The Concept of Liberty is an important theory of Thomas Hobbes in the history of Political philosophy. Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century English philosopher discusses social contract theory in which hobbies explain the scope of individual liberty. Hobbes argued that in the state of nature, individuals get unrestrained liberty, but life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” To avoid this anarchy, individuals form a social contract and surrender their all rights to a sovereign of the state with absolute authority to maintain law, order, and security. However, Hobbes stated that the sovereign’s power has one key limitation – the individual’s right to self-preservation.
Hobbes’s view on liberty
Hobbes described freedom and liberty by putting the individual and their private pursuits at the centre. According to him, liberty means not facing external restrictions and force. An individual has the freedom to do what the law explicitly allows and also what the law doesn’t mention.
Hobbes talked about freedom as something each person could decide for themselves within the rules of the state. Liberty meant doing what the law allowed or not stopping someone from doing. It was all about being free from restrictions. Hobbes said the state could control public stuff, like ceremonies, but not personal beliefs. Hobbes doesn’t prefer Liberty. Because in the proper sense, liberty is the absence of Law (which puts restraints). Hobbes argues that Extreme Liberty results in Anarchy & State Anarchy, there is no guarantee of even of right to life, & for Hobbes security of life is more important than liberty. That’s why men decided to give up the Liberty which they enjoyed in the State of Nature and transfer all of their rights (“except the right to life) & in the process of contract. establish the absolute authority of the state for the protection of life. He also said individuals have a private space that even the state can’t mess with. Locke later emphasized this idea of keeping personal and public things separate. Even though the ruler had a lot of power, Hobbes said rulers couldn’t make someone end their life. If the ruler didn’t protect people, they had the right to fight for their rights. If they succeeded, the ruler lost power, and people could choose a new leader. Hobbes said fighting for rights was okay only if it was about protecting yourself. He thought people act based on staying safe, not just getting materialistic things. According to Cassirer, protecting yourself was a universal right for everyone in Hobbes’ idea, limiting the ruler’s power to keep people safe.
Thomas Hobbes using Newton’s 3rd law to Explain Liberty
Here, Thomas Hobbes using water battle to explain liberty. According to Newton’s 3rd law, Every Action has an equal and Opposite Reaction. Here Wall putting Force on the Liquid and the Liquid is also putting force on the wall. Hobbes explained Liberty via using this law and said Particles Inside the bottle are like Liberty which wants to flow but it can’t because of the wall which puts external impediments to motion/law similarly State will act like a Wall for having absolute liberty. The walls of a Bottle can be equated with the law made by the state. Hence, where law exists man has no option but to act according to the law.
Limits of Liberty:
Thomas Hobbes does not provide complete liberty to any individual, because he believes that giving excess liberty can cause conflict, the individual can do whatever he wants to do. Individuals may not follow the laws of the state. Excess liberty may cause a threat to life for every individual. That’s why he said a strong government is needed to keep society from falling into chaos. Hobbes believed in finding a balance between individual freedom and keeping society structured and safe.
Criticism of Thomas Hobbes’ Views on Liberty
Thomas Hobbes, a key figure in 17th-century philosophy, put forward unique ideas about liberty. However, some critics have raised important concerns.
Powerful Central Authority- Critics say that Thomas Hobbes’s powerful central authority is the power to claim the freedom of an individual. Because sometimes the powerful central authority does not listen to people’s opinions and does not follow rules and regulations. Due to this people will not be able to enjoy their freedom.
Absolute Power to a Sovereign- Critics say that giving absolute power to a ruler can become a threat to individual freedom. Rulers can abuse people and have tyrannical power. Critics say what kind of system is this, where the system is not good.
Hobbes’ Negative Portrayal of Human Nature- Critics say that Thomas Hobbes has spoken too negatively about people. Hobbes has given his opinion by looking at one side, whereas he should have looked at two sides. Why are people bad as well as good? If there were only bad people, the world would not exist today.
Hobbes’ Exclusion of Women and Private Properties.- Critics say that the exclusion of women and private properties shows that, Liberty is not for everyone and they cannot even keep property for themselves.
In short, while Hobbes’ ideas were ground breaking, criticism focuses on concerns about concentrated power, simplistic social contract theory, pessimistic views of human nature, and exclusionary aspects. Examining these critiques helps us better understand the complexities of liberty in political philosophy.