What were some of Thomas Hobbes' beliefs

Thomas Hobbes. Father of the liberal state?

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 liberalism
2.1 Origin of Liberalism
2.2 John Rawls political theory of political liberalism
2.2.1 Liberal Justice
2.2.2 Liberal legitimacy
2.2.3 Liberal political discourse

3 Hobbes State Construction
3.1 The state of nature
3.2 Establishing a state and appointing a sovereign

4 The Hobbes State - a Liberal State?
4.1 The sovereign - a liberal ruler?
4.2 Free subjects?
4.3 Interim conclusion
4.4 The Leviathan under the criteria of liberalism according to John Rawls
4.4.1 Starting point
4.4.2 Liberal Justice
4.4.3 Liberal legitimacy
4.4.4 Liberal political discourse

5 conclusion


1 Introduction

The 17th century was marked by many political, warlike and social crises: The Thirty Years' War (1618 - 1648) raged on the European mainland, famine and epidemics weakened the population and denominational conflicts made social coexistence difficult.

In spite of all these conflicts, or perhaps precisely because of them, the natural sciences, but also the humanities, received a considerable upswing and developed rapidly - the Enlightenment was gradually being announced. As a result, numerous new works were created in the field of philosophy. Important philosophers such as Descartes, Leibniz, later Voltaire or Kant developed theories in the period mentioned that are still of great relevance to this day (Thomas Hobbes n.d.). In England it was mainly John Locke (1632-1704; Two Treatises of Government) and Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679; Leviathan), each of which created important political-philosophical works with their theories on the founding of states and social contracts (Becker / Schmidt / Zintl 2009). With the latter and his main work Leviathan this work explores.

As an English philosopher of the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes was under the influence of the British Civil War. Cromwell's supporters, anti-royalists, fought against supporters of the British crown. Hobbes himself was a supporter and friend of the Stuarts and was therefore exposed to an insecure living situation and fled into exile in France. In addition, as an educated person, Hobbes was well acquainted with ancient literature. Sources on the ancient Peloponnesian war and the conflict between Athens and Sparta were of particular interest here (Skinner 2008: 51).

From the synthesis of the social circumstances and his education, Thomas Hobbes finally came to the realization that war and violent conflict can break out at any time and anywhere and that humanity is not protected from moving from a socially civilized state to a brutal and inhuman "state of nature" falling behind (Thomas Hobbes, no year).

The aim of this work is to develop the idea of ​​the Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes to examine possible liberal characteristics. General theories of liberalism and, above all, the political theory of political liberalism by John Rawls serve as theoretical foundations.

First, an introduction to liberalism is given. The main features of John Rawls' theory of political liberalism will then be presented. This is followed by the basic idea of Leviathan carried out according to Thomas Hobbes, beginning with Hobbes' image of man, followed by an explanation of the state of nature. The chapter closes with a presentation of the founding of the state and the appointment of the sovereign according to Hobbes' ideas.

Following the theoretical considerations, it should be examined how or whether the idea of Leviathan can be classified and assessed under liberal aspects. The sovereign and subjects are considered separately from each other. Finally, the Leviathan examined taking into account political liberalism according to Rawls.

Since there has hardly been any scientific treatment of the Leviathan has been done with the aforementioned aim, this work is largely based on the two main works; the Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes and Political Liberalism by John Rawls and the corresponding secondary literature.

2 liberalism

2.1 Origin of Liberalism

From a philological point of view, the term liberalism is derived from the Latin word liber - free from. From a political science perspective, liberalism is one of the great political currents of the last centuries. Its origins lie in the late 18th century in the course of the Enlightenment and the emerging bourgeoisie and the associated polarization of social classes. Whereby liberalism did not experience its high phase until later in the 19th century (Schiller 2011: 342).

Liberalism is mainly about protecting and developing the freedom of every individual and consequently free development. Liberalism is thus in clear contrast to the basic political orientations of the political currents that have prevailed over many centuries, which were primarily concerned with legitimizing / stabilizing existing power relations and at the same time promoting the people " spiritually, economically and politically by the state in which they lived "(Bpb 2019), to patronize (bpb 2019). This contrast can be found in particular in the fact that liberalism focuses on people's self-determination and at the same time wants to restrict political rule. The economic self-regulation of the market and competition is also of central importance (Schiller 2011: 342). Furthermore, human rights, freedom of opinion and conscience, freedom of the press and, above all, the equality of all people before the law are of outstanding importance (bpb 2019).

As already indicated, a distinction is made between economic and political liberalism within liberalism. Economic liberalism postulates above all the self-regulation of the market without active intervention by the state. Individuals should have free control over their economic activities, acquire private property and thus be allowed to operate (bpb 2019).

For this work, however, political liberalism plays the decisive role. This form of liberalism ‘aims to limit state power. People should be allowed complete freedom about their actions, their actions and their thoughts. Freedom finds its limits as soon as you restrict another person's freedom through your own actions (bpb 2019).

2.2 John Rawls political theory of political liberalism

Central to the conception of political liberalism by John Rawls is the basic idea that all citizens of modern democracies should commit to a common concept of justice. The pluralism of individual world views and beliefs must not be an obstacle to accepting them. A general consensus among citizens about a concept of justice should form the basis of a legitimate legal system and political discourse. A consensus on a concept of justice enables citizens to evaluate and set up political institutions (Rawls 1998: 197f.).

John Rawls' conception of political liberalism is composed of three cornerstones: liberal justice, liberal legitimacy, liberal political discourse (Niesen 2009: 33).

2.2.1 Liberal Justice

First of all, Rawls states that, in his view, concepts of justice do not refer to the whole of social life, but only to the basic structure of society with its legal and economic institutions (Rawls 1998: 76f.).

Basic structures of justice are considered liberal as soon as basic rights and equal opportunities take precedence over all other political demands; The common good only plays a subordinate role for Rawls. Likewise, these basic structures should enable all citizens to exercise their freedoms and take advantage of opportunities. This welfare state aspect serves to avoid any disadvantages of the underprivileged, who would be excluded from exercising their freedom and rights due to poor resources. (Rawls 1998: 70).

Thus Rawls understands justice as fairness. From this understanding, he derives the claim to a liberal justice, from which all people must be politically as well as socially equal, and from this he formulates several principles of justice. The first principle of justice aims to ensure that political freedoms should be given special protection over all other fundamental freedoms in order to guarantee that all people are equally applied (Niesen 2009: 34):

1. Everyone has the same right to a fully adequate system of equal fundamental rights and freedoms, which is compatible with the same system for all, and within this system the fair value of the same political [...] freedom is guaranteed " (Rawls 1998: 69).

Rawls's second principle of justice states that social and economic inequalities cannot be rejected as a matter of principle, but these can only be justified as long as citizens have the same opportunities to fill offices and positions and existing inequalities serve to benefit people who are worse off:

2. "Social and economic inequalities must meet two conditions: first, they must be linked to offices and positions that are open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity, and second, they must work to the greatest possible advantage for the least favored members of society" (Rawls 1998: 69).

Rawls' remarks on liberal justice are based on the assumption of an "original state". In this thought experiment, all people are ignorant of their social and societal position. Furthermore, the “veil of ignorance” prevails, which means that all actors are unclear about their identity and their material situation. As a result, social pressure and material privileges have no effect on the actors. Because of this situation and because of the actions of people out of self-interest, people will contractually agree on the principles of justice described (Niesen 2009: 35).[1]

2.2.2 Liberal legitimacy

In his theory, John Rawls also deals with how legal norms, which differ from the previously stated principles of justice by their binding character, can be enforced and adhered to. In particular, the question of when compulsory introduction or compliance with standards can be justified is given special consideration (Niesen 2009: 38).

According to Rawls, political power and its exercise for the purpose of enforcing (legal) norms is only legitimate if "If it is carried out in accordance with a constitution the essential contents of which can reasonably be expected that all citizens agree to it as free and equal in the light of principles and ideals recognized by their common human reason" (Rawls 1998: 223). Here, too, the focus is on the idea that basic legal conditions must be acceptable to all citizens (general consensus) and can be justified by reason.

With the principle of liberal legitimacy it is important that all holders of political power, in addition to the requirements of general acceptance and reason, are subject to an obligation to justify their subjects. Rawls justifies this duty by stating that the transfer of political power to a person and the resulting foreign legislation on fellow citizens creates the risk of injustice (Niesen 2009: 39). An obligation to justify the citizens should prevent this. This inevitably also means that personal views and convictions are only personal and must not be transferred to others through coercive orders (Rawls 1998: 224).

John Rawls comes to the restriction, however, that purely affirmative behavior does not automatically represent an overarching consensus. Appropriate behavior per se, in contrast to the overarching consensus, is only related to the state of peaceful coexistence and does not prevent the persons / groups concerned from expanding their political power and ultimately wanting to impose their personal convictions on fellow citizens. Only a real overarching consensus ensures stable, just conditions for the right moral reasons (Rawls 1998: 35).

2.2.3 Liberal political discourse

It should be noted that liberal concepts are based, among other things, on the fact that a freely accessible and unrestricted political public can take place. John Rawls takes up this basic idea, but steers it in a slightly different direction. Rawls connects a liberal political discourse with the idea of public use of reason. In political debates such as B. Granting the right to vote or the legality of abortions, only "reasonable" political arguments should be allowed (Niesen 2009: 41).[2] Sensible political arguments are arguments that can be assumed not to leave the political realm. (Rawls 1998: 314). Arguments that are derived from comprehensive doctrines such as religions or that are controversial are not reasonable political arguments and are therefore not permissible in political debates (Rawls 1998: 316f.).

Ultimately, the public use of reason also means that it should not only be effective in public debates, but also in exercising the right to vote. The public position and the voting decision must match - otherwise it is hypocrisy.

3 Hobbes State Construction

3.1 The state of nature

Homo homini lupus.

The Latin sentence just quoted - man is a wolf to man - is often ascribed to Thomas Hobbes in its original form. In fact, this expression of the ancient writer Maccius Plautus (approx. 254-184 BC), from the Roman comedy Asinaria, Adopted and specified by Hobbes.[3] Although this quote does not come from Thomas Hobbes himself, its content represents the theoretical basic assumption Hobbes ‘very well, in which he constructs a state of human coexistence in which no state, sovereign or society yet exists - the state of nature.

This natural state serves Thomas Hobbes as a starting point for showing the emergence of states and sovereignty in his later remarks.


[1] In his theory of liberal justice, Rawls takes the original state as the basis and derives two principles of justice from it, but does not further address the question of whether an original state would inevitably lead to the development of these principles of justice (Niesen 2009: 35). Rawls himself anticipates this criticism, however, by pointing out that the original state is just a thought experiment and only serves to present his theory (see Rawls 1998).

[2] Rawls sees political debates as an instrument for resolving political conflicts that end with the passing of laws, etc. However, not all conflicts can be discussed / legalized in liberal states. These include issues relating to the religious and sexual orientation of people (Niesen 2009: 49).

[3] In its original form, the sentence is correct : lupus est homo homini, non homo quom qualis sit non novit itus (Maccius Plautus: Asinaria, 495; see thelatinlibrary.com).

Free translation: Man is a wolf to man, not a man, as long as you don't know each other.

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