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Syria’s Civil War: How to End a Bloody Tragedy

The war in Syria has been strenuous and violent, with no end in sight. However, with a critique from the past by way of Thomas Hobbes, Syrians might be able to salvage the country and restore peace.

Syrian refugees walking on Turkey-Syria border in Suruc district. 18 FEBRUARY 2015 SANLIURFA at TURKEY, © quetions123 /

March 28, 2023 11:25 EDT

The civil war in Syria began in March 2011 and has long been misunderstood by its citizens as a fight for freedom, liberty and rights.

A similar occurrence happened in England between 1642 and 1651. At that time, the situation prompted the English poet, translator, physician and philosopher Thomas Hobbes to write the most important work of his life (The Leviathan) to critique his country’s civil war. Hobbes aimed to end his country’s bloodshed and restore peace. The war in England at the time had several factions and was as bloody as the current Syrian conflict. Like the current Syrian war, some sides in the English civil war had a religious reason to fight. With that in mind, Syria needs the Leviathan (the ruler) to stop the bloodbath. 

Hobbes believed the wrong understanding of liberty was causing much of the trouble, as freedom was seen as living under free states as free men and opposing monarchy.The definition of a “free man” was fashionable in England’s 1640s, as in present-day Syria as a way to express freedom of speech, political rights and freedom from arbitrary arrest.

Hobbes had a point, as liberty and freedom can be dangerous when put together. Freedom, taken to its extreme, can result in anarchy and actions that endanger others. England just before the mid-1600s and Syria now are cases in point.

The Fight for Liberation Leads to Bloodshed

Hobbes said “every man has a right to everything; even to one another’s body.”  He insinuated that all men have the right to take each other’s lives in a state of war and nothing restrains them. This state is the pre-political state of man and shows human beings are generally not yet mature enough to enter the world of politics. Everyone in the state of nature has the capacity to begrudge, distrust and fight one another. Then life, as Hobbes put it and, as it is now in Syria, becomes “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

This is avoidable by having one absolute sovereign who is able to act decisively against those who let their human nature take over and start killing others for possessions, political interests, or other forms of gain. To avoid the state of nature, the pre-political condition, and the state of war, the people of Syria must enter into a contract with the ruler. The latter will avoid and end future wars. The Syrian people need such a Leviathan and have no other choices. For the past 12 years the Syrian opposition has gathered in councils and committees but the conflict has gone on. A Hobbesian absolute sovereign who upholds divine, unbreakable law will keep everyone safe.

By promising obedience to the Leviathan who spares their lives, people could escape the cruel state of war. They would then live in society in a more civilized way. With the Leviathan as the only sovereign absolute ruler, he would have no one to compete with, conflicts as in the state of nature would diminish. In this way, the Syrian people will abandon fighting, spare lives and enter a civilized society.

The Beginning to the End

The ruler in Syria should be a creation of their own people. He would curb human nature and avoid war in the state of nature.

Hobbes reinforces the idea that people create the sovereign: “This is more than Consent, or Concord; it is a real unity of them all, in one and the same Person, made by Covenant of every man with every man”. He means that the ruler and the ruled are one. Neither can dominate the other because man, as per Hobbes, does not have in his nature to dominate.

The power to put an end to the rule of the sovereign is also with the governed. The Syrian people could act accordingly. When the Leviathan stops protecting them, they can collectively decide to remove or replace him. Not only that, but the people can also end sovereign rule when it is no longer good for them. People, in Hobbes’s proposal, are the ultimate judge of their destiny, and are the ones that decide who rules them. If anything, Hobbes limits, undermines and prevents the abuse of sovereign power. This makes the sovereign an absolute protector who provides safety. Subjects have an absolute right to end the sovereign rule when they no longer feel safe.

It is worth noting here as the sovereign personifies the people. An attack on the sovereign is an attack on the people. This contract ensures the safety of the state.

When such a contract is reached, life becomes richer. Hobbes’s reference to “contentments of life,” without fear of losing safety, is to the state where man has freedom and liberty. Safety allows humanity to prosper. It gives birth to knowledge and develops science that leads to economic success.

Obedience in Syria should be exchanged for peace, safety and property protection, permitting society and its economy to flourish. A man’s right to violence is abandoned, but not his right to defend himself. In other words, if someone attacks him, he will retaliate, but man himself should not initiate violence. 

Prima facie, The Leviathan offers an absolutist proposal for Syrians to choose a ruler who allows true freedom for men. However, note that Hobbes guaranteed safety, protection of subjects, liberty, property protection, rights protection, right to make laws, and overall freedom to change the sovereign when he proved to be inadequate. Hobbes refers clearly to the “covenants without the sword.” When man puts an ends the sovereign, his rights, freedom and liberty to be violent again will return. In the normal course of events though, The Leviathan is a recipe not for dictatorship or despotism, but to living life safely without thinking “Can I leave the house and come back to it safely?”

It doesn’t matter who rules Syria as long as the person can govern properly, restrain violence and give people the most important right of all: the right to live without fear of being killed. So, whether the ruler is called Bashar, Peter, Paul, or whatever, the people of Syria need security and safety, not just free speech or freedom of expression. 

[Tasheanna Williams edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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