Hobbes and Absolute Sovereignty

Topics: Political philosophy, Thomas Hobbes, Sovereignty Pages: 11 (3585 words) Published: December 6, 2006

A state is sovereign when its magistrate owes allegiance to no superior power, and he or she is supreme within the legal order of the state. It may be assumed that in every human society where there is a system of law there is also to be found, latent beneath the variety of political forms, in a democracy as much as in a absolute monarchy, a simple relationship between subjects rendering habitual obedience, and a sovereign who renders obedience to none. This vertical structure, of sovereign and subjects, according to this theory, is analogous to the backbone of a man. The structure constitutes an essential part of any human society which possesses a system of law, as the backbone comprises an essential part of the man.

Where this structure is present we may legitimately speak of human society, together with its sovereign, as a single independent state, and we may also speak of its law. Where this structure is absent we cannot legitimately apply those expressions, because the relation of the sovereign to the subjects constitutes, according to this theory, part of the very meaning of those expressions [2].

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Thomas Hobbes' theory of government

Hobbes expressed a clear personal confidence in his position as the 'author or originator of an authentic political science'. It was in De Cive, published in 1647, that he made a preliminary and tentative claim to have discovered a way of 'rationalising enquiry into political behaviour,; and that he had also created a 'new science' — a science of politics [3]. Hobbes began his study of civil government by investigating its central subject, the human being as a natural and social animal, and then proceeded to define its origin, generation and form. It seemed to him that everything is to be understood by its constitutive causes. The mechanical analogy, contra the traditional organic and theological concepts of the state, became for Hobbes both apposite and inevitable. Civic conflict was leading to disaggregation of the contemporary 17th century English state, demonstrating to him that the sanctions which held it together were neither eternal nor 'natural.' [4, 5, 6].

Hobbes was primarily intent on the creation of an impartial, theoretical science of government, 'stressing the priority of truth above the delights of rhetoric or the utility of propaganda [6]. He focuses his attention on basic principles rather than changing institutions or forms of government. Leviathan can therefore be seen as a political creature or persona and that creature can exhibit aristocratic, republican, monarchical or, even, democratic features [8].

Thomas Hobbes and his denial of the doctrine of right reason.

Hobbes's first argument in favour of the doctrine of absolute sovereignty is essentially the argument against right reason ?described as the vision and the heart of Hobbes's moral and political philosophy [9]. His doctrine of absolute sovereignty is derived primarily from the negation of this doctrine, and almost everything that we can discover in his notion of sovereignty can be found in his negation of this argument. An argument that leads to his conclusion that it is essential for the sovereign to be absolute, and to possess effective enforcement or coercive powers.

Hobbes is principally concerned with the fundamental problem of human life in the commonwealth, and the manner in which conflict arises from those numerous, plans, projects and desires, which lead to the individuals action, and which are usually at variance, one with another. He sets out to establish that, if each individual were to be allowed the liberty to follow his own conscience, then in the presence of a diversity of such consciences, without constraint or discipline, peace and harmony in the commonwealth would be short lived, due to an all pervasive tendency to disagreement, and the concomitant danger of civil disobedience [10].

The problems, created by men living in a civil society,...
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