Monday, October 03, 2016

Mr Hobbes: Nipping infernos in the bud

“‘Mr Hobbes, the Atheist,’ the perpetrator of The Leviathan, like most people who insist on thinking straight, is usually classed as saying the opposite of what he meant.

He wanted peace. He wanted to call his soul his own, and to leave other men to do the same. He understood the conditions which, in this imperfect world, alone make liberty possible. He worked out the technique of defending it against three of its chief enemies, the champions of divine right, the champions of social and political privilege, and the fanatics of conscience.

He had no use for mass-murder or for suicide or for the doctrines which hallow them. He shared with St. Augustine, with Shakespeare (when he was being serious) and with Confucius the notion that there are no good and no bad men, but only men who often want, and sometimes manage, to behave better than they might.

He knew that one child with a stomach-ache in a nursery, one man in a bar with a grievance, one prig in an argument with a scruple, one girl at a picnic without one, can turn a game or a talk into a free fight, a social group into an inferno of suspicion, jealousy and hate. This was why he believed in having someone in the Chair at every social unit’s meeting who could be relied on to nip infernos in the bud.”

"Civilisation and War" (review by Kenneth Bell of Ranyard West, Conscience and Society) in The New Statesman and Society, 31 October 1942, 294. Paragraph breaks added.

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