Taliban or the State of Nature?


In 1992, a few years after the Afghan-Soviet War, the Communist government in Afghanistan was overthrown, and no single power came to rule the country. The country fell into civil war among the many warring factions of Mujahidin who were vying for control of the country. In 1996, the Taliban took control of the country and instated a stable government with a brutal rule of law which persecuted many Afghan people.

From 1992 to 1996, Afghanistan was in a perpetual state of warfare. The Afghan people were at the mercy of the Mujahidin from the Afghan-Soviet War who had become like bandits. Checkpoints with very high tolls were set up on all of the roads, choking the farmers and truckers since much of Afghanistan’s trade depended on these roads. People were killed and women were raped on a regular basis by the Mujahidin. This condition in Afghanistan seems very close to that of Thomas Hobbes’ description of the state of nature in Leviathan. Hobbes describes a state of nature as a time when there is “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes also describes the mistrust of people in the state of nature:

“Let him therefore consider with himself, when taking a journey, he arms himself, and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his doors; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knows there be laws, and public officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall be done him; what opinion he has of his fellow subjects, when he rides armed; of his fellow citizens, when he locks his doors; and of his children, and servants, when he locks his chests.”

Destruction Caused by the Mujahidin Civil War

This mistrust of other people must have existed in Afghanistan during this period of time. The Mujahidin were free to take what they wanted from the villages. Afghans had to always be armed because conflict could arise at any moment. For example, Gulbudin Himatyar and Burhanuddin Rabbani, two warlords who had been allied, broke their alliance one day and fought each other for Kabul, killing thousands and leveling the city.

An alternative to this state of nature soon arose. Mullah Omar led a movement of student-fighters during the civil war. He and his men brought order to much of Afghanistan. For example, they attacked many of the checkpoints that the Mujahidin had set up and disbanded them allowing for travelers to travel the roads more freely. They also established a strict set of laws and justice. Unlike before, under Taliban rule, people who stole were punished.

Mullah Omar (Founder of the Taliban)

However, although law was put in place, the law was in many ways very bad for the people. The Afghan people were harmed in many ways. Women were not allowed to attend schools and all women’s schools were shut down. All forms of music, TV, and movies were banned and people were punished severely for violating these bans. Surprisingly, however, the Afghan people welcomed the Taliban with open arms. Ferguson, a journalist who spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan explains in his book Taliban: The Unknown Enemy:

“Most felt relief that here, at last, was a group who looked like they might restore some semblance of social order. The proof of the public’s hunger for this was in the speed of the Taliban’s success. By February 1995, just four months after setting up a single rural checkpoint, this mullah’s revolt had become a national movement that controlled nine of the country’s thirty provinces.”

This can be explained by Hobbes’ First Law of Nature:  “every man, ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it.” Thus, in order to end the instability of Afghanistan which was very close to Hobbes’ state of nature, the Afghan people chose to support a government (even one which would potentially persecute them) which would stabilize the country and bring about some semblance of peace.

I find this dilemma which the Afghans faced to be a very difficult one. Should one allow a rule of law which is very oppressive, but brings about stability? Or, would it be better to have an unstable country, potentially bringing violence to your home?

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2 Comments on “Taliban or the State of Nature?”

  1. jgurwitch Says:

    This kind of question proposes many problems because neither solution seems to be a good one. On one hand, there is a government and certain stability, but it is not a great rule of law. The other discusses less oppression but potential violence. Personally I think it would be better to have a government even if it is oppressive. It is hard to want to be a part of either but in a stable country it is possible to make advancements and hopefully slowly become better. The way the government is cooperating is terrible and it is unfair to women and for many other aspects of the country, but at least there is less violence going out. People’s lives are not necessarily at stake as often as they could be because the chance of constant violence occurring is a lot less than it was.

    This question would be interesting to ask the people who are living it because living in fear is terrible, but living in oppression is not exactly a leg up. I just find it hard to believe that people would rather live in an unstable country where they could be attacked at any moment versus having less opportunity and being able to live.

    Another side aspect is wondering if anyone is powerful enough to get rid of the government that is in tact. If people wanted to risk trying to stop this do you think they would? I think the people are living in fear and do not want to even try and take out this governmental rule and are just succumbing to what is going on. It is unfortunate on both accounts but I think that living a little worse off is better than possibly being killed at any given moment.

  2. Brian Hall Says:

    I think this question depends a lot on how oppressive the government is, and how volatile the situation in the ungoverned land is. If we compare Somalia to Iran, for instance, we would obviously choose Iran everytime as the better alternative, because despite their intolerance and corrupt policies, they at least have a workable and reasonably high quality system in place. The Taliban however would not be preferable to a truly state of nature experience, where most human beings were free to do as they will in small hunter-gatherer tribes, and did not experience injustice or cruelty from other men, but only that of mother nature itself.

    Frankly I think we should have left the Taliban to their devices and let the Afghanis decide what to have done with their situation rather than intervened and attempted to oust them from power. We have only destabilized the country again, and engendered deeply felt distrust from the region. The reason the Afghanis were so accepting of the Taliban was the same reason the German people were so willing to accept the Nazis into power; desperate times call for desperate measures. If this means compromising your values to survive, most people are willing to do it sadly enough.

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