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It is a fact that the world has been endowed with thinkers, philosophers and political theorists who through their immense contributions have not only brought different forms of governments and political regimes, but also changed the course of history. Among these, Aristotle (384 BC- 322 BC) and Thomas Hobbes (April 5th, 1588- December 4th, 1679) are very notable, owing to the immense contributions to politics, military might and administration they both make towards the benefit of human civilization. Nevertheless, if it were that circumstances could compel an individual to choose between the two, as the one who brings to the table, the most cogent and practical propositions towards politics, I would cast my lot for Aristotle.
Ross (77) clearly states that despite the fact that both Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes agree on human nature as the need that immediately invites the need for the government and the state, Aristotle’s standpoint and explanations are so simple, easy to understand, applicable to day to day life and bereft of self-contradiction. To Aristotle, the need for the state is necessitated upon human nature, making politics an inevitable facet of human life and existence. Aristotle divulges that this human nature that necessitates politics rests on the gregarious tendencies of man. The fact that man lives with his fellow in a community, derives the need to establish norms, laws and the instruments of coercion; with which the set laws will be enforced. Politics is virtually, the struggle for power and its consolidation; and this power having to do with the allocation of economic values.
These above laws and means of coercion make it possible for the society to exist so that in the face of the scarcity of natural resources. While this fact underscores the second nature of man which is competitive over the scarce resources, the fact that man in his nature has a predisposition towards evil is also emphasized. From this angle, it is possible to understand Aristotle as saying that the need for politics and the law as its permutation is also underpinned by human nature that has penchant t for excesses- not just the scarcity that accosts resources. Herein, Aristotle parts ways with Thomas Hobbes, for Hobbes in his Social Contract sees the state as a formation of men who are driven by a need so that they cede away some of their powers to the state. In ceding away this power, it is no longer the body politic but the state that possesses the power absolute power so that the masses can no longer take the law into their own hands. By entering this social contract with the state, the state has to ensure proper appropriation, distribution and consolidation of scarce economic resources (Hobbes, 90).
Hobbes, though unlike Aristotle being so dexterous and meticulous to complement the concept of social contract and that of the State As An Organism, fails to take it into consideration, the fact that it is not only the scarcity of resources that herald the need for the government or the state, but also, man’s inherent inability to govern himself as it ought to be. Virtually, Hobbes fails to capture the fact that social problems such as treason, contempt of court and laws, slothfulness and drunkenness are not really necessitated by the scramble for scarce resources, but man’s tendency towards impunity.
The fact that Thomas Hobbes bifurcates the need to create the state as being centered on power and fear somewhat and to a degree renders his work inchoate. This is because; Hobbes presupposes that the fear of man (as underpinned by scarcity of resources) necessitates the creation of a state. The pitfall in this line of thinking is that Hobbe’s thinking is far much tainted with eurocentricity. On the contrary, it is a fact that at the time of Hobbe’s postulation, ascephalous communities and political organizations existed. At this time, these ethno-linguistic communities could not be considered as states, since: despite having the law, legal frameworks, instruments of coercion and even properly laid down political structures and modes of production, many societies in the 17th century were itinerant and nomadic in nature.
The relevance of this above matter is that concepts that are instrumental to the definition of the state such as territorial integrity are not there at the time Thomas Hobbes makes this postulation. Therefore, a closer look at history against the political philosophy propounded by Thomas Hobbes reveals cracks in Hobbe’s work. The competitiveness of man over scarce resources and economic values may not necessarily lead to the formation of a state, but gores hand in hand with the organization of a people into a nation. Aristotle does not fall for this loophole.
Similarly, the preference of Aristotle’s political philosophy to that of Thomas Hobbes is that he takes painstaking measures to the concept of citizenship; the forms of governments; the classification of the constitution; the best and most just form of distribution of power. While it is a fact that cannot be repudiated that Hobbes was cognizant of these concepts, the fact that Aristotle preceded other political philosophers by at least a millennium, is interesting. Thomas Hobbes had already, grounds laid out to facilitate better understanding of politics and governance while Aristotle was working from a historically clean slate. Even his predecessor and teacher Plato had not helped him much since Aristotle did not dabble so much into Plato’s impractical political concepts such as that of Philosopher Kings. It is therefore easy to see that it was relatively easier for Hobbes to develop political philosophy due to the preponderance of materials that already existed on the same, compared to Aristotle.
It must be noted that the choosing of Aristotle’s standpoint and philosophy on the nature of man and politics over that of Thomas Hobbes is not tantamount to saying that the former’s work is perfect whilst that of the latter is imperfect. As a matter of fact, a closer look at Aristotle’s works reveals pitfalls so that many reputable scholars such as W. D. Ross have always explained that Aristotle’s works are not organized. For instance, D. Ross explains that if books I and II are treated as a unit; and books VII and VIII read before books IV and VI, only then shall Aristotle’s works be understood. Similarly, Thomas Hobbes’ works should not be misunderstood as inchoate. As a matter of fact, by explaining the state as an organism, it is Hobbes who set the ball rolling for the concrete understanding of the need for the trifurcation of the state along the judiciary, the executive and the legislature.