M. N. Roy Jawaharlal Nehru



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  • THOMAS HOBBE5 (1588-1 679)



  • His Environment and Writings

  • Thomas Hobbes was born atWestport in North WiJts in 1588. Before he was fifteen years old, he entered Oxford and imme­diately acquired a dislike for universities which lasted the rest of his life. As he was a man of a very studious nature, he became a classical scholar on his own account and, after he had passed his fortieth year, turned to philosophy by way of mathematics. In 1640, he abandoned England for France because of the threatening civil war. For nearly eleven years he lived in close association with the most eminent philosophers and scientists of Paris and there he wrote his master work, Leviathan, which came out in 1651. His other two important books, De Corpore Politico (1640) and De Cive (1642), were also known to the world during his stay in France. As a firm belie­ver in authority and order, he considered France of absolute monar­chy rather than parliamentary England as bis spiritual home. As a result, he constructed a system of strong and irresponsible sovereign authority on the basis of social contract theory. He was the first Englishman who wrote comprehensively on political philosophy.

  • Hobbes's political writings were prompted by the civil wars and were intended by him to exert influence upon the side of the king. He was a great critic of the upholders of the constitutional rule based on popular consent in the 17th century. As such, his writings were designed to support an absolute government, and in Hobbes's inten­tion this meant absolute monarchy. He bad full sympathy with and was attached to the royalist party, and he sincerely believed that monarchy was the most stable and orderly kind of government. Yet his books could not arouse the symapathy either of the Stuarts whom he meant to support or of the revolutionists and constitutionalists whom he attempted to refute. In fact, his political philosophy had too wide a sweep to make good propaganda, but its drastic logic affected the whole later history of moral and political thought. Its positive influence did not fully grow until the nineteenth century, when bis ideas were included in the philosophical radicalism of the utilitarians and in John Austin's theory of legal sovereignty.

  • Political Philosophy of Hobbes

  • Hobbes was the first modern political thinker who tried to bring political theory into close connection with a thoroughly modern system of thought, and he "strove to make this system broad enough to



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    1. account, on scientific principles, for all the facts of nature including human behaviour both in its individual and social aspects."1 Though his ideas were mostly suited to his own time and have become obso­lete now, yet the fact remains that he had something which can be rightly described as a science of politics, which served as an integral part of his whole conception of the natural world and which he main­tained throughout with an extraordinary clearness. His philosophy well illustrates the remark of Bacon that "Truth emerges more easily from error than from confusion." Because of the clarity and pun­gency of his style Hobbes is regarded as the greatest writer on politi­cal philosophy that the English speaking peoples have ever produced.

    2. The political philosophy of HoBbes is a part of his general philo­sophy based on scientific materialism which he grasped from the system of motion of Galileo and Newton. Galileo suggested that the physica. world is a purely mechanical system in which all that happens can bs explained with geometrical precision by the displacement of bodieerslative to one another. Likewise, Hobbes conceived that all knowle dge is of one piece and mechanics gives the pattern. Motion is the completely pervasive fact m nature. To this he related his analysis of human nature. There are various factors, such as, sensation, feel­ing, imagination, memory, reason, and thought which play a dominant role in shaping human behaviour. According to Hobbes, human behaviour is a mode of motion, a mechanical system, which can be explained with all exactness by analyzing the above factors. And social behaviour, upon which the art of government rests, is merely a special type of human behaviour which is exhibited when men act with reference to one another. The science of politics is, therefore, built upon psychology. He proposed to show not what government in fact is, but what it must demonstrably be in order to control successfully beings whose motivation is that of the human machine.

    3. (i) Principle of Human Behaviour : Selfishness


      1. Sabine, G. H. : A History of Political Theory (Third ed., George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1957), p. 388.

      2. Ibid., p. 392.

      Hobbes's first problem, while discussing his political philosophy was, therefore, to state the principle of human behaviour, and to formulate the conditions upon which a stable society is possible. In accordance with his materialistic principles reality consists always in the motion of bodies, which is "transmitted through the sense organs to the central nervous system, where it appears as sensation."* The perception of external bodies, to put in other words, causes an inward motion to the sense organs of the living organism which calls forth an outward reaction from the brain or heart. Every outward reaction of the sense organ is not to be called sense but only that "which at several times is by vehemence made stronger and more predominant



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    2. GREAT POLITICAL THINKBRS



    1. than others." As the vital motion, which, he thought inadequately, is always connected with the heart rather than the brain, is heighten­ed or repressed, two primitive types of feeling, appetite to or desire and aversion from, appear. According to Hobbes, some appetites or aversions are born with man ; others are acquired in due course of time. The object of a man's appetite is called 'good', that of his aversion, 'evil'. He did not believe that anything is inherently good or evil. Goodness or badness of a thing depends upon human feel­ings towards it and is, therefore, subjective. It may also differ from man to man. An object may attract one man and repel another. Men try to pursue in life what appears good to them. In this way, Hobbes's whole conception was more or less utilitarian in the sense that a man considers the utility and goodness of his action before he decides to act upon it. Man, according to him, not only pursues the object of his attraction, he also tries to defend it jealously against others who obstruct his effort of obtaining it. Further, if two men desire the same object which they both cannot enjoy, their equality of ability and hope of achieving the object makes them enemies. Power means the acquirement of present means to attain some future good. Hobbes, on the whole, recognized three principal causes of conflict between men, i.e., competition, diffidence and glory.

    2. (ii) State of Nature

    3. Hobbes based his description of state of Nature on his idea of selfish nature of man. To Lim, the only basis of human action is a perpetual desire for power because man is essentially selfish and egoistical. Men are by nature, he maintained, equal in powers, both of body and mind. No man is so strong as to be safe against the attack of others. They are also equal in their desire of safety, desire of glory and desire of gain. Passions of acquisition and self-preser­vation create mutual distrust and state of war. The means of security being precarious, no moderation of desire can place a limit to the struggle for existence. The desire for security, the really fundamental need of human nature, is for all practical purposes inseparable from the desire for power, the present means of obtaining apparent future goods, because every degree of security requires to be still further secured. Hobbes explained :

    4. "I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death. And the cause of this, is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight, than he has already attained to ; or that he cannot be con­tent with a more moderate power ; but because he cannot assure the power and meaDS to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more."3

    5. The individual whom Hobbes, thus, described is completely self-

    6. 3 Leviathan, XI.



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    1. centred and power-seeking animal. He has an endless need for power of every sort, whether riches, or position, or reputation, or honour—all that may forfend the inevitable destruction which must in the end overtake all men. The means for attaining power may be either tangible, what Hobbes called 'gain', or intangible, what he called 'glory', but the value is the same. As such, every individual, for Hobbes, is an absolutely solitary individual. Contrasting men with bees and ants, he said, "Men are continually in competition for honour and dignity, \ -hich these creatures are not ; consequently amongst men there arisetr on that ground, envy and hatred and finally war."4 Therefore men will always live in a condition of per­petual fear of competition and war. He further argued that since knowledge comes from the senses and different senses cannot see the same world, a man and his world must be one and different frcm the world of other men. Different individuals have absolutely separate worlds, separate pleasures, truths, goods, and they belong to no order, moral or politic. Hobbes, so frequently portrayed as the great abso­lutist, is thus the greatest individualist in the history of political thought. "His is an extreme doctrine of individualism embracing everything. He is a Nominalist of the School of Occam, and his individualism is quite unqualified—more so, indeed, than that of any other writer."6


      1. Ibid., XI.

      2. Wayper, C. L. : Political Thought (The English Universities Press Ltd., London, 1958), p. 52.

      This is the picture of the state of Nature which, Hobbes believed, man used to live in before the formation of society. Each human being in the state of Nature, it follows from the above account, is actuated only by considerations that touch his own security or power, and other human beings are of consequence to him only as they affect this. Since individuals are roughly equal in strength and cunning, none can be secure, and their condition, so long as there is no civil power to regulate their behaviour, is a "war of every man against every man." In such a condition, there can be no distinction between right or wrong, or just or unjust, for any conception of right and wrong or just and unjust presupposes a common standard of conduct, a commou law to judge the case and a common superior to adjudge things. It is also inconsistent with any kind of civilization. Hobbes remarked : "In such condition, there is no place for indus­try ; because the fruit thereof is uncertain ; and consequently no culture of the earth ; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea ; no commodious building ; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force ; no knowledge of the face of the earth ; no account of time ; no arts ; no letters ; no society ; and which is the worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death ; and the life of mau, solitary, poor, nasty,



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    1. brutish, and short."* Man's vain glory or pride unfits him for success in such a condition, but the condition itself is the result not of his defects but of his very nature. The state of Nature, as Hobbes des­cribed it, is "the ill condition which man by mere nature is actually placed in." And the problem for Hobbes was how to extricate him from a position which the very principle of the universe, motion, has apparently designed for him.

    2. The Second Principle in Human Nature : Season

    3. This is only the one half of the picture of human nature, as dis­cussed by Hobbes. And if, on the basis of Hobbes's description of this part of human nature, we once hold that man is completely self-centred and egoistic or savage and anti-social, it is then, we can reasonably conclude, not possible for him to set up a government. It is, therefore, necessary to analyze the second principle in human nature, which, according to Hobbes, is reason. If the first principle —desire—hurries man on to take for himself what other men want and so embroils him with other men, the second principle—reason— teaches him to "fly a contranatural dissolution." What reason adds is not a new motive but a regulative power, or foresight, by which the pursuit of security becomes more effective without ceasing to follow the general rule of self-preservation.

    4. The net conclusion that we draw about the human nature by considering both the principles, as described by Hobbes, is that it is neither so reasonable nor so unreasonable as he at first assumed it to be. Further, the reason, being actuated by the consideration of self-preservation, decides in favour of a civilized and social life. The transition is, however, made by the Laws of Nature, the "conditions of society or of human peace." The Laws of Nature meant for him a set of rules according to which an ideally reasonable being will pursue his own advantage, if he is perfectly conscious of all the cir­cumstances in which he is acting and is quite unswayed by momen­tary impulse and prejudice. Since he assumed that in the large, men really do act in this way, the Laws of Nature state hypothetical conditions upon which the fundamental traits of human beings allow a state government to be founded. They do not state values but they determine casually and rationally what can be given value in legal and moral systems. Hobbes explained :

    5. "Therefore, the Law of Nature. . . .is the dictate of right reason, conversant about those things which are either to be done or omitted for the constant preservation of life and members, as much as in us lies."7


      1. Leviathan, XI.

      2. De Cive, II, 1.

      "A Law of Nature is a precept, or a general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive



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    1. of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same ; and to omit that by which he thinketh it may be best preserved."8

    2. Natural Laws

    3. Reason teaches men to obey Natural Laws, which, according to Hobbes, are nineteen in number. The first Law of Nature holds that every man should seek peace and preserve it, and if he cannot obtain it, he should "use all helps and advantages of war." The second Law of Nature lays down that a man must be willing, along with others and in the interest of peace and self-preservation, to forswear his right to all things, be content with as much liberty as would allow others over himself and transfer some of his rights by a contract. The third Law of Nafure enjoins that "men perform their covenants made." According to the fourth Law of Nature, the man to whom the rights are transferred causes no injury to the one who makes that transfer. These are the most important Laws' of Nature. Other Laws of Nature point to the advisability of an individual accommodating himself to the rest, cultivating complaisance, spirit of freedom, sense of equity and avoiding the spirit of revenge, cruelty, pride and avarice.

    4. There are two things about Hobbes's Natural Laws. First, they are not the principles of an Eternal Justice or of a Perfect Morality, as understood by the Stoics, of which actual law is the imperfect reflection. They are merely "counsels of prudence." While discus­sing Natural Laws, Hobbes remarked that "there are no such things as moral rights, no clash between a man's duty and a man's interest, but only an appeal from man drunk to man sober, only a difference between bad and good calculation.* Secondly, Hobbes's Natural Laws do not imply that there is such a thing as a common good. They are merely the postulates by which Hobbes's rational construction of society is to take place. They are at once the principles or rules of perfect prudence and of social morality, and therefore they make possible the step from the psychological motives of individual action to the precepts and values of civilized law and morality.

    5. Hobbes's Conception of Society


      1. Leviathan, XIV.

      2. Ibid.

      Laws, of Nature serve as the sound basis of society and later on of government. The prime condition of society is mutual trust and the keeping of covenants, for without it there can be no certainty of performance, but there must be a reasonable presumption that other persons will meet you on the same ground. Hobbes, it must be admitted, was conscious of the fact that the egoistic element in human nature would make any covenant or society impossible. He, there­fore, worked out a plan for the Laws of Nature. The setting up of



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    2. great political thinkers

    1. the Laws of Nature is a way of redressing those competitive and ruthless qualities of human nature which are inconsistent with mutual confidence. However, he was completely a utilitarian and an individualist in his thinking. According to Hobbes, all human be­haviour is motivated by individual self-interest, and society is essen­tially regarded merely as means to this end. The power of the state and the authority of the law are justified only because they contri­bute to the security of individual human beings, and there is no rational ground of obedience and respect for authority except the anticipation that these will yield a larger individual advantage than their opposites. Social well-being as such disappears entirely and is replaced by a sum of separate self-interests.

    2. Society, according to Hobbes, is merely an 'artificial* body, a collective term for the fact that human beings find it individually advantageous to exchange goods and services. But the will of the representative, who is to act as the sovereign, cannot be the common will of all, because there is no such thing. His representative will is a substitute for the conflicting individual wills, and this substitution is the only way in which many men can find unity. "A multitude of men are made one person when they are by one man, or one person, represented ; so that it be done with the consent of everyone of that multitude in particular. For it is the unity of the representer, not the unity of the represented, that makes the person one. And it is the representer that beareth the person, and but one person : and unity cannot otherwise be understood in multitude."

    3. Although Hobbes's analysis of human nature is defective, there is a logical consistency in his ideas and conclusions. It has already been stated that Hobbes considered man's nature as antisocial. In view of this assumption, it is unreasonable to expect men to agree spontaneously to respect one another's rights. Hence the performance of covenants may be reasonably expected only if there is an effective government which will punish non-performance.

    4. 'Covenants, without sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all."1"

    5. "The bonds of words are too weak to bridle men's ambition, avarice, anger, and other passions, without the fear of some coercive power."11 All the Laws of Nature, such as, justice, equity, modesty, mercy etc., are helpless to teach men to live in co-operation with mutual understanding without the force of power to cause them to be observed. Hence coercive power is needed to apply necessary sanctions to curb man's innately unsocial inclinations. Apparently Hobbes meant that reason provides a sufficient ground for mutual accord but is too weak to offset the avarice of men in the mass. In substance

    6. Leviathan, xvii.

    7. Ibid., xiv,



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    1. his theory amounted to "identifying government with foTce ; at least, the force must always be present in the background whether it has to be applied or not."1' Hobbes's thought on this point becomes further clear when we consider his statement that "the agreement of other creatures is natural : that of men is by covenant only, which is artifi­cial : and, therefore, it is no wonder if there be somewhat else required, besides covenant, to make their agreement constant and lasting ; which is a common power, to keep them in awe, and to direct their actions to the common benefit."JS

    2. The Origin of Commonwealth

    3. Hobbes in the second part of Leviathan, created a commonwealth by giving a new orientation to the old idea of the social contract. The social contract before him represented a governmental contract, a contract between ruler and ruled. He built his commonwealth on the idea :

    4. "The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort as that, by their own industry, and by the fruits of the earth, they may nourish them­selves and live contentedly ; is, to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will ; which is as much as to say, to appoint one man, or assembly of men, to bear their person ; and everyone to own and acknowledge himself to be author of whatsoever he that so breath their person, shall act or cause to be acted in those things which concern the common peace and safety ; and therein to submit their wills, everyone to his will, and their judgments, to his judgment."11

    5. He further explained :

    6. "I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner." This done, "the multitude so united in one person, is called a common­wealth, in Latin civitas.1'0


      1. "2 Sabine, G. H. : op. ext., p. 398.

      2. Leviathan, XVII. (Italicized word mine).

      3. Ibid.

      4. Ibid.

      The underlying idea of all his arguments is that a mere multi­tude cannot have right and cannot act authoritatively. Only indivi­dual man can do this. This net conclusion is that any collective body is merely artificial. Someone must act in the name of the whole 8roup. And a corporation is not really a collective body at all but °ne person, whose supreme will is to be received for the will of all



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    1. its members. On this analogy it follows of course, as George H. Sabine also remarks, that society is a mere fiction. But I differ from Sabine when he says that 'Hobbes's thought on this point can be stated, perhaps more accurately, by using the legal conception of a corporation instead of contract, as he did in De Cive."is Sabine's assumption is that Hobbes's commonwealth is, more or less, based on the legal conception of a corporation, and not on the idea of a per­fect contract which entails an agreement on the part of the people who compose a corporation, or who are part and parcel of it. If we admit this assumption, we are likely to conclude that Hobbes's con­ception of political commonwealth was not at all individualistic in essence, and the members have no say in making of a corporation or of a political commonwealth. Although such a confusion arises when we examine the attributes and powers of Hobbes's sovereign, it is not adequate to say, as Sabine remarks, that the idea of contract or of voluntary agreement amongst people themselves is not clear in Hobbes's commonwealth. Hobbes was quite emphatic on this point when he stated :

    2. "The attaining to this sovereign power is by two ways. One, by natural force ; as when a man maketh his children to submit them­selves and their children to his government. . . .The other, is when men agree amongst themselves to submit to someone, or assembly of men, voluntarily, on confidence to be protected by him against all others. This latter may be called a political commonwealth, or a commonwealth by institution ; and the former, a commonwealth by acquisition."17

    3. The Characteristics of Hobbes's Leviathan

    4. However, it is to be admitted that, for Hobbes, there is no choice except between absolute power and complete anarchy, between an omnipotent sovereign and no society of whatsoever kind. According to him, social body has no existence except through its constituted authorities, and its members have no rights except by delegation. All social and politica' authority must accordingly be vested in the sove­reign. The characteristics of Hobbes's Leviathan are unmistakable. He is the sole source of laws, and he is, of course, the sole interpreter of laws. He is not subject to civil Jaws, although he remains bound by them so long as he does not repeal them. Hobbes did not recog­nize the utility of the traditional medieval idea that the king should be sub lege, subject to the condition that he should obey the law. Nor did he recognize the use for the idea of fundamental law, of a Jaw that cannot be changed by the sovereign without the consent of the people. He wrote that "1 could never see in any author, what a fundamental law signifieth." Sovereign is the creator of Right and

    5. Sabine, G. H. : op. cit., p. 398.

    6. Leviathan, XVII.



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    1. Justice. The Law of Nature cannot be pleaded against him, for the purpose of the Law of Nature is the creation of sovereign, who alone can interpret it. The Law of God can also not be pleaded against him, because it is through him that the Law of God can be approach­ed. Hobbes wrote that "there is no covenant with God, but by mediation of somebody that representeth God's person ; which none doth but God's lieutenant, who hath the sovereignly under God."1' Further, the sovereign is the sole judge of what opinions and doctrines are averse, and what are conducive to peace and tranquillity. He has the final right of judging things ; that is to say, of hearing and deciding all controversies which may arise concerning Jaw, either civil or natural, or concerning fact. "For," he wrote, "without the decision of controversies, there is no protection of one subject against the injuries of another : the laws concerning meum and tuum are in vain : and to every man remaineth, from the natural and necessary appetite of his own conservation, the right of protecting himself by his private strength, which is the condition of war, and contrary to the end for which every commonwealth is instituted."19 Sovereign has also the right of making war and peace with other nations and commonwealths ; that is to say, of judging when it is for the public good, and how great forces are to be assembled, armed and paid for that end ; and to levy money upon the subjects, to defray the expenses thereof. These are some of the rights which the Leviathan of Hobbes enjoys and which are the marks, according to him, by which a man may discern in what man, or assembly of men, the sovereign power is placed and "resideth".

    2. There is also another side of his theory of sovereignty which though Hobbes emphasized less, yet to which he was not blind at all. For controversial purposes he stressed the point that resistance to authority can never be justified, since justification would require the approval of authority itself. It equally follows, however, that resist­ance will, in fact, occur wherever government fails to protect—the condition for subjects' submission. If the protection is not guaranteed by the sovereign to the people, the latter may then be thrown back upon their individual resources for self-protection and may rightly give their obedience to a new sovereign who can protect them. It is only on the utilitarian ground that Hobbes justified any government, and the later thinkers had no difficulty in accepting this point of view. And Sabine is right when he remarks on this point that "What limits the sovereign is not the law of nature but the power of his subjects. Hobbes's sovereign is faced by a condition and not a theory, but there can be no limitation of the civil law in its own field. Bodin's




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