(1588-1679) English philosopher of politics and society. Hobbes' work influenced Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence ("all men are created equal"). He rubbed shoulders with such heavies as Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Galileo Galilei, and Marin Mersenne. It is ironic that Jefferson's Declaration ushered in a democracy, when Hobbes firmly believed in monarchy or imperial rule.

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Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679)

Born in Westport, Wiltshire, England, and educated in Oxford, Thomas Hobbes began his early career as a classical scholar. At a time where the new science of Galileo, and Kepler challenged the aristotelian philosophy that he was taught as a student, Hobbes found consolation in the absolute truth of Euclid's geometry.

Though Hobbes had published a large number of works in his long life, including a translation of the Illiad and the Odyssey, Hobbes' most famous work is the Leviathan. In this magnum opus, Hobbes tackled the central question that he grappled with all his life: why do people allow themselves to be governed?

Homo homini lupus, Hobbes taught, "man is a wolf to other men." Hobbes believed that people, by nature, were selfish, and acted only to serve their own interests. He believed that governments existed to protect people from their own evil nature. He further taught that the only way for lasting peace to be achieved was for people to subjugate themselves to a supreme, sovereign monarch.

Hobbes believed that democracy would never succeed. In fact, his earliest work, a translation of Thucydides's work, was meant as a warning to those who would follow democracy, that they would share the same fate as ancient Athens.

In his later years, he came to believe in the necessity of an elected representative, who would convey the concern of the people to the monarch, and help to curb the excesses of a monarchy. In fact it was Hobbes who coined the term: "voice of the people." Hobbes maintained to his dying day, however, that while the people deserved to be listened to, the king had the absolute power to govern as he wished.


References:
Hobbes, Thomas britannica.com
Thomas Hobbes: A Short Biography http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/nature/hobbes-bio.html

Good will does not exist.

Such a statement may seem disturbing, perhaps even infuriating to some. And yet, it is the essence of the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, whose ideas have become embedded in the foundation of the United States of America. Hobbes states that everything is done out of a personal desire for profit. All actions taken are motivated by a constant selfish want to benefit in some way. "All society is either for Gain or for Glory…", writes Hobbes, "…not so much for our love of our Fellowes as for love of our Selves…" . It is difficult to imagine that the world is based on such motives, and that humans, are indeed, as egotistical Hobbes believes them to be. It may even seem that the existence of societies is impossible in such conditions. And yet, Hobbes' philosophy is wonderfully logical, and offers a clear connection between the selfishness of humans and the structure of the world.

Although Hobbes does deny the existence of good will, he does not deny the possibility of progress, or the natural want for men to be in a society. He states that "...Men desire to come together….but it is one thing to desire, another to be in capacity fit for what we desire…" . According to his philosophy, human selfishness is what initiates progress. For all men, the catalyst for coming together and joining forces is the realization that forming a society may be more beneficial than simply existing alone. "…Man is made fit for Society not by Nature, but by Education." , he writes, meaning that "Education" is the reasoning man must have in order to learn how to co-exist. Mutual benefit is the key in the creation of societies, as well as in any other form of involvement between human beings.

Although Hobbes derived his theories on the motivations of men almost 350 years ago, they can still be applied to the actions of individuals, and entire nations today. One major issue of that has been of great importance in the world for the past year, is America's ongoing "war against terrorism". This powerful movement is a result of the attacks on September 11th, 2001. Yet, it must be noted that violent acts of terror have happened before, and in some places, such as Israel, they are considered to be an everyday occurrence. No immediate action was ever taken against terrorism by America in the past, because this would not have benefited America in any way. But as soon as the issue of terrorism began to concern the United States directly, injuring the economy, and causing harm to the people, urgent and extreme actions were to taken against it. This entire ordeal is a magnified illustration of Hobbes' theory of human desire to benefit only the self.

It may seem that some actions taken are made in a completely selfless manner. Yet it is possible to apply Hobbes' mentality to them, and realize that they, too, are done only out of the want for profit. The growing movement of Environmentalists, is an excellent example of such a thing. There are many people in the world today that devote their lives to preserving the environment, and repairing the harm made by large corporations to wildlife. Despite the fact that this may seem like gesture of genuine concern for nature, it is only another way for humans to benefit themselves. By taking care of the world, the Environmentalists improve their own existence, providing themselves and their children with a better place to live. The complete opposite of the Environmentalist, those who wish to exploit all natural resources are also subject to the same motive of benefit. Convinced that the more profit they can extract from the Earth, the more successful they will be, they only wish to increase the quality of their own life, obtaining more wealth and property. Thus, in both situations, Hobbes' philosophy is proven to be true.

At the time that Hobbes came to his conclusions concerning the behavior and motivation of mankind, many societies were still in a state of turmoil. Today, most of these societies have come to the general realization that a peaceful state of co-existence is more beneficial than an ongoing state of conflict. Yet, currently, several places in the world are unstable, and the people have not yet reached a position of mutual benefit. An example of this would be the ongoing tension between the radical Muslim groups and the communities around them. The radical Muslims are driven forth to destroy themselves and others because they believe that in doing so, they receive immense gratification and pleasure in the afterlife. Although their desire for profit is more abstract than that of the majority, it is still the dominant force in their mentality. Hobbes states that "…it cannot be deny'd but that the naturall state of men, before they entr'd into Society, was a meer War….a War of all men, against all men…". Such is the current condition in the Middle East. The Muslim radicals cannot form a peaceful society because they have not emerged from the natural state of chaos. They have not yet realized that a compromise or contract of some sort could be more beneficial to them than the violence and destruction they bring to others and themselves.

The ideas of Thomas Hobbes are absolutely fascinating and offer a clear explanation of the relationship between human greed and human development. Yet what makes Hobbes' philosophy truly unique, is that it is possible to apply it to any situation. No matter what the circumstance, or the parties involved, Hobbes' belief in constant desire for personal benefit manifests itself in every single human action and motivation. While most generalizations on man's driving force in life fail to encompass the mentality of all men, Hobbes does just that. Although it may seem that he has no faith in mankind, his theories are exceptionally accurate. Hobbes refuses to romanticize the human character, and attribute florid qualities of irrational kindness and love. He manages to detach himself from the common desire to portray man as a being of morality and reason, and admits that man's natural state is that of selfishness, and that it is impossible to change.

Quoted:
De Cive, Thomas Hobbes

The Leviathan Commonwealth: War on the Individual

Thomas Hobbes states that a commonwealth is 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 ...” (222). Hobbes assumes the interest of the governed is uniform and identical to that of the sovereign. During times of stress, such as war, which require leadership, no matter how obtuse, there is at least a moderate synthesis of interests; the same cannot be said for times of peace. With a lack of unified interests comes an exchange of different ideas. It is in the sovereign's interest, in fact it is required, to eliminate these individuals so as to preserve itself.

Hobbes’ view of an individual’s liberty under his commonwealth is indeed frightening. While Hobbes never outright states that his proposed government would be what we would label “tyrannical,” it is easy to see that, given his view of the nature of human beings and the power which the sovereign receives, an oppressive and dominating government is all that would arise, crushing any notion of an individual, along with its freedoms and interests.

An example of the measures Hobbes feels must be taken to secure the commonwealth against the individual is the removal of foreign political texts. “And as to rebellion in particular against monarchy; one of the most frequent causes of it, is the reading of the books of policy, and histories of the ancient Greeks, and Romans...” (238-9). Hobbes states that the men which favor these governments “...are unprovided of the antidote of solid reason...” (238). It should be pointed out that the books of policy and histories mentioned are those of governments that uplifted the individual, at least insofar as its contribution to the process of being governed. The sovereign must then eliminate all sources of such texts, and suppress the voices of the men which support them.

Hobbes views any rebellion against such a government as deplorable, stating that no government is without its incommodities (227). This seems, to me, an outright dismissal of the very individual that placed the sovereign in power. He who granted the sovereign power shows intelligence enough to decide what benefits him most; once a sovereign is placed into power though, this individual no longer can decide for himself. This seem to be a catch-22.

A citizen, slave is more appropriate, of this government is merely a puppet of his master. The only way for such a government to operate is through absolute dissolution of the individual, and a continual war against its uprising again on the part of the sovereign. If we accept Hobbes’ opinion of human nature, the sovereign will undoubtedly abuse his power, and use his position to benefit merely himself, reducing the populace to a state of slavery. As the phrase goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The end result of Hobbes’ government is a massive contradiction. Despite what word play may be employed on the part of Hobbes, the state of war continues. The people will come to be in a constant war with the sovereign to maintain individual identities, and the sovereign himself is in a war; either against another sovereign so as unify his people against someone other than himself, or against his own people so as to maintain his power. And to be sure, a final war awaits, when the individuals become one with a common goal: elimination of their oppressor.

Works Cited: Cohen, Mitchell, and Fermon, Nicole, eds. Princeton Readings in Political Thought. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press,1996.



This has been a node your homework production.

The work of Thomas Hobbes is about as poorly understood as that of Niccolò Machiavelli in the popular imagination, not least because we stand so far removed from the circumstances which begat it. What Hobbes shares in common with Old Nick is a rejection of the concern held by classical philosophy of how men ought to live, and an investigation into how they actually do live; this latter topic is the subject of The Prince, and it is the subject of Hobbes' Leviathan. Seen in this light, these two are the founders of political science as understood in the modern sense.

Machiavelli was mostly concerned with the exception, extreme situations which are encompassed in the term coup d'etat in its broadest sense.1 But Hobbes instead went about an investigation into what were the origins of civil society and politics on the basis of an investigation into what man is. This was a much broader venture than Machiavelli undertook systematically, and was supposed to apply to all societies everywhere; it was hence a form of natural law teaching, in that it sought the origins of the just actual law in human nature.

Hobbes' ideas on why societies are formed were very different to those of the classics. According to Aristotle and Plato, man is naturally a social creature and this drives him to form civil societies, which can broadly be said to exist for the perfection of virtue. But for Hobbes, man is naturally anti-social - he does not by nature love his life amongst the world of men, but hates and fears it. This is because for Hobbes, the most fundamental driving passion in every person is the fear of violent death; a death which can be inflicted on anyone at any time in the state of nature which exists prior to any human society. No-one desires death, but even the strongest can be overcome by a temporary alliance of the weak.

In Hobbes' view, there is only one inalienable natural right: the right to self-preservation which is inherent in the strongest and most fundamental human desire, which is the desire for the same. In the state of nature, every human is legitimately allowed to employ any means towards this end, up to and including the destruction of any other human. This is because Hobbes derives the rights from necessity - from the Is - and not from the Ought, as the classical philosophers did. Life in the state of nature, famously called by Hobbes the "war of all against all", results in a human condition which he - even more famously - called "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short".

There are two reasons for this. The first is the essential scarcity of things in the world, meaning that people must compete with one another for the things necessary for living at all (nevermind for pleasurable living). Secondly, there exists in the state of nature what international relations scholars nowadays call a security dilemma. This is a term used to describe why, in the view of some such scholars, war is an inevitable part of the international system even if no state actually desires it. In Hobbes' system, the security dilemma consists in the problem that individuals share vulnerability to violent death at the hands of others, and are never able to have perfect knowledge of the intentions of these others. Anxiety multiplied by uncertainty almost always results in an exaggeration of the scale of the threat, as history has repeatedly shown.

So far this all sounds like a jolly depressing view of human nature. But this is all about the state of nature, not the state of civil society; much less is it about how Hobbes thinks the perfect civil society should be run! Hobbes maintains that to solve the inherent problem of human living-together outlined above, men form a civil society. The Leviathan has often been criticized because it is supposed by a casual reading of Hobbes' work that he views the perfect civil society as a totalitarian dictatorship, in which men dispense with all liberty so that they might enjoy unlimited security. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Hobbes' philosophy is grounded ultimately not in duties, but in rights. The function of Hobbes' state is the mere protection of these rights. It can be argued that this makes Thomas Hobbes the founder of classical liberalism, and it is why his name is invoked in the same breath as the foundation of the United States of America. A perfect tyranny demands of men that they relinquish all rights and accept only duties. Yet a participant in Hobbes' state is required to surrender only so much of his natural right to the sovereign that it can maintain the public peace, and no more. It means essentially an agreement between men that they will not harm one another, and will remain cohesive when their society is threatened from the outside; all other rights they retain. Jesus of Nazareth said to man that he ought to "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," whereas Thomas Hobbes said "Do not that to another, which thou wouldst not have done to thyself." The difference is obvious; the first speaks of duties, the second of rights.

Men enter into such an agreement because they most of all desire to avoid violent death, and it is the establishment of a peaceful commonwealth that allows them to do so. Once this commonwealth has been established, man is free to exercise his other passions and desires, which Hobbes identified with the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Morality within such a society consists in the habit of keeping one's agreements with fellow men, and of nothing more; and the most fundamental agreement is the social contract itself, which is the agreement not to do others harm. Hobbes is then truly the first philosophical exponent of the small state, which the Victorians called the "nightwatchman state". He was not the first totalitarian philosopher, but the first bourgeois philosopher.

1. The Oxford English Dictionary provides the best definition: "a sudden and decisive stroke of state policy; spec. a sudden and great change in the government carried out violently or illegally by the ruling power". See coup d'etat for more details; also raison d'etat.

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