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Hobbes And Unconditional Obedience To Government Philosophy Essay

According to Hobbes, do subjects owe unconditional obedience to their government? Why? “I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one person is called a Commonwealth; in Latin Civitas. “(1) This Thomas Hobbes’s quote from his famous book Leviathan, which is often considered as one of the most deeply influential works of political thought ever written, points out that subjects owe unconditional obedience to their government, because they gave up the right of governing themselves, when “signing” so called social contract (which will be discussed later). This essay will prove this statement by closely looking at two main sections, which are the concept of state of nature, consequences resulting from this state and its influence on humans’ view of freedom and their rights and secondly, establishment of sovereign authority as a result of social contract and explaining the unconditional obedience of subjects, as well as the limits of political obligation.

The concept of state of nature

This section is going to explain unconditional obedience of subjects to their government as a result of the concept of state of nature, consequences resulting from this state, as well as its influence on human’s view of freedom and their rights.

Thomas Hobbes invites us to consider what life would be like in a state of nature, that is, a condition without government. Perhaps, many people would imagine this state without government as something good, where each decides for herself how to act, and is judge, jury and executioner in her own case whenever disputes arise.1 But this cannot be so. According to Hobbes, in the state of nature, each person is completely free and has the same rights as anyone else. Everyone can go wherever he likes and take whatever he likes. But this means, for example, if I have an apple, I have a right to own this apple but someone else has the right to take my apple, because he also has a right to own it. Thomas Hobbes explains it such as: “…if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end (which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only) endeavour to destroy or subdue one another.”(2). So this problem can lead to a state, where all the people are living in fear and constant danger of death, where man kills to feed himself, to defend himself or to maximize his own pleasure- a state, which Hobbes describes as the one, where “Man is a wolf to man” or Homo homini lupus. “And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of every one against every one, in which case every one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies; it followeth that in such a condition every man has a right to every thing, even to one another's body.”(3) Hobbes calls this, the state of war of every one against every one (or all against all)- bellum omnium contra omnes, and tries to solve it by giving some of the rights of subjects up and “signing” social contract, so the sovereign authority can be established. He describes the solution of this problem as following: “If this is the state of nature, people have strong reasons to avoid it, which can be done only by submitting to some mutually recognized public authority, for “so long a man is in the condition of mere nature, (which is a condition of war,) as private appetite is the measure of good and evil.” (4) So according to Tomas Hobbes, the only solution of getting out of the state, where there is a war of every one against every one and “man is a wolf to man”,

http://www.seop.leeds.ac.uk/entries/hobbes-moral/

is the establishment of mutually recognized public authority, that means, to “sign” so called social contract, where subjects give up some of their rights to this mutually recognized public authority in order to gain protection and peace.

Therefore in conclusion this essay section proves that this is why subjects do owe unconditional obedience to their government. It’s because the state of nature in which they lived before the establishment of society wasn’t good and they wanted to solve it. Their view of freedom, liberties and their rights changed, because they were deeply influenced by the consequences of the state of nature. They didn’t want to be in the state of war of every one against every one anymore, because they were scared of other people, who by the time became their enemies and for that reason they feared violent death, and on that account they had agreed on giving some of their rights up, in order to gain protection and peace from mutually recognized public authority.

Establishment of sovereign authority as a result of social contract

In the second section, this essay will justify the unconditional obedience of subjects to their government by dealing with establishment of mutually recognized authority as a result of social contract.

As discussed before, subjects understood that they cannot live in the state of nature where there is a constant thread of violent death, so they gave up some of their rights in favour of a mutually recognized public authority in order to gain protection, peace and the greatest possible pleasure. And once they gave their rights to this authority, who has the right to do anything, they are obliged to owe unconditional obedience, because they had agreed on it when “signing” the social contract. “The state… guarantees me the security of my physical existence (and) in return it demands unconditional obedience…” (5) By the “signing” so called social contract we understand that the mutually recognized public authority came into being in the person of the sovereign, who had not gave up some of his natural rights. The subjects then, have given up some of their rights in favour of the sovereign authority, while this sovereign alone will continue in enjoying the same absolute power and all the rights, which all men were enjoying in their state of nature, where there was no government, no state or no society and now had to give up. The sovereign authority is there to give protection and peace and to maximize the good for all, so therefore he must keep being powerful, if he wants to have the authority and strength to rule. 2 “Consequently, because vanity, which makes men blind, dominates public life, and thus fear, which advises man well, dares to show itself only in solitude or among intimates, because, therefore, generally speaking, individual is more reasonable than any assembly, monarchy is the best form of State.”(6) According to Hobbes, monarchy is a best form of state and the effective government must have absolute authority, whose power must be neither divided nor limited, because all the powers are connected to each other (legislation, adjudication, enforcement, taxation and war-making) and a loss of one may have excessive effect on the others.3 But on the other hand, Hobbes remarks that subjects should have a right to disregard some of the absolute ruler’s orders, because as much as the subject is subjected his life is on the first place. So the subject has a right of self-defence but only if he feels that his life or lives of his family members are in danger- “While Hobbes insists that we should regard our governments as having absolute authority, he reserves to subjects the liberty of disobeying some of their government's commands. He argues that

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http://www.seop.leeds.ac.uk/entries/hobbes-moral/

subjects retain a right of self-defence against the sovereign power, giving them the right to disobey or resist when their lives are in danger.”(7)

According to this section we can say that this part again proved that subjects do owe unconditional obedience to their government, because they gave up some of their rights to the sovereign authority in order to get peace, protection and in order to gain the greatest possible pleasure. The subjects agreed on giving these rights to the ruler with absolute power, which means that this power cannot be anyhow limited.

“… a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.”(8) Thomas Hobbes interprets his ideas clearly. He affirms that the only way of getting rid of the state of nature, where “a man is a wolf to man” is by giving up the rights to the absolute power. The ruler will, subsequently, guarantee protection and peace to his subjects, but in return it demands unconditional obedience.

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