Leviathan
Book

Leviathan

Oxford World’s Classics, 2011
First Edition: 1651 more...

Editorial Rating

8

Qualities

  • Innovative

Recommendation

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s classic treatise is almost as old as Machiavelli’s The Prince, and it appeared roughly 15 years after the publication of the King James edition of the Bible. Leviathan evokes both works, with the former’s timeless insights into human nature and power, and the latter’s God-fearing absolute religious reverence. Thomas Hobbes’s insights into human behavior still resonate, and his exploration earns its place as a classic. Hobbes contends that citizens must obey a single sovereign in order to have an effective, peaceful and law-abiding commonwealth. His view goes against the separation of powers and the accountability concepts adopted as the cornerstones of Western liberal democracies. It also thwarts free speech, which Hobbes opposes, because free speech might generate rebellion. So is his tract still relevant today? Substantial sections are informative, though not dispositive, but that’s the way of philosophy. A modern-day reader may find Hobbes’s themes as relevant today as they were in the 17th century, given that the world still has dictators who answer to no one. Arguably, the linchpin of Hobbes’s benign sovereign-monarch model – and its weak spot – is that the fear of God will keep rulers in check. getAbstract recommends this classic to those who wonder about the structure of effective government in light of the vagaries of human nature.

Summary

Power

Human beings, left to their own devices, do not live together as harmoniously and cooperatively as “bees and ants”; rather, they compete for “honor and dignity.” This competition leads to jealousy, enmity and battle. Because everyone can reason, many people think they’re smarter than other people and should be running things. As a result, they try to change how their current government functions, thus sowing the seeds of rebellion. Without the peace and order provided by a “covenant” – a social contract – of obedience to a sovereign, society would never escape “continual fear,” and each person’s life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

The main role of a “commonwealth” is to induce people to subsume their individual will into a single will, that of a sovereign monarch or a sovereign assembly. A country’s population must give up individual freedoms to create a secure commonwealth which can protect them through its laws. Each individual loses some liberties but gains the sovereign’s protection. The sovereign keeps other nation-states from acting against the citizenry.

Laws exist to stifle the freedom of men who, unconstrained, would hurt ...

About the Author

Political philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote Leviathan during the English Civil War, when notions of kingship and sovereignty were central concerns.


Comment on this summary

More on this topic

Common Sense
9
Inventing the Individual
8
The Road to Serfdom
9
Humane Capital
8
Billion Dollar Burger
9
The Long Good Buy
8

Related Channels