Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » September 2005 » Hobbes and Malthus…

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09/06/2005: Hobbes and Malthus…

...Have more relevancy than to just Hurricane Katrina, just New Orleans, just the poor or forgotten last week - and here is a piece by George Will (Newsweek) Leviathan in Louisiana:

"…Regardless of where individual Americans begin or end in fitting Katrina into their interpretation of reality, the storm's furies and, even more, the social furies it unleashed will deepen Americans' sense that, in Aristophanes' words, "whirl is King, having driven out Zeus." In the dystopia that is New Orleans as this is written, martial law is a utopian aspiration. Granted, countless acts, recorded and unrecorded, of selflessness and heroism attest to the human capacity for nobility. But this, too, is true: The swiftness of New Orleans' descent from chaos into barbarism must compound the nation's nagging anxiety that more irrationality is rampant in the world just now than this nation has the power to subdue or even keep at bay.

Which is to say, Katrina will condition the debate about Iraq. Here is why.

Politics is a distinctively human activity, but it arises from something not distinctively human—from anxiety about security, and fear of violent death. On the firm foundation of this brute fact, Thomas Hobbes erected a political philosophy that last week reacquired urgent pertinence.

In 1651, in "Leviathan," Hobbes said that in "the state of nature," meaning in the absence of a civil society sustained by government, mankind's natural sociability, if any, is so tenuous that life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Thoughtful conservatives—meaning those whose conservatism arises from reflections deeper than an aversion to high marginal tax rates—are conservative because they understand how thin and perishable is the crust of civilization, and hence how always near society's surface are the molten passions that must be checked by force when they cannot be tamed by socialization.

Katrina drove from the nation's television screens numbing pictures of daily carnage in Iraq, where—speaking of how quickly crowds can become mobs—last week perhaps 950 Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death in a panic induced by a rumor about a suicide bomber. Iraq's insurgents, the creators of an atmosphere of deadly suggestibility, are now attacking the power grid and other elements of urban infrastructure, an attempt, not unsuccessful, to create a Hobbesian state of nature. Their hope is that Iraqis will demand a Leviathan—any authoritarian regime capable of imposing order.

So Katrina has provided a teaching moment. This is a liberal hour in that it illustrates the indispensability, and dignity, of the public sector. It also is a conservative hour, dramatizing the prudence of pessimism, and the fact that the first business of government, on which everything depends, is security.”

But I wanted to add a comment here from another body of thought: that of Thomas Malthus, an English economist and demographer from the 1700’s, who published a famous book in 1798 about population growth tending to outrun the food supply or growth of the food production. This is called a Malthusian Dilemma. I interject it here by way of analogy to apply to the people trapped by Katrina in New Orleans who faced conditions of decreasing scare resources of food and water and were unable to escape.

This is neither an excuse for looting, bad behavior nor meant to condone any of the terrible things that happened. But merely to recognize that fact that under conditions of scare resources in both food, water, and necessities to live (a Malthusian dilemma) and combined with a Hobbesian break down of society, security and order it is often "predicted" to cause a lethally sad situation. This is what can occur without preparedness of the government to maintain order and react to the circumstances with sufficient aid and supplies.

And, again, my questions is: Whether Our Government it Up to that Challenge as tested by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or for the next situation to arise and affect the Nation on such a huge scale?

Karen on 09.06.05 @ 02:21 PM CST

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