Category: Thomas Hobbes

timey wimey hobbesy wobbesy

A quick survey of Hobbes’ most prominent Leviathan passages should yield the strikingly obvious: the seventeeth-century philosopher, for all his polymathic genius, is hardly aware of the full spectrum of terrestrial and extraterrestrial life forms, institutions, and social communities. In one sense, this isn’t very surprising: Galileo Galilei, Hobbes’ Italian contemporary, was having a house party imprisoned in his Italian villa–on charges of observational astronomy–when Hobbes began work on his magnum opus. So, we can hardly begrudge Hobbes’ ignorance of the abundant variety of other nasty, brutish, and short lifeforms that span the galaxies. Suffice it to say that, short of an inherently anachronistic encounter with a Big Blue Box, there’s very little reason why the British philosopher would have encountered a Sontaran during his time in Malmesbury.

Writing in 1651, just following the conclusion of the English Civil War, Hobbes sought to develop a unified theory of political statecraft. Identifying human social interactions as survivalist and competitive–characteristics likely informed by his empirical observation of Parliamentarian/Royalist conflict–Hobbes views man’s natural state as a deadly, nearly unfettered competition for limited resources. On regular, not-as-awesome Earth, Hobbes’ state of nature represents an ideal state. Hobbes’ posits a civic interplay between freedom of action and communal security, which emerges from two (seemingly contradictory) laws: the first requires individuals to “seek peace,” while the second ensures that humans will act in self-defense. Given the absence of time specifications, one can assume that Hobbes’ behavioral assumptions coexist at an origin point, preceding the gradual emergence of a human polity. Except for the fleeting point of conception, the state of nature cannot exist–the collective fear of its “reemergence” sustains the authoritarian commonwealth in static form.

Doctor Who’s multiverse, as a more-than-adequate manifestation of the time-space continuum, underlines the conceptual inadequacy of the Hobbesian state. As in regular, not-as-awesome Earth, a pure state of nature does not seem to exist. The closest approximation, one imagines, are various incarnations of deep space (the multiverse’s outer rims, not the TARDIS’ time-space trajectory), which would be less accessible via TARDIS. But even the most “anarchic” of deep-space entities–for example, see House, the TARDIS-consuming asteroid–more closely resemble post-apocalyptic states than prehistoric states of nature. In general, Doctor Who’s multiversal polities represent the sort of dynamic institutions that you’d expect from human–or Silurian, or Cyberman, or Silence–civilization: they suffer from internal squabbles, variously weakening and strengthening institutions, and transitional turmoil. From the Doctor’s perspective, Lake Silencio’s “fixed point” (on April 22, 2011, the date of the Time Lord’s “death”) mirrors Hobbes’ state of nature: it is a chronological keystone, theoretically unalterable by any human action. The “fixed point,” like Hobbes’ laws of nature, operates at a point of ambiguous convergence, where the Doctor’s future and River Song’s past intersect.

As in Hobbes’ theory of political development, however, the “fixed point” isn’t a very good keystone at all. Far from a baseline standard, consistent throughout time, it’s easily avoidable, granted a bit of human Time-Lord agency. If the first two episodes of Matt Smith’s third season are any indication, politics continues as it always has, in spite of the variation in the multiverse’s fixed point: the Indian Space Agency still monitors the Earth’s atmosphere, Jurassic organisms are ubiquitous throughout space, and, perhaps most importantly, Rory and Amy remain happily married. There’s a simple lesson here, which Hobbes’ theory of the commonwealth doesn’t capture: political development evolves as an iterative, ever-shifting series of fixed points, rather than a static institution. In increasingly complex systems of intergalactic governance, there’s little room for evolutionary determinism; it’s just not natural.