The Role of Fear in Hobbes’ Leviathan

Throughout Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, there are numerous references to the emotion of fear in human nature and it’s effects as one of the defining principles of human interaction. It helps set up a foundation of sorts for some of the main points of Hobbes’ liberal view on the governing body of society and a basis for the “Social Contract Theory”. As Hobbes’ continually points out, in a state of nature, fear is the most antagonizing force that a man produces to be used against others to perpetuate a state of constant war.

It is this fear, along with the struggle for as much power as possible (which Hobbes establishes that it is men’s reasoning to do so) that creates the balance beam act which acts as the driving force for men to seek each other out and pursue peace. This pursuit for peace amongst themselves is not only instigated for the greater good of themselves, but also society as a whole, whereby in realizing the interconnectedness of their fellow peoples, men consent to the “social contract” that Hobbes’ presents.

This contract, a morally bonding agreement, calls for the creation of the commonwealth that is ruled by a single authority, of one that is either elected or taken by force, and most importantly, is empowered by the people (who have given consent). The elected ruler, which Hobbes’ claims should be an absolute sovereign is in its best form as a supreme monarch, with the one sanctioned man ruling and streamlining control to make the system most effective.

After establishing the state of nature, humanistic motivation, the social contract that arises from those two and the best form of government to rule the commonwealth; the most important topic left to address is how the proposed Monarch should rule and maintain power. It is already proposed by Hobbes that the sovereign must have consent from the people or there will be revolt and chaos, which ultimately breaks the contract; but he anticipates this and asserts that the empowered ruler must also use fear as a way to morally bind each person to this contract.

Since the contract is initially formed by man’s fear of violence and death, it should also be ruled by that same core emotion. Those who are afraid of punishment are more willing to conform to the rules of society, creating a safer, and yet again more effective system of ruling. Society will uphold the laws of the sovereign if the use of fear is implemented because the consequences of people’s actions would be held accountable and cause for the maintenance of peace and a fair society.

If fear was not involved, people would have no reason to stay contractually obligated to one another and justice would not be equal and forthcoming. If those people were not afraid to break the law and face repercussions then the laws would only be worth the paper they are written on. Thomas Hobbes strongly believes in the use of fear as a fundamental and motivating tool for the course of human action and when implemented by a consented ruler of a society, such as a supreme monarch, fear can be used to help run and organize a justice system and control the commonwealth.