice. Most people, even in secular literature, do not preface their remarks about God by first justifying his existence.

There was not much point of writing the hub had I not mentioned God. My point was that political theorists that have come from an "anti" or "a" theist point of view tend to give us either a state predicated on fear or one of license (in this hub, I focused on the former). My thesis is that atheistic philosophies will not give us a republic of liberty but will seek one primarily of security, given that "staying alive" has primacy because this life is all that we can hope for. Therefore, everything gets sacrificed for safety and protection.

It was the predominantly Christian American colonies that gave us the War for Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, a regime that is predicated on a distrust of human nature and especially the tyrannical impulses of the prince. The tyrannical prince was bound by the chains (to use Jefferson's metaphor) of a Constitution. But both Machiavelli and Hobbes, out of fear of disorder, sought to unchain the prince. In the case of Hobbes, he is an absolute monarch (Hobbes' words a "leviathan"); in the case of Machiavelli, he was an amoral petty thug, who was justified in feigning goodness, religion, and morality for the purposes of maintaining the state.

Thanks for your comments.


qwark profile image

qwark 7 years ago

Hello Bibowen...Your response to me made no sense at all. You end your response with: "As for belief in God, I'm not really interested in dealing with that on this hub. It's too far off topic...," yet you say in your "Hub:"The Christian desires a secure state, not because we have to survive, but because we honor God when we protect that which has been entrusted to us be that our land, our rights, our families, or our heritage." I think you mentioned this "god" thing in that sentence? When one reads your "Hub," the "realist, logician, pragmatist (me,) must know what it is you are referring to to when you mention this "god" thing. To refer to that, whatever it is, "god" thing without defining it, factually, renders the whole "Hub" meaningless. Since "man's" gods have been imagined by him since his appearance as an "aware" creature, why would this "god" thing, you mention, be created any differently or hqve any more value than those of the past?

Your "Hub" would have made more sense and would have been a more valuable and interesting "read," if you had not mentioned this "god" thing, whatever it is you deem it to be..

Qwark


Strophios profile image

Strophios 7 years ago

I mostly took issue with your implication (and perhaps I misread) that his conclusion is still accepted in modern psychology. To the best of my knowledge, while his experimental results still stand, his conclusion that we are not free agents no longer has much support, there being, in fact, evidence to the contrary. But it's good to get this ironed out.


Bibowen profile image

Bibowen 7 years ago Author

Strophios, You speak of psychology as it is a monolithic, exact science. It's not. Skinner's conclusion was that we are not free agents. Thanks for the reply.


Strophios profile image

Strophios 7 years ago

A minor note: you mention psychology as if there is a choice in the matter. Just because you believe in the Christian God does not make Skinner's experiments any less valid. Psychology is a science where things are proved by experiment. Belief in God cannot, for a reality connected human, override experimental evidence.


Bibowen profile image

Bibowen 7 years ago Author

Thanks for reading. The point of the article was not to make an argument for God's existence. Rather it was that unbelieving philosophies over time sacrifice freedom. I think this is true whether we are discussing political philosophy (Hobbes, Machiavelli, Hegel, Marx) or even in psychology (B.F. Skinner). The common thread of loss of freedom is there. Furthermore, it is in the Judeo-Christian tradition that we have witnessed the drive for religious freedom and the constraints placed on the state so as to secure greater freedom for citizens.

As for belief in God, I'm not really interested in dealing with that on this hub. It's too far off topic.

Thanks again.


qwark profile image

qwark 7 years ago

Hello Bibowen:

"The Christian desires a secure state, not because we have to survive, but because we honor God when we protect that which has been entrusted to us be that our land, our rights, our families, or our heritage."

Please explain this for me.

You mention this "god" thing. What is "it?" How do you "know" "it?" "It" is not, factually defined in any monotheistic writing.

How can you speak of that which can't be defined, can't be known and exists as only an abstract concept, as being extant?

Unless you can logically explain this to me, I must consider you to be incredible in reference to your comments about this "god" thing.

Guess and opinion are not acceptable as being "truths."

Qwark


Strophios profile image

Strophios 7 years ago

I'm well aware of Federalist #10, and have read it (evil piece of paper that it is). So I am aware that they preferred the Roman Republic to the Athenian democracy, an idea with which I cannot in the slightest agree. My point on Athens, then, still stands. (If you'd like to have the 'merits of direct democracy' argument, we can do that too.)

Many of the founding fathers were deists, but Christian deists, admittedly. However, even giving you this particular example, I don't see how that proves that Judeo-Christian civilization provides the best mix of security and freedom. For most of its history Christianity has supported exceedingly tyrannical regimes and governments (i.e. from the Roman emperors onward).* Also note that many revolts and revolutions within Christendom have been arreligious or anti-religious in nature (i.e. the French Revolution,** every revolution of 1848-49, etc.).

*I know they "weren't true Christians," but it was still, as you said, "Judeo-Christian civilization.

**Before you challenge the French Revolution, recall that it was going fine and dandy until the rest of Europe decided to interfere.


Bibowen profile image

Bibowen 7 years ago Author

First, most of the founding fathers were not deists. Their most defining cultural quality would be Christian. There were some deists: Paine & Lee come to mind. Franklin and Jefferson do not qualify because they believed in a God that superintended in the affairs of men (see my hub on the Treaty of Tripoli).

They were not that fond of Athenian direct democracy. If you've read Federalist #10, you would know that. They were more partial to the idea of a Republic. But their knowledge of the Romans was more biographical (like Plutarch). Many fewer would have been familiar with the ins and outs of the Roman Republic and their apologists like Seneca and Cicero.

Your grounding ethics in society, something we just make up, does not solve the problem of those ethics being arbitrary. If they are arbitary, they are not ethics.

And ethics are not created by fiat. Rather we apprehend moral values as true. You and I both know that it is wrong to torture a child and that it is right to love her. We don't know that because someone prior to us made that up or that we arrived at such a position by social concensus; rather we apprehend it as true.

Thanks again for your interest.


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Good to see that some people still have their heads on their shoulders - thank you for the wise words Strophios!


Strophios profile image

Strophios 7 years ago

First, I take issue with the claim that it is Judeo-Christian civilization which has done the most to maximize freedom, particularly as you reference these United States as an example. The 'founding fathers,' for a moment pretending that it's okay to refer to them as a uniform group, were not Christians. Most were deists and drew much of their inspiration from Athens and the Roman Republic. Particularly of note is Athens, both a truly pagan state, and a truly direct democracy.

Second, I apologize that I was a bit unclear for the sake of expediency. I do not believe ethics are grounded/based upon themselves, I mis-wrote. I do believe that humanity and the idea of human society are themselves enough to ground our ethics. For me, ethics based upon ourselves hold greater wonder and reverence than those set down by fiat.

Finally, in reference to my first point, I will admit that following Christian ethics and Christian scripture should lead to an extremely free society, also a hugely radical one. However, I do not believe it's the only way (or the best way) to get there.


Bibowen profile image

Bibowen 7 years ago Author

Strophios, thank you for your comments. I believe that the Judeo-Christian civilization has done the most to maximize our freedoms while still providing the necessary security. I do believe that to move toward a secular state is to move us toward a state where freedom is minimized and security is maximized.

Ethics cannot be grounded in themselves. They need some transcendant point. Otherwise they are arbitrary. Christianity has been a great inhibitor of "might makes right" because it has done the most to differentiate between power and authority. Without God, you are left with the march of the state, Hegel's most divine idea on earth.

As for the PS, you'll get no argument from me on that one. Thanks for you comments.


Strophios profile image

Strophios 7 years ago

This is absurd, one does not need to be a Christian in order to be ruled by something other than fear. I am an atheist. I believe in greater values than my own life. It is not a contradiction.

Personally, I see much more value in a system of greater goods and ethical notions arrived at for their own sake than one which is imposed by a mighty god. For ultimately, how is your Christian morality any different from "might makes right"?

P.S. I do happen to agree with much of Christian morality, particularly that which Jesus actually spoke. Not that many Christians seem to espouse that today...


Bibowen profile image

Bibowen 7 years ago Author

Thanks for the kind words James and best wishes on Hubpages...


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

This is an outstanding article. You are dead on, Brother. The Leviathan is here. I loved your pithy explication of Hobbes. And you are right, without God the human race sinks into a sorry state. Thank you for this fine work. It deserves to be widely read.

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