Locke's Understanding of Government


What would Hobbes say?


Knave and Equality of Harm?


Hobbes' View of War?

Calvin wikiworld

The Real Calvin


The Knave in Action?


Mind of the Knave?


Hobbes' Natural Philosophy


Portrait of Hobbes


Hobbes' Contract

John-Calvin-and-Thomas-Hobbes-calvin-and-hobbes-539119 600 639

The Real Calvin and Hobbes?


the Knave is Virtueless?


Nasty, Brutish, and Short?


Thomas Hobbes was born, April 5, 1588 in Malmesbury, England and died December 4, 1679 in Derbyshire, England. Hobbes is best known as one of the most important political philosophers of his time. Around the time of a civil war that would break out in England, Hobbes wrote trilogy of texts and among them were De Homine and De Cive which are the two being covered in this wiki. Though a Monarchist, Hobbes' ideas were invaluable to later liberal scholars. Hobbes sided with the Monarchists through the wars that raged through England and Europe during his lifetime. However, his ideas were decried even by his own supporters. His controversial view that Kings ruled not by divine right, but by the will of the people, and that kings, not priests, should be the highest arbiters on theological matters led him to be accused of atheism repeatedly. Infact, in 1666 his Alma mater, Harvard, ordered the burning of not only his books, but of the man himself. Though he was one of the most absolutely loyal royalists of his day, his constant criticisms of the church forced King Charles to throw Hobbes out of his court. Thus, it could be surmised that though Hobbes's original position was that an assembly or a King could wield the swords of war and justice, it would have behooved him to appeal to the nobility as much as possible considering that the rabble and the clergy already wanted him dead. Thus, if he alienated the nobility as well he would have no one to turn to to protect him from the harm of others (a though always near in Hobbes mind). Moreover, Hobbes lived in the ending of the so called "Dark Ages" (arguably it could be said he lived in the beginning of the Renassaince). The old Democracies and Repubilcs of Greece and Rome had long fallen. Now all that was left were petty warring states ruled by Kings. This could be why his political philosophy focuses so centrally and completely on maximizing order. De Cive and De Homine were part of what was to be a trilogy titled (in English): "On the Body" (an account of biology and internal physics that are outdated and incorrect by todays' knowledge), "On the Man" (applying scientific principles from his discussion of the body to the interaction of people in a natural state), and finally "On the Citizen" (applying the "right reason" developed in the previous books towards discussing man in society as well as society itself).

The King

The King is the central figure in Thomas Hobbes’s political philosophy; Hobbes argues that a monarchy is the optimal choice for governing man and society. In his system, the people grant absolute sovereignty to a monarch in order to avoid war and chaos (Hobbes; 178) which is characteristic of the Hobbesian state of nature (Hobbes; 118). Fundamentally, if a large number of people are to live peacefully in a stable society, Hobbes argues a common power must be established to keep order and enforce laws. For this purpose, Hobbes analyzes different forms of government (including democracy and aristocracy) but he strongly believed that the supreme authority should be embodied in a single human-being, a King (Hobbes; 223). Once the people authorize the sovereign to represent them and consent to be governed, the transfer of sovereignty from the subjects to the ruler is unlimited and permanent (Hobbes; 268).

Furthermore, in a Hobbesian system, the individual who becomes King acquires the right to rule without having to give up anything in return. In other words, the King owes nothing in return for accepting the “free-gift” of power from his subjects; however, he is duty bound to act so “that the giver shall have no just occasion to repent him of his gift” (D.C., III, 8). Also, the King is free to act immorally or create bad laws; however, for Hobbes, if it is reasonable to assume an action might inspire rebellion or civil war, those actions are prohibited. Additionally, because the subjects voluntarily submit to his rule, a monarchy is a legitimate political authority and it would be irrational for the King—or his subjects—to act in a way which threatens the stability of society. In the same way, as long as the King is a good ruler he should not have to fear his subjects. After all, the state of nature (war) is to be avoided. Therefore, Hobbes makes clear, “all the duties of the rulers are contained in this one sentence, the safety of the people is the supreme law” (D.C., XIII, 2).

For Hobbes, it is especially important to differentiate between a King and a Tyrant. First of all, he makes clear that, neither a Kingdom nor a Tyranny, have more power than one another, “for greater than supreme cannot be granted” (D.C., VII, 3). Here he shows how a monarchy is a legitimate political authority because all the citizens initially consented to be ruled. Conversely, a tyrant is one who assumes power without the consent of the governed, thus making him an enemy instead of a king. However, once the King is crowned, he has the sole responsibility to choose his successor or heir to the throne. Hobbes also details certain instances when a “temporary monarch” is permissible. For the most part, the King has absolute authority in these matters; if he dies or is unable to exercise his authority, sovereignty is either inherited, temporarily transferred, or returned to the people. In all other instances, it is the contractual obligation of the people to recognize the King as there sovereign. As a result, obeying the commands of the King is non-negotiable and critical for the survival of the regime.

Hobbes main concern in his three great political works (Leviathan, De Cive, and De Homine) are proper governance to ensure the safety of the citizens. Hobbes must fundamental claim is that Monarchs are the best way to ensure the safety of a state due to the expediency and lack of factionalization of having only one political will in the state. Thus his works largely concern arguments supporting Monarchy as well as practical advice to a prospective Monarch. The Monarch is a very necessary figure to Hobbesian philosophy. Hobbes makes his point known through the metaphors of the "Sword of Justice" (Hobbes; 177) and the "Sword of War." (Hobbes 177) These two swords are those that are used to punish those that flout the laws and therefore dare to harm his people. This is not necessary, as some of his detractors decrie, because all men are equal, but because, as it is known to all men, some men are certainly wicked and it is difficult to tell whom are the righteous and whom are the wicked. As Hobbes explains in his own words, "For though the wicked were fewer than the righteous, yet because we cannot distinguish them, there is a necessity of suspecting, heeding, anticipating, subjugating, self-defending, ever incident to the most honest and fairest conditioned" (Hobbes; 100).

An Example of Hobbes's Sovereign

One fascinating concept in Hobbes the way sovereign molds the laws and punishment, within the realm of pop culture Fight Club (the film Directed by David Fincher) is an excellent example of this. One of the first qualifiers of the sovereign, is they must possess the sword of justice, the power to punish (Hobbes 177), and must also establish the civil law (Hobbes 178). A way to think about this in terms of Fight Club, Tyler establishes the that no one should talk to the police about Project Mayhem and he then creates a corresponding punishment (Fight Club; 2:02:06). There is an even deeper Hobbes’s level to this, Edward Norton’s character is trying to tell the police about Project Mayhem because he believes it to be wrong (Fight Club; 1:59:02).If Project Mayhem is a kingdom and Tyler is the sovereign, then Edward Norton’s Character is the overly learned man believing he knows for himself what is good and evil. Knowing for one’s self what is good and evil is Hobbes first seditious passions (Hobbes 224); it is a dangerous thought that leads to the downfall of a nation. This is quite obvious in Fight since Edward Norton’s Character’s moral outrage with the destruction Tyler plans leads him to destroying Tyler, Hobbes would refer to that as tyrannicide (Hobbes 246). In Hobbes what should happen to Edward Norton’s character is quite obvious. While discussing the Ability of the sovereign to slaughter his innocent citizen, Hobbes says this will not happen “the ambitious only suffer” (Hobbes 227); ambitious in Hobbes’s can be thought of as those who seek to eliminate the sovereign or their rule. Hobbes justifies the death of those who are ultimately enemies to the state, so harsh punishment even death would be well within the rights of the sovereign in a similar situation to that of Tyler Durden. Fight Club is not a perfect of Hobbes but it does help illustrate the concept of Hobbes's law and order.

The Knave

The knave within Hobbes proves to be a difficult character to track. The Knave is a character within a government seeking their own gain and their own betterment, by disregarding the effects that their actions may have on others. In Aristotle the knave is clear cut, it is the demagogue swaying the people and leading them away from Aristotelian virtues, gaining his own power outside of the government. In Hobbes though the knave becomes a far more elusive creature, hiding in the nature of all men in the natural state, government is formed to tame that knavish claim to all things. There are still Knaves in the tamed state of man; they appear in the form of the ambitious man.

The Knave appears in the natural state of man, because each man is simply operating to survive and preserve himself. The greatest good in Hobbes is self preservation (Hobbes XI: 6). In a time before government, where men were not bound by social contract, “the natural state of men . . . was a mere war . . . war of all men against all men.” (Hobbes; 118), because “nature hath given to everyone a right to all” ( Hobbes 116), and every man is about equal in the amount of physical harm he can do. So everyman had to fight with every other man to secure what he believed to be his property. This state inherently breeds a kind of man who will lie, cheat, and steal to get what he needs or wants. If the state of nature is war (Hobbes; 118), then each man has too fight, leaving morals behind. This animosity makes everyman a knave, seeking to secure what is his. In Hobbes's view, an Aristotelian would not survive the natural state man because he would be too concerned with moral questions like justice. In a state of nature where everything is in flux and nothing is secure, a man must be a knave for preservations sake.

To protect themselves from each other, people form a union, bestowing power onto some sort of sovereign (Hobbes 171). The sovereign has the right to punish those who break contracts with their fellow citizens (Hobbes 176); the sword of punishment curbs the natural obvious knave (Hobbes 177). The knave does not disappear from society though, the knave he takes on the form of the ambitious man and the demagogue. Both of these characters seek recognition and power for themselves by spreading seditious philosophies. The ambitious man and the demagogue in Hobbes, share the gift of eloquent speech, where “good is represent to it as being better, and evil as worse than it is in truth” (Hobbes 168). Speech of this nature if contrary to will the sovereign can spread the seditious ideas like any man can determine good and evil (Hobbes 244). The danger of knave sits in the effect that they can have on their audience, they can turn “fools into madmen” (Hobbes 254). A Knave can easily manipulate the population with his rhetoric, convincing the subjects to turn away from the sovereign. Another possible knave activity, would the corrupting of a government that was in place. Hobbes mentions how if the King were to be a child, ambitious men hoping to gain their own fortune, could weasel into the government and, try to stake their own claim at power (Hobbes 233). This creates a many of the problems seen in democracy (Hobbes 234), if too many men try to gain power faction start to form, and civil war would not be far behind. It is worth noting that the eloquent men in Hobbes tend to be the learned class who has far too much leisure time (Hobbes 168, 263). So what is he fate of the Knave in Hobbes's world view? The Fate of Knave is not a pleasant one. Either he gets what he wants and gains power by throwing out the sovereign or he is silenced by the sovereign with harsh punishment even death (Hobbes 227).

The Citizen

According to Hobbes, the citizen has a very selfish role in society. In his perspective, the individual person goes through life doing what is best for him or herself. As Hobbes states, “All society therefore is either for gain or for glory” (Hobbes 112), we begin to see that this is his key belief about human beings. However, Hobbes checks himself with the argument that if everyone is only looking out for themselves, there is no room for growth of the society in which they reside. This would be because no one is contributing to one another; they are all in it for their own good. Then Hobbes goes on to say something else quite interesting. “But though the benefits of this life may be much furthered by mutual help; since yet those may be better attained to by dominion than by the society of others…but that men would much more greedily be carried by nature, if all fear were removed, to obtain dominion, than to gain society” (Hobbes 113). Here he makes the assertion that people and society as a whole would be much better off if they worked with one another and were not so selfish. However, he continues with the claim that dominion is the best way to gain the resources needed from a group of people rather than befriending a neighboring society. So he is still falling back on the opinion that it is only natural and indeed most beneficial for humans to find gain through the downfall of others. Later on, Hobbes says, "It is evident by what hath been said, how easily the laws of nature are to be observed because they require the endevour only...which whoso shall preform, we may rightly call him just" (Hobbes 150). So acording to Hobbes this law of nature that humans fallow is a just way of living. Though living by the laws of nature is supposedly justified, it is not the role of the citizen. From the text you basically get the impression that the actual "role" of a citizen is to fallow the laws and commands of sovereign's ruler.

{So my take away from this paragraph is that people act out of self interest rather than the common good. Is this all there is to Hobbes' conception of citizenship? Is it the "role" of the citizen to be selfish, or is selfishness just a characteristic?}

The other main argument that Hobbes states is that people are selfish because of fear of one another’s ability to do harm. In this way “They are equals, who can do equal things one against the other; but they who can do the greatest things, namely, kill, can do equal things. All men therefore among themselves are by nature equal” (Hobbes 114). This equal ability to kill one another is what keeps people from acting in mutual interest. In other words, fear is the ultimate deterrent from people working for the benefit of society.

The problem with Hobbes’s argument though is that he does not bring forth any argument as to how societies actually do grow if its citizens are only looking out for themselves. I suppose Hobbes would say that the ruler of a civilization through dominion of a neighboring society expands his own land, and therefore improves his own society. So it is through the sword of war that societies grow, not through the benefits of its citizens.

The State of Nature / The State of War:

In De Cive I, 10 Hobbes tells us that in the beginning each family had equal rights to all things (for sons still obeyed their fathers and so not all men were equal), that all peoples seeked, and still do seek, to partake of the same limited resources (De Cive, I, 6). This naturally led to strife and to the greatest of all "natural evils" death of the person. In this war of "all against all," everyone had equal rights to all things in that one could only "own" what they could defend from others. This was a brutish and nasty existence. However, there was a way out of the barbarism of that ancient age, namely the compacting of men amongst one another to give some of ones rights to another so as that other might act as judge or enforcer and thus create a state of law and order in which man could thrive. By this understanding, men gave up their "natural right" their complete freedom from all contractual obligation to recieve security by allowing themselves to be punished by laws and the executors of those laws. Hobbes continues to explain that since all of society is an attempt to distance oneself from the fear of death that is the state of nature, the best government must therefore have the most power to punish those that break the laws of man. Hobbes thus propounds Monarchy as the greatest from of governance.

This is interesting because another political scientist by the name of John Rawls comes from a similar position of equality of all men (though not from the power to kill as Hobbes does) that comes to the conclusion that a socialized representative democracy is the best form of government as the bottom rungs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs must but that thereafter the merit of each person will afford them differing levels of wealth, respect, and status. It is important to note that both arrive from the concept of making a contract or compact between the governed and the government. While Rawl's theory may seem the more agreeable of the two, it does presuppose that there are resources to sustain the society far past basic human needs, which has not always been the case at all times and places.

Historical & Modern Implications: Hobbes and other Ideas / thinkers:

Ideas attributable to Hobbes include: the equality of man, the lack of divine right to rule, a tax system based on wealth of the individual, political realism, argument against man as a "political animal," The Original Position, Religious Disobedience, Nuclear Proliferation, Political Science as Science,

The Necesity of Living in Society to Human Happiness:

Aristotle first explains it, Hobbes gives it less priority but still believes it, and Locke comes back to Aristotle to make it the most important function of government again. Aristotle tells us that the greatest good of society is to allow some of the citizens (not all, for not all can bring themselves to attempt this lofty goal) to seek out the "good life" of eudaimonia. While Hobbes believes that the primary focus of the state is the securing of public peace and order, even he admits that happiness is a goal of society. Locke also explains that government "genuinely exists for the public good" of which a piece is happiness (enshrined in the Declaration of Independence).

Knowledge is Power:

Direct quote, page 52, De Homine XI, 13.

Enlightened Self Interest:

It could be argued, and is presently being argued, that Hobbes gives one of the earliest coherent accounts of what we today call "Enlightened Self Interest" more commonly stated by the maxim: "Greed is Good." It could even be related more directly to Ayn Rand's Rational Selfishness. The discussion of the King, in particular, could be seen as an early start to these ideologies. In his rebuttal to the idea that the King will oppress his subjects overly much as the Roman Emperors did, Hobbes explains that a rational King would know that he is only as strong as his state. His state is not only composed of lands and armies, but of peasants and artisans. The strength of the masses, their abliity to provide for themselves, becomes his strength. If he taxes, oppresses, or slays them overly much then the King necessarily weakens himself. As other kings will wish to take his lands and his peoples, this means that the King has a vested interest in ensuring that his people are strong and capable. Moreover, as their wealth becomes his wealth through taxes, he will want a people that are rich in trade and resources, not stricken with poverty. Since it is therefore in the King's best, ENLIGHTEND Self-Interest that the state be strong, the King will not overly oppress his citizens (?). An idea while alluring, his often enough historically proven false.

Conflict Theory:

The reality, some would even say pessimism, of man's self-interest, made evident in abunadnce to us by Hobbes via anecdote and reason likely influence later theorists, such as Karl Marx, to bring about the schema known as "Conflict Theory." Conflict Theory states, at its core, that all persons are self-interested and that all societies, at all times, and in all places have had the powerful and the weak (at least in relative terms) and that the powerful and the weak, in every society, have struggled one against the other. The weak to overthrow the powerful, the powerful to oppress the weak to keep the status quo. Hobbes, with his discussion of Human Equality and of Human Self-Interest could be said to have laid the framework for the ideas that would give rise to The Communist Manifesto.

Political Science as Science:

Much like Aristotle, Hobbes views political science not as a loose philosophical or moral inquiry, but as a science that must be based on right reason using only that which can be logically extrapolated or observed in nature. De Cive and De Homine were part of what was to be a trilogy titled (in English): "On the Body" (an account of biology and internal physics that are outdated and incorrect by todays' knowledge), "On the Man" (applying scientific principles from his discussion of the body to the interaction of people in a natural state), and finally "On the Citizen" (applying the "right reason" developed in the previous books towards discussing man in society as well as society itself).

Nuclear Proliferation:

"In this day of nuclear weapons, when whole nations can be destroyed almost as easily as a single man in Hobbes' day, we would do well to pay increased attention to the one philosopher to whom the attaining of peace was the primary goal of moral and political philosophy" (28). I believe that Hobbes would find the

Political Realism:

D.C. I, 2 and D.C. IX, 18 as well as D.C., VI, 5 Mutual love and mutual goodwill is not enough on which to build a city

D.C., Preface, Pg. 100 : "though the wicked were fewer than the righteous ..." is not stating that all men are always equal, but whenever one is dealing with large groups of men there will invariably be those whom are of "fiery spirit" or "wicked nature" and we must always guard against these individuals.

Equality of Man:

{My revisions to this section,as far as I am able to tell, are completely lost. Something about Sarah and I posting at the exact same time with different copies of the wiki... I have no idea what just happened and I am terribly frustrated. I will quickly try to resurmise what I said, though not as well. ~Jason Lovins}

De Cive, III: Of the Other Laws of Nature, 13 quote from "The question whether of two men be the more worthy, ... the contrary to which law is pride" In this area Hobbes proclaims that men are equal due to their similar capacities, especially to kill. Aristotle previously claimed that men were all more or less equal because of their similar capacities to reason. Locke synthesizes the two ideas and goes further stating that all men are created equal and are thus all endowed with the same natural rights.

Right to Rule comes from the People, not God:

"For, since the will of God is not known save through the state, and since, moreover, it is required that the will of Him that is represented be the author of the actions performed by those who represent Him, it needs be that God's person be created by the will of the state" (85). This statement shows us that Hobbes believes that it is up to the state to make the religion, and not the vice versa. This could not be possible in a state where religious mandate gives right of rulership. Moreover, in his discussions of Kings, Hobbes specifically states that if a King were to have no heir, that if no such one was appointed the King, then all the subjects of the state would immediately have their natural rights returned unto them so as they might find another whom THEY would give their natural rights over to make him King. This is interesting because it unequivocably states that the King is gifted his rights by the people and that the people have a certain, if very limited & restricted, right to make a man King. This, of course, is taken further by Locke to mean that all governments are made solely by their peoples.

Man as Political Animal:

D.C. , I, 2 Does not deny that men form socieities nor that societies are doomed to failure. Merely that we are born unfit for society, like children, and must be molded into model citizens. "We do not therefore by nature seek society for its own sake, but that we may recieve some honour or profit from it (111).

Helpful Links / Citations / Notes on this Wiki:

"Thomas Hobbes." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 08 Oct. 2010 <>.

Fight Club. David Fincher, Jim Uhls. Film, Fox, 1999

Another Wiki on Hobbes, with some wonderful videos about his life and times.

Just for fun: An essay comparing Calvin & Hobbes to Fight Club: eery.

{It should be noted that the authors of this wiki did initially divide up the work evenly in what was previously agreed upon to be fair though it appears that more work has been done by some than others. Moreover, the creators of this work would have liked to have footnotes beside various statements to take the reader to the websites and / or citations of the works from whence the ideas came. However, as both time and inexperience being significant issues and obstacles, no such footnotes have been made. The writers wish to give their sincerest apologies for this, and other technical difficulties, that have decreased the utility and aesthetics of the piece. This is also why the photos are not organized with any rhyme nor reason despite repeated attempts to reorganize the pieces into a more coherent and pleasing whole. ~Jason Lovins }

{Moreover, while both myself and Sarah were trying to update the page something happened and the proper changes where not saved, especially as regards the equality of man. I got some sort of an error message and will take some time to try to put it more as it should be. My apologies for this lateness ~ Jason Lovins}

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.