Thomas Hobbes writes famously in chapter 13 of his Leviathan that human life under natural conditions is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In order to live a social rather than a solitary life, a comfortable rather than a poor one, in order to live in a pleasantly civilized way rather than a nasty and brutish one, and in order to be long-lived rather than cut short in years, Hobbes argues, humans need to overcome their natural condition and create an artificial world, a second nature, a state, a commonwealth. Fortunately, they have “reason” which “suggesteth convenient Articles of Peace, upon which men may be drawn to agreement.” These “laws of nature” allow them to create the desired “commonwealth” with its “commodious living.” But it is not inevitable that they will succeed in this undertaking. Hobbes writes in De Cive: “Men come together … not because naturally it could happen no otherwise, but by accident.”
On January 4, 2021, 1,000 Hong Kong police went out to arrest fifty-three democratic lawmakers, politicians, and activists. The event was as much a demonstration of unrestrained police power as an actual police operation. The arrested were, moreover, charged with a strange crime, namely “trying to use strategic voting to secure a legislative majority, with an ultimate goal of shutting down the government.” They had organized a primary election to produce a slate of democratic candidates for the then upcoming election to Hong Kong’s legislature. 600,000 Hong Kongers had cast their vote on that occasion. The democrats had also expressed hope that their united front might gain a majority of the seats in the new legislature. Benny Tai, one of the initiators of the event, had, moreover, suggested in a newspaper op-ed that such a majority might eventually be able to veto the city’s budget and, perhaps, even push its unloved Chief Executive to resign.