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On the Shoulders of Leviathans

5 min read

By Kabeia Rineaki Brock Sutton Allen

The 1990’s film adaptation of Lord of the Flies is, from the onset, a difficult piece to use to prove either Hobbes or Locke because the individuals already come from pre-established civil society (Locke) but the failure to maintain civil society/Jack’s success would vindicate Hobbes. That is to say, the source material examined could easily be waved away as impure, which could be said for all fiction- even ones that aren’t the 3rd in a line of cinematic interpretations of a book that was written specifically to parody the Lockean themes of R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island.

Conversely, this might be fitting as it seems Locke and Hobbes, despite existing in the same timeline and partaking of the same stream of evidence have chosen to examine different segments of history. While both of their seminal work deals with the organization of society, acknowledging some flavor of anarchy that defines the State of Nature, where they diverge is at the differing points of focus on that timeline.

Writing for The University of Tennessee's IEP, Alexander Mosley’s entry on Locke highlights his lynchpin. “On the whole, Locke’s anarchic state of nature is a benevolent condition of anarchic individualism, rather than Hobbesian brutality and mutual suspicion, in which conscience guides actions and reason (reflecting the law of nature) highlights the wrongness and counter-productivity of aggressing against one’s neighbour.”

Born 44 years after Hobbes, Locke’s data is suspect because of its distance from humanity’s origin. The benevolent individual his arguments rest on is one privileged to live in a society already secured by the Hobbes’s brutish savages. While he criticizes Hobbes for failing to distinguish the State of Nature from the State of War, Locke seems to ignore the primordial state of the individual, the selfish babe, and the state of society prior to civil organization. When left to their own devices, man is most inclined to behave as the indolent or violent as Jack’s boys did in Lord of the Flies.

As culture is accepted by anthropologists to be accumulative then it follows that the condition of society would follow an equally natural tendency for increasing complexity. As was alluded to by the author in the previous paper this irreverent unilineal view of mankind is supported by likes of Maslow and Toffler. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs when simplified (as all unnecessarily complex things can and should be) reveals the triarchic natural needs of man as first physical survival, emotional desires, and then the intangible fulfillment of self-actualization…  Alvin Toffler found these ideals informed our major revolutions and subsequently the forms of power and political structures built to contain them… Internationally, the nationstates of the world struggle to keep up. While 3rd World Kingdoms and Empires with their conscripted armies still offensively expanded their power to in order to enforce their Rule of Sword, we’ve already seen the worst of them topple.”

Whereas Locke’s source material is rooted in the assumption of the preexisting conditions of civil society, Hobbes is concerned with the state of nature leading up to the formation of that society. The Leviathan (xiii) cites the violent relationship of the first brothers Cain and Abel as examples of Pre-civilization society (or lack thereof). So although Locke seems to focus on his Three Inconveniences as rationals for actually staying in society, Hobbe’s anarchic State of Nature (or War, if you’re nitpicking like Locke) is pacified by that period’s most dominant tyrant.

Thus Ralph’s failure to secure “the kingdom” is stems from his lacking charisma and inability to effectively rule with the Sword. While he was successful as the Colonel Cadet prior to the plane crash, back in a civilization populated by public institutions and adults- his qualifications don’t mean anything in conditions that call for a village Big Man or Chief . Meanwhile Jack is able to effectively sustain his followers with a barbaric but effective organization structured around his constant state of war (as policy not theoretical condition). Ralph’s 2nd tier concerns for being rescued and maintaining his stale version of civil order can’t compete with exciting (and seemingly spartan) existence Jack’s tribe offers. While this distinction is lost in the films, as noticed by critics, when viewed with through the lense of the grand scope of humanities timeline, as Hobbes would, the incongruities become more pronounced.

Simply put, Hobbes is right because he had the more comprehensive understanding of humanity, drawing his data from the headwaters of humanity. Consequently, it is the author’s opinion that this is accomplished despite the heavy handed nature of Golding's novel (Lord of the Flies) and that Hobbes should not be misunderstood as cold-blooded fatalist but as a holistic realist. As the IEP’s Williams concluded, “We will probably interpret Hobbes as a psychological egoist, and think that the problems of political order that obsessed him were the product of an unrealistic view of human nature, or unfortunate historical circumstances, or both. In this case, I suggest, we might as well not have read Hobbes at all.”


Lord of the Flies


Lord of the Flies Origin Info

“New Perspectives on British Authors: From William Shakespeare to Graham Greene”


UTM IEP Entry on Locke


UTM IEP Entry on Hobbes


Author’s Previous Work


Criticism of Lord of the Flies Film