Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

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In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes presents his moral and political philosophy of human nature, or how humans interact with one another. His idea is founded on the current state of nature. The real or imagined natural condition of human interaction is referred to as the state of nature. Hobbes defines the state of nature as "every man's battle against every other man" (Spragens Jr, 2015). It entails a perpetual state of violence because everyone has a natural claim to everything. Nobody is concerned about the other. Hobbes characterizes life in nature as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (Martel, 2012). The only form of laws that exist in the state of nature are principles which are based on self-preservation. Hobbes calls the laws the natural laws. The first natural law Hobbes points out is that every person has the right to endeavor peace as far as he has the hope of obtaining it (Martel, 2012). That means he can go out of his way and take advantage of the war to obtain peace. Hobbes argues that the laws of nature can only be put in place if power is created and used to enforce the laws. He suggests that people should transfer their rights to one person who will be above everyone else and enforce the laws for people.

Hobbes is right when he says that people live with a consistent fear of violence and death. When a state has no security, nothing can take place. People cannot do business, farming, manufacture products, perform art or even research on scientific issues when there is no security. The only way to end the unsustainable condition is by people relinquishing their natural right to everything and transfer their self-sovereignty to leviathan or a person with higher authority (Martel, 2012). In other words, the ideal political society is one that is governed by an absolute and undivided sovereign. Hobbes explains that the sovereign of the authority is absolute meaning that no authority is above him and his will is law. However, the power of the sovereign is not all-encompassing meaning that the subject is free to act in the manner they please especially if the sovereign is silent or there is no law to address the action in question (Martel, 2012). The social contract allows people to leave the state of nature and enter a civil society. However, the civil society remains a threat and can only prevail when the power of Leviathan authority collapse a condition that is rare since his power cannot be contested (Held, 2013). Therefore, it is not possible for its power to collapse unless it is no longer in a position to protect its subject. The worst that can happen to a nation is when the civil war breaks and the only way in which the same is having a sovereign leader with absolute power.

Although life in the state of nature is nasty, brutish and short, it does not justify a Leviathan. The analysis given by Hobbes of a pre-political condition characterized by an endless conflict which is intolerable necessitates a democratic leader other than one with absolute power. If what Hobbes proposed was applied in the current world, there is a possibility of such a leader practicing dictatorship and doing whatever he pleases since there is no one to question him (Fraenkel, Shills & Meierhenrich, 2014). The states that experience this form of leadership are characterized by instability and poor social control. The citizens of such countries are never happy since they have to comply with the rule of one man and are consistently seeking for civil rights and freedom (Held, 2013). For instance, Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein experienced a lot of hardship. Similarly, several countries in the world today that contradict the theory of Hobbes. Kim Jung II can be perceived as a Leviathan who has ruled North Korea for the last 31 years. The citizens of North Korea have for all these years have cried for political rights as well as civil rights meaning they are not happy with the leadership. Besides, it is a country with which the press has the least freedom. Cases of forced labor in prisons have been reported in which the prisoners work for political dissenters and their families. The situation in Korea shows that Hobbes’ political theory of a sovereign authority with absolute power does not amount peace in the state.

Russia is an ideal example of the state described by Hobbes. The country’s 1993 constitution infers strong powers to the president. The president has absolute power to issue directives and decrees that have the force of law without being reviewed by the legislative. However, the constitution provides that such decrees and directives should not contravene it or any other laws. The Russian economy is one of the most stable in the world. Besides, the country experiences peace and has no history of tyranny or dictatorship. The Russian President fits the Leviathan, and the state represents Hobbes' ideal political society.


Martel, J. (2012). Subverting the Leviathan: Reading Thomas Hobbes as a radical democrat. Columbia University Press.

Spragens Jr, T. A. (2015). The politics of motion: The world of Thomas Hobbes. University Press of Kentucky.

Held, D. (2013). Political theory and the modern state. John Wiley & Sons.

Fraenkel, E., Shills, E. A., & Meierhenrich, J. (2014). The Dual State: A Contribution to the Theory of Dictatorship.

May 02, 2023

Philosophy Sociology

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