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Hobbes’ Leviathan: A Principality? A Republic? Or Something New?

1112 words - 5 pages

Machiavelli divides all states into principalities and republics, principalities are governed by a solitary figure and republics are ruled by a group of people. With Hobbes’ Leviathan a new model for governing a territory was introduced that can no longer be equally divided into Machiavelli's two state categories. Hobbes combines the concepts for governing principalities and republics into a new type of political thought that is similar to and different from Machiavelli. Hobbes, unlike Machiavelli, is on the side of the people and not the armed prophets. Hobbes believes that the function of society is not just merely living, but to have a safe and comfortable life. He believes that by transferring all rights to a sovereign the threat of the state of nature will be diminished. A sovereign elected will be able to represent and protect everyone equally, they are not a ruler of the people but a representative. The Leviathan differs from a principalities and a republics by establishing the institution of the commonwealth through the social contract.
To understand how the Leviathan differs from either a principalities or a republics, one must look at the principles of each to decipher how Hobbes bears resemblance to and disagrees with Machiavelli. The Leviathan state resembles a principality by giving absolute power to one sovereign. All citizens apart of the Leviathan yield their right to the sovereign. This resembles a principality because the authority of the sovereign is ruled by one person. Hobbes believes that "A kingdom divided in itself cannot stand" (Hobbes, 136), therefore the authority of the government must not be divided and there can only be one sovereign in control.
By granting complete control to the sovereign they are able to preserve order and peace within the society. The state of nature is in constant conflict and the threat of death is equal to everyone. Human conflict comes from "competition, diffidence, and glory" (Hobbes, 95) and Hobbes believes that there is always a human desire for power. This does not allow a safe, comfortable existence so all political life must rest on the social contract. This social contracts is the mutual transfer of of rights to the sovereign so they are able to enforce laws to keep peace.
The sovereign is able to operate through the social contract based off of people’s fear. They fear the natural state and depend on the sovereign for safety as they are helpless in the state of nature. Though unlike Machiavelli’s armed prophets the power of the sovereign does not come from one person who dominates, rather the leviathan’s purpose is to serve the people. Without the commonwealth's full consent the sovereign is unable to rule and the social contract is diminished. So for the Leviathan to function, like in a Republic, the Sovereign relies on the rule of the people. If they don’t surrender their right, the natural state will prevail and the Sovereign will have no authority. All the sovereign's...

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