Hobbes’ State of Nature: 9/11


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? 

Messages to looters after Hurricane Katrina

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.

Firefighters saving civilian from rubble

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.



3 thoughts on “Hobbes’ State of Nature: 9/11

  1. I absolutely loved your post. I actually wrote about this same concept in an earlier post and do too believe that people can sometimes be selfless. My best friend’s father works for the NYPD and was working the day of the attacks. He was one of the first responders and was there for countless hours, looking for survivors and doing his best to take control of the situation. I look up to this man as a hero, and if I can truly say I know anybody 100% selfless, it would be him.


  2. I really enjoyed reading your post about the inaccuracies of Thomas Hobbes’ theory surrounding the State of Nature. I would agree with the understanding that people are instinctively selfish is untrue. As you made clear, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina are both great examples of how entire cities can work together as a one in times of crisis. In both of these catastrophes, it seemed the end result was a closer and more complete community. As we’ve reviewed Hobbes’ teachings, it’s become increasingly clear that much of the way society functioned back in 17th century England is entirely unlike our culture today. In his day, the institution of government and political order looked nothing like our modern Democratic Republic. Citizens were expected to be skeptical of their governments (and other people, for that matter) because the concept of legitimate authority rarely remained consistent.


  3. Great post! I completely agree with you. Although I think in some aspects of life, Hobbes’ idea of the state of nature has some merit to it, I do not believe that humans are selfish in everything they do. I think your post does a good job of backing up Rousseau’s claim that man is naturally good and that compassion is a natural impulse.


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