Is Absolute Power Exciting?

We left off last in chapter 17 discussing his views of nature.  We need to bring Hobbes to a close, so we will travel rather quickly through the rest of the assigned work.  We have considered that Hobbes has a low view of man–our actions are a consequence of our desires, or drives, and this impels us into society (government).  We enter government out of fear for our lives, and a desire for peace.  We, in essence, settle for overarching, and near unlimited, government in order to live a mere life.  This is a serious departure from the Ancients who viewed politics as necessary for the perfection of our life and to foster a life of virtue.  In Hobbes, politics is downplayed and merely there for security. This is the argument of Chapter 17, the first chapter of Part 2–Of the Commonwealth.

We note in this chapter, that the ruler has plenary power and cannot be lawfully overthrown by the people.  The sovereign’s rule cannot be challenged, nor overthrown.  One question:  what prevents the sovereign from becoming a tyrant?  So far, Hobbes’ proscription for the evils of the state of nature leads to a ruler that may, under the intoxication of power, kill his citizens, or those he contracted with! The remainder of the chapters in this section deal with the power of the sovereign over his subjects.  Though it would be crude to assert he may do anything he wants, the power he has quite the power over the life and limb of his subjects.  Indeed, the education of the citizenry is to be not only toward, in all due deference, to the sovereign, but also toward the State.

Chapter 30

Chapter 30 is a lengthy piece that speaks to the obedience subjects are to have, but also the education they are to receive. There is to be a due reverence for the ruler, and the ruler is to teach the citizens, who, like a blank sheet of paper, will receive the instruction from the ruler (written on them like they are blank voids ready to receive enlightenment) and thus be more apt to obey the laws of the compact.

Hobbes blames the clergy (the Church) for fostering an unjust state of political affairs.  Hobbes cannot be considered an Enlightenment type in this way because he does not like the “I”.  He loathes individual interpretation of things–whether that be laws, or scripture.  Why?  Because it makes for an unsettled, and disobedient lot.

Hobbes also seems to place the sovereign over the Church, and indeed, as a dictator to the Church what is and what is not.

Of a Christian Commonwealth

The third part of the book deals with the Christian commonwealth, but Hobbes begins curiously.  He states that Faith and Reason are somehow at odds.  More correctly, he determines to make reason the arbiter of the matters of Faith.  He plainly says that in matters where there appear contradictions, reason is the arbiter of which is correct and which is false.  His unorthodox religious assertions continue when he examines the books of the Bible and makes claims as to their authenticity, or received tradition, about their authorship, etc.

Part of this entire exercise in this section of Leviathan is to determine who is the ultimate ruler–is it the sovereign (King), or is it the religious figure (Pope)?


We arrive at the end of the Leviathan with many questions. If man is so desirous and passionate, how does such escape the ruler who is also a man?  What prevents the ruler from desiring for more and more?  On a deeper level, perhaps we have to come to terms with what it means to be human? Hobbes limits the ends of man, but does not man want to be just truly?  Don’t we marry for more than conjugal visits?  Hobbes thinks we do not.  What IS human?

Is the best we can really expect in life to be delivered to us by a powerful government? It is hard not to read these passages and not think about modern government, and the politicians of the day making the argument that we need to have government involvement in monetary decisions to make us feel more secure, and more rich–do small businesses need government funds to survive? Do we need cash advances from the government based on our income? One thing:  Hobbes rejects unequal taxation because it violates the rule of equality!  Still, the ruler is not only to keep us safe, but provide for our comfortable living in some way.  Is our modern political teaching a slightly different, yet moderate, form of Leviathan?

Next up:  Locke.