In Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, Hobbes characterizes, what he believes as, the true natural state of human beings. This portrayal of human nature isn’t exactly the most comforting, as it explains the true selfishness of people.
“And therefore, if any two men desire the same thing,…they become enemies…”
According to Hobbes, this is how people act when there are no laws or rules by which they are being governed. But is this pessimistic concept truly our reality? What about in times of national crises; do people only look out for themselves then, too?
It is true that there are some cases where “the state of nature” occurs. People usually turn to examples of natural disasters to demonstrate Hobbes’ theory. Take Hurricane Katrina for example. The living conditions after the hurricane could arguably be considered more dangerous for civilians than the storm itself. Even though the city was in a time of despair, that didn’t stop people from looting from stores and pillaging for food. The streets were unarguably unsafe. People were not looking to help others; they were in survival mode. And Hobbes would argue that when people are in survival mode especially, people cannot be looking out for others; only themselves. However, thankfully, this is not always the case.
September 11, 2001 will be a date that no American will ever forget, where four terrorist attacks were coordinated and carried out by members of al-Qaeda. In this national crises, 2,996 lives were lost. Hundreds of civilians died in the plane crashes, and in the towers themselves. The leftover thousand numbers of lives lost belong to the civilians and emergency workers that gave their lives to help others in this time of distress. It was the deadliest incident for emergency workers ever in the history of the United States, with a loss of 343 firefighters and 72 law enforcers.
We were actually in a state of war, which Hobbes describes as a characteristic of whether or not the state of nature is in place. However, most people were doing everything but looking out for themselves during this time. Civilians were calling 911, running into buildings to rescue others under the rubble, and aiding those who made it out of the buildings. Firefighters were running up flights of stairs, going into smoke and the falling towers selflessly, with only the slightest chances of actually finding people alive. In fact, after the attacks, a sense of patriotism swept over the country; stores weren’t being looted or pillaged for food. People were coming together and embracing the concept of selflessness and helping each other in need.
Although Hobbes’ State of Nature is applicable in some aspects, the greater feats of overcoming hardships and national crises prove Hobbes’ theory wrong; sometimes people can truly be selfless.