Sunday, February 7, 2010

Justice: Righteousness or Power?

Alice C. Linsley

The English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) wrote Leviathan, a book which influenced John Locke and the Founding Fathers of the United States. His idea of a social contract between citizens whereby each agrees to surrender rights to the state is considered one of the best ideas of the Enlightenment. Rarely do people consider how Hobbes' contractarian philosophy departs from and has little in common with the wisdom of antiquity.

In the ancient world, the citizens' well-being depended on the virtue or righteousness of the ruler. Hobbes argued that the sovereign's power is what makes the citizen's comply with the contract. This being the case, justice is not a possibility until sovereignty has been created. By this argument, we conclude that justice is a product of coercive power and contracts are validated by the ruler's power, not by the ruler's virtue or righteousness.

Read it all here.

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