Power and Lord of the Flies (2 of 2)

Previously we looked at the role of democracy in Lord of the Flies and how it never works in actuality. Minorities, beasties, tyrants, rules, and assemblies do not work, as there are too many moving parts, and there is no way to rule rationally while also staying authoritative. Just as government will inevitably crumble, so the human spirit does too, with its dark forces, which Golding emphasizes in the novel. This blog will discuss the philosophy of Hobbes, specifically how humans interact and govern themselves, and the philosophy of Nietzsche, specifically the will that drives all living organisms.

Hobbes’ classic work The Leviathan details within man a great malady, a natural tendency toward savagery, amorality, and anarchy. While goodness can exist in the form of virtue, there can never be peace, happiness, or safety, but eternal warfare, misery, and insecurity, resulting in a state of incommensurable upheaval and complete destruction of other lives. Battle_of_Waterloo_1815.PNGHobbes writes that “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man.”[1] This is the time Hobbes calls man’s state of nature; basically, man in his most primitive form, without conventions, without moral standards, without government, is wholly aggressive and cannot coexist with his others because “[i]n such condition there is no… society; and… [there is] continual fear and danger of violent death.”[2] What he means by society is civilization of any form, meaning a community, a group of people with a common goal, a common set of beliefs, rules, laws, a common identity—man can not have any of that. Fear of death is what motivates man. Man himself works in two ways: instinct and reason, the former egoistic and self-preservatory in nature, the latter logical and political. It is in the state of nature that man seeks what will make him live longest, be it land or resources, but when he is interrupted by someone with a similar goal, he will do whatever is necessary to protect himself, to claim what ought to be his. Ralph, reflecting on his time on the island, observing for the first time the conditions in which he and the boys lived, such as their disheveled hair and lack of hygiene and clothing, “discovered with a fall of the heart that these were the conditions he took as normal now and that he did not mind” (Golding 106). Living in England his whole life, Ralph was used to proper wear, delicious food, and impeccable bodies. Normally, when one is in sordid conditions, as on the island, characterized by slovenly neglect of oneself, one is repulsed. How are such conditions suitable for living, one would ask in this very scenario. However, according to Hobbes, these conditions are not repulsive at all; rather, they are natural, how things usually are. Ralph is in touch with the state of nature, the natural state of uncleanliness and absolute amorality. The time on the island has brought back the sense of constant dread, reminiscent of pre-civilization, when death was the only concern of man. Hobbes also attributed to man the right of nature, which he describes as “the liberty each man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own life.”[3] The right of nature is what Hobbes uses to justify the lawlessness of man. It should be said that the state of nature, in addition to not having society, knows no good or bad; thus there is no morality, no right and wrong, no unfairness. Everything is and everything goes. Simplified, the right of nature states that man can use whatever means he must in order to do that which will keep him alive. If Ralph stakes claim to a piece of land and Jack steps foot on it, Ralph has the right of nature to kill Jack if it means protecting himself from a potential danger. The laws of nature, as opposed to the right of nature, are inherent laws that every man knows that govern their actions. The fifth law, for instance, declares “[t]hat every man ought to endeavor peace, as far as he has hope of attaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war.”[4] Therefore, all men should try to establish peace, in avoidance of death of course. But should the acquirement of peace be hindered, it lies Hobbes-Leviathan.jpgwithin man’s duty to use, among other things, war to obtain peace and keep it. The question arises, then, of how modern societies come to exist. Monarchy was the answer, thought Hobbes. All people have to give up their individual pursuits and surrender it to a single, governing entity by signing a covenant, thereby investing their faith in a Leviathan, symbolic of the mass power of the people in one person. This one person, the monarch, in return for obeisance, keeps order. Unlike the democracy of the boys in Lord of the Flies, which had neither punishments nor strict rules, the monarch requires absolute respect and obedience. Misdemeanor results in death. Connecting Hobbes to Lord of the Flies, we find a justification for the boys’ actions, especially Jack and his cohort. When Ralph falls to his knees, “[weeping] for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart,” he is not mistaken, and Hobbes would agree (Golding 200). Man will naturally degenerate into savagery—murderous, immoral savagery. Jack comes most clearly in touch with his primal instincts, descending into the state of nature, killing, stealing, and exploiting, all for his own self-preservation.

Nietzsche, toward the end of his life, began conceiving a basic impulse that drove all things living, from amoeba to humans: the Will to Power. “All events that result from intention are reducible to the intention to increase power,”[5] he claimed. The idea of the Unknown-1.jpegWill as driving force was primarily derived from Schopenhauer’s writings, but Nietzsche took it further, using it to account for all motives, and not just in humans. To Nietzsche, power is not just the exertion of dominance over another but also mastery of self, perfection of virtue, and the pursuit of excellence. Taken to extremes, though, this Will to Power can come to domineering others, so as to gain more power. One of the Littluns in Lord of the Flies, Henry, starts playing with some crabs early in the novel. Golding writes on page 56 that Henry “became absorbed beyond mere happiness as he felt himself exercising control over living things. He talked to them, urging them, ordering them.” Here we see that Henry, despite being about six years old, already feels the overwhelming Will within him, that pleasure derived from having control over something and subjecting it to his Will, from giving orders and commanding, from making living things go against their own motives, hence placing them under Henry’s control. There is a feeling of mastery, both of oneself and of something else, empowering Henry, his lust for power increasing. The Will to Power is present in plants, trees, and humans alike, each of them quenching their Will to Power in their own ways. Because life cannot be controlled, the idea of power over something else becomes appealing. There is, therefore, a sense of control that is temporarily granted to the individual. Pleasure, Nietzsche says, is the fulfillment of the Will, while pain is the feeling one gets when faced with an obstacle. Pain is necessary, he says, because without pain, without obstacles, there is nothing to overcome, nothing to subject to one’s Will, nothing to make oneself stronger. Later in Lord of the Flies, the twins are captured, and “the painted group felt the otherness of Samneric, felt the power in their own hands” (Golding 177). Loyal to Jack, loyal to their Will to Power, the savages’ Will is awoken, the pure joy of subjugating an enemy flowing through them. The fact that Samneric are considered enemies makes the process even more enjoyable, for the “otherness” creates a more distinct sense of domination, since they are of a different kind. Being able to control something else and make it a part of something it is not gives off a sensation of control. The savages, therefore, are imposing themselves on the other organisms, converting them, making them one of the savages, endowing the tribe with pleasure. Their Will’s have been satiated.

To refrain from mutual injury, mutual violence, mutual exploitation, to equate one’s own will with that of another:… [is] the denial of life…. Life is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and,… exploitation…. Life is will to power.[6]

This audacious claim from Nietzsche identifies life itself with the Will to Power. He paints a grim portrait of reality, full of misery, injustice, and unfairness. The difference between the weak who reject the Will to Power and the strong who commit themselves to it lies in the latter’s sublimation of ressentiment. All people experience a sort of inferiority complex, always finding themselves weaker than one person, dumber than other, inspiring within them strong, undeniable feelings of aggression, jealousy, and hatred. Unknown-2.jpegThose who choose to repress these feelings are weak and slavish; those who choose to act upon these feelings and sublimate them, turning them into power, are strong and resemblant of the master. Jack is an excellent representation of this: “Power lay in the brown swell of his forearms: authority sat on his shoulder and chattered in his ear like an ape” (Golding 56). Sitting atop a throne, his followers at his feet, Jack has put himself above the others, literally, subjecting them to his will. The slave-master morality put forth by Nietzsche is clear here, with Jack representing the master who acts on the Will to Power, while Ralph and Piggy represent the slaves who refuse to give into his savagery, who refuse to lower themselves to such impropriety. In the end, though, it is the master who prevails. Nietzsche would praise Jack for satisfying his Will to Power, yet would censure Ralph for not. Savagery devours the boys until they are rescued. Had the ship not arrived, Ralph would surely have been killed, and the savages would be triumphant—such would be a happy ending for Nietzsche.


[1] Hobbes, The Leviathan, p. 85b*
[2] Id., p. 85c
[3] Id., p. 86c
[4] 86d
[5] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, DCLXIII
[6] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, CCLIX

*Page references are derived from Adler, Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 21 


For further reading: The Philosophers: Introducing Great Thinkers by Ted Honderick (2001)
A History of Philosophy Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
Beyond Good and Evil 
by Friedrich Nietzsche (1990)
The Will to Power 
by Friedrich Nietzsche (1968)
Lord of the Flies 
by William Golding (2011)
The Leviathan 
by Thomas Hobbes (1990)


One thought on “Power and Lord of the Flies (2 of 2)

  1. Pingback: Why Do We Root for the Good Guys? | Neologikon

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