Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Political Thinkers
• Leviathan (written during the English Civil War) State of
Nature and Social Contract
• Used the state of nature to refer to a hypothetical situation of
how life without order and government would be
• Saw the state of nature as undesirable in the state of
nature, all men are at war with each other, and lie in constant
state of fear of their fellow beings
• Solution: Social contract that all rational people would agree
upon the people invest all power in a third party, the
sovereign, in exchange for safety and the rule of law.
• Believed that only governments with indivisible and unlimited
power would prevent the otherwise inevitable disintegration
of society into civil war.
• Citizens had a right to defend themselves if their lives were
threatened, but otherwise political obedience was necessary
to prevent factional strife or political paralysis.
• State of nature: A situation in which people coexist, often in
relative harmony, but there is no legitimate political power or
judge to settle disputes in a neutral way
• Does not equate state of nature with war State of war is a
situation in which people do not uphold the law of reason.
• Humans are rational, independent agents with natural rights
• People who were willing to enter into a social contract and
submit to being ruled by a government expected the
government to regulate disagreements and conflicts in a
• Maintained that the powers and functions of government had
to be limited
• Argued against a strong absolutist sovereign, as advocated by
Thomas Hobbes, as such a powerful figure would limit
individual freedom unnecessarily.
• Felt that total subordination was dangerous and believes that
the people has the right to revolt against the government.
• People were not inherently evil, but could become so under
• There was no limit to the ability of political action to reshape
society for the better
• Before society, humans existed in a state of nature where they
were content, and guided by a natural self-love, desire for selfpreservation and compassion for others.
• The creation of a civil society, and development of private
property, was the result of division and conflict working
against a natural harmony
• Social Contract preserves inequalities and destroys a person’s
• Freedom can be won within the boundaries of law
• His essay stated that happiness does not work as a basis for
law no one can define what happiness is for someone else,
so a rule based on happiness cannot be applied consistently
• Crucial for state to ensure people’s freedom within the law
• State of nature people are free to pursue their own desires
• Problem lies in the conflict of interests
• State of nature prevents disputes from being settled
peacefully without laws People willingly abandon the state
of nature to submit to external public and lawful coercion
• If the government passes a law that you consider wrong, it is
still your moral duty to obey it.
• However, although subjects have a duty to obey the law, they
also have to take individual responsibility for moral choices
Each individual should only follow rules that they believe
should apply to everyone
• The Politics Book by DK