Thomas Hobbes on individualism

Thomas Hobbes, the mid-17th English Philosopher, was widely known for his works in the field of Political philosophy. He had contributed a lot to political philosophy, one of them being Leviathan. The book Leviathan by Hobbes explores social contract theory, the state of nature, Human nature, liberty, and Individualism, etc. Hobbes’s view on individualism is crucial in today’s discussions on balancing personal freedoms with societal order.

Hobbes’s Background and Influences

The English Civil War happened on 22 Aug 1642 and shaped Thomas Hobbes and the 17th Century was a turbulent time for Hobbes. Hobbes shows the War around him, there were conflicts and Chaos. Due to the chaos of the English Civil War, Hobbes adopted a practical approach to political philosophy and He developed a Philosophy called individualism. Some thinkers like Machiavelli were impressed with the ideas of Thomas Hobbes on the People and Government system and the scientific progress of his time.

Thomas Hobbes on Individualism

Individualism posits that “Man is prior to state” and that the interests of oneself come first. Hobbes’ psychology of self-defence and man’s self-assertion is the primary source of his individualism. Since self-interest comes first, individualism is defined as “Man is Prior to State.” Hobbes begins by making a compelling case for the Right to Life as a Natural Right, which comes before all social organisation. Hobbes’ view that the right to life is unassailable is one of the factors that make him the greatest individualist of all time. Hobbes believed that humans are individuals by nature and only social when necessary. For Hobbes, each Individualism matters and each Individualism is important given the fact that each could perceive good or bad or attraction or aversion in his ways. Hobbes argued for a Subjective theory of value and believed that the desire to achieve happiness was to be respected by each individual. For Hobbes, Individuals were equal in Capabilities not only that even the contract set up by Hobbes is based on equality as it was to be set up by Individuals on equal terms. Individuals were the prime beneficiaries of the contract as it would serve the purpose of defending the Right to Life. The Contract and The Authority were intended to fulfil the psychology of self defence and Self-preservation of man. While the Sovereign may look absolutist the only function that Hobbes assigns to the state is the Protection of life. It means that the Hobbesian state is a Minimal state. Hobbes is Considered as a Scholar of “Possessive Individualism”.

Hobbes as the greatest of all Absolutists

Absolutist: An absolutist is someone who grants the State total authority.
meaning of absolute power to state:-
→ State is sovereign- no other, association, not even the church will have Power over the State,
→ Man has liberty when the law is silent- man is free only to the extent. The state has permitted them to be free by not, making laws.

Is there a Contradiction between Individualism & Absolutism

No, because human nature is so individualistic, peaceful coexistence with other people is impossible without the presence of a supreme authority. It indicates that to prevent man from destroying the laws and Order of the State, an absolute state is required due to his extreme individualism. Hobbes’ absolutism serves the individual’s safety rather than being an end in itself.

AspectIndividualismPossessive Individualism
Autonomy of IndividualsEmphasizes self-autonomy and freedom of individuals.Stresses on the individual’s right to own and control property.
Rights of IndividualsAdvocates for the protection of individual rights.Emphasizes property rights as a fundamental aspect of individual freedom.
Assertion of IndividualFocuses on the expression and assertion of individuality.Prioritizes the acquisition and protection of personal property.
Value of IndividualValues the inherent worth and uniqueness of each individual.Places value on individual ownership and accumulation of property.
Philosophical FoundationMore broadly focused on personal freedom and autonomy.Rooted in a capitalist philosophy, highlighting the importance of individual possession and property rights.
Societal ContributionAcknowledges the role of society in shaping individual identity.Minimizes the societal contribution to individual success, attributing it primarily to personal efforts.
Obligation to SocietyEmphasizes the importance of individuals contributing to society.Asserts that individuals are not obligated to give back to society based on their possessions.
Criticism of Thomas Hobbes view on Individualism
  1. Ignoring Basic Rights- Hobbes faces criticism for neglecting fundamental rights that people naturally have, like the right to life, freedom, and property. While later thinkers like John Locke emphasize these inherent rights, Hobbes argues that individuals must give up these rights to a powerful ruler for protection and order. Critics say Hobbes falls short in acknowledging and safeguarding individual rights in his governance model.
  2. People Treated Like Parts
    Thomas Hobbes needed a powerful government to prevent conflict and chaos in the state. Critics argue that a powerful government can suppress the thoughts and freedom of individuals. However, critics say that this view makes individuals merely part of the system, focusing on the system rather than individual freedom.
  3. Forgetting Personal Freedoms
    Hobbes talks about a social contract to keep things orderly, but critics say he doesn’t talk enough about personal freedoms. They worry that Hobbes’ powerful Leviathan government could take away people’s rights and freedom, making the government too bossy. Critics think we need a balance between order and keeping important personal freedoms.
  4. Oversimplifying nature of People
    Hobbes says people are mostly selfish and just want to survive, but critics think he makes it too simple. They say he ignores that people can also be kind, work together, and care about shared goals. Critics believe Hobbes misses the variety and richness in how people act and what motivates them.

Hobbes’ Leviathan is a big deal in politics, but it has some flaws, according to critics. They say Hobbes’ focus on a strong ruler could hurt individual rights and freedom. As we keep talking about how much power the government should have and how much freedom people need, Hobbes gives us a starting point to figure out the right balance between order and individual rights in the social contract.