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Thomas Hobbes and The French Revolution

Thomas Hobbes and the French Revolution

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The political theories of Thomas Hobbes also had an impact on the French Revolution. Unlike John Lockes, who seemed to open the door for revolution and based on the will of the majority, Hobbes contends the commonwealth is essential to maintaining peace in a country. In Hobbes' Leviathan, he discusses the following elements of political philosophy:

  • Human nature and its relation to the commonwealth
  • The concept of war for the sake of peace in defense of the Revolution
    • Hobbes argues: ...that every man, ought to endeavor peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of war.
    • In a sense it is because the peasants and others could not find peace as long as the monarchy continued to treat them unfairly, they had no recourse except revolution.
  • Hobbes also believed that peace required sufficient restrictions, and such restrictions can only exist if imposed by a political authority, such as a commonwealth.

However, A commonwealth is instituted, according to Hobbes, when a group of men choose to give up their rights to govern themselves to some other person who governs them. In this way, many people may represented by one person, although Hobbes states that this could include a number of men, as long as majority decisions are accepted by everyone in this governing body.

Hobbes contended that men would naturally seek a state of conflict, if not restrained by laws that could be enforced. Furthermore, Hobbes did not seem to think that the particular form of the state had much impact on an individual's freedom. He contends, "Whether a commonwealth be monarchical, or popular, the freedom is still the same". In either case, Hobbes believes that we surrender certain rights and some freedom when we create a commonwealth. Despite Hobbes' belief that men must sacrifice rights for the benefit of the state, he is clear that if the state asks a man to commit an act against himself, a man has the right to refuse. One could argue that that the monarchy's over-taxation of the peasantry amounted to asking the peasantry to harm itself.

Thomas Hobbes was born as the Spanish Armada approached the British nation, so the times of his life were also turbulent. Hobbes played a very important role in the transition from medieval to modern thought in Britain. His influence not only made a difference in his country and in his time, but his thought impacted thought about government around the world from the time his ideas were discussed and published until the present. Hobbes published The Leviathan in 1651and outlined many of his most important thoughts. This work shows his belief that the state must have complete sovereignty.

Living in a civil society requires people to be aware of the obligations that tie them to the sovereign, obligations that have to be seen as taking precedence over all other kinds of non-political attachments, such as confessional attachment or certain economic objectives.

Hobbes came into conflict with the clergy because of these ideas. His views of government were based on his views that all of the phenomena of the universe could be explained without the concepts of spirits and souls removed from the physical bodies. Hobbes viewed human beings as essentially selfish creatures who would live in anarchy unless provided with a social contract in which they were obliged to submit to the sovereignty of the state. Without such a contract, each person would act on the impulses felt at the moment and in his or her self-interest. Hobbes proposed that individuals should submit to a commonwealth or a social organization that would be responsible for social order and public welfare.

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