Hobbes' Leviathan Thomas Hobbes Is Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

The traits of the character are regular male traits from the society of that time. The character does not seem to be someone in particular (such a as a well-known knight or king), but a general representation of authority. And his name is Leviathan. The expression on his face is rather neutral, although the look in his eyes might transmit how heavy ad difficult the burden of authority is.

This implies awareness regarding his own role and the great importance of the consequences which his acts have. The territory is caught up between the sword and the sceptre. From this we can understand that the entire country is protected with the sword and that protection is guaranteed by the sceptre. There is however another interpretation that we can take into consideration, one according to which the character is trying to take over the territory.

The name Leviathan is usually associated with a monster. The origin of the name is believed to be found in the Old testament. From this point-of-view, we can consider the character in the picture as a creature and not a man. On the one hand, the creature can be interpreted as a personification of power. Judging from this perspective, he remains a symbol.

On the other hand, the author might wish to communicate us the fact that any person endowed with so much power and authority is transformed into a creature through the very act of owning the power. A sovereign ought therefore become a sort of superhuman in order to be able to handle the authority he has in an efficient manner.

A third interpretation that can be brought to the character suggests that he is actually an incarnation of the state. It is true that the state is made by the people, but it is juts as true that Hobbes in the book analyzes the form of government. The state is both an abstract notion and at the same time a very pragmatic and concrete reality, the consequences of which citizens experience on an everyday basis.

This is nevertheless a very laic interpretation of the figure. I believe that another symbolical interpretation of the character has a more general character we may interpret it as human power in general as opposed to the power of God. On the one hand, the sovereign may be considered the equivalent of God on earth. This may be true to a certain limited extent. The truth is that while people have tried to play God more than often, they were most likely to demonstrate that their power is limited.

If we are to interpret this particular personification of power as the power of man as opposed to that of god, its connotations become stronger. From this point-of-view it si easy to see why the character has the head and face of a man but suggests that he is really something else, something closer to a creature. Because when man oposses God and tries to rule the world on his own, what he is actually making is a statement regarding not only power but also freedom. having power which has nothing to do with god through its qualities, man becomes a creator of himself. Analyzing things from this perspective, the figure of the Leviathan makes a lot of sense.

One of the central themes of the book is represented by the idea that men are involved in a state of general conflict. The main argument supporting this thesis is that the human being is selfish by nature. Consequently, all of his actions will be guided by selfish objectives. Since the planet's resources are limited, the only result that can be achieved is a state of general conflict. Taking a good look at the pictures we notice a lot of elements suggesting armed conflict.

On the one hand, there is a castle- fortress, suggesting both war and authority. On the other hand, we have the church. The images (and the concepts they represent) can be interpreted as being both opposed and complementary. The images following immediately after are a crown and the hat of a bishop. Both of them are symbols of authority, laic and religious. The relation between them is the same as before (potential conflict or potential collaboration in order to reach a common goal).

The series of symbols continues. On the left there is a cannonball orientated towards the right. The interpretation might be that the laic authority is declaring armed conflict to the religious one. The reaction is represented with the sign of thunder. This too can be interpreted as conflict, but also as anger, rage, that is the reaction called by the laic authority rebelling against the ecclesiastical one.

The following couple represents on the left a series of guns, flags and armours and on the right a series of strange instruments which also seem to serve the purpose of winning a conflict. If beforehand we only had the suggestion of a war, we are now in a middle of one. There are no people in the pictures therefore we must understand that the most important conflict is taking place at conceptual level.

The conflict arises between two principles, two different manners of viewing the bets organization of society. The last couple of pictures has a fighting scene on the left and a peaceful one on the right representing ecclesiastical characters gathered in order to discuss. These are the only two small pictures which also include people.

The point that Hobbes is trying to make is that the conflict between the laic and the religious exists in society and it would perhaps be better to avoid it. On the one hand he tries to deny the authority of the church as the highest political authority nut on the other one he wants to transform the reigning authority into a semi-sacred one.


Negretto, G.L., Hobbes' Leviathan,. The irresistible power of a mortal god. Retrieved November 9, 2009 from http://www.giuri.unige.it/intro/dipist/digita/filo/testi/analisi_2001/8negretto.pdf

Schmitt, C. The Leviathan in the state theory of Thomas Hobbes. Menaing and failure of a political symbol. Greenwood Press. Westport

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