Some time ago we posted a discussion on Thomas Hobbes's views on private property, relating it through Walter Bagehot to the economics of John Maynard Keynes. Somewhat to our surprise, the posting has, week after week, continued to be among the "top five" postings. Many visitors who read the posting on "Thomas Hobbes and Private Property" are, interestingly enough, from the former communist countries in eastern and central Europe.
Keeping that in mind, we thought we would take a look at what Mortimer Adler — the "Adler" of "Kelso and Adler" — thought about Hobbes, and if his assessment of the great defender of the divine right of kings matched ours. To begin, let's refresh our memories about what Hobbes said in Leviathan (1651) concerning what John Locke considered the cornerstone of a free society: private property. (Please excuse the archaic spelling, but we wanted to give you Hobbes's own words in Hobbes's own words.)
"Propriety Of A Subject Excludes Not The Dominion Of The Soveraign, But Onely Of Another Subject
"From whence we may collect, that the Propriety which a subject hath in his lands, consisteth in a right to exclude all other subjects from the use of them; and not to exclude their Soveraign, be it an Assembly, or a Monarch." (Leviathan, XXIV.)
"Attributing Of Absolute Propriety To The Subjects (XXIX)
"A Fifth doctrine, that tendeth to the Dissolution of a Common-wealth, is, "That every private man has an absolute Propriety in his Goods, such, as excludeth the Right of the Soveraign." Every man has indeed a Propriety that excludes the Right of every other Subject: And he has it onely from the Soveraign Power; without the protection whereof, every other man should have equall Right to the same. But if the Right of the Soveraign also be excluded, he cannot performe the office they have put him into; which is, to defend them both from forraign enemies, and from the injuries of one another; and consequently there is no longer a Common-wealth." (Leviathan, XXIX.)
Given this, what does Adler have to say? We took the following passage from the "Cooperative Individualism" website, from the article titled, "The Nature of Natural Law" by Mortimer Adler:
"You ask whether natural law is relevant to modern conditions. My answer is that if justice is still relevant, then natural law is. Indeed, interest in natural law has increased especially during the past half century, with its experience of the kind of positive laws which have been imposed by totalitarian regimes. On what grounds could a decent German citizen in Nazi times justify his opposition to the laws of the land? On private sentiments or merely personal opinion? Even purely inner resistance to iniquity must be rooted in firmer grounds. 'A law which is not just is a law in name only,' says Augustine. And Aquinas adds: 'Every human law has just so much of the nature of law as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it departs from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of the law.'
"The naturalists, as that name indicates, affirm the existence of natural justice, of natural and unalienable rights, of the natural moral law, and of valid prescriptive oughts that elicit our assent, both independently of and prior to the existence of positive law. The positivists deny all this and affirm the opposite. For them, the positive law - the man-made law of the state - provides the only prescriptive oughts that human beings are compelled to obey. According to them, nothing is just or unjust until it has been declared so by a command or prohibition of positive law. . . .
"The positivist view is recurrent in later centuries with the recurrence of later despotisms. It was expressed by the Roman jurisconsult, Ulpian, who, defending the absolutism of the Caesars, declared that whatever pleases the prince has the force of law. Still later, in the sixteenth century, the same view was set forth by another defender of absolute government, Thomas Hobbes, in 'The Leviathan'; and later, in the nineteenth century, by John Austin, in his 'Analytical Jurisprudence.'
"Neither Austin nor the twentieth-century legal positivists who follow him regard themselves as defenders of absolute government or despotism. That is what they are, however - perhaps not as explicitly as their predecessors, but by implication at least. The denial of natural rights, the natural moral law, and natural justice leads not only to the positivist conclusion that man made law alone determines what is just and unjust. It also leads to a corollary which inexorably attaches itself to that conclusion - 'that might makes right' - this is the very essence of absolute or despotic government."