State of Nature

Thomas Hobbes in his seminal work Leviathan elaborates on the State of Nature: a condition of primeval human existence before civilization began. Hobbes is not entirely certain whether this condition did historically exist, but he suggests it as a possibility in an environment where humans had to live in Nature and had still not developed the idea of a social contract. He initiates the human condition in the State of Nature by eliciting a hypothesis:

“In any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their End, (which is principally their own conservation and sometimes their delectation only), endeavor to destroy, or subdue one another.” (Hobbes, 1651)

Borrowing from this hypothesis, he derives the State of Nature for which he claims:

“During the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in a condition which is called War; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man… In such a condition, there is no place for industry… no Culture of the Earth; no navigation… no commodious Building; no instrument of moving… no knowledge on the face of the Earth, no accounts of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death. And the life of man [would be] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” (Hobbes, 1651)

Auden in his poem, Address to the Beasts, seems to explore this State of Nature, in which animals survive and celebrates it, in a manner that it seems that probably the Hobbesian State of Nature is not as disillusioning as Hobbes tries to present. Hobbes in Leviathan does go on to explore how the discovery of the social contract of common Power seems to be the stepping stone of civilization. How Men had to give up a few rights to ensure the security of survival.

Auden starts his poem from this point when “we first are worlded” and says that in the pursuit of continuously trying to discover the ultimate social contract that would lead to endless peace, we “seldom know exactly what we are up to, and, as a rule, don’t want to.” Auden seems to provide animals as an example against the entire idea that the State of Nature would ultimately result in a war of every man against every man, in lines when he addresses animals and says, “How promptly and ably you execute Nature’s policies, and are never lured into misconduct except by some unlucky chance imprinting.”

In that sense, born in the State of Nature animals are “endowed from birth with good manners” and as opposed to humans born in civilization, they “wag no snobbish elbows, don’t leer, don’t look down [their] nostrils nor poke them into another creature’s business.” Civilization has lead Man to have “pretentious temples” as habitations, to “kill for applause” and feel “the need to become literate.” Auden explores the notion of culture and feels that the oral cultures of animals “have inspired our poets to pen dulcet verses.” In a certain sense, in making the culture of animals a source of inspiration, Auden places higher value in their culture as opposed to the human culture.

Moving on to Religion, Auden feels that despite being unconscious of the notion of God, animals are closer to him by their actions. Their rituals seem to be “more hallowed than ours.” Ultimately, despite being incapable of producing a genius such as Mozart, Auden feels that animals also do not “plague the earth with brilliant sillies like Hegel or clever nasties like Hobbes.” Auden takes quite a few examples of how we define human civilization and elicits how animal behavior is more authentic and expressive in most of these examples. Humans, in their search of a social contract and a higher State of being than the State of Nature, have only made their existence less meaningful. He questions his own species if they will “ever become adulated as” animals. In his expectation of the human species to grow up, he makes a case for realizing that the closer we are to Nature, the better it is for our species.

In the very end of it all, Auden realizes that Man will end up like all the other animals because we still share the Natural law of Death with them. Even in this case, he supposes that animals have an upper hand because they get to be fossils in death and live for eternity as opposed to our end which is vapour.

Ultimately despite rationalizing a higher state of existence for animals, Auden realizes that Man will never be able to value it. He differentiates between jealousy and envy, wherein, he uses jealousy to denote resentful suspicion that someone else has what rightfully belongs to the jealous person and he uses envy to denote a desire for something that someone else has or a feeling of ill will over another person’s advantages. Man, being blinded by the progress of his civilization, might be jealous of animals but is not envious.

Though, if one does real the poem carefully, one would realize that Man should be envious of animals rather than being jealous.


Hobbes, T. (1651) Leviathan. Accessed from on 7th March, 2010.

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