Thomas Hobbes' Idea Of The State And Its Relation With The Citizen

1578 words - 6 pages

Hobbes' Idea of the State and Its Relation with the Citizen

When looking at Hobbes’ idea of the state and its relation with the citizen, it is strikingly shocking how supportive of the authoritarian and absolutist form of monarchical government he is. His ideas are extreme for today’s democratic world however, he is seen as the founder of great liberal political thoughts such as the natural contract. Furthermore he gives great emphasis to the study of the individual in the first book of his work. Although, obviously monarchical, Hobbes also argues in favor of democracy and aristocracy: two less authoritarian forms of government. Hobbes has a historical reputation for validating absolute monarchy, and his work is often dismissed as dictatorial. But it must be remembered that, for Hobbes, sovereignty does not only reside in a king but also in sovereign congresses and sovereign democracies and ultimately the people enable any of these three forms of government to rule, according to what best suits the community.

Although the laws of nature require that human beings seek peace, and maintain that the establishment of contracts is the best means of doing so, the natural human hunger for power always threatens the safety of the contract. Hobbes concludes that there must be some common power, some sovereign authority, to force people to uphold the contract. This sovereign would be established by the people as part of the contract, endowed with the individual powers and wills of all, and authorized to punish anyone who breaks the covenant. The sovereign operates through fear; the threat of punishment reinforces the mandates of the laws of nature, thus ensuring the continued operation of the social contract.
Thus it could be argued that Hobbes’ idea doesn’t go beyond maintaining law and order to stop society from falling into chaos; his ideas don’t jeopardize the individual, as he argues that such commonwealth is for the best interest of the individual. The sovereign is the ruling force behind the contract; in the analogy between the vague contract and an artificial person, the concept of sovereignty is the soul of the artificial person and the sovereign itself, the head. This artificial person is a metaphor for the state in total, and Hobbes names this artificial person "Leviathan." Hobbes's description of the construction of the Leviathan draws upon the conclusions made in Book I about the state of nature and repeats its images:
The only way to erect such a Common Power, as may be able to defend them
from . . . the injuries of one another . . . is, to conferre all their power and strength
upon one Man, or upon an Assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by
plurality of voices unto one Will . . . This is more than Consent, or Concord; it is
a real Unitie of them all, in one and the same Person, made by Covenant of every
man...

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