Hobbes? Leviathan Essay, Research Paper
These are the reasons that I felt reading Hobbes’ Leviathan could help me gain some understanding and insight into these issues. Hobbes’ Leviathan: Analysis of its Impact on the Framing of our Democracy Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, written against the backdrop of the horrors of the English Civil War, in the mid 1600’s, is a discussion about the principles of man’s basic need for peace, unity, and security, in both nature and civilization. Essentially arguing in favor of a sovereign monarchy, Hobbes writes in such a manner as to present these basic principles so they could apply to any political system, including that of a democracy. To achieve this, Hobbes presents several questions in this novel. What kind of being is man? What is the nature of man? What comprises a commonwealth that can successfully govern man? These are the pivotal questions presented in Hobbes’ Leviathan. According to Hobbes, man is a creation of God not dissimilar to that of man manufacturing watches. Both have moving parts; a spring or heart to keep them alive, strings or nerves to hold them together, and wheels or joints to give motion to the whole body. But it is more than just this that Hobbes says makes up man. Man has, or at least should have sense, imagination, speech, and reason. Sense is an instrument for conception in man’s mind. Without the senses, man cannot see the “Representation or Appearance of quality” (85). Imagination is the remembering of things once perceived by the senses, and the ability to compound different memories into one, as with compounding the sight of a man and a horse into that of a Centaur. Speech by far is “The most noble and profitable of all inventions”, for speech is the means “Whereby men register their thoughts; recall them when they are past; and declare them one to another for mutual utility and conversation” (100). Without speech Hobbes tell us there would be “Neither Commonwealth, nor Society, nor Contract, nor peace, no more than amongst Lyons, Bears, and Wolves” (100). Reason then is the sense of reckoning, or adding and subtracting things up in our mind, trying and testing the consequences of each change until the right solution is made, although not necessarily guaranteeing success. These traits, once merged with man’s divine soul, places man at the zenith of all creation. To truly understand the nature of man, one must first understand nature. Nature as defined by Hobbes, is the conditions and environments in which humans find themselves, when no external or artificial order is imposed upon them. Hobbes explains this state of nature as a state of perpetual war, where quarrels are started based on three principal causes; competition, diffidence, and glory. Competition for some is a driving force, pushing them to work harder, to be better than the next man. Hobbes describes this as the force that “maketh men invade for gain” (185), while diffidence and glory make men invade for safety and reputation respectively. “Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common power to keep them in awe, they are in that condition we call warre; and such a warre, as is of every man against every man” (185). Hobbes argues this state of constant war is the nature of man, not simply because one person is stronger than another, but because men are for the most part created equally. It is this equality among men that creates a similarity of needs and desires. When two individuals want the same thing, they are in competition with each other. Taken to the extreme they become enemies and engage in warfare. The same holds true for one man’s wanting another’s status, possessions, belongings, etc.. The nature of man though, is not comprised solely of war. If that were true, there would be no need for reason in the creation of man. It is this potential for reasoning that creates the laws of nature, or the laws of self-preservation. Men may go to war with each other over possessions, safety or status, but the laws of nature at times will hold them back. Hobbes says, “A law of nature, is a precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved” (189). This law forces men to struggle to stay alive at any cost. Many laws of nature are self-evident through reason. Among these are man’s desire to live at peace, man’s willingness to enter into contracts of peace if it suits their interests, and that all men will live up to these contracts if they are legitimate. So, is the nature of man more that of the state of nature, or the laws of nature? Hobbes represents the two as separate, but analysis reveals an implied duality. Man does want to raise his own level of existence, while at the same time man desires to live indefinitely, thus placing man in a moral dilemma. Reason must decide if living in peace is more important than living by a certain standard, whether material or political, even if the result of that decision causes war. Take for example two vagrants starving for food, both noticing a piece of bread and then fighting for the bread to extend their own life. This shows how man can maintain both the state of nature and the law of nature, thus completely defining the nature of man. Having given an understanding as to man’s basic nature as being a creation of God, endowed with the above referenced traits, Hobbes then begins to delve into how man lives together resisting his natural tendency toward war. To properly understand how man might live together peacefully, we must first look at why man continues to fail in this regard. Understanding the negatives allows us to potentially control them in order to build a safer and more secure commonwealth. Hobbes addresses this with six key points regarding the differences in man versus the rest of nature. First he states “men are continually in competition for honour and dignity” (225) while nature is not. His second point is that nature does not differentiate the common good with the private good, and since nature is inclined to the private, a hierarchy of mutual needs then allows them to work towards the common benefit. Man on the other hand does know the difference in the common and the private good, and is motivated by enlightened self-interest, finding joy by comparing himself with others. Third, Hobbes suggests that creatures of nature have “Not (as men) the use of reason, [and] do not see, nor think they see any fault, in the administration of their common businesse”. While with men, “There are very many who thinke themselves wiser, and abler to govern the publique, better than the rest” (226), thus bringing man to the natural state of war. The fourth point Hobbes makes of man and nature is a simple one. He says that even though creatures have some voice they are incapable of voicing their own desires and other affections, while man can represent to others, something good in the presence of the bad, and vis versa. This ability then diminishes the apparent greatness of work, “Discontenting men, and troubling their peace and their pleasure” (226). Hobbes’ fifth point states that “Irrational creatures cannot distinguish between Injury, and Damage” (226), therefore as long as they are at peace they are not offended by others around them. Man on the other hand is “Most troublesome when he is most at ease” (226), because then man finds most pleasurable to show off his wisdom, and attempt to take control from the governing power. Ultimately Hobbes says creatures of nature agree because it is their nature, while men agree by covenant and contract only, which is artificial, and takes constant striving to make the agreement constant and lasting. Based on these considerations, Hobbes reaches the point of greatest question, how to set up the commonwealth. Hobbes says, “The only way to erect such a common power, … is, to conferre all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will” (227). This is to say man should appoint one man, or an assembly of men, to act and speak for them all, in those matters concerning the common peace and safety. Every man shall submit their wills and judgements unto his will and his judgement, more than consent or concord. It would be a real unity of all men, focusing on one and the same man. Similar to every man saying “I authorise and give up my right of governing my selfe, to this man, or to this assembly of men, on the condition, that thou give up thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner” (227). If this state of mutual consent can be achieved, you can then call it a commonwealth, or in more modern terms a civilization. Through reading the text of Leviathan, I began to understand Hobbes’ views of a commonwealth and how this creation we call “Man” must live within it. These insights have encouraged me to start taking greater note of politics, and while doing so, to keep in the back of my mind, Hobbes’ view that “He that is to govern a whole Nation, must read in himself, not this, or that particular man; but Man-kind” (83).