In The Leviathan, Hobbes discusses the challenges of man’s inherent nature, and the willingness of individuals to voluntarily give up their natural rights. This is all assuming of course, that the transfer of rights to a larger institution will ultimately increase a person’s chance of getting what he/she wants. In no place is this concept more evident, although perhaps not exactly in the manner Hobbes was thinking, than in Greek Life. In college, it is not a state of war or violent death that a person is scared of, but a state of loneliness and anxiety. A proud and dedicated member of my sorority, it is within this context that I can see many of the problems posed by Hobbes, particularly the causes of quarrels and collective action, being overcome through the binding covenant of sisterhood.
When I first came to the University of Michigan from the far away land of Georgia, all that I truly wanted was to find friends and a sense of community. Correctly predicted by Hobbes, I was fearful- of isolation, the inability to find happiness and friendships, and the next four years. Greek Life offered me a hope for remedying my fears, and all that I had to do initially was give up a week of my life to undergo the trials of Recruitment. After this, I was bound to a group of other girls who all were striving after the same goals. I was more than willing to give up some of my “natural rights” to the reigning sovereign of the National PanHellenic Conference in order to achieve inner peace.
Although the resource of “friendship” is not limited, it can certainly be competitive, as you can only sit so many people at a dinner table or in a car going to the movies. The first cause of quarrel described by Hobbes is then perfectly solved by sororities. After initiation, I no longer felt the need to compete for friends. I was thrown into a covenant of sisterhood with other girls, and everyone was guaranteed equal rights of inclusion and acceptance.
Through slating and elections, each year a group of girls is elected by the sorority as a whole to represent the institution to the Greek community as a whole. There are a variety of positions, ranging from President to Director of Foundation (the sorority’s respective charity), and even Vice President Social Standards. In this manner, the second cause of quarrel is reconciled. Those who wish to achieve power can do so, but only through the support of the entire sisterhood, and only within a certain field of the sorority. Additionally, because of the smaller size of the group, each person retains a vote in affairs that actually holds significant weight in making decisions. Therefore, a member can feel represented and heard without having to seek out a position.
Lastly, Hobbes states that people will always quarrel over glory. Once I was initiated into my sorority, I aligned my identity with the group. I am constantly aware of the way in which my actions will reflect upon my sisters, and some of my independence has been given up for the purpose of properly representing the sisterhood as a whole. While I work for the dignity of the sorority, all the honor it attains is automatically reflected back upon me. Consequently, I no longer need to be suspicious of others, as they are working to provide glory to the same foundation.
Was I selfishly offering up my own friendship only for the purpose of attaining the same from others? According to Hobbes, absolutely. Yet, I do not believe that the situation is quite so black-and-white. People come together when they believe it will maximize the benefits they can obtain. This self-centered origin does not negate the fact, however, that others also benefit from their participation in this collective unit. The covenant of sisterhood, while often strange and seemingly superficial from the outside, is arguably collective action in one of its most effective forms. Within the University of Michigan, girls come together and communally sacrifice some of their rights and perhaps even some individuality, for their sorority. A sort of nationalism and patriotism then ensues as the problems of quarrel are eliminated, and the fear of loneliness is expelled.