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Hobbes, constituted authority, and permission to exit (or enter)

…no man that hath sovereign power can justly be put to death, or otherwise in any manner by his subjects punished. For seeing every subject is author of the actions of his sovereign, he punisheth another for the actions committed by himself.

[Leviathan, Chapter XVIII, “Of the Rights of Sovereigns by Institution”]

But may he not commit suicide in the act of executing his sovereign? Can my hand divest the rest of my body of life?

So we may explain a common sentiment against suicide: not that I may not kill myself (who cares about me?) but that in killing myself I kill another who has been implicated by me through my very existence. In other words, I don’t exist as a solitary individual; I exist as a part of a veritable social Leviathan whose parts realize their will in their sovereign whether embodied in an abstract individual (a king) or an abstract collective (a “government of laws”). I cannot separate myself long enough from this Leviathan to kill just myself. When I attempt it, I destroy the adhesive of the agglomeration, the only thing preventing its dissolution, its death. Suicide devolves to murder. (Perhaps even something worse, for a community always guards its own survival before that of its constituents.) That’s why it’s bad. Or so this line of thinking goes…

Suicide is the destruction of what is not mine to destroy. It is an affront to the notion that I am constituted by others collectively. As such it is a political act: the only one by me potent enough to be feared by others collectively, the one thing not permitted when all else may be: that I may displace my death-wish onto others.

It is to be feared, above all else that I may do, because they can do nothing about it. Political entities presuppose that things can be done about things. As murders go, this is one they are powerless to contain.

(Apart from the apocryphal aspect of a popular etymology of the acronym for “Fornication Under Consent of the King,” the notion that the sovereign, whether King or congressional body, has and ought to have this level of say over “unauthorized reproduction” is closely related to the common injunction against suicide.)

Posted by luno in political philosophy, suicide, Hobbes, General (Friday December 15, 2006 at 4:20 pm)

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