The true essence of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan is a well-constructed story that examines human nature. Hobbes’ introduces Leviathan during a chaotic period filled with death and a voyage of human expansion, which leads to the creation of a logical and sustainable society. This society is the commonwealth and led by a sovereign. Upon first analysis, Hobbes’ explanation of the alteration to the commonwealth is questionable. Some weaknesses in Hobbes’ Leviathan can be easily found: the inconsistency of natural law with suicide and that of civil law to honor.
Hobbes addresses some of these concerns head-on and seems to disregard others, however, he does tackle the most obvious protestation to his theory: the unrestricted and unstrained authority held by the sovereign. The creation of the commonwealth concludes in an agreement that awards the sovereign supreme power in imposing the civil laws of the state, but also places the sovereign’s position on a platform above the law. Does this hierarchal structure provide the solution to the ultimate goal of the commonwealth of peace and survival?
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Hobbes presents many compelling explanations illustrating why it will be complex, unproductive, and unworkable for the sovereign not to be in a position higher than the law. Hobbes presents the argument that turmoil and unrest are worse than any dictatorship. In order to understand why Hobbes comes to this conclusion, the alteration from the state of nature to the commonwealth needs to be understood. The Leviathan begins with a discussion of human nature. Hobbes starts by tackling the thoughts of men, and defines them as “representation or appearance of an object…the original of them all is what which we call Sense. (Hobbes 1994) He continues and illustrates about topics such as thoughts, recollections, remembrance, and communication where man’s promise as rational beings emerge:” The general use of speech is to transfer our mental discourse into verbal, or the train of our thoughts into a train of words. ” (Hobbes 1994). Hobbes proceeds with reason and science and begins a conversation on man’s “passions. ” The passions detailed by Hobbes lead to motion and “endeavor. ” (Fukuyama 1992) He unveils the basic forces that push man and creates an image of the state of nature. “”This Endeavour, when it is toward something which causes t, is called Appetite or Desire…And when the Endeavour is from something, it is generally called Aversion. ” (Hobbes 1994) Hobbes believes these rules of behavior provide an explanation for man’s unruly actions in nature. Therefore man craves all that fulfills his senses, and man shuns anything that may cause him danger, or pain. He references cravings and aversions as the “simple passions. ” They bring about the disorder of daily life in nature. They also explain why men kill and harm each other over goods or shelter, and the sexual attraction between men and women. (Fukuyama 1992)
This idea of appetites and aversions and simple passions are not only used as an explanation for daily life. Hobbes uses them as his focal point for his fundamental surveillance of man, and his characterization of human nature and natural law. He believes that one of man’s greatest desires is power. “I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death. ” (Hobbes 1994). Man’s ultimate goal for power stems from man’s main aversion, death, and the fulfillment of man’s ultimate appetite, survival. (Fukuyama 1992) This is the defining feature of natural law. A Law of Nature (lex naturalis) 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. ” (Hobbes 1994). By defining law of nature, Hobbes describes the core of human nature. Every human act, conscious or unconscious, aims at survival. According to Hobbes, the idea of self-preservation is the only constant norm found in the actions of humans. Hobbes contends that man seeks power in order to ensure that no man will be able to take away their self-preservation, due to their endless appetite for self-preservation.
Stemming from man’s thrust for power over one another, constant fighting and war emerges to ensure their survival. (Fukuyama 1992) It does not matter how much power one man currently posses, he must continually gain more and more power, for this is the only avenue to guarantee his self-preservation. Crocker, Lester G. Rousseau’s Social Contract; an Interpretive Essay. Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1968. Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. London: Penguin, 1992. Hobbes, Thomas, and E. M. Curley. Leviathan: With Selected Variants from the Latin Edition of 1668. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. , 1994.