From Leviathan to Liberalism: A Look into the Life of Thomas Hobbes


Thomas Hobbes was a 17th-century English philosopher and political theorist whose ideas have had a lasting impact on modern political thought. Known for his controversial views on human nature and the role of government, Hobbes’s works have been both praised and criticized for centuries.

Born in 1588 in Westport, England, Hobbes lived during a time of great political and religious upheaval in Europe. The Protestant Reformation had caused a division between Catholic and Protestant countries, leading to ongoing conflicts and wars. As a result, Hobbes became deeply interested in the question of how societies and governments should be structured to avoid such chaos and violence.

Hobbes’s most famous work, “Leviathan,” published in 1651, is a cornerstone of political philosophy and a seminal work in the development of modern liberalism. In this book, Hobbes argues that human beings are inherently selfish and driven by their own desires. He famously described the life of man as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” in the state of nature, where there is no government or social structure to keep humans in check.

According to Hobbes, in order to escape this state of constant conflict, humans had to enter into a social contract, relinquishing their natural rights to a sovereign ruler who would maintain order and peace. This sovereign, or “Leviathan,” would have absolute power and authority over the people, enforcing laws and punishments to keep society in line. This concept of absolute monarchy was a radical departure from the prevalent idea of a divinely ordained king, and Hobbes faced severe criticism for it.

However, Hobbes’s ideas of a strong and centralized government were born out of his experiences of living through a divided and chaotic England. He believed that a strong government with absolute power was necessary to protect individuals and ensure their rights and security. This idea went against the prevailing notion at the time that the government’s power should be limited, and that individuals had certain natural rights that could not be taken away.

Hobbes’s theories also had a significant impact on the development of liberal democracy. His emphasis on the importance of the social contract and the protection of individual rights paved the way for modern democratic principles and the concept of a government by the people, for the people. While his ideas were initially met with resistance, later thinkers such as Locke, Rousseau, and Montesquieu built upon his work to create the foundations of modern democracy and liberalism.

Hobbes’s influence can also be seen in contemporary political discussions, particularly in debates about the role of government and individual rights. His theories of the social contract and the necessity of a strong, central government continue to be relevant in today’s political landscape.

Despite his controversial ideas, it is undeniable that Thomas Hobbes was a critical figure in the development of modern political thought. His works challenged traditional beliefs and paved the way for new ideas that shaped the future of governance and society. From “Leviathan” to liberalism, Hobbes’s impact will continue to be felt for generations to come.