In Thomas Hobbes we do not find support for so-called positive rights or entitlements owed to us from others. We do find support for negative rights, or liberties to act peacefully. By becoming a government that supports entitlements and invades liberties, American government paved the way for lockdowns, as a means of supposedly providing the health everyone is supposedly entitled to as a positive right.
Thomas Hobbes is an apt source to look at because he’s famous for defending an absolutist state. Nonetheless, what we find is that despite this he did not envision the kind of totalitarian state we have and he didn’t envision positive rights (entitlements) crushing negative rights (liberties).
Thomas Hobbes in “Leviathan” wrote
“As it is necessary for all men that seek peace to lay down certain rights of nature; that is to say, not to have liberty to do all they list, so is it necessary for man’s life to retain some: as right to govern their own bodies; enjoy air, water, motion, ways to go from place to place; and all things else without which a man cannot live, or not live well.” (XV, p. 95)
Even if a multitude form a state whose sovereign has the power of life and death over them, the subjects in the Hobbes’ political theory retain the right to dissolve the structure to preserve their lives or to avoid slavery, to name two specific instances.
The preceding quotation mentions some other retained liberties. An inference or two are possible from this passage. If people cannot live without working, then they retain the liberty to work, as well as go from place to place. Lockdowns violate these liberties, according to this reading of Hobbes.
Further on Hobbes writes
“The liberty of a subject lieth therefore only in those things which, in regulating their actions, the sovereign hath pretermitted: such as is the liberty to buy, and sell, and otherwise contract with one another; to choose their own abode, their own diet, their own trade of life, and institute their children as they themselves think fit; and the like.” (XXI, p. 131)
To pretermit is to disregard intentionally, also to omit. This passage, while still allowing the sovereign the power of life and death, suggests that Hobbes did not envision a nanny state or a state that regulated ordinary living in detail.
In Hobbes, people do not give up their everyday liberties (buying, selling, contracting, choosing foods, choosing work, raising children, etc.). They gain the protection of these natural liberties, all of which involve negative rights. Lockdowns that violate these liberties are likely to lead to the dissolution of the social contract, i.e., the withdrawal of consent or even rebellion. Signs of these have appeared rather quickly as a result of lockdowns, which happen also to be illegal in this country.
Actions that the U.S. sovereigns once pretermitted or ignored have increasingly become regulated in detail without much outward physical resistance from the American subjects. This has been done by “progressive” appeals to “wars” against many more things and to supposed government solutions to all sorts of inadequacies, problems, inequalities, lapses and sins of our lives. There is no support in Hobbes for the associated positive rights.
If a government exists to “protect” everyone’s health, a distinctly un-Hobbesian function, which is the same as saying that everyone has a positive and equal right to health services, then the government may lockdown everyone to supposedly protect their health during a supposed health emergency.
And this is what has occurred. Acceptance of the idea of positive rights has resulted in a more totalitarian government in all sorts of sectors, including health. This in turn paved the way for a rapid totalitarian invasion of negative rights via lockdowns.
Positive rights violate natural law in Hobbes by not treating everyone equally. He writes
“Also, if a man be trusted to judge between man and man, it is a precept of the law of nature that he deal equally between them…The observance of this law, from the equal distribution to each man of that which in reason belonged to him, is called equity…” (XV, p. 95) Violation he calls “acception of persons.”
“The laws of nature are immutable and eternal; for injustice, ingratitude, arrogance, pride, iniquity, acception of persons, and the rest can never be made lawful. For it can never be that war shall preserve life, and peace destroy it. (XV, p. 97)
Ending lockdowns doesn’t alter a system that’s predicated on a sovereign that invades negative rights in the name of positive rights.9:57 pm on May 24, 2020 Email Michael S. Rozeff