Social Theorists · Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas_Hobbes_(portrait)

My research starts with the name of Thomas Hobbes, said to be the founding father of social studies. But to me he seemed to have a rather perplexed mind, and Leviathan is his great masterpiece, which perfectly shows this complexity and alienated feelings.

Hobbes believed humans are by nature evil; therefore, should be ruled! It seems to me it is a beastial and generalized description of mankind. In his early lifetime, he was an absolutist royalist, who believed in the necessity of having an absolute monarch to rule over the mass, as if the monarch was the God, and men flocks of sheep!!

However, he became more lenient and after witnessing the failure of his own ideas in the failure of Charles I, king of England, he gradually and delicately changed his position and suggested: humans should obey a monarch/ruler, as long as he proves his legitimacy (to stay in power) by his good conducts and honorable life. He had authority as well as duty.

Later on he proposed in Leviathan, that man had free will to decide upon the ruler he wanted to live under his kingship (still the power remains in the hands of an omnipotent). He suggested that people could transfer their royalties to authorities they though would best guarantee their safety and welfare. But doesn’t this concept cause chaos? Shouldn’t there be a unique criteria for judging welfare, loyalty, etc.?

But the unresolved problem for Hobbes seemed to be the concept of sovereign and the extents of the freedom each individual should possess.

He also believed that human action is driven by passion and fear, and that their passion (desire) for the ideal, which is scarce, causes progress, but which simultaneously causes fear in others who might be his rivals. (things are getting more and more complex). Therefore, the only way to subdue all these savage rivalries is a powerful sovereign (that would force them to conform).

He also proposes the idea of “good laws” which seem to be a bit strange, since it is too idealistic and estranged from the ordinary human. He says: “[good laws are the laws that are] for the good of the sovereign and the people cannot be separated” (Leviathan p. 387 – 8).

Here is a summary list of Hobbes’s major theories (my notes from the podcast called “Foundations of Modern Social Theory”):

  • What brings the society together is the social contract;
  • In order to survive we need to choose a powerful sovereign. It is a voluntary task and each individual should be able to choose his sovereign, but when done so, he should fully obey him;
  • The desire for power is reasonable and part of human nature;
  • Human actions are driven by passion and fear (fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of a power, etc.);
  • Everyone has the natural right of self-preservation;
  • The first law of nature –> the only thing forbidden is that which is harmful to one’s own life;
  • The second law of nature –> requires a contract to not harm others –> do not to others what you do not want them do to you (also Imam Ali, Shiite’s first imam, statement about half a century earlier)
  • The scarcity assumption –> what is desirable is scarce; therefore, humans in order to achieve the desirable, compete with each other, and might want to harm one another (theory of war everyone against everyone);
  • The role of civilization and powerful sovereign is to prevent the war of everyone against everyone;
  • If all restraints are removed there would be no civilization;

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