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COMMENTARY

The democracy of death

05:06 AM October 24, 2017

Political will is perhaps one of the most abused terms these days. The unsophisticated think of it as the silver bullet meant to solve the woes of the polity. In fact, the danger does not even lie in the way the term is used but, rather, in misunderstanding it.

The sociologist Max Weber was clear in saying that the precondition for the existence of the state is its ability to use force. However, he also emphasized that any use of force must be justified. Violence is the monopoly of the state. But this is not because it has the right to inflict it on citizens; rather, this is because the state has the moral right to use it in order to prevent its abuse whenever the power to use violence falls into the wrong hands.

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The problem, in this respect, is not the state. As sovereign, the state is there to protect the people from harm. Precisely, citizens surrender their will to the Leviathan because it is by means of this bond that the solidarity of society and its government might be preserved. It is easy for any society to conceive of and envision the ultimate good. But what people are actually afraid of is the greatest evil. For Thomas Hobbes, everyone fears a violent death. This is a result, he believed, of the state of nature of man. In this anarchic hypothetical condition, there is nothing but the clashes of human desires and wills, or, as the philosopher described it, “the war of all against all.”

For Hobbes, “every subject is the author of the acts of the sovereign, hence the sovereign cannot injure any of his subjects and cannot be accused of injustice.” It is within the power of the state to maintain the peace and to protect this peace within its legitimate authority. In this regard, a state that acts on the basis of its duly promulgated power cannot be accused of inflicting injustice on its people. For in the first place, it is the people themselves who have chosen the sovereign. In this respect, citizens determine the kind of state that they must have and trust in terms of safeguarding the common interests of men and women.

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Without its sovereign power, the state will be rendered inutile against the whimsical desires of human individuals and will be held captive by its own weakness in terms of restraining those who have the tendency to expand their private interests at the expense of the common good. A ruler, in this regard, has the right to conduct war in order to maintain the peace. For Hobbes, we live in a brutal world, and it is for this reason that we must allow the sovereign to take total control of everything, even if it is at the expense of our freedoms. Without this radical alternative, there can only be chaos and disorder in society.

The mistake in Hobbes’ hypothetical state of nature is of course the assumption that all men and women only have evil tendencies in their hearts. If such is the actual case, then it is justified for the sovereign to use force against a people who only have evil motives against one another. Rulers who are weak are dangerous, for they would not be able to discipline their subjects and, thus, the incongruity of the latter can only result in civil war. Hobbes, in fact, was a materialist and, as Jean Jacques Rousseau observed, impatient about the political state of affairs.

According to Eric Khzmalyan, the problem with all these is that the Leviathan might insist on being permanent. The sovereign will then be so concerned about its position in the greater scheme of things that the primary consideration would be how to perpetuate its power. The same will demand nothing but obedience from its subjects who will no longer have any right to defy or question its actions. Fear and violence, in this way, will become the necessary background of the polity, and when the innocent die under the guise of discipline, then what the state has actually transposed into is a democracy of death.

Simone Weil is straightforward: “Never react to evil in such a way as to augment it.”

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Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.

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