My students at Cairo University read with me the major works of the great political thinkers. Part of our mission is to relate what we read to what we observe.
Three political philosophers, Hobbes, Locke and J. S. Mill contributed a lot to Britain and the world. In one of the exams, I asked my students to reflect on how they are relevant to what is happening in the Middle East region and in Egypt in particular.
Here is part of the discussion.
Hobbes is a famous philosopher who coined the “Dragon State” terminology or “Leviathan.” It refers to the repressive state whose only purpose to preserve individual’s life. The alternative is “the war of all against all” as he put it. If Hobbes were alive, he would mention Somalia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Syria, Libya and Yemen as cases to support his claims.
He might laugh and say “I’m right. The state is originally embracing and protecting the individuals’ rights, even if these individuals are forced to give up all their rights in exchange for one right: to survive peacefully”.
So, Hobbes believed that the tyrannical state is justified when people are not capable of living together. He saw what he feared during the 17th century England where chaos and murder were everywhere.
According to Hobbes, "During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in thrall, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.’’
"To this war of every man against every man, this is also in consequence; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where there is no law, there is no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the cardinal virtues.’’
"No arts, no letters, no society, and, what is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death: the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."
Based on Hobbes’s theory, there is a causal and steady relationship between compliance with political power and social peace.
If you wonder why democracy appeared in these Western countries, I’ll illustrate now Many endeavors were exerted so that the state will not guarantee only the right of security or being alive, but other rights should be guaranteed such as the right of property, freedom of thought and expression, meeting and political participation, etc.
This part is to be explained by Mr. Locke who praised a significant revolution in England called the Glorious Revolution in 1688 (it is more like the 25th January revolution in Egypt but without presence of a military council).
That revolution ended with exactly what Locke and his supporters wanted. The revolution led to the existence of a “state” but one that is not tyrannical.
Locke and Hobbes agree with the idea of the importance of having a powerful state, but Locke sought to give up on the idea of tyranny. Keeping the state powerful but limiting its tyrannical aspects.
It’s noteworthy that Mr. Locke had a decisive role in the history of the United States when the founding fathers had written the American Constitution they quoted from him many times. However, we have to remember Hobbes’ decisive role when the southern states tried to separate from the American northern states.
Hobbes believes in preserving the “state,” while Locke believes in building the “democratic state.” Hobbes’ main weapons are a strong ruler, military and police.
Locke’s main weapons are a strong ruler too, but with the presence of a parliament and political parties. After Hobbes and Locke, the Liberalism Leader John Stuart Mill came to assert the idea of political, religious and ideological tolerance.
Nearly a century later after Locke, Mill came to tell the Britons and the entire world that the establishment of a state and democratic institutions should be followed guaranteeing certain rights and freedoms, according to his famous book “On Liberty” in which he gave everyone the right of belief, expression and political participation.
According to his book “The Principles of Political Economy”, the state becomes responsible for interfering with distribution of production revenues processes so as to guarantee a good treatment to workers such as determining maximum working hours, minimum wage, unemployment subsidy and rising taxes. In other words, he founded the so-called “welfare state” phenomenon in the West.
Hence, liberalism increases the democracy’s returns. For capitalism, liberalism adds the concept of the welfare state so that everyone could benefit from successes of the private project and personal innovation. As a result, the social justice issue becomes, thanks to liberalism, one of the main values of the Western world.
In brief, I’ll summarize the ideas mentioned above. Do not ask for Mill’s rights and freedoms, before establishing Locke’s democratic institutions. Do not establish Locke’s democratic institutions, before Hobbes’ powerful and stable state exists and starts applying its law and order on its land. In other words, I should buy a computer (state), before looking for an operating system (democracy) and even before deciding which programs I’m going to set up (rights and freedoms).
For two years and a half, Egypt has witnessed many demands for rights and freedoms, while the state institutions have not been able to deliver. Egyptians have become poorer and the freedom efforts turned into chaos.
Egypt’s political mission now is how to combine the missions of Hobbes, Locke and Mill in a holistic way. A good case at hand is the decree signed by President Sisi on Monday to amend the protest law.
As stipulated by the decree that was published in the official newspaper al-Waqa'ia al-Masriya on Tuesday, the Minister of Interior now has to submit a request to a court to cancel, postpone, or change the place or route of a protest, in case it threatens public security. Proving that it threatens public security is a burden on the Ministry of Interior Affairs.
According to officials, this law in its original language saved Egypt from a barrage of non-stop protests and demonstrations for 4 years. The decree came as a response of the President and Parliament to the decision of the Supreme Court that considered the original wording of Article 10 of the Protest Law unconstitutional.
According to my analysis, Egypt has given up the Hobbesian version of the law in favor a more Lockean doctrine.
And more will follow.