You’re probably familiar with the phrase “bellum omnium contra omnes,” even if you don’t recognize it. But do you really know what it means? This Latin phrase describes a condition of war of all against all and is often associated with the philosopher Thomas Hobbes. But it’s not always talking about an actual war with weapons – more like everyone being in competition or conflict with each other in some way.

Translating The Latin Phrase

“Bellum omnium contra omnes” means “the war of all against all.” It refers to a theoretical state of conflict in which each person is motivated by self-interest and acts aggressively against others to acquire wealth, status, and power.

The Origin of “Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes”

This ominous phrase was coined by English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in 1651 to describe a hypothetical state of chaos and disorder that exists in the absence of government or law. Basically, without a sovereign authority to keep the peace, life is “nasty, brutish, and short” as individuals fight for power and resources.

It Illustrates A Pessimistic View of Human Nature

The phrase “bellum omnium contra omnes” reflects Hobbes’ rather dim view of human nature. He believed that humans are inherently selfish and violent and will pursue their own interests and desires without regard for others if left unchecked. Only the establishment of a powerful sovereign, backed by force, can curb humanity’s worst impulses and make society and civilization possible.

Hobbes’ vision seems rather bleak, but his articulation of the social contract theory and emphasis on peace and security as the foundation of society proved highly influential.

A Few Examples of A “War of All Against All” In Our Today’s Lives

Love & Relationships

Some people become so enamored with another person that they lose themselves in the process. They sacrifice their own needs, interests, family, friends, energy, and boundaries in order to be with someone who may not fully appreciate them.

This leads to an internal war, a battle between one’s own desires and the demands of the relationship. On one side is the hope of love and companionship, the desire to make the other person happy. On the other side are one’s own values, self-respect, and sense of identity.

This internal conflict can become all-consuming. The person finds themselves constantly trying to prove their love, justify their choices, and negotiate their own needs. The energy that could be directed inward is spent outward, trying to gain the approval and affection of the other.

Competition Over Scarce Resources

When people are desperate to acquire basic necessities like food, water, or shelter, it can foster conflict. For instance, droughts, famines, or other events that lead to resource scarcity may force people to compete for survival. This was tragically illustrated during the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s when starvation led to unrest and violence.

This reminds me of the Uruguayan Air Force plane crash – the one where they had to eat the dead passengers just to stay alive. That’s when you are at war with yourself the whole time. On the one hand, you’re fighting with yourself because you hate the fact of eating another human, but on the other, you’re just doing what you have to do to survive.

The Spread of Misinformation

The widespread dissemination of propaganda, conspiracy theories, and “alternative facts” can also undermine social cohesion and trust, creating conditions for a “war of all against all.” For example, the spread of hate speech and misinformation on social media has been linked to growing political polarization and even real-world violence.

LGBT+

For many LGBT+ individuals, simply being who they truly are means waging a constant war just to live openly and honestly.

From a young age, LGBT+ people are made to feel “other” and different in a negative way. They are taught to hide key parts of their identities to avoid discrimination, ridicule, and even violence. Many grow up feeling alone, ashamed, and forced to put on a mask of conformity just to survive. Simply holding hands with a loved one or speaking openly about their relationships becomes a “political” act of defiance.

This need to constantly conceal who they truly are takes a psychological and emotional toll. LGBT+ individuals are fighting an internal war, questioning if there is something “wrong” with them for feeling the way they do.

Both sides feel like they’re in a battle – one side just wants to love who they love with all their heart, and the other wants to stop people from loving who they truly love. It’s a war of all against all.

Political & Cultural Views

The phrase suggests that without a government or authority to keep order, people will descend into a constant state of conflict as they compete for scarce resources. It’s a view that aligns with Thomas Hobbes’ notion of the “state of nature” and the idea that life without governance would be “nasty, brutish and short.”

Conflict Is Human Nature

The underlying assumption is that humans are inherently selfish and willing to harm others to get what they want or need. So, in the absence of rules and laws, we would revert to our basic instincts for survival. It presents conflict and competition as fundamental parts of human nature.

The “State of Nature”

Hobbes described the natural human condition as the “state of nature” where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In this anarchic state, people have unlimited natural rights to do anything to preserve their own lives and interests. There is no shared morality or justice. Each person lives in constant fear and danger of violent death.

Need For Governance

To escape this “war of all against all,” Hobbes argued that people establish governments to enforce laws and protect citizens. Individuals give up some rights and liberties to the government in exchange for security and order. The government acts as an impartial arbiter to resolve conflicts between citizens and curb humanity’s natural tendency towards violence, oppression, and chaos in the state of nature.

The Collapse of Order In Society

When the structures of law and order in a society break down, it can descend into a “war of all against all.” For example, after natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, looting and violence may emerge in the absence of authority. During political upheavals like revolutions, competing factions may turn against each other in a scramble for power.

Why Would Someone Use The Quote, “Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes?”

  • #1 Someone who thinks the government is failing to represent them or meet their needs may find the phrase appealing.
  • #2 A person who experiences discrimination or prejudice that makes them feel like an “enemy” in society. The quote conveys a sense of alienation and otherness as if everyone is ultimately at war.
  • #3 If you believe that people are inherently self-interested and competitive. The phrase implies a Hobbesian “state of nature” where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Someone with a cynical view of human nature may embrace the quote.
  • #4 Someone who has experienced betrayal or hardship that has made them distrustful of others. Difficult life experiences can foster an “every man for himself” outlook consistent with the quote’s message.

Final Words

The quote beautifully describes Hubbes’ view of human nature, that we’re inherently self-interested and will pursue our desires ruthlessly, leading to conflict.

Definitely a pretty cynical way to see things, for sure. I mean, he had a point about us being competitive at times. But maybe he took it too far because humans can also work together and care about others too. We’re not always just looking out for ourselves. That whole idea of how cooperative we can be versus how self-interested we are.