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There is a generally known argument, which is that if there is no central authority that maintains a preponderance of violence, then there would be a kind of power vacuum, and some group would fill that power vacuum and become the new central authority. Hence, according to this argument, a "government" or "state" is inevitable. Hence (according to this argument) the choice is not whether to have a government, but what kind of government that is.

I hear this argument informally, but I don't know who was the first to really make this argument coherently, put terminology behind it and so forth, and what the text was in which they did this.

Was it Hobbes? Or Locke? It seems to me that Hobbes' Leviathan is making points very close to this, but I'm not sure he exactly makes this point. I.e. the point (phrased crudely) that "without a government, there will be constant conflict between people" is not exactly the same point, because it doesn't emphasize the inevitability that some group will fill the power vacuum anyway.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 12:53

4 Answers 4

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I think the closest you'll find to an origin is Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his Social Contract theory. Both Hobbes and Locke thought that anarchy was the natural state of mankind — though granted, Hobbes viewed anarchy as a 'red in tooth and claw' condition, while Locke envisioned a more genteel 'I do me, you do you' kind of thing — and while Adam Smith imagined social organization, it was an organic, non-governmental sort of organizing. Only Rousseau argued that men would naturally reflect on ways to get along better with each other, and thus naturally produce government-like institutions.

But in honesty, the idea that people in anarchic conditions spontaneously organize governments isn't some developed theory. It's more like a common intuition based on the observation that people (on all scales, from families and small groups to nations of millions) always do organize spontaneously, creating structures and rules for themselves and each other. In fact, if we read the work of philosophical anarchists and Right-libertarians — the kind of people who often advocate for some Lockean anarchy-of-gentlemen — they inevitably point out that people have to learn how to be self-contained and independent, and make conscious choices not to impose rules, conditions, demands, or other proto-governmental constraints on each other. For them, it's a moral ideal to be achieved against our natural inclinations to entangle ourselves in communities.

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  • "it's a moral ideal to be achieved against our natural inclinations to entangle ourselves in communities" why is it against natural inclinations?
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 18:15
  • @NikosM.: it's 'against' only in the sense that it's not something we do naturally or by instinct. I'm using it in the same sense that one might say it's 'against' our nature to use a toilet; we have to be trained not to pee and poop where and whenever the inclination strikes us. Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 18:24
  • I see your use of the term. I disagree but I cannot expand fully in comments
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 18:35
  • @NikosM.: I think I understand your disagreement, and I’m open to revising if you want to suggest a better way of phrasing it. I’m used to my own way of speaking, so it’s a little hard for me to see around it… Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 19:16
  • I don't want to rephrase your answer i wanted to understand your point better, maybe later I post my own answer. Cheers
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 19:18
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Aristole argued that the state is a creation of nature due to our (human's) "function" as a political animal. TLDR, a state of some kind is inevitable due to our rational (political) nature.

I feel one could compare this Aristotelian "natural political state" with the Hobbesian "State of Nature".

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  • Wow. 2nd link includes this statement: "Those who turn their back on the violence inherent in politics, in Aristotle’s view, also turn their back on society - they declare themselves to be outlaws, without a “tribe”, and without a heart." Just... don't know where to go from there... I guess I can see why I disliked Aristotle.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 2:07
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The modern term used by political scientists that by metaphor suggests that government is inevitable is 'power vacuum':

In political science and political history, the term power vacuum, also known as a power void, is an analogy between a physical vacuum to the political condition "when someone in a place of power, has lost control of something and no one has replaced them." The situation can occur when a government has no identifiable central power or authority. The physical analogy suggests that in a power vacuum, other forces will tend to "rush in" to fill the vacuum as soon as it is created, perhaps in the form of an armed militia or insurgents, military coup, warlord or dictator. The term is also often used in organized crime when a crime family becomes vulnerable to competition.

Political scientists have observed a number of power vacuums in contemporary times including after the US invaded Iraq a second time. Unlike after WWII where the US government successfully de-Nazified but allowed German elements to maintain control, De-Ba'athification was largely considered a policy that further destabilized Iraq leading to further complications including the rise of ISIS.

According to the SEP's "Hobbes's Moral and Political Philosophy", the argument you are asking about can be attributed to Hobbes:

Hobbes’s near descendant, John Locke, insisted in his Second Treatise of Government that the state of nature was indeed to be preferred to subjection to the arbitrary power of an absolute sovereign. Hobbes famously argued that such a “dissolute condition of masterlesse men, without subjection to Lawes, and a coercive Power to tye their hands from rapine, and revenge” would make impossible all of the basic security upon which comfortable, sociable, civilized life depends. There would be “no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” If this is the state of nature, people have strong reasons to avoid it, which can be done only by submitting to some mutually recognized public authority, for “so long a man is in the condition of mere nature, (which is a condition of war,) as private appetite is the measure of good and evill.”

The first line from the very next paragraph addresses the tone of your question:

Although many readers have criticized Hobbes’s state of nature as unduly pessimistic, he constructs it from a number of individually plausible empirical and normative assumptions.

The article as a whole goes into more detail about his view on The Leviathan and the State of Nature. The latter article presents a number of other philosophers who address the topic including Mozi, Locke, Rousseau, and Rawls. While political philosophy isn't my cup of tea, if you're looking for earlier versions of Hobbes's bleak assessment of human nature without government, I would look to the Republicans of the Renaissance who found inspiration in the the political philosophy of Ancient Greece and the politics of Rome.

Among them is Niccolo Machiavelli, whose treatise The Prince is recognized as an early formulation of realpolitik. From the IEP's article "Hobbes, Thomas: Moral and Politial Philosophy":

A century before, Nicolo Machiavelli had emphasized the harsh realities of power, as well as recalling ancient Roman experiences of political freedom. Machiavelli appears as the first modern political thinker, because like Hobbes he was no longer prepared to talk about politics in terms set by religious faith (indeed, he was still more offensive than Hobbes to many orthodox believers), instead, he looked upon politics as a secular discipline divorced from theology. But unlike Hobbes, Machiavelli offers us no comprehensive philosophy: we have to reconstruct his views on the importance and nature of freedom;

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  • power vacuum is the right idea, I think, but the quote you gave from Hobbes doesn't seem to make the argument for the existence of a power vacuum after a government is removed. Rather the quote makes that argument that there would be bad effects if there were no government.
    – user56834
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 5:05
  • @JD Since when was the U.S. de-nazification after WWII a success? At the time that was totally falling behind it's ambitions. Like it only lasted 6 years instead of the planned 25-50 years. The first parliaments had up to 25% Nazis who made laws to pardon themselves. Police, Justice, Military, Secret Service and whatnot had probably even higher Nazi percentages. It took up to the late 90s to early 2000 for victims of Nazi courts to be pardoned and many Nazi criminals died of old age or have processes now. It took for the next and that next generation to actually ask questions and not deny it.
    – haxor789
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 14:14
  • @haxor789 For one, Nazi's didn't control Germany. I'd call that a success. Also, the government was changed back from a dictatorship with corporate backing back to a representatve democracy. The Marshall Plan helped moved Germany along and deprived the movement of causes.
    – J D
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 23:40
  • @JD There were lots of Nazi continuity in the public, private and governmental sector. As had been with the case with the 2. Empire before which ultimately rolled back the republic in favor of the fascists. The 3rd chancellor was an NSDAP member since 1933 and pardoned war criminals and created emergency laws (the very thing that was used to legitimize the dictatorship previously). However what do you expect them to do? Killing Jews? Maybe they did there is no data about political violence prior to 1990. However geopolitically it was the US or the USSR and they knew what they did in the East
    – haxor789
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 7:24
  • @JD I give you that peace treaty like Versailles aimed to maim and an economic desperation is better for propaganda against a system than one that lets you get away and offers economic prosperity. However that doesn't mean that it got rid of the Nazis and that it didn't take decades and quite some internal struggle before things changed.
    – haxor789
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 7:32
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That heavily depends on how you define "anarchy", "government", "state" and "power" and depending on your choice of definition that might not even be true to begin with.

Like if you mean that a dictator is replaced by another dictator? Well no. That can happen, but the empire could also collapse into smaller empires, it could be replaced by a group of rulers rather than one, by a republic, a democracy, an aristocracy and whatnot. And even you'd replace it with a direct consensus democracy where no single person holds the power to rule the rest then you approach the territory of anarchism. Which contrary to popular misconception does not mean no rules but no rulers. So "all rulers" would also suffice the "no ruler" policy. Would it still be a government? Well depends on how you see it. It's no longer a central authority in the sense that it's no longer an authority that gets power from itself but from the people and not in "the people give up their power to form it" in the sense of Hobbes' Leviathan but in the sense of the people are the power.

So people managing themselves would also be a filling of the "power vacuum" which makes this point rather trivial and useless, because there cannot be a power vacuum as someone will inevitably fill it. But again if you would mean power to mean authority over people other than oneself, this would be a different question. So you kinda have to specify the definition a little.

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