‘For Honor’ and Thomas Hobbes

In addition to being a pretty decent game with ratings between 76/100 and 79/100 on MetaCritic, which place it on the same position as Outlast 2 , Overcooked or Don’t Starve ; For Honor includes a campaign with a quite remarkable main antagonist: A warlord with rather … particular methods – and with an ideas that echo that of an English philosopher of the XVII th century, Thomas Hobbes.

Portrait – John Michael Wright

Let’s meet Apollyon

The main antagonist of the game is called Apollyon, a woman with remarkable fighting skills and spikey armor. Throughout the campaign, not once is her skull eyed helmet removed: Apollyon is an allegorical being above all (Just like V) . But what does it stand for? We can examine her actions and her words to get our answer. All the scenes in which Apollyon appears are available on youtube: I used this video for the lines that will follow.

Appolyon leads an armed group that calls itself the Obsidian Legion and that battles against other legions to gain total contol over the land of Ashfeld. During this conquest, she displays great feats of cruelty as well as horrible acts of deception: such as summoning a handful prisonersers (armed still), and making her guards feign leisure to see which prisoners would try to take a shot at her. The few that would eventually try are immediately floored and disarmed, while the others are killed. The survivors (the rebels) are made to join the Obsidian Legion.

This test has not been anything more than a selection test to see who would fight until death and who would give in (whom she would refer to as sheep). Apollyon will continue to use this selection method in her other military campaigns, notably that of Valkeinheim –  land of the Vikings. The ideology/conception of this warlord could be summed this way : “It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, Western or Nordic, young or old, as long as you fight better than others, and up until your last breath.”

Until then, Apollyon’s position is still fairly measured: it is simply a matter of selecting the best warriors to incorporate them into the Obsidian Legion, which should then become an elite legion. But without taking into account the Machiavellianism that is hers alone.. During her campaign in Valkenheim, she attacks enemy resource stocks, not to destoy them, but to do away with the majority and leave an abysmal portion for the vikings. She wants them to battle one another – so that only the mighty survive: This is also a matter of quasi-Darwinian selection. This selection would take another shape later during her campaign in the Empire of The Rising Sun, as she sets off a succession war between pretendants to the imperial throne.

The gratuitousness of such actions allows us to better understand Apollyon’s conception of the world. For her, the world is divided between wolves and sheep. Her goal, which she clearly stares, is to reveal this fracture, that has been veiled by pretend-vertues “Duty, Parenting and honor”. She goes in a quest to make humans accept their veritable nature “Teach them who they are, liberate them..” and reveal what they are here for “War. The natural state for our species”;

The most striking element in this story is not the coldness and steeliness of this perception of things, but rather the “War of All against All”, conceived as natural, is found in the books of a philosopher dating back more than three centuries, the famous Thomas Hobbes …

Hobbes Philosophy

If that reassures you, Apollyon’s ideas and actions are not exactly the same as those of Hobbes – fortunately. But the point in common between them is the starting point of their respective philosophies: without society and without conventions, man is inherently evil.

In his book “De Cive”, Thomas Hobbes exposes and develops this idea: in his natural state, man is a wolf to man, which results, on a large scale, in a war of all against all (in the latin text: Bella omnium contra omnes). No doubt influenced by the geopolitical context (War of The Three Kingdoms), this statement serves as a basis for Hobbes’s entire philosophical system and echoes myths about the origin of men: according to Ovid and Hesiod, there would have been a time, the brazen bronze age, where men would have joyfully gutted each other.

 

The Bronze Age
Johann Wilhelm Baur (1703)

 

Hobbes does not conceive of the natural state as a definite epoch, but rather as a hypothetical situation: it is an experience of thought that makes it possible to recognize the role and the mission of society. In this case, this mission is to pacify relations between men to make peace possible. This is where we see the major difference between Apollyon and Hobbes: if they start from the same principle (the natural state of man is war), the first desires this state and years for it, while the other seeks with all their might to prevent it.

In his “The Leviathan“, Hobbes offers a solution: Since human will is a harbinger of war by default, humans must  submit ALL of his will to a single omnipotent monarch, by social contract. Subjects would then obey the monarch as a single man, unconditionally, then forming one great and powerful being, the Leviathan (biblical monster characterized by its gigantism).

When Hobbes says inconditionally, he really means it:

“But if the monarch be held prisoner, or have not the liberty of his own body, he is not understood to have given away the right of sovereignty; and therefore his subjects are obliged to yield obedience to the magistrates formerly placed, governing not in their own name, but in his. For, his right remaining, the question is only of the administration; that is to say, of the magistrates and officers; which if he have not means to name, he is supposed to approve those which he himself had formerly appointed.”

Note that subject submission must be without any reserve because, if one of the subjects decided not to obey completely,  others would lose confidence and decide to do the same: everyone would fall back on himself and we would come back to a state of nature, war. It’s a bit as if you had to go against a 100 to a contest where only 2 could win, and you agree with the others to collectively fail, to be a tie so that you all are able to pass: if one begins to dissociate, everyone will do the same – this is what makes Hobbes say: “Leviathan is a mortal god.” Thus, to establish the power of the monarch and ensure the durability of public order, it is necessary to rely on something other than the good will of the subjects, which is much too unstable: it is therefore fear that insures  obedience to the absolute monarch. This fear is occasioned by the powers granted to the monarch, who take into account neither the right to property, nor the conscientious objection, nor the individual right to life (the monarch has the right of life and death over each of his subjects, without having to provide any justification).

The Leviathan - Hobbes

The problem is when the monarch decides to no longer look after the common interest (ie to prevent the state of nature): as the subjects must obey so completely, they can not oust a fanciful monarch. They are therefore at teir mercy: for example, if they have an Apollyon as absolute monarch…  Hobbes did not neglect this: if indeed the adherence to the will of the monarch must be full, there is only one thing that can allow the subject to disobey: the collective right to life. This right is collective because a subject can not rebel to protect his own life: only the inability of the monarch to prevent the return to the state of nature (ie to the civil war and thus to death) can be the pretext for breaking the contract. The purpose of this social contract is the safeguarding of the life of the subjects as a whole: if the monarch does not allow the contract to be effective, the contract is broken, and it should be redrafted.

Conclusions: Comments on Hobbes and return (s) to For Honor

Even though Hobbes theory might leave one skeptical, one must understand that it is completely revolutionary: Until then, and since Greek antiquity, sociability- and thus society- were associated with human nature. (“Man is a political animal” – Aristotle). Hobbes presents society as an A Posteriori construction, something that is not of itself: this approach will be followed by other philosophers, such as John Locke (For whom man is naturally greedy) and Rousseau (for whom he is naturally good.)

Of course, the weak link of these theories is the following: How do these philosophers justify their claims about human nature? spoiler : Generally, they don’t!

Finally, and to return to For Honor, even though its philosophical background is interesting to study, it is in my opinion not thorough or elaborate enough. In fact, it could have conceived of other characters who embody other conceptions of human nature, in order to create a real philosophical debate in the background.

The character would have had more depth by becoming really a character instead of allegory, a character with complexities, contradictions,  developments, and attritions.

Despite this, For Honor remains a joy to a play makes for a really interesting game, as long as one realizes the pleasure in it doesn’t really reside in its philosophy.

Homo Deus and Tocqueville: The Philosophical Ancestry of Yuval Harari

 

Homo Deus Harari Tocqueville

 

Homo Deus,  the latest book by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, is part of the tradition of liberal pessimism. The liberal qualifier may be surprising, applied to a thinker for whom globalized capitalism leads to disaster and who is alarmed by the fact that humanity “yields authority to the market and to the wisdom of the crowds”.

But if one deviates from a purely ‘economic’ conception of liberalism – or “neoliberal”, in the language of today’s left – Harari is indeed a liberal. At the center of his reflection is the idea that the modern world, having replaced the divine authority with that of men, has given birth to three forms of humanism. The Enlightenment first sanctified the autonomous individual..
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