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Thomas Hobbes

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  1. Outline.
  2. State of nature.
    1. Sovereignty has to be absolute.
    2. The efficiency constraint of sovereignty.
    3. The attributes of sovereignty according to Hobbes.
  3. The Leviathan and its historical context.
  4. Reference.

Thomas Hobbes was born in England, in 1588, prematurely because of the fear created by the approaching Spanish Armada. He studied at the Magdalen College, Oxford until the age of nineteen, and then he became connected to the Cavendish family, serving as tutor to the later second duke of Devonshire. Hobbes was such a royalist that he spent most of his life in exile with the king, as tutor to the future Charles II. The Leviathan, his major work, was published in London, when he finally returned to England. There are major assumptions about the reasons that made him return to his homeland; one of these was probably the growing influence of unorthodox and atheist circles. Therefore, he found it more suitable his ideas in his country. In fact, Hobbes is known for his strong atheism. He finally died at the age of ninety-one in 1671 (McClelland, 1996, pp.192). Hobbes has been among the first political theorists to define the concept of the social contract. One can say that it was in reaction to the growing importance of the Parliament in England from the 14th century to the 17th century AD. Hobbes was a member of the intellectual elite of that time; he was the friend of Francis Bacon, and he used to correspond with Descartes. Because of his atheism, he did not put religion as a principle condition for governing a State in his work, as the French did by adopting at that time the theory of divine power. Thomas Hobbes was a political theorist but also a mathematician and a physicist.

[...] Hobbes can be seen as a reactionary, opposing all kind of progress. Thus, according to him, sovereignty cannot be shared and has to be absolute. However, there are certain restrictions to that sovereignty, defined by Hobbes as the efficiency constraint. According to Hobbes, the sovereign has to be politically ?smart'. He should use violence, but only when it is necessary and in an adequate way, because, if the Sovereign starts killing people at random, he will rapidly restore the State of Nature. [...]


[...] In fact, Hobbes interpreted the current English civil war of that time as a State of Nature. He justifies his idea of the authoritarian system as the best system by declaring that the evil of one person -the ruler- is not as bad as the evil of a whole society, as it was the case in the war. The ruler's rudeness is justified by Hobbes when looking at the horrible consequences of this war. Thus, it is preferable to choose order to justice. [...]

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