Political Environment I need some help on this paper Thomas Hobbes The British scholar Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was one of history’s most persuasive

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Thomas Hobbes

The British scholar Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was one of history’s most

persuasive champions of authoritarian government. Hobbes lived during

an extremely turbulent time in European history when the authority of the

church, the state, and philosophy were all being challenged. The

Reformation had unleashed religious wars, Spain and England were locked

in conflict. In fact, Hobbes was born in the same year the British defeated

the Spanish Armada and England faced a long civil war that resulted in the

beheading of King Charles I in 1649. He was an unapologetic supporter

of royal power, Hobbes argued for a strong state whose powers could not

be undermined by the people.

He sought to apply logical mathematical and scientific principles to the study

of politics, Hobbes rejected any Platonic or Aristotelian notion that some

people are more virtuous and, therefore, more fit to rule. He dismissed any

appeal to innate reason or religion as reasons for authoritarian rule. But,

instead of weakening a ruler’s authority by removing traditional arguments

supportive of kings or aristocrats, Hobbes greatly strengthened a ruler’s

claim to power.

Theorists such as Plato and Aristotle, had based their defense of strong

government on the unequal intellectual, moral and spiritual capacities if

human beings. Because of this supposed inequality, Plato and Aristotle held

that a gifted or chosen individual (or in some cases a small elite group) had

both a right and an obligation to govern in an autocratic fashion. Hobbes,

however, believed in the near equality of all human beings. Although he

acknowledged that some people were more powerful, more courageous, and

more intelligent, he noted that even the weakest could find ways to kill or rob

the strongest.

For Hobbes, the reality about society was that every person experienced two

closely linked emotions:

1. a desire for power and

2. a fear of death.

The desire for power resulted in a savagery that led everyone to harbor a

justifiable fear of being attacked, robbed, and destroyed. Hobbes described

an imaginary “state of nature” to explain what life would be like if people

were simply left to their own devices. Without the rules and protections of

government, people would be in a perpetual state of war against each other.

As a result, they could not conduct business, develop an intellectual or

artistic life, organize society, or ever feel safe. Life would be “solitary, nasty,

brutish, and short” according to Hobbes.

The question that arose was how could people escape this brutish

reality as described by Hobbes. Thomas Hobbes believed the only way for

people to escape the profound danger posed by their own brutal ambitions

was for the people to covenant together and turn over all power to a

sovereign. This transaction had to be both complete and irrevocable. The

agreement or covenant as Hobbes describes it was a social contract that

was made among the people themselves; the ruler had no part in arranging

for the bargain that gave him complete power. As a result, the covenant could

not be undone by the people because they freely had relinquished all their

rights to the ruler in an unconditional

manner. Although Hobbes conceded that the sovereign might be an

assembly (for example, something similar to the British Parliament), he

however believed that a single monarch was best. In any case, the

sovereign had to be indivisible and absolute.

In his book Leviathan (1651), Hobbes described what life would be like
without a strong government.
He wrote;

During the time men live without a common power … they are

in that condition which is called war: and such a war as

is of every man against every man…In such condition,

there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof

is uncertain; … no society and, which is the worst of all,

continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man,

solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.

In essence Thomas Hobbes believed that humans in nature were violent,

greedy, and irrational, and the state had to set up mechanisms to control

these base instincts of citizens.

In Hobbes’ view, the sovereign could commit no injustice, the sovereign

could not be punished or removed, and the sovereign had the right to use

any means thought necessary to ensure peace and security. In the pursuit

of order and security, the sovereign had a right to control the content of books

and opinions, make laws at will, and hear and judge all legal cases. Hobbes

recognized that government might, at times, make the people miserable. But,

he argued that such misery was unavoidable and should be accepted.

The nature of Hobbes’ authoritarian views are especially clear when he

explained the relationship between government and the individual. Hobbes

gave no room for questioning or challenging the government. He

rejected the idea that a private individual had a right to rely on his or

her conscience as a measure of good and evil. Only the law of the state

could provide that standard. Therefore, Hobbes said it was not a sin to go

against one’s conscience if conscience came into conflict with the law.

Education, discipline, and correction must be used by the sovereign to

prevent people from advancing their own private judgements opposing

official orthodoxy. While citizens must obey the law, the sovereign stood

above the law. Hobbes reasoned that if the sovereign stood under the power

of the law, then sovereignty would be diminished. Writing about wealth,

Hobbes said that citizens had a right to protect their property against

other citizens. But, they had no absolute right to any property needed

by the sovereign.

Hobbes believed the power and authority of the sovereign should never

be limited or divided. Any diminution of government sovereignty put the

people at risk because their only security rested in the ability of the state to

keep both internal and external peace. At one level, Hobbes’ ideas apply

equally to democratic and authoritarian states. Even in the most open

modern democracies people are not free to disobey the law, take the law into

their own hands, avoid paying taxes, or set up separate governments within

a country. But, Hobbes is more justly regarded as a strong defender of

authoritarianism than of the sovereignty of democratic systems.

Certainly, he himself was uncomfortable with democratic sentiments. For

Hobbes a ruler should exercise absolute and unrestricted power and

because of the authority that he commands he must stand above all other

associations and groups in society

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