Hobbes and Goldman: The Good Life and Political Legitimacy Essay

Hobbes and Goldman: The Good Life and Political Legitimacy Essay

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The nature of a good life and its relation to political legitimacy is a subject which both Thomas Hobbes and Emma Goldman examine in their writings. Hobbes claims that only basic survival is necessary to live a good life because ultimately life is more valuable than comfort. Goldman on the other hand claims that freedom is far more important than simply living and a good life can only be lived by someone who is free to do as they please. In order for a political theorist to understand how legitimate governments and communities aught treat their citizens these theories are essential. For example, if a community holds a Hobbesian view than they will have a strong authoritarian leadership, whereas in a Goldman inspired community would have no coercive government except in times of crisis. Of the two views of a good life Goldman presents a more compelling answer to the question of what makes a good life and her theories regarding political legitimacy are sounder than those of Hobbes.


According to Thomas Hobbes a good life is lived free from fear of war and the threat of violence. According to Hobbes, the most fundamental right that a person has is the right to live and therefore it is essential to have a guarantee of a life without fear of death in order to have a life considered “good”. Another aspect of a good life, according to Hobbes, is the assurance that contracts will not be broken. In a nation where contracts are not guaranteed citizens would fear that one party may not follow through with their end and potentially harm the other party. Hobbes also claims that comforts, property and even spirituality are not important for the living of a good life. These, while desirable to many individuals, are less valuable to a pers...


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...n effect, Goldman is the opposite of Hobbes in both her view of the idea of a good life and political legitimacy.


Between these two views of political legitimacy Goldman’s is the more accurate. First, Hobbes’ view of a good life would be alien to nearly every other human. People measure a good life by the things that they have done and experienced and not by how long someone lives. For instance, a person who sacrifices himself to save someone else could be said to have had a good life. Second, Goldman recognizes that freedom is essential to having a good life. Without freedom a man is naught but a mere automaton and he cannot truly decide his own fate. Lastly, because freedom is an essential right and coercion violates that right, governments cannot be legitimate, since they all use coercion. In sum, Goldman’s theories are more accurate than those of Hobbes.

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