Hobbes was the first behaviorist in a manner of speaking, a thoroughly modern man. His ultimate objective, the raison d'être of his theory, was survival; and his ethic, a behaviorist ethic.
Lest you imagine these are outdated notions and that they've all died out with Hobbes, you’ve got another think coming. C. B. Macpherson, one of Hobbes’s most outspoken critics, reverberates the very same theme at the end of his magnum opus; and I quote:
… technical change in the methods of war … ha[ve] created a new equality of insecurity among individuals, not merely within one nation but everywhere. The destruction of every individual is now a more real and present possibility than Hobbes could have imagined.
From this, the possibility of a new rational political obligation arises. We cannot hope to get a valid theory of obligation of the individual to a single national state alone. But if we postulate no more than the degree of rational understanding which it has always been necessary to postulate for any moral theory of political obligation, an acceptable theory of obligation of the individual to a wider political authority should now be possible. Given that degree of rationality, the self-interested individual, whatever his possessions, and whatever his attachment to a possessive market society, can see that the relations of the market society must yield to the overriding requirement … which now acquire[s] a new significance, [namely,] ‘humane society, cohabitation or being … above all earthly things must be maintained.’
This was written in 1962. Macpherson retired to greener pastures in 1987, long before 9/11, the War on Terror, drone attacks, and nation-states overreaching. I’m certain his words would have been more poignant today, far more poignant.
One can’t, however, but wonder about the pessimistic tone of it all. No question that humanity has long been under assault, whether due to our disregard of our environment or mere inattention, the weapons of mass destruction, what else have you. And surely, the survival of the species has got to figure among some of the most prominent of human concerns. If we can’t see to our own survival, what chance do we stand in hell?
Even so, I can’t help but wonder whether we’re not overacting and, in so doing, responding to the politics of fear. Equality based in insecurity? C'mmon! Whatever happened to us humans, the makers of worlds?
We still live under the specter of Hobbes!