What is the State of Nature:
To Thomas Hobbes the state of nature was a real, descriptive condition, not a hypothetical and not an anthropological concept. The State of nature was not something that existed millenia in our past, but rather a state which humanity could regress to at any time. What Characterises the state of nature and sets it apart from living in a Commonwealth?
The "State of Nature" is one thing... Life in the absence of a sovereign. Once this is recognized one can see that, such a state is always nearby or one catastrophe away.
First the state of nature is as Hobbes described, "nasty, mean, brutish, and short," but their is more too it, why is it this way? It is this way because man has a natural equity, In the state of nature no one man is so strong as to have the capacity for complete dominion over their peers, and worse those peers can organize and kill even the strongest human being. In the state of nature every many has the right to that, which he can take....
As an extension of the natural equity principle, in a disordered universe, man is simply matter in motion, and by extension, words have no natural meaning; therefore we disagree about the nature of words, Words become an expression of our appetites and aversions not truths we can discover. We use words to describe the phantasms we have experienced as an individual. This disagreement about the nature and meaning of words leads to conflict, as everyone is "judge in their own cause."
From acting as judge in your own cause you reach the "Right of Nature" that you may go to any lengths "you choose" to preserve your own life. The Right of Nature is incompatible with Hobbes "Laws of Nature" which are primarily make contracts to seek peace in Hobbes "State of Nature." From here we form groups to protect our life and secure our appetites, but inside our groups we must persuade to take action, and this brings into question the meaning of words, from there we compete for eminence, vainglory, and power, and ultimately bring war not over the material means of life, but over the glory necessary to secure the right to make decisions and direct the group. In the state of nature, the covenants and contracts of the laws of nature will never hold because oaths are just words, and fear will lead us toward prematurely breaking them when it is favorable too us, thus an outside party is needed to force obedience, and remove the fear of the broken contract. Because like Niccolo Machiavelli, only the fear of violent death is binding on man. But how does the concept of the state of nature express itself in some modern examples?
To Hobbes reason became a question not of truths and teleology. The instrumental reason of Hobbes was understood to him as one thing "reckoning with consequences;" a material calculation. Instead, of a pursuit of eternal knowledge as Plato would have conceived it for example. To Hobbes reason is a cost benefit analysis built around the facilitation of our aversions and appetites, and unlike Plato, we do not do the good by knowing the good, the best Hobbes thinks we may hope for is foresight.
In the state of nature arises not out of rapacious desire, but insecurity, we desire to preserve the little we have. The state of nature is existence in one giant exercise of the prisoners dilemma.
My favourite example, what could no fault divorce be, but marriage brought low and base into the state of nature? The sovereign used to oversea the institution and enforce the contract using punishment on the party guilty of the violation, leaving the marriage for unreasonable purposes. Now we have no binding sovereign. The marriage contract is between two equals and like Hobbes noted broken prematurely and predisposed to war because spouses are judges in their own cause, and they can't agree on words, they can't agree on what is marriage; or implicitly they can't define the obligations that they must adhere to because it becomes a question of their own aversions and appetites. If their is no love in the 21st century world then their is no marriage.
"For Warre, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of Time, is to be considered in the nature of Warre; as it is in the nature of Weather."
The world is a complex place. Hobbes knew that sovereignty must be absolute in order to be effective; for example, he was adverse to an elected sovereign because the sovereign power would always reside in the elected body not the nominal ruler. Or you would have a shared sovereignty, which can only lead to war. Equity in power leads to insecurity. This is what we see on the international stage all the time, the existence, despite our best efforts to the contrary of the State of Nature in the world. Large scale war always exists in the international sphere, this is in part because no high power exists beyond the state, but also because any international body with unclear sovereignty is bound to collapse Eg) the EU. What was the Pax Romana, Pax Mongolia, Pax Britannic, or the Pax Americana, but a brief episode of de facto sovereignty and by extension peace in international affairs. Nations must constantly be semi alert, and must constantly monitor their covenants because at the international level covenants are just words.
" I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death."
The failed state, the Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, to use currrent examples are simply the state of nature at play in the contemporary world. Anarchy. War of all against all in the absence of a sovereign. Hobbes tells us this is the most deplorable state, and we know it is because we see its fallout daily across the globe in the great flood of people. Were men fight in such states along Hobbesian lines ever striving to secure their emminence and therefore their own security against their peers predisposed to take it.
"The state of man can never be without some incommodity or other, and that the greatest [harm] that in any form of government can possibly happen to the people in general is scarce sensible, in respect of the miseries and horrible calamities that accompany a civil war."
History furnishes countless examples of the misery accompanying a idealistic and ambitious challenge to the sovereign. We saw it in Syria,, in Russia, in the United States (where the confederate states challenged the sovereign), and China (the Taiping Rebellion and the Chinese Civil War) are just a handful of examples of some of the precursors to the bloodies civil wars in human history. From these various challenges to the power of the, assumed unbearable, sovereign an approximate 33 million lives were expunged from the earth.
No dictatorship, except the one that wages a death campaign against its own citizens, to the Hobbesian can justify the rejection of the soveriegn, or world has failed to heed such a warning. Stability and security are the genesis of all political life. In the state of nature no political life may exist.
Perhaps a lighter example is fitting, what are children but an example of the transition from sovereignty tot he state of nature? This occurs as children mature. The child fights with siblings as it seeks to understand the origin of names and by extension rights and wrongs. When understandings cannot be reached the child appeals to the parents (the Sovereign) who hold the authority to name names and define the objects occupying the world of the child. However, commonly the child will reject the sovereignty of the parent because the parent is not absolute. Hobbes warns us against the separation of powers, and the power is separated by default as a child matures. They rebel because they experience a world where the parental definitions are no longer absolute, security is in question and a new sovereignty must be found.
Game of Thrones/Ned Stark
I liked Eddard Stark in the Song of Ice and Fire novels because he appeals to the best of us,... He appeals to honour more than reason. Despite, the fact that he knows the rational thing to do is act against his enemies, the Lannisters first, and by extension exercise the right of nature and preemptively act to preserve his life he doesn't instead he adheres to a contract in an absence of a soveriegn (Robert Baratheon). In turn he is betrayed. His words were "Wind." Or in Hobbes's terms "Covenants, without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all.” What quickly results in the absence of a soveriegn and the exercise of preemptive war to secure the Lannister inheritance is war of all against all, Hobbes's nightmare.