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Hobbes – Lesson Summary

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According to Thomas Hobbes, human beings are a bundle of desires or passions and aversions. And to live is to fulfill the desire and passion one after the other continually. Human beings have sense and reason too. However, Hobbes does not consider reason as innate to human beings, and there is nothing inherently good or bad about human beings.

They develop reason and deliberative faculties through their senses and language. But passion is stronger and more potent than reason. The role of reason consists of helping human beings in the fulfilment of their desires and passions. And it is this fulfilment or unfulfilment of desire or passion that causes felicity or happiness and pain in human beings.

According to Thomas Hobbes, only a sovereign with absolute power could establish peace and order. The sovereign is an artificial construct and represents the multitude of free and equal subjects who come together to constitute it. It could be in the form of one man or an assembly of men. But as a sovereign body, it must represent the will of the multitude in one indivisible voice. The sovereign authority that Hobbes was envisaging is both absolute and indivisible.

Hobbesian state of nature is a perpetual state of war, which is a war of every man against every man. This description of the state of nature follows from the characterization of the human being as a bundle of desire and aversion. Their dominant traits that are the source of perpetual conflicts and war of each against all are completion for power, a mutual sense of insecurity or fear of life from violent and sudden death, and excessive pride or vainglory.

The command of the sovereign is the law that must be obeyed. The sovereign must possess the means to enforce its command, that is law. However, Hobbes thought that the sovereign would exercise this power minimally and leave maximum areas of human life free from interferences or regulations. Thus he equates the longevity of the sovereign with the prosperity of its subjects. So the laws should be minimal.

Hobbes gives the right to revolt to the individuals in a condition, when the existing sovereign violates the first law of nature, that is when it lacks the requisite power and authority to enforce peace or order and fail to arbitrate among the warring factions and groups, and thus rendering civic and peaceful life impossible.

His theory of politics and sovereignty has guided the international relations and the foreign policies of the sovereign nation-states. In the absence of an arbitrating authority in the international arena, the sovereign states tend to operate like the individual in the Hobbesian state of nature.