Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Europe was rattled by political instability. The reformation of old ideas began along with the development of new ones. Rumor of democracy began to flow and new political institutions began to arise. Thomas Hobbes, most well known for his writings on the human psyche and the social contract, was trying to discover the form or pattern in human behavior that all live by, and what things go through our head when we react to particular things in particular ways.
Thomas Hobbes, in his renowned text Leviathan, claims that like many other things in nature, human [nature] must follow certain natural laws. Hobbes’ first principal is the ? Right of Nature’, jus naturale, which means that every human being is naturally prone to act in favor of his own interest. A man is granted this right simply because he is a man. Each man has the right to strive to accomplish and acquire any things that he feels necessary for his survival/well-being.
Every man is by natural law allowed to pursue the things that he values and feels are important to him, this includes material and non-material things, and there are no constraints on the means of acquiring them. Hobbes believed that the number one basic human instinct was to avoid ? violent death’, and everyman would go to the most extreme limits to survive. This idea that Hobbes has of human state of nature being “solitary, nasty, brutish, poor and short” leads to his famous doctrine of the social contract.
Humans on an individual level are all vulnerable to attack by their neighbor. All humans were in a ? natural state of war’ struggling to survive on an individual level. Humans equipped with the innate characteristic of thought or reasoning have the ability to comprehend that “peace is good, and therefore also the way or means of peace are good”. From this comes Hobbes idea that an authoritive government that rules or governs over the people is necessary to create peace which is beneficial for all.
Hobbes was a strong supporter of a strong central government and believed in a ? social contract’. This is an implicit agreement between the residence and government regarding rights and responsibilities of each party. As long as the citizens sacrificed some of their ? natural laws’, like killing your neighbors when you get drunk, and paid your taxes and civil dues the authority will protect you against foreign invasion, and help you rebuild during natural catastrophes.
So on the individual level each human is conscientiously sacrificing his natural rights to achieve sovereignty in his state. In essence this human reasoning process is a result of thought, a characteristic which differs animals from humans, which leads each human to understand their mutual self-interest of survival, further developing into the need for authority over the society, government over all the people, for the people. Hence the social contract, an agreement between individual and government regarding the prime self-interest or natural law of man, survival.
Hobbes thought that naturally all humans were in ? a state of war’ because everyone is struggling to get by and no one is interested in anything but ones self. Hobbes believed the idea of sovereignty of the state, a man made natural state of peace, above the natural state of war created by individuals, enforced by the central government. He thought up the idea of having everyone sacrifice a little bit for the greater goal: sovereignty, equality, and safety.
The social contract idea is one of the fundamental elements of democracy. In a democracy the people give their representative the right to voice their opinion in how the country is run. The idea of a contract is that if it is violated there are certain repercussions and liabilities that the violator must face. Similarly in a democracy if the government fails to properly represent the majority voice, the citizens have the ability to not vote for the same representative or president, leading to new representation.
Although Hobbes didn’t think it possible, he was a monarchist and believed in the tight grip of a king that could not be overthrown, his counterpart John Locke was the one who argued against the monarchy and believed that if proper representation and particular rights were not being offered, life, liberty and estate, the government can and will be overthrown. In this way Locke took Hobbes’ revolutionary thought on social conditions and developed them into something more, something that to this day is recognized as one of the leading, most efficient, moral forms of governing a society.
Hobbes writings were revolutionary in breaking the ground on the framework for all modern political thought. Many after him criticized his work, but still to this day his writings are studied and analyzed over and over by experts. The social contract, an illicit agreement between the government and the people stipulating rights and responsibilities, was a doctrine stating the reasons why a government is necessary to provide an infrastructure for an efficient, peaceful economy. Elements of all of Hobbes’ writings are present in today’s world.