September 19, 2012

Leviathan: Responsibility and Legitimacy

Filed under: Sovereignty and Constitution — Russ @ 10:32 am


“Americans aren’t entitled to food, shelter, medical care”, says one of the thugs who’s the subject of this kangaroo election.
Human beings are in fact entitled to these things as the fruits of our work.
Under a hierarchical system, where the people and their work are separated, subjects are not “entitled” to these things unless they work. But they are entitled to work.
Hobbes himself would be the first to say that the Leviathan must provide access to work. If it denies this access, it forfeits its legitimacy. So wherever any significant amount of unemployment exists, the state is by definition illegitimate.
[Of course I’m not saying full employment would make it legitimate. I’m saying the lack thereof rules out legitimacy even according to the “social contract” theories so beloved by statists.]



  1. right on russ!

    Dave Outlaw

    Comment by W David Outlaw — September 19, 2012 @ 10:44 am

  2. Tss, tss.
    I am a “femme entretenue”.
    Is it.. THE STATE’S FAULT, or “corporate America’s” fault, if we, men AND WOMEN alike, are incapable of assigning, and FINDING… value in unpaid DAILY work within the home that nevertheless enables life to go on ?
    Two days ago I talked with a friend who has received a psychiatric diagnosis who told me that she found being financially dependant on her husband more and more intolerable.
    And I asked her… “How much would your husband have to fork out to have someone keep up the home, cook his meals, share his bed ? And even if he PAID someone to do all of this, would it be… equivalent ?” But I can address my words to the wind, for all she is ready to… believe me, and herself find VALUE in what she is doing in her life… WHOSE FAULT/RESPONSIBILITY is that ?
    In French, the first meaning of the word “travail”, which is the current translation of the English word “work”, is LABOR, what women go through to bring children into the world.
    If more or us… (men and women, why not ?) could find meaning and value in unpaid work within the home, maybe… there would be less insatisfaction, and less.. UNEMPLOYMENT too, while we’re at it ?
    The problem with entitlement is the mindset it produces. Entitlement… shuts neurons down, and contributes heavily to the extreme… passivity and dependance which you regularly denounce here.
    It produces a social climate of revendication (great French word), which means constantly clamoring for what one feels one is entitled to, while dulling the imagination necessary to improve one’s condition, and procure for oneself those things one feels one is entitled to.
    This mindset in opposition to any feelings of… GRATITUDE, which are important for us to live together, in my opinion.
    What’s the bit about a HIERARCHICAL system where people and their work are separated, and “subjects” are not entitled to things unless they work ?
    What’s… so hierarchical about this system ?
    Are you sure you are not bandying the word “hierarchical” about, and expanding its meaning inordinately ?
    You can have systems that idolize work without hierarchy.
    Communism is an excellent example of this way of seeing the world…
    Is Leviathan the state ? (I am not going to read Hobbes… life is too short…)
    Why should THE STATE provide these things ?
    Isn’t that… idolizing the State ?
    I have a French version of “The Lion in Winter” (unfortunately… I shall have to buy it in English some day). It is very instructive on legitimacy and power.
    How does.. legitimacy come to… kings ? systems ?
    It comes.. AFTER THE FACT, not before, and it is the result of people’s PERCEPTION of legitimacy.
    It is… self creating…and self undoing…not in any external object itself.
    In my opinion.

    There may be people who feel that your new formula packs more punch.
    What packs more punch rarely encourages analytic thought.
    Do we need.. more punch these days, or more analytic thought ?
    Yesterday Charlie Hebdo, a leftist magazine somewhat like Mother Jones published caricatures of Mohammed…
    THAT is packing punch…
    What happens if all of us are packing punch.. all of the time ? A little bit like living in a world of 9 billion Napoleons, or aspiring Napoleons ?
    I’ll let YOU imagine…

    Comment by Debra — September 20, 2012 @ 5:33 am

    • Debra,

      You seem to be ignorant of history. It is the modern STATE that historically deprived the peasant of his access to the commons and the opportunity and right to subsistence farm. Jesse has a nice excerpt from Polyani today that partially documents the phenomenon: http://jessescrossroadscafe.blogspot.com/2012/09/karl-polanyi-on-liberal-economics-and.html

      In the past, the state “enclosed” the commons to force starvation upon the common man so that he had to “freely” accept a “fair” wage to survive. Today, the state “privatizes” the commons to create natural monopolies and give a private power of taxation directly to the wealthiest among us.

      I think Russ’s point is not to idolize the modern state but to note that it is illegitimate in the eyes of its first true sponsor. Hobbes argued that to be legitimate Leviathan owed the very things that Leviathan took away.

      Comment by Tao Jonesing — September 20, 2012 @ 11:55 pm

      • Even if the main text didn’t make clear my anti-statism and that the post is a critique of statists according to one of their own core concepts, the bracket at the end certainly does. (Not to mention the hundreds of other posts which Debra has read.) But Debra specializes in tendentious or, as in this case, flat out wrong readings, in order to try to pick fights. This was one of her comments which I partially skimmed and then ignored.

        Thanks for the link. The extreme status quo-worship known as propertarianism (i.e., government’s only role should be to legalize the existing distribution from prior robberies and use force to defend it) is perhaps the most deranged ideology of all, from any rational or moral point of view. But since only government can create “property”, it follows that propertarianism and “anti-government” are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, propertarianism (along with support for the government-created corporate form) is the most extreme form of government-worship.

        As for Hobbes, I already gave a good account of what he really wrote here:


        It was Hobbes, personally traumatized by the English Civil War and wishing to justify the modern State, who gave the classical description of man’s alleged inherent depravity. Without firm, severe rule from above, we were doomed to the “state of nature” where our lives would inevitably be “nasty, brutish, and short”. Today Hobbes is the hero of numerous prominent intellectuals who crusade to represent humanity as naturally wicked, aggressive, destructive, wasteful, deceitful, manipulative, depraved….

        Hobbes never thought his “state of nature” had actually existed. On the contrary, he considered this the state of “civilized”, tamed man where not kept brutally in line. Hobbes’ view was similar to the phenomena Graeber documents on the real incidence of barter. Barter as a spot trade is not primeval, but occurs only following the collapse of a money economy. People indoctrinated in the use of money and market exchange will try to replicate their training with whatever’s at hand, however impractical the result. That’s what Hobbes thought would happen where already domesticated man ever had the reins relaxed. He then, as a device, read this special circumstance back into primal humanity. That’s how he derived the “state of nature”. So barter and the Hobbesian state of nature go together, conceptually and in practice. Somalia is a good example of this collapse of state/capitalism. But it has nothing at all to do with natural tribal life.

        Comment by Russ — September 21, 2012 @ 5:28 am

  3. I think I’ll just address the part about being financially dependent on one’s spouse and leave the rest of the discussion to you pros :).
    Mightn’t it be more of a relationship problem your friend is dealing with? Perhaps she feels she isn’t valued for what she does. Maybe her husband inadvertantly (or deliberately) makes her feel she would be helpless without him, and especially without his financial support.
    Obviously you know her and her situation better than I do.

    Comment by DualPersonality — September 21, 2012 @ 9:38 am

    • Thanks for your response. I think her situation is very complicated. I think she has been raised to feel helpless, that she comes from a familial AND societal context that encourages her to feel helpless, and that since this is her role… she pretty much sticks to it out of fear of going outside it, and no longer knowing who she is.
      For years, I behaved the same way, and there are some people who would argue that I still do.
      This behavior MAY be, in some respects, the heritage of long standing attitudes towards women’s place in society. In Roman society, for example, under the Republic AND the Empire, a woman was a perpetual minor, under the tutelage of her father, even if she was married. (But then… a man whose father was still alive was a minor too. That means that he had to demand permission from his father for any legal act, if said father was alive, even if he was… 50 years old… Pretty tough deal, huh ?)
      The French school system encourages children to believe that the teacher… KNOWS, and that the students… do not know, in a particularly… hierarchical attitude, to use a word which gets heavy press here.
      CHILDREN are encouraged to believe that their role is to not know, and that once they grow up to become (working…) adults, they will somehow magically.. know, while shortcircuiting the active process of learning to think for oneself.
      And once adult, they KNOW, while their children are relegated to a role of not knowing. (It is sometimes exasperating to observe a French family with Juniors, and Juniorettes in tow. There is a constant pedagogical discourse going on, with Daddy/Mommy translating the world for their progeny. Listening to it makes you want to furiously revolt against education…)
      People who are not “making money in the real world” have a status of uninitiated members of society : they are relegated to the fringe.
      Because in France, this organization has an initiatic, and thus.. religious structure…(it probably does in all western countries right now. We desperately want to believe in work for money as a form of salvation.)
      It is very very difficult to be relegated to an uninitiated status in a society. Being uninitiated has two consequences : being infantilized (because CHILDREN are uninitiated…), AND..having one’s role and speech disqualified and ignored. In short… being non existent.
      That is REALLY HARD to put up with, you know ?
      Modern psychiatric illness is a chicken/egg problem…
      To what extent is this woman… “ill” BECAUSE she has NO social status in her own eyes, and in the eyes of others because she cannot furnish a socially acceptable answer to the question “What do you do ?” when asked, or… to what extent can she not furnish this answer and WORK for money.. because she is “ill” ?
      Tough answer there…

      Comment by Debra — September 22, 2012 @ 5:40 am

  4. Sorry I didn’t put the comment in Reply to Debra. That was what it was supposed to be, of course.

    Comment by DualPersonality — September 21, 2012 @ 9:39 am

  5. It just needs a little… empathy to understand why Hobbes, having had a bird’s eye view of the English civil war, would maintain man’s inherent depravity.
    It is hard to maintain one’s faith in.. one’s neighbor ? humanity ? (not at all the same thing) in such circumstances.
    Why do you say that barter AS A SPOT TRADE ? (what does that mean ?), occurs only following the collapse of a money economy ?
    Basically, barter and money are based on a tacit agreement between the actors that an exchange can take place, one that is acceptable to both parties, so.. at a base level, one can say that there is STILL an exchange going on. The use of money allows actors to take a rain check in the exchange, and save… money for a LATER purchase from somebody else. A big step, but the bottom line is still exchange, and mutual faith. And I suppose that when you have lost faith, for whatever reason, barter is a way to try to build it again.
    I read part of Jesse’s link before my mind started boggling, and I had to come up for air.
    I must say that I am mightily impressed by Jesse ? if he can read those Polyani sentences in that book in just one or two days, and matter of factly decide what is interesting/important, and what is not.. and give us such a short and concise resumé. He must be a real genius…
    I note in Polyani’s sentences that Polyani is describing a situation that I call idolatry of money, (translate modern capitalism…) or putting a price tag on everything that moves, and what doesn’t, too.
    But… IF you have created a society where idolatry of money is the rule (and unfortunately the modern meat and potatoes game is also rooted in idolatry of money, not just… those horrible rich guys who are speculating for profits..).. there is no separation between the economic and the political sphere, there is only ONE sphere, which I do not like to call “economic”, because i refuse the idolatry of money. But… whew, there are STILL exchanges in our society that do not involve money (smiles in the street, for example, FOR THE TIME BEING, nobody has stuck a price tag on them).
    Only government can create property ??
    Last weekend I went hiking, and at the natural arch we ended up at, there was a seven year old who told his sister not to take any stones away from HIS pile.
    I call that… creating property. And the state has nothing to do with it… The need to establish property may be a partial expression of territoriality. Not just, but.. lots of animals defend their… territory ? property ? Why shouldn’t we, too ? IF.. property is a territorial need, then we can wish think it away all we like, it is not going to go away just because of our.. good intentions.
    Geez, I think that you guys are a little loose in your use of the word “state”…
    Which modern state are you talking about ? WHERE ??
    IF… you had the misfortune ? fortune ? to live in a foreign country, you might get a taste of ALL THOSE DIFFERENCES which that convenient expression “the State”, manages to evacuate so quickly.
    Not to mention the historical differences behind the expression…
    For the peasants, their access to the commons was restricted over a long period of time, and not by “the State”, I think.
    For example, they initially could even hunt for game in the forests, but the expanding privileges of the nobility cut that short (in France, at least).
    The long, slow rise of the modern nation state (under the monarchy..) was accompanied by the resurrection of Roman property laws, which entered into conflict with the medieval church’s more.. liberal views (cf. Régine Pernoud, a medievalist who I like to cite). As you can imagine.. the ETHOS/ideal of the Christian churches was to protect, and valorize the poor, not to prey on them…Even the most summary history books will show you that… the rise of the “modern” whatever you like accompanied the.. fall ? decline ? of the medieval church’s.. empire (due to internal corruption, and disillusionment ?). Remember all the.. propaganda you read as a child about “the Church” being an obscurantist institution, and how great things became when we REDISCOVERED Antiquity, the RENAISSANCE ? (Some of us still believe that propaganda…)
    Every advantage has its disadvantage, and vice versa.
    Thanks for the summary of Hobbes, by the way.
    If people spent MORE time reading “Macbeth”, and less time reading.. Polyani and other social scientists, maybe we would have more understanding of how society, which is INEVITABLY organic, sticks the rich AND the poor in their places, and then.. things play out, they play out, often regardless of all those good intentions.
    That is a blow to our individual hubris, but it is how I see it…

    Comment by Debra — September 21, 2012 @ 10:32 am

    • Why do you say that barter AS A SPOT TRADE ? (what does that mean ?), occurs only following the collapse of a money economy ?
      Basically, barter and money are based on a tacit agreement between the actors that an exchange can take place, one that is acceptable to both parties, so.. at a base level, one can say that there is STILL an exchange going on. The use of money allows actors to take a rain check in the exchange, and save… money for a LATER purchase from somebody else.

      I said it because it’s historically true, and the opposite claim is a lie.

      Perhaps “barter as a spot trade” is redundant. Spot trade means I have chickens and you have apples and we say how many chickens for how many apples.

      Community exchange is the only real tacit agreement. Money and barter both seek to consummate and extinguish the relationship immediately. Money is also used by the hierarchy imposing it for social control and rent extraction. Every money transaction, and every one of your “rain checks”, has a system tax upon it.

      How does “Macbeth” put the rich in their place? One thug kills another thug and is in turn killed by another thug. Do I sum up the plot correctly?

      Comment by Russ — September 21, 2012 @ 10:47 am

  6. You know, you regularly accuse me of binary thinking but that sentence … historically TRUE, and the OPPOSITE claim is a LIE”, well, it is really hard to get more binary than that.
    Binary thought is good for whipping up emotions and revolution, maybe, and convincing John Q. Public that he is ENTITLED to go out and chop the King’s head off, but as I have said elsewhere, when the sentence goes… “The King is dead, long live the King”, well, chopping the King’s head off is basically the equivalent ? of jacking off when faced with a tough intellectual problem. Sure… jacking off (which has its.. uses, but which I now find less satisfying than making love) has the advantage of allowing oneself and others to temporarily evacuate rage, and feelings of helplessness. But killing the King does not kill “the king”, regardless of what we would like to believe.
    In order for community exchange to occur, you must have community. Rather, exchange creates community, and different forms of exchange create different forms of community, at the same time that community permits exchange, in a system where the cause/effect model is not pertinent.
    Where do YOU find evidence of community in the modern world ? Is community… the presence of seven or eight people from places all over the world reading this blog ? Is THAT.. ENOUGH for you, and enough for community ?
    In my home town, there ARE people who are trying to build community, and I can see it around me. It is rooted in people physically doing things together. Sometimes little things, like.. sewing circles, or picnics.
    It is rooted in the place, and in the physical BODY, in my opinion.
    I am.. hostile to the (world ?) community that all this virtual loviness preaches to us as salvation.
    “Money used by the hierarchy imposing it for social control and rent extraction” ??
    The merchants on the market where I go are not inordinately adverse to forking out a percentage in order to TAKE THAT RAIN CHECK.
    That rain check IS WORTH SOMETHING TO THEM, even if you have your eyes trained on “the State’s” percentage. (The bank’s percentage is pretty stiff too, right now…)
    And I don’t see them… exploiting their clients while doing their business.
    Binary thought keeps you from seeing how the MIDDLE man/class, whatever manages to find some advantages there with his/its disadvantages.
    (WHO is nihilist ??)
    No, the plot summary was incredibly… reductionist…
    When the play ends… Macduff is not a thug YET. (There is a very good chance that he will become one, but, shall we say… even if he is predestined to be a thug, his individual will, and/or CHANCE/FORTUNE MAY intervene to keep things from playing out the way they previously did.)
    Our language still permits us to introduce subtle notions of temporality that you like to evacuate, obviously.
    Two years ago, I noticed that on the Amazon book reviews, a significant number of people rated critical reviews as not furthering the discussion.
    I call that… the Disneyland effect, and I TOO am struggling in its clutches.
    Wanting to hole up in one’s little.. camp, and hang out ALL THE TIME with people who will pat you on the back.
    Is that the modern.. commons ?

    Comment by Debra — September 22, 2012 @ 6:09 am

    • Sorry not a reply to Debra, and off-topic, but I could not resist. We have completely lost all formal channels of redress:


      Comment by tawal — September 24, 2012 @ 8:28 pm

      • That’s typical (and from the “liberal” circuit, take note) of corporatism (economic fascism).

        It’s also similar to why I’ve pointed out that government “fines”, even where not a slap on the wrist, are of no benefit to the people, since any fine extracted would go right back down the corporatism rathole.

        There’s no government “public servant”, and there’s no “rule of law”, just ever more openly vicious thugs.

        Comment by Russ — September 27, 2012 @ 3:41 am

    • When the play ends… Macduff is not a thug YET.

      He only intentionally left his family to be slaughtered on the altar of his ambition, in order to give himself a false nimbus of matryrdom, and for whatever other reason he might have wanted to get rid of them.

      Comment by Russ — September 27, 2012 @ 3:44 am

      • So… do YOU have a wife and kids ? Have YOU been in the heat of the battles of a civil war ??
        “Macbeth” is a soldier’s play. A military one.
        When the soldiers are in the heat of battle, spilling the enemy’s guts, etc, do you think that they are SIMULTANEOUSLY thinking about Debra at home, with the kids ?
        Is that what they are supposed to be doing ?
        Macduff did NOT INTENTIONALLY leave his family to be slaughtered.. he drew a blank on the consequences of running away.
        And maybe… he couldn’t imagine that Macbeth would actually slaughter his wife and children in an act of bloody vengeance ?
        You want to knock on him for not imagining that could happen ? (Not… me…)
        About twenty years ago one of my pseudo French friends (almost an enemy, but not quite, and a woman) told me that she thought that Americans were a superficial people.
        At the time… I was enraged.
        But now ?
        I tend to agree with her. (Careful, I myself have greatly inherited this superficiality, but after 30 years, SOMEWHAT remedied it.)
        “Terminator” takes over the planet ??
        Nietzsche would be sneering if he were alive…

        Comment by Debra — September 27, 2012 @ 5:38 am

      • You should stop hyperventilating and read the play again. MacDuff flees well before the war begins (indeed it can’t begin until his accession to the rebels), and there’s no indication he couldn’t have gotten his family out first.

        Comment by Russ — September 27, 2012 @ 7:55 am

  7. The primary reason I from time-to-time accuse “Debra” of being a man is that “she” behaves like a lot of Aspberger-afflicted males I know. I’ve never met a woman like Debra in my life: thriving on unnecessary, contrived conflict.

    There’s not an ounce of pathos in Debra. It’s poke, poke, poke. A one trick, sociopathic pony that fails to realize that we actually remember what “she” has said in the past.

    Comment by Tao Jonesing — September 28, 2012 @ 12:27 am

    • I don’t take her seriously. I argued the MacDuff thing because it brings back memories of when I was really into Shakespeare, and how cute I thought many of the grade school cliches were. E.g., MacBeth = Bad, Duncan and MacDuff = Good, or at least significantly Better; one might as well think Obama or Romney is Better.

      Comment by Russ — September 28, 2012 @ 3:51 am

    • Never met a woman like Debra? I thought unnecessary, contrived conflict was a forte of women. That’s why she likes Shakespeare, right? Dramatic theatre is an exhibition of conflict, and the tragedy is often that the conflict can so easily be avoided.

      Personally, I don’t think she’s interested in conflict, though. It seems to me her arguments are based primarily on pathos.
      She tries to see everyone’s point of view, but without following through on the logical outcomes. Come on guys! Have you no pity for the king with all his responsibilities or the struggle of the hard working capitalist?

      Debra, you have a unique perspective, and I can usually understand your point of view even though I usually disagree with it. The time we spend communicating with others online is an extension of traditional community, and it’s a form I appreciate.

      Comment by Karl — September 28, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

      • I’ve felt the same way for several years now – the blogosphere and similar spaces are the last public democratic space left, at least for ease of participation. In some ways it’s the best ever, although it’s still not a sufficient substitute for physical community democracy. The system will be trying to enclose this space too. Propertarian censorship (increasingly fascist IP laws), direct government censorship, the gutting of net neutrality, content provider oligopoly and enclosure. Free blogging platforms are trying to harass bloggers onto paid platforms. And people tell me that the “trend” is increasingly toward Facebook. I’m not much of a user of social media, but from what I’ve seen it’s not set up to be a freewheeling discussion space, but a carefully guided Potemkin version of online society. It’s always been overtly hostile to democracy and bottom-up participation.

        It makes me all the more self-critical that I haven’t been participating much this year.

        Comment by Russ — September 28, 2012 @ 6:54 pm

    • Hobbes was wrong.

      Humans are not inherently evil, no organisms are, but they do inherently have to get their needs met in order to sustain life. That requires passing the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, of other organisms through one’s gullet, and creating and using deceptive externalized tools of dominance (DETODS) which are always created at the expense of another organisms life force.

      How one goes about it is a function of an individuals free will controlled by one’s perception.

      My perception tells me that Debra is a ‘relate and spew the hate’ troll.

      Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

      Comment by Warren Celli — September 29, 2012 @ 9:13 am

  8. Wow, those are some pretty fancy etiquettes y’all are throwing around there.
    In my entire 56 years, I have been called many varied things, including some very very nice things, you know ? (Unbelievable, huh ? life is complicated, as my mother in law likes to say.)
    There is a saying : it takes two to tango.
    I must admit… SOME of the people here bring out the worst in me…
    If I were… you, I would be asking myself some (tough) questions…

    Comment by Debra — September 29, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: