Hobbes, Conservatism, and Freedom
In The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, Corey Robin illuminates Thomas Hobbes’ views on freedom. Hobbes counters the notion that freedom means being subject to one’s own will and servitude to the will of another; and that being subject to laws of a republic or democracy, laws that flow from one’s participation in government, is on par with being subject to one’s own will, while being subject to the king’s will is servitude. Hobbes separates personal liberty from the state of public affairs. Freedom, then, is “liberty to buy, and sell, and otherwise contract with one another; to choose their own aboad, their own diet, their own trade of life, and institute their children as they themselves think fit; & the like.” (Hobbes, Leviathan). This can more readily happen when a sovereign can guarantee freedom of movement than under a republic or democracy.
This notion of freedom as personal freedom, economic freedom to a large degree, corresponds quite closely to George Lakoff’s description of the strict father model of morality which he believes underlies conservatism. This model believes in hierarchy, in a dominant figure, and in the right of those who have proven themselves responsible to go about their business without interference.
It corresponds quite closely, as well, to much of today’s American conservative belief and commentary, the insistance that freedom is, to a large degree, economic freedom, where individuals, think small businesses, should be allowed to go about their business with as little governmental interference as possible. Like Hobbes, freedom is not so much democracy and freedom of thought as it is a personal, and economic, freedom. Conservatives want strong government which protects us from our enemies so that we can go about our day-to-day lives without interference.