Thomas Hobbes’s work concerned society, religion, and the definition of legitimate government. He published his most famous work, Leviathan, in 1651 during the height of the English Civil War. Hobbes wrote the Leviathan in France, against the backdrop of the chaos of civil war in his home country. The Parliamentarians rose against the Monarchists during the English Civil War. The Parliamentarians were in favor of a government where leaders were elected by the people. The Monarchists were in favor of a government ruled by a monarch based on the principles of divine right. This chaos caused Hobbes to question what was going on around him. The Leviathan, in turn, expresses a compromise between the two warring parties. Hobbes believes that Civil War, as well as chaos, is related to the “State of Nature”, or the time that hypothetically precedes government. He believes that the only way to avert such situations is to have a strong central government. Hobbes believes in a reconciliation of their differences and sought to seek a government where both King and Parliament shared power.
Rejection of Separation of Powers, Commonwealth and Sovereign Rights are three strong themes in Leviathan. Hobbes discusses that the powers of government should be centered around the Monarch, but distributed to parliament. Hobbes believes in the society founded for the common good, as well as rights reserved for the Sovereign ruler alone, such as assertion of powers dealing with faith and doctrine. According to Leviathan, the difference between monarchy, aristocracy and democracy is the Sovereign who rules each respective government. For a King to be successful or rich, he must insure his subjects are prosperous. Therefore, a Monarchy is the most sustainable form of government, according to Hobbes. In Part IV of the Leviathan, “The Kingdom of Darkness”, Hobbes talks about the darkness of ignorance compared to the light of knowledge. Hobbes declares such ignorance as misinterpretation of scripture, demonology, and mixing Scripture with the relics of Religion, i.e. the case of Galileo and letting religion rule out new findings and knowledge. These are each powerful and radical points for Hobbes’s time—so radical that Hobbes’s work offended English Royalist Refugees, as well as the French government. After publishing Leviathan Hobbes was forced to flee to London, where he ceased all political activity.
The Leviathan covers many themes of governmental, societal, and individual practice. A major theme of Hobbes’s is that of “social contractarianism”. Hobbes believes in a social contract by which people may live their lives to escape the “State of Nature.” The “State of Nature” is a term meant to describe the condition which preceded the establishment of governments. Hobbes believes in “The State” as well as what he calls “the Laws of Nature”. The “Laws of Nature” are universal and determined by nature. Hobbes writing shows the reader how humans are reasonable: “Because men are reasonable, they can see their way out of such a state by recognizing the laws of nature, which show them the means by which to escape the State of Nature and create civil society.” This is important because it shows the reader how people do and should function within society.
Behavior and reason all play in to the way people function within a society. On a more metaphysical level, Hobbes discusses how the external world is only noticeable through our human senses, and that we can only prove the existence of things that we sense. “The cause of Sense, is the External Body, or Object, which presseth the organ proper to each Sense, either immediately, as in the Taste and Touch; or mediately, as in Seeing, Hearing, and Smelling…”
I was inspired by Hobbes because of the way that he seemed to strive for compromise. Hobbes explains how humans are reasonable beasts and how we have the ability to escape the “State of Nature”, a place where we often find ourselves. Hobbes agreed with both sides of the English Civil War while he was alive. He accepted the fact that the King deserved power, but he also argued for the legitimacy of Parliament. The fact that Hobbes was able to have this amount of insight in the 17th century pertaining to social order, structure, and the laws of man and nature is inspiring. His recognition of the need for a central government and division of powers shows a strong vision. His understanding of the need for the light of knowledge and his bias against ignorance is a quality that would benefit the world today.
Leviathan is relevant to me because it relates to both my life and my projects. I feel that I also strive for knowledge, respect others, and try to spread my passion. Currently, trying to get involved with the Transition Town movement, I have to be open to others and the visions they have for my community. Acting and cooperating within a society is an important part of life and an important part of Hobbes’s work. He has taught me that you must always be willing to rise above nature, and accept different approaches and points of view to solve differences.
1 “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Social Contract TheoryÂ . Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/>.
2 (“Leviathan (Penguin Classics) [Paperback].” Amazon.com: Leviathan (Penguin Classics) (9780140431957): Thomas Hobbes: Books. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.amazon.com/Leviathan-Penguin-Classics-Thomas-Hobbes/dp/0140431950>. Pg. 85