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Hobbes’ School of Thought Essay

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Updated: May 2nd, 2019


Hobbes wields a great following in the philosophical world as the founding father of the modern philosophy. In his works, he sets out the vigorous terms of debate about the basic and determinants of the political life with influence in every individual in the world. In his works, he relates the socio-political problems of a society to the inadequacy in political loyalty of such societies (Warrender 346).

Hobbes’ school of thought believes that the political authority is sovereign to the populations, thus should remain obedient and fearful to the authority in order to enjoy the services of the ruling class.

In the current world, the human authorities continuously require checks and balances with relevant justifications due to the social-political inequalities and religious disputes. Warrender argues that such inequalities require an institution that draws adequate power to ensure equality in the society (347).

In order to function without resistant from the citizens, Hobbes believes that the political authority should exercise a ruling that ensure the citizens do not only respect the institutions and authorities of the rule, but also develop adequate fear for the repercussions that come with disobedience.

Drivers of Hobbes Thinking

Hobbes lived in a time when the entire globe encountered several political, social, and religious conflicts. In England, for example, the uprisings cut across the entire society with differences in loyalties to the ruling class. The filthy rich elites of the society were in conflict with the loyalty to the king due to the taxation policies. The parliament too was in great conflicts with the kingdom over the control of executive power.

Such differences lead to a disintegrated society with people divided along regions, wealth, and religion (Little and Smith 436). Political, social, and religious differences created the best recipe for civil war leading to even more disintegrated state. When King Charles I, developed policies for a uniform religious system, the revolt against his rule increased in magnitude; the loyalty of every individual state became questionable.

In order to avoid these differences, Hobbes believes that the ruling authority should develop laws and rules that instill fear for disobedience while at the same time ensure that the basic services that often cause revolutions are available. In his thoughts, an authority with absolute power but with the interests of the ruling class at heart forms the basis for a successful and peaceful society (Little and Smith 441).

Even though the political developments during the times of Hobbes drove the direction of his thinking, the revolts against the religious direction given by King Charles I, and his deep love for developing scientific thinking in relation to the older schools of thought played a great role in influencing Hobbes’ direction of thinking. These two factors significantly influenced Hobbes believes in moral and political ideas.

State of Nature

Hobbes develops a consideration on the state of nature in order to establish the direction of his thinking. In this thinking, he considers the probabilities of the state of society in a free world without the restrictions developed by the ruling authority.

He argues that in this kind of setting, Hobbes creates an imagination that the society would be in its fairest state in such a setting since every individual has the liberty to decide his/her actions, and act as the judges of their own actions in situations where disputes arise.

In such a setting Hobbes argues, creates a state of individual judgment due to lack of agencies and institutions recognized to arbitrate the disputes and enforce the judgments arising from such conflicts (Warrender 349).

Hobbes goes further to develop this believe from the basic assumption that the society is composed of people harboring similar mental and physical attributes, thus no single individual has the power to develop a dominating trend on others. Hobbes argues in his assumptions that the state of natural liberty offers an avenue for individual citizens to preserve themselves in terms of naturally right things.

However, since the definition of right things purely revolves around individual definition of what is right and what is wrong, Hobbes believes that an array of disparities often arise, thus the need for an institution to define the rights and the wrongs of a society. Hobbes argues that developing a system of education is necessary in order to develop uniformity in the definition of what is right and what is wrong.

In order to achieve this, the ruling authority must develop the laws and regulations that come with the choices made by the populations on whether or not to attend the education system (Warrender 350).

Development of Sovereignty

Hobbes argues that it either comes handy through the covenants in elections or through subscription to absolute obedience to the conquering ruler to develop sovereignty. Either ways, obedience come in handy due to the fear of the punishments that arise in cases of questionable loyalties. In cases where members of a given society mutually agree to obey a common authority, sovereignty by institution arises.

However, in cases where a conqueror threats and coerces a population to pledge obedience, sovereignty by acquisition arises. Whichever way the authorities use to develop sovereignty, Hobbes argues that the underlying factor is the fear for the consequences that may arise in the populations in cases of disobediences. Hobbes, therefore, considers both ways of establishing sovereignty as legitimate and humane (Warrender 387).

Despite the fact that Hobbes acknowledges that political legitimacy of a ruling authority depends on how the government institutions developed came into force, he argues that the ability of the ruling authority to protect the rights and freedoms of those members subscribing to the style of leadership is the paramount benchmark for good governance. He further adds that political obligation should end simultaneously with an end to the protection.

Importance of Obeying the Sovereign

Hobbes in his works argues that if the entire population in a society develops a mutual contract of promises with the ruling authority, then it follows that they have the obligation to be obedient. However, the fact that all the persons in the society are either conquered or born in the presence of an already existing ruling class, the ability to obey is questionable.

Even though the sovereign rulers force citizens into obedience through force and threats, they put in place adequate checks to ensure that the freedom of motion among the citizen remains uncompromised. In Hobbes’ argument, he believes that the freedom of movement allows individuals in a society to move to a direction of their choice.

The citizens remain at liberty to choose to obey and live peacefully or disobey and face punishment. In this context, the threats by the ruling authority yields obedience because the citizens fear the physical consequences associated with disobedience. In this case, the fear of punishment results into fear as a state of nature, thus defining the unconditional obedience to the authority (Warrender 394).

According to Hobbes, promises of unconditional obedience whether developed in duress or on free will by the citizens come handy with huge moral weight. Despite the fact that making the promises takes place under threats, which is a contravention of the citizen in question, Hobbes does not offer adequate explanation to the importance of fulfilling promises.

However, he argues that in a civil society, the sovereign laws, dictates all the wrong and right things, thus wields power that goes beyond the contract. The authority is responsible for setting the terms and engagements for everyone, thus the threats used to coerce citizen to pledge loyalty are only tools used to create obligations.

Absolute power

According to Hobbes and Gaskin, the ability of a ruling authority to govern the subjects successfully remains directly proportional the amount of power that comes with authority (728). It is for this reason that Hobbes develops high levels of unconditional love to the monarchial system of governance in which the rulers wields absolute powers and authorities.

In such a set up, he argues that all the regulations remain within the control of a central power, thus inadequacy in enforcement becomes less evident. In his argument, Hobbes claims that in the monarchial system of governances, the powers of making laws, interpreting the laws, and enforcing them remains solely with the ruling authority since the chances of divergent views as evident in a democratic governance systems are absent.

In case where the enforcement are done with persons not responsible for the development of the laws, the chances of paralyzing a government are high since each enforcement agency may develop regulations contrary to the motives of the law. In such a scenario, extremities such as disintegration and civil strives often occur (Hobbes and Gaskin 730).

In the democratic set ups, the executive arm of the governments often face numerous problems especially in the oversight roles of the judiciary and the legislature. In some cases, courts have ruled against the executive authority with claims that the executive acted outside their mandate in such situations.

In such circumstances, Hobbes argues that a state in which individual chooses to obey or disobey the ruling authority at will, instances of civil disobedience are high, and wars often erupt. Even though the civil disobedience in most cases does not aim at paralyzing the functions of the existing governments in cases where war erupts, the ability of the government to offer service to the citizens is unattainable.

In order to control such eventualities, the ruling authority should, therefore, develop the laws, interpret them, and enforce them. The entire citizenry should adequately understand the ruling authority harbors absolute powers (Hobbes and Gaskin 737).

Boundaries of Absolutism

Hobbes developed the belief in absolute power with one effective limit. Even though he argues that the ability of effective governance solely lies in the hands with absolute power and authority, Hobbes develops the limit within which the subscribing subjects to revolt against the ruling class.

In case the ruling authority compromises the inalienable rights of the subjects, he argues that the subjects have the right to question and disobey such rules in order to get back their rights. The ability of the ruling authority to protect the lives of the subscribing subjects as well as those of their relatives defines the limit of obedience.

In cases where the ruling authority fails to do so, the citizens hold the right to self-defense since the obligation to obey goes handy with the ability to protect (Warrender 399).

Merits of Hobbes Theory of Obligation

The social contract theory, which revolves around the mutual agreement for political protection by the ruling authority and the political obedience by the subjects, increases the chances of social order. This provides the best recipe for morality in a society. The responsibility for respect and obedience built within the citizens from the natural instincts that define the social systems within which the human nature exists.

The natural need to develop a system of governance under which the entire society pledges loyalty, forms a basis for a successful society in the theory of obligation. The societies in this kind of setting base the general rules of living in the moral judgments as defined by the ruling authority (Warrender 401).

In the state of nature, the boundaries of liberty are limitless. Hobbes claims that the resulting state in such a set up encourages dangerous lifestyles in which the strong and the brutish take control of the weak. These characters coupled with the scarcity of the basic needs of food shelter and clothing compromises the existence of the weaker generations.

For these reasons, the development of social contract of obligation provides an ample environment of equitable living. The ruling class wields absolute power over everything but pledges to protect everybody in the society.

The social contract theory argues that the morality of a society is solely the responsibility of mutually consenting individuals. In such a set up, sets of rules that govern how people relate with and treat each other exists. An absolute power is necessary to check the level of obedience and develop punishment for the disrespect.

In cases where such powers are absent, the morality of the society is unchecked and may results in states of anarchy. Therefore, social contract develops terms and conditions of mutual agreement of existence among the ruling authority and within the citizenry, thus increasing the chances of developing a morally upright society (Warrender 415).

The theory of obligation creates a secure society. The actual agreement by the society and the ruling authority forms the best base for moral decisions and sound stances. The agreement to remain obedient to the state simply because many other members of the society subscribe to the state demands creates a sense of security and togetherness. In such a set up, comfort becomes easily achievable compared to situations where the state has limited power on the society.

Demerits of Hobbes Theory

Civil obedience and obligation in this theory arise in a reciprocation manner. People in the society agree to do right things to their counterparts with the expectation that they get the same treatment from their counterparts. Similarly, members of the society desist from doing wrong things to their fellows with the expectation that the fellows will not do bad things to them (Warrender 417).

However, in a society not every person expects the same favors from their counterparts. Some individuals, especially the people with learning difficulties and young children are not easily accountable to their action since they do expect favors even if they do wrong things to others. This creates a great flaw in this theory.

According to Hobbes, laws and government form the basis for morality in a society. However, a philosopher like John Locke argues that societies in the state of nature forms more habitable environment than government-led societies.

Locke believes that the natural laws often inherent from some form of supernatural powers create a better living society the human defined morals. Locke argues that individual with respect to the supernatural laws have the power to punish themselves for the wrongs they do for the fear of the wrath of the gods (Hobbes and Gaskin 741).

In Hobbes theory, the means to ruling class is not relevant neither is it important for the society. The ability of the ruling class to command obedience is paramount to successful governance even if it means coercing and threatening the citizens to consent. These kinds of obligations are different from the morally upright obligations.

For example, the strength of the ruling class determines its ability to command obedience. For this reason, strong individuals might enter into social contracts with the society only for the things he/she considers advantageous. Therefore, this theory compels the weaker members of the society, such as women, children, and the elderly to the likelihood slavery with the stronger counterparts as their masters.

Similarly, the ability of the weaker members of the society may compel them to enter into contracts with the ruling class even if the contract is immoral. For example, contract engagement that allows the use of child labor and execution of the less productive labor force may arise even though it is evidently immoral (Hobbes and Gaskin 745).

Hobbes general argument is that human beings are selfish by nature. However, if this was the case the obligation to abide by the ruling authority remains weak. The chances of the absolute governance running into anarchy are high. Flaws exists in the inability of Hobbes to explain why individual avoid committing crimes that often benefit them even in cases where chance of punishment are absolutely zero.

Hobbes and Gaskin hold that if truly humans were selfish in nature, the society would be full of ills and immorality, especially in cases where the chances of punishment are low (749). Individuals would not avoid crime simply by the virtue that the counterparts would not commit crime against them. Instead, they would engage in crime for the sole benefits that arise from such crimes.


Many philosophers conform to the fact that political obligation is the moral duty to obey the laws of the state. However, the acquisition of such obedience remains a subject of debate among many scholars. In Hobbes’ school of thought, the ability to obey is paramount regardless of whether one consents willingly or is coerced to do so.

Hobbes believes that the success of a society depends upon the ability of the ruling class to wield absolute power over the laws and regulations while at the same time ensuring the protection of the loyal citizens.

In cases where protection ceases, Hobbes goes ahead to state that obligations must end. Despite the fact that Hobbes denies the citizens the liberty to choose what to consent to, he puts necessary mechanisms of revolt in case the ruling authority compromises the inalienable rights of the citizens.

Works Cited

Hobbes, Thomas, and John Charles Addison Gaskin. Leviathan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.

Little, Richard, and Michael Smith. Perspectives on World Politics. 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Warrender, Howard. The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: His Theory of Obligation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957. Print.

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