Thomas Hobbes is believed to be one of the most famous English philosophers; he is most renowned for such book as Leviathan, in which he attempted to explore the structure and origins of civil society. In the passage under consideration, the author argues that human beings are in constant state of conflict or even war with one another because everyone is driven only by ones own interests while the needs of others are disregarded. Judging from this premise, he maintains that every person irrespective of his or her status, intelligence, strengths is in danger of losing ones life only because it is of no value to others. Consequently, this imminent danger forces people to search for peace and develop various strategies to preserve non-violent existence (Hobbes, 1985, p 90). Thomas Hobbes places emphasis on paradoxical nature of peoples motives.
This extract should be discussed in connection with the major argument that the philosopher advances in this work. In his opinion, the basic principle of any community is social contract or agreement according which the state should restrict or even limit some rights and liberties of an individual in order to prevent the society from collapsing into chaos and anarchy. We should elaborate this thesis and refer to Hobbes concept of natural rights. He claims that people are created equal in terms of physical and mental capacity. Due to this equality they set similar objectives, cherish similar hopes and ambitions. Moreover, men are firmly convinced that it is their right to do everything in the pursuit of their goals. In the long term, this gives rise to enmity, cruelty, war and extinction (Hobbes, 1985, p 84). Hence, there is the necessity to surrender this liberty. Most importantly, it is vital that someone (a monarch, to be more exact) performs the functions of the judge, who is entitled to govern, rule and punish his subjects. Hobbes claims that this is the only way to sustain peace (Hobbes, 1985). The author organizes the text in this manner in an effort to create logical chain starting from similarity of capacities and desires and proceeding to animosity among people and conflict. This serves to prove his major hypothesis, the idea of social contract.
It is rather difficult to assess this theory from modern standpoint because some of its elements definitely have rationale, yet some are rather disputable, for instance, the conviction that men are created equal. There is much evidence refuting this belief. No one can deny that from their birth, people differ in terms of their social, financial, and educational level. Moreover, they are not the same in intelligence or strengths. Hobbes principles can be applicable only to primeval tribes, where members were hardly distinguishable. Jean Jacques Rousseau opposes to Hobbes position. In his treatise On the Origin of Inequality, he regards human inequality as the underlying cause of suffering, conflict and war. It should be pointed out that Rousseau is very specific in the statement of the problem; he does not focus on mental or physical disparities, instead he stresses political ones (Rousseau, 2005). From his perspective, almost any form of violence stems from this injustice. The representative of the Enlightenment does not support egalitarianism or any kind of leveling; he is more concerned with political or civil liberties, offering opportunities to every citizen. Thus, we can say that Hobbes and Rousseau are not in agreement about this question.
Nonetheless, we should not presume that Hobbes assumptions found no application. First, he identified the main mechanisms constituting civil society. In the core, any community or even a group of people relies on the established rules and tenets, i.e. we can call it social contract. This point of the authors argument is the most convincing. Still, it has to be admitted that similar ideas had been expressed long before him, for instance by Plato in his Republic. As a matter of fact, one may even say that these views are self-evident, but at that moment of history, they were an immense contribution to political science. Their importance can be measured only from historical perspective.
Another supposition, which the philosopher makes, is that conflict lead only to violence and destruction. On the one hand, this supposition may seem to be incontestable: in the twentieth century, mankind witnessed many calamities, which took their origins only in the clash of interests. However, we should not forget that conflict may bring not only death and disorder, but improvements as well. Those who truly deserve higher position in the hierarchy usually achieve it through conflict and struggle. Apart from that, Hobbes underlines the significance of the king, whose position should be passed from one generation to another (1985). Yet, even a more terrible tragedy can occur if this individual is unfit for this role.
On the whole, Thomas Hobbess Leviathan is the link or stage in the evolution of political thought. This work throws light on the founding principles of the community, namely, social contract, but in some aspects the line of reasoning contains significant controversies, especially the conviction that human beings are born equal mentally and physically. The philosopher says that conflicts or disputes are the source of sufferings but this struggle is also the moving force of progress.
- Hobbes Thomas (1985). Leviathan Forgotten Books.
- Jean Jacques Rousseau (2005). On the Origin of Inequality. Cosimo, Inc.