Self-Love and the Artificiality of the Civil Society: Hobbes, Mandeville, and Hume
Date: 31 August 2021
University of Exeter
PhD in Politics
This study attempts to provide a balanced understanding of “civil society” over and against the non-political, economic view by probing into Hume’s political thought through the tradition of Hobbes and Mandeville, and demonstrating the theoretical similarities as well as differences between their analysis of human nature, of the ...
This study attempts to provide a balanced understanding of “civil society” over and against the non-political, economic view by probing into Hume’s political thought through the tradition of Hobbes and Mandeville, and demonstrating the theoretical similarities as well as differences between their analysis of human nature, of the principles sustaining civil society, and of the political-economic mechanisms underlying the rise of the modern state. Rather than reading Hume as a theorist of “commercial sociability” highlighting the spontaneity of economic activities while Hobbes and Mandeville theorists of “unsociability” stressing the role of political power, all of them are seen as theorists of unsocial or political sociability shedding light on the artificiality of the civil society. On the one hand, unsocial or political sociability means men’s self-love with a society-regarding feature, which is a combination of the desire for bodily self-preservation and pride. It both gives men a desire for associating with each other and prevents them from sustaining large and lasting society. On the other hand, civil society, whose establishment is the only solution to the problem caused by the society-regarding self-love, should be understood as a synthesis of political society, civilised society, and economic (bourgeois) society. As an artifice instead of an autonomous sphere constituted by socio-economic relations, it is safeguarded by coercive political power, supported by institutions and practices redirecting men’s sense of morality and honour, and born in the process of modern state building. It is undeniable that from Hobbes to Mandeville and Hume the connotation of “artifice” underwent some changes, for Hobbes grounded civil society upon the juridical relationship of artificial person, Mandeville upon the discipline of man’s artificial self, while Hume upon the various conventions of artificial virtues. Correspondingly, the meaning of “civil” became richer than “political”. But all of them held that politics is an original and indispensable dimension of human life; that political power is the ultimate foundation of civil society; and that the state’s desire of power provided the rise of modern commercial society with the crucial political-historical impetus. These ideas will remind us of the complexity of the foundation of civil society in human nature, and the significance of the political aspect of modern civil society.
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