Thomas Hobbes

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Human life is nothing but the movement of arms and legs, Hobbes argues, and any automated machine that has “artificial life” is no different. So is the case in art and in any other work created by humankind, such as in the “great LEVIATHAN,” also known as a common-wealth, or state, which is itself an “Artificiall Man.” In Leviathan, Hobbes describes the nature of a common-wealth—how a common-wealth is made and under what circumstances it is maintained or destroyed—and he also explains the “Christian common-wealth” and the “Kingdome of Darkness.”

Hobbes begins with the basic thoughts of humankind. Human thoughts are a “Representation” or “Appearance” of some physical body known as an “Object,” which works upon one of the human sense organs to produce different representations. The production of such appearances are collectively known as the human senses, and every human thought originates in some way from the sense organs. In short, an object places pressure on one of the human sense organs, and a message is sent to the brain via the nerves. Those messages are in turn experienced as sights, sounds, odors, tastes, and textures. Objects are in constant motion, placing constant pressure on sense organs and creating constant thoughts and appearances. “Yet still the object is one thing,” Hobbes says, “the image or fancy is another.” Aristotle considered the human senses in a different way. According to Aristotle, vision is produced by a “visible species,” and hearing is produced by an “audible species,” both of which rely on an object’s fancy, rather than the object itself. According to Hobbes, when an object is removed, an image of the object is retained in the human mind, and this retained image is called imagination. As time passes, the images of objects begin to decay and deteriorate in a process known as memory, and multiple memories of many things is called experience. Imagination, memory, and experience each rely on and are limited by the human senses; therefore, no idea or concept can ever be infinite. Hobbes does admit that God’s power is infinite, but this only means that God’s power can never be fully comprehended by any one human being.

In nature, outside of civil society, all human beings are equal. Whenever two people desire the same object, they are said to be enemies, and the destruction of one’s enemy is included in their desired end. There is no common power in nature to mediate disputes, so people are generally antisocial and aggressive, and they are forced to fight for sustenance and honor. Without the establishment of a common power, people are in a constant state of war. To escape this state of war and ensure peace, people are drawn to certain agreements or rules, which Hobbes refers to as the Laws of Nature. According to the Laws of Nature, which God gave to humankind, everyone has a right to defend their life by any means necessary; however, they must also seek peace as long as peace is reasonable. The only way to ensure peace is to forfeit one’s right to violently defend their life and place that right in another through the creation of a covenant, or contract. The Laws of Nature maintain that a covenant must be honored by both parties, and a covenant can only be broken once the terms of the agreement are fulfilled or the obligation is forgiven by the person or people who desired it. There are several Laws of Nature, but each can be reduced to one simple rule: “Do not that to another, which thou wouldest not have done thy selfe.”

According to Hobbes, people “naturally love Liberty, and Dominion over others,” and the Laws of Nature cannot be expected to be followed without the creation of a central power to compel people to honor their covenants. Thus, people have joined together in common-wealths. A common-wealth is any number of people living together under one unified power as determined by a covenant in which the people forfeit their right to self-preservation to single person, or an assembly of people, known as the sovereign. The purpose of the common-wealth is to protect the people, or subjects, from injury and death and to work for their highest possible contentment. The sovereign is given all the rights and power of the subjects it represents, and that power can never be forfeited or usurped. A sovereign can do no injury onto its subjects, and subjects are not permitted to accuse the sovereign of any wrongdoing, nor can they punish the sovereign for any perceived offense. The sovereign alone can judge of what is necessary for the peace and defense of the common-wealth and is responsible for passing laws and decrees.

There are three major kinds of commonwealths: if the sovereign power of a group of people is one person, it’s a monarchy; if the sovereign power of a group of people is a limited assembly of people, it’s an aristocracy; and if the sovereign power of a group of people is the people, it’s a democracy. A common-wealth can be only one of these three, Hobbes argues, as a sovereign power can be only one of the people, some of the people, or all of the people. A common-wealth’s power is directly proportional to number of people in it, and no one kind of common-wealth has any more power than the next. The only difference between the three kinds of common-wealths is how they wield their power. There are benefits and drawbacks to each kind of common-wealth, and no one form of government can ever be perfect; however, Hobbes argues that a monarchy is the best kind of common-wealth. It is impossible for monarchs to disagree with themselves over jealousy or self-interest, and a king or queen is only as good as the subjects they represent. Of course, Hobbes says, a monarch can relieve a subject of their money or property for any reason whatsoever, but the sovereign of an aristocracy or democracy has the very same power.

The sovereign has the right to appoint officers and agents to assist in the maintenance of a common-wealth, but no official can ever have more power than the sovereign. To diminish or divide the sovereign’s power violates the covenant and reverts the people back to a state of nature and inevitable war. A subject’s obligation to obey the sovereign lasts as long as the common-wealth stands. If the sovereign power of a common-wealth is captured in war and willingly transfers their power to the invading force, subjects of the common-wealth are obligated to obey the invading power as their own. However, if a sovereign power is captured in war and does not willingly transfer their power, subjects remain under the power of their sovereign and are not expected to obey the invading power. A sovereign power has the right to punish subjects if they do not follow the law, and fear of that punishment must be greater than the perceived benefit of breaking a law. The destruction of a common-wealth can come from any number of reasons but is most often the result of a sovereign who settles for less power than what they have. Power is denied through ignorance or for some benefit, but the result is always the same. To diminish or divide a sovereign’s power is fundamentally against the purpose of the common-wealth. Therefore, subjects must obey their sovereign in all things—provided that obedience does not violate God or the Laws of Nature.

Hobbes considers the power of the sovereign in context with the power of God. All people are subjects of “Divine Power,” even if they deny God’s existence. God’s laws and power are known to people in one of three ways: through natural reason (which is God’s gift to all humankind), by “Revelation,” or through the manifestation of a miracle. A Christian common-wealth is one in which the subjects believe in the supernatural power of God, but such a belief does not mean one must abandon their natural reason and commonsense. Christian common-wealths rely on books of holy scripture that contain “Rules of Christian life,” and in some common-wealths, these rules are even made into civil laws. While it is impossible to ascertain the authors of Holy Scripture with any certainty, the rules in such writings are nevertheless accepted as the “Word of God,” and they carry great authority within the Christian common-wealth.

To better understand his argument, Hobbes says it is necessary to first define the terms “body” and “spirit,” which are known in Holy Scripture as “Substances, Corporeall, and Incorporeall.” A body is something that has mass and takes up space, whereas a spirit is like a ghost and is made up of something intangible, like air. To claim a substance is incorporeal is to destroy these accepted definitions, as something cannot be incorporeal and have a body. Thus, when Holy Scripture speaks of the “Spirit of God” being in the air or within another person, this is most certainly a metaphor for faith and does not mean that some intangible part of God’s body exists in the body of another. Another popular misinterpretation of Holy Scripture is the belief that God’s Kingdome exists in the present-day Christian Church. Hobbes argues that God’s Kingdome is anywhere a covenant exists between God and the people, like what existed between God and the people of Israel. God made a covenant with Adam in the Garden of Eden (which Adam did not honor), and God also made a covenant with the Israelites through Moses to become God’s “Peculiar People” on Earth. The Israelites were “Peculiar” because God was their sovereign power over and above the “Divine Power” he already claims over all of humankind. Thus, God’s Kingdome cannot truly exist again until Christ’s second coming, at which time Christ will establish his Kingdome—on Earth or in Heaven—under God’s power through a covenant with the people.

Until Judgement Day and the creation of God’s Kingdome, there is no central power to which all Christians are beholden, other than God and their individual sovereign power. As a sovereign’s power can never be divided or given away, it is not lawful for the sovereign of one Christian common-wealth, for example the Pope in Rome, to claim power over the Christian subjects of another common-wealth. To do so diminishes the power of the sovereign and is counterproductive to the common-wealth as a whole. It is possible to obey both God and one’s sovereign power and still be allowed entrance into God’s Kingdome, Hobbes maintains, since all that is really needed for salvation is a genuine belief in Christ. Christ’s Apostles ordered their converts to follow their earthly sovereigns in all things, even if that sovereign’s law conflicted with God’s law. In conclusion, one is obligated by God to obey their earthly sovereign until the second coming of Christ, at which time the saved will become Christ’s subjects through a covenant. The misinterpretation of Holy Scripture (which Hobbes argues is rooted in the false philosophies of Aristotle) and the desire of the Roman Catholic Church to claim unlawful authority over Christendom has thrust the common-wealth into a great “Kingdome of Darkness,” which Hobbes hopes to expose and correct through Leviathan.