Thomas Hobbes Argument For Uniting Under The Leviathan?

1415 Words 6 Pages
Every man an enemy, at war, and unsafe—such is the state of nature, as described by Thomas Hobbes. Yet in his work, Leviathan, Hobbes argues that man is not doomed to this state. He can escape. To do so, every man makes a covenant with every other to transfer their rights to an almighty Leviathan, the sovereign of their newly founded commonwealth, with the expectation that the Leviathan’s combined strength will better preserve their lives. However, this expectation does not follow from Hobbes’ argument. Though Hobbes contends that uniting under the Leviathan benefits its subjects, one finds that the Leviathan is affected by the same causes of conflict as individual men, and offers little benefit for the same cost of human life. When placed …show more content…
Certainly, if the Leviathan’s wartime strategy is like that of most historical sovereigns, the Leviathan would choose a subgroup of its subjects to wage war as soldiers. This would seem less destructive than the state of nature; rather than every man defending himself against every other, a mere portion of a commonwealth defends the whole. Yet Hobbes argues that the Leviathan maintains the “Right ... to be judge both of the meanes of Peace and Defence” (Hobbes, 1651, p. 10) Thus, if the Leviathan sees fit to make every subject a soldier, he may justly do so, again risking every subject’s life. Furthermore, though not all of the Leviathan’s subjects will necessarily wage war, neither would they in the state of nature. Hobbes himself contends that the natural war between every man was “never generally so, over all the world,” suggesting that some men did not wage war (Hobbes, 1651, p. 5). Though Hobbes assumes that more men warred in the state of nature, his argument allows for the contrary assumption that the number of all non-soldier subjects and all non-warring natural men is equal. If this holds, the number of lives that could be lost under either condition—with men living under a Leviathan or in the state of nature—would also be equal. In light of this, it remains unproven that the Leviathan would prevent any loss of life relative to the state of …show more content…
Hobbes asserts that the natural war allows for “no culture of the earth;” rather, man’s natural life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes, 1651, p. 4). Hobbes provides an example of this natural life: “the savage people in many places of America ... [who] live in that brutish manner” (Hobbes, 1651, p. 5). Yet it is clear that these “savage people” do have a culture, albeit one that Hobbes does not recognize. Native American tribes have developed language, music, and art—the existence of which contradicts Hobbes’ “brutish” depiction of their lives. Because of this contradiction, Hobbes’ example fails in one of two ways. First, if the natives do not depict natural war, then Hobbes is left without any example of natural war ever occurring, thus undermining his historical claims. Second, if the natives do depict natural war, then natural war does not preclude cultural development, and thus the Leviathan is not necessary for such development. In either case, the Leviathan’s ability to preserve culture is, at best, unproven and, at worst, not unique from the state of

Related Documents