Human Nature As Depicted in Thomas Hobbe’s Book Leviathan
Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651) is a critical work which argues that all men are united by their self-interests, and natural inclinations to acquire (the instinct of self-preservation and the desire for pleasure. Historically, leviathan commonly referred to a mammoth sea monster haunting the depths of the seas, mentioned in six passages the Old Testament of the Bible in Job 3:8, Job 40:15–41:26, Amos 9:3, Psalms 74:13–23, Psalm 104:26 and Isaiah 27:1. Depicted as a fusion of both dragon and serpent, the leviathan which mercilessly destroys so many creatures including mankind, is promised a merciless demise at the end of earth’s history. In Mesopotamian myth, the leviathan is represented as having seven heads and whose virulent enemies were the people of God. Strangely, Hobbes compares man’s own egoistic nature as a leviathan, relishing in dominion over other men he counts as his intrinsic property. He counts three major causes of conflict which stirs up war: competition, diffidence, and glory. Therefore, war is the natural product of man’s belligerence, his passion for self-aggrandizement, and his inclination to seem superior to others.
Laws and government are existent and in force to protect and curb these lusts of man. Lawlessness and the lack of a common superior power begets civil wars, force and fraud. “War of man against every man,” sums up man’s acquisitive and controversial nature in the name of service to his purposes. The motives of peace are judged as the fear of death and the desire to peace to gain materialistic ends and enjoy comforts. Absolute Monarchy is upheld as a regime which fosters relative peace and provides protection because The Supremacy of One counterbalances and checks the strivings of men among themselves for there is Another that surpasses them all.
The right of nature is identified as “jus naturale” is the liberty that each man possesses to protect himself from imminent danger or the right to self-preservation. The law of nature is identified as “lex naturalis” is the law which proscribes man’s self-destruction or which threatening his own existence. Therefore, man’s own security and safety are priority. Because of man’s contentious nature, peace is unattainable and war inevitable. Man’s conceding his right to defend himself or to use any means necessary to preserve his self and his interests can be a way to peace. Man’s right to self-preservation may be renounced or transferred; but it is in the transference of his right which most often redounds to his benefit and shows his own self-interest. Here, Hobbes alludes to the social contract which in effect transfers man’s natural right (or rights of nature) to a superior body to govern and rule such as a king or civil government.
Establishment of a common power aids to shield against foreign invasion and protects the compatriots from one another based on the “All against All principle.” Contract furthers the cause for common peace and safety and security even as the subjects transfer their rights. Commonwealth stands as the product of the voluntary surrender of the natural rights or (rights of nature/ laws of nature) to a common ruler or an assembly of governors where they are entrusted with the protection and security, peace and defence of all. As a consequence, the emergence of leviathan is described as the great monster (the civil governing body) in whom is united the amalgamation of the wills of a people and/or nation.
Escaping From The Nature Of Humans As Depicted in Thomas Hobbes Book, The Leviathan
In the Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes is describing what makes up the core conditions of human nature and the constant state of war people face with each other from living in a state of nature. The state that humanity lives in now has come about after struggling in a crude and primitive state of nature, where every human being is in conflict with each other for their very own survival. Humankind without a centralized government or community is always in a state of war or conflict with each other. In this state, humans are always surrounded by death, lacking the necessities that are crucially needed to survive, which prohibits their ability to live in peace and advance into a community or society. The only way for humans to escape a state of nature is by creating a social contract with one another to establish a community that can be civil with each other.
Hobbes also wrote about how all men are created equal by nature, and that every man can attain their needs either through physical conflict or “secret machination” with each other. One man can have more physical strength over another, but another may be stronger in mind with more intelligence; therefore every man is ultimately equal to each other. If a man is equal to another man from having equal talents and abilities, then man will never fully reach true equality with one another, leading to a constant state of war with one another. According to Hobbes “And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in a way to their end endeavour to destroy or subdue one another. And from hence it comes to pass that where an invader hath no more fear than another man’s single power, if one plant, sow, build, or possess a convenient seat, others may probably be expected to come prepared with forces untied to dispossess and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life or liberty. And the invader again is in the like danger of another.”
The nature of human beings is made up from three principal causes of conflict with one another which according to Hobbes is “First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly glory.” When humankind lives in a condition without a common goal or purpose, then they are living in a constant state of war that pits “every man against every man.” Whereby the war waged is not only actual physical confrontation with each other but also the will to live and survive throughout time indefinably. Since every man is an enemy to each other during a time of war, humanity is not able to flourish and progress. Hobbes painted a very bleak description of the effects from being in a constant state of war in the Leviathan when he said that “In such condition there is no place for industry, because fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor the use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no art; 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.”
Human Equalities According to Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes lays his political foundation on the explicit assumption that men are equal in strength and prudence. Strength refers to bodily strength, and it is equal among men because each individual theoretically has the capability of killing any other individual. Prudence is a sort of crude cause-and-effect reasoning that experience confers to people, and experience is gotten through “time, [and] equally bestowes on all men, in those things they equally apply themselves unto” (87). Finally, out of these two equalities he derives the “equality of hope in the attaining of our Ends” (87), which means that people have equal hope or ambition in attaining their goals. Despite the fact that he builds his philosophy on several basic equalities, he still advances arguments against Democracy and for Monarchy. Monarchy he defines in the usual way, as a government ruled by one man. Democracy is “an Assembly of All that will come together” (129); in other words it is an Athenian type of popular democracy, where any person with an interest may participate in the governing assembly. In considering the possibility of private interests superseding public interests, Hobbes’ arguments against democracy and for monarchy take into account equality of hope for attaining one’s ends, but his support of monarchy contradicts equality of prudence and his support of government by acquisition is inconsistent with equality of strength. Hobbes’ support of monarchy is consistent with his idea of equal hope, as he addresses private ambition in both monarchy and democracy. In Hobbes’ philosophy, people are equally ambitious; all people have equal hope in attaining their individual ends. Thus, both monarch and democratic assemblymen will necessarily be anxious to “procure the private good of himself,” and furthermore prefer to satisfy the private good over the public good. A concrete example he raises is the practice of enriching one’s flatterers and favorites at public expense, which both monarchs and assemblymen may do. Thus, Hobbes addresses equally the possibility of corruption in both forms of government, monarchy and democracy. However, his espousal of monarchy hinges on the argument that a monarch’s corruption will do less damage, because a monarch’s “private interest is the same with the publique” (131). After all, he argues, a King can only be rich if his subjects are rich. While this may be rationally true in the long run, one can hardly trust a monarch to be rational enough to recognize this fact. There is no reason not to expect a monarch to short-sightedly plunder his subjects for his own immediate gain, neglecting long-term stability. Furthermore, Hobbes argues that with the case of governing assemblies, the public good is not as aligned with the private good of the assemblymen. However, this argument seems to be directed more towards the Aristocratic form of government, where only a part of the populace may be admitted to the ruling assembly. In a Democracy as Hobbes himself defined it, anyone “that will” may participate in the assembly. In this case, the public good is always identical with the private good, for the rulers and the subjects are in fact one and the same. In addition, there can actually be no favorites or flatterers that try to curry favor with the assembly; all men can wield power directly from within the assembly itself. In addition, any excessive pursuit of private good is always subject to the scrutiny and veto of fellow democrats. Private interests are balanced against each other in a democracy in a way that does not exist in monarchy. Thus, although Hobbes’ arguments are consistent with his assumption that people have “equality of hope in attaining of…Ends,” his argument that private and public interests are best aligned in a Monarchy fails for its inconsistency with the structure of Democracy as he defines it. Furthermore, favoring monarchy over democracy seems to defy Hobbes’ assumption that all men are equal in Prudence. For Hobbes, Prudence is the process of learning from one’s experience: “Sometime a man desires to know the event of an action; and then he thinketh of some like action past, and the events thereof one after another; supposing like events will follow like actions…Which kind of thoughts, is called…Prudence” (22). It thus seems odd that he would rather entrust the commonwealth to one person, whose prudence we would have no especial reason to trust, than entrust the commonwealth to a multitude of people’s various prudences summed together. After all, if “Prudence is…contracted from the Experience” (23), then surely many people’s experiences added up would be more useful in judging what decisions to make. Hobbes’ answer to this objection would probably be akin to his argument regarding “Reason,” a higher and more infallible version of Prudence: “No one mans Reason, nor the Reason of any one number of men makes the certaintie; no more than an account is therefore well cast up, because a great many men have unanimously approved it” (32). In other words, just because a lot of people agree with something doesn’t make it right. Instead, a “Judge” or arbitrator should be chosen by dissenting parties to settle disputes. In a democratic government one has the option of abiding by the assembly’s majority instead of submitting to the judgment of a single arbitrator (or monarch). There is no reason to suppose that the arbitrator’s prudence would be superior in Hobbes’ world of equal prudence, so bringing in a monarch is as illogical as bringing in an arbitrator. One might actually argue that in fact, the more people approve an account, the more likely mistakes will be corrected, and the more likely it will be correct in the end. Otherwise, there would be no logic in double-checking accounts. Thus, in light of equality of prudence, a democracy would seem to be more favorable. There is one loophole by which Hobbes’ defense of monarchy may be brought into alignment with his equality of Prudence. The definition of Prudence also specifies that men are only equal in “things they equally apply themselves unto” (87). That is to say, a person who applies himself to ruling may be as good at ruling as a carpenter who applies himself equally to carpentry is at carpentry. Thus, if Hobbes could have proposed some sort of mechanism by which a monarch would apply himself to leadership and ruling and therefore gain Prudence in it, then it might make sense to entrust ruling to a professional ruler rather than carpenters, bricklayers, and people in general. Without such a mechanism, however, entrusting governance to a monarch who could devote himself to anything else betrays Hobbes principle that people are equal in Prudence. Finally, Hobbes’ justification of sovereignty by acquisition really amounts to justifying monarchy by force and violates his original principle of equality of strength. Hobbes outlines two ways a commonwealth might be established: either through institution or through acquisition. If people were really equal in strength, as Hobbes says, the state of nature and perpetual anarchy would last forever until people realized that their best interest was peace and agreed to come together to institute a government. Endorsing a government instituted by an assembly where a “Multitude of men do Agree, and covenant, every one, with every one, that to whatsoever Man or assembly of Men, shall be given by the major part, the Right to Present the Person of them all…every one, as well as he that Voted for it, as he that Voted against it” (121) would be akin to endorsing democracy. No matter what the final form of the government becomes, the institution of it was through a democratic assembly and vote. The other option is establishment by force, which is “when men singly, or many together by plurality of voices, for fear of death, or bonds, do authorize all the actions of that Man, or Assembly, that hath their lives and liberty in his Power” (138). However, one must note that there can be no such thing as commonwealth by acquisition in the case of Democracy. In a Democracy, all people can participate equally in the government, so there cannot be a political distinction between conquering people and vanquished people. If, hypothetically, a Democracy were to conquer another people, and then let the “vanquished” people participate in the democratic assembly, then those people would immediately gain power and therefore not be the vanquished any longer. Only in the case of Monarchy or Aristocracy can one man or assembly of men subjugate the non-governing peoples of a commonwealth. Thus, in justifying the two ways commonwealths are created, Hobbes’ is really drawing a line between monarchy (or aristocracy) acquired by force, and democracy as represented by the democratic process of commonwealth creation. In Hobbes’ world, monarchy is at least just as good as the democratic process, despite the fact that supporting a monarchy acquired by force violates the principle of equality of strength in a way that supporting a commonwealth by institution might not. Hobbes paints commonwealth by acquisition as equally legitimate to commonwealth by institution, because in both cases, people consent to be governed because they are afraid, either of a particular Man or Assembly, or of each other. However, one person forcefully extracting a people’s consent to dominate them clearly depends on his strength in a way that the democratic process does not; the would-be monarch and his forces must have greater strength than the people he’s trying to conquer. If people truly had equality in strength, then no such conquering should be possible; someone should always be able to assassinate the would-be monarch. On the other hand, the democratic process is consistent with equality of strength since every person’s vote is equal as their strengths are supposed to be. As noted before, supporting monarchy by institution would be equivalent to supporting democracy since institution is through a democratic process. Thus, supporting a monarchy by acquisition violates Hobbes’ principle of equal strength in a way that democracy, or even monarchy by institution, does not. If we allow, as Hobbes suggests, that a commonwealth covenanted by force is as good as democratic agreement, then we negate the stated principle of equal strength and there would be no limit to the number of legitimate covenants that could be contracted by coercion of the stronger over the weaker. Hobbes advances a number of other arguments in favor of monarchy over democracy, such as the facts that a monarch cannot disagree with himself and assemblies are subject to inconstancy due to fluctuating attendance. However, these are more structural arguments and do not especially touch on the underlying principles of equality of strength, prudence, and hope, and thus we will not touch upon them here. His most specific and major argument in favor of monarchy is consistent with equality of hope, because he at least considers equally the possibility that monarchs and assemblymen might favor their own private interests over public interests, despite arguing illogically that public and private interests are more aligned in a monarch than in democratic assemblymen. However, his endorsement of monarchy calls into question whether trusting governance of the commonwealth to one man’s experience over a multitude of people’s experiences is consistent with the idea that people are equal in prudence. Finally, his argument that a commonwealth by acquisition, which logically applies only monarchies and aristocracies, is just as good if not better than a commonwealth by democratic institution is not consistent with the idea that people are equal in strength. Since commonwealths were commonly acquired by force, one must call into question Hobbes’ entire assumption that people are equal in strength. Without that key assumption, covenants might always be established by domination of the stronger, and Hobbes’ entire philosophy degenerates into the maxims of “rule of the stronger” and “might makes right.” References: Hobbes, Thomas. Tuck, Richard (ed). Hobbes: Leviathan: Revised Student Edition. Cambridge University Press: 1996.
Lock, Hobbes, and the Federalist Papers
The Federalist Papers, written by Jay, Madison, and Hamilton, were laid out in order to convince the individual states to ratify the new U.S. Constitution and defend a central government. Many times the words of these Founding Fathers echoed those of 17th century authors Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Federalist #10, #51, and #78, all bear resemblance to either or both of these philosophers, especially Locke’s Two Treatises of Government and Hobbes’ Leviathan. Many of the essays found in the Federalist Papers are in one way or another based on these two gentlemen, and specifically these two works. In Federalist #10, James Madison addresses the problem of factions, and the problematic inability to dissolve these factions. He writes that factions are impossible to dissolve without taking away liberty, thus the best course of action is to take power away from the factions and attempt to control them. This is very similar to Hobbes’ view of the “state of nature”. According to Madison, a society with unchecked factions is likely to run rampant and wild, such as that described in Leviathan. Madison argues that factions exist to join people with similar passions or ideas and allows them to fight against what they consider wrong. Naturally, this causes animosity and warring between groups, because, according to Hobbes, “If any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in their way to the End, endeavor to destroy, or subdue one an other.” However, the liberty that allows these factions to exist cannot be taken away. Locke grants all the “natural rights” of “life, health, liberty, and possessions”, something which Madison agrees with and defends. The question arises of how to control these factions while still allowing them to have these “natural rights”. Madison’s answer, which resembles Locke, is to have a representative government. A government who gets its power from those it leads. Madison also argues that this government must be made up of a large number of people, so that it is “less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens.” Ideally, this representation of people will be prohibitive to Hobbes’ constant state of war and violence. Both Madison’s Federalist #10 and Locke’s Two Treatises of Government agree that in the natural state, factions or groups will emerge against one another, and the best way to control these groups is through a representative governing body, made up of enough people to remain impartial, so that any one faction cannot rise up and gain authoritarian power. Federalist #51 discusses the need for power to be separated amongst various branches of the government, so that one single group cannot rise up and gain total control. Madison states that by “so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places.” Similarly, as Locke suggests, the government will only have the powers that the people give it. Should the government overstep its bounds and infringe on the natural rights of man, Locke gives the people the right to revolt, because the government has breached a social contract. By spreading the power out and only allowing the government to control that which it is given by the people, the possibility that one group will rise up is eliminated. Federalist #78, written by Alexander Hamilton, discusses the role of the judiciary and the need for a judiciary separated from the executive and legislative branches. Locke supports the development of a judicial branch. In his words, “Those who are united into one body, and have a common established law and judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide controversies between them, and punish offenders, are in civil society one with another: but those who have no such common appeal, I mean on earth, are still in the state of nature, each being, where there is no other, judge for himself, and executioner; which is, as I have before shewed it, the perfect state of nature.” Forming a judicial branch furthers the development of a “civil society” and takes people away from the “state of nature”. Hamilton also views the judicial branch as relatively harmless. He states the judicial branch is the least powerful because it cannot “attack with success either of the other two.” Hamilton proposes that the judicial branch will be the foundation of a limited Constitution. The courts can determine legislation as well as the acts of the executive branch to be unconstitutional, and therefore check the other two branches. This proposition would fall in line with Locke’s philosophy of keeping power spread thin in order to limit the influence of factions. Hobbes on the other hand would be less likely to support having a separate judicial branch. Hobbes declares “He therefore that is partial in judgement, doth what in him lies to deter men from the use of judges and arbitrators, and consequently, against the fundamental law of nature, is the cause of war.” Since the nature of man is greedy, selfish, and cruel, having an impartial judge becomes nearly nonexistent. However, this argument is defeated by Locke, whose separated powers prevents partial judgment. Throughout each of these three essays from The Federalist Papers, Hobbes and Locke’s influence is seen time and again. Hamilton, Jay, and Madison, took the different views of the state of nature and found ways to improve Hobbes’ “poor, nasty, brutish, and short” life, by incorporating some of Locke’s ideas to eliminate the state of nature. By limiting factions, spreading out power, and creating a separate judicial system, the Founding Fathers created a government that gains its power from those it governs and a government, as Locke says, that can govern itself first.
Social Fragmentation in the Leviathan: A Critique of Hobbes
Hobbes begins Leviathan, a primarily political work, with a description of man, whom he sees as an isolated unit, a mechanical automaton whose only connection to the outside world is through the senses. Even his thoughts are determined by external objects whose effect is translated by sensation, “for there is no conception in a manÃ¢s mind, which hath not at first, totally, or by parts, been begotten upon the organs of sense” . His view of men is similar to EpicurusÃ¢ conception of atoms, a theory in which the universe consists of indivisible, eternal particles whose endless collisions affect our senses and allow us to understand the world around us. Hobbes interprets this condition, the state of nature, as one of fear and uncertainty. There are no absolute moral standards because each person experiences the world differently, finds pleasure in different things, and judges them accordingly. Hobbes assumes that the reader will be convinced by his description of human nature; he challenges him to read his portrayal of mankind and “consider if he also find not the same in himself” . However, it is unavoidable that the authorÃ¢s ideas are fundamentally influenced by his own particular experiences. If human beings only arrive at understanding through sense and experience, then different conditions should require a different understanding. According to his own logic, HobbesÃ¢ theories only apply to the specific situation in which he lived. Perhaps his observations and conclusions would have been very different if he had lived in an era of peace and stability, rather than in the midst of a chaotic civil war.HobbesÃ¢ understanding of interactions between individuals is predicated on the assumption of complete self-interest. Above all else, men are concerned with their own preservation, and they enjoy dominion over others. He claims “men have no pleasure, (but on the contrary a great deal of grief) in keeping company, where there is no power able to over-awe them all” . Furthermore, there is no obligation, thus no inclination, to respect the rights of others in the absence of a higher authority to enforce the law, since “in such a condition every man has a right to every thing; even to one anotherÃ¢s body” . For Hobbes, right, wrong, and a sense of responsibility to others do not exist until the establishment of a contract. However, not everyone would agree that human nature is really so misanthropic. Within families, for example, individuals clearly do not behave as atomized units; each member is instinctively committed to the security of the others. Seeing that it is nearly impossible to survive, much less enjoy life alone, many would argue that compassion and concern in the welfare of others is as intrinsic a part of human nature as is the drive for self-preservation.At the same time, Hobbes claims that men are equal because of their similar passions and faculties. His proof that they are equally wise, for example, is that every man is satisfied with his own level of wisdom, which he defines as “not the reading of books, but of men” . However, the logic that supports this conclusion is unconvincing: “there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of any thing, than that every man is contented with his share” . It is just as likely that men are contented with what they possess when they are unable to compare it with what others have and cannot imagine having anything else. In any case, if men are equally wise, why should one man have dominion over others? ShouldnÃ¢t a leader with absolute power over his subjects have a superior understanding of men in order to properly represent them? The reader is thus left at a loss as to how the Leviathan deserves his authority.Hobbes tries to resolve this dilemma by claiming that the laws on which a civil society is based can only be understood with reason, a faculty that is “not born with us,” but rather “attained by industry” . For him, “a law of nature is a… general rule found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life” . It seems that such laws should be instinctive, or, according to HobbesÃ¢ logic, quickly discovered by experience. However, he supports his argument for an absolute leader who understands and enforces law and reason by declaring that “the laws of nature (as justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and (in sum) doing to others, as we would be done to, of themselves, …are contrary to our natural passions” . Only with the faculty of reason can men understand the fundamental laws of nature, notably the directive to endeavor peace, which are otherwise unclear to them. Apparently, most men do not sufficiently develop their faculty of reason and are incapable of organizing themselves into a peaceful society without the constant threat of force, since they act according to their passions. However, it seems unlikely that a society could function only through the enlightened reasoning of an elite who can see the benefits of peace. A society that is kept in line through fear would quickly forget the conditions that led them to accept despotic rule in the first place, especially if they are forbidden to read history books. More plausibly, the whole of mankind feels naturally compelled to live together and maintain peace within a sustainable unit, at least.Even if the reader accepts HobbesÃ¢ conception of the state of nature, his description of a state organized around a Leviathan does not seem any less unattractive; he only offers the fear of punishment as a replacement for the fear of death. Hobbes himself says, “there are very few so foolish, that had not rather govern themselves, than be governed by others” . Fear of punishment is the only compelling force that makes contracts possible, thus allowing for the benefits of trade, commerce, and a comfortable, stable life. However, the absolute power of the Leviathan does not eliminate uncertainty; subjects are still vulnerable to the changing whims of the ruler. The only change is that uncertainty comes from one powerful source instead of the many weaker ones that constitute the state of nature. Moreover, the Leviathan will only enforce both ends of a contract when he chooses to do so. He may take no interest in a violation or could intervene on behalf of his own interests or those of a favorite subject. Not being bound by a contract himself, he can change the laws as he chooses. Locke justly criticizes this arrangement, stating, “much better it is in the state of nature, wherein men are not bound to submit to the unjust will of another…Ã¢? [Political Writings 268].HobbesÃ¢ description of the LeviathanÃ¢s rule is also inconsistent with his earlier statements. The rulerÃ¢s theoretical representation of all of his subjects seems impossible given the assumption of knowledge through sense experience. Though the people sacrifice their rights to him, there is no way that the Leviathan can have perfect knowledge of all of their opinions and wishes Ã¢” he may have none at all. If he is not accountable to the will of the people, how can he avoid ruling solely according to his own experience? In fact, the longer he rules, the more his experiences will be completely unlike those of his subjects. Eventually he would have a perspective that is completely cut off from theirs, since absolute power would eliminate the fear of external threat that would remain present in their lives.This dictator demands more than outward obedience from his subjects; he also requires the sacrifice of private property and even personal standards of morality. In a commonwealth, the subject has only the right to his life, since he has replaced his own will with the public one. Accordingly, Hobbes advocates strict censorship of the press, as well as books of history and literature in order to suppress the “seditious doctrines that lead to rebellion” . Subjects give up their freedom of thought in order to preserve the strength of the commonwealth, and they must accept that “the measure of good and evil actions is the civil law; and the judge the legislator, who is always the representative of the commonwealth” . Only the Leviathan can act according to the dictates of his own conscience. In this argument, Hobbes shows that he is undeniably a materialist. He is satisfied that a comfortable life is enough persuasion to justify surrendering the kind of individuality that Locke and most Americans today value so highly.Hobbes begins from such a pessimistic and chaotic view of man that it seems impossible to create any kind of order from his state of nature. How could one ruler subdue the varied and completely self-centered interests of an entire nation? The brutish man that Hobbes describes seems incapable of living in organized society, whereas the enlightened reader is disgusted by the idea of sacrificing all rights except that of self-preservation to another. Regardless, a close reading of the Leviathan reveals it to be closer to dark fantasy than to reality.
An Examination of Leviathan and The Second Treatise of Government
The focus of this essay is to examine the political theories of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke as presented in their books, Leviathan and The Second Treatise of Government, through the analyses of their definitions and uses of the terms: natural equality, natural right, natural liberty and law of nature. It is important to note that Locke and Hobbes each have a different conception of human nature which is reflected in their uses of these terms and in their political theories in the overall.Both Locke and Hobbes begin with the understanding that all humans are equal. Nevertheless, each one of them has a different conception of this equality and its implications on society. From Hobbes’ perspective people are all naturally equal, while some people are physically strong, others are more astute, so that there exists an equilibrium in the powerfulness of all people in a state of nature.1 From this assumption, Hobbes concludes that war is inevitable. When people who are equally powerful desire one thing they automatically become enemies and there is nothing to stop them from fighting with the knowledge that they each have equal chances of gain. On the other hand, Locke believes that humans are for the most part rational enough to recognize that they are all equal in human nature, and therefore, no one should violate another’s rights. In fact, he goes as far as to state that our natural equality is such an inherent part of us that it is impossible to completely give it up or have it stripped away from us by others. He also claims humans will love one another just as they love themselves, and that no one would harm another knowing that they are all equal; for to harm another is to bring suffering unto oneself.2Whatever their conception of natural equality and its implications on human behavior, both Locke and Hobbes believe that all humans have the natural rights to carry out all acts that preserve their life, and the natural liberty to exercise those rights without any restrictions. In Hobbes’ conception of natural rights, he even takes it a little farther in saying that anything that a person may define as an act of preservation of life and/or simply well being is also a right. Locke, nevertheless, specifically mentions that natural liberty is the freedom to be governed exclusively by the laws of nature and by nothing and no one else. Thus, in Locke’s perspective there are the boundaries of the laws of nature to be considered within natural liberty.Having established these notions of natural equality, rights and liberty, Hobbes concludes that in light of these rights and equality, mankind will never reach a state of security and stability. The first law of nature that he introduces declares that one ought to seek peace as long as he know that he can attain it. From this law, Hobbes derives the second law of nature, that as far as there is promise for peace then a person must cast away his “right to all things an be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself.” Thus, Hobbes claims that the only reasonable laws that people can follow to ensure their security and stability is to collectively set aside their natural rights and redefine their liberty in terms of what they will allow others, and in turn themselves. In these laws, Hobbes lays the foundation for the justification for an absolute sovereign power. In opposition, the laws of nature as Locke claims them are not only consistent with natural rights and liberty but actually mandate them. Locke’s first natural law is that humans must do that which preserves their life, and that which preserves mankind. Here Locke makes the basis of his political theory clear, by declaring that individuals in a state of nature have the power to create a structure for security and stability simply by exercising their natural rights and equality. Within this context, Locke includes the protection of one’s self and others from those who assume authority and impose ‘subordination’ among them. In this sense, Locke has entrusted every individual to enforce the laws of nature, thereby creating a framework for democracy.3
The role of fear in Hobbes’ political thought
Born on the day of the invasion of the Spanish Armada, Thomas Hobbes said himself that he was born a twin with fear. Living with the turmoil of the ongoing English civil war, Hobbes lived in fear and uncertainty. When he became convinced that the English parliament was going to turn against King Charles I, Hobbes fled to France, where he later wrote Leviathan, his most significant work, regarded as one of the most influential political and philosophical texts from the 17th century. In this work, and, more broadly, in Hobbes’ political thought, the effects of fear play an observably pivotal role in the formulation of his theories. It is clear that Hobbes perceives and applies fear, both as a catalyst of chaos and as a force of good. Referencing human nature, Hobbes argues that in the trivial anarchical society, people would live with constant fear, which in turn would make them conduct criminal acts for the sake of their own survival or wellbeing. He also underlines that a certain amount of fear for the Leviathan, the supreme ruler, is needed to create loyalty and to maintain respect. Therefore, fear plays a significant but versatile role in Hobbes’ political thought.
From the principles of self-preservation, and through his distinction between law of nature and right to nature, Hobbes founded the basic principles of his political thought. He expressed that the fear of death and compromise of personal safety, survival and security would surpass any other. From this premise, Hobbes then derived that the nature of mankind was brutish and individualistic, unless governed by a strong central power. Hobbes stated that in the chaotic anarchical society that would eventually emerge in the absence of such a governing central power, the life of men would be characterized by continual fear and would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes, 82). With an inherent scarcity of resources, a perpetual conflict would emerge, placing every individual in society against one another. Hobbes stated that this conflict would then be hard to end as no human possesses complete physical or mental superiority, and from an aggregate standpoint, humans are to be considered as very equal in strength and capacity. He furthers this argument by applying it to the honoring of contracts. Hobbes argues that in an anarchist society, contracts and covenants would not be honored, or would only be honored for a brief period of time. If either party would then suspect the other of planning to break the contract, they would act preemptively. Therefore, it is clear that Hobbes places significant value on fear and its effect in human decision-making, and attributes much of the tumultuousness and uncertainty to the prominence of fear, in the absence of a strong centralized ruling power.
Hobbes postulated that in order to maintain safety and peace, the people would need to sacrifice a number of freedoms and liberties, and to respect the authority of the Leviathan. Highly authoritative and omnipotent, the Leviathan is depicted as a leader that has an uncompromised legitimacy, so long as he serves to protect and govern his people, and as a leader who is free to govern in a manner of absolutism. Hobbes states that the order of the Leviathan should always be obeyed, lest it conflicts with personal survival, and unless the Leviathan no longer serves to protect his people. Therefore, it is clear that Hobbes holds that the people should, to a certain extent, fear their leader, in ways that solidify their loyalty to, and respect for, the Leviathan. Under the fear that they would be persecuted for uncivilized acts only acceptable under the rule of anarchy, the people would then refrain from committing these acts, and would be able to coexist. Therefore, it is clear that the Leviathan takes on an intimidating role as well, incentivizing people to obey the laws set forth. Hence the fear is redirected from the constant immediate fear of survival, described by Hobbes as an inextricable component of the anarchy, to the possible intervention of the Leviathan.
The concept of fear is illustrated in Leviathan as a tradeoff. By accepting the supreme and absolute rule of the strong central leader, the people can exchange the ongoing sentiment of insecurity and fear of survival for one of fearful respect for their leader. However, the fear of chaos and anarchy outweighs that of tyrannical rule, and therefore, according to Hobbes, it is logical for the people to support the rule of the Leviathan. So long as there is no immediate threat to survival, and so long as a governmental power can work to reduce this threat, then the rule of that power is legitimate, such is the perception of Hobbes. Therefore, it seems that Hobbes is keen to justify any power that actively works to uphold order and civilized customs. Perhaps this was inspired by the many years Hobbes spent living in the chaos of the English civil war. However, this pardoning and justifying view of the government and its power came to inspire the majority of his political thought. The question one can ask today however is how Hobbes’ perception would have changed had he formulated his theories in the context of today, with respect to the many instances of abuses of power witnessed over the past centuries after his death.
Works Cited Hobbes, Thomas, and Richard Tuck. Leviathan. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991. Print.
Spinoza and Hobbes on Religious and Political Freedoms
I. IntroductionDominant interpretations of the Leviathan seem to always point to fear as the affect that convinces Hobbesian subjects to enter the social contract in the first place and to steadfastly obey the sovereign. Hobbes often defines institutions within the landscape in terms of either fear or anxiety. Hobbes even defines religion as, “Fear of power invisible, feigned by the mind or imagined from tales publiquely allowed (42).” There has been a surge of scholarship in recent decades that moves away from this preoccupation with fear and obedience towards other conceptions of how Hobbes’s community operates. Some readings have proposed that Hobbes was in some ways a protoliberal, an advocate for toleration or a voice for bourgeoisie values. J. Judd Owen makes a case, in his 2005 article The Tolerant Leviathan, that Hobbes could be classified as a liberal philosopher as his doctrine of toleration is not too different from Locke’s tolerant worldview. Owen argues that although Hobbes does not grant unconditional rights to his subjects he does conceive of a type of government that has limited purposes (139). Owen’s reading of the text deemphasizes the ways in which Hobbes’s system is held together by violence or the threat of violence. Other non-traditional readings of the Leviathan, like Mary Dietz’s essay Hobbes’s Subject as Citizen, also deemphasize the authoritarian components in Hobbes’s theory. Dietz argues that Hobbes based his system on the cultivation of civic virtues. According to Dietz, individuals would honor the social contract not simply because they feared the sovereign but also because they would internalize values like generosity and justice which compelled them to look for the common good in society. Internalization of these values would ensure civic community and cohesion among Hobbesian subjects (95-96). The following essay will explore the concept of civic community but will not solely concentrate on Hobbes’s treatment of the concept. Instead, it will also draw upon Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise and examine the startling differences between the two texts. Hobbes and Spinoza are two theorists that are often aligned against each other not only because they were rationalists who shared the same time period but also because Spinoza was reputedly influenced by much of Hobbes’s writing. Spinoza referred to the Leviathan when he composed the Theological-Political Treatise (Elwes’s introduction xxxii). This paper will attempt to trace how Spinoza’s system offers a more complete and satisfactory conception of civic community. Civic community entails the definition that Dietz highlights in her text as being a society that is cohesive. However, civic community, as defined by political scientists like Robert Putnam, also had additional connotations. According to Putnam, civic community also involves civic engagement, political equality and associations that foster cooperation (87-89). Spinoza, rather than Hobbes, is a true advocate for civic community and cohesion as he grants greater space for religious expression and political freedoms such as freedom of speech. Hobbes’ political system is primarily concerned with limiting many forms of public expression and the possible civic community that usually results from such free expression. Spinoza and Hobbes both agreed that religion should not serve as a competing source of authority to a sovereign. They both also maintained that the sovereign should ban forms of speech that could possibly incite rebellion. However, Spinoza grants his subjects much greater freedoms to express themselves within his polity and this freedom helps foster civic community. Empirical examples from the 19th and 20th centuries help illustrate the positive benefits of Spinoza’s liberalism. Religious and political expression encourages community by fostering charity among worshipers and by allowing space for subjects to question forms of authority. Historical examples such as the Roman Catholic Church’s advocacy in Poland demonstrate how infringing upon religious space can cause churchgoers to rebel and precipitate a community crisis. Religious pluralism in places like Poland and 19th century America can inspire social movements that advance egalitarian values and civic engagement. In order to gain a better understanding of their religious ideas one must not only examine their stances on religious freedoms but also examine Hobbes and Spinoza’s interpretations of Biblical material. Both offered some radical insights but Hobbes spent greater rhetorical energy in manipulating parts of the text to conform to his political vision. Historical examples, like the antebellum South, demonstrate that such a move can lead to subjugation rather than the construction of a more civic and egalitarian community. II. Secular State Spinoza and Hobbes make numerous appeals throughout their texts for the creation of a secular state in which the sovereign has sole power to interpret and enforce state laws. Neither philosopher alleges that the state can in some way eradicate religious impulses out of individuals. Hobbes maintains in his early chapter on religion (Chapter 12) that, “[it] can never be so abolished out of human nature, but that new religions may again be made to spring out of them, by the culture of such men, as for such purpose are in reputation (83).” Human beings will always be anxious of the future and thus in Hobbes view will always invent religions in order to assuage their anxiety. However, Hobbes is deeply troubled by how religious devotion can inspire men to commit injustices in the name of God and attempt to challenge power under religious decree. Hobbes explicitly states that a covenant with God should never be recognized and that the sovereign should be, “Judge of what opinions and Doctrines are averse, and what conducing to peace (122).” Similarly, Spinoza also declares that the church must come under the rule of the sovereign power. Spinoza states, “We see how necessary it is, both in the interests of the state and in the interests of religion to confer on the sovereign power the right of deciding what is lawful or the reverse (242).” He makes explicit his desire for the sovereign to have control over the religious sphere when he states, “we shall easily understand how the sovereign rulers are the proper interpreters of religion and piety (249).” III. Religious Spaces and Conscience While both philosophers argue for secular rule, Hobbes goes much further in attempting to deny private space for worship and the accessing of one’s conscience. Hobbes delineates between public and private worship, stating that: “publique, [worship] in respect of the whole Common-wealth is Free, but in respect of Particular men it is not so. Private, is in secret Free, but in the sight of the multitude, it is never without some Restraint, either from the Lawes, or from the opinion of men; which is contrary to the nature of liberty (249).” Hobbes conceives of public and private worship mainly as instruments of obedience. He frames this passage within a discussion of the ways in which prayers, thanks and obedience are worthy signs of honor. When Hobbes refers to ‘public worship as free’ he is imitating that public worship should be permissible if it intended to somehow honor the good deeds of others within the commonwealth. Hobbes pictures public worship as the, “winning of favour by good offices; as by praises, by acknowledging their Power, and by whatsoever is pleasing to them from whom we look for any benefit (248).” This concept of worship is limited. People often turn to worship to question the direction of their lives and to question authority. In the above quoted passage Hobbes seems to be condemning the practice of private worship as he intimates that something outside the public gaze lacks restraint and could be seditious. Karen Feldman, in her paper Conscience and the Concealments of Metaphor in Hobbes’s Leviathan, presents a compelling argument of how Hobbes is expresses apprehension towards concepts such as privacy and conscience throughout his work. Her work does provide a helpful framework for understanding how Hobbes viewed private worship. She argues that Hobbes considers privacy to be dangerous concept because in this space individuals are able to access their conscience and form opinions that contradict those of the sovereign. Feldman states, “The divergences and conflicts produced by private judgment and opinion are thus threatening to the stability of the commonwealth, for they break with what Hobbes describes as the public character of knowledge, reason, and law (22).” Hobbes most forcefully describes his reservations towards private space and conscience in this passage: “Another doctrine repugnant to Civill Society, is, that whatsoever a man does against his conscience, is sin; and it dependeth on the presumption of making himself judge of good and evil. For a man’s conscience, and his judgment is the same thing, and as the judgment, so also the conscience may be erroneous. Therefore, though he that is subject to no civil law, sinneth in all he does against his conscience, because he has no other rule to follow but his own reason; yet it is not so with him that lives in a commonwealth; because the law is the public conscience, by which he hath already undertaken to be guided. Otherwise in such diversity, as there is of private consciences, which are but private opinions, the commonwealth must needs be distracted, and no man dare to obey the sovereign power, further than it shall seem good in his own eyes” (223). Public ‘conscience’ is valorized while private conscience can be both erroneous and is also a hindrance to the commonwealth. According to Hobbes, men guided by their private conscience will act in conflicting ways and nurture seditious thoughts. While Hobbes does not directly state that private spaces primarily inspire this type of thinking, Feldman argues that Hobbes’ use of the proposition “in” when discussing conscience implies interiority and private space (23-24). At one point Hobbes asserts, “But this pretence of Covenant with God, is so evident a lye, even in the pretenders own consciences, that it is not onely an act of an unjust but also of a vile and unmanly disposition (122).” Later when describing the duties of the sovereign, Hobbes writes, “as much as in his own conscience he shall judge necessary (231).” At the end of the text, Hobbes once again invokes this construction when stating, “when there is scarce a Common-wealth in the world, whose beginnings can in conscience be justified (486). It is possible that Hobbes used the proposition “in” in these occurrences to signify how Hobbes intended to frame conscience as something that operates in private space. If we grant the possibility that ‘in’ signifies private space the first quoted passage in which Hobbes refers to unmanly disposition could also be viewed as an injunction against private worship. Because private worship involves quiet, serious contemplation it is a setting where most individuals will access their conscience. This correlation implies that Hobbes was deeply troubled by the practice of private worship and would not encourage it within his polity. Hobbes makes a more explicit condemnation of public faith when he recommends that public worship be thoroughly uniform. In his chapter The Kingdome of God by Nature, Hobbes declares:”But seeing a Common-wealth is but one Person, it ought also to exhibite to God one worship…And this Publique Worship; the property whereof, is to be Uniforme: For those actions that are done differently, by different men, cannot be said to be a Publique Worship” (252-253). Because the sovereign controls all public doctrines public worship for Hobbes would only serve the needs of the state, not the needs of an individuals seeking answers or salvation. In his effort to enforce a uniform doctrine the sovereign would not grant the religious institutions any autonomy to develop their own programs. Hobbes also expresses suspicion towards members of clergy throughout the text and thus would not likely provide churches much freedom to operate. Spinoza—Public and Private Religious Space Near the end of the treatise Spinoza lays out the boundaries between public and private worship and limits the power the sovereign wields in the private sphere. Spinoza states:”Moreover, the rites of religion and the outward observances of piety should be in accordance with the public peace and well-being, and should be determined by the sovereign power alone. I speak here only of the outward observances of piety and the external rites of religion, not of piety itself, nor of the inward worship of God” (245). Spinoza maintains that the intrusion of public authorities into private sphere of religious worship could alienate the citizenry and possibly damage the sovereign’s authority in the process. At the outset of his work Spinoza boldly states that, “In demonstrating that not only can such freedom be granted without prejudice to the public peace, but also, that without such freedom, piety cannot flourish nor the public peace be secure (6).” Unlike Hobbes, Spinoza makes no recommendation for a uniform religious doctrine or for complete control over religious institutions. In the preface to the TPT, Spinoza recognizes the conflict that can arise when ambitious men gain control of the pulpit but he does not view complete incursion into public religious spaces as the optimal solution for this conflict. How Religious Spaces Help Construct Civic Community There are numerous historical examples that support Spinoza’s assertion that public peace is best secured when the government allows for some type of religious expression. The Roman Catholic Church’s resistance to Communist rule is one of the most noteworthy examples of how excessive intrusion into religious sphere can foment political crisis. By the 1950’s, Communist leaders began to take aggressive actions against Polish church authorities. Religious leaders were imprisoned and Soviet elites openly discriminated against lay members. Soviet-modeled campaigns also emphasized the elimination of religion (Borowski 390). Intellectuals within the party promoted an idea of ‘instant secularization’. Supposedly, Polish society would undergo an instant process of secularization due to anti-religious efforts and urbanization (Borowski 395). The Catholic Church was deeply rooted within Polish culture. According to political scientist Karen Borowski the church was not only a vehicle for salvation but also concerned with, “all matters related to individual and societal welfare of the country, e.g. concerns about the economy, agricultural reform, education, environmental protection, work and re-compensation, value of human life, peace and justice (390).” Soviet intrusion into public and private religious spaces spurred a major uprising against Communist rule. By the 1970s, the Roman Catholic Church assumed a critical role in resisting Communist oppression. The Solidarity Movement, a prominent organizing union with alliances to church officials began winning concessions from Soviet officials in this period. In 1981, the communist government responded by instating martial law and brutally suppressing organizers. After brutal suppression the church remained the only organized voice in the country. Eventually, the church and union activists toppled the Communist regime and helped usher in a period of radical liberalization and privatization in the early 1990s (391). The Polish example is a valid demonstration for how Spinoza’s political system is more conducive for establishing order and encouraging forms of civic community. Poland currently enjoys greater stability, civic engagement and political equality than it enjoyed during the Communist years. Granting religious space to religious organizations has not led to any type of religious domination or caused a deterioration of civic community. Now Poland enjoys consumer society, higher education levels and democratic rights like voting. Martin Myant and Terry Cox’s 2004 surveys of Polish citizens indicate that majority of Poles do not want the church to influence elections or take a position on legislation (135). Poles also overwhelming supported Poland’s membership into the EU despite the fact that it is not a Catholic federation. If one measures civic community by voter turnout, Poland’s civic community should be deemed quite healthy. Presidential election turnout in 1990 was at 61 percent; in 1995 it ran at 65% and dropped a little in 2000 to 60% (Myant and Cox 131). Hobbes’s political system would have difficulty reconciling a case like Poland’s in which religious space did not lead to a major decline in civic order in the long run. IV. Religious Spaces and CharitySpinoza also grants this private sphere for religious worship and the access of individual conscience because he felt that such space would inherently encourage both obedience and charity among subjects. He states, “Faith consists in knowledge of God, without which obedience to Him would be impossible (185).” Spinoza does not require men to master the Bible in order to gain knowledge of God but he does recommend that men devote part of their time to religious study in order to cultivate a greater understanding of faith. He writes, “intellectual or accurate knowledge of God is not a gift, bestowed upon all good men like obedience (177).” It is something that can be understood even by those with “the slowest intelligence” if the individual place effort into studying it (175). Men who possess genuine faith will hold love in their heart for their neighbors and charitably act for the benefit of others (186). Charity is the central tenet in Spinoza’s doctrine. Spinoza assesses, “that we can only judge a man faithful or unfaithful by his works…faith without works is dead (185).” These passages imply that Spinoza is drawing a correlation between religiosity and charity. For Spinoza, religious sentiment compels selfless giving. Essentially, Spinoza describes the private sphere of religious devotion in strikingly different terms than Hobbes because he views it not as an arena where seditious thinking is possible but instead as a practice that instills obedience and charity among worshipers. Unlike Spinoza, Hobbes was not a major advocate for charity motivated by religious devotion. He maintained that, “obedience to his Lawes [sovereign] is the greatest worship of all. For as Obedience is more acceptable to God than Sacrifice; so also to set light by his Commandement, is the greatest of all contumelies. And these are the laws of that Divine Worship, which naturall Reason dictateth to private men (252).” It seems significant that this passage Spinoza highlights private men rather than religious institutions committed to charity. He is prone to cast suspicion on clerical officials claiming to hold answers and thus would also likely doubt the sincerity of institutions providing charity. Historical Examples of Religious Worship and Charity Empirical research demonstrates that Spinoza’s correlation between religious worship and charity has some validity and can be said to be an ingredient towards the construction of a civic community. Charitable giving, according to political scientists such as Robert Putnam, is a legitimate measure of civic community (88). American sociologist Arthur Brooks, in his article Religious Faith and Charitable Giving, argues that religious faith correlates to charitable giving. Brooks draws upon the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (SCCBS), undertaken in 2000 by researchers at universities throughout the United States and the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. Brooks defines ‘religious’ people as respondents that report attending religious services every week or more often. This is 33 percent of the sample. In contrast, those who are ‘secular’ report attending religious services less than a few times per year or emphatically state that they have no religion. Brooks used regression analysis in order to control for variables like gender and political affiliation. Brooks found that religious citizens who make $49,000 contributed about 3.5 times as much money as secular citizens with the same income to charitable causes. He found that they also volunteered twice as often and were 57 percent more likely to help homeless persons. Furthermore, these individuals were two-thirds more likely to give blood at their workplace (2). Brooks also finds that religious charitable giving is usually not self-serving but instead contributes to the larger community. In other words, religious philanthropists gave to both religious and nonreligious causes in greater quantity than secular philanthropists. Sixty-eight percent of the total population gives (and 51 percent volunteers) to nonreligious causes each year. Of this total, religious people were 10 points more likely to give to nonreligious institutions than secularists (71 percent to 61 percent) and 21 points more likely to volunteer (60 percent to 39 percent). Neighborhood and civic groups, elderly support and youth programs were the non-secular causes that Brooks identifies. He finds that religious people had a 7 point higher likelihood for volunteering for neighborhood and civic groups, 20 point higher likelihood for volunteering to help the poor or elderly, and a 26 point higher likelihood for volunteering for school or youth programs (3). Brooks also discounts the notion that secular individuals were more likely to offset charity by giving informally to family and friends. Using 1999 data from the Bureau of Labor Standards, Brooks finds that informal and formal charity are not substitutes for each other (3) Overall, Brook’s research does provide compelling evidence that religion stimulates charity in general. V. Interpretations of the Bible Spinoza’s Interpretation of the Bible Spinoza’s primary project in much of TPT is advocating for a plural understanding of religious faith rather than presenting a hierarchy of which religious doctrine constitutes truth. Unlike Hobbes, he does not alter Biblical scriptures in order to promote a self-serving political agenda. Spinoza scholar Steven Frankel argues that his aim in the Theological Political Treatise is to, “further undermine biblical support for theocracy and establish a religion more friendly to tolerance and freedom (301).” Spinoza does this by denying the Jewish notion of divine election and by humanizing major prophets. Spinoza dismisses the idea of Jews as a chosen people when he writes, “Jews of that time were not more beloved by God than other nations…God was, as we have said already, and are now demonstrating, equally gracious to all (49).” Spinoza also debases the concept of hierarchy by arguing that prophets, although wise men, were not the divine incarnations that many suppose. He states that prophets did not possess superhuman minds (18) and that, “the power of prophecy implies not a peculiarly perfect mind, but a peculiarly vivid imagination (19).” Frankel alleges that Spinoza attributed human flaws to the prophets in order to point to inconsistencies in religious doctrines and support ideas of pluralism and universality in religious faith (302). Spinoza preferred that a believer had simple faith in God rather than rigidly cling to a particular dogma. Spinoza also expresses disapproval for those who attempt to shift scripture in order to serve political purposes. After laying out how the principles of reason can aid one in understanding scripture Spinoza declares, “Lastly such a theory supposes that we may explain the words of Scripture according to our preconceived opinions, twisting them about, and reversing or completely changing the literal sense, however plain it may be. Such license is utterly opposed to the teaching of this and the preceding chapters, and moreover, will be evident to everyone as rash and excessive (117).” Hobbes’s Interpretation of the BibleHobbes does not promote the type of pluralist thinking that Spinoza embodies and instead aggressively manipulates Biblical scriptures in order promote his political agenda. Unlike Spinoza, Hobbes does not ascribe any value to religious pluralism and instead intimates that divergent views inspire violence: “Whence comes it, that in Christendome there has been, almost from the time of the Apostles, such jostling of one another out of their places, both by forraign, and Civil War? such stumbling at every little asperity of their own fortune and every little eminence of that of other men? And such diversity of ways in running to the same mark…we are therefore yet in the Dark” (418). Because pluralism is dangerous Hobbes offers a set of civil laws that resemble scripture in order to replace it. Much of the argument in the Leviathan is concerned with buttressing the belief that God is aligned with the sovereign power and that the civil laws comply with God’s edicts. In his effort to support this thesis, Hobbes radically alters parts of the Bible to conform to his political theory. For example Hobbes argues that the authority of the Mosaic Law over the Israelites was established by their consent. He even alleges that their consent established Moses, not God, as their sovereign (Owen 5).Hobbes seemingly makes such radical revisions but yet clings to Biblical structure and ideology in order to give his natural rights doctrine moral force and appeal. Paul Cooke, in his book Hobbes and Christianity, argues that the, “natural rights teaching needs the covering of religion because the civil association based on self-preservation cannot always easily find the moral authority to secure the devotion required (227).” In a sense Hobbes religious project, in the last two parts of the book, helps beautify his natural rights doctrine and help tie it to some idea of transcendence (Cooke 227). Hobbes does not view the subject’s prior beliefs as a major obstacle for his indoctrination. He states famously, “Common-peoples minds, unlesse they be tainted with dependence on the Potent, or scribbled over with the opinions of their Doctors, are like clean paper, fit to receive whatsoever by Public Authority shall be imprinted in them (233).” Value of Pluralism in Historical Context:Transposing Hobbes and Spinoza’s thinking on religious pluralism and the manipulation of the Bible into a modern historical context reveals how Hobbes’s thinking can lead to forms of violence and repression. America’s history of slavery provides one textbook example of how perverting religious doctrine can enforce subjugation. Slaveholding as an institution was able to sustain itself for so long partially because Southern profiteers successfully manipulated Biblical interpretations to justify their business. Pro-slavery preachers argued that slavery was justified because African slaves were the descendants of Ham. Ham’s son, in Genesis 9, was sentenced to servitude for Ham’s sin. Other pro-slavery forces pointed to diverse examples in the Bible of slavery to demonstrate that slavery was not morally wrong (Carter 92). Slaveholders also forced conversions of blacks in order to blunt their likelihood of rebelling against the institution. Slaves were less likely to express dissatisfaction with their current life when promised a blissful afterlife (Carter 94). Southern legislators began propagating laws by the 1650s that deemed that blacks were not eligible for manumission even if though they were recognized as Christians. The slavery edifice was essentially supported by Southern whites’ selective interpretation of Biblical texts. Obviously, pro-slavery forces glossed over New Testament doctrines that preached ‘loving thy neighbor as yourself’ and the condemnation of slave traders (Timothy 1:9-11). This is a striking example of how manipulation of the Bible for a political agenda can have disastrous consequences. While manipulation of the Bible allowed slavery to continue, religious pluralism in American society was a critical component to ending the institution. Much of the energy behind the abolition movement came from white churchgoers from Methodist and Quaker backgrounds (Carter 94). They debated, wrote pamphlets and raised awareness about the inhuman condition of slavery. Obviously, the American tradition of tolerating religious expression and pluralism was integral to the ultimate elimination of slavery. The battle of course ultimately led to violent civil war and numerous deaths but the end result was a more cohesive and egalitarian community. By debasing hierarchy and advocating for religious freedom Spinoza’s political system, unlike Hobbes’s, fosters more civic and egalitarian communities like American society after abolition. Religious Diversity and Violence Even in the face of examples such as the abolition of slavery, some political observers may still side with Hobbes and argue that religious pluralism encourages political violence. Conservative observers are especially prone to point to Islamic culture as one that is prone to violence against other religious sects. In recent decades, conservatives within Europe and the US have consistently sought ways to curb Islamic practices and thus limit the concept of religious pluralism. However, recent political science research persuasively counters the claim that Islamic culture is inherently violent and that limiting religious expression is the only path to peace. Ashutosh Varshney’s work in India provides evidence that ethnic violence correlates with the type of associational bonds developed within a community rather than the type of religious culture citizens’ practice. Varshney argues that ethnic conflict is inevitable in most plural societies but that ethnic violence in places like India tend to occur only in particular regions where civic community is nonexistent or strained. Varshney specifically studied Hindu-Muslim violence and looked at riot patterns in forty cities in India from 1950 to 1995. Major violence was confined to eight of these cities. Varshney compared these cities with high riot patterns with similar cities that rarely experienced riots (371). Varshney finds that religious violence was unlikely if members of the Hindu and Muslim community shared ‘associational and everyday forms of engagement (363).’ Business associations, professional organizations and trade unions are examples of associational forms of engagement, while everyday forms of engagement include participation in festivals, eating together, etc. Both forms of engagement tended to defuse religious tensions between Muslims and Hindus (363). Cities that displayed this type of vibrant community like Calicut and Surat were much less likely to engage in violent rioting than cities where inter-ethnic and inter-religious association were rare. In cities were associational bonds were prevalent citizens would form peace communities that helped dispel rumors before rioting became extreme (382). VI. Political Rights: Freedom of speech Hobbes’s stance towards political expression does not differ markedly from his stance on religious expression. Hobbes argues that the sovereign is the ultimate judge concerning, “what opinions and doctrines are averse” and has the right to abridge any type of free speech he sees as seditious (124). In Hobbes’s conception the purpose of the state is to ensure peace and security and thus Hobbes’s views the alienation of political liberties as being a necessary prerequisite towards securing peace. In his assessment of Hobbes’s political system Owen writes, “No line can be drawn circumscribing liberties that circumstances may not require to be crossed (137).” In other words, the sovereign cannot grant freedoms like free speech because circumstances always arise in which the sovereign will need to infringe on liberties in order to institute order. Hobbes’s also recognizes how ambitious men will use speech in order to inspire converts to their cause, thus threatening political order in the process. Hobbes draws from the historical example of Julius Caesar to make his case: “Also the Popularity of a potent Subject (unlesse the Commonwealth have very good caution of his fidelity) is a dangerous disease; because the people…are drawn away from their obedience to the Lawes, to follow a man, of whose vertues and designes they have no knowledge…By this means it was, that Julius Caesar, who as set up by the People against the senate, having won to himself the affections of his Army” (229). The phrase ‘won to himself the affections of his Army’ implies that Caesar used his rhetorical skills in order to win supporters. Because Hobbes views common men like ‘clean paper’ he suspects that they are easily susceptible to manipulation by men with rhetorical talents. Freedom of Speech–Spinoza In contrast Spinoza offers a spirited defense of freedom of speech in the last chapter of TPT. Spinoza maintains that, Not even the most experienced, to say nothing of the multitude, know how to keep silence. Men’s common failing is to confide their plans to others, though there be need for secrecy, so that a government would be most harsh which deprived the individual of his freedom of saying and teaching what he thought (258). This need to express oneself is so natural that the government’s attempts to abridge this speech are not only an impossible task but also one that could, “stir up seditions and perpetuate any crime (262).” Spinoza, like Hobbes, does recognize instances where the sovereign must circumscribe speech in order to preserve order but he does not advocate the level of censorship and control that Hobbes demands. Spinoza makes no demand that the sovereign inspects all doctrines or monitor public speeches. Spinoza extends his commitment to freedom of speech even into the court sphere, suggesting that speech should occasionally be permitted as a check to civil authority. In the last chapter he writes, For instance, supposing a man shows that a law is repugnant to sound reason, and should therefore be repealed; if he submits his opinion to the judgment of the authorities (who, alone, have the right of making and repealing laws), and meanwhile acts in nowise contrary to that law, he has deserved well of the state, and has behaved as a good citizen should (259). This passage implies that subjects in Spinoza’s system have a limited right to challenge perceived injustices. The passage does not state directly that subjects have the right to challenge the misbehavior of an authority figure but Spinoza does seem to permit this possibility in a later section. Spinoza acknowledges that, “However, I do not deny that there are some doctrines which, while they are apparently only concerned with abstract truths and falsehoods, are yet propounded and published with unworthy motives (261).” Spinoza’s redress for men with unworthy motives is to advocate that, “the voice of the majority has the force of law, subject to repeal if circumstances bring about a change of opinion (263).” The passage implies that the common people do have a right to challenge authority if there is substantial consensus to do so. For Spinoza, the rights of the sovereign and his subjects are primarily guided by reason and thus it is not hard to imagine circumstances where public authorities should be challenged. Through freedom of speech Spinoza seems to be allowing members in his polity the ability to challenge certain edicts by authorities. Freedom of Speech: Civic Community While Spinoza’s definition of freedom of speech is not nearly as clear or perhaps as expansive as what is contained in a doctrine like the First Amendment, one can argue that the spirit of Spinoza’s definition conforms to modern manifestations like America’s framework. Like the American system, Spinoza’s treatise does guarantee a certain level of expression without fear of criminal prosecution. The Civil Rights Movement is a compelling illustration of how freedom of speech rights can help foster a civic community. The Civil Rights Movement could not have won major victories during the 1950s and 1960s period without the aid of federal government intervention. Government officials often intervened in First Amendment disputes. Using the First Amendment framework, the government often afforded protection to civil rights organizations that challenged racial discrimination.The NAACP was often the focus of legal attacks by white Southern authorities who were eager to derail the organization’s activism. In the mid 1950s southern state delegations introduced legislative bills demanding that the NAACP publish its membership list. Southern delegates like Virginia’s Harrison Mann argued that NAACP activism was primarily the result of, “outside agitators who were stirring up trouble,” among a generally happy populace (Finan 209). Between 1957 and 1963, six cases came before the Supreme Court asking for membership rolls to be published. The Supreme Court threw out all the cases because they viewed such publications as a violation of the NAACP’s free speech protections. This protection helped the NAACP continue operating with considerably less intimidation, thus paving the way for civil rights victories in the 1960s (209). Civil rights organizations also used their rights to successfully attack white officials in media advertisements. Organizations like the NAACP took out large ads in papers like the New York Times that alerted readers to the violent and repressive tactics of Southern officials. After receiving scrutiny due to the ads, some officials like Montgomery city commissioner L.B. Sullivan attempted to sue organizations and media sources for libel. These attempts were largely unsuccessful. The New York Times v. Sullivan case eventually reached the Supreme Court in 1964 (Finan 210-211). The court ruled that the New York Times had not committed libel in its criticism of Sullivan. In his book From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America, Christopher Finan argues that the New York Times victory inspired other news organizations to more freely report on the violent and repressive tactics of Southern public employees. Before this decision, many publications were reluctant to report on various abuses because they feared they would be held accountable for libel (215). Wider news reporting drew supporters to the civil rights cause and placed greater pressure on federal officials to grant concessions. Freedom of speech was a critical ingredient in African Americans’ struggles to gain citizenship protections and be recognized as equals. It was an ingredient that helped foster a more civic and egalitarian community. VII. Conclusion Empirical examples from modern history suggest that Spinoza’s defense of religious and political freedoms will promote a more civic and egalitarian society than Hobbes’s more authoritarian vision. Both thinkers represented a major break from past intellectual traditions and advanced notions that were influential during the Enlightenment period. However, Hobbes’s ideas seem to have less value for developing countries that are currently seeking ways to promote community and stability within their borders. Hobbes’s manipulation of the Bible and his constriction of religious and political space can lead to dangerous tyrannies rather than the civic order he champions. Future comparisons of Hobbes against Spinoza would be valuable, as scholars could explore concepts such as conatus and how such concepts relate to Hobbes and Spinoza’s constructions of religious practice. Scholars could examine other texts by both figures in order to broaden our understanding of how religious and political freedoms operate in Hobbes and Spinoza’s universe. Some political theory scholars maintain that the political ideas Spinoza espoused do not receive sufficient attention. In the preface of his book Spinoza, Liberalism, and the Question of Jewish Identity, Spinoza scholar Steven B. Smith writes, “Only rarely is Spinoza regarded, as he will be here, as someone who thought long and deeply about the fundamental problems of political life (xii).” Spinoza’s ideas regarding religious and political freedoms do warrant greater attention and provide critical insights for modern leaders. Works Cited: Borowski, Karen. “The Sociology of Religion in Modern Poland: A Critical Review.” Sociological Analysis. Vol. 46, No. 4 (Winter, 1985), pp. 389-399Brooks, Arthur. “Religious Faith and Charitable Giving.” Policy Review, No. 121, October 2003. https://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review, Stephen L. God’s Name in Vein. New York: Basic Books, 2000Cooke, Paul. Hobbes and Christianity. London: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996Dietz, Mary. “Hobbes’s Subject as Citizen.” Thomas Hobbes and Political Theory. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1990 Feldman, Karen. “Conscience and the Concealments of Metaphor in Hobbes’s “Leviathan.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol. 34, No. 1 (2001), pp. 21-37 Finan, Christopher. From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America, Boston: Beacon Press, 2007Frankel, Steven. “The Invention of Liberal Theology: Spinoza’s Theological-Political Analysis of Moses and Jesus.” The Review of Politics, Vol. 63, No. 2 (Spring, 2001), pp. 287-315. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996Myant, Martin and Terry Cox. Reinventing Poland: Economic and Political Transformation and Evolving National Identity. New York: Routledge, 2008Owen, J. Judd. “On Hobbes’s Hope Regarding Religion,” Bradley Lecture. Boston College, February 16, 2007, 1-21.Putnam, Robert. Making Democracy Work. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992Smith, Steven B. Spinoza, Liberalism, and the Question of Jewish Identity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.Spinoza, Baruch. Theological-Political Treatise. Trans. RHM Elwes. New York: Dover Publications, 1951Varshney, Ashutosh. “Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society: India and Beyond.” World Politics, Vol. 53, April 2001, 362-398
Hobbes’ Leviathan and the Birth of the Liberal Tradition
A liberal is someone who believes in the primacy of liberty as a socio-political value. Liberalism posits freedom a priori, and thus within its tradition the burden of proof rests on those who would limit or somehow restrict individual freedom. Definitions of freedom within the liberal tradition diverge into two main conceptions. Negative liberty posits that individuals are free to the extent that they can pursue separate ends without being coerced, and in the absence of interference or constraints. Those who espouse a conception of positive liberty have a somewhat stronger vision of what constitutes freedom. To these liberals, freedom constitutes acting in accordance with one’s will in such a way as to realize and actualize one’s true, human purpose. Both of these conceptions of liberty find it necessary to justify any restrictions on individual freedom. This need for justification arises most immediately in the context of any political system which exercises the authority to limit individual freedom of action. Even in the most free and fair political context there exists a mechanism in place to maintain a system of rules that regulate individual behavior. Such mechanisms include systems like consent, coercion, or physical force. Hobbes puts forth social contract theory as a system of restrictions on liberty that satisfies the moral requirements of a liberal philosophy. His justification hinges on consent as a mechanism that rational people, in the state of nature, can employ to choose certain restrictions on liberty. In this paper, I will put forth an interpretation of Leviathan that situates Hobbes squarely within the tradition of liberal philosophy. As a modern political philosopher, Hobbes is concerned not with putting forth a theory of how humans ought to be, but rather a description of how they are. In this way he diverges from ancient schemes such as Aristotle’s, which puts forth virtue-ethics as an account of how we should act. Hobbes argues that morality is derived from the appetites and aversions of mankind. “Whatsoever is the object of any man’s Appetite or Desire; that is it which he for his part calleth Good: and the object of his Hate, and Aversion, Evil,” (Hobbes, 120). It seems evident to Hobbes that humans consider the categories of Good and Evil only insofar as they correspond to our individual desires. What we desire, and therefore what we consider to be Good or Evil, arises not from any consideration of the interests of other or society at-large, but from the particular passions that individuals possess by nature. Men appeal alternatively to their reason or to customs of action in discerning the morality of an action, since they lack an objective standard: “grown strong, and stubborn, they appeale from custome to reason, and from reason to custome, as it serves their turn; receding from custom when their interest requires it, and setting themselves against reason as oft as reason is against them,” (Hobbes, 166). Such a scheme of action Hobbes labels the State of Nature. Attendant in the circumstances of the State of Nature is the constant anticipation of conflict. Individual desires and passions are contingent, and the State of Nature lacks an independent arbiter capable of mediating conflicts between individual ends. Lacking security to defend his life other then brute strength, man in the state of nature lives in constant fear: Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withall, (Hobbes, 186).This state of war is what leads Hobbes’ famous description of life before government as “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short,” (Hobbes, 186). Insecure, men in the State of Nature are led by their rationality to take on the famous Social Contract, forfeiting some of their individual liberty for the sake of establishing peace and order.It is the revolutionary principle that men take on limitations to their own liberty both rationally and freely which most firmly places Hobbes within the realm of liberal philosophy. Thus men lift themselves out of a state of competition where they live in constant fear of losing their lives with the mechanism of consent. The primary objective of a rational man in the State of Nature is to seek a sort of peace with other men that will enable his self-preservation. This leads him to realize that “no man require to reserve to himself any Right, which he is not content should be reserved to every one of the rest,” (Hobbes, 215). Morality, then, takes on a perfunctory character. According to the first Law of Nature, established in light of the social contract between men, to be moral is for men to “perform their covenants made: without which …we are still in the condition of war,” (Hobbes, 201-2). Still, men remain inherently selfish individuals concerned with the pursuit of their own ends. It is necessary, according to Hobbes, to establish an independent party capable of mediating between men with competing ends, who ensures that they adhere to covenants made. At this moment, the Leviathan is born.The Leviathan is the institution of the social contract that ensures its stability even in light of the competing and selfish ends of men. As the party impartial to any of the particular interests of men, he ensures that Justice is achieved by honoring the contracts amongst them, thus elevating them beyond the State of Nature. The Leviathan derives its power from the sum-total of individuals who enter into the social contract together, and thus stands above any of them by representing the interests of all, and not any one. Hobbes describes the Leviathan, saying:And in him consisteth the essence of the Common-wealth; which (to define it) is One person, of whose acts a great Multitude, by mutual Covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the Author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their Peace and Common Defense,” (Hobbes, 228).Such a description, of a supreme being who possesses a power greater than any individual, but who is nonetheless exempt from the tenets of the social contract, may strike the reader as justifying a totalitarian sort of rule. However, we can rescue Hobbes from this accusation by considering both the intellectual context of his ideas, and his particular conception of liberty.Hobbes’ ideas were revolutionary in their time for their departure from justifying the role of government as serving its own purpose, whether that purpose was God’s, the church’s, or someone else’s. He conceives of government as deriving its authority and purpose from the populace. As such, the Leviathan is meant to be an individual who executes the law for the protection and betterment of all individuals, and follows standards that those individuals set out for themselves. By liberty, Hobbes has in mind a particular conception of freedom as the absence of obstacles to the “preservation of his own nature.” Liberty is not the ability to pursue whatever particular ends an individual might desire, for his fundamental right of nature is only to protect his own life, (Hobbes, 189). An ability to pursue particular passions, regardless of their consequences for others, would reposition man firmly within the State of Nature, where he is trapped by the contingency of actions. Thus, the exact liberty that Hobbes’ Leviathan offers is a relief from the oppressively un-free circumstances of the State of Nature, where he can pursue any end so long as it does not infringe on another’s ability to do the same.Works CitedHobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. C. B. Macpherson, Ed. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1968.
The Artificiality of Sovereignty and its Consequences for Liberty in Leviathan
Thomas Hobbes concludes his great treatise on politics, Leviathan, saying he composed the work “without partiality, without application, and without other design than to set before men’s eyes the mutual relation between protection and obedience, of which the condition of human nature and the laws divine…require an inviolable observation.” (Conclusion, 17) By considering Leviathan with a view to Hobbes’s stated mission, one can better understand why Hobbes takes certain positions, argues certain definitions and paints so pessimistic a portrait of human nature. By arguing that mankind is naturally apolitical, and that the state of nature is not a theoretical pedagogical framework but rather a condition into which man’s nature renders him continually at risk of lapse, Hobbes is able to argue that sovereignty is an artificial construction of authors and actors that simultaneously satisfies man’s inclination towards peace without restricting his liberty.
Hobbes argues that human nature is not conducive to political life, and that humans only become political by artificial means. In describing man’s motivations for creating commonwealths, Hobbes describes mankind as naturally loving liberty and dominion over others. (XVII, 1) Given that conventional conceptions of the commonwealth involve restricting some liberties of nature, and that even Hobbes’s very unconventional conception of the commonwealth involves being under the dominion of another, Hobbes appears to be suggesting that mankind’s natural inclinations are contrary to the necessities of a commonwealth. To bolster this point, Hobbes invokes Aristotle’s notion of the political animal, which is naturally social and cooperative. He agrees with Aristotle in counting bees and ants among political animals (XVII, 6), but claims that humans’ love of liberty and power prevents them from cooperating without an artificial aid: the covenant. Hobbes writes, “A commonwealth is said to be instituted, when a multitude of men do agree, and covenant, every one with every one, that to whatsoever man, or assembly of men, shall be given by the major part, the right to present the person of them all.” (XVIII, 1) Though mankind lives politically, just as bees and ants do, “the agreement of these creatures [political animals] is natural; that of men, is by covenant only, which is artificial.” (XVII, 12) Because he describes mankind’s nature as contrary to political life, Hobbes needs to introduce something new to explain why covenants and commonwealths exist at all. This missing link is people’s “foresight of their own preservation” (XVII, 1), their ability to recognize that escape from the state of nature would benefit them.
Hobbes’s argues that his “state of nature,” in addition to being a useful lens for examining the benefits of political life, is a manifest condition that exists and has existed in various human societies. Because Hobbes sees humans as naturally apolitical, it easily follows that he believes the state of nature is more than just a framework for understanding political society. He bolsters this idea both through scriptural and anthropological evidence. First, he claims that speech is essential for the commonwealth, writing, “The most noble and profitable invention of all other, was that of SPEECH… without which, there had been amongst men, neither commonwealth, nor society, nor contract, nor peace.” (IV, 1) The use of the word “invention” is crucial here, as it allows Hobbes to simultaneously ground his argument scripturally and secularly. Though he writes that God was the initial author of speech, which He gave to Adam, Hobbes notes that Genesis says only that God gave Adam the names of the creatures of Eden, not the complicated language needed to create a covenant. (IV, 1) However, even if God had given Adam sufficient communication skills to establish a commonwealth, He took it away to punish man for his rebellion at Babel, as Hobbes notes in IV, 2. A secular reading of the word “invention” also implies a period without the language needed to establish a commonwealth, as it suggests that language did not develop concurrently with humans, but was invented by them.
Whether Hobbes believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible is unclear, but regardless of this ambiguity, Hobbes appears to be saying that there have been times in human history when the state of nature must have existed, because the language to escape it had not been developed. However, Hobbes does not suggest that developing language precludes the state of nature. Indeed, he references both the Cain and Abel story (F, OL, XIII, 11) and the savages of America (XIII, 11) to note that linguistic societies can easily be in a state of nature. Hobbes clearly does not see the state of nature as a thought experiment, but rather as a legitimate threat to civil society.
Mankind’s apolitical nature renders human society in continual peril of deteriorating into the state of nature. Hobbes defines “INJUSTICE” as “no other than the not performance of a covenant.” (XV, 2) Hobbes uses this definition to argue that in the state of nature there is no injustice, because there are no covenants. (XIII, 13) Justice, then, is a foreign concept for mankind because it does not exist in man’s natural state. Once again, Hobbes grounds his claim of man’s incompetence in matters of justice (assuming he sees justice as something “good,” which is a reasonable assumption) in Judeo-Christian myth. He writes, “Whereupon, having both eaten, [Adam and Eve] did indeed take upon them God’s office, which is judicature of good and evil; but acquired no new ability to distinguish between them aright.” (XX, 17) To Hobbes, the consequence of the fall of mankind is humanity’s being forced to take on the responsibility of arbitrating morality, despite having little aptitude for moral thinking. He therefore sees the possibility of men committing injustice by breaching covenants in commonwealths as just as likely as Adam and Eve’s breaking of their covenant with God. He even claims that the most successful sovereign will teach his subjects the origin and necessity of his absolute, indivisible power in order to mitigate this risk. (XXX, 3)
Hobbes goes to such great lengths to demonstrate that political society is not only un-human, but so un-human that its perpetuation is tenuous and contingent on the success of the sovereign, in order to argue that political society is something entirely artificial: a composition of authors and actors. Having given an account of humanity that precludes natural cooperation, Hobbes uses the author-actor construction to establish the commonwealth not as a collection of people that must cooperate contrary to their natures, but as a single, artificial person called “the LEVIATHAN.” He writes, “That great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin CIVITAS), is but an Artificial Man…in which, the Sovereignty is an Artificial Soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body.” (Introduction, 1) The conception of the commonwealth as a person is permitted by Hobbes’s definition of personhood. He explains, “A person is he whose words or actions are considered either as his own, or as representing the words or actions of another man, or of any other thing to whom they are attributed.” (XVI, 1) It is this conception of personhood that allows the author-actor conception of the commonwealth. On an individual scale, citizens of commonwealths still experience some of the residual paranoia of the state of nature, which Hobbes observes in the locking of doors at night or the carrying of arms for protection, and this is unavoidable. (XIII, 10) As a society, though, people enter a civil state by forming a covenant wherein they authorize a sovereign to act on their behalf, (XVI, 4) and this is the author-actor distinction. The authors are the people of the commonwealth, and the actor that represents their actions is the commonwealth itself, which is controlled by the sovereign. Importantly, this arrangement never involves the sovereign entering into a covenant himself, but instead involves the subjects collectively authorizing him to serve as their actor. (XVIII, 4)
The author-actor view of society is so crucial to Hobbes’ mission because it allows him to argue that society, though it is built upon the mutual transferring of rights (XIV, 7), does not restrict man’s liberty. Defending the author-actor composition of society not only requires Hobbes to refute claims that humans could naturally coexist, but also requires him to totally redefine personhood. However, his motivation for doing so is so compelling that Hobbes comfortably makes the necessary philosophical leaps. Hobbes’s conception of liberty is mechanistic and not specific to humans. (XXI, 1) In his discussion of liberty and freedom (terms he uses interchangeably (XXI, 1)), he gives a definition of liberty as applied to man. He writes, “A FREE-MAN is he that in those things which by his strength and wit he is able to do is not hindered to do what he has a will to do.” (XXI, 2)
There are two important cases for considering how a citizen of a commonwealth might exercise his liberty: the case where the law is silent, and the case where it is not. First, and more intuitively, Hobbes argues that in areas where the sovereign has not proscribed any rule, the subject has absolute liberty to do what he wishes. (XXI, 18) Where there is no law, or no ability to enforce it, subjects are in a quasi-state of nature and have just as much liberty as those in nature, which is why they lock their doors and carry arms.
In cases where the law is not silent, Hobbes employs the author-actor construction to argue that the liberty of the subject is still not restricted. Explaining why a subject cannot rightfully punish the sovereign, Hobbes writes, “Whatsoever [the sovereign] doth, it can be no injury to any of his subjects…because to do injury to one’s self is impossible…For seeing every subject is the author of the actions of his sovereign, he punisheth another for the actions committed by himself.” (XVIII, 6-7)
Hobbes makes multiple important points here. Because he sees humans as loving liberty, Hobbes believes that humans would consider a restriction of liberty injurious. Because Hobbes also believes that humans cannot injure themselves, they cannot restrict their own liberty, nor can their sovereign, for “every subject is the author of the actions of his sovereign.” The end of this quote in particular highlights why the author-actor construction is so profitable for Hobbes’s mission. It allows Hobbes to claim that a subject’s liberty is similar to that of the sovereign, whose liberty is nearly infinite, as he is not bound by any covenant. If for example, a law requiring hats be worn were enacted by the sovereign, Hobbes would say that the subjects under this law would still be “free-men,” because they placed this restriction on themselves. If a particular subject ever changed his mind about hats, he could still choose not to wear one, because “all actions which men do in Commonwealths for fear of the law are actions which the doers had liberty to omit.” (XXI, 3) So in both cases, where the law is silent and where it is not, subjects are not forced to give up their liberty to enter into a commonwealth.
Indeed, to Hobbes, the commonwealth even enhances its subjects’ abilities to carry out their own wills. Liberty, being the absence of a hindrance to the will, can be thought of as existing less in the state of nature than in the commonwealth if one considers the consequences of war of all against all. Describing such a war, Hobbes writes, “There is no place for industry…no culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, 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.” (XIII, 9) If one’s will is to engage with arts or letters, then it is more hindered by the war of the state of nature than any law that could exist in a commonwealth. Even if a positive law were to ban arts and letters altogether, the will to do so would arise from the people and be made manifest by the sovereign, which would be no different from an individual subject deciding to avoid arts and letters by pure choice. Furthermore, a subject could always break this law, while one in the state of nature could not engage with arts and letters even if she wished to. For these reasons, the commonwealth not only does not restrict liberty, it enhances it!
If Leviathan is truly a text meant to lay out the benefits of obedience, as Hobbes writes, through the claim that consenting to live in a commonwealth under the rule of an absolute, irreproachable sovereign does not diminish liberty, Hobbes makes a compelling argument that total obedience is not so bad. The state of nature, the author-actor distinction, the Leviathan as an artificial man, all of these are necessary to Hobbes’s claim that liberty can exist under a sovereign. This is not to say that these ideas are disingenuous on Hobbes’s part, or that they only serve a very narrow purpose, but rather that they are all inextricably linked to Hobbes’s belief in total, unwavering obedience.