Law & Liberty: “Plagues, Ancient and Modern”
By Pavlos Papadopoulos
“‘Well, I guess we’re about to find out whether Hobbes was right about the state of nature!’
So joked one of my students in mid-March, as we said our goodbyes for what would turn out to be the rest of the semester. It was a good way to lighten the mood. Knowing that the coronavirus was coming, and with only a hazy impression of its nature and effects, it was easy to jump to dire predictions of social collapse. The joke was also true to Hobbes, who exhorts the readers of Leviathan to verify his arguments by observing their own habits. But if conditions became sufficiently extreme, we would all be forced to see what is normally hidden—the truth about human nature unobscured by political order. Hobbes described this state as one in which there is ‘continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’
Rightly observed, a crisis, like a scientific experiment, can reveal a hidden truth. When my student joked about our opportunity to evaluate Hobbes’s observations, my mind went to Thucydides, whose narrative of the disorders and dangers of primitive Greece inspired Hobbes’s state of nature, and who himself survived the plague of Athens…”
Pavlos Papadopoulos is an Assistant Professor of Humanities at Wyoming Catholic College. His primary teaching interests are in classical and early modern political and moral philosophy and his research interests include classical political philosophy (especially Plato and Aristotle), liberal arts education (its theory, history, diversity, and prospects in American higher education), and the political philosophy of education (the function of educational institutions in political regimes). Previously, Professor Papadopoulos served as an editor of the journal Ramify.
Professor Papadopoulos is a Jack Miller Center fellow.
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