Leviathan

by: Thomas Hobbes

Laws

Quotes Laws
And consequently it is a precept, or general rule of reason: that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war. The first branch of which rule containeth the first and fundamental law of nature, which is: to seek peace and follow it. The second, the sum of the right of nature, which is: by all means we can to defend ourselves.

In Chapter 14 of Book I, Hobbes introduces his first two laws of nature, which he defines as general rules discovered by human reason. Hobbes’s laws of nature depend on what he calls the right of nature—the right of each man to preserve his own life. At the same time, the rules guide interactions with others. Hobbes’s first law, to seek and follow peace, seems like wishful thinking, given his view of human nature as prone to war. Later in the chapter, Hobbes connects the laws of peace and self-defense by introducing contracts and their obligations.

But as men, for the attaining of peace and conservation of themselves thereby, have made an artificial man, which we call a Commonwealth; so also have they made artificial chains, called civil laws, which they themselves, by mutual covenants, have fastened at one end to the lips of that man, or assembly, to whom they have given the sovereign power, and at the other to their own ears. These bonds, in their own nature but weak, may nevertheless be made to hold, by the danger, though not the difficulty of breaking them.

In Book II, Chapter 13, “On the Liberty of Subjects,” Hobbes uses a startling visual image, of each man connected by a chain of laws to the mouth of the sovereign. The meaning of the image seems ambiguous. The metaphor implies that men have formed their own laws, while suggesting that men and their sovereign live enslaved by each other. Hobbes admits that bonds of civil law stay viable not because they are difficult to break, but because they are dangerous to break. Hobbes believed that fear was necessary in order to maintain power in a state.

Having thus briefly spoken of the natural kingdom of God, and His natural laws, I will add only to this chapter a short declaration of His natural punishments . . . And hereby it comes to pass that intemperance is naturally punished with diseases; rashness, with mischances; injustice, with the violence of enemies; pride, with ruin; cowardice, with oppression; negligent government of princes, and rebellion, with slaughter.

In Book III, Chapter 31, “Of the Kingdom of God by Nature,” Hobbs expands his distinctions between the kingdom of God and civil rule. He directly attributes his natural laws to God and explains how the laws continue to operate under any government. God’s laws have natural consequences when violated. Even so, Hobbes appears to admit that the rebellion in England was caused by injustice and negligent government. In addition, he seems to imply that civil sovereigns are subject to higher laws.

For whatsoever power ecclesiastics take upon themselves (in any place where they are subject to the state) in their own right, though they call it God’s right, is but usurpation.

In Book IV, “Of the Kingdom of Darkness,” Hobbes directly attacks the Catholic Church and the church’s claim that the Pope and canon laws hold power over civil sovereigns. He also maligns the Presbyterians and other Dissenters for attempting to impose their versions of Protestantism on English laws. Hobbes’s virulent anti-Catholic rhetoric led his French hosts to distrust him and probably led Cromwell and other Commonwealth leaders to allow him to return to England. After 1660, England returned to being a Protestant monarchy with an official state church, the option Hobbes preferred.

Leviathan: Popular pages