Thomas Hobbes and his Political Ideas

Thomas Hobbes and his Political Ideas

Thomas Hobbes was born in 1581, in the family of Anglican Clergyman, and he lived till he gets 99 years.  He witnessed the most blustery period of English history.  He received his early education at Malmesbury, then he went to Oxford for his higher studies at the age of 15. After finishing his University education he was appointed as Tutor to William Cavendish, had a lifelong connection with his family and it provided him a chance to travel extensively and establish personal contacts with great personalities like Ben Johnson, Bacon and Galileo, and they left an impact on his political thought.

He witnessed civil war in England between supporters of Monarchy and Republicanism and he took kingside in that war, Charles-I was beheaded and monarchy was abolished.  Despite the fact he witnessed the whole bloody drama of civil war which left a profound effect on his thinking.  He was persuaded that man is an animal inspired by thought like fear and self- interest. He was also influenced that a strong and stable civilized life was the basic need and this could be delivered only by an absolute monarch and strongly appealed for monarchy.

He also felt impression of other political thinkers, scientists and mathematicians thus he took the idea of socialist contract form Plato and Hooker, the impact of Machiavelli can be noticeable in Hobbes representation of human nature.  He borrowed the concept of the law of nature form Grotius, Sovereignty form Bodin and he enhanced it.  His philosophy was borrowed from Galileo, for his acquisitive theory and scientific methods form Descartes.  Thus the philosophy of Hobbes was a mixture of different influences of his time which left on his mind.

Hobbes Methodology:

He familiarized scientific methods to the political theory, and tried to draw inferences from axioms, assumptions and established truths.  Though Plato applied scientific method to political theory but Hobbes was the first thinker who asserted that political theory was based on the presence of matter and motion.  Hobbes based his concept of human nature, formation of civil society and possible human relationship on this principle.

There are three different parts of Hobbes philosophy, the first dealing with physical phenomenon called ‘physics’ the second dealing with mental phenomenon called ‘psychology’ and the third civil philosophy,  the third part is most complex of all. According to him all the three parts of philosophy are the outcomes of moving particles.  He tried to integrate psychology and politics extract Physical Science.  By applying Geometric method to the science of politics, is built upon psychology and psychology is based on physics, which is derived from the motion of particles.  Thus, this method is clearly logical.  It is pointed out that he completely failed to deduce his psychology from physics and could not live up to his idea because it was impossible.  In spite of these deficiencies, the recognition of Hobbes is that he prepared politics more scientific and modern.  His methodology has three fold significance.

  1. He completely disallowed the medieval conception of the existence of soul or spirit and tried to interpret everything in materialist terms.
  2. His method tangled the denial of medieval theory that, the state is the result of orthodox tumble.
  3. His method provided to the distinctive method of thinking, he initiates with individual ends with individuals. In fact no better individualistic theory could be promoted.

Views on Human Nature:

Contrasting the earlier philosophers he marks the individual the mechanism to his thoughts. He give the individual not as a rational being but attachment of desires, feelings, and wishes. According to Hobbes, what a man wishes, he sounds well and what he hates, he appeals evil.  At hand no absolute end or good of life, thus, all men attempts to achieve those things which he needs and man is self-interested.  According to Prof. Sabine that, “the rule behind all behavior is that the living body is set instinctively to preserve or heighten its vitality.  In a word, the psychological principle behind all behavior is self-preservation and self-preservation means just the continuance of individual’s biological existence.  Good is what conduces to this end and evil what has the opposite effect”.

He trusts that, by birth men are alike, certain may have improved mental faculties, while others may be physically greater. On the whole they are significantly identical.  Yet, the aspiration to have something carries them in clash with each other. He says that opposition, brilliance and variances make people brute and argumentative. He puts this point thus: “nature has made men so equal with faculties of body and mind, as that though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of the quicker mind than the other, Yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man and man is not so considerable, as that one can thereupon can claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend”.

He further says that, every single individual has a perpetual and restless desire of power, after power only death.  Hobbes says that, man is basically selfish, contentious, quarrelsome, mean, wicked, non-altruistic, non-rational, impulsive and self-centered.  In this high opinion his visions are quite thoroughly connected to that of Machiavelli. The only difference between them is that, Machiavelli did not allocate any reason for the bad nature of man.  Hobbes tries to give it in scientific terms.

Though, his understandings on human nature have been extremely criticized.  In the first occurrence, it is said that, man is neither so reasonable nor as unreasonable as he displays him while paintings the picture of state of nature and the assumption of the deal for the creation of the state.  He said that man is extremely unreasonable in the state of nature, but abruptly allots him the faculty of reason which urges him to heap the state: secondly, he portrays human being as anti-social, self-centered and egoistic.  By what means such persons could develop social and take advantage in the evolution of the civil society.  Thirdly, he assume atmospheres and insights from the motion of particles.  Finally, his assertion that, all men are the same in esteem of their physical and mental powers, is contrary to our actual experience.

Views on Social Contract:

Hobbes trusts that, the state has its start in the expectation of men in their own defense, the well-adjusted wish to spurt from the natural conditions of war. The constant struggle and distress were expected, as long as men were absorbed by the orders of hunger, they could escape from it only by setting up a common power which could at the same time restrain and protect each person. Hobbes said that, each person says to others “I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man or to this assembly of men, on this condition that thou give the right to him and authorize all his actions in the like manner”.

The features of social contract here under:

1 The sovereign is not a party to the contract but rather contract is the product of it. He tries to justify complete or tyrannical rule and rejects all rights of resisting the state to the individual. One writer asserted on Hobbes “instead of becoming a character of human freedom the contract becomes in the hands of Hobbes a bond of human slavery”.

2 The State or commonwealth is mainly founded on reasons, not on distress, people concentrate on obedience to the authority of the state because of the rational apprehension that the end of self-protection is better attended within the state. Hobbes himself says “Covenant without sword are but words”.

3 It cannot guilty of contract because sovereignty is not a contract. Justice lies with obedience to the contract and sovereign cannot be just.

4 The contract cannot be cancelled once the contract is decided, because the individual surrender to his wills to the will of the sovereign and do not have any right to pull out or cancel it without the approval of the sovereign.

5 In the sovereign the majority has rights and minority has no right to object to the choice of majority. By which minority will become a part of the Commonwealth, silently they have to accept the will of majority.

6 To guard the individual’s life contract has been established, it indicates that, the individual has surrounded all his rights to sovereign, except the right to live in the state.

7 The people are supposed to submit all their rights to the state or the ruler and they do not possess any right against sovereign. He did not acknowledge to the people to conquer the obedience to the sovereign under certain circumstances.

Views on State on Nature:

Hobbes opinions on state on nature concluded a period of human history prior to the creation of the civil state, are an addition to his view of human nature.  He holds that entire men are by nature identical in powers, no one of them are so sturdy as to be safe contrary to the other.  They have some thirst, like aspiration for wellbeing desire to gain desire of glory. The desire to gain hints to violence when the object of desire can neither be divided nor enjoyed in common.  Obviously, the human beings develop disbelief towards each other.

Certainly, under the situations that state of nature is a state of war.  There is no place for industry in such circumstances, because the fruits there of are ambiguous and subsequently no culture of the earth, no direction finding, no arts, no letters, no society.  In short, the life of man was solitary poor, nasty, brutish, and short.  As there is no mutual greater which could hold all the people in crisscross endless war of all against all.  According to him there could be no dissimilarity between right and wrong in the state of nature, because such a difference take as fact the presence of common standards of conduct, a common law to judge the conduct and common law giver. There is no division between just and unjust in the state of nature because there is no common superior (sovereign) or Law.  When there is no law there can be no justice.  There is no right to private property in the state of nature, because the control of a thing depended upon the power of a person to keep it.

Views on Sovereignty:

Sovereign was bent as a result of the bond and enjoys all the powers which were enclosed by the people at the time of ending the contract.  Sovereign enjoys the power to govern on behalf of the   entire community as to what should be done to maintain peace and order and promote their welfare.  In short, Hobbes confers the sovereign with absolute and supreme powers.  The Sovereign power cannot be dared by the people, because they willingly give up their rights to him, once they have surrendered their rights to him, without condition, they cannot claim back.

According to Hobbes the individuals cannot legally enter into a new contract to create a new Leviathan, because the agreement determined by them with the first sovereign is unchangeable.  As the sovereign was not a party to the contract it cannot be quoted against him without his own endorsement.  The Sovereign enjoys complete powers to make laws and this power of the sovereign is not incomplete by any human authority, superior or inferior.  The sovereign is not assured by the opinion and wishes of the people because they have made a complete surrender of their power to the sovereign.  It is not only the principal foundation of all laws but also one and only explainer.  Even the laws of nature do not establish any curb on the power of sovereign.  Even the laws of God does not limit the authority of the sovereign because he is the only explainer of these laws.  Thus, he provided sovereign complete powers and rules out all the restrictions in the nature of laws of nature, or laws of God.

The Sovereign is the cause to single out between good and bad, moral and immoral, just and unjust.  These differences does not happen in the state of nature and occurred only after the formation of the civil society.  Sovereign to elect what is moral and what is immoral. Even right to property was shaped by the Sovereign.  The Sovereign is the foremost foundation of justice and have special powers to declare war and make peace.  Hobbes gives to the Sovereign all sorts of authority like Executive, Legislative and Judicial and thus, totally disagreements the theory of separation of powers.  Another significant feature of Hobbes Sovereign is that he confers it with undividable, attached and inexpressible powers.  He does not allow the sovereign to share its powers with others.  Hobbes also does not acknowledge to his subjects only rights against the Sovereign.   People cannot call him to account, threaten to punish or overthrow him and choose another ruler in his place or put him to death.  Hobbes created an absolute, indivisible in alienable sovereign.

Hobbes Individualism and Absolutism:

Hobbes was considered as the individualist, the theory of absolute sovereignty was named after him and this itself was and achievement by any individual in the political history. Commenting on this Prof. Sabine said that, “Individualism is thoroughly modern element in Hobbes and respect in which he caught most clearly the note of coming ages, Hobbes was at once the complete utilitarian and a complete individualist. It is his clear cut individualism which makes his philosophy the most revolutionary theory of his age”.

Hobbes in fact made a theory about absolutism, but the foundation of absolutism was based on the peace and security of the person and property of the individual, which gives the theory of Hobbes the touch of individualism. Hobbes gave prominent position to individual, he gave the individual the right to fight the sovereign if it attacks his life, for whose protection the contract was made. The centre of thought was individual, he thought that, if any individual was not in proper check it would cause demolition and problems to the civil society which leads to anarchy. Hobbes felt the necessity to check such happenings, need of a supreme power and will have all powers to take act and stop from destruction of individual. He believed that, Agreements without swords were but words, to make sure the covenants were witnessed by the people, he gave absolute authority to sovereign.

He not only gave absolute powers to sovereign and ensured to prevent his use of selfish ends. He gave power to make laws and rules by that he can understand what is just (fair) and unjust (unfair) and what is good and bad. The laws were made for the benefit of individual and subject to the judgment of individualism, by this way he prevented the right of absolutism.