Tuesday, January 15, 2013
HOBBES AND THE COVENANT
• Creating a power among us strong enough so that no one can harm us- creating
something that can protect us
• There is a greater chance of stability when there is one will
• In the creation of a sovereign, people in the public become subject to the sovereign
power. This sovereign power then by association becomes a commonwealth.
• When people covenant with one another, they transform their powers to one source-
forming a commonwealth (the state)
• This is the generation of the great Leviathan (the mortal God)
• Leviathan is a literary illusion- it is from a book in the Bible. It depicts a sea monster.
Leviathan is “king of the proud”.
Leviathan and Sovereignty
• From where Leviathan is rooted- when Joe asked God “why?” God answered, “where
were you when I created the heavens?”
• Power- owing power to obedience
• Hobbes chose his literary illusion deliberately to be in sync with his message
• Sovereign power is indivisible and irrevocable- otherwise it is self-contradictory. The
definition of sovereign power is power of the highest realm.
o Sovereignty can be no more divided than a single person is able to have two wills-
it is a symbol of an artificial person, and the artificial person can only have one
o Sovereignty is irrevocable- cannot be taken back; unconditional. Either you give
power unconditionally to the sovereign. Otherwise, you have not created
• Rules of propriety- laws issued by the sovereign; civil laws
• Absolute power allows the sovereign to enforce the laws absolutely
• Sovereign has power to decide the outcome of controversy (adjudicating laws)
• Sovereign has three powers: creating laws, adjudicating laws and enforcing laws
• Securing peace involves no law-breaking because no one can escape the sovereign power
• The Hobbesian sovereign is a human being. It is passed as sovereign. It is to establish
laws, and in so doing, it is to establish just and unjust law.
o What are rights? Rights are judged from the individual’s view in a state of nature.
o But once there is a commonwealth, the sovereign gets to define rights.
• The sovereign gets to decide what is right and what is wrong- it is translated through laws
and holds absolute power. It functions like a justice machine.
Are there limits?
• No. There are no limits to what a sovereign can do. The sovereign does not forfeit its
power if it commits some act that displeases its subjects. The sovereign has promised 2
them nothing, and thus is not subject to the covenant.
• In making the covenant with one another, they all pre-approve everything that the
• Hobbes defines tyranny as “monarchy misliked”- people who do not like the king call
him a tyrant. A sovereign cannot abuse his power. Nonetheless, he may treat one or more
of his subjects badly, where he is guilty of inequity. But he is not to be unjust.
• The law of nature tells us to not interfere with those who mediate peace- sovereign may
in fact impose a law of nature (thus, being wicked, but nonetheless, not unjust)
• Sovereigns are not under the law- though wicked actions can be committed, it cannot be
• Hobbes: the worst abuse of sovereign power is nothing compared to the miseries and
calamities that accompanies a civil war
• The sovereign has n