NATURAL MAN IN A STATE OF WAR
In the last chapter we discussed Hobbes' theory of knowledge
at some length. The quest now becomes, can we apply his method
to determining the proper structure and function of government?
To begin with he taught that we must deal only with what we find
in experience. In other words, as we examine society as it is
today can we determine how and why it is like it is? From Hobbes
point of view what we find when we look at society is that people
are only able to get along together because the structure of
society forces them to. This is a far cry from the Thomist view
that man is naturally a social animal. But it argues from
efficient causes rather than final causes. If this is true then
we must not argue from a state of innocence as Aquinas did, but
from perpetual state of war. This is his description of the
motivation for a society of men as he found it taken from his
For the Laws of Nature (as justice, Equity. modesty, Mercy.
and (in Summe) doing to others, as wee would have done to,)
of themselves, without the terror of some Power, to cause
them to be observed, are contrary to our natural Passions,
that carry us to Partiality, Pride. revenge. and the like.
And covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no
strength to secure a man at all. Therefore notwithsnnding
the Laws of Nature, (which every one hath then kept. when he
has the will to keep them, when he can do it safely,) if
there be no power erected, or not great enough for our
security; every man will and may lawfully rely on his own
strength and art, for caution against all other men. And in
all places, where men have lived by small Families, to robbe
and spoyle one another, has been a Trade, and so farre from
being reputed against the Law of Nature, that the grater
spoyles they earned, the greater was their honoar; and men
observed no other Lawes therein, but the Lawes of Honour;
that is, to abstain from cruelty, leaving to men their
lives, and instruments of husbandry. And, as small Families
did then; so now do cities and Kingdoms which are but
greater Families (for their own security) enlarge their
Dominions, upon all pretenses of danger, and fear of
Invasion., or assistance that may be given to Invaders,
endeavor as much as they can, to subdue, or weaken their
neighbors, by open force, and secret arts, for want of other
caution, justly; and are remembered for it in after ages
The difference between arguing from a state of war among men who
are constantly at each others throats, and arguing from a state
of innocence among men who are naturally social implies a very
great difference in the kind of institution required to bring
about a just society. Remember, now, we are arguing from the
need to overcome a state of war amongst all men to a social
institution that would bring about a just law-abiding society.
We are arguing too using Hobbes' methods, that is starting from
definitions, treating them like axioms, and applying logical
arguments to them. Thus, let us begin with his definition of civil law.
Civil Law, is to every subject, those rules, which the
common-wealth hath commanded him, by word, writing, or other
sufficient sign of the Will, to make use of, for the
distinction of Right, and Wrong; that is to say, of what is
contrary, and what is not contrary to the Rule.
This is a definition that makes sense if you are coming from an
assumption that man in a state of nature is in a state of
constant war with every other man. From this basic definition
Hobbes then was led to the implication that an absolute sovereign is necessary in
order for there to be a peaceful society, though that sovereign
may be a single man or a committee.
The legislator in all Common-wealths, is only the Sovereign,
be he one man, as in a monarchy, or one assembly of men, as
in a Democracy, or Aristocracy.
It is important to realize that Leviathan was published while
Cromwell was Lord Protector of England and following its
publication Hobbes returned to England from the continent. The
deduction above shows us that he meant his description to apply
to any form of government, and not simply to monarchies. This
left it open to express the concept of absolutism in a way that
applies to parliaments as well as Kings. He did this as a second
deduction from the initial assumption.
The Sovereign of a Common-wealth, be it an assembly or one
man, is not subject to the Civil laws. For having the power
to make and repeal laws, he may when he pleaseth, free
himself from that subjection by repealing those Laws that
trouble him, and making of new; and consequently he was free
before. For he is free who can be free when he will.
The absolute power of the Sovereign extends even over Unwritten
laws. These obtain their legitimacy from the silence of the
Sovereign. They serve only at the will of the Sovereign and may
be terminated by him at any time. Natural law and Civil law, he
said, contain each other and are of equal extent. Natural law
pertains to the moral virtues which are simply those qualities
that dispose men to peace and obedience. The necessity of a
sovereign, and of the necessity of power to exercise that
sovereignty implies that power defines the sovereign. Thus, if
the Sovereign of one commonwealth should subdue the people of
another the laws that are in power are the laws of the victor,
not those of the vanquished.
These deductions are derived directly from the first assumption
(taken as a definition and thus as an axiom) that men are
naturally in a state of war amongst each other, and that Civil
Laws are the set of rules men must be forced to obey in order
that there be civil society.