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Human Condition

Thomas Hobbes, a great political philosopher was known for his “social contract theory”- the theory that is concerned with the potential agreement of rational, free and equal individuals in matters of politics thus embodying justice. This for me suggests that Hobbes regarded individuals as capable of deciding using their rationality; that they are co-equals; and are able to compromise for the benefit of majority. There are key questions that surround the idea behind this theory like; Who will ultimately decide on policy issues when no compromise or agreement is met?

; Will it still promote justice given that a few people or one person may possibly dominate the process? ; What if men are not equal and constrained or irrational? These questions remain to de debated among Hobbes scholars yet were provided hints in Hobbes’ Leviathan where he made further contribution to the understanding of the nature of commonwealth, its people and how political actors should be in order to maintain amity.

Of particular interest is the reciprocal relation between political obedience and peace, which he suggested in his discussions on sovereignty. Many have labeled him an Absolutist because of this belief, but it deserves a good discussion before any conclusion is arrived at. Several other concepts in line with his discussion of the natural condition of man are significant to the understanding of his sovereignty philosophy as well. Hobbes first of all believed that the nature of man is a condition at war driven by private appetite.

Hobbes nonetheless supposed that men are equal in both physical and mental characteristics that make them unable to dominate against each other yet have strong desires to live, which could lead them to partiality and unjust acts or at times to organize and form institutions that could further their objectives. Their goals are inclined to sustaining life and making the most out of it. For Hobbes, the private judgment made by any individual with respect to his aim for sustenance is apt and natural.

It is toward self preservation hence is relevant to man’s state of nature thus it is credited to the liberty right that every man is entitled to. This right became an unlimited right as Hobbes allowed people to employ a wide variety of means to achieve their ends of survival, or man’s right to all things. It is in the same nature of man- of the innate capacity to decide on the basis of weighing consequences for the protection of the self that conflict could arise between and among men.

For him, fear and violence amongst people would result from their tendencies to decide on their own thus creating divergent norms, belief systems, religious views, needs, and pursuits- all provoking defensive mechanisms and potential for attack and subjugation of the less powerful. This is the state of war which he referred to as something which is possible however avoidable. Having thought so he introduced the notion that a public authority must be established to which people would have to submit in order to manage communal affairs, where laws are created and are expected to be followed.

This is far better than resorting to private judgment that is susceptible to selfish intentions. However Locke contradicted Hobbes when the former presumed that suppression of people to the absolute sovereign is not preferable than the state of nature. This for Hobbes would ensue a masterless society that is critical against progress and development. It appears then that the basis for organization is survival, yet what becomes of the state when groups of people were able to acquire greater resources and became more influential?

These groups could either challenge the state or facilitate in the management of the state. This is no longer a question of equality of inherent strength or mental abilities but the dynamics of power in social context. Supposing that individuals would arrive at common interests then power relations would be irrelevant to the pursuit of every individual’s happiness and safety. Hobbes must have adhered to the same analysis when he argued that as rational beings, humans regard that the state of nature in a state of war is adverse to their agenda.

In a way Hobbes is proposing a harmonization of interests, a liberal perspective, in this case, the universal aspiration for peace- which are the core of Hobbes’ Laws of Nature. Laws are constructed hence either as guide or commands imposing on individuals, values that are indispensable to harmony in the society. They shape our actions and ideas in accordance to peaceful coexistence by ensuring that our rights and interests are shared and beneficial. Hobbes understands laws as tools for submission to the so-called political authority- directing us to maintain a covenant establishing sovereignty.

One of Hobbes’ best input in the study of politics is providing a framework to understand how scarcity of resources in a society could impact on human socio-economic and political relations leading them to a consensus at establishing a state. The state of nature characterized by men in competition, seeking diffidence and aspiring for glory supports the necessity for Hobbes laws of nature that is to want peace, lay down man’s right to all things to endeavor peace and contentment in one’s liberties which are equal to the others.

Such is the prelude to the foundation of contracts and covenants and the submission to a sovereign authority or the representative of all members of the state. What then is a commonwealth? It is the output of an agreement among persons who wish to experience peace and contentment. It is a mechanism to fulfill the laws of nature where individuals surrender their rights to govern themselves to another person in authority or a body/assembly. It is the institution that will ensure that injustice will not occur as it emerges from the inability to commit and execute the covenant since punishment are given to offenders.

It is where the rulers have common interests as the rest of the members. A sovereign with responsibilities as well as rights heads it. At least three types of commonwealth has been introduced in the Leviathan; monarchy (the sovereign is one man), aristocracy (the sovereign is only one part of an assembly) and democracy (the sovereign is an assembly). Of the three, Hobbes expressed his preference to a monarchical system for the simple reason that the sovereign in this type of commonwealth is more likely to have private interests, which are common to public interests.

The glory and riches of the king according to Hobbes arise from the reputation and strength of his subjects. War against their enemies could not be won where the people are poor and weak. He contrasted this with the great potential for civil war and treachery in a commonwealth where the prosperity of the people would negatively affect the prosperity of an assembly or part thereof that is corrupt like in aristocracy or democracy. Sovereignty as we understand it today being the ultimate decision making power of the state is at its highest level of practice in Hobbes’ scheme.

It is almost similar to Plato’s conception of a Philosopher King/Ruler. Primarily, it assumes that the chosen sovereign is the best and most capable, highly feasible individual to pursue the community’s goals. That upon subjugation to the sovereign, justice will be achieved as if no inevitable circumstance could lead to the failure of a sovereign’s realization of his obligation to the commonwealth. Yet, if it does fail, the people who have agreed to withdraw their inherent rights cannot object nor legally choose to change the government.

In the twelve rights of the sovereign, which he composed it denotes the total surrender of rights of the governed to the governor making the former the absolute followers of an absolute ruler. The contract or the covenant is the proof of this absolutism. It is a contract projecting the transfer of rights, power and authority of the people to the representative, that is the sovereign ruler. Sovereignty in Hobbessian term is decision-making power of the sovereign that is agreed upon by the people in the commonwealth and stems from political obedience.

There are various legitimate ways on how to establish sovereignty such as by creating covenants to pursue protection against conquerors by promising obedience. Here, the sovereign decides absolutely for its people. Fear being the primary motivation of the people to assent to political obedience to a sovereign authority would become the basis for political legitimacy; for when protection ends due to the inability of the sovereign to govern effectively, the political obligation of the people also ceases. The critics of Hobbes’ ideals on sovereignty focus on the notions of absolute authority for any government, which he insisted.

For Hobbes, the power of the government must be unconditionally full and unlimited. The sovereign monopolizes all areas of administration and state management whether in taxation, international affairs, policy-making, implementation and adjudication. This is what he meant by his essential rights of sovereignty- that effective rule comes from the assumption of these rights to only one body; otherwise paralysis of government of civil war might transpire. Another debatable topic in his theory is about the limits to political obligation.

He tells of true liberties of the subjects and the exemptions of several instances where people could disobey the sovereign especially when their protection is at stake or a right to self-defense and resistance rights. Evaluation of the adequacy of the sovereign’s governing character goes back to the decision-making, which one makes for him, ergo also, establishing fear. I should say Hobbesian sovereignty is more idealistic than absolutist. It trusts so much that there exist men whose private interests are necessarily for the common good. It is confident in the agential role of people or the majority to choose the best possible ruler.

It is too liberal in a sense that the harmony of interests it purports extends to the renunciation of inalienable rights of the people. It is too Realistic in a sense that it looks at how great the impact of fear is on the people against conquest and domination that was enough to make them surrender their rationality to the state, not withstanding that even blind political disobedience and subjugation could be injustices as well. Reference Ebenstein, Alan. “Hobbes”. Great Political Thinkers: From Plato to the Present. Wadsworth Publishing, 1999.

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