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Hobbes Leviathan State Government Social Order State of War

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HaÐ"Ñ*im Cihan DemirkÐ"¶prÐ"јlÐ"ј 20303433 16.03.2007

Section 12

Throughout history, many philosophers have discussed the term ‘state of nature’ which is used to describe the natural condition of mankind either in the absence of a common authority or the lack of laws. In the book The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes one of most important political philosopher, examines the state of nature in detail and introduces the foundation of commonwealth, some sort of agreement between men that leads humanity to state of society where peace is secured. However, that social agreement creates such sovereignty, where sovereign has phenomenal rights and powers over his subjects. This essay aims to examine Hobbes arguments about sovereign powers concerning if there are any constraints on sovereign, which I concluded at the end there should be.

For Hobbes, in order to quit from state of nature where people are in continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, he introduces the institution of commonwealth. Commonwealth is some sort of social agreement between every one with every one that makes them to give up most of their rights to one person or assembly of men, called sovereign for the sake of attaining peace and leaving state of war. However, as one can imagine, this agreement gives numerous rights and terrific powers to its holder, something like a mortal god of parties of agreement. But what if, that mortal god uses these powers for his name or a certain group of people? Wouldn’t this situation harm the others and cause injustice? And frustrate the goal of seeking peace? Hobbes believes that there are no ways for a sovereign to harm or act unjustly towards people arguing that sovereign who chosen by the majority represents the majority itself, therefore no one can injury or do harm oneself is impossible. In addition, sovereign or the common power is created by majority by becoming a party to a social agreement, therefore if sovereign acts as under that agreement, everything is just.

However, as Hobbes states that all of the actions of a sovereign are just towards people, the question arises if there are any constraints on sovereign’s actions or not? Because that statement gives authority to do whatever he wants without a need of consideration as whole actions are already just. In my opinion, Hobbes answers the question indirectly by introducing the rights of the sovereign given by the institution of commonwealth. These rights are so powerful and expansive that sure enough you may call the sovereign an (earth born) ultimate god of his subjects. Institution says that sovereign has the right to judge his subjects opinions, thoughts and beliefs, hearing and deciding all controversies, whether these are appropriate to seek peace – and to sovereign’s rules or not. Relevantly, another breathtaking right that given, is the unlimited power of legislation which by sovereign can make law codes freely, determining some acts as crime and also its punishments and some acts as just. And continues with the execution right, sovereignty has the right to assign all counselors, ministers, magistrates, and officers, both in peace and war as he please. So one could imagine the boundless power of Hobbes’ sovereign considering there are some other significant rights widening that power. So under these circumstances, where sovereign hold every instruments of governance and determines moral and legal rules, it is hard to implement constraints over authority.

Furthermore, another response arises. Hobbes says that although there can be evil consequences for people under the harsh reign of sovereign fully mounted, that is much more better for them instead of living in state of nature where everyman is against everyman. In the system of commonwealth, sovereign prevents the presence of state of war either by



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