(1588-1679) – Hobbes, like Machiavelli, is among the most criticized scholars. Like Machiavelli’s “Prince”, Hobbes’s “Leviathan” was among the books prohibited by the Church. His book was burnt during his life. Hobbes Leviathan was described as a book containing lewd principles.
However, it is wrong to say that leviathan is a useless book. It is not possible to understand the concept of sovereignty and the law and practices of the modern State without Hobbes. Hobbes’s “Leviathan” is actually a masterpiece.
The literal meaning of “leviathan” is sea monster – MANY TIMES MORE POWERFUL THAN A PERSON.
Introduction of Hobbes
Hobbes belonged to the troubled phase of British history. It was the time of civil war. There was a conflict between Catholics and Protestants as well as royalists and anti-royalists. In this state of civil war, there was no protection of life and property. Hence, Hobbes’s main concern was the establishment of law and order. Hobbes believed only an absolute State ( State with all the powers) could bring order.
Hobbes’s philosophy is based on the feeling of fear in man, and State is such an institution that gives security, but at the same time, you have to fear State. In Hobbes, you understand the leviathan state.
Hobbes comes out of medieval era mentality completely and becomes the first modern thinker where a system of centralized governance existed. Feudalism ended, and so does the influence of the Church. He even brings Church under the State.
In fact, modern times were emerging, and all states with absolute power came into existence.
Gandhi hated State because State is leviathan. It is a term used in a negative sense. It is very difficult to fight the State until or unless a situation like that exists in Syria where foreign states are also involved. But a single person or group of people challenging the system is very difficult because State is a monster and one is powerless.
How he came up with the Absolute State theory – Hobbes Leviathan
All human actions are shaped by two basic emotions – love and hate. Man wants to possess the things which give him pleasure and avoid the things which give pain. The search for pleasure continues throughout life. This desire ends only with the death of the man.
Since man is pleasure-seeking, man seeks power ( economic, physical, political, intellectual ). Power is a means of pleasure. Hence, there is a continued search for power. The above description of man shows that man is utilitarian.
Hobbes is a utilitarian thinker. It means that they believe in the pleasure principle and are materialistic. Moreover, pleasure and pain are individual experiences. Therefore, man cannot understand the pleasure and pain of the other person. It means they are individualistic too.
Man is essentially selfish. In the West, being selfish is not bad. Being selfish is being rational. Western modern thinking is that if you are selfish that is natural as it will help them to go for making a profit. Thus, justifying capitalist mentality.
Now Hobbes has shown man is utilitarian by nature, man is power-seeking. Man needs the power to attain the goods which give him pleasure. This search for pleasure is un-ending.
To understand why State important, Hobbes first talks about a hypothetical concept called ‘The State of Nature’ where there is no State. Man is left alone to lead life purely based on human nature where there is no authority or government.
As a result, man has to make arrangements for the protection of his possessions by himself. The only way to achieve security now is by power. When one person tries to gain power, it makes others insecure who in turn also tries to gain power. Thus creating a vicious cycle of insecurity. Hobbes also talks about the dilemma of unlimited wants and limited resources.
In such situations, the State of Nature looks like the state of war, of all against all. The life of man becomes nasty, poor, brutish, and short. There is no scope for the development of art, culture, industry, or civilization. Hence, it was a state of pain.
Man who is utilitarian by nature wants to avoid such painful existence. Hence, they think about entering into a social contract to create a common authority i.e. state. This is how he came up with the Absolute State theory
It is to be noted that Hobbes’s description of State of Nature is very much influenced by civil war prevailing during his time, and hence he suggests the necessity of the absolute State to control the beast in man.
Man being utilitarian is fearful of losing things that give pleasure. Because of fear man builds state as the state gives security.
If you had been in a situation like Syria what would have come to your mind – power/freedom or security of life. Naturally one would want security rather than freedom for the order to come back. Similarly, Hobbes is also concerned that in the state of anarchy (when no state is here) even the life of man is not secure. There is a need to protect life.
In a chaotic situation will order come back through democracy. It certainly did not come back through democracy in Libya or Egypt. Order will come back only when some absolute state comes and keep all in disciplined. Hobbes is a person who is concerned with order.
There are two Theories of Rights
Theory of natural right – According to this, rights are given by nature, and the State cannot limit these rights. e.g Fundamental rights and human rights theory. Through reasoning, one understands Natural right.
Legal Theory – As per this theory, natural rights are nonsense. According to Hobbes, natural law was present in the State of nature. Despite the existence of natural law, there was no peace and order in the State of nature. Therefore the natural law is inadequate as natural law depends upon the reason of man.
However, man has only that much reason that is required to retain things of pleasure but not enough to live in peace. In the State of nature, the common authority that is State is missing. Hence, natural law lacked the feature of enforcement.
There are two traditions of law:
- Due process of law – USA – Judges apply the due process of law. Law has to be fair, reasonable, and just. It is based on narural law.
- The State-made Law – Britain – It is a country based on Hobbesian ideas. Here parliament is supreme. People do not have fundamental rights. Executives can take actions as per procedures established by law.
Types of States
The Hobbesian State is the police state. What is that?
Police State – State providing internal and external security. These functions are called minimal functions of the State.
The welfare state – States which provide additional functions besides security i.e States which provide social security like education, pension, health
Being a police state is a necessary function, and a welfare state is an optional function. The concept of social security or welfare state emerged after WW2. Till then, the welfare state did not come, and all states were Police State. Moreover, the capitalist concept is the minimal State that is the State performing only law, order, regulation and not going for welfare because welfare states give money to the poor at the cost of taxing the rich and productive sectors.
World Bank’s concept of good governance means law and order. Against this concept Amartya Sen (Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics) gave importance to humane governance that takes into consideration human development.
Hobbes now further suggests that law should come with the power to punish. Since man is selfish by nature, man will obey the law so long it serves his interest. Man will be tempted to defy the law if it serves his interest better. Hence, fear of punishment is better. Punishment is the source of pain, and a man likes to avoid pain.
Hobbes is correct when he suggests that law should come with the power of enforcement. If we look at international law that is voluntary law in nature, we say international law is weak law and not enough to contain anarchy. So international politics is nothing but a struggle for power ( like in a hypothetical situation when there was no State ).
That is why Gandhi was against the State – because according to Gandhi state is not fit according to the principles of ahimsa – State has to resort to violence.
Social Contract theory (Hobbesian contract)
Now State has come into existence, all people come together and agree to transfer all of their rights on the condition that each and every person transfers all of their rights to this third party i.e State. It is the contract of all with all. No one is left out. The contract is permanent and irrevocable.
Man has become powerless, and the State has become absolute. The State is Leviathan.
But there is only one limitation on the State. The State cannot take man’s life in an arbitrary manner. In case it fails to protect life, people have the right to resist or revolt against the State. Otherwise, they have no right to resist the state.
An absolute State should not be confused with a totalitarian State. An absolute State can have any form of government. It can be a monarchy, parliamentary democracy, or one-party rule. But with an absolute State, we should understand that State is sovereign. All human beings and all their associations, be it Church is under the State. The State is supreme even in religious matters.
So whether we look at the constitution of the USA or India – it says we the people – we have created the State – the social contract is like a process of writing of a constitution, and constituent assembly can be understood as where the process is taking place. Constitution is the outcome where everyone is to abide by the contract.
Hobbes on Liberty
For a person like Hobbes, man will sacrifice freedom for pleasure, as pleasure is more imp than freedom. Hobbes becomes fearful of freedom because more freedom means anarchy (a hypothetical situation he talked about when there was no State and more freedom). So he likes less freedom.
But what kind of freedom (or liberty) is Hobbes referring to? Here Hobbes is referring to negative liberty. What is negative liberty?
Some people understand liberty in the negative sense – an absence of law – when there is no interference of State, and when State is not there.
Some people understand liberty in a positive sense. They feel liberty is the presence of State, or they think that when State is present, they are freer.
Amartya sen is a proponent of positive liberty because he talks about capacity building role performed by the State. The State creates opportunities for our freedom and the development of capabilities.
The positive concept came very late. Before the welfare concept, the positive liberty concept was not there. All scholars before that understand liberty in the negative sense. It means you are freer to the extant law that gives you permission.
Hobbes understands liberty in the negative sense like others scholars of his time. Hobbes gives preference to security over liberty – because the life of all people cannot be pushed back into the state of anarchy.
He gives the example of water in the vessel. The walls of the vessel stopped the freedom of water to flow. It does not mean that water does not have the capacity to flow. Freedom is the state of being free from interference. Hobbes does not believe that freedom has anything to do with capacity.
Similarly, a sick man in the bed is unable to move, which does not mean that freedom of movement is denied. It simply means that a sick man does not have the capacity to move.
But gradually capacity and freedom became one. There is a debate between the definition of liberty. Some people believe that liberty is the freedom to do what we want without external interference (they believe State’s role should be minimum and things to be left on market) and others believe that first, we should have the capacity to do what we want, so State should do capacity building job (State’s role should be more) so that we can be free – we call them positive liberals like Amartya Sen.
Positive Liberty is on the winning side. Today Amartya sen concept will be preferred more where the State plays role in the development and it is not left only on market.
When did this concept come? When Adam Smith and et al were suggesting that the State should not interfere – this type of philosophy resulted in extreme exploitation of working classes that led to the threat of communism to the existence of capitalism. So their philosophy changed from negative to positive, and these countries became welfare States giving education and trying to establish a level playing field. State evolved itself into capacity-building tasks.
The acceptable term is now that liberty should be understood in the terms of capacity.
But Hobbes says liberty should not be confused with capacity. Liberty during those times was defined as the absence of law (according to him – State) and not the absence of power.
Hobbes as a thinker – Assessment
Without studying Hobbes is it possible to logically and theoretically understand why State is sovereign? – Why a person cannot have police power? – Why only State can use it? – Why they have a monopoly of force? – modern political system? To understand, we have to bank upon Hobbes.
Utilitarian thinkers (based on the pleasure principle) are always individualistic. Hobbes does not consider the individualistic nature of man as a sin.
Hobbes is not liberal but is an individualist. Individualists are those who believe that the interests of individuals are more important than the interests of society. Hobbes removes the sense of guilt for being self-centered. For him, self-centered is a natural fact just like the earth revolving around the sun.
Every liberal is an individualist, but every individualist is not liberal – individualists can be absolutists like Hobbes. So Hobbes starts as an individualist but ends as an absolutist.
He is also known as the greatest of all individualists because he builds his theory on the individualistic nature of man. It is for the protection of the right to life that he creates the absolute State. He gives absolute powers because he thinks the protection of the life of an individual is not possible otherwise. But at the same time, he considers the right to self-preservation of an individual as the supreme right due to which the right to resist State is possible if it takes away the life in an arbitrary manner.
“where there is no common power – there is no law, and when there is no law there is no injustice”
In the ‘State of Nature’, there is no injustice as power is right. Therefore, no concept of justice. In international politics, there is a struggle for power as there is no concept of justice. In Hobbes Leviathan (State), justice exists as law becomes the yardstick for justice and injustice.
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