The 10-Book Challenge: Book #4

Of Commonwealth by Thomas Hobbes

This is actually Part Two of Hobbes’ Leviathan. Basically, Of Commonwealth is an explanation of how the sovereign is the one who holds society together.

You can find this information practically anywhere, but here’s my brief take on it. Many of Hobbes’ arguments are reflected in social contract theory — the people, when submitting to an authority, make a “contract” with the sovereign in exchange for safety, social order, and rule of law.

Hobbes argued that a sovereign is indeed necessary to keep mankind in line. “For the laws of nature … in sum, doing to others as we would be done to … without the terror of some power to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural passions ….” (Chap. XVII)

The sovereign’s rule, according to Hobbes, was absolute. As a 21st Century American — and a journalist and professor — that idea raises red flags. So do statements like this:

“It is annexed to the sovereignty, to be judge of what opinions and doctrines are averse, and what conducing to peace; and consequently, on what occasions, how far, and what men are to be trusted withal, in speaking to multitudes of people; and who shall examine the doctrines of all books before they be published.” (Chap. XVIII)

But I have to put on my historian’s hat here and avoid the trap of present mindedness. That’s the mistake of judging the past in terms of our present practices, values, and understandings. It’s worth noting that during this period of Hobbes’ life, England was involved in a nearly decade-long series of civil wars. That surely had some impact on his political views.

This was quite an interesting read and is very valuable for the perspective it offers on government and mankind.

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