Bellum omnium contra omnes  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Bellum omnium contra omnes, a Latin phrase meaning "the war of all against all," is the description that Thomas Hobbes gives to human existence in the state of nature thought experiment that he conducts in De Cive (1642) and Leviathan (1651).

Hobbes' use

In Leviathan itself, Hobbes speaks of 'a war [...] of every man against every man', but the Latin phrase occurs in De Cive:

"Ostendo primo conditionem hominum extra societatem civilem (quam conditionem appellare liceat statum naturae) aliam non esse quam bellum omnium contra omnes; atque in eo bello jus esse omnibus in omnia."
I show in the first place that the state of men without civil society (which state may be called the state of nature) is nothing but a war of all against all; and that in that war, all have a right to all things.

Later on, a slightly modified version is presented in Libertas (liberty):

"[...] Status hominum naturalis antequam in societatem coiretur Bellum fuerit; neque hoc simpliciter, sed bellum omnium in omnes.
The natural state of men, before they were joined in society, was a war, and not simply, but a war of all against all."

The thought experiment places people in a pre-social condition, and theorizes what would happen in such a condition. According to Hobbes, the outcome is that people choose to enter a social contract, giving up some of their liberties in order to enjoy peace. This thought experiment is a test for the legitimation of a state in fulfilling its role as "sovereign" to guarantee social order, and for comparing different types of states on that basis.

Hobbes distinguishes between war (‘warre’) and battle: war does not only consist of actual battle; it points to the situation in which one knows there is a ‘will to contend by battle’.

Other uses

The phrase is used by Karl Marx in On the Jewish Question when he says "It has become the spirit of civil society, of the sphere of egoism, of the bellum omnium contra omnes."

It was also used by Friedrich Nietzsche in On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense:

"Insofar as the individual wants to preserve himself against other individuals, in a natural state of affairs he employs the intellect mostly for simulation alone. But because man, out of need and boredom, wants to exist socially, herd-fashion, he requires a peace pact and he endeavors to banish at least the very crudest bellum omni contra omnes from his world."

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bellum omnium contra omnes" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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