Thomas Hobbes’s theory of Sovereignty

English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes, Was a mid-seventeenth Century Political Philosopher, who was well known for his work in the Political field. He was one of them who showed the direction of Western political thoughts. He was most Popular for his work like Leviathan which was Published in 1861, and other works De Cive (1642), De Corpore (1655), De Homine (1658), and Behemoth, or The Long Parliament (published posthumously in 1682). Social Contract Theory was the main contribution of Thomas Hobbes, highlighting the agreement among the Individual for security and Peace. His Other Famous theories like Sovereignty, power, and Authority drought him into the controversy. Till now These theories of Thomas Hobbes are Facing Controversy. Hobbes believes that Humans are naturally aggressive and selfish, this was the reason Hobbes thought that the state needed a Strong Government to check and maintain peace in the society. Hobbes argues that the Government should have absolute power and that individuals should be willing to give up their rights to it to maintain order and stability in their Society.

What is Sovereignty?

Sovereignty is called as the Supreme Power. the supreme authority to make and enforce the law. (It is the concept of modern times). Hobbes is the most important thinker to understand the principles of modern political life and the most defining feature of States is Sovereignty. Hobbes was the 1st person to give the Complete theory of Sovereignty. Thomas Hobbes is the Champion of absolute Sovereignty and His famous Leviathan exemplified the concept of Sovereignty. Sovereignty refers to the supreme authority and power held by a governing body or individual within a defined territory. According to French political philosopher Jean Bodin, sovereignty is the supreme power and authority to make laws, enforce them, and judge cases within a territory. This Sovereignty is absolute and indivisible. According to Thomas Hobbes, the sovereign had complete control over the members of the Society. The stability and security of the social order depend on this power. The double function of The Sovereign is to keep people safe and to impose the laws and regulations required to keep society cohesive. In Medieval times, authority was divided, or it was federal, It wasn’t clear who was Supreme, whose law would prevail, or who would have the last word. It will lead to a state of confusion. So, there was a need to establish an institution that would be considered Supreme concerning law. need for a sovereign institution.

Why did the need for a Sovereign arise in modern times?

The need for a Sovereign arose in modern times because, because in modern times, there was a rise of capitalism. and In medieval times there was Feudalism, which was Capitalism based on birth on contract. Hence, there was a need for an authority who would be responsible for ensuring the law and enforcing the contract.

Aim of the theory of Sovereignty.
The theory of Sovereignty aims to establish the supremacy of law made by the State / Sovereign over all other law traditions.
different traditions of law

  • Natural law- based on reason
  • Religious law – based on books of Religion.
  • Customary law- based on customs 4 traditions
  • Positive law- made by the State

Thomas Hobbes’s views of Sovereignty:-

According to Hobbes Sovereignty essentially lies in the power of determining on behalf of the entire community, that what should be done to maintain peace and order and also to promote the welfare of subjects. All men apart from Sovereign become its subject. Hobbes’s attribute of Sovereignty is absoluteness. The power of the Sovereign to make laws can’t be limited by any human authority, superior or inferior. There is no rival or coordinate authority in the commonwealth besides the sovereign. The sovereign is the ultimate authority, he is the source of law and the sole interpreter of the laws. Even divine laws do not apply to the sovereign, he is also the sovereign sole interpreter of such laws. According to Hobbes, Sovereign is also above any sort of morality. Since he is making the distinction between Moral and Immoral. Hobbes argues that sovereignty is indivisible, Inseparable, and can’t be communicated or given to anybody else. According to Hobbes, the Sovereign is also the Creator of Property means what people have in the “State of Nature” is merely possessions that confer no ownership. Legal property rights came into existence only with the Sovereign and Society. Since he is the creator of Property without the consent of the people. The Sovereign is also the source of justice, the supreme commander of the military, and the source of Law. So we can say that Hobbes concentrated full executive, Legislative, and Judicial power in the sovereign. One of the aims of Sovereignty is to establish the supremacy of law made by the state over all other traditions of laws, Natural Law, Religious Law, Customary Law, and Positive Law. Social Contract is the Basis of Hobbes’ Sovereignty.

Justification for Absolute Sovereignty

Thomas Hobbes, a prominent advocate of absolute sovereignty, is often considered the leading proponent of absolutism. His conceptualization of a sovereign is epitomized by the Leviathan, a sea monster representing the largest and most powerful of all sea creatures. Hobbes describes the Leviathan as a “Mortal God,” to whom, under the Immortal God, we owe our peace and defence. It is crucial to note that the concept of sovereignty was first introduced in political thought by the sixteenth-century French philosopher Jean Bodin (1530-96). Bodin defined sovereignty as “supreme power over citizens and subjects, unrestrained by law.” While Bodin sought to develop the idea of sovereignty into an ‘absolute power,’ he acknowledged certain limitations. Hobbes, however, discarded these limitations, establishing absolute power. As George H. Sabine observed, “Hobbes relieved sovereignty completely from the disabilities which Bodin had inconsistently left standing.” Hobbes argued that society or the state can only be founded on mutual trust. However, due to the unsocial inclinations of individuals, spontaneous agreement to respect each other’s rights is unlikely. When entering into the social contract to form a civil society, mere words are insufficient to bind individuals together. Hobbes contends that “the bonds of words are too weak to bridle men’s ambition, avarice, anger, and other passions, without the fear of some coercive power.” Covenants, without the sword, are mere words and lack the strength to secure a person.

Social Contract Theory and Sovereignty

The establishment of the state or civil society occurs through a ‘covenant’ or mutual agreement, known as the ‘social contract.’ Through this agreement, the sovereign, whether an individual or an assembly of individuals, assumes the position of supreme legal authority over society. It enforces law and order, protecting people’s lives and property. Hobbes proposes a single contract by which individuals abandon the state of nature and establish society and the state together. This historical fiction aims to convey the philosophical truth that government is not based on sheer force; rather, it rests on the will of the people. According to Hobbes, the social contract is a mutual agreement among the people themselves, emerging from the state of nature. The sovereign is not a party to the contract but comes into existence as a result of it. It is a contract of each with all and of all with each to establish sovereign authority. Through this contract, individuals surrender their natural rights and powers to a ‘common power’ that will ‘keep them in awe’ and provide security. The social contract, for Hobbes, signifies individuals authorizing a ruler with the condition that others do the same. All men in society, excluding the sovereign, become subjects. Natural rights are surrendered once and for all, and the powers conferred on the sovereign are irrevocable. Hobbes does not permit the right to revolt or revolution, arguing that reviving natural rights would lead to anarchy and total insecurity. Hobbes treats sovereignty as absolute, indivisible, and inalienable, creating unlimited political obligations. He condemns actions like the English Civil War (1642-49), asserting that repudiation of the contract would not only overthrow the government but also lead to the disintegration of society itself.

Power and authority in Hobbes’ theory

The theory of sovereignty by English philosopher Thomas Hobbes emphasizes the significance of authority and power in understanding the social contract and governance. Hobbes argues that without a government in the state of nature, constant conflicts and chaos prevail. To establish a peaceful society, individuals must surrender their natural rights to a sovereign authority. According to Hobbes, power and authority are crucial for maintaining order, with supreme authority using power to enforce laws, ensuring peace and justice. Lack of supreme authority could lead to self-interest-driven conflicts and perpetual war. While Hobbes advocates for a sovereign with unlimited power, he acknowledges conditions in the social contract. The sovereign’s power is not absolute; it relies on fulfilling the needs of individuals by protecting their rights and maintaining social order. If the sovereign fails in these aspects, individuals have the right to seek a new form of governance.

Why Law Made By State Should Be Supreme:-

It is a product of Rational Debate and Deliberations.
It comes with the Punitive power.
Lots of Wisdom and Reason are used in the process of making a sovereign state.
The state does not have the right to make laws against Individuals’ rights to life.

Difference between Hobbes and Bodin’s concept of Sovereignty:-

AspectJean BodinThomas Hobbes
Description of Sovereignty1st person to describe SovereigntySovereignty has Purpose
Nature of SovereigntySupreme power unrestrained by lawFor the Safety of the law, Make provisions/laws
Source of AuthorityPositive law or Man-made lawPerfecting the natural law
RestrictionsThere is restrictionThere is no restriction
PrincipleN/ADon’t kill principle
Role of LawEmphasizes positive law or man-made lawEmphasizes the safety and creation of laws
Concept of Natural LawN/AEmphasizes perfecting the natural law
Legal AuthorityEmphasis on the authority of positive lawEmphasis on the authority for the safety of the law
Explanation of LawsN/ADo’s and Don’t Explanation

Criticism of Thomas Hobbes’s theory of Sovereignty

1) Might is right’ but Force Alone Can not Secure success to govt.
2) How Rational human beings will Choose to live under an absolute Sovereign.
3) Critics argue that Sovereign authority takes away all rights & gives No right to defend themselves.
4) Rousseau criticized Hobbes’s theory of the Sovereign as self-contradictory.