Leviathan

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To raise from his short, brutish existence man willing give up his freedom and rights to protect himself if others do the same to one strong man who promises to protect them. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan revolves around this idea but leading up to it and expounding upon it is a surprising amount of insight of both political and religious thought.

Hobbes’ work is divided into four parts with the first, “Of Man”, covering human nature and why men form governments not for the greater good as other postulate but to protect themselves and their stuff. Hobbes essentially says that men give up their freedom to the government to be protected from other men so they can keep their life and possessions that they can add to. In the second part, “Of Commonwealth”, Hobbes argues that the perfect government is under one absolute sovereign—whether a monarch or legislative body—that will control all aspects of the government with the aim to preserve the persons of the governed by any means necessary and that the govern must obey the sovereign in all aspects of life including in religion and taxation, the later must be used to support those unable to maintain themselves. In part three, “Of a Christian Commonwealth”, Hobbes discusses how a Christian commonwealth should be governed and essentially says that the civil power is the final arbiter of all spiritual revelation and thus the religious power is subordinate to the sovereign as seen in the Holy Scriptures. In the final part, “Of the Kingdom of Darkness”, Hobbes turns his focus towards ignorance of the true light of knowledge and its causes which stem from religious deceivers through four things—misinterpretation, demonology and saints, the mixing of religion with erroneous Greek philosophy, and mixing of these false doctrines and traditions with feigned history. Hobbes blames all the churches and churchmen for these causes as they are the beneficiaries at the expense of the civil power which endangers the commonwealth and the preservation of every man in them.

As one of the earliest and most influential works on social contract theory, Hobbes’ political ideas are often cited and quoted. However, the fact that almost half the work is a religious discourse was a surprise and insightful. That Hobbes discredited church-led states was gratifying, though he then recommended state control of religion was a disappointment but not surprising given the theme of his work. Besides his views on the church-state relationship, Hobbes’ work is primary to understanding how the political thought of today began and how his contemporaries and those that followed him reacted to his views.

Leviathan is Thomas Hobbes’ magnum opus of political thought and has been influential for centuries, whether one agrees with his conclusions or vehemently disagrees.

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