The birth of the modern concept of the state

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Jean Bodin and the question of sovereignty[edit | edit source]

Jean Bodin.

Jean Bodin (1529 - 1596) will offer us a definition of sovereignty partly in response to the destabilisation of the monarchomachic theories for which he was afraid.

The exposition of Jean Bodin's thought was a major event in European political and philosophical thought, we will see the limits of political authority that made Bodin truly the great theorist and artisan of the concept of state and sovereignty. There is in him an essential idea developed in response to monarchomach theories which can be summed up in three words: to exist, sovereignty must be indivisible, absolute and perpetual. In other words, with Jean Bodin, a definition of sovereignty that allows the concentration of power, as opposed to the monarchomach theories, was affirmed. Bodin and the monarchical response to the theories of the monarchomachs. Bodin is perhaps the greatest jurist of the 16th century French who studied law in Toulouse and above all he is the author of two extremely important works, one entitled The Method for Studying History dating from 1566 which is a study of regimes in a comparative perspective that attempts to clarify the notion of sovereignty, the other work from 1576 is "The Six Books of the Republic". Between 1566 and 1576, Bodin gives us two different visions of politics and sovereignty.

Bodin will affirm the necessary concentration of power by stating that this concentration is necessary for the proper functioning of the state, whether monarchical, aristocratic or democratic. He defended the idea that it is necessary to identify the competences of each one in order for the state to function properly.

The question that will haunt him is what rights and prerogatives belong to only one authority, which an authority possesses exclusively and without sharing; are there in States and monarchies, in the functioning of the State, competences that are basically the exclusive domain of an entity?

This is an obsessive reasoning which is based first of all on the traditional Roman law division of the imperium which divides the imperium between major and minor sovereignty, that is to say, the attributes of sovereignty that were more important and the attributes of sovereignty that were less so.

The imperium merum is the major sovereignty of the one who holds the sword, the power and the weapons, but he relied on this division which raises the question is if the Romans divided sovereignty into imperium merum and imperium mixtum, are there competences that must be associated only to one entity? In parallel to this question he asked himself, he adopted a historical comparative perspective that gave great importance to local custom.

Bodin will define sovereignty, which must no longer be divided into major and minor sovereignty. To do this, he will draw on a great many readings of Roman law, of course, but above all he will plunge into the history of nations and the comparative history of states, emphasising the role of customs and pointing out that each state has its own legal mechanisms and different visions. He borrows from Aristotle the Greek vision, from Polybius the Roman vision, from certain medieval jurists, he plunges into the history of past law to see if a single definition of sovereignty can be drawn.

His first attempt can be found in his first work of 1566 The Method for Studying History which is a great comparative study of political regimes : it is necessary to compare all the laws of all the states or of the freest of them and to choose the best sample ; it is a true comparative study of public law.

After his analysis of the different political regimes he comes to discover that sovereignty can be defined by five attributes:

  • designation of magistrates and the attribution of power to each one: the sovereign can designate magistrates and attribute power to them
  • may establish or abolish laws: the sovereign, whoever he may be, the political body or the people, may establish and abolish the laws
  • can declare war and/or conclude peace
  • it is the body that can hear magistrates as a last resort
  • power of life or death over individuals

Every sovereign has these five attributes, sovereignty is defined by these five characteristics whether it is the sovereignty of a king or of the people, these are the attributes of modern sovereignty.

The first definition of sovereignty offered to us, which is very legal, has a number of consequences for the definition of the five attributes presented by Bodin. First of all, there is a real clarification of public powers, basically by presenting and describing these five attributes of what constitutes sovereignty and sovereign power, Bodin is acting as a clarifier of whose powers.

The first consequence is that the monarchs had affirmed a certain number of things, Bodin clarifies the prerogatives of public authorities.

The second consequence is that he rejects the vision of the mixed constitution of Machiavelli and his humanist heirs and admirers of Rome that had been supported: if he is opposed to a division and dispersal of sovereignty, to the division of powers, he will not defend a constitution that by definition divides power; in other words, the man who has a strong concentration of power will not support an idea that distributes power in different entities.

The third consequence is that Bodin is going to present a vision of sovereignty as indivisible: it is the affirmation of the idea that sovereignty is indivisible; since he is confronted with the confusion that the division of powers can create, he is going to be against the division of sovereignty.

The fourth consequence is that supreme power cannot be shared and it is even dangerous to create powers that control each other; it is radically hostile to the idea that the state should see its powers multiplied and shared in such a way as to dilute them.

To assert that "sovereignty is indivisible", for Bodin, does not imply that for Bodin the king has all the powers, "indivisible sovereignty" does not mean "unlimited sovereignty" in 1566. The king is certainly the source of power, but his power is and must be limited, Bodin has a partisan role in the political role of parliaments in the validation of certain legal acts.

When he wrote La Méthode pour étudier l'Histoire, the notion of indivisibility that he defends embarrasses him, it is as if he had proposed something that he does not know what to do with. One realises that he is asserting the attributes of sovereignty and its indivisibility, but one also realises that he is not very comfortable with this notion.

To say that power is indivisible does not answer the question of its extent, in other words sovereignty does not answer the question of how far power goes and how it is exercised. Bodin gradually leaves a number of grey areas in his work on the question of whether or not there are competences that need to be shared. In the example of the death penalty, when a judge sentences a person to death, does the judge who has power by delegation from the king not somewhere exercise an act of sovereignty?

Since the power of life and death is an attribute of sovereignty, then somewhere the judge holds a piece of sovereignty; to say that power is indivisible for Bodin makes him think that he has incorrectly answered the question of the limits and definition of sovereignty.

Bodin defined the attributes of sovereignty, but he realised that other people than the king can exercise a parcel of sovereignty, to say that power is indivisible does not answer his question.

A second work is needed to clarify his remarks on indivisibility, namely "The Six Books of the Republic", which will enable Bodin to refine his point of view; sovereignty is indivisible, but above all absolute and perpetual. For Bodin, there exists in every political community, a body, an entity, a king, an individual, a group in which all the power of the state is concentrated; this power that he calls sovereignty is indivisible, absolute and perpetual.

This idea will allow Hobbes to say that he who has sovereignty is neither the king nor the people, but the state. It is the idea of affirming that in every political body there is an individual or a group of individuals who holds all the power and in whom all power and sovereignty is concentrated.

Jean Bodin - Method for Studying History, 1566[edit | edit source]

In this work, Bodin explains sovereignty and affirms indivisibility. It is an important text because it is a founding text of political theory.

Bodin gives a definition of the terms he uses In the paragraph On the Magistrate we are at a time when the question of what a magistrate is, Bodin felt the terminological uncertainty surrounding the definition of magistrate.

He gives a fairly classic definition.

« The term 'magistrate' applies only to civil or military authorities. »

It is in the function of repentant civil or military authority that the title and name of magistrate may be used.

« We shall therefore call a magistrate any man who participates in public authority. »

Whoever exercises a piece of public authority is called a magistrate, and the question is whether a magistrate among magistrates exercises this sovereignty, with a "primus inter pares", who is the holder of this sovereignty?

« Who, then, would recognise as a magistrate a man without an enforcement agent and incapable of ordering anything? This may agree with charges and honours, but with authority it is not so. And on this point Charles Sigonio and N. Grucchi were mistaken to have thought, following Festus, that they should be recognised if not authority at least power. But on this point, the rules of the jurisconsults should be followed, not those of the grammarians: for them, the potestas are sometimes equal to and sometimes superior to the imperium. »

The magistrate who exercises his power and authority has a power equal or even sometimes superior to the imperium; there are magistrates and inequality of power within magistrates themselves.

Some only execute orders, others are truly holders of sovereignty; it is the idea that there are different categories of magistrates, some have the power to execute which is the potestas and others have the imperium.

« (Of sovereignty) Let us come to the definition of the supreme authority in which lies the principle of the Republic, Aristotle called it the supreme political power or supreme authority, the Italians the Lordship, and we the sovereignty (suveranitatem) while the Latins used the terms supreme power (summa rerum) and supreme authority (summum imperium). »

This notion, oh so important, which is the attribute of a magistrate, has borne different names in history.

« So when I compare the arguments of Aristotle, Polybius, Dionysius and the main jurisconsults, and compare them with the history of states, I see that sovereignty consists of five essential attributes: the first and most important is to appoint the highest magistrates and to define to each one his office, the second is to promulgate or abrogate laws, the third is to declare war and conclude peace, the fourth is to judge in last resort over all magistrates, and the last is to have the right of life and death in places where even the law does not lend clemency. »

This latter competence makes him doubtful, because if the sovereign is the one who decides on the life or death of someone and it is the judge who decides on the life or death of someone, then the judge is the holder of a sovereignty bridge unless he makes the judges the holder of all sovereignty; there is an inconsistency in his reasoning.

In order for it to be the prerogative of a single power, judges never have sovereignty, but exercise power including life and death only by delegation. Bodin will make the distinction.

« who, according to his status, possesses authority, jurisdiction or any such attribute may consider it as his true property, and he may delegate it to another, as Ulpien writes about jurisdiction in his book on "Les coutumes des anciens": but he who possesses a delegation may not pass it on to a third party any more than he would do for an object on loan: otherwise he would be charged with theft. »

When one is the sovereign one can delegate power, but the person to whom power is delegated cannot claim to be the holder of this sovereignty, he has only received it by delegation, but he is never the owner.

In 1576, Bodin clarified his answer by saying that competence is indivisible, absolute and perpetual. Bodin came to this conclusion from 1576 onwards for two reasons, a theoretical reason and a political reason.

The theoretical reason answers the question of whether the king must receive the consent of certain bodies of the state for certain legal acts, somewhere, ipso facto, sovereignty is shared. Bodin wants to clarify a confusion, theoretically what he argued in 1566 is sound, but he does not want any misunderstanding.

The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre by Giorgio Vasari, 1572-1573.

The second reason is political, two monarchomatic works have appeared, they published works affirming the possibility of resisting the sovereign and of resisting because somewhere the political body had part of the sovereignty, this idea abhorred Bodin.

The monarchomachs of Bèze, Hotman and Junius Brutus will affirm that one can resist the king because the political body has delegated its power, for Bodin the king must have the power, one must fight the monarchomachic writings. There is nothing better to fight them than to clarify the idea of sovereignty by making it a unique, indivisible and perpetual attribute.

The St Barthelemy massacre of 1572 caused a stir and established a climate of political instability in France. Bodin's thought is a thought of order, something of an anarchic provocation among the monarchomachs, it is a thought of order in a context of disorder. The social and political context of the time, the desire to fight against monarchomachic writings and Bodin's feeling that he had left contradictions in his writings of 1566 led him to write his 1576 work, "The Six Books of the Republic".

Bodin's answer is complex, he reasoned step by step, if sovereignty is and must be indivisible, one and absolute, then no act of resistance on the part of a subject is justified; it is interesting to note that Bodin, a convinced Catholic, would use the arguments of Luther and Calvin to dismantle the theory of resistance.

The first step is that no act of resistance is tolerated because omni potestas a deo, the second step is that there are cases where resistance is possible in the case of a usurping monarch who does not have legitimacy, with the exception of what he calls the usurping tyrant the resister is vein. The third step is that in order to avoid any form of resistance, absolutism, the principle of absolute sovereignty, must be affirmed.

In other words, without resorting to a theological justification of absolute sovereignty, to base absolute sovereignty on arguments other than theological arguments, it must be based on the argument of necessity. It is necessary for the order and functioning of the state that sovereignty be indivisible and absolute.

The final stage of his reasoning is that sovereignty for Bodin is a whole, a unique attribute of public power, but above all the essential character of sovereignty is the power to enact and repeal laws.

This idea is essential, what Bodin tells us is that sovereignty is not only indivisible, absolute and perpetual, but above all that what makes the sovereign among all attributes, the most important one, is the power to make and undo the law; the sovereign is the one who makes and undoes the law.

In other words, the sovereign is thus the legislator for Bodin, the question is not who is the legislator: for Bodin, the legislator is the king. For the state to function well and for legislative power to be exercised in order, the monarchical regime is the most conducive to this conception of sovereignty.

One must be careful to say that the monarchy is the best of regimes because only the king holds sovereignty; the king must be framed by brakes, which in French public law are called the fundamental laws of the kingdom. The king of France can legislate and adopt laws and enact others, but he cannot violate the fundamental laws of the kingdom, in a way the sovereign is limited.

Bodin gives the example of the Salic law which is the fundamental law of the kingdom of France saying that the crown is transmitted by male heirs. The other fundamental law that the sovereign must respect is the natural laws and the laws of God and more precisely the sovereign must always respect natural law being the right to freedom which refuses arbitrariness and the sovereign cannot expropriate an individual.

His definition of sovereignty will have an immense impact, Bodin will define the notion of sovereignty in an entirely new way by making it an essential element of the concept of the state.

He wrote, however, at a time when in some parts of the world something new and mysterious is emerging, it is a revolution in the order of epistemology, the order of knowledge; this revolution is the scientific revolution. Machiavelli had tried to lay the foundations of the republic, the monarchomachs had brought the idea that one can only resist political authority under certain conditions, Bodin proposes a very centralising definition of sovereignty, but somewhere Hobbes is going to benefit from a revolution in the order of knowledge.

For Bodin, sovereignty, i.e. public power belongs to a power that belongs only to it, is sovereignty that has three characteristics:

  • perpetual;
  • absolute;
  • inaliénable.

A little before 1566 and especially in 1576, Bodin came to the conclusion that sovereignty is built around these three criteria. For a person to be called "sovereign", this implies that he must exercise a certain number of competences that belong only to him.

Bodin is the first to define sovereignty by indicating that the person or institution that possesses sovereignty has competences that are exercisable and belong only to him. Hobbes goes further by saying that the entity that possesses a certain number of exclusive competences is the state that possesses in its own name a certain number of exclusive competences that Bodin called sovereignty.

Bodin proposed this rather broad definition of sovereignty, and made it the attribute of what is called the republic or public power without giving the name of state.

Bodin defines the notion of sovereignty in an entirely new way, based on these three characteristics, how and where?

Jean Bodin - The Six Books of the Republic, 1576[edit | edit source]

Preface to "The Six Books of the Republic" (1576) by Jean Bodin.

Chapter VII is entitled "On Sovereignty". We can see that Bodin is a formidable and feared jurist because he has an extremely synthetic mind, but above all he has an extremely clear mind.

« Sovereignty is the absolute and perpetual power of the republic [...] The main foundation of any republic, all the more so as we have said that the republic is a right Government of several families, and of what is common to them, with sovereign power" of with sovereign power. »

Bodin tells us that what is called a republic, and which can take many forms, from popular government to aristocracy to royal power, this regime of the republic has a unique characteristic which is that it holds sovereign power. In other words, whether it is one man, a group of men or the entire body politic, the respublica is the holder of sovereign power.

Next, he analyses the notion of perpetual :

« I have said that this power is perpetual, because it may be that one or more may be given absolute power at certain times, which, when it expires, they are nothing but subjects; being in power, they cannot call themselves Sovereign Princes, since they are only depositories, and guardians of this power, until it pleases the people or the Prince to revoke it, which always remains seized of it. »

The sovereign power that is the attribute of the respublica is perpetual because it never stops in time, it always lasts in time, there is no such thing as a sovereign republic temporarily; there is the idea that the republic holds sovereignty, whatever the form of that republic forever. The state is sovereign permanently.

Bodin specifies a case. He needs to insist on this point because there are moments in history when a veil has been thrown over the freedom of the state, these are the moments when a state of exception reigns: there is a moment in history when the political body, the state, is not entirely master of its competences which have been lifted and put in brackets for a certain period of time.

César (marble after the antique), Tuileries garden.

This moment under Rome was called the time of the dictator, today we speak in public law of a state of exception: it is the idea that there are moments when freedom is threatened as with the Patriot Act in the United States, the law does not or no longer applies in the same way. Bodin is aware that there are moments when the law is suspended for the good and preservation of the republic, he considers that these are moments when sovereignty is put in brackets.

Bodin wants to reaffirm the perpetual and therefore indefinite in time character of sovereignty.

Rome had a provision in its constitution, at the time of the Romans being the Dictator was horrific: when the Roman Republic was threatened, the Roman Senate could suspend the application of laws according to constitutional application and require a dictator who had full powers to defend the Republic at all costs, it was a time when laws were suspended; the dictator governed by decree and the Roman constitution provided for this. The only condition that this Dictator had was that he should not come from Rome so that he would not take sides or emanate from a community.

The Senate would vote to suspend laws, call in an outsider to govern by decree in cases where it was threatened; this man, this group of men brought to govern Rome by these exceptional measures was called the Dictator.

It is a reversal of terminology, in Rome, being Dictator was a great honour because there was an extraordinary trust, obviously the dictator had powers only for a determined period of time and the status was controlled and renewed by the Senate.

Bodin was perfectly aware where a veil was thrown over freedom and laws, conscious of this he reaffirmed that sovereignty could not suffer from the idea of exception, it is always there; one cannot suspend public power from its competences. As the Dictator did not hold sovereignty, it was not suspended, it is perpetual. In other words, sovereignty is perpetual, and even when the state of exception comes, it doesn't disappear, the state is still sovereign.

« What absolute power is. Now let's go on to the other part of our definition, and say what these words mean, ABSOLUTE POWER. For the people or the lords of a republic may give purely and simply sovereign and perpetual power to someone to dispose of property, persons, and the whole state to his pleasure. »

Sovereignty is absolute because it cannot be delegated, more precisely if you delegate the exercise of power to magistrates you do not delegate sovereignty to them, you give them the power to exercise, you give them a certain number of competences, but that does not mean that they inherit sovereignty; in other words, they exercise plots of sovereignty, but they do not possess it because sovereignty is absolute and the prince cannot get rid of it.

This implies that the sovereign is always above the law; we can see very well that, at bottom, if it is absolute and inalienable, it is because the one who possesses sovereignty has the power to make and undo laws, the essential characteristic of sovereignty and to make and undo laws.

He who has sovereignty, his power among others, is the power to make and undo the law; for Rousseau, he who makes and undoes laws is the people, therefore the people are sovereign.

« Also, the sovereignty given to a Prince under charges and conditions, is not properly sovereignty, nor absolute power, except that the conditions imposed in the creation of the Prince, are of the Law of God or of nature, as it is done after the death of the great King of Tartary... and it is necessary that those who are sovereign are in no way subject to the commandments of others, and that they can give law to their subjects, and break or annihilate useless laws to make new ones: which cannot be done by him who is subject to the laws, or by those who have command over him. This is why the law says that the Prince is absolved from the power of the laws, and this word of law also carries in Latin the commandment of the one who has sovereignty. »

The holder of sovereignty is the one who makes and undoes the law, but as in Bodin's mind he is the king, he is above the laws, he does not apply to himself the laws he promulgates, changes and modifies.

Bodin makes a distinction between law and contract; the monarchs said that the king made a contract with his subjects, the rulers cannot do anything because according to Junius Brutus, kings hold power from the people.

The contract between ruler and governed is not the question of who makes the law, it attacks the vision of the monarchomachs who deduced the power of the body politic from the idea of contract, for Bodin one cannot deduce from the idea of contract that the body politic has all the power, only the king makes and undoes the law, then it is the sovereign.

« The law and the contract should not therefore be confused, for the law depends on the one who has sovereignty, who can oblige all his subjects, and cannot oblige himself; and the agreement is mutual between the Prince and the subjects, which obliges both parties reciprocally. And one of the parties cannot contravene it to the prejudice, and without the consent of the other. »

For Bodin, one makes a contract with the king who makes and undoes the law; it is not because the prince decrees and proposes laws in the name of sovereignty which do not please the body politic that they can overthrow him.

For Bodin, the body politic has made a contract with the prince, but does not take away from him the fact of making and undoing the law, it does not defend an ascending vision of power.

« In what way those who have written of the duty of Magistrates, and other similar books, have been wrong to maintain that the states of the people are greater than the Prince, something which makes the true subjects revolt at the obedience they owe to their sovereign Prince. »

The monarchs have abused by treating the law and the contract as an identical whole.

If sovereignty is perpetual, absolute and inalienable, it belongs only to the state; if it is perpetual this implies that the one who holds power, the king, when he dies, does not take sovereignty with him, it is still there.

This is the whole meaning of the argument of "The king is dead, long live the king": the death of the legitimised sovereign does not imply the end of monarchy and sovereignty, it is not because he who exercises sovereignty dies that sovereignty dies with him; it is an attribute of what he calls public power, it is in this that it is perpetual, it is not linked to a man or to the holder of power, it is always there, it is transmitted from one holder of power to another.

« For it is certain that the King never dies, as they say, [but] as soon as the in is dead, the nearest male of his stall is seized of the kingdom, and in possession [of it] beforehand. »

Bodin reaffirms the distinction between the prince and the magistrates, in other words when the magistrate exercises power, this is where sovereignty is absolute, he does not possess sovereignty, but merely exercises command.

« Thus, it can be judged that there are two kinds of command by public power: one in sovereignty, which is absolute, infinite, and above laws, magistrates and private individuals; the other is legitimate, subject to laws and to the sovereign, which is proper to magistrates and to those who have extraordinary power to command, until they are dismissed, or their commission has expired. The sovereign Prince recognises, after God, nothing greater than himself; the magistrate after God, the sovereign Prince his power. »

For Bodin the judge is not sovereign because a distinction must be made between the person who holds sovereignty and the person who exercises it by command: the magistrate when exercising his power does not hold sovereignty, he exercises his command in the name of the sovereign who has delegated sovereignty to him.

In chapter IV On the comparison of the three legitimate republics, namely the People's, Aristocratic, and Royal State, and that Royal power is the best, Bodin asserts that the sovereignty that he has defined as absolute, perpetual and inalienable is basically exercised best only if it is a prince. In other words, sovereignty is exercised most effectively when it is the government of one; the regime best able to respect these three competences is when there is one sovereign.

This is the theory of absolute monarchy making the monarchy the most useful power in society; here is a highly talented jurist who defends the idea of absolute sovereignty exercised by royal power. Very many monarchies use Bodin's theory to justify their absolute power: after Bodin, very many royal jurists will defend not the theory of absolute sovereignty, but the theory of absolute monarchy. Bodin gave absolutism a clear and precise legal foundation by attributing absolute, perpetual and inalienable sovereignty to the king.

With Bodin ends the third pillar necessary for philosophers to truly propose a definition of the state. Bodin always spoke of the Republic a little like Machiavelli, who proposed a reflection on the vices and virtues of the citizen, but also on the conditions of existence of the republic. The monarchomachists were interested in another question, that of whether there were cases in which one could resist the Prince, Bodin had added a theory of absolute, perpetual and inalienable sovereignty.

On these three pillars, one man will build and propose the first definition of the state as an indifferent moral entity, it is Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Hobbes' Respublica will become the state.

The Modern Concept of the State: The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679)[edit | edit source]

Thomas Hobbes: portrait by John Michael Wright (National Portrait Gallery, Londres).

Hobbes proposed this synthesis in a context that has changed, he does not synthesize Machiavelli and Bodin out of context. Hobbes is important because he revolutionised political philosophy as well as law by giving a new meaning to the term state, but above all he wanted to propose for the first time in history a science of politics.

Machiavelli, Luther, Calvin, Bodin did not aim to propose a science-based vision of politics. Hobbes wanted to found a new science of morality and politics.

What is important is that Hobbes tries to answer questions that still concern us today. First of all, he asks the question of what individual freedom is, he wonders about so-called individual rights, whether there are rights that are inseparably linked to our person, and he will affirm the existence of these rights.

Hobbes seeks to understand the place of the law in the political community, this new moral entity that he will call the State, the Leviathan that produces the law, what role should be given to the law? Should it be the expression of the general will, the expression of the sovereign, should it limit our individual rights or not? What relationship do we have with the law? What is the law, what are its limits and how do we apply it?

With Hobbes, a new definition of the state was established: a sovereign state at the origin of laws that has absolute power over individuals.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Thomas Hobbes, second son of an Anglican minister, was born on April 5, 1588 in Malmesbury, England. His father had fled following a quarrel with a neighbouring clergyman, and the young Hobbes was brought up, with his sister and brother, by his uncle Francis. He first attended Wesport Church School, then a public school, and finally completed his studies at Oxford, which at that time was the scene of great theological disputes with the Puritans (radical Protestants).

On completion of his studies, Hobbes was engaged as tutor to the eldest son of William Cavendish, Earl of Devonshire. He became the young man's friend and confidant. In 1610, he visited France, Germany and Italy with him. On his return to England, his pupil took him on as his secretary. Hobbes then immersed himself in classical literature. He studied Democritus and especially Thucydides, a translation of which he published in 1629. In 1631, he became tutor to the eldest son of his former pupil and, in 1634, he accompanied him to the continent and stayed in Paris where he frequented the capital's philosophical circles (Marin Mersenne). It was during this period that he studied geometry and physics and acquired a mechanistic and materialistic vision of nature, which had a massive influence on his philosophy.

In 1637, he returned to England, but the unrest in the country compromised the development of his philosophical thought. In 1640, he had to flee because of his royalist views. He went to Paris where he became the mathematics teacher of the future King Charles II. There he will also be in contact with Descartes. In 1642 he had the "De Cive" printed and it was also at this time that he began to compose Leviathan, which he published in mid 1651, after the English Revolution (1649). In 1655, he published "De Corpore", a treatise on physics and in 1658 "De Homine", a treatise on psychology. After the Restoration, in 1660, he received a pension from King Charles II and from then on he enjoyed the protection of this monarch. In 1666, when the Communes denounced the atheism of certain offensive books, such as Leviathan, he resorted to this protection in 1666. However, he had to promise the King that he would no longer publish works of a political or religious nature.

At the age of 84, he wrote his autobiography in Latin and, at the age of 86, completed a translation of the Illiad and the Odyssey. In 1675 he left London for good to spend the rest of his life in the manor house of the Earl of Devonshire's family. Towards the end of 1679 he was paralysed and died on 4th December of that year.

Hobbes and the modern definition of the state[edit | edit source]

Hobbes is very important because he proposes a new definition of the State, but he also proposes a science of politics, he evolves in a different historical context from his predecessors: it is the first scientific revolution.

Hobbes will evolve and reflect on power, law, liberty and politics after having been marked by the first scientific revolution in the order of knowledge; the second is the Newtonian revolution which will emerge at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century.

Hobbes had a mechanistic and materialistic vision of the world of men that influenced his philosophical thought, political thought and philosophy of law.

Portrait of the king in exile Charles II by Philippe de Champaigne (circa 1653).

England was in turmoil leading to Cromwell's republic, Hobbes had to flee in 1740 because he held monarchical views in order to escape the spirit of revolution in Britain. In 1640 he became Charles II's tutor in physics, chemistry and mathematics.

In 1642 he published De Cive and began work on the Leviathan, which gave a definition of the modern state. This work was published in 1651. Hobbes died in 1679, not without having written a number of scientific works on the body, matter and decorporé, he was interested in the Iliad and the Oddysee. His desire to found a science of politics, his passion for geometry and science is linked to the intellectual context in which the young Hobbes was to evolve, which was the context of the first scientific revolution.

The first scientific revolution turned the humanities and knowledge in general upside down, since a certain number of truths based on the argument of authority which is the biblical and religious argument went up in smoke.

This revolution overturns the vision we have of law and politics, the authority argument is no longer mobilised, in other words, the authority argument based on the sacred dimension of the texts is called into question.

The argument of the sacred can no longer be used to say that a text is right and has authority, scientists have shown that the religious can be questioned as Galileo or Kepler did.

The scientific revolution applies a profound change in the very structure of reasoning in politics and in the reasoning of law: it is a question of constructing a political and legal model based on exclusively scientific reasoning and analogy.

Two models are at the disposal of Hobbes at the end of the 16th century: Hobbes will implement a very particular method of reasoning.

The first model is the geometric model, this model which scientists have rehabilitated consists in presenting a matter in the form of a demonstration sequence starting from postulates. It is a question of postulating a certain number of proven facts such as the fall of bodies in physics and to deduce a logical reasoning by a hypothetico-deductive reasoning.

Philosophers will apply the reasoning of geometry from a theorem by applying it to what will become political science or law the same reasoning; a certain number of commonly accepted truths are postulated from which a certain number of truths are deduced. The aim is to build a coherent and logical political and legal system that aims at certainty.

The second model that Hobbes will use less is the model no longer of geometry, but of mathematics: the mathematical model uses analysis, classification, not postulates from which one deduces everything, but rather based on observation, on analysis, on classification, on mathematical combinations in order to arrive at the bottom of a demonstrated and demonstrable mathematical truth.

This mathematical model is also going to seduce a certain number of philosophers who are going to bring these ideas into the human sciences; the idea of having codes that take up existing codes, that classify existing laws according to a certain number of criteria, this idea of codifying, gathering and classifying is an idea that jurists have implemented, but it is an idea eminently inspired by the mathematical model.

Hobbes is going to apply the mathematical model of classification, the hypothetical-deductive analysis, to the field of politics: there is an attempt to identify the study of politics, and this is due to Hobbes' passion for the philosophical sciences and mathematics.

Michel de Montaigne.

The recourse to this method is that in parallel to the scientific revolution, at the end of the sixteenth century there was a resurgence of what was called septic philosophy, that is to say, philosophy that believes that there is not one truth, but many, many possible truths, there is not one valid political model, but valid models as Montaigne and Charon think; they claim the pluralism of truths in the humanities.

Hobbes was afraid of these vague ideas; Hobbes wanted to propose a coherent model that could no longer be subject to any form of discussion, especially from the great sceptics who defend the idea that all regimes are valid. His recourse to the scientific method is not only because he has a passion for science, but because he sees philosophers who question the very existence of truth and who defend the idea that all forms of republic are equivalent, that there is not a single demonstrable truth in the order of knowledge.

This will to propose a new science of politics is certainly due to the massive and major influence of the scientific revolution on Hobbes, but also to the will to fight the specifics that are re-emerging.

How is this revolution of the philosophical type founded? How did Hobbes construct his new political philosophy and his philosophy of law?

The state of nature: an anthropological vision[edit | edit source]

Hobbes, marked by the exact sciences, thinks that to build and define the modern state and to propose a new vision of the state, it is necessary to think first and foremost about man. Hobbes is convinced that any political philosophy and philosophy of law is therefore based above all on an anthropology; one must above all ask the question: what is Man?

Hobbes has a true anthropological vision; he decides to think about the question of Man before thinking about the question of the State; to think about human thought, he thinks from the state of nature. It is a methodological tool for thinking about human nature.

No author had before Hobbes thought about Man in the state of nature when we are not yet constituted as a community; what is Man in the state of nature?

Hobbes reintroduces the question of Man in the state of nature by reflecting on four postulates:

  • all men are naturally equal: there is no natural hierarchy that would force one to put himself at the service of the other. Strength and cunning are too weak to ensure lasting power.
  • Man is a being of unlimited desire: man is driven by desire which is not need, but the tendency to assert his power. Through language, man accedes to the desire for honour, glory, and so on.
  • Man is naturally insociable: far from being natural, sociability is only possible if all men are "held" by a strong power.
  • the state of war of all against all is man's natural condition in the state of nature: each individual is driven by fear. The spiral of conflict is endless.

Hobbes will base his entire philosophy of the state on these four criteria, but Hobbes notes that staying in the state of nature is not very rewarding: man in the state of nature is not happy, but above all he notes that since we are fearful, in other words we live permanently even though we are physically stronger than we are, this permanent state of insecurity pushes men to get together. If we want to trade, reason leads us to leave the state of nature to put ourselves in the state of society.

Through individual will, man in a state of nature, decides and realises the necessity to live together and this necessity is born the Leviathan which will allow men to live together beyond their fears and beyond their eminently aggressive original condition.

In the state of nature, there are laws, these are the natural laws, the laws found in the state of nature are nineteen in number. One law is important because Rousseau took it up: the self preservation principle.

Natural laws are laws that are found before the constitution of society, they are laws that animate a society that does not yet exist. Bodin had made a natural law an essential law which is property, for Hobbes, equality is a natural law, liberty is a natural law, but not property. For Hobbes, property, whether movable or immovable, is not a natural law, it is a society that has decided that the right of ownership is applicable.

Thomas Hobbes, The Citizen or the Foundations of Politics, 1642[edit | edit source]

This is the founding text of the theory of the modern state, a text in which Hobbes explains his view of man and his vision of the state of nature on which he will found the state.

« I promise you, readers, four things that may oblige you to pay some attention, and of which I will put some features in front of your eyes in this preface. I shall therefore try to point out to you the dignity and usefulness of the matter I wish to deal with, the straightforwardness and short method I shall use, the just cause and the good intention which made me take up the pen, and finally the moderation with which I shall write down my thoughts. I will explain in this treatise what the duties of men are, first as men, then as citizens, and finally as Christians [... It is said that Socrates was the first of the following centuries to love political science, although it was not yet perfectly known, and that he saw only a few rays of it, as if through clouds, in the government of the Republic [...] Following the example of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and the other Greek and Latin philosophers, and then not only all the philosophers of the other nations, but all the people of great leisure, took care of it, as if it were an easy study, to which no preparation or work had to be given, and which was exposed, and by way of saying, prostituted in the common sense of the first who wanted to hear it. It is a powerful argument of the dignity of this science that those who believe they possess it, or who hold a rank in which it is supposed that they are not devoid of it [...] that almost everyone likes to see a false image of it, and allows himself to be charmed by a misrepresentation; and that it has been cultivated by excellent minds more than any other part of philosophy. ...] Since these disadvantages are therefore very considerable, the advantages which accrue to us from better information about this science are of very great importance, and its usefulness is quite obvious. »

Hobbes wants to propose a theory of the state that is useful, efficient and honest; on the other hand, the science of politics has yet to be founded. Hobbes will propose a useful political science based on a whole series of postulates based on a vision of man and by extension on a vision of the state. Hobbes builds his philosophy on a very particular anthropology of man, which he describes as "fearful", solitary and "isolated", haunted by the need to survive.

The feeling of fear is the essential motor of our human societies in the state of nature before the state of society was born, involving the construction of a state, a Leviathan capable and able to hold together undisciplined and fearful men. The Hobbesian construction aims to defend the idea that a strong state is needed in order to allow people to live together with a preference for the monarchy.

In this excerpt, Hobbes explains his vision of Man, his method influenced by the exact sciences, and his objective of building a state, and proposes a definition of the state.

De cive.

It is possible to divide this preface "De Cive" into four parts; in this part, Hobbes shows what he wants to do, he criticizes his predecessors who did not define what the state is and did not propose a science that would allow us to feel an influence of the exact sciences in Hobbes' thinking.

The term "science" comes up several times, his predecessors did not understand what moral laws are, what animates man in his environment and did not propose a moral philosophy that would stand the test of time.

This whole first part of the preface explains what he is trying to do and secondly criticises his predecessors for a lack of understanding of public affairs, for shortcomings in the scientific method, in other words, for Hobbes, his predecessors failed because they did not apply a number of the founding principles of the modern state to the humanities.

« As for the method, I felt that it was not enough for me to put my words in order and make my speech as clear as possible, but that I had to start with the subject of civil societies, then deal with their form and the way in which they came into being, and then come to the first origin of justice. It seems to me that we cannot know anything better than to consider its constituent parts. For, just as in a clock, or in some other automaton machine, whose springs are a little difficult to discern, one cannot know what the function of each part is, nor what the function of each wheel is, unless one takes it apart, and unless one considers the matter, the figure, and the movement of each piece; Thus in the search for the law of the State, and the duty of subjects, although civil society must not be broken, it must nevertheless be considered as if it were dissolved, that is to say, it must be understood what is the naturalness of men, what makes them fit or incapable of forming cities, and how it is that those who wish to assemble themselves into a body of republic must be disposed. According to this method, then, I put forward as a first principle that experience makes known to everyone, and let no one deny, that the minds of men are of this nature, that if they are not held back by fear of some common power, they will fear one another. »

We must always come back to the first element of the matter, it means that the first element of our societies the human being is Man, we must think about Man before thinking about the State, there is no point in thinking about the State without thinking about Man.

The metaphor of the clock makes it possible to apply the resolutive-compositive method; this is the idea that Hobbes by analogy thinks that the world is a clock that can be taken apart and put back together as we please: the preface is what to do and how to do it, the answer of Leviathan is what we must strive for.

« We see that all States, although they have peace with their neighbours, do not allow garrisons to be held on the borders, close their walled cities, guard their gates, keep watch, and set up sentries. What good would all this do if they had no apprehension of their neighbours? »

Hobbes describes the principle of fear and preservation, in a way Hobbes paints the world as it is and not as it should be.

This sentence is important not because it says, but for what Hobbes does methodologically speaking, some line before Man is fundamentally fearful. For Hobbes States are like Men, the principle of fear that animates human beings also animates States that do not stop protecting themselves, distrusting, suspecting themselves, even waging preventive war.

This is where Thomas Hobbes' realistic vision of international relations appears, and an analogy that will be made for three centuries between the posture of men driven by fear and the posture of States also driven by fear.

« If it is not meant to say, then, that nature has produced wicked men, because she did not give them discipline or the use of reason, it must be admitted that they may have received from her the desire, fear, anger, and other passions of the sensitive soul, without having to accuse her of being the cause of their wickedness. Thus, the foundation I have laid remaining firm, I show first of all that the condition of men outside civil society (which condition allows me to name the state of nature) is none other than that of a war of all against all; and that during this war there is a general right of all over all things. Secondly, that all men desire, by a natural necessity, to get out of this odious and miserable state as soon as they recognise its misery. Which they cannot do unless they agree among themselves to give up their claims and their right to all things. »

Hobbes begins to answer a question which is that this fearful man who thinks of protecting himself living in the state of nature, what is this state of nature? Does it represent time zero? How to define the state of nature?

Man in the state of nature is fearful, but what makes this state of nature unstable, fragile and unviable is explained here. For Hobbes, we are born with fear, desire, passion, etc.

Hobbes repeats that fear, passion animates us, we are complex beings who try to live together without authority, but this life in the state of nature is not possible simply because we never know if someone is stronger than us; our fear of others leads us to be reasonable and to realise that this instability is not liveable. Therefore, we have to get out of this state of nature, if people want to live together they have to find a political and legal structure to live together and which frames their human passions which are fear, the desire for power, the desire of everyone for everything.

« For although I have tried to persuade, for some of the reasons I have given in the tenth chapter, that the monarchy is more convenient than other forms of government (which alone I confess I have not demonstrated in this book, but supported with probability, and put forward as problematic), nevertheless I say quite expressly in various places, that it is necessary to give every kind of state an equal and sovereign power. »

Hobbes proposes in an implacable logic what he wants to do, how to do it and why, now he explains what to do in a world where man is a wolf to man and the solution to this dilemma. It is a contested philosophical posture, for Rousseau Man is naturally good, he bases his philosophy on different premises to arrive at the same conclusion.

For Hobbes, irrespective of his position on what Man is, we arrive at a different conception of the State; the essential thing is not so much the type of government, but the essential thing is that this State be strong and powerful with the power to act on men and women. In other words, whatever the nature of the state, there must be equal sovereign power.

In this preface, Hobbes tells us that this state of nature is an unstable state that is not conducive to living together, ending his introduction by saying that we need to redefine the state, to find a new "political form" that allows naturally evil men to live together.

Hobbes is confronted with an essential question as to why we have left this state of nature, but he did not explain on a theoretical level how this transition from the state of nature to the state of society, in other words how the state is created. He drew on his predecessors because he resorted to the theory of the contract; basically Hobbes took up this famous theory of the contract, but transformed it, he re-read the reformed thinkers who traditionally divided the social contract in two.

Contractualists thought that when the body politic made a contract with the king, it was a two-stage process:

  • the pact of association which is the decision to live together
  • the pact of submission which delegates power to someone in order to exercise that power

All the reformed contractualists have defended the idea that the contract is certainly a methodological fiction, but that all political power is based on a moral contract between the body politic and the leader(s); this contract is passed in two stages with the contract of living together and the contract of submission.

Hobbes took up this theory of the contract and changed it, saying that the mistake of his predecessors was to think that there were two stages in the creation of the modern state, in the signing of this contract between ruler and ruled. For Hobbes, the pact of association and submission must be reduced to one and the same operation: in Leviathan, Hobbes will clearly defend the idea that when we put ourselves under the authority of a state we do not make two contracts, but there is only one stage.

It's a completely new idea, because if there are two operations, there is a possibility of reversibility, if there is only one association, then it is no longer or much more difficult to challenge the one who has given the reins of power. The state of nature is left by men because they realise that they can no longer live together, they get together and decide, through a new vision of the social contract, to cede an important part of their rights to the state or the Leviathan in a single operation.

By making it an operation, the monarchs can say that they have not given away all the power, the pact of association is superior to the pact of submission allowing a way out. For Hobbes, it's illusory to cut this operation up, insofar as we entrust power and give up to the State we can't go back on it.

The two contracts are reduced to a single operation in favour of Leviathan, it is the birth of a strong state.

In Bodin, he will take up an idea which is the theory of sovereignty in order to say that once we entrust power to the state, to the Leviathan, but it has absolute, indivisible and perpetual sovereignty.

Sovereignty for Hobbes is absolute and indivisible, he also affirms his preference for the monarchical state, which he believes to be more secure and certain of providing security; three criteria must be insisted upon :

  • the sovereign is above all the one who breaks or makes the law: he who holds sovereignty has the power to make and break the law.
  • the sovereign by the law he makes or undoes, decides or can decide what is just: justice is a human institution, it is not something that is universal, Hobbes is perfectly aware that there are different conceptions of justice finding it legitimate for the sovereign to decide which law is just and which is less so; the jurisdiction of justice is not a universal jurisdiction.
  • the sovereign is not bound by the laws he makes or undoes: he is above the law, something that bothered Hobbes' successors, he made the state an object above the law.

These three characteristics do not prevent the sovereign from having obligations showing that Hobbes is not simply the paragon and promoter of an authoritarian or all-powerful state :

  • ensuring the security of citizens: a state that cannot ensure the physical security of its citizens cannot be called a state. It was a spike to authoritarian princes who did not ensure the security and the right to be heard of the citizens.
  • ensuring equal rights for everyone: Hobbes was one of the first to say loud and clear that Men are born free and equal in law; in the state of nature we are all equal and the sovereign must ensure this equality before the law.
  • the sovereign must be successful, he must succeed in guaranteeing the security of rights: there is an obligation to succeed.

The state that Hobbes proposes is a strong state built on founding precepts, the law, equality of citizens, a strong power concentrated in the hands of the sovereign.

Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, 1651[edit | edit source]

The frontispiece of the "Leviathan" is the work of the engraver Abraham Bosse.

This engraving represents Leviathan for Hobbes; Leviathan is a biblical person that Hobbes humanised, this engraving shows Leviathan is made of a multitude of little men who hold the political and religious attribute in his hands, the sword and the crook: Leviathan has the power, the public, military power, to make and break the law, but also the power over the church.

Hobbes was heavily criticised from 1651 onwards, particularly by the church, since Leviathan had to be above the churches; in the name of the sovereignty of the churches over themselves, they did not want a strong state to have superiority over the churches. For Hobbes, a state is strong only if there is institutional authority over the churches.

The title Leviathan or Treatise on the Matter, Form and Power of an Ecclesiastical and Civil Republic, i.e. the state that has responsibility over individuals, but also authority over individuals.

Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, 1651, Chapter XVII - Of Causes, Generation and Definition of the State[edit | edit source]

Hobbes defines what he means by state, he gives for the first time a definition of the state as we understand it.

Hobbes answers the question of what are the passions, the feelings, what differentiates Man from animals?

This chapter affirms the need for a strong state:

« For the laws of nature, such as justice, equity, modesty, pity, and, in short, doing to others as we would like to be done to us, by themselves without the terror of some power that makes them observed, are contrary to our natural passions, which lead us to partiality, pride, revenge, and behaviours of the same type. »

The natural laws of justice and respect are only theoretical laws, in the state of nature it doesn't work like that, we can be animated by unavowable passions, we need a terror that obliges us and makes us want to live together.

We are driven by passions, but there is a part of reason, in Hobbes we are beings endowed with language explaining that we have this art of words unique to human beings.

« The assent of animals is natural, that of humans is only the result of convention, which is artificial, so it is not surprising that something else is required. »

Hobbes opposes a natural, we cannot live together, we need something artificial to hold us together, and that something is Leviathan.

« The only way to erect such a common power, which can be capable of defending men from the invasion of strangers, and from the wrongs which they may do to one another, and thereby ensure their security so that, by their own industry and by the fruits of the earth, they may feed themselves and live contentedly, is to gather all their power and all their strength on one man, or on one assembly of men, who can reduce all their wills, by a majority of votes, to one single will; In other words, to appoint a man, or an assembly of men, to play the role of their person; and that each one should recognise as his own (that he should recognise that he is the author of 37) all that he who thus plays the role of his person will do 38, or cause to be done, in those things which concern common peace and security. »

The single contract has a formula for Hobbes :

« I authorise this man, or this assembly of men, I give up my right to govern myself to this man, or this assembly of men, on the condition that you give up your right to him, and authorise all his actions in the same way. »

There is an equality demanded in renunciation, for Hobbes the only condition for living together is the establishment in the form of a contract of a strong state, we all renounce the same rights, we are equal before the sovereign and the state; Rousseau took this definition almost word for word, but turning it in a different way.

« The multitude thus united in one person is called a REPUBLIC, in Latin CIVITAS. This is the generation of that great Leviathan, or rather, to speak more deferentially, of that mortal god to whom we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and protection. »

The State is a God to whom we must obey.

« And in him lies the essence of the Republic which, to define it, is: a single person, inasmuch as its acts are the acts of which the individuals of a great multitude, by mutual agreement with one another, have each made themselves the author, so that it may use the force and means of all as it deems useful for their peace and common protection. »

It is a geometrical definition of the state, you can feel the scientific definition of the state proposed, and when Weber talks about the monopoly of legitimate violence, he is aware of Hobbes' definition.

« And the one who has this person in custody is called the SUVERAIN, and is said to have sovereign power. Every other individual is his SUBJECT. »

The State is the sovereign, so the question arises as to who is that State?

For Hobbes, the sovereign is the state which is a man or an assembly of men who makes or breaks the law, it is a descending vision; for Rousseau, the people is sovereign, it is an ascending vision.

Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan, 1651, Chapter XVIII - The Rights of Sovereigns by Institution[edit | edit source]

« A republic is said to be instituted when a multitude of men agree and agree by convention, each with each other, that whichever man, or assembly of men, the majority will give the right to present the person of all, that is to say, to be their representative, each, both he who voted for and he who voted against, will authorise all the actions and judgments of that man, or assembly of men, in the same manner as if they were his own actions and judgments. »

The sovereign has a number of rights and obligations afterwards:

  • 4. The sovereign's actions cannot be accused precisely by the subjects of the sovereign.
  • 5. No matter what the sovereign does, he cannot be punished by the subjects.
  • 6. The sovereign is the judge of what is necessary for peace and the defence of his subjects and judges the doctrines that must be taught to them.
  • 7. The right to make rules by which the subjects will know what belongs to each one in such a way that no one else will be able to appropriate it without injustice.

Chapter XVIII lists all the sovereign's rights.

« These rules of property (or meum et tuum), and of the good, the bad, the legitimate, and the illegitimate in the actions of subjects are the civil laws 85, that is to say, the laws of each Republic in particular, although the denomination of civil law is henceforth restricted to the ancient civil laws of the city of Rome, laws which, when this city was the head of a large part of the world, were civil law in our country at that time. »

This is a very important idea, we have seen that for Hobbes there are two categories of laws: natural laws and civil laws. The natural laws govern the state of nature and the civil laws are the positive laws that govern the laws in the state of society; when we live together, we are no longer under the natural laws, but the civil laws.

The question is which law and where?

If freedom is a fundamental and natural law, but not necessarily a civil law, because no law guarantees our freedom by hypothesis; starting from Hobbes, we think about where to put what and in particular where to put a fundamental law. Today, the right to property is a fundamental right, the question at the time of Hobbes is whether property is a natural right now interpreted as a fundamental right.

Is it natural law or the law of men that modulates property? Is property a fundamental right or not? Can the legislator modify this right to property?

Hobbes' question and whether one makes it a natural law one cannot touch it, but if one makes it a civil law one can touch it without violating a fundamental or natural law. In this debate, Hobbes will take a clear stand: property is a human institution not subject to a higher authority that cannot be justified in the name of a fundamental law; Hobbes' property is certainly important, but mine or yours is a matter of civil law.

If a state decides to restrict the right to property, it can do so against the wishes of many of the thinkers of the day. Rousseau agreed with Hobbes in that he believed that "these rules of property are civil laws". It should be remembered that the right of ownership is not inviolable; if the legislator decides to infringe property because it is not a fundamental law, he can modify it; Hobbes is not a supporter of the right of ownership: "these rights are indivisible".

For a state to be strong, it needs sovereignty, absolute, indivisible and perpetual, which Bodin agrees with on this point. The definition is the explanation of civil laws is in chapter XXVI, Hobbes proposes a definition of civil laws.

It is interesting to define a strong state, but it raises the question of freedom? With a strong state, do we still have spaces of freedom? Since men are undisciplined, we need a structure that holds them together, but does this state have all the powers or does it not encroach on the powers of its subjects?

In chapter XXI Hobbes will propose a definition of the freedom of subjects that is still being debated today:

« LIBERTY or FREEDOM properly mean the absence of opposition (by opposition, I mean obstacles outside the movement) and these two words can be applied to creatures without reason and inanimate as well as reasonable creatures. »

For Hobbes, a human being is free as long as he has no external obstacles that stop him, in other words, a man deprived of freedom is a man physically chained up, locked up; in fact, a free man is a man who is not constrained by physical and external constraints. For Hobbes, any other form of constraint does not affect the freedom of men; whether one says "the purse or life", one is free, the constraint is not physical, of course it is a very reduced vision of freedom and constraint.

All of Hobbes' contemporaries would, in fact, be terribly critical of this vision of subjects. For Hobbes, the question was to define an internal constraint: the individual is free only and only if there is no external obstacle, an internal constraint is not considered to be an attack on freedom.

By defining freedom in a rather reductive way, by extension it makes the State the holder of extensive powers, in fact in Hobbes' view the State has very extensive powers as long as it does not threaten our physical security, if the State threatens we are still free, because it does not lock us up.

Hobbes defines freedom in the mirror of a strong state, defines the freedom of citizens in the way that the strong state allows to exist.

« And according to the proper, and generally received, meaning of the word, a FREE MAN is one who, for those things which he is able to do by his strength and by his intelligence, is not prevented from doing what he has the will to do. But when the words free and liberty are applied to something other than bodies, it is an abuse of language. »

Freedom corresponds to a threat to the body. With Hobbes, the reflection on the State comes to an end and is proposed the first modern definition of the STATE and of a strong State with extensive powers allowing human beings to live in the state of society.

After Hobbes, the moral definition of the state that he proposed is no longer going to be contested, a moral personal state, holder of sovereignty representing individuals, but rather its relationship to individuals and its importance, its role as absolute power and its ability to invade the private sphere of individuals. After Hobbes, it is no longer a question of reformulating the definition of the state, but of reflecting on its place and its relationship with individuals.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]