The Documents

The Dark Side of Humanity

Leviathan

Leviathan

Frontispiece of "Leviathan," by Abraham Bosse, with input from Hobbes, 1651

Short Description

Hobbes argued that people give up their natural law, rights, and liberty for a social contract with government that provides the safety of civil law, rights, and liberty. For Hobbes, it was important that this social contract involve an absolute government that does not rule by consent, since people cannot be trusted. His views were a powerful influence to the framers of the U.S. Constitution.

Remnant Trust Description

A powerful influence on the framers of the Constitution: Rare first issue of Hobbes’ landmark Leviathan. First edition “Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan...had a peculiar relevance for the American Revolutionaries... Hobbes had a fundamentally pessimistic view of human nature...[which] had a powerful influence on the framers of the Constitution... During the early years of the Revolutionary period, American leaders found Locke’s revolutionary compact ideas more useful than Hobbes’ view that men are essentially self-interested, the Hobbesian outlook became more relevant. When John Adams wrote that ‘he who would found a state, and make proper laws for the government of it, must presume that all men are bad by nature,’ he was expressing an idea that was derived at once from Hobbes.” “Pepys, work ‘because the Bishops will not let it be printed again.’ Few books have caused more or fiercer controversy than this one... The system he constructed is the most profound materialistic system of modern times”. Hobbes’ conclusion that an individual should, unless his life is threatened, submit to the State, because any government is better than anarchy, “produced a fermentation in English thought not surpassed until the advent of Darwinism.” Leviathan was among the ‘Pernicious Books and Damnable Doctrines’ proscribed by the University of Oxford and ordered to be burnt. It was also placed on the Index in 1703. Later philosophical emphasis on the rights of the individual led to a decline in Hobbes’ influence, but the growth of utilitarianism led to his reassessment as “the most original political philosopher of his time.”