Burke vs. Hobbes?

Statue of Edmund Burke in Washington DC. See i...

Statue of Edmund Burke in Washington DC. See inscription|100px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve been saying for a while that the 2012 election is going to be a very pivotal one, that will set the course for America for decades (at least) to come. George Weigel has an unusual perspective on it. He writes from a Catholic perspective but a civil liberty perspective as well.

So what are we deciding, to the best of our ability:
  • Burke or Hobbes
  • Romney or Obama
  • America or France

and finally

  • Freedom or slavery


Here is George Weigel writing in First Things via Servus Fidelus

You likely think, gentle reader, that the 2012 presidential race is a contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. That, of course, is true, insofar as the names on our Nov. 6 ballots go. But the 2012 race for the White House is something more, something more profound—something with deeper historical roots in modernity’s wrestling with political power and how that power contributes to the common good.

This is a contest, to take symbolic reference points, between Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Edmund Burke (1729-1797).

Both were British subjects. Both had a profound impact on modern political theory. Both knew that religion and politics—Church and state—had been thickly interwoven into the history of the West, although here the deep differences between these two paradigmatic figures begin to sharpen: Hobbes tried to drive religious conviction out of the modern public square, while Burke fashioned a vision of political modernity that drew in part on the rich social pluralism of the Catholic Middle Ages.

In a Hobbesian world, the only actors of consequence are the state and the individual. In a Burkean world, the institutions of civil society—family, religious congregation, voluntary association, business, trade union and so forth—“mediate” between the individual and the state, and the just state takes care to provide an appropriate legal framework in which those civil-society institutions can flourish.

In a Hobbesian world, the state—“Leviathan,” in the title of Hobbes’s most famous and influential work—monopolizes power for the sake of protecting individuals from the vicissitudes of a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In a Burkean world, civil society provides a thick layer of mediation—protection, if you will—that cushions the interactions between individuals and life’s challenges.

A Hobbesian world is a world of contracts and legal relationships, period. A Burkean world is a world in which there are both contracts—the rule of law—and covenants: those more subtly textured human associations (beginning with marriage) by which men and women form bonds of affection, allegiance, and mutual responsibility.

Continue reading  Campaign 2012: Burke vs. Hobbes? | First Things.

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16 Responses to Burke vs. Hobbes?

  1. Yeah, check my last entry on your previous comment.

  2. JessicaHof says:

    It is an excellent piece – and too often now we, as a society, replace those real bonds of community with contracts – but that’s what happens when you can’t agree on basic values.

    • Yes and without the basic values, contracts are much good either. My experience is that if I can’t trust a man on a handshake, I can’t trust him n a contract either.

      • JessicaHof says:

        Yes, that’s so true. All contracts do is keep lawyers on money – wait, well, do you suppose …? :)

        • Matter of fact,Yes :-)

        • JessicaHof says:

          I suppose so :)

        • We can believe what we want but reality is really real. :-)

        • JessicaHof says:

          So true – although so hard for some to grasp :)

        • Seems to be the mark of our writing lately, you and me. hard to grasp. :-)

        • JessicaHof says:

          :) I hope this morning was a little lighter :)

        • I just finished it (1st reading anyway) I like it, and I like the thrust. :-)

        • JessicaHof says:

          Thank you. I haven’t heard from Jabba, who I fear may object to being classed in any way with Bosco – but I hope he will see what is being said there.

        • I can see why he would object but, they were the two outliers, telling that they are the two with personal revelations. Not sure what it tells, it would be easier if they said the same thing. :-)

        • JessicaHof says:

          It certainly would :)

        • The clash of the revelations apparently generates a lot more heat than light-hey a discovery! :-)

  3. Jess, “Who is Hobbes?”

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