The Pathos of Politics (27) Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes

I put for the general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death. ~ Thomas Hobbes

English sociologist and philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) is best known for his political theories. His book Leviathan (1651) set the cornerstone of Western political philosophy from the perspective of social contract theory: the rightful authority of the state over individuals.

Fear and I were born twins. ~ Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes paramount concern for order in society stemmed from his fear of violent death. Fear is a typical motivator for a conservative bent.

Like Machiavelli, Hobbes lived in a time of scarcity and greed. Characterizing men as hostile and competitive was a no-brainer. Unlike Aristotle, Hobbes insisted that men were not naturally gregarious: that politics was a product of cultural convention.

The political philosophy espoused in Leviathan reflected the civil strife in England. Hobbes decamped to Paris when the English Civil War broke out in 1642.

The war raged over the power of King Charles I versus an ascendant Parliament. Hobbes wrote Leviathan in Paris to support his royalist views.

The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them. ~ Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes’ was utterly convinced that absolute monarchy was the best form of government. This owed to Hobbes’ opinion of mankind. Hobbes considered the human condition absent any political order as destined to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” His infamous conclusion was homo homini lupus: “man is a wolf to man.”

Humans banded together only to protect themselves from the aggression of others. Civilization was a matter of self-defense.

Not believing in force is the same as not believing in gravitation. ~ Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes saw self-interest and fear as the 2 primary drivers of human behavior. His advocacy of despotism was a means to socially manage these motivations. To Hobbes, only absolute power could ensure societal order.

In his time, Hobbes views appeared to be not far off the mark, especially considering the reaction to his work.

Leviathan came to be viewed as the work of an atheist. The plague and the great fire of London in 1665–1666 were believed by many to be God’s vengeance for harboring Hobbes. A motion was made in Parliament in 1666 to burn Hobbes at the stake as a heretic. King Charles II intervened to spare Hobbes, who went on to live to the ripe old age of 91.

It is not wisdom but Authority that makes a law. ~ Thomas Hobbes