Leviathan (book)

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Frontispiece of "Leviathan"

Leviathan is the most famous and influential book of political philosophy by Thomas Hobbes, published in 1651. It is titled after the biblical Leviathan. The book concerns the structure of society (as represented figuratively by the frontispiece, showing the society giant made up of individuals), as is evidenced by the full title "Leviathan or the matter, forme and power of a common-wealth ecclesiasticall and civill".

In the book, Hobbes gives an argument for a social contract and rule by a sovereign.

In modern usage, derived from Hobbes (see below), the word "Leviathan" generally refers to the government and reflects concern that government may exceed its proper scope and power.

Contents

Part I: Of Man

Hobbes attempts an analysis of society from first principles, beginning with Man and the Senses. He develops this in a sequence of definitions (for example Imagination is "nothing but decaying sense" and is the same as Memory). He points out the Necessity of Definitions, which is a hint that he is attempting an axiomatisation of humanity in line with the programme of Geometry. He defines the various Passions in an unsentimental way: e.g. "But whatsoever is the object of any man's appetite or desire, that is it which he for his part calleth good; and the object of his hate and aversion, evil; and of his contempt, vile and inconsiderable. For these words of good, evil, and contemptible are ever used with relation to the person that useth them: there being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common rule of good and evil to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves…". A whole sequence of such definitions follows (Appetite with an opinion of attaining, is called Hope… Honourable is whatsoever possession, action, or quality is an argument and sign of power.). Chapter XIII (http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-c.html#CHAPTERXIII) is an exposition "Of the Naturall Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery" and contains the famous quotation describing life in the state of "warre of every man against every man":

the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Hobbes finds three basic causes of the conflict in this state of nature: competition, diffidence and glory. His first law of nature is that that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war. In the state of nature, every man has a right to every thing, even to one another's body but the second law is that, in order to secure the advantages of peace, that a man be willing, when others are so too… to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself. This is the beginning of contracts/covenants; performing of which is the third law of nature. Injustice is the not performing of covenants; all else is just.

Part II: Of Common-wealth

The purpose of a commonwealth is given at the start of part 2: THE final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as hath been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants....

The commonwealth is instituted when all agree to: I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner.

The sovereign has twelve principle rights:

  1. because a successive covenant cannot override a prior, the subjects cannot (lawfully) change the form of government.
  2. because the covenant forming the commonwealth is the subjects giving to the sovereign the right to act for them, the sovereign cannot possibly breach the covenant; and therefore the subjects can never argue to be freed from the covenant because of the actions of the sovereign.
  3. the selection of sovereign is (in theory) by majority vote; the minority have agreed to abide by this.
  4. every subject is author of the acts of the sovereign: hence the sovereign cannot injure any of his subjects, and cannot be accused of injustice.
  5. following this, the sovereign cannot justly be put to death by the subjects
  6. because the purpose of the commonwealth is peace, and the sovereign has the right to do whatever he thinks necessary for the preserving of peace and security and prevention of discord, therefore the sovereign may judge what opinions and doctrines are averse; who shall be allowed to speak to multitudes; and who shall examine the doctines of all books before they are published.
  7. to prescribe the rules of civil law and property.
  8. to be judge in all cases
  9. to make war and peace as he sees fit; and to command the army.
  10. to choose councillors, ministers, magistrates and officers.
  11. to reward with riches and honour; or to punish with corporal or pecuniary punishment or ignominy.
  12. to establish laws of honour and a scale of worth.

Note that Hobbes explicitly rejects the idea of Separation of Powers, in particular the form that would later become the separation of powers under the United States Constitution.

Types of commonwealth

There are three (monarchy, aristocracy and democracy):

THE difference of Commonwealths consisteth in the difference of the sovereign, or the person representative of all and every one of the multitude. And because the sovereignty is either in one man, or in an assembly of more than one; and into that assembly either every man hath right to enter, or not every one, but certain men distinguished from the rest; it is manifest there can be but three kinds of Commonwealth. For the representative must needs be one man, or more; and if more, then it is the assembly of all, or but of a part. When the representative is one man, then is the Commonwealth a monarchy; when an assembly of all that will come together, then it is a democracy, or popular Commonwealth; when an assembly of a part only, then it is called an aristocracy. Other kind of Commonwealth there can be none: for either one, or more, or all, must have the sovereign power (which I have shown to be indivisible) entire.

And only three:

There be other names of government in the histories and books of policy; as tyranny and oligarchy; but they are not the names of other forms of government, but of the same forms misliked. For they that are discontented under monarchy call it tyranny; and they that are displeased with aristocracy call it oligarchy: so also, they which find themselves grieved under a democracy call it anarchy, which signifies want of government; and yet I think no man believes that want of government is any new kind of government: nor by the same reason ought they to believe that the government is of one kind when they like it, and another when they mislike it or are oppressed by the governors.

And monarchy is the best, on practical grounds:

The difference between these three kinds of Commonwealth consisteth, not in the difference of power, but in the difference of convenience or aptitude to produce the peace and security of the people; for which end they were instituted. And to compare monarchy with the other two, we may observe: first, that whosoever beareth the person of the people, or is one of that assembly that bears it, beareth also his own natural person. And though he be careful in his politic person to procure the common interest, yet he is more, or no less, careful to procure the private good of himself, his family, kindred and friends; and for the most part, if the public interest chance to cross the private, he prefers the private: for the passions of men are commonly more potent than their reason. From whence it follows that where the public and private interest are most closely united, there is the public most advanced. Now in monarchy the private interest is the same with the public. The riches, power, and honour of a monarch arise only from the riches, strength, and reputation of his subjects. For no king can be rich, nor glorious, nor secure, whose subjects are either poor, or contemptible, or too weak through want, or dissension, to maintain a war against their enemies; whereas in a democracy, or aristocracy, the public prosperity confers not so much to the private fortune of one that is corrupt, or ambitious, as doth many times a perfidious advice, a treacherous action, or a civil war.

Succession

The right of succession always lies with the sovereign. Democracies and aristocracies have easy succession; monarchy is harder:

The greatest difficulty about the right of succession is in monarchy: and the difficulty ariseth from this, that at first sight, it is not manifest who is to appoint the successor; nor many times who it is whom he hath appointed. For in both these cases, there is required a more exact ratiocination than every man is accustomed to use.

Because in general people haven't thought carefully. However, the succession is definitely in the gift of the monarch:

As to the question who shall appoint the successor of a monarch that hath the sovereign authority... we are to consider that either he that is in possession has right to dispose of the succession, or else that right is again in the dissolved multitude. ... Therefore it is manifest that by the institution of monarchy, the disposing of the successor is always left to the judgement and will of the present possessor.

But, it is not always obvious who the monarch has appointed:

And for the question which may arise sometimes, who it is that the monarch in possession hath designed to the succession and inheritance of his power

However, the answer is:

it is determined by his express words and testament; or by other tacit signs sufficient.

And this means:

By express words, or testament, when it is declared by him in his lifetime, viva voce, or by writing; as the first emperors of Rome declared who should be their heirs.

Note that (perhaps rather radically) this does *not* have to be any blood relative:

For the word heir does not of itself imply the children or nearest kindred of a man; but whomsoever a man shall any way declare he would have to succeed him in his estate. If therefore a monarch declare expressly that such a man shall be his heir, either by word or writing, then is that man immediately after the decease of his predecessor invested in the right of being monarch.

However (reverting to the reality of the times...)

But where testament and express words are wanting, other natural signs of the will are to be followed: whereof the one is custom. And therefore where the custom is that the next of kindred absolutely succeedeth, there also the next of kindred hath right to the succession; for that, if the will of him that was in possession had been otherwise, he might easily have declared the same in his lifetime...

So we end up back at the first-born son, in practice.

Part III: Of a Christian Common-wealth

Hobbes now seeks to investigate the nature of a Christian commonwealth. This immeadiately raises the question of which scriptures we should trust, and why. If any person may claim supernatural revelation superior to the civil law, then there would be chaos, and Hobbes fervent desire is to avoid this. Hobbes thus begins by establishing that we cannot infallibly know another's personal word to be divine revelation:

When God speaketh to man, it must be either immediately or by mediation of another man, to whom He had formerly spoken by Himself immediately. How God speaketh to a man immediately may be understood by those well enough to whom He hath so spoken; but how the same should be understood by another is hard, if not impossible, to know. For if a man pretend to me that God hath spoken to him supernaturally, and immediately, and I make doubt of it, I cannot easily perceive what argument he can produce to oblige me to believe it.

This is good, but if applied too fervently would lead to all the bible being rejected. So we need a test: and the true test is established by examining the books of scripture, and is:

So that it is manifest that the teaching of the religion which God hath established, and the showing of a present miracle, joined together, were the only marks whereby the Scripture would have a true prophet.

And Seeing therefore miracles now cease this means that only the books of the bible can be trusted. Hobbes then discusses the various books which are accepted by various sects, and the question much disputed between the diverse sects of Christian religion, from whence the Scriptures derive their authority. To Hobbes, it is manifest that none can know they are God's word (though all true Christians believe it) but those to whom God Himself hath revealed it supernaturally. And therefore The question truly stated is: by what authority they are made law?

Unsurprisingly, Hobbes concludes that ultimately there is no way to determine this other than the civil power: He therefore to whom God hath not supernaturally revealed that they are His, nor that those that published them were sent by Him, is not obliged to obey them by any authority but his whose commands have already the force of laws; that is to say, by any other authority than that of the Commonwealth, residing in the sovereign, who only has the legislative power.

He discusses the ten commandments, and asks who it was that gave to these written tables the obligatory force of laws. There is no doubt but they were made laws by God Himself: but because a law obliges not, nor is law to any but to them that acknowledge it to be the act of the sovereign, how could the people of Israel, that were forbidden to approach the mountain to hear what God said to Moses, be obliged to obedience to all those laws which Moses propounded to them? and concludes, as before, that making of the Scripture law, belonged to the civil sovereign.

Finally: We are to consider now what office in the Church those persons have who, being civil sovereigns, have embraced also the Christian faith? to which the answer is: Christian kings are still the supreme pastors of their people, and have power to ordain what pastors they please, to teach the Church, that is, to teach the people committed to their charge.

There is an enormous amount of biblical scholarship in this third part. However, once Hobbes initial argument is accepted (that no-one can know for sure anyone elses divine revelation) his conclusion (the religious power is subordinate to the civil) must follow from his logic. The very extensive discussions of the chapter were probably necessary for its time. The need (as Hobbes saw it) for the civil sovereign to be supreme arose partly from the many sects that arose around the civil war, and to quash the Pope of Rome's challenge, to which Hobbes devotes an extensive section.

Part IV: Of the Kingdome of Darknesse

By this, Hobbes does not mean Hell (he doesn't believe in Hell or Purgatory) but the darkness of ignorance as opposed to the light of true knowledge. Hobbes' interpretation is largely unorthodox and so sees much darkness in what he sees as the misinterpretation of scripture.

This considered, the kingdom of darkness… is nothing else but a confederacy of deceivers that, to obtain dominion over men in this present world, endeavour, by dark and erroneous doctrines, to extinguish in them the light… [1] (http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-j.html#CHAPTERXLIV)

There are four causes of this darkness.

The first is by extinguishing the light of scripture through misinterpretation. Hobbes sees the main abuse as teaching that the kingdom of god can be found in the church, thus undermining the authority of the civil sovereign. Another general abuse of scripture is the turning of consecration into conjuration, or silly ritual.

The second cause is the demonology of the heathen poets concerning demons, which are nothing more than constructs of the brain. Hobbes then goes on to criticise many of the practices of Catholicism--the worship of saints, relics, etc.--that he sees as going against the word of God.

The third is by mixing with the Scripture diverse relics of the religion, and much of the vain and erroneous philosophy of the Greeks, especially of Aristotle. Hobbes has little time for the various disputing sects of philosophers, and objects to what people have taken From Aristotle's civil philosophy, they have learned to call all manner of Commonwealths but the popular (such as was at that time the state of Athens), tyranny. At the end of this comes an interesting section (darkness is suppressing true knowledge as well as introducing falsehoods), which would appear to bear on the discoveries of Galileo Galilei. Our own navigations make manifest, and all men learned in human sciences now acknowledge, there are antipodes (ie, the Earth is round) …Nevertheless, men… have been punished for it by authority ecclesiastical. But what reason is there for it? Is it because such opinions are contrary to true religion? That cannot be, if they be true. However, Hobbes is quite happy for the truth to be suppressed if necessary: if they tend to disorder in government, as countenancing rebellion or sedition? Then let them be silenced, and the teachers punished — but only by the civil authority.

The fourth is by mingling with both these, false or uncertain traditions, and feigned or uncertain history.

Hobbes finishes by inquiring who benefits from the errors he diagnoses:

CICERO maketh honourable mention of one of the Cassii, a severe judge amongst the Romans, for a custom he had in criminal causes, when the testimony of the witnesses was not sufficient, to ask the accusers, cui bono; that is to say, what profit, honour, or other contentment the accused obtained or expected by the fact. For amongst presumptions, there is none that so evidently declareth the author as doth the benefit of the action.

Not surprisingly, Hobbes goes on to discover that the beneficiaries are the Churches and churchmen.

Diverse

The frontispiece of the first edition was engraved by Abraham Bosse with input from Hobbes.

A quote from that book was at one time used in the wikipedia logo.

See also

External links

es:Leviatn (libro) it:Leviatano (Hobbes) ja:リヴァイアサン (書名) pl:Lewiatan (książka) pt:Leviat (livro)

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