Early Modern Philosophy

Thomas Hobbes

What was Hobbes’ theory of government in Leviathan?

Hobbes advocated a strong form of monarchy as a way of re-describing the role of the individual in his own politically volatile society. He began with the idea of a state of nature, which was a condition of life without government. Hobbes’ method was to determine the uses and justification for government, from that original condition, together with an understanding of human nature.

According to Hobbes, human beings in their natural condition are each roughly equal in physical strength, because the weakest has the ability to kill the strongest. They are not sociable by nature, but rather exist in a prolonged condition in which each individual is against everyone else—a condition of war. In fact, humans only seek one another out for their own glory, greed, or to gang up and conspire against third parties. Without government and the stable organizations and institutions created and supported by government, life in a state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Men do have Right Reason in nature, the first principle of which is to preserve themselves. They are also aware of the Laws of Nature, the first of which is to do whatever is possible to keep the peace. But to keep the peace, there needs to be an enforceable contract between parties, and after one side has performed there is no guarantee that the other will do his or her part. Hobbes wrote that “covenants without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.”


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