Leviathan: the Fear That Keeps Government in Place

In Leviathan, Hobbes attempts to explain how civil government came to be established. He begins his argument at the most logical place; the fundamental basis of mankind, and makes several key steps in the development of human nature to reach the implementation of a sovereign ruler. Hobbes believes the foundation of mankind is motion. Man is in constant motion and the instability that forms from the collisions that ensue from the constant motion form the state of nature. The state of nature is an inherently dangerous lifestyle, where all members live in a state of constant fear.

This fear drives man to consent to a social contract, which establishes a peaceful existence. The social contract is ultimately enforced by the sovereign ruler who uses fear of punishment to ensure man follows the laws created. Man essentially gives up one type of fear for another in an attempt to better human life. Hobbes essentially believes that one must discover how the natural person functions to determine what type of government should be put in place and how man can accomplish its formation.

He therefore begins Leviathan by arguing that every aspect of humanity can be explained through materialistic principles, because man consists simply of matter in motion. Hobbes believes individuals are born as blank slates and the knowledge man achieves of the world is derived from external bodies pressing against him. This constant motion occurring internally in each man eventually transfers to the surface of their body creating senses, which in turn relays messages to the brain and forms opinions and imagination.

Hobbes believes we are driven by our passions and desires, which means man is essentially a bundle of all his passions in constant motion. An important aspect of this is that once a thing is in motion it will eternally be in motion until an outside force acts upon it. The fact that these bundles of passion are in constant motion until an outside force acts upon them leads to civil unrest. Bodies are constantly colliding and struggling with each other, which ultimately leads to a life of constant fear. Hobbes refers to this situation of individuals living together in the natural condition of mankind as the state of nature.

In the state of nature, man’s passions and desires are in control. Men are self-interested animals that are in constant search for passion, lust and power. The only happiness that is found in the state of nature is attaining material goods or a sense of power. This “perpetual and restless desire of power after power ceaseth only in death. ” (Leviathan , p. 58). The lack of law in the state of nature means there is no such thing as right or wrong. Consequently, every man must be continuously on guard against one another because there is no telling when or why another will attack to fulfill a personal desire.

This state of constant battle and horror is inevitable because in the state of nature people are naturally equal. Even the weakest person is capable of killing the strongest by some method, which leads to incessant turmoil. If these innate desires are not constrained, man will live in a state of constant fear of one another and life will be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. ” (p. 76). Hobbes argues that two factors come into play for man to escape from the state of nature: fear and reason. The constant fear that is generated in the state of nature causes man to use reason to try and form a peaceful life.

This innate desire for a peaceful life drives all humans to enter into a social contract with one another to put an end to the state of nature. The social contract requires consent and cooperation from all involved to be successful. The contract centers around two laws of nature. The first is the fundamental law of nature which states that all humans should strive for peace. The second is the right of nature which states man can defend himself by all means possible. These two laws of nature exist because it is man’s inherent desire to defend himself and the only way this is possible is to establish the existence of peace.

This second law builds upon the first by requiring men to divest themselves of certain rights to escape the state of nature and sustain peace. Men give up rights such as killing each other for self-preservation, as long as other men agree to do the same. Hobbes infers additional laws, all of which build off of these two. Even though humans agree to follow these laws of nature, difficulty can arise due to the natural human desire for power. Therefore, Hobbes determines there must be some type of sovereign ruler to require man to abide by the social contract.

The sovereign ruler is referred to as the Leviathan and it is created by the people when they enter into the social contract. The sovereign is given absolute authority through the people’s permission and in turn they must abide by the laws he creates. The Leviathan’s is put in place to govern the people, with the purpose of acting in mans best interest by preserving peace and preventing civil war. He maintains this control over mankind by instilling fear in them. If any man decides to break one of the laws of nature or a law created by the sovereign, they face a punishment.

Man abides by the laws of the sovereign because if he does not, civil war is inevitable and human kind will resort back to the state of nature. The contract between man and the sovereign lasts as long as the sovereign is protecting the lives of mankind and mankind is following the laws created by the sovereign. Hobbes’ assessment of human nature and the formation of government seems as though fear and instability are constantly on the forefront of his mind. The basic human function of motion quickly falls into disorder due to the unrest that is formed when beings are constantly bumping into each other.

Hobbes also bases the entire state of nature off of the fear man has of other men because they are all on a constant search driven by their passions for more power. Although we naturally seek peace to avoid this constant fear, we essentially give up one form of fear for another: the fear of each other for the fear government. Man uses reason to enter into the social contract and forms a sovereign ruler; however, the fear of government due to the repercussions that will ensue if a law is broken is what truly keeps man in a state of peace.

This form of fear in the government is infinitely more agreeable than the fear in the state of nature. In the state of nature there is no hope for a peaceful life; however, life under a sovereign ruler allows for peace and self preservation. Although the fear is more preferable, it nevertheless still exists. In his autobiography, Hobbes explains that he was born into a state of fear, because he was born prematurely due to the fact that his mother heard of the coming invasion of the Spanish Armada: “my mother gave birth to twins: myself and fear.

” This belief may be why he believes fear never departs from our existence as human beings. Fear exists in the lives of human beings every day. It is mans biggest downfall, but is it also what keeps mankind living together in a peaceful manner. In Hobbes’ point of view, from the time we are born into this world until the time we leave, some type of fear is constantly in operation and this fear is the basis of life as we know it.