THE MOST PROVOCATIVE POINTS OF HOBBES'S "STATE OF NATURE"
When it came to the `state of nature', the English philosopher and Renaissance scientist Thomas Hobbes had some very clear, very definite ideas of what this turn of phrase meant, but this essay will attempt to focus only on the more significant and provocative aspects of Thomas Hobbes' "state of nature" as featured in his great work, Leviathan.
As a writing professional, Thomas Hobbes made his argument step by step, not even mentioning his `State of nature' directly - rather, it is referred to as the natural condition of mankind, and in the chapter where he introduces it, chapter 13, he promptly tells his audience that "Men by nature equal. Nature has made men so equal, in the facilities of the body, and mind" (98), a statement that was clearly in opposition to the popular opinion of the time - the 16th-17th centuries, when the divine right of kings was still quite believed in...
Thomas Hobbes, however, did not stop there. "From equality proceeds diffidence. From diffidence war" (98-99) he wrote next. This developed further his idea that the "equality" he talked about was related to "A restless desire of power in all men", (80), mentioned in an earlier chapter. In the same paragraph, Hobbes elaborates further on his idea, implying the people are interested in power not so much to advance ahead in the world, but to keep their position as it was, to prevent anyone else from taking that power from them. This was not something that most of his contemporaries accepted lightly, if at all. Considering that in the modern society the idea of a `rat race' (and that is what Thomas Hobbes is describing, basically) is a derogative, negative term, then there is little surprise that it was so in times of Hobbes either.
What came afterwards, the logical conclusion of Hobbes, was even more shocking and displeasing to his contemporaries and future generations: if all people desire power, and all people are also equal, then it is only natural, that "...men have no pleasure, but on the contrary a great deal of grief, in keeping company" (99) with each other, that is.
Finally, there is the most famous (or infamous) of all the quotes taken from Leviathan; it basically summarizes all of Thomas Hobbes' ideas in regards to humanity's 'natural condition':
Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the tine, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; [...] and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.
(Leviathan, pg 100)
In Hobbes' opinion, then, "the state of nature" was a state of constant warfare of everyone against each other, an idea that went against the religious beliefs of those times, when the `state of nature' was generally associated with the earthly Paradise made for Adam and Eve, lost to them when they fell from grace against their natures.
Moreover, this idea came attached to the idea that people did not like to keep each other company for any reason, unless there was a "power able to over-awe them all." (99) This power, of course, was the titular Leviathan, presumably one person, or several, who would keep other people in charge by their permission. And it is here, perhaps, that Thomas Hobbes held the biggest shocker of them all: for a supposedly staunch supporter of monarchy (he fled to France from Cromwell's regime) he was rather ready to presume that an assembly of people (such as the British Parliament, who rebelled against the Stewart monarchy in the first place) could do the job as easily, as the monarch could. (In addition, he also introduced the concept of a contract, as opposed to inheriting one's position of power - another factor that shocked his contemporaries, this time the monarchists...)
Thomas Hobbes lived in a rather black-and-white political world of the time: you either were a loyal subject of your ruler, or you were a rebel. His own life, prior to Leviathan, had had its own ups and downs, something that probably helped him set the pessimistic mood of the work. However, even in those conditions, he was able to keep the analytical, logical and impassionate mind of a scientist, rather than just a king's subject, and that, perhaps, is the biggest shock or surprise of Leviathan after all.
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Ed. Michael Oakeshott. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962.