The Artificiality of Sovereignty and its Consequences for Liberty in Leviathan College

Thomas Hobbes concludes his great treatise on politics, Leviathan, saying he composed the work “without partiality, without application, and without other design than to set before men’s eyes the mutual relation between protection and obedience, of which the condition of human nature and the laws divine…require an inviolable observation.” (Conclusion, 17) By considering Leviathan with a view to Hobbes’s stated mission, one can better understand why Hobbes takes certain positions, argues certain definitions and paints so pessimistic a portrait of human nature. By arguing that mankind is naturally apolitical, and that the state of nature is not a theoretical pedagogical framework but rather a condition into which man’s nature renders him continually at risk of lapse, Hobbes is able to argue that sovereignty is an artificial construction of authors and actors that simultaneously satisfies man’s inclination towards peace without restricting his liberty.

Hobbes argues that human nature is not conducive to political life, and that humans only become political by artificial means. In describing man’s motivations for creating commonwealths, Hobbes describes mankind as naturally loving liberty and dominion over others. (XVII, 1) Given...

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