‘One of the greatest works of political theory ever written. An ingenious account of the modern state and its intellectual foundations’
The philosopher Thomas Hobbes understood the devastation caused by the English Civil War and was determined to construct a blueprint for a peaceful society. He began his task by trying to explain the nature of human beings, the state and civilisation. Morality, he considered, was a physical, not a spiritual attribute, proceeding from our sense of self-preservation. Anarchy decreases our chance of survival and to avoid this, he explains, we must give up a portion of our freedom to a ruling authority, be it a sovereign or Commonwealth (the leviathan of the title). The sovereign’s power stems from this self interested agreement: while his subjects cannot overthrow him, he has no divine right.
‘For as the nature of foul weather, lieth not in a shower or two of
rain; but in an inclination thereto of many days together:
so the nature of war, consisteth not in actual fighting; but
in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there
is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.’
It is no surprise that with such arguments Hobbes made enemies on both sides of the Civil War. The Commonwealth objected to his assertion that benign monarchy was the best form of government, while royalists denounced Hobbes as a revolutionary. Hobbes’s conviction that religious power was subordinate to civil authority infuriated Puritans and Catholics alike, both of whom labelled him an atheist. His work was lauded and condemned throughout Europe, and its influence has echoed down the centuries. Published in 1651, Leviathan is the foundation stone on which modern political philosophy is built: the concept of a social contract is drawn from it, while Hobbes’s assertion that loss of liberty is a price worth paying for peace has aroused new applications and refutations in every generation. This edition contains a newly commissioned introduction from Alan Ryan, lecturer in politics at Princeton University, placing Hobbes’s ideas in context and tracing their influence. Powerful illustrations by Mike Wilks provide a thought-provoking complement to Hobbes’s great literary achievement.