Hobbes maintained that the constant back-and-forth mediation between the emotion of fear and the emotion of hope is the defining principle of all human actions. Either fear or hope is present at all times in all people. In a famous passage of Leviathan, Hobbes states that the worst aspect of the state of nature is the “continual fear and danger of violent death.” In the state of nature, as Hobbes depicts it, humans intuitively desire to obtain as much power and “good” as they can, and there are no laws preventing them from harming or killing others to attain what they desire. Thus, the state of nature is a state of constant war, wherein humans live in perpetual fear of one another. This fear, in combination with their faculties of reason, impels men to follow the fundamental law of nature and seek peace among each other.

Peace is attained only by coming together to forge a social contract, whereby men consent to being ruled in a commonwealth governed by one supreme authority. Fear creates the chaos endemic to the state of nature, and fear upholds the peaceful order of the civil commonwealth. The contract that creates the commonwealth is forged because of people’s fear, and it is enforced by fear. Because the sovereign at the commonwealth’s head holds the power to bodily punish anyone who breaks the contract, the natural fear of such harm compels subjects to uphold the contract and submit to the sovereign’s will.