Leviathan

Summary

Book I, Chapters 10-13

Summary Book I, Chapters 10-13

From this proposition, Hobbes can describe the natural condition of mankind before society, government, and the invention of law. This natural condition, free of all artificial interferences, is one of continuous war and violence, of death and fear. This condition is known as the "state of nature," and Hobbes's depiction of this state is the most famous passage in Leviathan: "[D]uring the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in a condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man. . . . In such condition, there is no place for industry . . . no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation . . . no commodious Building; no instruments of moving . . . no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

The Hobbesian state of nature is an instructive fiction, a reasoned deduction of what human nature might have been like in a hypothetical existence prior to any civilization. Yet while Hobbes concedes that it never existed in actual history, he asserts that, to a degree, the state of nature is a reality; we see approximations of it in the lives of the "savage people of America," he says, and Europeans approach it in times of civil war. Further evidence of our natural condition can be seen in our mistrust of others, criminal behavior, and in domination of weak countries by strong countries.

In the state of nature, where it is a war of every natural man against the others, no security is possible and life is full of horror. But two natural passions enable people to escape the state of nature: fear and reason. Fear makes natural man want to escape the state of nature; reason shows him how to escape. Reason provides the natural laws that Hobbes develops in the next section, which constitute the foundation for peace.

Commentary

With the invention of the state of nature, Hobbes transforms his philosophical text into a strange hybrid mix of genres, for the description of the natural condition of mankind and its avowedly fictional aspects is the product of literary imagination. A narrative begins to emerge within the confines of Leviathan, a drama whose main characters are the natural men struggling for existence against the brutalities of the natural world and the abuses of one another.

Hobbes's description of the state of nature parallels his description of the motion of matter. Hobbesian material bodies constantly and violently collide with each other in the way that human bodies struggle and clash in the state of nature. Thus, not only does each layer of Hobbes's arguments build upon the logic of the last, each layer reflects and reconfigures the previous layer's imagery and themes as well.

The state of nature witnesses a dialectic struggle between fear and power, in which power is the instigator of human misery, fear the savior of human life. Hobbes wildly abstracts the concept of fear in the language of his text, rendering it a sort of autonomous character in the text's underlying narrative; fear interacts with the character of natural man, convincing him to attempt escape from the state of nature. Thus, not only does Hobbes grant fear the agency of a character, but he also ascribes to it the crucial achievement: In Leviathan's cast, fear could be considered the hero.