Thomas Hobbes’s Social Contract Theory, State Nature

Hobbes was a 17th-century English Philosopher and is regarded now as one of the greatest political philosophers of the Enlightenment age. He was the first modern thinker who coined the social contract theory. And Leviathan is the most significant philosophical book of Thomas Hobbes which explores the state of nature, human nature. This book explores the social contract theory and the formation of a just and orderly society. Hobbes provides in Leviathan an account of an ideal government based on the cold reality of human nature. His political theories contradicted the established idea of the divine rights of kings and helped to ground modern liberalism. Western political thought was influenced by Hobbes’ ideas significantly.

Thomas Hobbes’s The State of Nature

Hobbes wanted to find rational principles for the construction of civil politics. He had lived through the English Civil War, so saw first hand the scale of political disintegration possible. He came to the opinion that the burdens of even the most oppressive government are “scarcely sensible, in respect of the miseries, and horrible calamities, that accompany a Civil Warre”. He effectively concluded that any government is better than a civil war. So, as you can imagine, Hobbes took to see the English Civil War in a very negative light. For this reason, it is important to view Hobbes’ political philosophy through this lens because it has a big impact on how he views abstract political concepts. In general, Hobbes wanted to show the reciprocity between political compliance and peace. “No place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the Earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no Know. The state of nature, as defined by Hobbes, is a situation where every individual has unlimited natural freedoms and is driven by self-interest. Behaviour of human beings has no rules or laws. The scarcity of resources results in competition, distrust, and conflicts. Hobbes called this state a “war of all against all”, in which human life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. For Hobbes, it was very easy. He considered this to be the concept of the state of nature, and therefore, individuals should strive to avoid it. Due to this, Hobbes argues against Anarchism and supports the creation of a State.

The state of nature is characterized by the following:

  • No concept of right and wrong – no justice or injustice
  • No private property – possessions are unsecured
  • No society – just isolated individuals
  • No industry – only basic agriculture exists
  • Constant state of war – violence and insecurity are pervasive

Features of Hobbes’ Ideal State

Hobbes advocated for absolute monarchy as the best form of government. He argued that to avoid the ills of the state of nature, which is “nasty, brutish, and short,” there is a need to have an absolute sovereign with unlimited powers.

In the opinion of Hobbes, the sovereign governs both the society and the people with absolute power. All the powers are vested in the sovereign; there is no separation of powers at all. The citizens surrender their rights to the sovereign in exchange for security and maintenance of order.

The sovereign is the one who can legislate and enforce laws, appoint government offices, decide on policy, punish criminals, declare war, make peace, and rule over all public matters. They are not allowed to oppose or revolt if the monarch is a villain or tyrant. The sovereign has unlimited power.

Hobbes viewed this absolute monarchy as the only form of government that would end the warfare and insecurity of the state of nature. Democracy and other limited types of government would only lead to sectarianism and anarchy, he argued. Therefore, for Hobbes, a powerful sovereign was required to guarantee peace and stability.

Responses to Hobbes’s State of Nature

  • Many interpret Hobbes’ ideas of the state of nature as too pessimistic and overly negative.
  • However, it can be said that Hobbes constructs his views from some empirical assumptions.
    .According to him, all people are in some way similar enough so that no one can dominate others and no one can assume that they can be invulnerable.
  • Hobbes argues that, on the whole, people’s benevolence is limited.

Social Contract Theory:

Social Contract theory has several philosophers, but Social contract theory was first introduced by the English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Thomas Hobbes explored Social contract theory in his masterpiece Book The Leviathan which was Published in April 1651. later on, this theory was followed by two Important Philosophers, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. john Locke explored the Social contract in his famous book “Two Treatises of Government” (1689). Jean-Jacques Rousseau discussed general will in his masterpiece influential work “The Social Contract” (1762).

Thomas Hobbes’s Social Contract Theory

According to Thomas Hobbes, human beings evolved in a hostile ‘state of nature’ with no government or law to maintain order. To avoid this lawless state, individuals formed into groups and consented to establish a sovereign power (a common power such as a state or government) to which they would surrender some of their rights in return for protection and security. The social contract is the pact between the people and the sovereign power. The social contract stipulates that people give up some of their freedom, and recognize the authority of a ruler, to enjoy the protection of other rights. People can live in a harmonious society with rules and regulations when they consent to the contract. Hobbes was of the view that an absolute monarchy was the best form of government as it was the strongest form of government for the protection of the people. As Hobbes argues, once the people and the sovereign form the social contract, the subjects cannot rebel or try to change the form of government as they have already agreed to be under the authority of the sovereign to avoid the state of nature. Law, order, and security can only exist if the sovereign has absolute control over the people.

Features of Thomas Hobbes’s Social Contract Theory

The agreement that Thomas Hobbes made with the sovereign power of the people to improve the social order is called the social contract. Its features are discussed below.

(1) Autocratic: There are two groups of social contract, but the sovereign is not a party to this contract. As he is the Karva of the covenant, therefore he resides outside the covenant. By making this kind of arrangement, Hobbes introduced a monopolistic and monopolistic system of government. A person cannot under any circumstances resist or disobey the command of the sovereign. In the opinion of some, Hobbes’s treatise created a chain of human servitude rather than the joy of human freedom.

  1. Inspired Institute (Importance of state): Obedience to the nation means that the nation has the opportunity to live in a safe and secure state. Hobbes said that the number of people who respect the authority of the nation is very small from a real point of view. The state is an effective institution that socializes people and forces them to be disciplined by fear.

(3) One side contract: One side of the sovereign social contract can ignore the contract if he wants. He is the mouth of the sovereign in the observance of justice and order, he never errs, but he is the maker of the covenant and above it.

(4) Final Authority to contract: No person can break the contract after it is executed or remove himself from the contract. No other agreement can be made contrary to this. To break the covenant once made is to return to the state of nature. Between people

(5) Sole interpreter of law: Leviathan created by social contract is the main interpreter of social law. The law was the command of the sovereign officer, whose decision could be condemned even in terms of social interest.

(6) Custodian of rights: Since it is made to protect common people’s interests, the person refers to the contract except for his right to life. The state can interfere with all rights except the right to life.

(7) No right to revolution: The people cannot raise their voices against the ruler. They are his for being dedicated

Criticisms of Thomas Hobbes’s Social Contract theory

According to some critics, Hobbes’ social contract is not a contract. Any agreement requires two parties to be absolute, but this is not the case in Hobbes’ case. Because Hobbes’ contract is unilateral and here all the hopes and aspirations of the individual are surrendered to the state. Again a person cannot withdraw himself from the contract even if he wants to. By outlining this kind of limited agreement, Hobbes improved the political conditions of the time, but it cannot be called an agreement.

Hobbes on Human Nature:-

Hobbes built up his arguments on Human nature based on the mechanical process of cause and effect.
Hobbes uses the Materialist Metaphysical argument to explain Human Reality.
Following Galileo Hobbes rejected teleological argument or appeal to divine power or authority to explain their setting up of Political authority. Hobbes argued that human beings are fundamentally motivated by self-interest and a desire for self-preservation. The Physiological principle behind all behaviour means just the continuance of individual biological existence. Individuals act in ways that maximize their pleasure and minimize their pain. The life of a man is a continuous search for power after power which ceases only with his death. Therefore Hobbes concludes that the struggle for power or the means of obtaining or fulfilling desires is endless. That’s why he applies the Resolutive Composite Method to understand the fundamental characteristics of Human nature. Like anything in the universe, the Human Brain is made up of a Particle which can be understood regarding its motion. So as long as man is alive, Particles will remain in the state of Motion. Hobbes believed that humans are essentially equal in their physical and mental abilities, leading to intense competition and conflict over limited resources. In this environment, people are in a perpetual state of war, not necessarily because they are always fighting, but because they are always prepared to fight to protect themselves.

Two Basic Motion

INCLINATION– Things that give us pleasure generate Motion/Emotion of Love or attraction.

AVERSION– Things that give us pain generate motion/emotion of bad or aversion.

For Hobbes Human motion where human action which was of two types Voluntary and Involuntary. Hobbes was focused on Voluntary actions as they were performed about others and were dependent on the Psychological perception of the individual about the other solipsistic. This perception then causes Motion in the Human Brain, In the form of Sensation which the brain assigns names as good or bad. Good Perceptions bring attraction while bad ones lead to aversion. Humans according to Hobbes were Hedonistic creatures as they desired good or happiness and avoided suffering. Humans continuously strive for the fulfilment of their desires and Desires are endless so the pursuit of means and ways of achieving them endlessly is the common objective of all. Power is a means to obtain the things that give us pleasure, It can be Physical, Economic, Political, or any sort of Power. The power-seeking nature of man is a derivative of the UTILITARIAN nature of man.

Implication of the Hedonistic nature of man:-
Man is Materialistic
Man is Individualistic
Man Is Possessive
Man is Power-seeking
Man is Fearful


Thomas Hobbes was one of the greatest philosophers of the 17th century in England. The best known of his works, Leviathan, advocated a powerful central government to prevent the dangers of the ‘state of nature’ which he likened to living in a state of war. Hobbes had quite a grim view of human nature, considering the human being as primarily egoistic. He claimed that without the presence of a powerful authority to restrain them, humans will always fight as they chase their wishes. This implies that the ‘state of nature’ is an undesirable and hazardous condition to be averted. To avoid this, Hobbes claimed that people should enter a social contract that would involve relinquishing some of their rights and freedom to a sovereign power, in return for safety and order. The sovereign would be all-powerful. While Hobbes’ ideas are still controversial, they had a significant influence on political philosophy. His case for absolute state authority was highly effective but also raised questions about the balance between government power and individual freedom. Although Hobbes promoted absolute monarchy, he laid essential foundations for the evolution of liberal democracy. His analysis remains a framework for discussions on human nature and the state.