The Leviathan

2009/03/24

I have referred to Thomas Hobbes’ The Leviathan a couple of times in the past, and I will likely do so again. There is good reason why I have done and will continue to do this. Hobbes devotes the entire first part of The Leviathan to an analysis of human nature and its motivations, and uses this information as the basis for his argument that the best means of preventing the collapse of human civilization is by having a strong, centralized government. In his particular case, Hobbes is an apologist for a sole, absolute soverign authority (basically monarchy), but his analysis of human nature and its faults is made no less valid by this conclusion. Since it is likely that I will refer to certain passages of The Leviathan again, I have decided to post some relevent exerpts from the text. I find the text to be mostly self-explanatory, but please do let me know if any particular part appears confusing, and I will attempt to explicate it.

Original text from The Leviathan follows:

Nature has made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind, as that though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of a quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man and man is not so considerable, as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend, as well as he. For as to the strength of the body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself…[1]

From this equality of ability arises equality of hope in attaining our ends. And therefore, if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies, and in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation and sometimes their delectation only, endeavor to destroy, or subdue, one another. And from hence, it comes to pass that where an invader has no more to fear than another man’s single power, if one plant, sow, build, or possess a convenient seat, others will probably be expected to come prepared with forces united to dispossess and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labor, but also of his life or liberty. And the invader, again, is in the like danger of another. [2]

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them in awe, they are in that condition which is called War; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For War consists not in Battle only, or in the act of fighting; but in a tract of time wherein the will to contend is sufficiently
known: and therefore the nothion of Time is to be considered in the nature of War, as it is in the nature of Weather. For as the nature of Foul weather lies not in a shower of two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together, so that nature of War consists not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto,
during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is Peace.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of War, where every man is Enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth, no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building, no Instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no Knowledge of the face of the Earth, no account of Time, no Arts, no Letters, no Society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. [Emphasis added]

It may seem strange to some man that has not well weighted these things, that Nature should thus dissociate, and render men apt to invade and destroy one another: and he may, therefore, not trusting to this Inference, made from the Passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by Experience. Let him, therefore, consider with himself, when taking a journey, he arms himself and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his doors; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knows there be Laws and public Officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall be done him; what opinion he has of his fellow subjects, when he rides armed; of his fellow Citizens, when he locks his doors; and of his children and servants, when he locks his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions as I do by my words? But neither of us accuse man’s nature in it. The Desires and other Passions of man are in themselves no Sin. No more are the Actions that proceed from those Passions, till they know a Law forbids them: which, until Laws be made they cannot know…[3]

To this War of every man against every man, this also is consequent: that nothing can be Unjust. The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have there no place. Where there is no common Power, there is no Law: where no Law, no Injustice. Force and Fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and Injustice are none of the faculties neither of the Body nor the Mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his Senses, and Passions.They are qualities that relate to men in Society, not in Solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition, that there be no Propriety, no Dominion, no Mine and Thine distinct, but only that to be every man’s that he can get, and for so long as he can keep it…[4]

And because the condition of Man is a condition of War of every one against every one, in which case everyone is governed by his own Reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies. It follows that in such a condition, every man has a Right to everything, even to another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural Right of every man endures, there can be no security to any man, however strong or wise he is, of living out the time which Nature oridinarily allows men to live. And consequently, it is a precept, or general rule of Reason, that every man ought to endeavor Peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it, and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps and advantages of War…[that is] by all means we can, to defend ourselves. [5]

These passages were copied from the text of The Leviathan that I own (Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Prometheus Books (Pub.), ISBN 0-87975-445-1); the text is written in the original dialect of English that Hobbes used, but I have modified the text to read in modern English (or a near approximation thereof). Mostly, this amounts to editing the spelling of certain words but, for the most part, the grammar remains the same as that which is found in the original source.

Notes:

[1]: Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Chapter XIII, Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerns their Felicity and Misery; Paragraph 1

[2]: Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Chapter XIII, Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerns their Felicity and Misery; Paragraph 3

[3]: Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Chapter XIII, Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerns their Felicity and Misery; Paragraphs 8, 9, & 10

[4]: Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Chapter XIII, Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerns their Felicity and Misery; Paragraph 13

[5]: Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, Chapter XIV, Of the First and Second Natural Laws; Paragraph 4

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One Response to “The Leviathan”


  1. […] See Chapter XIII of The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. I’ve posted some pertinent sections here. Posted by seeker312 Filed in […]


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