Leviathan

by: Thomas Hobbes

Commonwealth

1

NATURE (the art whereby God hath made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal . . . For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body[.]

Hobbes introduces the central theme of Leviathan in the first sentence of the Introduction. He also establishes the metaphor that he will extend throughout the text: the comparison of a commonwealth to a man. Hobbes boldly equates a state with an “artificial man,” a greater power created by humans in the human image. Sovereignty, or the right to make laws, is also artificial, or made by the art of man. The name “Commonwealth” reveals the author’s primary audience and purpose. Hobbes addresses the rulers and subjects of the English commonwealth, hoping to persuade them toward his views on government.

2

The difference of Commonwealths consisteth in the difference of the sovereign, or the person representative of all and every one of the multitude . . . When the representative is one man, then is the Commonwealth a monarchy; when an assembly of all that will come together, then it is a democracy, or popular Commonwealth; when an assembly of a part only, then it is called an aristocracy.

In Book II, “Of Commonwealth,” Hobbes describes how a commonwealth should function, detailing the rights and obligations of rulers and subjects. In Chapter 19, he describes types of commonwealths. Hobbes carefully states that sovereignty, the power to make laws, does not necessarily lie with a sovereign, or king. For Hobbes, a staunch monarchist, to broaden the definition of sovereignty represented an act of intellectual courage and, perhaps, political pragmatism. Hobbes also broadens the definition of commonwealth to include a monarchy, with the clear statement that the king represents all the people, an idea underlying Hobbes’s discussions of sovereign power.

3

Though nothing can be immortal which mortals make; yet, if men had the use of reason they pretend to, their Commonwealths might be secured, at least, from perishing by internal diseases. For by the nature of their institution, they are designed to live as long as mankind, or as the laws of nature, or as justice itself, which gives them life. Therefore when they come to be dissolved, not by external violence, but intestine disorder, the fault is not in men as they are the matter, but as they are the makers and orderers of them.

In Book II, Chapter 29, Hobbes writes about the factors that weaken commonwealths. Hobbes returns to his metaphor of the artificial man and extends the metaphor to include the possible death of the commonwealth. Hobbes reminds the commonwealth leaders of their responsibility to use reason as they make and order their government. When commonwealths break down, Hobbes points to disordering of laws which are the lifeblood. Hobbes has already categorized monarchy as a form of commonwealth. Readers must decide if Hobbes describes Cromwell’s commonwealth or the monarchy as constituting an unhealthy government.

4

Lastly, when in a war, foreign or intestine, the enemies get a final victory, so as, the forces of the Commonwealth keeping the field no longer, there is no further protection of subjects in their loyalty, then is the Commonwealth dissolved, and every man at liberty to protect himself by such courses as his own discretion shall suggest unto him. For the sovereign is the public soul, giving life and motion to the Commonwealth, which expiring, the members are governed by it no more than the carcass of a man by his departed, though immortal, soul.

At the end of Chapter 29, Hobbes keeps extending his metaphor of the state as an artificial man. Writing during the English Civil War, as Cromwell secures more victories over Royalist forces, Hobbes explains why the subjects no longer owe loyalty to a defeated commonwealth. As he often does, Hobbes plays on the multiple definitions of sovereignty. He reminds readers of the execution of King Charles I, while suggesting that the present commonwealth could expire as well.

5

Temporal and spiritual government are but two words brought into the world to make men see double and mistake their lawful sovereign. It is true that the bodies of the faithful, after the resurrection, shall be not only spiritual, but eternal; but in this life they are gross and corruptible. There is therefore no other government in this life, neither of state nor religion, but temporal; nor teaching of any doctrine lawful to any subject which the governor both of the state and of the religion forbiddeth to be taught. And that governor must be one; or else there must needs follow faction and civil war in the Commonwealth between the church and state; between spiritualists and temporalists; between the sword of justice and the shield of faith; and, which is more, in every Christian man’s own breast between the Christian and the man.

In Book III, “Of a Christian Commonwealth,” Hobbes joins the heated debate over the nature of Christian government. Book III, with its dense exposition of passages from the Bible, represented to Hobbes and his contemporaries the meat of his argument. Every government in Europe claimed to be Christian. Catholics, Protestants, and Protestant Dissenters had been fighting fierce religious wars for over a century. Here Hobbes makes the case for state control of religion. Elsewhere he distinguishes between public and private worship, with every man free to follow his beliefs in private.