Leviathan (Hobbes): Analysis & Summary

Thomas Hobbes

Leviathan, subtitled Treaty of matter, form and power of an ecclesiastical and civil republic, is a work by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes whose radicalism is striking: starting from a pessimistic anthropology, making every man an enemy for other men, he concludes the need for a strong state, the Leviathan, which will be responsible for ensuring the security of the members in exchange for their obedience, thus forming a social pact and Politics. It inaugurates the great philosophical tradition of contractualism.

The Hobbes Leviathan is divided into four parts:

  • on man
  • on the social contract
  • on the Christian community
  • on the kingdom of darkness.

Hobbes Leviathan Summary:

The first part naturally begins with a study on humans. Hobbes maintains that man exists in the world as a reactive creature, which acts according to the permanent movements of the world. The latter give rise to insatiable desires in man, which pushes him to take from the other what he does not have: the state of nature of men is a state of permanent war and anxiety. According to Hobbes, man has a desire to protect what he owns, so it is in his best interest to find a protector. Thus, a state or community is established with the sole purpose of protecting the life and property of its members.

The second part is devoted to explaining the citizen’s obligations to this state, as well as the form and functions of the Leviathan. Hobbes presents monarchy as the best form of government, since in all forms of government power lacks the strength to protect its subjects from external aggressors and from themselves.

The third part attempts to answer the question: is obedience to sovereign authority compatible with obedience to divine authority? According to Hobbes, there is no conflict between civil laws and those of God, if one accepts the separation of temporal power and spiritual power. Because God is totally supernatural, the only power that exists for man is a sovereign power.

Finally, in the fourth part, Hobbes paints a striking picture of what human life is when it derogates from the principles he stated previously, the terrestrial hell of the state of nature.

As a conclusion

This founding work of political philosophy that is the Leviathan lays the foundations for a modern society, based on the legality of power. The concept of social contract will inspire Rousseau’s Social Contract, as well as all legalist thought, from Spinoza to Kant.