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Civic Definitions- Who Was Hobbes - History

Civic Definitions- Who Was Hobbes - History

Hobbes, Thomas (1588-1679) - British political theorist who argued that individuals formed governments because of their rational self-interest. One of the major intellectual figures of the Enlightenment, his most famous work is The Leviathan, published in 1651.

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Civil religion

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Civil religion, a public profession of faith that aims to inculcate political values and that prescribes dogma, rites, and rituals for citizens of a particular country.

This definition of civil religion remains consistent with its first sustained theoretical treatment, in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract (1762). Rousseau dedicated a penultimate and relatively lengthy chapter of that work to a discussion of civil religion, laying out its central conceptual elements and emphasizing its normative importance for a healthy body politic. The object of civil religion for Rousseau is to foster sentiments of sociability and a love of public duties among citizens, extending those bonds throughout a citizenry and its membership. Civil religion identifies gods and tutelary benefactors to assist with that great aim, and its successful inculcation is supposed to help maintain stability, order, and prosperity for the country.

Rousseau proposed that the dogmas of civil religion ought to be simple: they should affirm the afterlife, a God with divine perfection, the notion that the just will be happy and the wicked punished, and the sanctity of the social contract and the polity’s laws. Civil religion should also condemn intolerance as a creedal matter, Rousseau contended, given that there can never again be an exclusive national religion. A civil profession of faith ought to tolerate all and only those religions that tolerate others, he suggested, at least insofar as the respective religious groups do not uphold beliefs that run contrary to citizens’ duties. More extremely, Rousseau averred that penalties may rightly be applied against those who do not observe the civil religion. Although government cannot obligate a person to believe its dogmas, one who fails to adopt them can rightly be banished from the state on grounds of unsociability. Additionally, a citizen who publicly acknowledges civil dogmas may be punished with death if, subsequently, that citizen behaves as if he does not believe them.

Civil religion is not identical to religious establishment. While established religions receive symbolic endorsement or financial aid from government, they may not reciprocate by supporting state institutions or citizens’ duties. An established religion might advocate meekness or withdrawal from public life or promote other values that run contrary to the purposes of citizenship. Established religions can prioritize otherworldly ends over life on earth, too, or identify a church leadership independent of political authorities. Rousseau saw the latter problem as both common and pernicious: “Wherever the clergy constitutes a body,” he wrote, “it is master and legislator in its domain.” Rousseau claimed that Thomas Hobbes was the only Christian writer brave enough to propose that Christianity and state be reunified but that Hobbes apparently misunderstood that Christianity is terrible for founding republics. Rousseau charged that Christianity teaches people to be excessively servile and dependent, leaving adherents unsuitable for military service and ready for slavery. Interestingly, Rousseau contrasted contemporary, institutionalized Christianity with the “religion of man,” distinguishing the latter as the religion of the gospel. He lauded the religion of man as “saintly, sublime, [and] true” but added that its weakness lies in the fact that it lacks a proper relation to the political whole and, as such, gives no external force to the fraternal unity that it envisions.

Rousseau maintained that civil religion has decided benefits. It unites divine love with the laws of one’s country, prompts people to pray for their homeland, and vivifies the body politic. But civil religion has distinct weaknesses. Because its dogmatic elements of sociability are constructed, and will vary across countries, it stands to reason that they could be devised poorly or incoherently. Furthermore, the theological postulates of the civil religion presumably may be false, a point that Rousseau seemed to recognize. Civil religion also runs the risk of fostering credulity, superstition, and intolerance in the body politic. In addition, moral or prudential problems may accompany efforts to foster or perpetuate civil religion in a pluralistic country.

Although Rousseau may have given civil religion its first elaboration in political theory, the phenomenon predates him by many centuries. The French historian Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges identified forms of civil religion in the foundations of the ancient city-states of Greece and Rome. And the Greek historian Polybius, writing in the 2nd century bce , observed elements of civil religion in his study of the Roman constitution. Polybius remarked that superstition bound the Roman state together, adding—with admiration—that this made Rome decisively superior in the sphere of religion. The Romans’ public form of religion stimulated magistrates to be scrupulous and dutiful, Polybius proposed, while the fickle, lawless masses remained restrained by their fear of gods and punishment in the afterlife.

In the 1960s sociologist Robert Neelly Bellah proposed that civil religion exists in the United States, which is suffused with various rituals that unite its citizens, employing symbols that are drawn from specific religions but which operate independently of those origins. He reckoned that the United States has its own series of saints and martyrs (such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln) and that an examination of founding documents and important inaugural addresses shows how it operates on the idea that it is a nation chosen by God. However, while unifying symbols, founding myths, and public rituals may be found across a country, it is unclear whether civil religion is necessary for a country’s foundation or ultimate success.

1. History and Politics: The Political Problem

Hobbes presented his “science of politics” as a response to a specific historical situation characterized by acute political problems. This science of politics is primarily found in Hobbes’s “political works,” as they may be called, which include The Elements of Law (1640), De Cive (1642) and Leviathan (1651). Although these texts provide detailed insight into Hobbes’s solution to civil war, they provide only a general understanding of the problem itself. Hobbes’s so-called historical treatises, on the other hand, reveal the specific causes of the deteriorating political situation in seventeenth century England. These works include his translation of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars (1628), Behemoth (1668) and A Dialogue between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England (1669). As some Hobbes scholars have pointed out, there is a logical priority to Hobbes’s political works because they provide solutions to the problems presented in the historical works. To gain a better appreciation of Hobbes’s political solution, then, it is useful to first summarize his historical works, which reveal his understanding of the particular problem he faced.

A. Hobbes’s Translation of Thucydides

Hobbes’s decision to translate and publish Thucydides’ history in 1628 was certainly a reaction to the growing political tensions in England at this time. In the 1620s, troubles between Charles I and Parliament escalated due to the King’s insistence on raising funds for as series of unpopular wars. After the King openly declared war on Spain, he began to amass the largest military entourage since 1588. For a variety of reasons, including early losses suffered at Cadiz at the hands of the Spanish and the negative effects of war on trade, Parliament was reluctant to grant additional funds to the King. This situation was compounded by a progressively deteriorating relationship with France. France’s own maritime conflicts led to embargoes that created more barriers to international trade. Furthermore, tensions between England and France increased on account of France’s continued possession of English ships (which were originally on loan) and because of long-simmering religious differences between the two nations. After the Parliament of 1626 denied Charles’ request for supply, the King raised funds through a forced loan, by which private individuals were made to loan money to the crown. Such actions not only strained the relationship between the Parliament and King, but also revealed a number of ideological differences between these two centers of power with serious political implications. The most important issue concerned the King’s authority and its relationship to the law. Charles advocated a divine right theory of kingship according to which God granted him the power, by the grace of his royal anointment, to act outside the law at his own prerogative. The King tempered his view by claiming he would take extra-legal actions only when necessary and only for the good of the commonwealth. Despite this claim of self-restraint, some of his actions conflicted with his declaration of good faith. The King’s insistence on the right to imprison outside the law, for example, sparked serious doubts as to whether his word could be trusted. The Petition of Right, presented in Parliament in 1628, attempted to preserve the liberties of the subjects against the threatening actions of the King, such as forced loans, extra-legal imprisonment, and the billeting of soldiers. Religious differences, as well as politics, were partly to blame for the political problems of Hobbes’ England. It was well understood that religious leaders were not always content with some of the policies of the crown. English Protestants, including both traditional Anglicans and the more radical Puritans, for example, were highly suspicious of Charles’ fervent support of the Anglican Archbishop Laud. The primary reason for their reservations was Laud’s advocacy of certain anti-Calvinist notions, including the view that the elect could fall from God’s grace through sin. Such a view questioned the bedrock Calvinist notion of predestination to which most English Protestants adhered. In effect, Charles asserted his right as king to declare the traditional position and dictate orthodox dogma by supporting his Archbishop. Historical circumstances strongly suggest that Hobbes’s translation of Thucydides was meant to be a political argument for the royalist cause. Hobbes himself supports the truth of this when he states that Thucydides’ history provides instruction useful for the defense of the King. But what specific lessons does this ancient history hold? Hobbes believes democracy is inadequate partly because common people are easily swayed towards politically destructive actions by “demagogues” and religious zealots. If political power is placed in the hands of the common people, who are under the influence of power hungry individuals seeking their own advantage, then the commonwealth will likely fall. Hobbes’s publication of Thucydides was a political act meant to support the royalist cause and to warn against the dangerous consequences of usurping the King’s power.

B. Hobbes’s History of the English Civil War

In Behemoth, Hobbes shows his readers that an ideological dispute concerning politics and religion was the root cause of the English Civil War. The work begins with a simple question: How did King Charles I, a strong and capable leader, lose the sovereign power that he held by the legal right of succession? The initial answer is that the King lost control of the kingdom because he lacked the financial resources required to maintain a military. Upon further consideration, however, Hobbes reveals that a deeper cause of conflict was the fact that the “people were corrupted” by “seducers” to accept opinions and beliefs contrary to social and political harmony. Hobbes claims that religious leaders were mostly to blame for creating dissension in the commonwealth because they are responsible for the dissemination of politically dangerous beliefs. In addition, Hobbes placed some of the blame on Aristotle or, more precisely, on religious and political leaders who misused Aristotelian ideas to their own advantage. As noted above, Hobbes had suggested the dangerous consequences of religious fervor in his translation of Thucydides. In Behemoth, religious leaders directly bear the brunt of his critical remarks. According to Hobbes, religious leaders sow disorder by creating situations of divided loyalty between God and King. Hobbes first blamed Presbyterian preachers for using rhetorical tricks to capture the minds and loyalties of their parishioners. These preachers did not instill beliefs by using reason or argument, nor did they necessarily seek to teach people to understand. Instead, they indoctrinated their listeners with seditious principles. For Hobbes, preachers are actors who bedazzle their audience by claiming to be divinely inspired. Many “fruitless and dangerous doctrines,” Hobbes says, are adopted by people because they are “terrified and amazed by preachers” (B 252). In short, preachers used the word of God as a means to undermine the lawful authority of the King. Hobbes also criticized Catholics for their belief that the Pope should reign over the spiritual lives of the people. Although the Pope’s power is supposed to operate solely within the realm of religious faith and morality, papal orders frequently bled over into the world of politics. The problem, for Hobbes, is that the Pope may extend his power over spiritual concerns to the point where it infringes upon and restricts the legitimate scope of the King’s power over civil matters. The most dangerous problem with Catholicism, for example, is the Pope’s self-proclaimed right to absolve the duties of citizens to “heretic” Kings. In Behemoth, Hobbes also launches an attack on Independents, Anabaptists, Quakers, and Adamites for their role in creating civil discontent. These religious groups, discontented with both Protestantism and Catholicism, encouraged individuals to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. The result was that “every man became a judge of religion, and an interpreter of the Scriptures” and so “they thought they spoke with God Almighty, and understood what he said” (B 190). The private, antinomian interpretation of Scripture, Hobbes claims, frequently lead to situations of divided loyalty between God and King. If individuals may speak with God directly, then each person may decide for him or herself what civil laws are contrary to God’s word, and thereby what laws may be justly broken. Furthermore, Hobbes indirectly blames Aristotle for problems in his country when he criticizes the destructive use of Aristotelian metaphysical and ethical ideas. Hobbes points out, for example, that priests used Aristotelian philosophy to explain their power to transform a piece of bread into the “body of Christ.” The notion of the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, according to Hobbes, gives the impression that priests deserve reverence because they possess godly powers. Priests exploited the metaphysical doctrines of Aristotle to convince people “there is but one way to salvation, that is, extraordinary devotion and liberality to the Church, and a readiness for the Church’s sake, if it be required, to fight against their natural and lawful sovereign” (B 215). In the same vein, Hobbes points out that Aristotle’s ethical ideas were used to undermine the legitimacy of the sovereign power. According to Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean, to determine what is virtuous in a particular situation one must find the middle path between two extremes. In Hobbes’s opinion, this leaded individuals to determine for themselves what is right or wrong in a given situation. The political problem with this view, as might be expected, is that it leads to questioning the validity and regulatory power of civil law, and it thereby could foster resistance and rebellion.

C. Hobbes’s Philosophy of Law

In A Dialogue between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England, Hobbes claims that common law lawyers, such as Sir Edward Coke, are partly to blame for the civil strife in England. According to Coke, the King is legally restricted by the common law, which is a set of laws determined and refined over the course of time by the application of an ‘artificial reason’ possessed by wise lawyers and judges. Hobbes agrees with Coke that reason plays an important part in law, but argues that the King’s reason is responsible for determining the meaning of laws. In the political situation prior to the outbreak of civil war, this philosophical difference revealed itself when the King requested funds and was denied. Hobbes, as we have seen, believed the immediate cause of Charles’ inability to maintain the sovereign power was his lack of funds to support a military. Charles’ request was denied on the basis, in part, of certain statutes claiming that kings shall not levy taxes or enact other means of funding without the common consent of the realm. The interpretation of these statutes according to the ‘reason’ of the lawyers in Parliament, Hobbes says, is partly to blame for the King’s failure to acquire needed funding. As with the religious seducers, common law lawyers often created situations of divided loyalty. In their interpretation of the law, barristers such as Coke sometimes claimed the ‘law’ is in conflict with the dictates of the King. In such situations, is one’s duty of obedience to the law (as interpreted by the ‘wise men’ of Parliament) higher than one’s duty to the King? These kinds of questions, Hobbes believes, inevitably lead to division in the commonwealth and this, in turn, leads to factions within the body politic and civil discord.


Hobbes in a common state of mind regarding Susie Derkins

Whenever Calvin tries to do his homework, he asks Hobbes to do it for him, perhaps even in exchange for money, salmon, etc., but Calvin doesn't notice how Hobbes gets questions wrong (for example, when he didn't know a subtraction problem, so he put in Atlanta, Georgia). Sometimes Hobbes eats the unwanted parts of Calvin's dinner while he works.

Hobbes also teaches Calvin in his math homework, but his theories are wrong (like in one comic where Calvin asks Hobbes what 3+8 is, so Hobbes teaches Calvin, "Well, first you assign the value as X. X always means multiply, so you take the numerator [that's Latin for "number eighter"], and you put that number on the other side. Then you take 3 from the other side, so what times 3 equals 8? The answer, of course, is six.") Hobbes still claims that his knowledge of "math theories" is from instinct.

Hobbes, Thomas

Sixteenth-century political theorist, philosopher, and scientist Thomas Hobbes left a stark warning to succeeding generations: strong central authority is the necessary basis for government. In several influential works of legal, political, psychological, and philosophical theory, Hobbes's view of society and its leaders was founded on pessimism. He saw people as weak and selfish, and thus in constant need of the governance that could save them from destruction. These ideas profoundly affected the Federalists during the early formation of U.S. law. The Federalists turned to Hobbes's work for justification for passage of the U.S. Constitution as well as for intellectual support for their own movement in the years following that passage. Today, Hobbes is read not only for his lasting contributions to political-legal theory in general but for the ideas that helped shape U.S. history.

Born on April 5, 1588, in Westport, Wiltshire, England, the son of an Anglican clergyman, Hobbes was a prodigy. By the age of fifteen, he had entered Oxford University by twenty, he was appointed tutor to a prominent family, a post he would later hold with the Prince of Wales. His considerable output of work began with English translations of francis bacon and Thucydides while he was in his late thirties. Soon, mathematics interested him, and his travels brought him into contact with some of the greatest minds of his age: Galileo and René Descartes. His writing canvassed many subjects, such as language and science, to arrive at a general theory of people and their leaders. The most influential works of this polymath came in the 1650s: Leviathan, or the Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil (1651), De Corpore (1655), and Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance (1656). Hobbes died December 4, 1679, at age 91.

Hobbes was a supreme pessimist. To him, people were inherently selfish they struggled constantly against one another for survival. "[T]he life of a man," he wrote in his master-work, Leviathan, "is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Thus, people could not survive on their own in the state of nature. This foundation led him to a theory of the law: only by submitting to the protection of a sovereign power could individuals avoid constant anarchy and war. The sovereign's authority would have to be absolute. Law derived from this authority rather than from objective truth, which he argued did not exist. All citizens of the state were morally bound to follow the sovereign's authority otherwise, law could not function. Hobbes chose the leviathan (a large sea animal) to represent the state, and he maintained that like a whale, the state could only be guided by one intelligence: its sovereign's.

The influence of Hobbes's ideas varied dramatically over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. English politicians and clerics derided him as a heretic. But his theories eventually lent support to loyalists who wanted to preserve the Crown's control over the American colonies: Thomas Hutchinson, the last royal governor of Massachusetts, viewed the upstart challengers to royal authority in a Hobbesian light. Later, Hobbes proved useful to the other side: after the American Revolution, his ideas influenced the Federalists in their arguments for adoption of the federal Constitution in 1787. Embracing Hobbes's pessimism, the Federalists saw the American people as unable to survive as a nation without a strong central government that would protect them from foreign powers.

Hobbes is still taught, and scholars continue to discuss contemporary legal issues in the light of his critique. Particularly relevant are his insights into the form of law and the interrelationship of law and politics, and his subtle explorations of language and meaning.

"T he condition of man … is a condition of war of everyone against everyone ."
—T homas H obbes

Further readings

Dyzenhaus, David. 2001. "Hobbes and the Legitimacy of Law." Law and Philosophy 20 (September): 461𠄸.

——. 1994. "Now the Machine Runs Itself: Carl Schmitt on Hobbes and Kelsen." Cardozo Law Review 16 (August).

Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. Leviathan, or the Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil. Reprint, New York: Viking Press, 1982.

Malcolm, Noel. 2002. Aspects of Hobbes. Oxford: Clarendon Press New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Martinich, A.P. 1999. Hobbes: A Biography. Cambridge, UK New York: Cambridge Univ. Press

Robinson, Reginald Leamon. 1993. "The Impact of Hobbes's Empirical Natural Law on Title VII's Effectiveness: A Hegellian Critique." Connecticut Law Review 25 (spring).

Rutten, Andrew. 1997. "Anarchy, Order, and the Law: A Post-Hobbesian View." Cornell Law Review 82 (July): 1150�.

Civic Definitions- Who Was Hobbes - History

Thomas Hobbes was a British philosopher who is remembered for his political ideas. His philosophy is arguably the most complete materialist of the 17th century. His vision of the world was original and still used in modern politics. His main concern was the problem of political and social order and how people can live together in harmony and avoid the fear of civil conflict.

Early Years

Thomas Hobbes was born in 1588 in Westport, England. His father was a vicar of a parish. Hobbes started schooling in Westport Church at the age of four. Nonetheless, when he was seven years old, his father had a quarrel with a fellow vicar at the church. They exchanged blows and Hobbes’ father ran off. He was then raised by his uncle.

Educational Years

At the age of eight, Hobbes, who was already proficient at reading and mathematics, attended Mr. Evan’s school before attending Robert Latimer’s school in Westport. He showed his brilliance at the school and was an excellent Latin and Greek scholar by the time he left. Already an excellent student of languages, at the age of 14, Hobbes enrolled in Magdalen Hall in Oxford.

Hobbes’ Professional Career

Thomas Hobbes left Oxford in 1608 and became a tutor for the son of Lord Cavendish of Hardwick. For two years he did not study, being more of a friend to Cavendish Jr. who was younger than he was. In 1610, Hobbes travelled with his pupil to Italy, Germany, and France. He learned Italian and French on this tour, but more importantly, his trip revived his desire for learning. After returning home, Hobbes took up studying Latin and Greek again.

Hobbes moved from being a teacher to Cavendish’s son to being his personal secretary. He had ample time to dedicate to his studies. After the death of his father in 1626, William Cavendish inherited the name Earl of Devonshire, but two years later he died and Thomas Hobbes lost a friend and his secretarial job. Hobbes’ services were no longer needed by the Cavendish family and he was left searching for a new job. He was always finding himself working for different wealthy families.

Although he was linked with a number of literary personalities like Ben Johnson and Francis Bacon, Hobbes did not put much effort into philosophy before 1629. After the death of his employer, he then secured another job as a private tutor to Sir Gervase, Clifton’s son. Hobbes spent much of his time in Paris until 1631 when he got another job as a tutor to the son of his late companion, William.

A Philosopher and a Schoar

For the next seven years, in addition to him tutoring, Thomas Hobbes engaged in expanding his knowledge of philosophy that aroused great inquisitiveness in him over major philosophic discussions. He visited Florence in 1636 and after that became a frequent debater in philosophic groups held by Marin Mersenne France.

From 1637, he started considering himself to be a scholar and philosopher. When Hobbes returned to England, he wrote a book titled Elements of Law Natural and Politic, which outlined his theory. But this work was not published. Instead, it was circulated among his friends in the form of a manuscript. He also wrote an assessment of Meditations on First Philosophy of Descartes.

Hobbes and Politics

Thomas Hobbes went back to France in 1640 to escape the civil war in his country. When the war broke out in England, many of the king’s supporters flew to Europe. Many of them went to France and were familiar with Hobbes. Hobbes re-published De Cive and it was widely circulated. The new edition had new notes suggesting the replay to objections. A company of the royalists that flew to Paris helped him to create a book to set ahead his philosophy of the government in relation to political crisis that took place as a result of the war in England.

Hobbes’ Greatest Achievements

Thomas Hobbes became the first British interpreter of the Thucydides History of Peloponnesian War. He is popular for his book Leviathan, which concerns the structure of society and the government. It is considered to be one of the most important examples of a social contract philosophy.

5. Further Questions About the State of Nature

In response to the natural question whether humanity ever was generally in any such state of nature, Hobbes gives three examples of putative states of nature. First, he notes that all sovereigns are in this state with respect to one another. This claim has made Hobbes the representative example of a &ldquorealist&rdquo in international relations. Second, he opined that many now civilized peoples were formerly in that state, and some few peoples&mdash&ldquothe savage people in many places of America&rdquo (Leviathan, XIII), for instance&mdashwere still to his day in the state of nature. Third and most significantly, Hobbes asserts that the state of nature will be easily recognized by those whose formerly peaceful states have collapsed into civil war. While the state of nature&rsquos condition of perfectly private judgment is an abstraction, something resembling it too closely for comfort remains a perpetually present possibility, to be feared, and avoided.

Do the other assumptions of Hobbes&rsquos philosophy license the existence of this imagined state of isolated individuals pursuing their private judgments? Probably not, since, as feminist critics among others have noted, children are by Hobbes&rsquos theory assumed to have undertaken an obligation of obedience to their parents in exchange for nurturing, and so the primitive units in the state of nature will include families ordered by internal obligations, as well as individuals. The bonds of affection, sexual affinity, and friendship&mdashas well as of clan membership and shared religious belief&mdashmay further decrease the accuracy of any purely individualistic model of the state of nature. This concession need not impugn Hobbes&rsquos analysis of conflict in the state of nature, since it may turn out that competition, diffidence and glory-seeking are disastrous sources of conflicts among small groups just as much as they are among individuals. Still, commentators seeking to answer the question how precisely we should understand Hobbes&rsquos state of nature are investigating the degree to which Hobbes imagines that to be a condition of interaction among isolated individuals.

Another important open question is that of what, exactly, it is about human beings that makes it the case (supposing Hobbes is right) that our communal life is prone to disaster when we are left to interact according only to our own individual judgments. Perhaps, while people do wish to act for their own best long-term interest, they are shortsighted, and so indulge their current interests without properly considering the effects of their current behavior on their long-term interest. This would be a type of failure of rationality. Alternatively, it may be that people in the state of nature are fully rational, but are trapped in a situation that makes it individually rational for each to act in a way that is sub-optimal for all, perhaps finding themselves in the familiar &lsquoprisoner&rsquos dilemma&rsquo of game theory. Or again, it may be that Hobbes&rsquos state of nature would be peaceful but for the presence of persons (just a few, or perhaps all, to some degree) whose passions overrule their calmer judgments who are prideful, spiteful, partial, envious, jealous, and in other ways prone to behave in ways that lead to war. Such an account would understand irrational human passions to be the source of conflict. Which, if any, of these accounts adequately answers to Hobbes&rsquos text is a matter of continuing debate among Hobbes scholars. Game theorists have been particularly active in these debates, experimenting with different models for the state of nature and the conflict it engenders.

Thomas Hobbes (1588−1679)

One of the most important political theorists of all time is Thomas Hobbes.

One of the most important political theorists of all time is Thomas Hobbes. The influence of Thomas Hobbes derives from the book ‘Leviathan’ and his creation of a social contract. As befits the grandiose title of his work, Leviathan truly is a landmark piece in the history of political theory. Hobbes could genuinely be termed a pioneer in terms of providing a philosophical construct for the Westphalian system and for a social contract with an authoritarian role for the state.

Thomas Hobbes was born in an era characterised by a search for stability in an inherently unstable world, and this undoubtedly shaped his world-view. It is not hard to see why anyone who experienced the destruction and havoc caused by the English Civil War traversed the intellectual path that Hobbes did. According to Hobbes, the relationships that govern human nature are characterised as “a perpetual and restless desire for power after power that ceaseth only in death.” Whilst there are some things we would not do in the pursuit of power – perhaps because they are morally reprehensible or simply illegal – life is nothing more than a struggle for power.

In the absence of a social contract, Hobbes memorably described life in a state of nature as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” and characterised by “a war of all against all.” In a state of nature no-one would be strong enough to live in total security. Social order therefore demands a decisive and coercive role for the state. As such, Hobbes prescribes a dominant role for the state (or Leviathan) to prevent anarchy and to ensure that contracts are upheld because “covenants, without the sword, are but words.”

In essence, the Hobbesian argument is that all forms of social order are preferable to an absence of social order. Life in an orderly system of governance is superior to the lawlessness associated with a ‘failed’ state. We also need an authoritarian state in order to prevent the collapse of social order. For this alone, Hobbes has traditionally been viewed as a conservative theorist. Whilst there is much merit in this, it could be argued that his world-view is more liberal than it might first appear. Although Hobbes clearly accepts the need to impose authority from above, he asserts the liberalist view that authority derives first and foremost from the people themselves. On closer inspection of Leviathan, it is the people who constitute the figure itself. Intrinsically, it is the people who provide legitimacy and consent to be governed in such an authoritarian fashion. Moreover, he declared that the people had the right to disobey the authority of the state if their lives were under threat. This is an important caveat because Hobbes implies that authority is on loan from the people by the state and can therefore be reclaimed under exceptional circumstances.

Although he is often painted as a pessimistic figure, Hobbes did at least acknowledge our capacity for rational thought. He assumed that we could understand others via a process of introspection. By studying ourselves, we can better appreciate that which motivates others. That said, his overall view of human nature is devoid of the optimism commonly associated with the liberal position. He believes that human nature is rational, but unlike those of a liberal persuasion, this leads him towards a pessimistic view of our behaviour. His view of human nature is undoubtedly negative, and his depiction of the state of nature is the polar opposite of the view taken by theorists such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This is why Hobbes is traditionally classed as a conservative theorist.

Development of Scientific Interests

Hobbes had never been trained in mathematics or the sciences at Oxford, nor previously at Wiltshire. But one branch of the Cavendish family, the Wellbecks, were scientifically and mathematically minded, and Hobbes&apos growing interest in these realms was stirred mainly through his association with certain family members and through various conversations he&aposd had and reading he&aposd done on the Continent. In 1629 or 1630, it is reported that Hobbes found a volume of Euclid and fell in love with geometry and Euclid&aposs method of demonstrating theorems.

Later, he had gained enough independent knowledge to pursue research in optics, a field he would lay claim to as a pioneer. In fact, Hobbes was gaining a reputation in many fields: mathematics (especially geometry), translation (of the classics) and law. He also became well known (notorious, in fact) for his writings and disputes on religious subjects. As a member of Mersenne&aposs circle in Paris, he was also respected as a theorist in ethics and politics.

His love of mathematics and a fascination with the properties of matter--sizes, shapes, positions, etc.--laid the foundation for his great Elements of Philosophy trilogy: De Cive (1642 "Concerning the Citizen"), De Corpore (1655 "Concerning Body") and De Homine (1658 "Concerning Man"). The trilogy was his attempt to arrange the components of natural science, psychology and politics into a hierarchy, from the most fundamental to the most specific. The works incorporated Hobbes&apos findings on optics and the work of, among others, Galileo (on the motions of terrestrial bodies) and Kepler (on astronomy). The science of politics discussed in De Cive was further developed in Leviathan, which is the strongest example of his writings on morality and politics, the subjects for which Hobbes is most remembered.

Leviathan Summary and Analysis of Book II: Chapters 22-31

Having laid out the theoretical case for the absolute power of the sovereign, Hobbes devotes the rest of Book II to explaining in more detail how this commonwealth should function. Building upon the metaphor of the Leviathan as an artificial person, Hobbes shows how the commonwealth is organized around different "systems." Systems are groups of individuals joined together by a common interest, such as a town, or the most basic system in a commonwealth, a family. A regular or regulatory system has a representative of all its members, while an irregular system does not.

In the "political system" that is the commonwealth, the sovereign is the sole representative and has absolute power, so the representatives of these regulatory systems only have limited power. Such a representative can be a deputy or minister allotted a portion of the sovereign's domain, and is analogous to the nerves and tendons that make up the body. Public ministers, or those appointed by the sovereign, represent the sovereign in these smaller systems, and hence the subjects have a right to obey them accordingly. Public ministers can also serve as representatives of issue-specific systems rather than region specific ones. For example, there may ministers and appointees for the military, the treasury, civics, ambassadors, the judiciary, etc.

Just as a body needs nourishment, the commonwealth needs goods and resources to remain functioning and to maintain peace. The distribution of land and resources is decided by the sovereign, not by what subjects may wish for or claim to have had prior to the existence of the commonwealth. After all, property and resources are given meaning only within a commonwealth, since in a state of nature anyone can take anything from another at any time. Only once men give up their right to amass as much land and goods as they see fit through a covenant can one be said to "possess" anything. Other things relating to "nourishment" of the body, like imports and exports, rules regarding commerce and even monetary policy are set by the sovereign in such a way as to maintain the peace and security of the commonwealth.

In addition to public ministers, the sovereign can also employ private ministers, namely, counselors or advisors. While the advice these counselors gives the sovereign relates to the public, the sovereign has a right to hear counsel from such people in secret (that is, in private). Indeed, Hobbes argues that secret counsel is a far better type of counsel than one in which the sovereign's advisors testify to him in public, whether that be in front of other advisors or other subjects in general. Given human nature, such public counsel becomes not advice, but exhortation or dehortation, which involve inflaming the passions, using oratorical tricks, and other things done out of the counselor's interest rather than that of the counselee (in this case, the commonwealth). In fact, Hobbes believes that such public counsel strays so far from proper advice that it is better for the sovereign to act without any counselors than to employ counsel that is not strictly private and secret.

The advisors to the sovereign offer him counsel, which are recommendations the sovereign is in no way bound to follow. In contrast to counsel, a command carries with it obligation and duty. Law, in general, is a type of command between two or more men who are obliged to act in accordance with this law. Civil law "is to every Subject, those Rules, which the Common-wealth hath Commanded him, by Word, Writing, or other sufficient Sign of the Will, to make use of, for the Distinction of Right, and Wrong that is to say, of what is contrary to the Rule." In other words, one is bound by civil laws not because one is a subject of any particular commonwealth, but of a commonwealth in general.

While the sovereign may appoint ministers to make laws or judges to enforce them, the sovereign is the ultimate legislator and judge. Following from this, the sovereign, even when the sovereign is an assembly, is not subject to civil laws, since when a covenant was initially made between subjects it established the sovereign as the law. Thus, to say the sovereign is bound to some law is like saying the sovereign is bound to itself, which is nonsense. Additionally, to subject the sovereign to civil laws presupposes another arbitrator or common power. Not only does this lack sense, since the sovereign does not make a covenant with the subjects, this also undermines the authority of the sovereign, and hence undermines its ability to protect its subjects.

Since civil laws come about through consensus, namely, through a covenant, it is imperative that the civil laws be known and understood so that they are properly enforced. Still, this does not mean that ignorance of or failure to communicate a law is an excuse for violating it. Civil laws are discoverable and can be known through reason, as civil laws have as their basis the laws of nature, the latter of which need not be published. This is not to say the civil laws and the laws of nature are the same thing, since in a state of nature there is no justice or injustice (as there is no common power). The laws of nature are "qualities that dispose men to peace, and obedience. When a Common-wealth is once settled, then they are actually Lawes, and not before."

All laws need interpretation, but that authority ultimately rests with the sovereign, not with legal scholars, lawyers, or philosophers. To put the power of interpretation elsewhere would be to undermine the sovereign's authority, and hence, undermine the peace of the commonwealth. This is not to say there can be no judges in a commonwealth. Indeed, laws can be both authorized and verified. The former comes from the sovereign, while the latter comes from judges. Just as ministers and counselors are appointed by the sovereign, so also are judges. According to Hobbes, a good judge is one that has a good understanding of the fundamental laws of nature, has contempt for riches, has an ability to look at things in an unbiased manner, and has both patience and a good memory.

In order to enforce the covenant, the sovereign must have the right to punish and reward certain acts. Accordingly, a crime is the act of doing something the law forbids, or failing to do something it commands. Crimes arise from three main sources: 1) a defect in understanding, or ignorance) 2) error in reasoning, or false opinion and 3) sudden passion. This last source, sudden passion, Hobbes claims is the most common cause of crime. Yet of all of the specific passions that cause men to commit crimes, the passion that least often makes man violate the laws is fear. Fear, after all, is the basis for establishing a commonwealth, and it is the fear of punishment that keeps men acting justly in accordance with laws. When a crime is committed, this meets with a punishment, namely, an evil "inflicted by public authority. to the end that the will of men may thereby be better disposed to obedience." But where does the right to punish come from? After all, doesn't every man have the right to defend himself from harm?

When a person establishes a commonwealth this subject lays down his right to do whatever he sees fit for self-preservation - in other words, he lays down the absolute right of nature that drives men to harm each other - thus granting to the sovereign his right to self-preservation. Thus the sovereign attains absolute power to do anything necessary for the self-preservation of the commonwealth this power includes inflicting punishment on those who commit crimes. Of course a subject could try to avoid punishment by "opting out" of the commonwealth, but this would put them back into the worst of all states, the chaotic state of nature, where laws and justice have no meaning, and the types of "evil" similar to punishments can occur at any time. Additionally, once a subject explicitly denies the authority of the commonwealth, any rules regarding punishment are moot, as these are reserved for subjects only. Hence, a subject that chooses to opt out of a commonwealth not only has to compete with the powers and wills of other humans in the state of nature, but the far stronger power and will of this commonwealth.

Continuing his analogy of the commonwealth as a body, Hobbes describes the various defects or "diseases" that make a commonwealth fail. First and foremost among these causes is the failure of the sovereign to rule with absolute power. When the sovereign defers to other bodies or assemblies (for example, the church), this leads to a power struggle, and eventually civil war, when the sovereign must retake some of these powers in order to preserve peace (which, Hobbes reasons, the sovereign must inevitably attempt at some point).

Seditious doctrines may also infect the body of the commonwealth, and in time weaken it to the point of collapse. Examples of such doctrines are: the judges of what is good and evil, just and unjust, are private subjects rather than public authority importing or imitating doctrines of other nations that one does not have to obey a law if it is contrary to one's conscience and emulating the stories of revolt and regicide of the Greeks and Romans. Additionally, placing religion above civil laws, subjecting the sovereign to civil laws, dividing the sovereign between two monarchs or a monarch and an assembly, and anything that undercuts the absolute authority of the commonwealth infects the body like a disease and serves to weaken it.

These are all institutional weaknesses that Hobbes likens to a defect in birth in the body, but lack of proper nourishment can also bring about the collapse of a commonwealth. Namely, a lack of goods and resources, corruption and embezzlement of politicians, or the concentration of power or goods in one specific area of the state. Lastly, a human can be killed by external forces, such as if someone attacks or conquers him. Similarly, war between commonwealths can bring about the failure of the state when a commonwealth is conquered and the former subjects have the choice between returning to the state of nature or joining the commonwealth of their conquerors.

Hobbes devotes the penultimate chapter of Book II to the office of the sovereign, and offers advice on how this should function in order to avoid the collapse of the commonwealth. To begin with, the sovereign needs to keep the subject informed of the subject's obligations to the sovereign and the rights the sovereign enjoys. As has been already spelled out, the office of the sovereign exists to "procure the safety of the people," and to weaken the sovereign is thus to weaken the commonwealth as a whole. Subjects should not only be kept informed of their rights and duties, but should also understand the reasons for these, lest they be seduced into disobedience or rebellion. To accomplish this Hobbes advances the idea of civic instruction for all subjects in the commonwealth. In addition to civics, Hobbes says that laws should be applied by the sovereign equally. To do otherwise would be to upset certain segments of the population, and thus to incite factions and infighting. Generally, the sovereign should enforce good laws, that is to say, laws that are necessary for and further the well-being and safety of the populace.

Hobbes ends Book II by dealing with the question of whether obedience to the sovereign is compatible with obedience to God. For in the case that a civil law commands one to do something that one believes is contrary to a divine law, which authority is a subject to obey? After all, is one is confronted with the choice of obeying a civil law that will result in eternal damnation, the obvious choice would be to disobey the civil law. Not only do situations like these present moral dilemmas, practically speaking, their possibility undermines the authority of the sovereign.

To begin with, before jumping into the question of when one can disobey a civil law due to a divine obligation, one need to know the precisely what the divine laws are. According to Hobbes, divine laws are known to us through three sources: reason, revelation, and prophecy. The first of these are none other than moral philosophy, and are the civic laws we discover through sense and our own natural reason, which Hobbes has already discussed at length. The latter two law outside the bounds of natural reason, as they are known to us either through a supernatural revelation or through a prophet. These will be the focus on Book III, but Hobbes also argues that such divine laws concern both how men should act towards one another, and how men should act towards God. One need not worry about offending God through observing a civic law, since to worshiping God is a strictly internal act. If the sovereign commands you to renounce the existence of God that is only an external renunciation, and one which man can do while still having faith in God and properly worshiping him.


A common justification Hobbes uses in discussing the proper functions of the commonwealth, for example why secret counsel is preferable to counsel by assembly, is that such things are necessary to maintain the absolute power of the sovereign. Without this absolute power, the argument goes, the commonwealth could be weakened, and subjects run the risk of devolving into civil war. Yet in some regards Hobbes might not give sufficient justification for the main premise of this argument: that the absence of absolute authority leads to instability. The main rationale for this seems to be psychological rather than philosophical: men are inherently fallible, and the more people involved in decision-making the more this fallibility is compounded (a variation of the saying "too many chefs will spoil the broth"). In other words, human nature as it exists leads to the need for the absolute power of the sovereign. One critique Rousseau had of Hobbes was that human nature is not static, but can actually change over time. In this regard, if man "progresses" and becomes better-disposed towards other men, then perhaps an absolute monarchy is not the best form of government. Hobbes might reply that this is to attribute a social characteristic to man as he exists in a pre-social order, but as already noted, Rousseau did not believe Hobbes' state of nature was pre-social.

While Hobbes lengthily discusses relations between subjects and between subjects and the sovereign, there is very little in Leviathan about relations between commonwealths. In arguing that once a subject is outside the commonwealth he is also outside of justice implies that inter-state relations are also war-like and chaotic. Since there is no justice or injustice, right or wrong, in the state of nature between men, a state of nature and perpetual war must exist between states. In the absence of a social contract between commonwealths, there would be no such thing as international law. Even if there were to be treaties amongst commonwealths, in the absence of an international organization with the power to punish transgressors these agreements would have no validity.

One objection that Hobbes deals with in these chapters is that the type of state he describes is wholly impractical and has never existed in all of world history. Hobees admits this objection, but cleverly points out that perhaps the fact that no such states have existed is the reason why states keep dissolving into civil war. Additionally, he argues that his project is not historical. He is not scouring the annals of history in the hope of piecing together the elements of the best possible state. Hobbes is engaged in a philosophical study of the commonwealth, and uses careful reasoning and agreed-upon definitions to come up with a valid conclusion. Interestingly, Orbell and Rutherford did take Hobbes' argument and put it into practice by measuring the "leviathanness" of a state to compare it to the corresponding levels of violence and commodiousness of a state. In their study of 113 countries they found no practical support to the claim that the more Leviathan-esque a state is the more peaceful it is.

Additionally, some may say that the various obligations and reasons for obeying the sovereign are far too complex for subjects to understand. Having some sort of civil instruction may be helpful, but the overall project is so philosophically sophisticated that some people will likely not comprehend it thus they might be encouraged to rebel against the sovereign. To this objection, again sounding like a true Enlightenment philosopher, Hobbes says that the only reason people do not or could not understand these things follows from lack of interest. He previously said that the differences in men's intellects comes from differences in their passions, so if they only devote sufficient time and energy to understanding Hobbes' project they will be able to do so. On top of this, Hobbes also makes a somewhat veiled criticism of religion in saying that if men can understand the complexities of religious thought - which he notes, often times runs contrary to reason - they can surely understand rational philosophic thought like his own.

Despite Hobbes dismissals of criticisms that his work may be impractical, he is not writing the book merely for philosophy's sake, or for the edification of a select group of academics. He has a decidedly practical project in mind, which he explicates at the end of book II: "I recover some hope, that one time or other, this writing of mine, may fall into the hands of a Sovereign, who will consider it himselfe, (for it is short, and I think clear) without the help of any interested, or envious interpreter and by the exercise of entire Sovereignty, in protecting the Public teaching of it, convert this Truth of Speculation, into the Utility of Practice." One common commentary of Hobbes' Leviathan is that it was written primarily in response to the English Civil War. While Hobbes' work cannot be completely reduced to his context - especially since the Civil War began shortly after Leviathan's publication - quotes such as these show that he wrote his treatise not just for the edification of a select group of academics, but with a larger practical purpose in mind.

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