Thomas Hobbes: The State Of Obedience To The Sovereign

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In a world where absolute rulers rarely exist, it is hard to imagine how Thomas Hobbes would react to our current state of affairs. However, his theories helped shape the landscape of modern political thought. In Leviathan, Hobbes defines the power of a sovereign as being absolute to ensure everyone’s security (136). He describes the state of nature as synonymous to a state of war with “every man, against every man” (82), and the law of nature as “a precept … by which a man is forbidden to do that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same” (84). Individuals form a Commonwealth to escape the state of nature so that “one person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual covenants with another, have made themselves every one the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their peace and common defense” (112). This leads to the question: to what extent does Hobbes’ theory of self-interest contradict an individual’s supposed obedience to his sovereign? According to Hobbes, the sovereign assures security to an individual through his absolute power, but obedience to the sovereign does not always correlate with an individual’s self-preservation. Due to the state of nature being violent, it is optimal for individuals to relinquish their rights to an absolute sovereign. If one agrees with Hobbes’ theory about life in a state of nature being “nasty, brutish, and short” (82), then
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