Lecture 18: Leviathan Part 2
Outline of the Lecture
1. Review of Mondays lecture:
a) The laws of nature and the inclination towards peace;
b) The permanent uncertainty and lack of trust that characterizes Hobbes state of
c) The sovereign as the solution to the problems inherent in the state of nature;
the question of authorization
d) The role of sovereign
2. Hobbesian civil society: what powers should the sovereign possess?
a) The right to punish/ to wield the police power
b) The right to make war and peace, i.e. to levy taxes
c) The right to legislation
d) The power to control public debates
3. Hobbesian the nature of liberty: freedom as the silence of the laws
4. Evaluating Hobbes: how influential is leviathan?Are we hobbists?
Review of Mondays Lecture
The laws of nature and the inclination towards peace
• The laws of nature and the inclination towards peace;
• Our most basic interest is the fear of death; the desire for self preservation
• These desires lead us to recognizes rules for living together; the laws of nature is
what makes social and productive life possible
• The laws of nature counsels seeks peace and enjoins us to pardons the fences, and
only punish for future problems not past revenges
• The laws of nature are defected – the are knowable by rational people but they are
not binded in any way, only binded by conscience and not will/action
• Hobbes thinks its irrational to abide the rules of the laws of nature in the absence
of some sort of force acting out the compliance
The permanent uncertainty and lack of trust that characterizes Hobbes state of nature
• Contracts and tax payments; in a contract the performance of each party is divided
in time. One person performs first and then as time passes another party performs.
• In between this time though the situation may alter and the second person may not
want to abide.
• Its rational to want to have some institution or mechanism capable of making sure
that everyone pays his or her taxes. I’m happy to do so as long as I know that
everyone else is doing so as well.
• The sovereign makes it safe and rational to obey the laws of nature. Those who
pay taxes and abide by the contract, while the leviathan is in place, put themselves
at mercy to those who don’t. We need a state and government, a sovereign body,
capable of enforcing the law and punishing transgressors. Hobbes on Contract and Authorization
Hobbes speaks of the sovereign in legal or contraction terms
“The essence of the common- wealth […] is one person, of whose acts a great multitude,
by mutual covenant one with another, have made themselves every one the author, to the
end he may use the strength and means of them all, as he think expedient for the peace
and common defense” (228)
• The common wealth (political community) is constituted by one legal person as a
• Each of us covenants with all the others, and we each decide to regard the
sovereign as our own will
• We create an artificial person or body who acts on our behalf
• We all agree to regard the will of the leviathan as our own will
• We agree to think of ourselves as the author of the sovereign actions
• All legislation by the sovereign in a sense is legislation of the self
• Hobbes is the first person to define the common wealth as a person
• We ought to think of the sovereign as representing and commanding the wills of
• The state itself is the artificial creation of those it covorsives
• Its not natural or a reflection of nature, it’s a creation by human in order to
overcome the “inconveniences” of the world in the absence of a state.
• Political power in Plato ought to be invested in those with gold in their souls. For
Plato the fact the philosophers possess power isn’t some artificial creation, it’s a
reflection of nature. The natural fact that some persons have unique possession of
the aptitude for politics.And the rest of us are rightly covorsed by them.
• The thematic distinction between Hobbes and Plato is between nature and artifice.
For Plato political authority is from their natural aptitude, they have sensitivity to
justice and have gold in their souls. Hobbes says nothing about leviathan’s natural
aptitude for political authority. In leviathan we transfer all of our rights to either
him or them.
• Political authority is something that we invent for ourselves. Its not something
that nature gives us. We make it. We ought to regard ourselves as the author for
the leviathan’s actions. We all agreed to transfer our rights to the sovereign. We all
made a contract with one another like things, to judge our cases, and renounced
them so that we can transfer it to the sovereign.
• Political authority is the bi-product of a contract. Hobbes knows that we haven’t
actually signed some social contract. We didn’t explicitly enter some covenant but
he doesn’t put some stop to this objection.
• Anyone who actually lives in civil society and benefits from the protection of the
sovereign should regard himself or herself as tastily entering a contract.
• We ought not think of the state of nature as history that we listed ourselves out of,
instead, as a future possibility.
• He thinks of the state of nature as a future degeneration. Something that would
come about if our current arrangements were to collapse. • We ought not think of the sovereign as a party with the contract. Leviathan stands
apart and outside the contract, it’s only something that we’ve all made with each
other. We have no rights against leviathan. Everything leviathan does is
necessarily just because justice is a property of contracts. Justice is keeping your
contracts, and injustice is violating it.
• Because leviathan isn’t a party to the social contract, he cannot commit a crime to
• Leviathan can do stupid and destructive things but their actions can never be
rightly described as unjust
• If there is no contract, there are no claims of justice and since the leviathan isn’t in
the contract they can never be unjust.
• The sovereign as the solution to the problems inherent in the state of nature; the
question of authorization
• Government, sovereign body capable of enforcing the law and enforcing
punishments on people who do not follow the rules
• Stabilize social life – by keeping everyone in awe
The Role of the Sovereign
o The sovereign provides us with assurance that the laws will be enforced
o Most people will comply with the law because they know that others will also
comply and fear – sovereign creates fear and fear prevents others from taking
advantage of others (free riders)
o In the absence of a sovereign – disobedience is the rational action because there is
no one there to punish us; self interest
o But having a sovereign, the background interest changes because now there is a
legitimate threat of punishment from the authority
What would Hobbes ideal political society look like?
• First the right to punish and wield the police power. This follows from the
renunciation of our rights in the state of nature. By living in civil society we give
up the right to punish others and judge our own cases.
What powers should the sovereign possess?
1. The right to punish/ to wield the police power
o This follows with the renunciation from the citizens in a civil society
2. The right to make war and peace, i.e. to levy taxes
o People judge differently about what is danger for them
o What we need is a single source of opinion who’s views about what
constitutes a threat that we all agree to accept
o Only the sovereign as the right to pronounce where a states vital interests
o The legislative power must also be in the hands of the sovereign. Citizens
wont obey laws unless they have reason to fear.
o Laws prescribe what goods a citizen may enjoy which is also saying what
is and isn’t private property. o The laws contribute to peace by settling all controversial questions.
o Leviathan sets what constitutes as justice and injustice and what they say