Political Theorists continually question the practicality of Hobbesian theory in modern day societies. They ask if his concept of a government based on a sovereign is applicable to nations today. Zimbabwe has a government that generally appears to follow Thomas Hobbes’ theory, yet there remain certain aspects of the current President’s rule that differ from his theory, causing the downfall of the country. In this post, I will analyze several similarities between the Hobbesian theory of sovereignty and the current government of Zimbabwe; additionally, I will examine the extent to which the Zimbabwean situation deviates from this theory.
Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, after which Robert Mugabe immediately won a landslide victory in the first ever democratic elections. Since that time, Mugabe has caused hyperinflation that has destroyed the economy. This is because he chose to print astronomical amounts of money in order to pay off the national debt, which causes the value of existing money to decrease dramatically. He has also caused a lack of foreign exchange when he confiscated most of the farmland that led to a regression of agricultural exports. In an effort to make Zimbabwe’s cities appear more modern to the rest of the world, the President evicted the poor out of their homes in the city. Moreover, the life expectancy rate has dropped from 60 in 1990 to 37 in 2008. Despite this economic depression, Mugabe never left power. He began to threaten voters and created a one-party system. In the 2008 elections, Mugabe’s opposing candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the majority of votes but due to the small margin of victory a runoff election took place. Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff election after receiving multiple threats from Mugabe’s supporters and violence from the police against Tsvangirai supporters.
On the surface, this situation may seem to correlate with Hobbes’ idea of a sovereign solely governing a nation. There is a solitary ruler that originally came to power by the mutual consent of the people. Hobbes states that “no man that hath sovereign power can justly be put to death, or otherwise in any manner by his subjects punished.” This sovereign, according to Hobbesian theory, is unimpeachable. Therefore, the current opinion of the people does not matter. However, the duties of the sovereign entail “the preserving of peace and security” and creating a stable environment – obligations that Robert Mugabe has not fulfilled. Instead, he has established one of the most economically instable and impoverished nations in the world. According to Hobbes, a sovereign “may commit iniquity; but not injustice” and clearly Robert Mugabe has committed injustices. The citizens no longer endorse their leader due to his inadequacy and, in actuality; their lives have been threatened if they chose to vote for a candidate other than Mugabe. Numerous men, women, and children are left homeless in the countryside and are dying daily from starvation – characteristics similar to a Hobbesian state of nature. The purpose of a sovereign is to draw the people out of the state of nature, not cause them to digress back into it. Mugabe’s time of rule does not properly reflect Hobbes’ idea of a sovereign due to his incapability of providing security and solidarity for the country.
There are not a large number of governments today that even slightly resemble a Hobbesian system. However, the structures that have similarities appear to have negative outcomes such as Zimbabwe or North Korea. Therefore, can we assume that Hobbes’ theory of government necessarily leads to futile societies? We may, however, perceive that a government must perfectly follow Hobbes’ theory, with no discrepancies, in order for the country to be successful.