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The Commonwealth According to Hobbes

Research papers on the Commonwealth as defined by Hobbes can be custom written by Paper Masters. These types of research papers are often needed for philosophy courses on politics or political science course work.

In Hobbes’ Leviathan, the person who is chosen to act on behalf of the multitude “is called sovereign and said to have sovereign power; and everyone besides his subject” (XVII, 112).  This sovereign’s authority comes from two sources. 

  1. Natural force - the sovereign ordering children and enemies of war to comply with his government or face losing their lives.  Hobbes refers to a commonwealth ruled by this type of sovereign as a commonwealth of acquisition. 
  2. Political Commonwealth - When “men agree amongst themselves, to submit to some man or assembly of men, voluntarily” (XVII, 113).  Hobbes refers to this type of commonwealth as a political commonwealth or a commonwealth by institution.
The Commonwealth According to Hobbes

Hobbes' Theory

In theory, Thomas Hobbes feels that the sovereign should be a noble man that must be held accountable for his actions.  The method of accountability that Hobbes describes is one similar to that used by the United States government, a system of checks and balances.  The sovereign, no matter what type of multitude he governs, has been entrusted with the task of securing the safety of his people.  He is expected to be truthful, honest and impartial.  “For in the sovereignty is the fountain of honor” (XVIII, 120).  In a commonwealth, the sovereign is an honorable man.

The Commonwealth and Civil Peace

Hobbes’ Leviathan, which argues that civil peace and social unity are best achieved by the establishment of a commonwealth through social contract.  In this contract, each member of society agrees to give up their natural rights and transfers them to someone else, on the condition that everyone involved in the contract does the same. Hobbes_ commonwealth is then given absolute authority to govern the people, with the purpose of preserving peace and preventing civil war.  In his introduction, Hobbes portrays this commonwealth as one giant human form made up of the bodies of its citizens, with the sovereign as its head.  The term "Leviathan", is taken from that of a biblical sea monster, a metaphor used by Hobbes to describe what he believes the role of government to be.

It is my estimation that, which of these two views each individual chooses to believe is the most effective, depends greatly on their own perspective of the world around them.  One need only to look at the backgrounds of the two men who wrote these pieces to see that they were coming from two perfectly different mindsets, a difference that is crystal clear in their writing.  Hobbes, literally from the moment he was born, lived in fear.  He was delivered prematurely by his terrified mother, who upon hearing that the Spanish Armada had set sail to attack England, went into early labor.  Leviathan itself was written in the midst of the English Civil Wars, a time during which Hobbes feared persecution for his support of King Charles I. 

That said, if one were to take the concept of the commonwealth according to Hobbes and present it to people living in present day America, one might find that each would have its supporters depending on the "context" in which they live.  A person in rural America, for example, where food is plentiful and crime rates are low, would probably favor Locke’s society.  They would probably express a desire for less government and make the argument that they are more than capable of governing themselves on the county or even state level.  If the town mayor is found to be out of line, the citizens will throw him out of office.  If the town police chief is out of line, he too will be removed, etc. 

But take the same question to the inner city, where poverty is widespread and crime rates are high, and one might find a different point of view.  People under trying circumstances become shackled by helplessness and need.  They need the police to protect them, but when the police fail to do so the people are seemingly helpless to remove them because, in essence, the police in such an environment have been granted a "Hobbesian" authority to enforce the laws as they see fit.  These citizens become dependent on the government to provide them with a welfare state, and to provide them with food and various other forms of public assistance.  While they might appreciate the idealism of Locke, their reality tells them that Hobbes' way is the only way.  But clearly it doesn’t work.  With public assistance comes a lost sense of responsibility and self-worth, and inevitably, people begin to "bite the hand that feeds" out of resentment.  It is a case of a can’t win situation.

As previously mentioned, one of the fundamental differences between Hobbes and Locke is their respective definition of the state of nature.  Hobbes based his ideas on the belief that man is inherently bad.  His idea of the state of nature, was a state in which existed a "war of all against all", in which human beings constantly try to destroy each other in a never ending pursuit of power.  He describes life within the state of nature as "nasty, brutish and short".  Hobbes believed that as long as man exists in the state of nature he would be forced to endure a life of war, of constantly vying for power and material gain.  For this is the world that Hobbes was born into.  And given his mistrust of mankind, Hobbes believed that people are better served by one absolute ruler than by a group of leaders, his reasoning being that a group of men placed in positions of power would be more likely to abuse that power than one man.

Related Research Paper Topics

Thomas Hobbes and the French Revolution - A commonwealth is instituted, according to Hobbes, when a group of men choose to give up their rights to govern themselves to some other person who governs.

Empiricism - Paper topics on empiricism.

American and French Revolutions - The political theories of Thomas Hobbes also had an impact on the French Revolution.

Causes of the French Revolution - There were many causes of the French Revolution such as the uprising between classes, impact of the American Revolution, as well as writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Karl Marx.