Thomas Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy:- It was the logic of local events which drove the leaders of parliament to claim and exercise a sovereign power which was alike contrary to their own preconceived ideas and to the traditions of the English constitution. Neither the desire for logical consistency nor a philosophical perception of the evolution of European politics played any considerable part either in what parliament did or in what parliamentarians thought.
Yet general forces were at work, both intellectual and practical, which extended far beyond the local scene and the immediate occasion. The evolution toward centralized government dominated by a single sovereign power depended on social and economic causes not confined to England, as did also the fact that this sovereign power was to express itself mainly in the making and enforcing of law. The political conceptions of Sir Thomas Hobbes Smith, Hooker, and Coke were or the way to becoming anachronisms even as they were set down. Civil war, in England and in France, forced political thought to come measurably abreast of the facts.
At the same time vast changes in the intellectual outlook of Europe, in philosophy and in science, demanded equally drastic changes in political theory. More than a century before the beginning of the English civil wars, Machiavelli had stated with brutal clearness the fact that European politics rested in the main on force and selfishness, either national or individual, but he had supplied little interpretation of the fact.
Some fifty years after Machiavelli Jean Bodin, writing in the midst of the French wars of religion, had stressed the need that a sovereign power to legislate should be taken as the outstanding attribute of a state, but he had neither detached this principle from antiquated preconceptions about the historical constitution nor clearly stated its implications.
On the threshold of the civil wars, Grotius had modernized the theory of natural law by bringing. It into relation with a conception of science bred of the rising reverence for mathematics, but there was still the question whether Grotius had rightly conceived the meaning of the new science. All these strains of European thought met and crossed in the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, developed in a series of works written between 164C and 1651.)
Hobbes’s political writings were occasioned by the civil wars and were intended by him to exert influence upon the side of the king. They were designed to support absolute government and in Thomas Hobbes’s intention this meant absolute monarchy; all his personal interests attached him to the royalist party and he sincerely believed that monarchy was the most stable and orderly kind of government.
Yet any immediate influence that Hobbes’s books may have exerted in this direction (and it must have been slight) represents a very small fraction of their long-term value. His principles were at least as contrary to the pretensions of the Stuarts whom he meant to support as to those of the revolutionists whom he meant to refute, and more contrary to both than either royalist or parliamentarian was to the other.
The friends of the king might well feel that Hobbes’s friendship was as dangerous as Cromwell’s enmity. What Clarendon in his refutation of the Leviathan called the lewd principles of his institution were inconsistent both with the Stuart belief in legitimacy and with prevailing theories of popular representation.
Clarendon thought that the book had been written to flatter Cromwell. This was not true, though Hobbes had been at pains to point out that his views were consistent with any de facto government. His political philosophy had too wide a sweep to make good propaganda, but its drastic logic affected the whole later history of moral and political thought.
Its positive influence was not fully developed until the nineteenth century, when his ideas were incorporated in the philosophical radicalism of the Utilitarians and in John Austin’s theory of sovereignty. Thomas Hobbes’s thought thus served the ends of middle-class liberalism, a cause with which the philosopher would have had little sympathy.
The defense of monarchical absolutism formed therefore a very superficial part of his effective political philosophy, and though the civil wars occasioned his thinking and writing, they account only in a small degree for the importance of what he had to say. Hobbes was in fact the first of the great modern philosophers who attempted to bring political theory into intimate relation with a thoroughly modern system of thought, and he strove to make this system broad enough to account, on scientific principles, for all the facts of nature, including human behavior both in its individual and social aspects. Such a project obviously put his thought quite beyond the range of occasional or controversial literature.
Nor is Thomas Hobbes to be judged exclusively by the correctness of his conclusions. His ideas of what constituted a sound scientific method were those of his time and are long out of date. Yet the fact remains that he had something which can only be described as a science of politics, which was an integral part of his whole conception of the natural world and was carried through with quite extraordinary clearness.
For this reason he benefited not least those thinkers who tried to refute him. His philosophy illustrates the saying of Bacon that Truth emerges more easily from error than from confusion. Because of this clarity and not less because of the pungency of his style Hobbes was probably the greatest writer on political philosophy that the English-speaking peoples have produced.
Political theory was only one part of what he designed to be an all-inclusive system of philosophy formed upon scientific principles, This system would now be described as materialism. Despite the fact that he came to the study of mathematics and physics late in life and never gained an adequate mastery of them, he at least perceived the end toward which the new natural science tended. As Galileo said, it made a new science out of an old subject, namely, motion.
It suggested the revolutionary idea that the physical world is a purely mechanical system in which all that happens may be explained with geometrical precision by the displacement of bodies relative to one another. The great triumph of science upon this principle Newton’s theory of planetary motion-was as yet in the future, But Hobbes grasped the principle and made it the center of his-system.
At bottom, he held, every event is a motion and all sorts of natural processes must be explained by analyzing complex appearances into the underlying motions of which they consist. Or, as Hobbes preferred to think of it,it begins with the simplest motions of bodies-mere changes of place and goes on to more complex cases, which seem on their face. not to be motions but which can be built up from this simple beginning.
Thus he conceived the project of a system of philosophy in three parts, the first dealing with body and including what would now be called geometry and mechanics (or physics), the second including the physiology and psychology of individual human beings, and the third concluding with the most complex of all bodies, the artificial body called society or the state. In this bold scheme there was in theory no place for any new force or principle beyond the laws of motion found at the beginning; there were merely complex cases of mechanical causation. All were derivative from geometry and mechanics.
Thomas Hobbes philosophy, then, was a plan for assimilating psychology and politics to the exact physical sciences. All knowledge throughout is of a piece and mechanics gives the pattern. It is important to note the method by which Hobbes believed that this system could be proved, because the same method is used in the parts of the system that deal with psychology and politics. The evidence was in no sense empirical nor did he think of his conclusions as the result of systematic observation. No doubt he regarded them as true and accordingly he often illustrated them by reference to fact, but such references were illustrations rather than inductions.
All science in the seventeenth century was under the spell of geometry, and Hobbes’s was no exception. Good method meant for him the carrying over into other subjects of the mode of thought which, it seemed, had been superlatively successful in geometry; in this belief he differed little from Grotius or Descartes.
Now the secret of geometry is that it takes the simplest things first, and when it goes forward to more complicated problems, it uses only what it has previously proved. In this way it builds solidly because it takes nothing for granted and every step is guaranteed by what precedes, all the way back to the self-evident truths from which the construction begins. It was thus that Hobbes conceived his system. Its structure is pyramidal. Motion is the completely pervasive fact in nature.
Human behavior, including sensation, feeling, and thought, is a mode of motion. And social behavior, upon which the art of government rests, is merely that special case of human behavior which arises when men act with reference to one another. The science of politics is therefore built upon psychology, and the mode of procedure is deductive. Hobbes proposed to show not what government in fact is but what it must demonstrably be in order to control successfully beings whose motivation is that of the human machine.
It is hardly necessary to say that Hobbes did not in fact live up to this ideal of his system, for the good reason that it was impossible. It depended upon a confusion-universal in philosophy before Leibniz -of logical or mathematical knowledge with empirical or factual knowledge and therefore failed to see that a straight-line progress from geometry to physics is out of the question.
Whether psychology can be reduced to physics is still another question, but certainly Hobbes did not succeed in actually deducing sensations, emotions, and human conduct from the laws of motion. What he did was to make a fresh start when he came to psychology. Substantially he postulated a principle or axiom for human behavior in general and from this he derived the specific cases by showing the operation of the principle under particular circumstances.
By this method he was able to advance from psychology to politics. Once he made a beginning with his psychology, he was true to his plan. He exhibited human nature as governed by a single fundamental law and in his politics he exhibited the working of this law in the specific case of social groups. The method was fundamentally deductive.
Materialism and Natural Law:-
Though this mode of procedure was in agreement with that by which Grotius had undertaken to modernize jurisprudence, Hobbes’s results were quite at odds with those of Grotius. Grotius had freed natural law from its ancient alliance with theology, holding that it might even by hypothesis dispense with God, but he had never contemplated a real mechanization of nature.
The law of nature, in Grotius and in nearly all its applications throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, remained a teleological and not a mechanical principle. Spinoza, following Hobbes, made the only determined effort to bring both ethics and religion into accord. with mathematical natural science, but his success was far from complete and in any event his influence was negligible until the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The meaning of natural law remained twofold. In physics and astronomy it meant a principle of mechanics like Newton’s laws of motion, while in ethics and jurisprudence it meant a rule of right intuitively perceived, a transcendent value or norm by which the worth of positive law or actual moral practice could be judged. But a philosophy like Hobbes’s made right or justice in any such cosmic sense absolutely unintelligible. Both nature and human nature were for him nothing but systems of causes and effects.
There remained a somewhat superficial resemblance between Hobbes’s procedure and that of the theory of natural law both professed to derive their basic principles from human nature and to deduce from this certain rules which law and government must follow.
But the meaning of the dependence on human nature was quite different in the two cases. In the typical theories of natural law the dependence was, broadly speaking, Aristotelian that is to say, natural law states the basic moral conditions of a humane and civilized life. Hence these are ends to be approximated, which exert an ethically regulatory control over positive law and human conduct.
For Hobbes, on the other hand, that which controls human life is not an end but a cause, the psychological mechanism of the human animal. The societies which arise from the living-together of such animals are resultants of their mutual actions and reactions upon each other. And the conditions of a stable union between them are not justice and fair dealing, or any moral ideals, but merely the causes that will evoke a generally cooperative kind of conduct.
Logically this was all that Hobbes was entitled to mean by laws of nature. It cannot be said that he always took this position. Probably it is not humanly possible to do so. But his system was at any rate the first whole-heated attempt to treat political philosophy as part of a mechanistic body of scientific knowledge. it would undoubtedly have been easier for Hobbes if he could have abandoned the law of nature altogether, as his more empirical successors, Hume and Bentham, did.
He night then have started from human nature simply as a fact, claiming the warrant of observation for whatever qualities, or even ideal purposes, he might have seen fit to attribute to it. But this course would have been contrary to all that was supposed in the seventeenth century to be good scientific method. A deductive system must have its postulates, and there is no evidence for a postulate unless it be self-evidence.
Consequently Hobbes not only retained the laws of nature but gave them an important place in his political theory. All his efforts were bent toward interpreting them in accordance with the principles of his own psychology while retaining, it must be admitted, the occasional advantage of talking as if he meant by them something rather like what others meant.
In fact they were quite different. The laws of nature really meant for Hobbes a set of rules according to which an ideally reasonable being would pursue his own advantage, if he were perfectly conscious of all the circumstances in which he was acting and was quite unswayed by momentary impulse and prejudice.
Since he assumes that in the large men really do act in this way, the laws of nature state hypothetical conditions upon which the fundamental traits of human beings allow a stable government to be founded. They do not state values but they determine causally and rationally what can be given value in legal and moral systems.
The Instinct of Self-Preservation:-
Thomas Hobbes’s first problem, therefore, was to state the law of human behavior and to formulate the conditions upon which a stable society is possible. In accordance with his materialistic principles reality consists always in the motion of bodies, which is transmitted through the sense-organs to the central nervous system, where it appears as sensation.
He further assumed, however, that such transmitted motion always aids or retards the vital motion, the organ for which, as he supposed, was the heart rather than the brain. According as the vital motion is heightened or repressed, two primitive types of feeling appear, desire and aversion, the first being an endeavor toward that which is favorable to the vital processes and the second being a retraction from that which has the opposite effect.
From these primitive reactions of advance or retreat Hobbes proceeded to derive all the more complex or remote emotions or motives. These depend upon the relation in which the stimulating object stands to the reaction which it produces. For obvious reasons the emotions are always paired, according as they are forms of desire or aversion.
Thus the object which is attractive is in general loved, while that which repels is hated; to attain the one gives joy and to suffer the other gives grief; the prospect of the one gives hope and of the other despair. Other appropriate combinations give fear or courage, anger or benevolence, and so on.
By this simple psychological device Hobbes believed that he could derive all the emotions which men experience. What are called mental pleasures and pains are more involved but in principle they are not different. The will calls for no special treatment, since every emotion is a form of reaction to stimulation, or an active response to external objects and events; the will is simply the last appetite.
The novel element in Hobbes’s psychology was not the rather cynical assumption of human selfishness which it implied, for in this respect he did rot differ from Machiavelli. It was rather the psychological theory by which he tried to make egoism a scientifically grounded account of behavior.
The details of this theory of motivation need not be stressed but it is important to note the principles of the explanation.
First, the mode of derivation was deductive rather than empirical. Hobbes was not cataloging feelings and motives which he found by observing human nature, but showing rather what reactions can occur in various complex situations on the assumption that all human motive arises from the primitive attraction or retraction which every stimulus is supposed to produce.
Second, his theory differed in important respects from the pleasure-pain theory of motivation developed later by the English psychologists of the eighteenth century. It is true that all the emotions derived from desire are in general pleasant while those derived from aversion are unpleasant, but it was not Hobbes’s theory that pleasure per se is desired or pain avoided. The datum is not pleasure or pain but stimulus and response.
The organism always responds in some fashion, and for this reason no special explanation of active behavior is required. It follows, third, that Hobbes’s theory of value was widely different from that of the latter utilitarians, who supposed that value must be measured in units of pleasure.
For him the fundamental psychological fact in value is that every stimulation affects vitality either favorably or adversely. If the effect is favorable the organism responds appropriately to secure and continue the favorable influence; if the effect is adverse the organism withdraws or takes other appropriate action to avoid the injurious effect.
The rule behind all behavior is that the living body is get instinctively to preserve or to heighten its vitality. In a word, the physiological principle behind all behavior is self-preservation, and self-preservation means just the continuance of individual biological existence. Good is what
It was of course obvious to Hobbes that self-preservation is no such simple, momentary affair as has so far been assumed. Life affords no breathing space or moment of repose in which the end can be once for all achieved, but is a restless pursuit of the means of continued existence.
Moreover, the means of security being precarious, no moderation of desire can place a limit to the struggle for existence. The desire for security, the really fundamental need of human nature, is for all practical purposes inseparable from the desire for power, the present means of obtaining apparent future goods, because every degree of security requires to be still further secured.
I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death. And the cause of this, is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight, than he has already attained to; or that he cannot be content with a more moderate power but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more.
The apparently modest need for security is therefore equivalent to an endless need for power of every sort, whether riches, or position, or reputation, or honor all that may forfend the inevitable destruction which must in the end overtake all men. The means may be tangible what Hobbes calls gain or intangible-what he calls glory but the value is the same.
From this account of human motives Hobbes’s description of the state of man outside society follows as a matter of course. Each human being is actuated only by considerations that touch his own security or power, and other human beings are of consequence to him only as they affect this. Since individuals are roughly equal in strength and cunning, none can be secure, and their condition, so long as there is no civil power to regulate their behavior, is a “war of every man against every man.
Such a condition is inconsistent with any kind of civilization there is no industry, navigation, cultivation of the soil, building, art, or letters, and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Equally there is neither right nor wrong, justice nor injustice, since the rule of life is only that to be every man’s that he can get; and for so long, as he can keep it. Apparently Hobbes believed that life among savages really approximated this condition, but the historical accuracy of the description was of no importance to him. His purpose was not history but analysis.
So far, however, Hobbes has presented only half of his analysis, The momentary heightening of vitality which is the spring of human desire and the lengthening of life on the whole are quite different matters. There are two principles in human nature, he says, desire and reason.
The first hurries men on to take for themselves what other men want and so embroils them with each other, while reason teaches them to fly a contractual dissolution. What reason adds is not a new motive but a regulative power, or foresight, by which the pursuit of security becomes more effective without ceasing to follow the general rule of self-preservation.
There is a hasty acquisitiveness which begets antagonism and a more calculating selfishness which brings a man into society. Hobbes’s psychology was not entirely clear about the relation between reason and instinct, or the way in which the former influences the latter.
This is shown by his habitual twofold use of the word natural. Sometimes the natural is that which a man spontaneously does to gain security and means sheer acquisitiveness and aggression; sometimes it is that which perfect reason would prompt him to do to make himself as secure as the circumstances permit.
It is because these two meanings are so far apart that Hobbes is able to contrast as he does the pre-social and the social states. Before is institution of society the natural man is represented as almost non rational in instituting and conducting the state he shows preternatural powers of calculation. In order to be social he must be the perfect egoist, and egoists of this sort are rare.
The result is a paradox. If men were as savage and anti-social as they are at first represented, they would never be able to set up a government. If they were reasonable enough to set up a government, they would never have been without it. The paradox is due to the fact that what figures as the origin of society is a combining of the two parts of an analytic psychology.
By a psychological convention Hobbes treats motivation as if it were wholly non-rational, while at the same time he depends upon reason for that regulation of motives which alone makes society possible. The distinction is of course fictitious. Human nature is neither so reasonable nor so unreasonable as he assumed it to be.
The raw material of human nature from which a society must be constructed consists, then, of two contrasted elements primitive desire and aversion, from which arise all impulses and emotion, and reason, by which action can be diverted intelligently toward the end of self-preservation. Upon this regulative power of reason depends the transition from the savage and solitary to the civilized and social condition.
The transition is made by the laws of nature, the conditions of society or of human peace. These laws state what an ideally reasonable being would do if he considered impartially his relations with other men in all their bearings upon his own security.
Therefore the law of nature is the dictate of right reason, conversant about those things which are either to be done or omitted for the constant preservation of life and member as much as in us lies.
A law of nature is a precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved.
The spring to action, therefore, is still self-preservation but enlightened by foresight of all the consequences, and this foresight provides the condition by which men can unite and cooperate. The laws of nature are the postulates by which Hobbes’s rational construction of society is to take place. They are at once the principles of perfect prudence and of social morality, and therefore they make possible the step from the psychological motives of individual action to the precepts and values of civilized law and morality.
The listings of the laws of nature in Hobbes’s three accounts of them show that he never made any serious effort to reduce his principles to the minimum required for his purpose. In spite of his undoubted logical power; he never mastered the niceties of exact analysis. The three lists (one in each of the works mentioned above) are similar in substance but not identical in details, and all of them contain rules of no great importance, which might have been treated merely as special cases of more general rules. There is no need to examine them exhaustively or to compare the different lists in detail.
In substance all Hobbes’s laws amount to this peace and cooperation have a greater utility for self-preservation than violence and general competition, and peace requires mutual confidence. By the law of a man’s nature he must endeavor to gain his own security. If he must make this endeavor by his unaided efforts, he may be said to have a right to take or do whatever he supposes to be conducive to the end.
This, as Hobbes recognizes, is a wholly figurative use of the word right; what it really means is an entire absence of right in any legal or moral sense. But an intelligent consideration of means and ends shows. That every man ought to endeavor peace, as far as he has hope of attaining it. The ought means merely that any other course is, in the long run and when practiced by all men, destructive of the security desired.
Hence it follows that a man should be willing, when others are so too, as far forth, as for peace, and defense of him self he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.
For practical purposes the whole weight of this law is borne by the clause, when others are so too, since it would be ruinous to grant liberty to others if they would not | grant the same to you. Thus the prime condition of society is mutual trust and the keeping of covenants, for without it there can be no certainty of performance, but there must be a reasonable presumption that other persons will meet you on the same ground.
This argument has the perversity already noted in the psychology which underlies it. Hobbes first isolates, rather arbitrarily, those competitive and ruthless qualities of human nature which are inconsistent with mutual confidence. He then shows what is of course obvious that society is impossible on these terms.
The setting up of the laws of nature is a way of redressing the balance. The two factors in combination give as a resultant a human nature capable of forming a society. Behind the psychological construction, however, lies an assumption about the nature of a society of the greatest importance.
Since all human behavior is motivated by individual self-interest, society must be regarded merely as a means to this end. Hobbes was at once the complete utilitarian and the complete individualist. The power of the state and the authority of the law are justified only because they contribute to the security of individual human beings, and there is no rational ground of obedience and respect for authority except the anticipation that these will yield larger individual advantage than their opposites. Social well-being as such disappears entirely and is replaced by a sum of separate self-interests. Society is merely an artificial body, a collective term for the fact that human beings find it individually advantageous to exchange goods and services.
It is this clear-cut individualism which makes Hobbes’s philosophy the most revolutionary theory of the age. Beside this his defense of monarchy was superficial. Well might Clarendon wish that Hobbes had never been born to defend his royal pupil with this sort of argument. For it is a perfect solvent of all the loyalty and reverence and sentiment upon which the monarchy had rested.
With Hobbes the power of tradition is for the first time fully broken by a clear-headed and cold-hearted rationalism. The state is a leviathan, but no man loves or reveres a leviathan. It is reduced to a utility, good for what it does, but merely the servant of private security.
In this argument Hobbes summed up a view of human nature which resulted from two centuries of decadence in customary economic and social institutions. Moreover, he caught the spirit which was to animate social thinking for at least two centuries more, the spirit of laissez faire.
Sovereignty and the Fictitious Corporation:-
Since society depends on mutual trust, the next step is evidently to explain how this is reasonably possible, and this brings Hobbes to his theory of sovereignty. Because of the unsocial inclination of men, it is hopeless to expect them to agree spontaneously to respect each others rights, and unless all do so, it is unreasonable for any to forego self-help. The performance of covenants may be reasonably expected only if there is an effective government which will punish non-performance.
Covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all. The bonds of words are too weak to bridle men’s ambition, avarice, anger, and other passions, without the fear of some coercive power.
Security depends upon the existence of a government having the power to keep the peace and to apply the sanctions needed to curb man’s innately unsocial inclinations. The effective motive by which men are socialized is the fear of punishment, and the authority of law extends only so far as its enforcement is able to reach. Just how this motive stands in relation to the reasonableness of performing covenants is not quite clear, Apparently Hobbes meant that reason provides a sufficient ground for mutual accord but is too weak to offset the avarice of men in the mass. In substance his theory amounted to identifying government with force; at least, the force must always be present in the background whether it has to be applied or not.
To justify force Hobbes retained the ancient device of a contract, though he carefully excluded the implication of a contract binding upon the ruler. He described it as a covenant between individuals by which all resign self-help and subject themselves to a sovereign.
He stated it as follows authorize and give up my right of governing myself, to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner. This is the generation of that great Leviathan, or rather (to speak more reverently) of that Mortal God, to which we owe under the Immortal God, our peace and defense,
Since the right resigned is merely the use of natural strength and covenants without the sword are but words, this is a contract only in a manner of speaking. Properly it is a logical fiction to offset the anti-social fiction of his psychology.
Undoubtedly it helped him to import the notion of moral obligation into social relations, and this added a good deal of plausibility to his argument. Strictly speaking he is saying merely that in order to cooperate men must do what they dislike to do, on pain of consequences which they dislike still more to no other sense is there logically any obligation whatever in Hobbes’s system.
Hobbes’s thought on this point can be stated, perhaps more accurately, by using the legal conception of a corporation instead of contract, as he did in De cive.
A mere multitude, he argues, cannot have rights and cannot act; only individual men can do this, a conclusion which follows from the proposition that any collective body is merely artificial. Consequently, to say that a body of men acts collectively really means that some individual acts in the name of the whole group as its accredited agent or representative.
Unless there is such an agent the body has no collective existence whatever. Hence Hobbes argues with perfect logic, if his premises be admitted, that it is not consent but union which makes a corporation, and union means the submission of the wills of all to the will of one.
A corporation is not really a collective body at all but one person, its head or director, whose will is to be received for the will of all its members. On this analogy it follows, of course, that society is a mere fiction. Tangibly it can mean only the sovereign, for unless there be a sovereign there is no society.
This theory is applied consistently by Hobbes to all corporations. Any other theory, he holds, would make them lesser commonwealths, like worms in the entrails of a natural man. The state is unique only in having no superior, while other corporations exist by its permission.
Deductions from the Fictitious Corporation:-
From this view of the matter follow some of Hobbes’s most characteristic conclusions. Any distinction between society and the state is a mere confusion, and the same is true of a distinction between the state and its government. Except there be a tangible government-individuals with the power to enforce their will-there is neither state nor society but a literally headless multitude.
Few writers have held this opinion as consistently as Hobbes. it follows also that any distinction between law and morals is a confusion. For society has only one voice with which it can speak and one will which it can enforce, that of the sovereign who makes it a society. Very properly does Hobbes call his sovereign a mortal God and unite in his hands both the sword and the crozier.
This theory of corporate bodies lies also at the root of Hobbes’s absolutism. For him there is no choice except between absolute power and complete anarchy, between an omnipotent sovereign and no society whatever. For a social body has no existence except through its constituted authorities, and its members no rights except by delegation. All social authority must accordingly be concentrated in the sovereign.
Law and morals are merely his will, and his authority is unlimited, or is limited only by his power, for the good reason that there is no other authority except by his permission. Evidently, also, sovereignty is indivisible and inalienable, for either his authority is recognized and a state exists or it is not recognized and anarchy exists.
All the necessary powers of government are inherent in the sovereign, such as legislation, the administration of justice, the exercise of force, and the organization of inferior magistracies. Hobbes relieved sovereignty completely from the disabilities which Bodin had inconsistently left standing. But his dis-junctions have nothing to do with the nuances of actual political power. His theory was pure logical analysis.
There was another side to his theory of sovereign power which Hobbes emphasized less but to which he was by no means blind. For controversial purposes he stressed the fact that resistance to authority can never be justified, since justification would require the approval of authority itself. it followed equally, however, that resistance will in fact occur wherever government fails to produce that security which is the only reason tor subjects submission.
The only argument for government is that it does in fact govern. Hence if resistance is successful and the sovereign loses his power, he ipso facto ceases to be sovereign and his subjects cease to be subjects. They are then thrown back upon their individual resources for self-protection and may rightly give their obedience to a new sovereign who can protect them. There was no room in Hobbes’s theory for any claim of legitimacy without power, and it was this which gave offense to royalists.
This consequence of his theory was most clearly stated in Leviathan the only one of his books on politics written after the execution of Charles and when, as Clarendon says, Hobbes had a mind to go home. But it was at all times a perfectly evident implication of his principles and he had referred to it in De cive.
On utilitarian grounds government-any government is better than anarchy, Monarchical government he thought more likely to be effective than any other kind, but the theory is equally good for any government that can preserve peace and order. Later thinkers had no difficulty, therefore, in adapting it to a republican or parliamentary form of government.
Since government consists essentially in the existence of sovereign power, it follows for Hobbes as for Bodin that the difference between forms of government lies solely in the location of sovereignty. There are no perverted forms of government. People impute perversion, with such terms as tyranny or oligarchy, only because they dislike the exercise of a power, just as they use terms of approval, like monarchy or democracy, if they like it.
There is certain to be sovereign power somewhere in every government and the only question is who has it. For the same reason there is no mixed government and no limited government, since the sovereign power is indivisible. Someone must have the last decision and whoever has it and can make it good has sovereign power.
Probably there is nothing in political literature that more perfectly illustrates the inability of a congenital utilitarian to enter into the spirit of a revolutionary age than these chapters in which Hobbes argues that all governments which keep order come to the same thing in the end.
The aspiration for more justice and right seemed to him merely an intellectual confusion. Hatred of tyranny seemed mere dislike of a particular exercise of power, and enthusiasm for liberty seemed either sentimental vaporing or outright hypocrisy. Hobbes’s account of the civil wars in his Behemoth makes them a strange mixture of villainy and wrong-headedness. The clarity of his political system had nothing to do with understanding human nature in politics.
From the theory of sovereignty it is only a step to that of the civil law. In the proper sense of the word, law is the command of that person, whose precept contains in it the reason of obedience. It is to every subject, those rules, which the commonwealth hath commanded him, by word, writing, or other sufficient sign of the will, to make use of, for the distinction of right, and wrong.?
He was careful to point out that this definition sharply distinguishes civil from natural law, for the former is a command sanctioned by enforcement while the latter is a dictate of reason. The law of nature is law only in a figurative sense, for the imperative or coercive aspect of civil law is the essence of it. This, Hobbes explains, is the confusion in the position both of parliamentarians and of common lawyers like Coke. The former imagine that there is some virtue in the consent of a representative body and the latter that there is some validity in custom.
In fact it is the enforcing power that makes the precept binding and the law is his who has the power. He may allow custom to persist, but it is his tacit consent which gives it the force of law. Doubly absurd is Coke’s supersaturation that the common law has a reason of its own.
Similarly, the sovereign may consult parliament or permit it to frame statute? but the enforcement is what makes them law. Hobbes assumes that enforcement takes place in the king’s name, but there is nothing in his theory contrary to the sovereignty of parliament, provided that body can both make the law and control its administration and execution. Hobbes was wrong in thinking that he could bolster up absolute monarchy but he was not mistaken in believing that centralized authority in some form was to be a chief mark of modern states.
Since the laws of nature merely state the rational principles upon which a state can be constructed, they are not limitations on the authority of the sovereign. Hobbes’s argument sounds like a quibble but there was reason behind it. No civil law, he says, ever can be contrary to the law of nature; property may be a natural right but the civil Jaw defines property, and if a particular right is extinguished, it simply ceases to be property and so is no longer included under the law of nature.
What limits the sovereign is not the law of nature but the power of his subjects. Hobbes’s sovereign is faced by a condition and not a theory, but there can be no limitation of the civil law in its own field. Bodin’s conception of a constitutional law limiting the competence of the sovereign has disappeared entirely.
The State and the Church:-
Hobbes’s theory of sovereignty brings to completion the process of subordinating the church to the civil power which was begun when Marsilio of Padua carried through to its logical conclusion the separation of the spiritual and temporal authorities. For a materialist like Hobbes the spiritual becomes a mere ghost, a figment of the imagination. He does not deny that there is such a thing as revelation or as spiritual truths but he is clear that there is nothing to say about them.
For it is with the mysteries of our religion, as with wholesome pills for the sick, which swallowed whole, have the virtue to cure; but chewed, are for the most part cast up again without effect.
The very belief in non-material substances he regarded as a cardinal error derived from Aristotle and propagated by the clergy for their own advantage; it is the metaphysical side of that other cardinal error, the belief that the church is the kingdom of God and so endowed with an authority other than that of the state.
Hobbes still affects to think that belief cannot be forced, but the profession of belief is an overt act and therefore falls within the province of law. Freedom of belief is completely inoperative so far as external consequences are concerned.
All observance and profession, the canon of religious books, the creed, and the government of the church, if they have any authority, are authorized by the sovereign. Since there is no objective standard of religious truth, the establishment of any belief or form of worship must be an act of sovereign will.
A church therefore is for Hobbes merely a corporation. Like any corporation it must have a head and the head is the sovereign. It is a company of men united in the person of one sovereign and therefore quite indistinguishable from the commonwealth itself. Temporal and spiritual government are identical. Hobbes still holds, like Marsilio, that it is the duty of the church to teach, but he adds that no teaching is lawful unless the sovereign authorizes it.
Excommunication or an, other ecclesiastical penalty is inflicted by the authority of the sovereign. Obviously enough, then, as Hobbes concludes, there cannot be any conflict between divine and human law. In every sense that counts religion is completely under the sway of law and government. One easily conjectures that religion was not a matter of vital moment in Hobbes’s experience.
He attributed less moral weight to it than Machiavellian. The desire for freedom of conscience, like the desire for political freedom, seems to have figured in his mind merely as an evidence of intellectual confusion, and the force of a genuine religious conviction must have been quite unknown to him.
At the same time ecclesiastical questions still bulked very large in his political outlook. Nearly half of Leviathan is devoted to them. In this respect English thought must have moved rapidly between 1650 and the end of the century. When Locke wrote forty years later he could assume far more actual separation of political and religious questions than Hobbes ever imagined.
Thomas Hobbes’s Individualism:-
Tomas Hobbes’s political philosophy is beyond all comparison the most imposing structure that the period of the English civil wars produced. it is notable chiefly for the logical clarity of the argument and the consistency with which it carried through the presumptions from which it Started. It was in no sense a product of realistic political observation.
The actual motives which sway men in civil life were largely opaque to Hobbes, and his interpretation of the characters of his contemporaries was often grotesque. His psychology was not conceived by him to be the product of observation. It was not so much a description of men as they are as a demonstration of what they must be in the light of general principles. This was what science meant to Hobbes-a rational construction of the complex by means of the simple, as exemplified by geometry. The resulting estimate of government was whole secular and quite coolly utilitarian. Its value consists solely in what it does, but since the alternative is anarchy, there can be no doubt which a utilitarian will choose. The choice has little sentiment behind it.
The advantages of government are tangible and they must accrue quite tangibly to individuals, in the form of peace and comfort and security of person and property. This is the only ground upon which government can be justified or even exist. A general or public good, like a public will, is a figment of the imagination; there are merely individuals who desire to live and to enjoy protection for the means of life.
This individualism is the thoroughly modern element in Thomas Hobbes and the respect in which he caught most clearly the note of the coming age. For two centuries after him self-interest seemed to most thinkers a more obvious motive than disinterestedness, and enlightened self-interest a more applicable remedy for social ills than any form of collective action.
The absolute power of the sovereign a theory with which Hobbes’s name is more generally associated–was really the necessary complement of his individualism. Except as there is a tangible superior to whom men render obedience and who can, if necessary, enforce obedience, there are only individual human beings, each actuated by his private interests.
There is no middle ground between humanity as a sand-heap of separate organisms and the state as an outside power holding them precariously together the sanctions with which it supplements individual motives. All, the rich variety of associations disappears, or is admitted suspiciously and grudgingly as carrying a threat to the power of the state.
It is a theory natural to an age which saw the wreck of so many of the traditional associations and institutions of economic and religious life and which saw above all the emergence of powerful states in which the making of law became the typical activity.
These tendencies-the increase of legal power and the recognition of serif-interest as the dominant motive in life-have been among the most pervasive in modern times. That Hobbes made them the premises of his system and followed them through with relentless logic is the true measure of his philosophical insight and of his greatness as a political thinker.