25 Sep


Thomas Hobbes, born in Westport, England, on April 5, 1588, was known for his views on how humans could thrive in harmony while avoiding the perils and fear of societal conflict. His  experience during a time of upheaval in England influenced his thoughts, which he captured in The Elements of Law, Natural and Politics (1640); De Cive (On the Citizen] (1642) and his most famous work, Leviathan (1651). Hobbes died in 1679.

Introduction :

The theories regarding powerful state propounded by Machiavelli during the 16th century were further elaborated by the English philosopher. Thomas Hobbes during the 17th century.Thomas Hobbes supported "the absolute state".

The essence of the Hobbeian philosophy is found in his book Leviathan, which was published in 1651.

 Hobbes Theme of Authoritarian State :

Hobbes advocated absolutism, ie. all powerful supreme state. In his social contract theory he wanted to show that people need to be governed for their own protection by a "Leviathan, i.e the all powerful and supreme authority. 

Hobbeian Social Contract Theory About The Origin of The State and The Nature of Sovereign Power :

Thomas Hobbes is regarded as a "contractualist", who explains the origin of the state and nature of sovereign power. It means he was the first who said origin of the state is man- made,and not God-gifted.

Secondly, to justify the absolute state Hobbes developed a social contract theory regarding the origin and nature of the state.

Social contract theory is based on following points:

1. Human Nature

2. The State of Nature

3. Nature of Contract

4. Sovereignty of the State

5. Advocacy of Absolutism

Human Nature : 

Hobbes begins the explanation of the social contract theory by examining man's nature. His views of human nature constitutes the foundation of his entire political philosophy. The first part of his work Leviathan is entirely devoted to examine the human nature.

Hobbeian perception of human nature is born out of the circumstances of his birth and the miserable childhood.

In the picture of the abstract man as drawn by Hobbes, the following features stand out prominently:

  1. Men are as much driven by impulses as animals are; the only difference between animal and man is that men have the faculties of speech and reason.
  2. Man is self-centred, egoistic and solitary. Hobbes believes that the individual is always obsessed with his personal pleasures and desires. The chief object of man's desire is self preservation and a desire for power. He thus becomes self-seeking, fearful, quarrelsome and competitive.
  3. Human nature is to wish to acquire unlimited power. Out of this nature men are continuously involved in competition and conflicts.
  4. By birth all men are equal in the faculties of body and mind. But there are differences in strength and mental capacity. Hence, when two men desire the same thing they become enemies.
  5. Fear- as motive behind human actions: The fear is inseparable from human nature and provides motivation for most of the human conduct. Such is the nature of man according to Hobbes. He argued that only the all powerful state can alone curb egoistic impulses of man and hold them together. This picture of human nature is very much similar to that drawn by Machiavelli.


Hobbes assumes the existence of state of nature and characterized it as the pre-social phase of human nature.

He explained a very gloomy picture of the state of nature. He said,

  1. The life of man in the state of nature was solitary, poor, brutish and short. It was a state of constant warfare. It was "a war of every man against every man". There was constant fear and danger of violent death.
  2. In the state of nature, might was the only right. The two factors which dominated men in that state were fear and self-interest.
  3. There could be no industry, no agricuiture,no knowledge, no arts, no letters and no society. In it there is no law,no justice, no property, no distinction between right and wrong, good and bad.
  4.  There were no common power to guide or control the activities or behaviour of man.
  5. However, such a state of affairs could not continue because of two factors inherent in man, ie. reason and fear of violent death. According to Hobbes, man wanted peace but his fear of others, his anxiety to retain what he already had, and his never ending desire for acquiring more, led him to a continuous conflict with his neighbours.

Thus, the conditions in the state of nature were terrible to continue perpetually and indefinitely. Men naturally desired peace and security. Thus, to escape from anarchy and com out of this sordid state of nature, men contracted among themselves to form a civil society.

Nature of Contract :

  1. People contracted among themselves to form a civil society. In the state of nature in the absence of common authority and state, life of he people was miserable and brutish. Hence, to come out from this situation people form the state. It ends the State of Nature.
  2. Motive-It means main motive behind the contract was man's desire of peace and security.
  3. Birth of the state - After the contract state came into existence. Main role of civil sociehy will be to ensure security and certainty of life and property of the people.
  4. Contract was social and mutual- In the contract individuals surrendered their natural rights to some particular man or assembly of men. After that assembly became sovereign and those, who gave up rights became the subjects people created common power for the common benefit.
  5. Contract was binding- In this contract people agreed to surrender their natural rights to a common superior and obey his command. The contract was of each with all and of all with each.
  6. Sovereign was the product of the contract but he was not a party to the contract. But contract was binding for the people.

Sovereign did not subject himself to any conditions - The sovereign derived complete authority as a result of the contract. People had no right to protest. The authority of the sovereign was unlimited, all embracing, final and irrevocable.


  1.  Sovereignty is a necessary attribute of the state - As a result of the social contract, the state came into being, It possessed absolute and unlimited sovereign powers. In civil society sovereignty must exist. Hobbes believes that without the sovereign power, law,and order, peace and security cannot be maintained in society and without these,individuals cannot survive.
  2. Sovereignty means the all powerful authority within the state It is absolute,irrevocable, unlimited, non-transferable and inalienable.
  3. It is absolute- It means the power of the sovereign is not limited by any authority.There is no rival or coordinate authority in the state besides the sovereign. All thesubjects surrender their rights to him. He has no obligations towards them.
  4. Irrevocable- It means sovereign's power will be final. He will be the sole law making agency. Sovereign is the source of law and also their sole interpreter.
  5. Unlimited- Sovereign is not bound by any constitutional law. There will be no restrictions upon the authority of the sovereign. The law of God also does not constitute any check upon him for he is its sole interpreter. Ruler is not subject to moral restraints. In this way, Hobbes brushes aside all the limitations and restrictions upon sovereignty. He propounds the theory of absolute and unlimited sovereignty.
  6. Non-transferable- Hobbes concentrates full executive, legislative and judicial power in the sovereign. The theories of separation of powers, and checks and balances have no place in his system.
  7. Above morality - According to Hobbes, sovereign himself is above morality. No action of his can be described as immoral or unjust. 
  8. In the state of nature, there can be no distinctions between right and wrong just and unjust, moral and immoral and no property rights. These distinctions first come into existence with the establishment of state and the setting up of the sovereign authority.Whatever is in conformity with the laws made by sovereign is just and right; whatever is contrary to them is unjust and wrong.

Hobbes Advocacy of Absolutism :

Hobbes was witness to the English civil war and its effects. According to him the direct cause of the English civil war was that the king instead of retaining full sovereignty had allowed parliament to grow up as an independent rival power. Thus, the country had come to have two masters. According to Hobbes, to divide sovereignty is to destroy it. It means Hobbes' analysis of the political situation in England in 1640,s prompted him to justify absolutism.

To justify absolute powers of the state, Hobbes argued that all political authority in any state must be concentrated in the hands of a single sovereign powers. The sovereign body may be a king or a council or an assembly. It should speak with a single, determined voice.

To justify he took the example of Leviathan. In the old Testament, Leviathan is a magnificent crocodile who reigns over all other creatures. Thus, for the protection of the people, they need to be governed by a Leviathan, i.e. the all powerful and supreme state authority.

Absolutism became the predominant form of government in the 17th and 18th centuries. Absolute monarchy appeared to be superior to other forms of government because the despots were above to check civil strifes, provide safety and security,establish total control of state resources.

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