Critical Appraisal Of The State Of Nature And Political Right In Thomas Hobbes

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Critical Appraisal Of The State Of Nature And Political Right In Thomas Hobbes

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

Hobbes is the founding father of modern political philosophy. He was directly or indirectly known to have set the terms of debate about the fundamentals of political life right into our own time. His thesis based on the political philosophy proposes that a society, should accept an unaccountable sovereign as a sole political authority. He strives to make this modern system broad enough to account, on the scientific principles, for all the fact of nature, including human behavior both in its individual and social aspects.

He intends to show not what government actually infant is, but what it must be so as to control successfully bags whose motivation is that of machine. He exhibited human nature as governed by a single fundamental law.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The problem of social unrest in all ages generated a lot of questions and inquiring into the natural state of man. Many philosophers came up in attempt to answer these questions. Thomas Hobbes (1568-1679) an English philosopher witnessed this type of social unrest and strife in his country England in the 17th century. He witnessed the bitter fight between the king and parliament, which made him to flee to France twice during his lifetime.
So it is this background of abnormality of life situation that agitated Hobbes to delve into finding a solution to the problem of political anarchy. Hobbes advocated the coming together of people under social contract in other to achieve stable society who by means of covenant surrendered all their right and power to one man or assembly of men. This sovereign formed promulgated laws for the maintenance of peace and good of all the people. However, Hobbes did permit that if the sovereign fails to maintain order and peace, the subjects have the right to change the system of government.

1.3 Purpose of Study

In this work, therefore, the aim is to examine these rights as suggested by Thomas Hobbes, the great political philosopher of the sixteenth century and explore how those rights are distributed and preserved.
In order to facilitate the Hobbes view on politics, the entire work is divided into four chapters.

  • Chapter One discuses the natural law and the state of nature, which he discovered before postulating the common wealth, as we will see in the law of social contract.
  • Then Chapter two talks about the theories concerning the origin of civil society especially Hobbes’ social contract. It also delved into common wealth and the sovereign.
  • Chapter Three takes a serious look on the concept of political rights, individual rights and the rights of the sovereign. This chapter came to a conclusion with the source of the weakness of the common wealth.
  • Lastly, Chapter Four deals with the critical evaluation and conclusion on Thomas Hobbes’ State of nature and political right.

1.4 Methodology

In this work of Thomas Hobbes on State of Nature and Political Right is all about a Critique and the thematic study of the nature and right etc.

Chapter Four

4.0 Critical Evaluation And Conclusion

4.1 Criticism

Hobbes has courageously succeeded in injecting into the political minds, a fixed philosophy of citizenship. His natural law was widely acknowledged to have preceded the civil law, though; he made the former subordinate to the sovereign authority. Hobbes imaginarily exhausted the whole of human nature to postulate the original condition of man in the state of nature. From his description of the origin of society, his theory of state of nature is untenable because they lack both historical and anthropological evidence. Thus Hobbes theory of social contract is defective since it lacks both historical psychological and sociological proofs. What life was like before the formation of society, nobody knows, hence, there is no reason to accept Hobbes imagination portrayal of life in the state of nature as being true.

Hobbes was totally opposed by Plato that life was devalued in these state of nature. He maintained that people were not intolerably poor, not derived poverty to quarrel with one another. In this state of nature, he depicts man as an antisocial being, yet his whole philosophy is based upon man’s social relations with his fellow man. This theory is illogical because an anti-social man cannot come together and live and form a political society. He tries to put political consciousness into a people who lack such a consciousness.

Psychologically, this theory is unfounded because free individual is depicted as largely isolated, a mere individual with no socialites. But man by nature is social being. The unsocial individual of pre-political stage is an unreal abstraction. Man is naturally social, not antisocial or extra social. He is neither utterly depraved nor thoroughly upright in nature, but inclined both to good and evil. There is no evidence that man ever lived in this state of nature and it is probably not intended to be historical, but it does not give a correct view of human.

The greatest havoc caused by Hobbes is the position he gives to justice and morality in his philosophy. He turned justice and morality into by-products of power and denounces any appeal to the power other than the sovereign. He held that morality cannot exist outside the sovereign which is wrong because to obey the order of the sovereign is not being just or moral. Somebody can keep the rules and regulation of the sovereign without being moral or just. He made a great mistake by saying that the core of morality lies on becoming obedient to the civil laws. There never was a state of non-morality without right, duties, justice or law. There was always the natural law and from it, rights and duties immediately flow. There was never a period of an utter absence of private property. Men being both a rational and social being have their private properties.

The function of the family in preparing for the state cannot be overlooked. Human being had to live at least temporally in some society to be able to survive as a race. Man is not a mere animal like predators. It is impossible for man to live alone. For no man can supply his needs unaided, family life naturally develop into the clan or tribe and fro there to the state. There are certain rights of the individual and of the family that is immoral to transfer to another person for they belong to the dignity of human person and to the very nature of the family. So a social contract which, requires the transference of all rights, is contrary to the natural law. A social contract that is not a requirement of human nature as such but a mere convention could not bind posterity. The unborn were not parties to the social contract and might refuse to enter into it.

Hobbes theory of absolution is completely wrong because it necessarily involves the complete subjection of the government to the absolute will of the governor. This theory is categorically denied for the fact that human experience and reason are against it. The absoluteness of sovereign power implies that the arms of government are concentrated in the person. And if such is so, it means that there must be tyranny in such a government. Tyrannical laws may be enacted and executed and people would be exposed to arbitrary control of the sovereign. In this case, Hobbes is wrong because to have good government, there must be a division of power in the commonwealth. For example, it is highly undesirable that the persons who make the laws should themselves execute them, for they may exempt themselves from obedience to the law. They may make law that suit them, both in its making and execution to their own private advantages and thereby come to have a distinct interest from the rest of the community. The executive should therefore be distinct from the legislative and judiciary.

This doctrine of separation of power was later developed and adopted as a cardinal feature of American constitution by Montesquieu;

Again, there is no liberty, if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislation and executive were it joined with legislative. The life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for the judge would then be legislator, were it joined to executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.

The underlying idea is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Hobbes’ complete subordination of the ecclesiastic power to the state is against the moral law. The absolute power of the sovereign in Hobbes developed into what is called in modern times, political legalism. Hobbes made a great contradiction by saying that in the state of nature, that all men are equal, but this assumption is not correct, unless on the ground that all men have the same moving principles, namely, the soul. Because Hobbes maintained that in the state of nature, a person owned a property in so far as a stronger person is not around to take it away from him. So if what Hobbes meant that all men are equal, there would have been no strong or weak. All men would be equal in all aspect.

There is inconsistency in the work of Hobbes. In his theory of social contract, Hobbes maintained that all men must surrender all their rights to the sovereign. But Hobbes on another typically contradictory statement holds that there is someone instances where the subjects have to resist the sovereign and virtually consider themselves freed of all obligations to him, in spite of the absolutism he gave to the sovereign. It may happen that the sovereign threatens the lives of his subjects that he decided to send them to die in the battlefield or worst of all that he is unable to protect them.

In such cases, the subjects, according to Hobbes, are released to the sovereign to whom they had confided their safety. In other words, the leviathan, that state in which the sovereign ensures perfect security against other men who obey him, has never existed and the obligation incident to it do not exist either. Hobbes theory depends on the assumption that men desire security above all things that there is nothing for which men would think it worth while to risk their lives. Hobbes held that men are basically motivated by the desire to satisfy their desires. This inference is not justified and from psychological standpoint, it is incorrect. He forgot that men desire to contribute to the happiness of others as well as to their own. Men often sacrifice their interest for their families, wives and children. Hobbes should understand that man’s desire can be said to be altruistic rather than selfish as was uphold by him.
Hobbes political philosophy is essentially an expression of defeatism. Hobbes political theory can be classified as authoritarianism. The sovereign gives but does not receive. That is to say that the person who determines the law but is not bound by the law. There is no objectivity in Hobbes political theories, since the sovereign is the determinant of what is right and wrong, just and unjust. If the sovereign or the king would be the person who dictates the law, there will be the tendency for him to enact some laws to favour his own selfish-end.

Looking at Hobbes political doctrines, one could easily infer that he regarded the commonwealth or the state as more important than individual citizen. This may account for why he said that the powers of commonwealth should be absolute and indivisible. For some philosophers, hold that the state or commonwealth is just a fictitious entity. According to them, there would be no state without individuals. Therefore, we cannot conclusively hold with Hobbes that the state is more important than the individual citizen. This could mean that what concerns the commonwealth should be first considered before that of the individuals. However, after all said and done, the individual should not be forgotten because without the individual, there will be no commonwealth. It is the individual that makes up the state or commonwealth.

4.2 Conclusion

Having gone through the whole political work of Hobbes, we thank him for a job well done. Though this work consist of many flaws and inconsistencies. Hobbes makes understand that man’s life is full of chaos and disorder, which makes man unhappy and hindered him from achieving his aim. We could understand from Hobbes theory of state of nature that men are egoistic and hostile to each other. Because of this constant war, they agreed upon themselves to confer their rights to the sovereign to rule them. This they did through social contract. However, a careful study of Thomas Hobbes’ political philosophy will prove that he is not opposed to other political philosophers as such. The inconsistency in his work may be due to the influence that pervades his mind at that time. Following this, therefore, we must not fail to acknowledge him for his effort in his famous thought to find peace and tranquility for mankind.

Again, his theory would have been the best if he did not give absolute authority to the sovereign. To have a peaceful society, both the sovereign and the subject must be obedient to the law and no one should presume to be above the arms of the law. With this, the achievement of stable, lawful and a peaceful society is obtained.

Finally, Hobbes’ political philosophy could be described as peace at any price philosophy; where the subjects are ready to submit to the evil of the tyranny and give out their rights for more security, which is only alternative choice which one is faced. What Plato did for the ancient city state, Hobbes did for the modern nation state; gave it an ideal expression that made it triumphant over all competing type of social structure.

Hobbes, however, located absolute power, not in monarchy, not even in government as such, but in the legal framework of the state. The state became for Hobbes the legal political community that does not permit within itself any lesser form of community that could conceivably challenge its unity, its indivisibility and its absolute authority.

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