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I. Summum malum, the greatest evil is the obscure fetid morass from which Thomas Hobbes’ Sea-Monster-Come-Sovereign emerges. In this malodorous swamp, faction-organisms fight the war of all against all, collapsing time-preference and making the “life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” From this state of nature and negative theology, emerges the state-monster[1] as minimum consensus and monopoly of legitimate violence by virtue of accumulated individual terror. The contract between sovereign and people securing an icy peace in the commonwealth is protego ergo obligo, protection in return for obedience.

II. While this contract is intellectually comprehensible and vividly observable in war-torn peripheries of the West, inside of it, its tenets are affectively remote. Life may be increasingly solitary but the late 20th and early 21st century have also often been looked back upon as a period where life was comparatively sweet, dull and long.[2] The brutish aspects of existence in return are actively discredited and progressively outlawed. Even measured physical punishment of one’s own children risks being severely penalized by a state infinitely jealous and humorless about its force monopoly. The state’s spiritual aide is the post-heroic bourgeois consensus which ruthlessly demands maximization of life-span, minimization of risk and nothing less than to ban the Real of violence from public life. When the latter does erupt through the smooth curated surfaces of industrialized urban civility, it becomes diagnosed as social pathology to be isolated, surgically removed, and scientifically dissected.

III. Observing the Leviathan in action then takes a certain trained eye and attention to detail in the West. Often, some imagination and instinct is needed to guess that behind the anticipatory obedience so prevalent in political society lurks the archaic terror of a violent threat long infinitely sublimated to become the most implicit stick. It is a sign of civility, for example, that in the Occident political resistance generally is not outrightly suffering crude accidents[3] but has a right to first being shunned, de-platformed, slandered, ruined, being made the subject of sanctions, maliciously pedantic tax inspections and lawfare, blackmail, and only subsequent direct state violence – imprisonment – for the most single-minded of cases.

IV. Hobbes’ demand for obedience is similarly difficult to observe, with the notion in recent decades suffering a particularly poor reputation. Ever since the “Rebel without a Cause” took the smirking cultural center-stage of Western subjectivity, even the most hard of hearing were made to understand that ostentatious obedience will neither get you laid nor give you political clout. The trajectory of Gustave LeBon-May68-Gene Sharp is about the state rendering accessible the opposite of obedience as political technology. The cybernetic state neutralizes resistance as information. The idea anticipating this state and conceiving of it as machine is already outlined in Hobbes’ Leviathan. The 20th century will perfect it to encourage acts of disobedience, if only because the managed upheaval of discipline-based stability generates the more intimate power-knowledge to be harvested. The state-machine thus inserts itself ever deeper into proliferating fields of disorder to observe and repackage them for domestic astroturfed grassroots resistance and democracy exports. At the same time, state power itself appears more remote and anti-authoritarian than ever.

V. In Hobbes’ Leviathan, the political entity – the commonwealth – is instituted and hence bound by a final cause, “the foresight of own preservation, and of a more contended life thereby.” The sovereign, according to Hobbes, is by nothing less than Natural Law obliged to secure and protect the life of its subjects – which more than the bare thing in itself also needs to be contended. If the sovereign fails to meet this condition, citizens are under no obligation to obey and the commonwealth dissolves back into the state of nature (I). 

VI. One of the underestimated intellectual constants of Western elites has been their Malthusian bent. As a rule of thumb, the higher society, the more generalized the horror plebis. In 1972, the Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth, a Malthusian spine chiller proclaiming the perils of overpopulation. While naive techno-optimist critiques of this doom-laden forecast persist, the reasoning is hard to conclusively rule out: In theory, a global world might be a perfect market and logistics grid to support exponentially growing numbers of people. Historically, this market, while arguably more efficient than expected, has shown to be fundamentally distorted by politics. From the perspective of government, population growth is a double edged sword: both power tool as well as liability. The origin of every elite fertility horror, from the village to the international level, is the dynamics of intensified resource competition. Every excess of population growth, in a world fundamentally constrained by a lack of space is treason against international stability. The proliferation of vitality on a finite planet, cannot be thought infinitely and ultimately imposes itself as an arms control problem. 

VII. Tracing the evolution of a 21st century Leviathan including its vastly expanded time-horizon and analytic capacity means taking into consideration that its sacred task of protecting life is faced with a fundamental dilemma: The state’s legitimacy (V) fundamentally relies on its perception as protector of the commonwealth and competent authority preventing existential threats and promoting life and prosperity. But how can the state unambiguously promote life while guaranteeing its security into the future?

VIII. The current age is marked by elemental forces breaking into bourgeois space: archaic violence imported as third-world immigration, religious terrorism and viral pandemic death are seemingly inevitably proliferating in an interconnected world. To the horror of an incredulous cassandric intelligentsia-commentariat, the state alternately responds with delays, symbolic action or apathy. Draconian solutions are obviously visible and available but reliably fail to be effectively implemented.

IX. In an age, where the “eternal return of the concrete” is at risk of becoming affectively inaccessible to populations, the state may find itself constrained to become its primary advocate. In the night of ecological finitude on a fenced dark pasture in the human zoo, the Leviathan transforms itself into a silent hunter-predator: the Anti-Leviathan – a towering figure conceived of the accumulation of excess prosperity-sluggishness, harmlessness, naivety and supersatiety. Its historical duty is to temporarily, locally and discretely suspend the social contract and revoke the guarantee to life.

Nicolas Hausdorf tweets at @dcntrrr.


[1] Most beautifully captured in the famous original frontispiece of the book by Abraham Bosse.

[2] The most obvious expression of this trend is certainly the skyrocketing share prices of cruise providers in the last decade.

[3] Examples like Gary Webb, Sean Hoare, Dr. David Kelly, Phillip Marshall, Seth Rich of course being exceptions confirming this rule.