Early Modern Philosophy

Thomas Hobbes

What was Hobbes’ idea of the social contract?

The social contract was Hobbes’ solution to the unpleasantness of life in the state of nature. It was an agreement among citizens to give up their individual powers to harm one another and transfer all of those powers to the sovereign, or Leviathan. In return, the sovereign would keep order, which would enable all the benefits of civilized life, such as a just legal system, education, marriage, security in property, and a flourishing of the arts and sciences.

Hobbes’ Leviathan, though, was to have totalitarian powers over his subjects, including the right over their lives, censorship, the right to draft them into military service, and to impose any other necessary burden of government. The only rights retained by subjects were the rights to preserve themselves and resist imprisonment or execution. Laws were literally the commands of the sovereign. Once the sovereign was made the irrevocable gift of power from the people, the only thing that could bring down the government would be its self-abdication or defeat by foreign enemies.


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