Politics in Minutes (2016)

Human nature

The democracies of classical Greece and Rome were comparatively short-lived, and when their republics reverted to monarchies, philosophical discussion of different forms of government all but disappeared. The legitimacy of royal rule was eventually challenged, and with the Enlightenment came a new interest in political philosophy. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes set the agenda by asking the fundamental question of why we need government at all. How, he asked, would we humans live in a ‘state of nature’? Having lived through the brutal English Civil War, he had a cynical view of human nature, and believed that left to their own devices humans would be in a state of continual conflict, and life would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’ Government is necessary to prevent us reverting to this state of nature, and according to Hobbes should be in the form of an authoritarian ruler. Other political philosophers, such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, had a less jaundiced view of human nature, and the forms of government best suited to it.