Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” and Its Interpretations

Subject: Philosophy
Pages: 3
Words: 670
Reading time:
3 min

In Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes the author advocates for a social contract that is ruled by the sovereign. Hobbes presents this contract as a way of escaping the state of nature which leads to acts of violence and civil war. Although some have argued that Hobbes presents the sovereign as bound by social contract in his selection, it is erroneous to interpret the writer’s perspective as such.

Throughout his argument, Hobbes presents the sovereign as supreme. When speaking of religion, the author explicitly refers to the sovereign as having authority to rule over issues concerning faith and doctrine. Nothing within the church, in other words, can be conducted without sovereign approval. Even matters concerning morality outside of the church require the attention and approval of the sovereign.

Although he presents his own theory on religion, Hobbes seeks counsel from the sovereign when determining if his philosophy was acceptable. Based on the tone of the argument, it may be logical to conclude that the philosopher would view his argument as implausible without sovereign approval. Hobbes essentially views the sovereign as the supreme being who rules over all matters of morality and the church.

In addition to religious matters, Hobbes also presents the sovereign as ruler over societal issues. When speaking of taxes, the writer refers to the sovereign as one who has the ability to tax. While local authorities and governmental powers may impose laws concerning taxes that mandate individuals to pay, it is completely dependent on the sovereign whether such rules are enforceable or not. A state may, for instance, set out to impose tariffs on food and income, but the sovereign has the power to prevent implementation.

If the sovereign were to determine that such taxes were not necessary, he could easily prevent governments from enacting laws through natural acts that interrupt meetings. Although the author does not provide a solid opinion on politics and government, he views the sovereign as supreme to the social order. According to Hobbes, the sovereign has authority over the elements and mankind. From such a perspective, it would be impossible for the author to insinuate that the sovereign is subject to social contracts as it is impossible for the sovereign to rule over the social order and at the same time be bound by it.

If anyone is bound by society it is the man. In his argument, Hobbes presents three societal laws in which humans operate. In the first law, man is given complete authority over society. The second and third laws involve man giving up that right in order to prevent injustice in the world. Hobbes explains that injustice occurs when individuals cannot agree on issues.

While the first law delegates man the right to have authority over everything including his body, the second law calls for him to surrender that right for the sake of peace. Hobbes writes, “that a man is willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down his right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself.”

Although humans are given the right to control everything, the social contract that Hobbes presents calls for individuals to submit to one another in mutual agreement. The social contract can only be established when Jane renders her right to be supreme to John who also does the same.

By entering into such an agreement, both individuals prevent misunderstandings that have the potential to lead to anarchy in society.

When discussing the sovereign, Thomas Hobbes never implies that the supreme power of the universe is subject to the rules of a social contract. He does, however, hint that man is subject to the rules of this agreement.