Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Why I Like Thomas Hobbes and You Should Too

People are sometimes surprised to discover how much I love Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes is the political theorist who wrote Leviathan. He presents a pretty grim account of human nature–for him, people have conflicting desires in a world of scarcity, they don’t know each other’s intentions, but they do know that they can hurt other people and that if they do so other people will be intimidated and might not hurt them. We can’t share thoughts and feelings because each of us is stuck in a different body and words are vague and unreliable, so we’re always alienated from each other and always prone to conflict. Hobbes wants to live, and he wants everyone else to live too, so he proposes that we solve this problem by submitting to the state. The state protects us from each other, and once we’re protected a space for trusting other people opens up.

Most left-wing people hate this. They hate that Hobbes even presents an account of human nature in the first place, much less one so grim as this. They especially hate how powerful Hobbes makes his state–he only allows people to defy the state when it threatens their own lives, and while he’s willing to tolerate a sovereign parliament Hobbes certainly prefers monarchy, because in his view it’s less likely to lead to conflicts about where the sovereignty is, which could end in civil war and death.

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Why We Have Borders

When I was in undergrad, I was for open borders. The people in the postcolonial states have been badly screwed over for ages. The western states did this to them–why not let postcolonial peoples get access to western job markets, western public services, and yes, even the western welfare state? They’re human beings, just like us. The purpose of borders is to determine who has access to the juicy western stuff and who doesn’t. Why should anyone be denied access to that stuff? It’s patently unfair. The global economy is a system. The rich countries have gotten rich off the backs of the poor countries–our achievements are their achievements too. Why can’t they share in the spoils?

More recently, I wrote a piece for Current Affairs about the value of political unions. In this piece, I argued that we couldn’t economically integrate territories–permitting capital and people to move freely within them–without politically integrating those territories. Political integration is hard–people in rich countries don’t want to have to redistribute resources to people in poor countries, and they don’t want people from poor countries to get a say in decisionmaking. It’s much easier to get people to support free trade and free movement than it is to get people to support creating and expanding federal states. I reluctantly concluded that we can’t open our borders economically until we’re ready to open them politically. Free movement and free trade with Mexico requires political union with Mexico, and until Americans are willing to do the latter the former will cause trouble.

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