Thomas Hobbes

“Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) followed Machiavelli’s teachings in the area of political science by radicalizing them, finding a basis which “passion not distrusting may not seek to displace;” and using a version of geometric reasoning: proceeding step by step from a premise to a necessary conclusion. In the wake of long and bloody wars of religion, he was determined to get beyond the “seemings,” “vain imaginings,” and “fancies” of revealed religions in order to work out how civil society could establish and maintain a peaceful state. For Hobbes there is no highest good; people only desire “power after power that ceaseth only in death.” In the scarcity of the state of nature individuals (who are not social or political by nature) are equal in so far as even the weaker has the power to kill the stronger; they compete for what they think they need to survive and enter into a state of war of all against all. For Hobbes reason is just a calculating faculty subordinated to passions; and the basic passion is for self-preservation. Man in the sate of war is motivated by the greatest evil (fear of violent death) to make a social contract and enter civil society by giving up his natural rights to do whatever he sees fit to preserve protection of his life and security of property–civil rights guaranteed by the power of the absolute sovereign. The center of political science is now power, not virtue; and the rightness of power depends not on judgment of good and evil but expedient consent. Religion is made subordinate to the peaceful purposes of the ruler whose primary concern is for people to fear “powers visible” instead of “powers Invisible” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

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