Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes: A Review

Written in the 1600s, Leviathan is a seminal work on political philosophy. Hobbes makes a lot of eloquent, yet simple and interesting arguments, to the point where I almost agree with even his points that I think are bad.

Hobbes basically believed that countries should be run by monarchs who have the ultimate authority, for reasons to do with Plato’s concepts of democracy and republics. In Plato’s own seminal text on political philosophy called The Republic, among countless other points, Plato argues that democracies are inherently flawed because if countries are run by the will of the people, they will take away their own rights. This is why Plato advocated for republics instead, with the country ideally being controlled by philosopher kings who know the wisdom of what is good for people more than they do themselves. Plato thought that one person should have the ultimate authority.

In Leviathan, Hobbes also asserts that people need to surrender some of their rights in order for the government to make laws, and entities like the police should enforce them, for civilizations to work. This is because everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect, and when you think about that conclusion, you realize that humans are naturally tribal, and drawn to war. So some form of government is necessary for keeping our violent nature at bay.

Hobbes also thought that the monarch should choose the national religion, which I personally disagree with, but he did emphasize that religion should play no role in laws made by the government. That’s because he was an empiricist, so he thought that laws should be based on what we know about the world, drawn from our immediate personal experience, rather than unfalsifiable religious claims.

I thought this was interesting because I’m sure that Hobbes had a big influence on the enlightenment values that led to the separation of church and state instituted by the founding fathers in the U. S. I agree more with one of the three types of government that Hobbes explained called an aristocracy. That seems self explanatory, but to him, it was similar to a monarchy, with one crucial difference. In an aristocracy, a group of individuals have the final authority, instead of one person. I kind of think that this is the best idea for a government, based on my limited reflection on the topic, but without the royalty/nobility aspects associated with aristocracy. Overall, Leviathan is a fascinating and thought-provoking book.



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