Hobbes' Leviathan Part 2 Chapters 17-19 29 Term Paper

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Philosophical Work:

Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan Chapters 17, 19, 29

At the beginning of the first chapter of the second part of his monumental philosophical treatise upon the nature of government, entitled Leviathan, the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes stated that "the final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby." (Chapter 17). In other words, for Hobbes, the self-preservation and the desire to maintain the physical self in a state of pleasure is the root of all humanity's desire. Hobbes thus posits the essential nature of humanity, and makes an argument about the institutions of government that are best suited for the nature of human beings, given this 'fact' of human nature.

The aforementioned quote neatly sums up Hobbes' view of human nature -- that human beings must be governed by a strong monarch, so that their innate aims to struggle to maintain the physical, animal self in the most comfortable fashion possible can be curtailed and channeled into effective ways. Effectiveness, for Hobbes, is not defined by every individual exercising his or her own individual choice, but for all individuals within a state to live in safety and order. He adds that for all human beings thus to live, the state must be maintained and assured that its confines not be taken over by other monarchs.

The threat of take-over was a constant threat during the era when the author wrote. However, Hobbes wrote his work, not simply to validate the place of royalty. He had a deflationary view of all humanity (including the human nature of kings). Hobbes believed that human beings possessed few, if any innate higher impulses as advocated by theologically oriented political views of human nature. Rather than seeing human nature, in its raw social state, as existing in an Eden-like paradise of purity, Hobbes viewed the constructions of the curtailments of civilization in a positive light. Unlike bees and ants, relatively social creatures, Hobbes observes that humans seem to continually band together to wrestle for greater spoils and honor, rather than living in a state of contentment with their lots.

For all of government's various intrinsic thoughts, without the construction of a strong state, Hobbes wrote, human beings will fall into a constant state of war. It is not enough that human beings band together in small numbers like families and clans to resist the forces of war that threaten from organized states. The individual citizen must place his or her trust in the state, rather than in smaller individual units of governance or self-governance, because he or she is powerless to preserve his or her own skin without the protection of larger forces of organization. Of course there is no perfect sovereign or state of political organization. Hobbes also acknowledges the possibility of individuals governing themselves in the form of an assembly, as illustrated by ancient Greek and Roman examples. But he believes this form of governance was only effective when the impetus of the assembly was to fuse the will of many into one.

Despite his dark vision of personal autonomy, Hobbes' distance from the modern constitutional tradition is not as far as it might seem, initially. It is true that he believes, of the citizens of a commonwealth, as he states at the beginning of Chapter 19, that "therefore, where there is already erected a sovereign power, there can be no other representative of the same people, but only to certain particular ends, by the sovereign limited," as a defense of the inability of the populace to overthrow the sovereign monarch or the structure of the commonwealth they find themselves in, if the state apparatus provides them with adequate protection against invasion. But unlike advocates of the divine body of the king, Hobbes' viewpoint is also not dependent upon a specific relationship between God and humanity, unlike previous modalities of reckoning governance in the immediately preceding medieval era. The foundation of governance is based upon human being's essential true nature, for good or for ill, almost in…[continue]

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