Leviathan

In 1651, in the middle of the English Civil War, Thomas Hobbes published his most famous book, Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil [sic]. The term Leviathan is taken from the Bible, from the Hebrew for "sea monster."

Hobbes split Leviathan into four parts: "Of Man," "Of Commonwealth," "Of Christian Commonwealth" and "Of the Kingdome of Darknesse" [sic]. In the first part, he lays out the groundwork for the rest of the book, starting with definitions and arguing from axioms. One axiom forms the foundation of moral relativism, that the concepts of good and evil have no absolute meaning, only meaning relative to the person using the terms. Another restates the Golden Rule, that a person should give up those liberties against other people that he or she would not want used against him or her.

Hobbes believed that government was a form of social contract whereby humans relinquish certain freedoms in order to live in a peaceful society. John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau also had social contract theories. Hobbes, however, believed that the natural state of man was a "war of all against all" and that only a strong central government could prevent civil war. In stark contrast with Locke, Hobbes espoused that once the social contract was made, the people no longer had the right to break it. It is rather bizarre that a proponent of moral relativism would assign to a monarch an absolute right to continue governing. This also flies in the face of practical experience; while individual dissenters can be dealt with harshly, when the masses decide not to obey a government, the government is usually powerless to stop it. Even something as simple as a highway speed limit is unenforceable when no one obeys it; law enforcement can't possibly pull over everyone.

The form of government Hobbes envisioned was antithetical to the form of government that developed in America. He explicitly rejects any separation of powers, insisting that the ruler should have all authority. He also explicitly argues against freedom of the press and freedom of speech unless the ruler sees fit to allow them.

Hobbes argues that there are exactly three types of commonwealths. They may be called by different names but fundamentally what matters is the number of people ruling. If one person rules, it is a monarchy. If every person is involved in decision making, it is a democracy. Hobbes calls any other arrangement whereby more than one but less than everyone participates in governance an aristocracy.

Many people have been influenced by Hobbes's Leviathan. Obviously, any monarchist loved the arguments for the continuity of government power, as did later advocates of statism. Adam Smith took Hobbes's axiom that everyone works in his or her own self-interest and turned it into his "invisible hand" in The Wealth of Nations. The prominent neoconservative professor Dr. Leo Strauss was a student of Thomas Hobbes; he published The Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes in 1936.