“There is no such thing as perpetual tranquility of mind while we live here; because life itself is but motion, and can never be without desire, nor without fear, no more than without sense.” Thomas Hobbes
By Alex P. Vidal
IT was Thomas Hobbes who declared that governments were created to protect people from their own selfishness and evil.
The best government was one that had the great power of a leviathan, or sea monster, Hobbes emphasized.
Hobbes believed in the rule of a king because he felt a country needed an authority figure to provide direction and leadership.
Because the people were only interested in promoting their own self-interests, Hobbes believed democracy or allowing citizens to vote for government leaders, would never work.
The great revolutions in 17th century England produced two major political philosophers, Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704).
Their writings, which coincided respectively with the Puritan Revolution and the Glorious Revolution, reflect the ways in which these political upheavals differed from one another.
Hobbes’ Leviathan, published in 1651, is filled with overtones of the insecurity, fear, and violence of the civil war just finished.
Hobbes himself, because of his associations with the English aristocracy, had been forced to flee during the revolution to France, where he tutored the future King Charles II, also a refugee, in mathematics.
The Leviathan, beyond mirroring it own troubled times, is a carefully argued defense of the theory of political absolutism.
Hobbes found a philosophical justification or absolutism in the ancient theory or materialism, which had been revived during the 17th century in the scientific writings of men like Galileo and Descartes.
Applying the assumptions of these scientists to human nature, Hobbes then deduced his absolutistic position in politics from them.
Hobbes’ theory of absolutism is sometimes confused with the theory of the divine right of kings, as elaborated, for example, by his contemporary, Bishop Bossuet.
Although both theories provide defenses of political absolutism, the defenses given are very different.
While Bossuet’s is based on an interpretation of Christianity, Hobbes’ rests on philosophical materialism, which logically cannot admit the existence of God.
Also, for Bossuet the sovereign is justified in his rule by reason of his hereditary right of succession, but for Hobbes the “right” to rule reduces simply to the sovereign’s ability to stay in power.
In his emphasis on power, Hobbes picks up a theme from Machiavelli, but he transforms it into one element in a complete philosophy of society and government—something that the Florentine, for all his insight into practical politics, had not succeeded in doing.
Below is the introduction of Leviathan provided by John Louis Beatty and Oliver A. Johnson of the Heritage of Western Civilization:
Nature, the art whereby God hath made and governs the world, is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal.
For seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within; why may we not say, that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life?
For what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the artificer?
And goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature, man.
For by art is created that great Leviathan caller a commonwealth, or state, in Latin civitas, which is but an artificial man; though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defense it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; the magistrates, and other officers of judicature and execution, artificial joints; reward and punishment, by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty every joint and member is moved to perform his duty, are the nerves, that do the same in the body natural; the wealth and riches of all the particular members, are the strength; salus populi, the people’s safety, its business; counselors, by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the memory; equity and laws, and artificial reason and will; concord health; sedition, sickness; and civil war, death.
Lastly, the pacts and covenants, by which the parts of this body politic were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that fiat, or the let us make man, pronounced by God in the creation.