Hegel, Hobbes and Fukuyama- The First Man

This summer I have been reading Francis Fukuyama’s book The End of History.  It’s very interesting, even though I disagree with the main idea behind it.  The idea that history can end, and that we are somehow at the pinnacle strikes of hubris and short shortsightedness, plus I do hope that there is something better out there for humanity in the future.

I just read the section of the book describing different theories about the progression of humanity, which I find fascinating.  One of the key ideas that is presented is that of Hegel’s concept of dialectics.  In this idea human society continues in its present form until an internal contradiction in that society causes a new form of society until a contradiction arises in that one and so on and so forth.  (I wonder if r>g is a contradiction in modern capitalism)

Even more interesting than this is Hegel and Hobbes views on early day master/slave relationship.  According to Fukuyama’s interpretation of Hegel (all following discussion will reflect Fukuyama’s understanding) what makes Man unique is their willingness and ability to risk their lives of their own violation.  This is tied to Man’s quest for recognition, to make other’s recognize their inherent humanity, which is often expressed through violence.  In this world, the Master is the one more willing to risk their lives and the slaves who submit to dominance in order to safeguard their lives.  In Hegel’s view- the master class, and later the ‘warrior-aristocracy class’ was more human than the ‘slave’ class.

Hobbes took a different view, and saw as a key to human nature and desire was to live, and thought that society had to be designed to safeguard the right to life.  Hobbes saw the Master-Slave relationship described by Hegel as not a full expression of humanity as it was implicitly based on threat of force.  It seems like Hegel saw Man’s ability and desire to risk their lives for things like flags and pride as somewhat noble and a full expression of humanity, but Hobbes seemed to take the opposite view. Both Hegel and Hobbes saw this early humanity as something that had to be progressed from, and both thought that society would become increasingly ‘liberal’ as humanity moved beyond slavery and subjugation into increasingly more sophisticated types of societies.

I find the idea of Thomas Hobbes as a liberal to be novel, if only because of how far we have come from absolute monarchs.  According to Fukuyama, Hobbes was a liberal because he believed that the monarch ruled due to the consent of the people rather than divine right.  The reason that Hobbes wanted a strong monarch was because human passions and pride required a strong hand to repress it.  Interestingly, Hobbes believed that the difference between dictators and legitimate rules was consent of the governed, but in an absolute monarchy how could you measure that, and what do you do if that changes?

After reading Fukuyama’s take on these two, I want to read the primary sources. I think that there is a lot of tension between these ideas and a lot of push-pull during different time periods of human history.  I.e. after a period of peace, people start looking for conflict again and are ready to fight and die out of pride or glory, but after a terrible War, the more Hobbesian view becomes dominant and so one and so forth.

About Leon Whyte

I'm a recent graduate of the Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy. My interests include Pacific Asia and Security. I am looking for related opportunities.
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