Jerusalem (Mendelssohn) - Moses Mendelssohn's Treatise “On Religious Power” and Its Composition - The Philosophical Issue (First Part) - The Natural Condition of Man Is Intolerance (Thomas Hobbes)

The Natural Condition of Man Is Intolerance (Thomas Hobbes)

From this libertarian point of view he drew nearer to Thomas Hobbes’ scenario of the “war of every man against every man” (bellum omnium contra omnes) which Hobbes had described as the “natural condition of mankind” in his book Leviathan:

Stand der Natur sey Stand des allgemeinen Aufruhrs, des Krieges aller wider alle, in welchem jeder mag, was er kann; alles Recht ist, wozu man Macht hat. Dieser unglückselige Zustand habe so lange gedauert, bis die Menschen übereingekommen, ihrem Elende ein Ende zu machen, auf Recht und Macht, in so weit es die öffentliche Sicherheit betrift, Verzicht zu thun, solche einer festgesetzten Obrigkeit in die Hände zu liefern, und nunmehr sey dasjenige Recht, was diese Obrigkeit befielt.

Für bürgerliche Freyheit hatte er entweder keinen Sinn, oder wollte sie lieber vernichtet, als so gemißbraucht sehen. Alles Recht gründet sich, nach seinem System, auf Macht, und alle Verbindlichkeit auf Furcht; da nun Gott der Obrigkeit an Macht unendlich überlegen ist; so sey auch das Recht Gottes unendlich über das Recht der Obrigkeit erhaben, und die Furcht vor Gott verbinde uns zu Pflichten, die keiner Furcht vor der Obrigkeit weichen dürfen.

the state of nature was the state of a common riot, a war of every man against every man, in which everyone might do what he could do; in which everything would be right as long as there were only the power to do it. This unfortunate condition lasted until men agreed to finish their misery and to abstain from right and power, as far as public safety was concerned. And they agreed to leave both in the hands of a chosen authority. From now on it was right, what this authority had ordered.

He either had no sense for civil liberty or he just preferred to see it annihilated rather than have it thus abused. According to his system, all right is based on power, and all common sense on fear. Since God in his power is infinitely superior to any authority, the right of God is also infinitely superior to the right of any authority. And this fear of God commits us to duties, which should never be abandoned for the fear of any authority.

From this natural human condition which was banned by a religious fear of God (in Bosse's frontispiece made up by a crowd of people), Mendelssohn defined the role of the state (the left column under the sword) and the role of the religion (the right column under the crook) and the way, how they both had to be brought into harmony:

Der Staat gebietet und zwinget; die Religion belehrt und überredet; der Staat ertheilt Gesetze, die Religion Gebote. Der Staat hat physische Gewalt und bedient sich derselben, wo es nöthig ist; die Macht der Religion ist Liebe und Wohlthun.

The state gives orders and coerces; the religion educates and convinces; the state declares laws, religion offers precepts. The state has physical power and uses it, when it is necessary; the power of religion is charity and beneficience.

But, whatever the religion might be which had to be kept in harmony with the state, the state as a secular authority should never have the right to decide about the faith and the conscience of its citizens.

In Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan the argument that the fear of God also committed the state as an inferior power, was borrowed from a theological tradition which was also very common in Christian Patristic and its reception of the Tanakh. Mendelssohn obviously used Hobbes’ moral philosophy to address the present conditions in the French and the Habsburg Monarchy and its Roman Catholic constitution, but his main address was probably Prussia and its “philosopher king”.

But Mendelssohn’s “triumph” over Hobbes did not mean that Hobbes’ condition of human nature was not important for his own political theory. Hobbes’ impressive justification of a social contract was much more useful for the rhetorical needs of Haskalah than Rousseau’s contrat sociale, because his moral philosophy reflected very deeply the consequences of the abuse of political power. And all contemporaries who had another faith than that of state religion, were quite familiar with these consequences.

Read more about this topic:  Jerusalem (Mendelssohn), Moses Mendelssohn's Treatise “On Religious Power” and Its Composition, The Philosophical Issue (First Part)

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