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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Hobbes Views on Freedom

Hobbes discusses mainly the freedom of man vis-à-vis sovereignity. According to him, people collectively constitute a commonwealth to provide for defense of and peace to the people. The commonwealth vests the power of ensuring such defense or peace to a person or a group of persons, called as Sovereign (Hobbes, 1651). The sovereign has the power to do anything he deems fit to ensure defense of or order in the commonwealth. The sovereign is so powerful that all rights of an individual stand transferred to him except the right of self preservation.

Hobbes says that commonwealth can be formed by force as well as by agreement among the people. In the first case, the sovereign established the commonwealth by force. If the people do not oppose the acquisition and overpower the sovereign it means that they consented for it (Hobbes, 1651). In the second case, formation of commonwealth by agreement is an effort by man to get him out of the shackles of nature. Thus the element of consent is present in both types of commonwealth and forms the basis for the social contract. Both forms of sovereignity have the same function in protecting their subjects and ensuring peace and also same rights in relation to their subjects.

Hobbes lays down the rights of the sovereign (Hobbes, 1651). The subjects are bound to be loyal to him and can never be freed from that obligation. The sovereign lays down all legislative rules. The sovereign is entrusted with judicial powers in all controversies. The sovereign has the power to reward or punish his subjects. The sovereign may choose his own counselors. He has the power to make all civil and military appointments. The sovereign is the final authority on philosophical or scientific pronouncements and can censor such doctrines which he thinks are inimical to public peace. The sovereign is the ultimate authority on making war or peace with other commonwealths. The sovereign cannot be put to death but at the same time should not be unjust or injure any innocent subject. Overall, the sovereign is the foundation of all true knowledge and embodiment of power in ensuring civil peace.

 According to Hobbes (1651), there are three kinds of sovereignity—monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. All other types of sovereignities can be fitted with one of these three categories. Hobbes puts his bet on monarchy as the best of these sovereignities. He ascribes several reasons for his judgement. In monarchy, sovereign will be better advised by his counsels, but their selection lies in his hands and he can always take their advice in private .This is not possible in case of other sovereignities. The policies of a monarch will be more consistent because they emanate from one mind. Also the possibility of a civil war in monarchy is remote.

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