Hobbes’ Leviathan

I’d heard about Hobbes and his Leviathan in my politics class last year, and it was definitely not quite what I was expecting. I was thinking it would be very pessimistic and about the evilness of humanity, which I was sort of looking forward to, but it wasn’t really, at least not to the extent I was thinking. It wasn’t an easy read for me, but I usually tend to have a bit of trouble getting into the feel of these texts from hundreds of years ago. But I really like them, since I find them really interesting, and even though I don’t agree with a lot of what is said (I wonder how an argument between Hobbes and I would go…) I still enjoy them.

I wasn’t expecting all that at the beginning about speech and definitions. Leviathan felt a little bit more like a dictionary for a while there. But defining terms is very important when making an argument like this, and I understand why he did it. Though it was a little tedious to read.

I feel like fear plays a large role in all of our texts, which makes sense, since our theme is monsters in the mirror. But every now and then I go ‘wow, that really fits perfectly’. The reason we strive for peace and hand over unlimited power to the sovereign is fear of death, Hobbes says. The phrase “better safe than sorry” is coming to mind. He isn’t saying that given half a chance, we’d all be out to kill each other. It’s more that it’s a possibility that there are those who would, so ultimate power to the sovereign would protect us. Makes sense. But, I’ve gotta say, something about “unlimited power of the sovereign” brings to mind villainous cartoon characters cackling about world domination.

It’s easy to see how this has become a very renowned text. Sure, we don’t live in a 100% Hobbesian state, with our many rights and the fact that we can take away power from a “sovereign” (anyone heard the news with Rob Ford?), but you can see things that Hobbes would be pleased with, were he to ever visit Canada, as was brought up in the debate. Though I’ll say that I think there’d be more that he would be thoroughly displeased with. But until I finally get my time machine working (it’s in the planning stages) we’ll have to live with the uncertainty.

 I hope everyone has a great winter break, can’t wait to see you all when we get back! 


Alright, so for me, Leviathan was a pretty interesting read. To be completely honest, I haven’t really developed a full opinion on it. Speaking on the book generally, I think that it was intriguing—yes, but without a doubt, DEFINITELY dull and at times. I guess what I can say though, is that Hobbes brings up some thought-provoking ideals , though some that I don’t necessarily agree with; or perhaps do, but only to an extent.

For instance, a point that really caught my attention, was Hobbes’ views on religion and how it stems from fear of the unknown. He stresses this adamant notion that religious practices and belief in God should not be practiced outside of one’s home.But instead of just religion, Hobbes further describes how our fear of a painful and violent death is a major factor as well. However, I found that learning of the Leviathan as a whole was immensely intriguing.  Essentially, Hobbes describes how we should look to a higher superior power to defend and protect us; to maintain an orderly state. He basically describes how citizens should not obtain much control and should thus be stripped of rights. However, a living environment such as the one that Hobbes has suggested, in my opinion, would be the least bit beneficial. Think about it, who would actually desire to live in a society where one’s rights and freedoms were neglected or taken away? A place where freedom of thought, speech, personal opinions were non-existent and merely unheard of.  I think that Hobbes means well, but the way in which he sees a perfect state is a place that is completely controlled and taken over by a set group of individuals, or set laws to keep it orderly. In one of our seminars we discussed if Canada need be more Hobbesian, or if we, as a nation are already Hobbesian enough. I think that we are Hobbesian enough. I don’t think that we, as citizens, need to be completely controlled by the government. Call me crazy, but I think having a say is a pretty important thing. Plus, with giving citizens more power and ability to make their own decisions, wouldn’t the need for strict protection be a bit less necessary? Taking away people’s rights to express themselves would case a great uproar, so perhaps allowing them the ability to put their own input and express themselves would eliminate the need for a completely Hobbesian state, a Leviathan (to a small extent at least!)

All in all, Leviathan brings up some pretty good points forcing you to really carefully analyze what it is he is trying to convey.

Leviathan: Well we’re in one… kind of

In Leviathan Hobbes puts forward a number of views and arguments that do make logical sense and some that appeal to us, but also seem repulsive.  One might think the type of government he supports is almost like a Nazi or Communist (Stalin type communist not the true form) state.  Yet his ideas are actually in existence around us and if we look around, we’d feel rather scared.

For the state to have total control  over the people… is scary, and at the same time it is comforting.  In Hitler’s Nazi state, which had consolidated all the power in Hitler and his cronies, everything was in control, predictable, the fact there was no opposition meant that the entire production capabilities of Germany were pooled into the Nazi War Machine.  This goes the same for Napoleon’s Empire, in which he and his family held all the reigns of power, no opposition allowed.  These types of states were in a sense, successful when they continued to protect the natural rights of their subjects.  Did Hitler not bring Germany out of an economic crisis and allow the people to live their natural rights?  Didn’t Napoleon initially protect the French people from the opposing monarchial European states?   Only when those states began to endanger the citizens natural rights as opposed to protecting them, did they fall.  Hitler, it was Russia, and although he attempted to justify it, he undertook an action that brought more danger to his citizens than protecting them.  Same with Napoleon.  So in a sense, Hobbes ideas of consolidating state power are in a sense justified.

The problem with these states are that nobody, at least from our ethnocentric view would want to live in them.  We’d hate living in a state where our rights were hindered, where women’s rights are non-existent.  But if we were born and raised in those states, would we care?  I mean, we’re safe, from sudden violent death as Hobbes points out so everything SEEMS fine and dandy.  Even in our modern states we have very limited powers.  The citizen can vote, but the power is always in the state, it dictates us, prevents us from fighting each other, forces us along certain paths and stops us from drinking underage.  Whether we’d like it or not, our states are actually quite Hobbesian for the power basically rests in those in the government.  The average citizen… the great majority, is at the mercy of the government!  So don’t think Hitler’s Germany is distant, we’re actually in not such a great situation ourselves.

So we’re in a Hobbesian kind of state where we’d like it or not!  Not one where power is completley utterly restricted to the government, but where much of the power is in the government.  Aside from the fact a measly 1% of us can possibly get into the government, the other 99% is pretty much at their whim.  So looking at Hobbes as a mosnter and saying that our own governments are angels can be rather silly, for really, we are living in states that fulfil very Hobbesian ideals.

Hobbes: Matter in Motion

So we’ve spent the last week talking about Hobbes political science but very little into his philosophical theories. One of my favorites is his underlining belief in determinism.

So where to begin? Lets start with the fact that Hobbes strictly believes in the vacuum of the material world. By vacuum I mean the confines or restricted boundaries, and by materialistic I mean matter’s actions without the belief in either superficial or a deities influence. He believes in the Prime Mover; the creator or spark of creation, the first domino in life’s succession. Whether this be a God or a Big Bang is irrelevant, all what really matters is that the Universe began. Now Hobbes firm belief is that man is predictable and our actions can be likely predicted. We’re like robots our watches, our actions are certain. In theory this really is sound when you get into the core of the argument. Are we constantly just reacting to matter around us? Is every action we make an inevitable succession of prior actions? If so what was our Prime Mover or action that began our succession of actions? Does this destroy the theory of free will?

To be more concise, let’s just think. We pride ourselves with the freedom of choice, but when exactly did we gain conscious choice? We couldn’t of obtained it when we were born, We were merely infants. Babies can hardly do anything on their own nor rationalize their actions.They only reacted to their environments. Dad gives bottle we drink because we’re thirsty. We couldn’t feed ourselves on our own. Shiny read ball? We touch or analyze because it intrigues us. Our parents controlled our fate, and we only responded to their actions. So when did we really start being able to freely choose our own actions? Well according to determinism… never! From that moment onwards our actions were a succession of the actions made when we were infants. If there were a way to compute and account for the nearly infinite number of stimuli that affected us from that point forward we would come to the same equation or conclusion, which is me sitting down and writing this blog post. If we could add like an equation literally every molecule of influence around us we’d arrive at the same instance and character we are today. It’s incredibly complex but easy to rationalize.

Today I woke up at approximately 9:22. It occurred because I went to bed at 2:17 the night before and I would predictably need that amount of sleep due to my biological needs and my characteristic of laziness which I have fostered and developed in my lifetime. I went to my psychology class because I am a creature of habit and have never missed a psychology class and furthermore I fear missing out of lectures, because I fear failing. I fear failing because my parents and society instilled that belief into me whether conscious or unconsciously. Today I didn’t feel a desire to skip class for breakfast because I had a large dinner last night, and because intrinsically I as a person have developed the consistency to make it class and eat late night meals… I’m probably not explaining this as well as I can, but essentially my life as well as yours and all others are dominoes falling in succession, that inevitably interact in a predictable (By which I mean certain, it would be rationally impossible to predict it) manner. At the end of the day our actions are dictated by our surrounding stimuli. We don’t really have free will, we’re just responding to external world surrounding us.

Let’s put it this way. If I were all-powerful. Let’s just say for fun I decided to recreate your morning for you. I place you in a bed, your memories and biological neural circuits are in the exact same condition they were that day at exactly 7:14:0456 am. I place every individual on the earth in the exact place, ready to carry out the plans they did the night before. Every rain drop is ready to fall and every piece of nature and shade of grass is in the exact place it was that very day. I click the play button and watch everyone carry out their days. Would it not be an exact replicate of the initial day I’m trying to recreate? If everything were exactly as it was before would it not be like rewinding a VHS tape to rewatch the same scene carry out? Well determinist like Hobbes, would think so. If we do have free will, we’d be doing completely random actions at every decisions turn, but why would we when actions and influences prior to these decisions have already led to the decisions likely outcome.


Anyways I’m ranting on, but it’s moments like these where I feel we need to embrace the philosophical aspects of the course which are overshadowed by political science.  Really makes me think of my actions everyday. Makes me trip balls on life.

SEE YOU ALL IN A MONTH. Happy Holidays!



A Leviathan in the wild

I have a feeling that when Hobbes was a child he got beaten up by a radical anarchist and nobody dealt with it. In order to deal with that childhood trauma he has written a book that could essentially stand the attacks of anyone who doesn’t want to be ruled. To be honest there are simply so many ideas presented in this book that I spent the majority of the time  retreating into myself and making ridiculous metaphors about leviathan crocodiles. I have a lot of questions that I felt like I could not come up with a sufficient answer for, so i’ll just write them here. Like The Prince, I found myself disagreeing on some points of Hobbes argument on the “no…that couldn’t be” basis. Morals do matter to Hobbes, but he approaches them in a way that is just as systematic as any other Hobbesian machine. In the end I was glad he did this, because morals have always been some of the most difficult  things to work an argument around. Strangely enough, seeing human emotions and ideas explained into a machine was actually quite comforting. In some senses, Hobbes is actually very similar to Plato. Everything must be governed strictly, and even if they don’t like it, it is for your own good. Where they differ is with the idea of the leader, and this is where my first question arose: Although Hobbes believes we need a ruler, good or bad, he also talks about universal rights. Is there really nothing we as society ought to do about a bad king, or one that presents us with acts of sudden and violent death that we apparently have a right to not experience? Really, it seems to me like Hobbes idea is not very different from any we have today at all. When people have a revolution, we are temporarily reducing ourselves to a state of nature, although if we are smart, we will have a new preferable leader ready, because we surely need a ruler no matter what. Today, all our electoral policies can, at their bare essentials, be seen as nothing more than an attempt to avoid a state of nature. BUT, if actions are not unjust or just by nature, than how can one tell what is a good leader? I understand that a “good” leader isn’t part of Hobbes argument, however, I still think it is important to understand how his system would work, or… is working today. I have no doubt Hobbes was an atheist. It is almost impossible to separate a genuine belief about how we were made with how we as men should act on earth. He did it though, and I thought he did it well. In short, I agree with what Hobbes is saying. It’s true. Do I like why it’s true? Not sure.


Well, to say the least, this text was boring. Albeit, it had its moments of interesting-ness, but for the most part, it was the perfect lullaby.

With the exception of its dullness, I was rather intrigued by Hobbes’ argument for our perceptions of good and evil. To think of everything we crave, or consider good, to be mere appetite and everything else aversion slots perfectly into our way of being. Our want to do well on a test, for example, derives from a simple want to feel pride and be acknowledged for our hard work, and to avoid feelings of shame and disappointment. In truth, all of our actions are purely selfish, no matter how selfless they appear. We are always trying to stimulate the appetizing feelings, such as those we receive by helping others.

I really don’t agree with Hobbes’ perspective on religion. His statements that religion simply derides out of fear. and that only those who do not understand science and philosophy need it truly irked me. Science constantly tries to disprove the value of religion, deeming it as “opium for the masses,” as Karl Marx said. However, science itself cannot prove everything and anything, just as there are many unanswered questions in religion. To deem it as for the weak-minded truly demonstrates an ignorant viewpoint, like some Bible Belt Americans who cannot accept simple scientific truths, such as evolution.

The juxtaposition between nature ordering peace amongst humans and the natural desire for power was very intriguing as well, but proves indefinitely true. As Acton said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and not only possessing power, but the desire for it leads to mass chaos. Even when we examine the totalitarian reign of Gaddafi, his war against his people was completely out of a selfish want for power, even though he should have been trying to maintain the peace needed. This is why communism and Plato’s Kalipolis look so perfect on paper, but when put into effect, lead to horrendous results. Humans will simply never be able to displace this lust for power, ruling idealist societies impossible.



This text, or the part of it we were assigned, is somewhat of a hit and miss on the readability scale. When it talks about laws and where they originate from, it is engaging and thought-provoking; when it talks about the applications of those laws and their various definitions, it is convoluted and akin to reading a dictionary. I took my time with the former and scanned through the latter at a rate of approximately 7 wps.


Content-wise, Leviathan is a great resource for political scientists. The talk of contracts, rights, and everything in-between is an excellent way of analyzing sociopolitical structures in my opinion, which might not be worth much considering that I’m not a political scientist. However, Hobbes makes two fundamental mistakes (imo) with concern to philosophy; the first I won’t say, but the second is that he is a total environmental determinist. Wait, looking that term up, I see that I’m not applying it correctly, so what I actually mean is that he believes in all nurture and no nature. No, those terms don’t work either…okay, what I truly mean is that Hobbes believes that we only exist in the physical realm. He made this quite clear when he said that dreams are derived from memories, maintaining that we are everything we can sense and nothing more. Now, this basis is perfectly functional when applied to political science, and he shows just how functional it is by deriving the three human laws from it. Many issues arise, however, when he begins to apply them to absolute concepts, which I won’t elaborate on since it would just turn into a convoluted mess. That aside, although I say that his physical determinism is flawed, the fact is that it’s the best mold from which to work out political science, as society itself is, in the end, an illusion. Hobbes does a good job of masking the issue, stating that every human has equal right to all things in existence, is equal to every other human in relation to the world, and are only able to lose that right by willingly forfeiting it. The first two points I agree with, but the third, unfortunately, is both the one most necessary for society and the one most false. For although a truly stable society can only be created through the transferring of rights, a human is not capable (i.e. does not have the right) of giving away their own right. The reason for this lies (1) in the falsehood of physical determinism and (2) in the structure of the space-time continuum. Hobbes masks this contradiction using the most popular way to do so (morality), and although his is certainly one of the best ethic codes I know, it is not…well…I’ll just leave it by saying that I consider moral philosophy an invalid term. 


In some ways, “Leviathan” isn’t always an enjoyable read. It can be boring. It can make you sleepy. It can be difficult to find out what the author is trying to say and what he means. Other times, I actually found it a very interesting read. There was one chapter in particular which I found a very illuminating read- the Chapter entitled Of Religion. In it, Hobbes explains how religion is derived from people’s lack of confidence, low self esteem, and fear of the unknown. This is why they pray to a higher (and supposedly benevolent) power. I never thought of religion in this light. If someone had asked me in the past about the origins of religion, my mind would immediately have thought of Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses or the Bible where Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden. It never occurred to me to think that in reality, the origins of religion stem from humans and their uncertainty regarding the future.


Now that I have taken this into account, I have to say, many things stem from fear of the unknown. Religion is only one of them. It’s because humans fear the unknown that a variety of other things come into place- I mean, the fact that humans continue to live rather than die is also something that comes from uncertainty. Hamlet once said in his famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, “that the dread of something after death/The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn/No traveller returns, Puzzles the will,/And makes us rather those ills we have,/Than fly to others that we know not of.” So it’s fear of the unknown that we have religion, and partly why there’s life. So I’d say there’s a lot to say about humans and their fear and lack of confidence over things we have no control over. If there’s one thing I got out of “Leviathan”, I think it’s this one chapter, Of Religion, which particularly stood out.


Another chapter that I found very intriguing is the chapter entitled Of Man. On page 30, Hobbes gives a list of words and how they are connected to one another. He links together Hope, Despair, Fear, Courage, Anger, Confidence, Diffidence, Indignation, Benevolence, Good Nature, Covetousness, Ambition, Pusillanimity, Magnanimity, Valour, Liberality, Miserableness, Kindness, and Natural Lust, etc. one after another, with a one sentence explanation how each is connected to the others. I think it’s a brilliant piece of writing. I think “Leviathan” has some very fascinating chapters, as well some chapters that can be termed a “bedtime story chapter” (one where it helps you fall asleep after reading). But if someone asked me if I’d recommend this book to them, I would definitely recommend it. I think it’s an eye-opener in some chapters, a book that can really expand your way of thinking.