Hobbes, in his own lifetime as well as in ours is a controversial figure. Accused at various times of being an atheist, a Roman Catholic and a High Anglican, it is fairly clear that he managed to tweak the tails of much of the establishment at the time, just not quite enough to get seriously arrested and damaged.
Now, I imagine that most of you recognised the title as being from Hobbes’ masterpiece, Leviathan. In this work he develops his political theory, that if humanity existed in a state of nature, the individual’s life would be as quoted, viz Nasty, Brutish and Short. Therefore, Hobbes argues, humans club together, give up their rights to everything and appoint a sovereign to rule them, proclaim and enforce laws and so on. Thus, no human except the monarch has any rights, and the monarch can do no wrong because, by definition, the monarch is the law.
Hobbes, of course, was also the first person to translate Thucydides into English, and I cannot but suspect that some of Thucydides’ cynicism and worldly-weariness rubbed off on him. According to Hobbes, after all, the only thing lying between a population and anarchy was the power of the sovereign.
Hobbes, for all his faults, we not daft, and knew that not every state had an actual, real, monarch. However, this disturbed his theory not at all, as all that really matters is that there is a sovereign authority, be that a King or a republic. This, after all, allowed Hobbes after a decade of exile in the Royalist cause, to make his peace with the Commonwealth and return to England in the 1650s. The purpose of the sovereign was to protect those who covenant with it so to do. A King who cannot do so, through being in exile or dead, is no longer the sovereign in Hobbes’ view.
The interesting thing about Hobbes, from my point of view, however, is how much the times he lived through affected his thinking. He was born in 1588, prematurely, he claimed, because of his mother’s fears about the Spanish Armada, and he died in 1679, the year of the first exclusion crisis. Thus he lived through a century (nearly) of dramatic change in the politics of England.
Under Elizabeth, parliament, while a fairly fractious body, managed to get along with the monarch fairly well, as it did under James I, mostly. When we come to Charles I, however, things get rather flakier. And this is where Hobbes’ theory of the supremacy of the sovereign came in. He wrote that the King could do anything, and that Parliament could not disagree but was obliged to give the monarch what they needed to do the job of ruling.
A number of others said similar things, including writing and preaching on the divine right of kings, and were imprisoned by Parliament for their pains. Hobbes fled to France. Where he fell out with Descartes, but that is another story.
I think the point I am trying to make here is that the times affect the thinking of the person. While Hobbes, even before the Civil War, was in favour of the divine right of the king, and that the sovereign has absolute power, the Civil War made his thinking even more pointed. Without the sovereign, anarchy prevails; rightly or wrongly that is what he saw in England after he fled.
So, now, we come to a more wargaming sort of point. The times we live in affect how we think and see the world. In previous posts I have touched upon, for example, the effect of postmodernism on wargaming, and also, more recently, upon archaeology and the narratives of Roman Britain. Similarly, I think that our times, of relative stability, wealth and leisure permit wargaming to occur. Thirdly, of course, the internet facilitates communication, be that between customers and manufacturers or between wargamers themselves. Wargaming is a product of, and in its own small way affects those communities, simply by its being.
How, then, does our society affect thinking about wargaming?
Well, in the past here I have considered the ethics of wargaming and why some people, at least, regard wargaming as being unpleasant, perhaps, or downright nasty. I will not repeat the arguments here, but the upshot is that the critics do not appear to know what they are talking about. At least, I have found no good ethical objection to wargaming except the ’Yuck!’ factor, which is rarely a good measure of the actual ethical issue.
Secondly, of course, there is an issue relating to the general philosophical viewpoints of our world today, one of which is postmodernism. This is generally seen in the fragmentation of our society norms and the struggle of our political leaders to create a vision which the population can accept. On the other hand, while Hobbes would probably be appalled by the fact, it is a lot more difficult for western leaders to simply declare war and get on with it. We might regard that as being a good thing.
However, I think there is a downside to this, not because it means we have fewer interesting wargame material for modern battles, but because, as with other things in society, wargamers have become more thrill seekers; I’ve mentioned before that some part of the hobby is always looking for the fringe, the weird, the obscure. This seems to me to be another manifestation of our society and its inability to have another look at itself and discover that it has its own exoticisms, weirdness and interest. This is, of course, the thought lying behind some of the recent posts on ‘local’ wargames and the interpretation of Roman activity in Britain.
Finally, of course, this blog is doing the Socratic thing of asking more questions than its author knows the answer to. But I do hope that someone out there can at least tell me that I’m wrong.