Thomas Hobbes was one of the best modern political philosopher. His new individualism social contract theory of government, which, unlike previous political philosophy, began with the autonomous individual rather than the state. The individual, according to the new approach, created the state through the social contract. The leading advocates of the new school were Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632—1704), both English.
Although the social contract philosophy frequently stresses limited government and the right ot revolution, this type of thinking is not always present.Certainly in the thought of Hobbes it was absent. Instead, Hobbes’ philosophy led to emphasis on the dangers of anarchy and the need for a strong government to make life tolerable.
Hobbes’ philosophy reflected the social and political turmoil of his age characterized by the struggle between Charles I and the Puritan majority in Parliament, the subsequent civil war between the king and his supporters and the Puritans, the execution of Charles l, the rule of Oliver Cromwell, and the royalist restoration.
Yet Hobbes was an individualist in the sense that the starting point of his philosophy was the state of nature, a presocial state, characterized as a condition in which life was “‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. ” To make lite tolerable, people created an “artifical” community, the state, to which they turned over all power. As the state was the beneficiary of the contract and not a party to it. there was no possibility of asserting rights against the state.
Hobbes was also a materialist who ridiculed the traditional, natural-law philosophy and revealed religion. To him the only law was that made by the sovereign of a state. It was the sovereign who would determine the religion of the state. In every state, according to Hobbes.
There was a sovereign in which ultimate power rested. In a democracy this might be a parliament; in a monarchy the king. Whoever the sovereign might be, he was all powerful except for the rather ineffective right of the individual to resist the infliction of death or injury on himself. What liberty there might be in a state existed only at the sufferance of the sovereign, whether the latter was a king or a democratic parliament. The only difference between the all powerful state and a democracy was the way in which sovereign power was exercised.
To Hobbes, monarchy was the best government. Despite his preference for a strong monarchy, Hobbes should not be considered an advocate of modern dictatorship as exemplified in twentieth-century Fascist or Communist countries. Hobbes ‘ monarch would preserve order and suppress any movements leading to possible anarchy, but he did not expect the monarch to engage in thought control and purges as contemporary dictators do. The ideal monarch would provide security and presumably a limited area of intellectual freedom for enlightened men like Hobes.
Hobbes’ overemphasis on the dangers of anarchy is in part a product of the age in which he lived. Without doubt Hobbes was overly pessimistic about the possibilities of limited government, and he over-stressed the role of force in maintaining order; yet, today we may find some insights in Hobbes in a period characterized by revolutions, riots, and social unrest. Even in a democratic state, force is the ultimate weapon in maintaining order when the community is threatened by disorders.