Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and the Syrian conflict


The Syrian conflict has indeed become one of the most important and urgent issues of the whole international community because it is believed to have a great impact on both strategic stability and world security. Rodgers, Gritten, Offer, and Asare (2016) inform that the armed confrontation has been continuing for over six years, and during this time the state has been divided between the armed militia, rebels, and government forces, so now it is virtually destroyed. Although the revolution in Syria known as the “Arab Spring” was quite threatening from the very outset, the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad did not initially tend to use force or meet the demands of the demonstrators and adopt the reforms (Rodgers et al., 2016). Nevertheless, the president finally used force against the protesters, which resulted in the brutal suppression of the Syrian people. Regardless of numerous settlement and peace plans, the excessive use of force persists to the present day. That is why the Syrian crisis is worth analyzing from the perspective of the philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Immanuel Kant.

Addressing Hobbes’ work Leviathan (1996), one might assume that the political theorist would support al-Assad’s policies claiming that he possesses unfettered authority to freely use weapons against his own population. In his book, Hobbes famously suggests that one should be fully responsive and accountable to their ruler, who, in turn, should be regarded as a Leviathan, “mortal God”, and national defender (Hobbes, 1996, p. 120; Schmitt, 2008). In other words, Hobbes’ principal idea is one man’s power and the humankind’s perennial aspiration to it (Hobbes, 1996). From this, it also follows that he considers a state of war to be an essential attribute of human nature (Thivet, 2008). Indeed, this applies perfectly to al-Assad and his regime. That is why the explanation is quite simple: al-Assad represents power and is governing for it, so according to Hobbes, he resorts to force and violence just to retain his spheres of influence.

Interestingly enough, Hobbes (1996) also stresses that the common fear of one’s governor is an absolutely necessary and normal matter since it contributes to both peace and well-being of the entire society. Consequently, one might conclude that there is no room for the moral grounds in the philosopher’s theory (Jones, 2016). One’s main objective is to seize power and then try to maintain it. The Syrian ruler seems to follow this model and actually succeeds in it. Hobbes would thus say that there is nothing wrong with his strategy since the use of force and neglect of peace treaties and reforms are just natural means of keeping his power.

Hobbes would argue that the Syrian state requires an authority to ensure the peace. Apparently, there are two major forces trying to gain or preserve it, these are al-Assad himself and the rebels. Speaking of the president and his strategies, one should note that around 83,5 thousand people have been killed in government-initiated air strikes or through torture in prison during his term of office (McDowall, 2017). However, Hobbes would claim that it is fully justified as there is no common power or injustice in Syria. According to Collins (2016), the theorist’s solution for Syria would be to acknowledge the victory of al-Assad’s regime due to the possibility that he can at least protect some minorities including Christians. At the same time, Hobbes would not consider the rebels’ triumph a viable option because of the absence of a more or less authoritative power among them and their inability to provide peace.

Locke, in turn, would regard the Syrian conflict as an inappropriate practice because he believes that there must be a structured contact between the administration and people (Locke, 1988). His theory implies that communication is bilateral and the laws include the concepts of reason and tolerance. So when the Syrians realized that the contact had been lost, they demanded changes and reforms. According to Locke, the people of Syria have every right to express their concerns and oppose the legitimate government through protests. He would insist that the Syrians have rightly joined together to give rise to the “Arab Spring” in response to the inaction of al-Assad’s office while being driven by an idea of the common benefit. Obviously, such rulers as al-Assad may be and even should be opposed, as Locke would explain it. It is the legal right of the people to demand that the governor works to the benefit of their nation and operates within the framework of the national laws. Hence, Locke would approve of the formation of the opposing force and would regard it as a natural act of self-defense on the part of the Syrian people.

It is a well-known fact that the Syrian conflict does not just constitute a battle between the government and rebels; these are also Russia and the United States of America, as well as other countries that are involved to support the Syrian population. Referring to Kant, it would be necessary to stress that the philosopher would endorse such interventions by other governments because he believes that such crises, as the Syrian one, cannot be resolved from the inside, without external interference (Talbott, 2008). Moreover, it is perfectly plausible that Kant would stand on the side of the Syrian people; it is due to that he highlights the importance of understanding that these are the citizens themselves who are supposed to be aware of their position in the life of their state and their right to defend their own interests (Williams, 2012). Finally, he would also offer such an alternative as the establishment of the republican rule in Syria (Williams, 2012).

Hence, all three philosophers would have a specific opinion about the Syrian crisis. Hobbes would thus support al-Assad’s regime, regarding it as the most powerful political force in the country. Both Locke and Kant would, however, advocate for the Syrian citizens, prioritizing the people’s right to defend themselves.

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  1. Collins, R. (2016). A Hobbesian solution to the Syrian refugee crisis. Policy Trajectories. Hobbes, T. (1996). Hobbes: Leviathan: Revised student edition. R. Tuck (Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Jones, P. E. R. (2016). Thomas Hobbes, war and ‘the natural condition of man’: Plus ça change. Policy Quarterly, 12(2), 85-87.
  3. McDowall, A. (2017). Syrian war monitor says 465,000 killed in six years of fighting.
  4. Locke, J. (1988). Locke: Two treatises of government. P. Laslett (Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Rodgers, L., Gritten, D., Offer, J., & Asare, P. (2016). Syria: The story of the conflict. The BBC News.
  6. Schmitt, C. (2008). The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes: Meaning and failure of a political symbol. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  7. Talbott, S. (2008). The great experiment: The story of ancient empires, modern states, and the quest for a global nation. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  8. Thivet, D. (2008). Thomas Hobbes: A philosopher of war or peace? British Journal for The History of Philosophy, 16(4), 701-721.
  9. Williams, H. (2012). Preface. In H. Williams, Kant and the end of war: A critique of Just War theory (pp. 6-17). Berlin: Springer.
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