Hobbes – The Leviathan, a tyrant ?

Hobbes defines every word he is using, which kinda annoys me and makes me lose track of his main argument, but I still try to find a way to focus and to understand his point. The Leviathan is one man (or group of men/women), ruling the state, maintaining its peace and liberating the people from the state of nature. In chapter XVII, Hobbes insists on the fact that the ruler has a full power, many rights, and cannot be overthrown by the people.
It surely sounds tyrannical.  I am wondering what would stop the Leviathan to establish a commonwealth by acquisition, benefit from the rights reserved to him and act for his own sake instead of the people’s? Men are naturally evil, Hobbes says, the ruler gets all the power and the rights, can use fear and censorship to maintain peace. What happens when he decides not to follow his role but uses all the rights for himself?
Indeed Hobbes states that the man is naturally evil, in the state of nature, fear controls the human beings, who fight each other for their own survival. How does Hobbes think men should respect their agreement with the sovereign if they are naturally seeking Honour, dignity, envy and don’t trusting each other? The ruler should keep his people “in awe and direct their actions to the common benefit”, has every right to use censorship, “to be judge of the opinions and doctrines”, “to do whatsoever he shall think is necessary to be done, when peace and security are lost, for the recovery of the same” (Chap. XVIII {8}).
Since fear is what leads them to fight and not trust each other, how would controlling them with fear do any good? The people cannot even find a new ruler without my permission (Chap. XVIII {3}).
Moreover, I found it paradoxical that Hobbes would authorize and promote censorship, when he can be a victim of it.
Oh Hobbes, you confuse me.

1 thought on “Hobbes – The Leviathan, a tyrant ?

  1. Christina Hendricks

    What happens if the sovereign doesn’t rule as he/she/they should is a good question. Ultimately, Hobbes continues to maintain that one should still obey the sovereign. You can’t accuse the sovereign of injustice, right? So you just have to keep obeying and leave the punishment of the sovereign to God. At least, that’s what you should do. But as discussed in lecture and seminar, Hobbes is realistic; that isn’t what people are always going to do, and if the sovereign goes too far then there will be rebellion. I think Dr. Crawford called it something like a natural punishment or something like that–we aren’t supposed to rebel, but you can’t push people really far without it being likely that it will happen.

    And remember, there may come a point at which you no longer have to obey the sovereign: when it can no longer protect the people, protect the peace (I don’t have my book with me at the moment, but I’m pretty sure this is Chapter XXI, somewhere towards the end of that chapter).

    Good question about fear, too. I think perhaps the problem with the state of nature is not the fear itself, but rather that because we are fearing each other, because we can’t trust each other, then it makes sense to fight each other. But if instead we fear the sovereign insofar as the sovereign is enforcing rules that allow us to not have to fight each other, then that’s a better situation (even though it’s still based on fear).

    On another note, can you activate the plugin that allows people who make a comment to check a box to get an email in case anyone replies? When you’re logged into your site, go to “plugins” on the left menu of the dashboard, find “subscribe to comments,” then click “activate.” Otherwise, if you were to reply to someone’s comment, the commenter may never know!


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