Give an account of Hobbes’ theory of the sovereign or single supreme power. Is Hobbes’ theory a convincing one in whole or in part? If so, why, and if not, why not? In his most celebrated philosophical text, “Leviathan”, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) puts forth a somewhat unusual and original view as to how our society should be organised, administered and governed. Hobbes a loyal Royalist fled England in the sixteen forties, when it emerged that King Charles I would soon be overthrown. It was during these eleven years abroad, in response to a time of Civil War and huge political instability that Hobbes composed his masterpiece, “Leviathan”. At the time of its release, his book was undoubtedly found to be extremely controversial. Not only was he advocating a monarchy (when England had just overthrown theirs) but he also called for reforms in traditional philosophical and political theories and knowledge. Up until then, philosophical knowledge was capricious with no basis in anything solid. There were no absolute rules, as such, to go by in philosophical and political theories. These obscurities, in Hobbes opinion, led to a ‘State of Nature’, a state of chaos, where war amongst men was strife. He therefore proposed that a state, The Sovereign State, be established to ensure that the ‘State of Nature’ be avoided and obviated. In this following essay I shall give an outline of Hobbes ‘Sovereign State , discuss its benefits and adversities and attempt to come to my own conclusion as to whether or not this type of Sovereign State is viable. First we must establish why it is that Hobbes aims to create this commonwealth sovereign society. Hobbes makes the claim that mankind, if left to its own devices lives in a state of nature which promotes chaos and conflict between one man and the next. Men live for their own glory and for sense that their own glory is greater than that of his neighbour’s (superiority). In “Leviathan” Hobbes states “in the nature of man we find three principal causes of quarrel: first, competition; secondly, diffidence, thirdly, glory”. Instinctually men have a desire to feel superior to those around them. In order to gain this one must act to their own advantage at all times. Thus men will put their own personal interests first and do what they can in order to obtain a higher, more opportune position than that of their neighbour. In other words, man will satisfy his own desires and needs first before that of others and in the process, cause war. In Chapter 14 of “ Leviathan” he claims “everyone is governed by his own reason and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies”. Therefore men are in constant competition with each other “and consequently, amongst men there ariseth, on that ground, envy and hatred, and finally war” (Hobbes). We therefore need a common power, Hobbes argues, to ensure that the state does not become one of war. Hobbes suggests a Sovereign Commonwealth State-a state ruled by one supreme power, “The Sovereign”. By signing a covenant the people of the state come together to form a single person or body named ‘The Leviathan’. This Leviathan is led or ruled by a single person, ‘The Sovereign’. In this way The Sovereign can be seen as a fictional person as in accordance with Hobbes theories of persons represented in Chapter 16 of “The Leviathan”. By signing the covenant each man has given away his own power to rule over himself to the Sovereign. Hobbes sees it that the Sovereign may now use any and all means possible ensure that the rules of the state are adhered to by all and that law and order remains. The Sovereign may even subject upon individuals blackmail, force and terror in order to protect the state’s peace and unity. For me personally, this sounds like a warped form of dictatorship. However Hobbes argues that because the people have willingly signed the covenant and because The Leviathan, thus Sovereign represents...
References: Oregon State University. Oregon State edu. Available at: http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-contents.html
Newry, G. (2008) Routeledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hobbes and Leviathan. Great Britain. Typeset & Francais Books.
[ 1 ]. In Chapter 16 of The Leviathan, “Of Persons, Authors and persons personated” Hobbes outlines three types of people that exist; Natural Persons, Artificial Persons and Fictional Persons. Fictional persons arise where a real or natural person represents a fictional or previously non-existent body i.e. The Leviathan.
[ 2 ]. Public bodies being the face or front that the people and public see, this also includes ones public interest i.e. interests for the greater good of the nation. Private bodies only one’s family and close friends are privy and subject to, put simply; ones ‘home’ interests. Here ones main concern will be for the welfare of their family and those close to them, not the greater good of the nation.
[ 3 ]. Where the cause of war is people’s fear of others and desire for comfort and glory.
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