1 Quick Summary

Hobbes argues (that is, tries to prove) that logic and human nature make control by overarching central power the only way to achieve social order.

This is hierarchy insofar as it involves power differentials — differences of rank (that is, they are ordered). The basic idea is that two actors are able to make a trustworthy contract because a more powerful third party will enforce the contract. This idea can be extended to produce a "tree" diagram.


What is a contract? The short definition "A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties with mutual obligations" (wikipedia). How does this compare to a promise?

If a Covenant be made, wherein neither of the parties performe presently, but trust one another; in the condition of meer Nature, upon any reasonable suspicion,it is Voyd: But if there be a common Power set over them both, with right and force sufficient to compell performance; it is not Voyd. For he that peformeth first, has no assurance the otehr will performe after; because the bonds of words are too weak to bridle mens ambition, avarice, anger, and other Passions, without the feare of some coercive Power; which in the condition of meer Nature, where all men are equall, and judges of the justnesse of their own fears, cannot possibly be supposed. And therefore he which performeth first, does but betray himselfe to his enemy; contrary to the Right (he can never abandon) of defending his life, and means of living.

In the state of nature, if two parties make a contract about future behavior, any little suspicion can void it. The person who performs first has no guarantee the other party will do her part because mere promises are too weak to control human behavior unless there is some power that will back it up. In a natural state where individuals are more or less equal, such a power cannot be assumed. Thus, the person who performs first is putting herself at too much risk and this runs contrary to the basic idea that one may not thus expose oneself to potential harm.

NOTE: we might understand this last part a little better when we think in terms of the fiduciary duty a person has to a corporation (though this begs the question of what backs up that obligation).

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

Hobbes is a contemporary of Descartes and Galileo. Leviathan is written in 1651. It’s written in the midst of the English Civil War (1643-1646) a struggle between parliament and Charles I. The question of the day was about monarchy as over against republic as form of state organization. Undermining the absolute monarch might be progress, but the chaos the followed gave rise to question about whether social order can survive without authority.

Hobbes basic model was that individuals are mutually dangerous ==> band together ==> contract ==> civil society ==> need for authority that has power over all. Man should give up natural liberties for artificial peace. Although not the first to articulate these ideas, he is generally cited as the foundation for the “humans fall into disorder without government” and “government involves transfer of power from individuals to sovereign” lines of thinking.