Karoline Poska

Tallinn English College

High School

The natural condition of mankind

An equal power distribution was and still is, a foreign idea to many. The human mind is arguably hierarchical in nature, most would rather be led than lead, hence naturally and willingly submit to authority. Natural hierarchies are prevalent, after all, in both human and animal populations- the "naturally stronger" prevail. The “catch” however, is this: no ruler works alone. Sure, in a purely naturalistic setting, the strongest (for a lack of a better word) will inevitably dominate, but there still remains a possibility of your subordinates turning against you. In that naturalistic setting, the ones ruled upon, will trade some of their rights for expectations of safety- but you as the ruler will gain more power with more duties. Of course, in a modern human society, a strength based rule translates to affluence/influence, but one is rarely ever able to reach such a status alone. Evidently, one needs an assurance of other people not taking any of one´s acquired resources to themselves through theft, but so do most if not all members of a human community. Thus, for an inequality to begin, a complete "equality of liberties" is a de facto presupposition. A democracy reduces to the following definition: A form of government, controlled by all of the states eligible members or its elected representatives under rule of law

To understand the nature and differences between the government and the governed, it is wisest to dissect their constituents. What is a pre-governmental human like? There exist two popular interpretations of the “person in the natural state”- one of those interpretations belongs to John Locke and his “state of nature” and “natural law”, the other is that of Thomas Hobbes´ “natural condition of mankind”. Both of these interpretations aim to explain the necessity for the emergence of the government through the social contract, the latter of which being the basis for a civil, lawful society. Both of these interpretations can be derived from the mind, by asking how the human being would act in an “undisturbed” setting, free from any societal restraints, emancipated from bounds before others completely whilst still separate from civilization, and free to act upon any impulse without being threatened by the majority, since every subject of the majority is equally free (with the absence of civil society, one can only protect as much property as one can defend by him/herself, as stated above). From there follows the Hobbesian interpretation of the natural state: the human- a savage. A consciousness without any conscience or conscientiousness, who acts only on his will to power, a being who does in fact utilize his complete and absolute freedom to his advantage. That approach seems to reject a natural conscience that is arguably present in humans innately, or- with godly interference. A “Natural Law” was John Locke´s primary argument against Hobbes, believing that the society became before the state through a natural moral code of conduct by God. Independent of whether any objective truth lies in either believing the human to be a survival-oriented, selfish creature or a truly altruistic representation of God, the version of which was believed, altered the course of most of human history.  Although rationalism was a characteristic of Enlightenment thinkers, absolute monarchy, or autocracy, was justified by using the very argument, that the primary aim of a sovereign was to limit and control the power-hungry and whimsical nature of men, through creating a sort of "Leviathan" of power, who man would be in awe of and submit to its authority.

How and when does the act of submitting to the social contract occur among a community? From the very beginning it must occur, when either all, or the majority of the members arrive at a "consensus" about the society due to their own need of survival and property, and decide to apply their strength in numbers to the heretical minority (the latter of which should not ideally even exist). A social contract is formed on the basis of an equal balance of power between its participants, meaning, a natural state must necessarily prevent an individual from rising above others in terms of property and possessions. A naturalistic balance of power is the catalyst to forming a most primitive societal order.

The inherent nature of humanity

After a primitive rule of law has been established inside a community, there are two options- either majority or minority rule. At this stage, the question as to whom the community gives rights to and which liberties they themselves abdicate, is of essential importance. So which rule is better? The Hobbesian interpretation is identical to pre-Enlightenment thinking, minus the “Godly” appointment of a ruler, as stated above. In a majority governed society, Hobbes would think, gradually rise questions of justice and property, which are far more complex from a simple survival game. From majority rule arise polarized opinion, turmoil inside the ruling majority, and the powers are split. Thus, there would be a war for power, a war by all against all, since thus far, every member of the ruling majority has been equally capable. Every unit of power would be out for its interests. Autocracy was thought of, therefore, as a more rational form of government, which naturally prevented giving power to the whimsical  majority and causing unnecessary delays in judgement and war for power, as argued Catherine in her Nakaz. The idea of democracy had since only seldom been applied to societies, and resurfaced along with the concept of human rights and equality among the populous in the 19th century. When the divinity of the ruler fell, so did the ruler.

What is an elevated status of the human? From dissecting the origins of law and governance, one finds that in the beginning, the individual must have had absolute freedom, which may, and in fact must have interfered with other individuals´ freedoms to spark the social contract. There exists no predetermined state a person is born to, therefore man is born free. There is a simple truth which states that the human is a social creature, and will necessarily have to interact with other humans in order to survive and prosper. Therefore, it is again most reasonable to state that it is not only illogical but absurd for the individual to give up any of his/her rights to the government or the sovereign in exchange of persecution, but be the sovereign, along with every other member of a community x. The individual must necessarily depart from a portion of some rights in order to successfully coexist with other as equal individuals without perishing him/herself. The traditional answer to the question of whether society as a collective would be able to successfully yield the power given to them to rule a state, shifted radically at the dawn of the 19th century, when philosophers such as Rousseau, Voltaire and Locke argued, that not only was man naturally entitled to his liberty and equality, but that it was rationally so. Not only did the view of the sovereign as godly, deteriorate, it shifted back to the people themselves, who, in their words, wanted to better their society and in extension themselves, and were the only ones who, collectively, could. A democratic resurrection was a human conscience´ redemption. 

Democracy, as established, is carried on fundamental freedoms and rights of its members. But democracy is, unfortunately, a most fragile system, dependent on many variables which could undermine it, if unsuccessful. Whether it is issues of cognitive bias, transparency, populism, passiveness and obliviousness of the voters, or majority tyranny. A democratic system´s benefits can contribute to its own demise, therefore its participants must be aware of why and how those privileges a democracy brings, came to be, and that they, the people, are ultimately in control. Human rights must be understood from both rational and moral perspectives, if indeed those two virtues can be called noninterchangeable. Democracy is of vital importance for allowing the individual to prosper and live out his or her full potential, through self-governance and personal liberty. A democratic system in which representatives are chosen by the general population (most if not all modern democracies in this case), is a balanced, golden middle road which unites both benefits of minority and majority rule, those being quicker decision making and the desire of the people, with a consistent feedback system. To live in a democracy is to harness the highest form of human potential.

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