The Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes

Updated: Apr 25

Thomas Hobbes argues in ‘The Leviathan,’ written in 1651, that the state exists to assure the safety and well-being of her citizens. In the view of Hobbes, the legitimacy of the Polis will be affirmed only in light of the country’s capacity to provide protection for the constituent members of the nation due to the fact that the state is organized around a set of ideals. This is an argument reminiscent of the common identity that holds religious communities together such as those in Judaism, as the bond with which members of the society in question may exist is based upon values.

It may be observed in many highly developed societies that the underlying principle behind the use of force is held as a monopoly by the state. At no time is any individual vested with the authority to harm any other member of the society: only this system of popularly approved regulation is permitted to deprive property, liberty, or life from any individual.

In the absence of this commitment, a member of the society participates in Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes, a Latin phrase meaning ‘the war of all against all.’

If, indeed, each citizen is, in effect, his own government, every other citizen represents a potential threat.

In chapter eight of ‘The Leviathon,’ Thomas Hobbes explains how in this state of nature how every denizen are seen as rivals with respect to the acquisition of resources:

“Hereby it is manifest that during the time two 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. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; No arts; No letters; No society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

- Thomas Hobbes, chapter eight of ‘The Leviathon'

In effect, what Thomas Hobbes has described is a manifestation of what occurred following the Bronze Age collapse. During this series of unfortunate events between 1200 B.C.E. and 1150 B.C.E., the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean, to include modern-day Israel, were met with armed incursions by Phoenician raiders.

These marauders reached the shores of several settlements and destroyed intricate irrigation works, systems of layered infrastructure, and other civil support systems which thereafter led to the dissolution of the highly specialized societies and cosmopolitan cities which had arisen in that region of the world.

As a result, many previously highly integrated societies devolved into local fiefdoms, which were much less resilient to the buffeting of war, famine, and disease.

This, in effect, is the future that Thomas Hobbes sought to avoid. In a highly interdependent society, it is a necessary byproduct that each member of a team commit their resources toward the survival of the society as a whole. Thomas Hobbes wrote on the manifestation of political organization as the result of his experiences during the English Civil War wherein he was able to observe the proclivities of men unrestrained by any common superior. As a result, fellow citizens visited ferocious acts of violence upon one another.

As a result of this experience, Thomas Hobbes established one of the seminal works which provides a new outlook which describes the potential establishment of a stable at prosperous Commonwealth.

This work of political philosophy has outlined the basis upon which men and women might find the fullest possible development of their potential as humans due to the absence of external buffeting which may inhibit the best possible growth of their endeavors in education, religion, philosophy, science, and other intellectual pursuits.

As an example, Thomas Hobbes writes in the second and third chapters of The Leviathan what sort of life may be available to men in the state of civility as opposed to a state of nature:

“Now in monarchy the private interest is the same with the public. The riches, power, and honour of a monarch arise only from the riches, strength, and reputation of his subjects. For no king can be rich, nor glorious, nor secure, whose subjects are either poor, or contemptible, or too weak through want.”

- Thomas Hobbes, Chapter Three of “The Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth”

“The final design of men in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants.”

- Thomas Hobbes, Chapter Two of “The Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth”

“The difference between these three kinds of Commonwealth consisteth not in the difference of power, but in the difference of convenience or aptitude to produce the peace and security of the people; for which end they were instituted.”

- Thomas Hobbes, Chapter Three, Of Commonwealth

In a like manner, Hesiod, in his anthology “The Poems of Works and Days” specifies a similar desired end state where violence for purposes other than self-defense is seen as antithetical to the mission of the nation.

“Hesiod is also concerned with the moral issue of war and peace. While Hesiod's world “is a world without war”, (Osborne, Greece in The Making p. 146) the consequences of previous wars are presented in an effort to emphasize the irrationality of violent actions and the importance of peace. An example is the destruction of the Bronze race of men: With “woeful works of Ares and with acts of violence ... they were laid low by their own hands” (West, Hesiod's Works and Days 146-55) Peace is also praised in a non-mythological context, for its beneficial effects on the land and the people.” (West, Hesiod's Works and Days 225-37).

Plato, in a like manner, highlights house each member of a polity may manifest the best possible end for the state is a hole through cooperative as opposed to competitive activity. This end is best achieved when the citizens of a state are focused upon the pursuit of immutable truths, such as those in mathematics, as opposed to amassing honor or wealth.

“And so we arrive at the result, that the pleasure of the intelligent part of the soul is the pleasantest of the three, and that he of us in whom this is the ruling principle has the pleasantest life.

Unquestionably, he said, the wise man speaks with authority when he approves of his own life.

And what does the judge affirm to be the life which is next, and the pleasure which is next?

Clearly that of the soldier and lover of honour; who is nearer to himself than the money-maker.

Last comes the lover of gain?

Very true, he said.

What classes of things have a greater share of pure existence in your judgment --those of which food and drink and condiments and all kinds of sustenance are examples, or the class which contains true opinion and knowledge and mind and all the different kinds of virtue? Put the question in this way: --Which has a more pure being --that which is concerned with the invariable, the immortal, and the true, and is of such a nature, and is found in such natures; or that which is concerned with and found in the variable and mortal?

Those then who know not wisdom and virtue, and are always busy with gluttony and sensuality, go down and up again as far as the mean; and in this region they move at random throughout life, but they never pass into the true upper world; thither they neither look, nor do they ever find their way, neither are they truly filled with true being, nor do they taste of pure and abiding pleasure. Like cattle, with their eyes always looking down and their heads stooping to the earth, that is, to the dining-table, they fatten and feed and breed, and, in their excessive love of these delights, they kick and butt at one another with horns and hoofs which are made of iron; and they kill one another by reason of their insatiable lust. For they fill themselves with that which is not substantial, and the part of themselves which they fill is also unsubstantial and incontinent.

Far purer, he replied, is the being of that which is concerned with the invariable.”

- Plato, Book Nine of "The Republic"

Thomas Hobbes, Plato, and Hesiod envision a nation where in constituent citizens work together with one another for the benefit of the nation as a whole as opposed to inflicting violence upon one another for parochial ambitions. This manifestation is created by virtue of the fact that the city as a whole may then permit the fullest economic and scientific development.

Thank you for your time in considering this post and I am grateful for your consideration. Please have a good day.



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