The fact that Hobbes introduces his Leviathan by speaking “…not of men but of the seat of power” may seem somewhat misleading if we actually take a glimpse on his gigantic man standing above and beyond the city-state, as the illustration suggests in the frontispiece of the book. The prestigious drawing designed by Hobbes himself could not reflect more ideally the state of an ‘armed peace’ as achieved by individuals in the avoidance of a somehow primitive condition of flown war of all against all. In this image we observe the polis being minimal in size, just like a caricature surrendering to the wills of a sovereign power that actually embodies all the physical characteristics of an actual man. On the one hand holds the sword whereas on the other one holds the rod making sure that the polis is in good hands and will be guarded from whatever danger there to come. The drawing was to become the notorious emblem of a political theory that was brought into the limelight and by means of the author’s delightful art, the model of a machine as being the government’s most efficient instrument for securing bodies and administrating social life. Hobbes appears particularly consistent on suggesting that all engines (Automata) should attain a life of their own, “for what is the heart but a Spring; and the Nerves, but so many Strings; and the Joynts, but so many Wheeles” that engage bodies into a constant movement.

Presumably this is the symbolic live-scene that Hobbes envisioned for his country in an age where the English State was falling apart in the shadow of an on-going civil war. Born in 1588 at a period of growing tension between the Prince’s supporters and the Parliamentarians, Hobbes witnessed the weakness of King Charles to stay put and defend his ‘seat’, a fact that was causing him great concern.[1] This exact concern found expression in his highly developed form of civic science baptized as Leviathan. The book was written while Hobbes was exiled in France due to the growing political tension in England and the subsequent fear he felt for his life by the prevalence of the Parliamentarians in 1640.[2] That Hobbes was abandoning the task of speaking about men and their immanent tendency to possess blind mastery of themselves, can be clearly understood through the systematic exposition of his doctrine on sovereignty. The ‘seat of power’ the authorship of which Hobbes kept us wondering about, belongs explicitly and ‘with all rights reserved’ to “…that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMON-WEALTH, or STATE”[3]; by no means to any real and powerful man. For beyond any hesitation he had about what is the constitution most proper for governing, his experiences of civil war convinced him, or indeed made him more honest with himself, that for the State in order to be maintained alive it should be invested with profane and everlasting capacities of political power.

Hobbes technical manner of speaking runs throughout the majority of his political writings where organs in motion enact together for bringing artificial bodies into existence capable of governing and administrating social life[4]. His great knowledge on Physics finds application in the practice of his civic science where themes such as the rise of the individual, social relations and the articulation of institutions are all seen as motions mathematical dedicated to reach ends pre-determined. It is becoming clear from the first lines of Leviathan that the art of government which Hobbes so proudly brings into light goes hand in hand with his understanding of humans as bodies extended in space that need to be handled in a manner proper by experts.[5]

Hobbes’s idea of appealing to the state of nature where people’s life is mistreated due to perpetual conflict of all against all, functioned as the great narrative of the time and was the one that allowed the State to be witnessed as the apocalypse of people’s will to live in peace. According to this narrative, man’s natural condition is that of the animalistic individual that engages in constant warfare with everyone due to his intrinsic nature to survive and prevail ad hoc. This condition, and as the narrative suggests is the one which introduces a new area, that of social consent in which the State functions as a machine equipped with all the facilities needed for ruling and protecting this newly-born society. It remains fascinating nevertheless the way in which Hobbes discusses ‘the natural condition of mankind’ as if it was not a mere hypothetical example but an actual historical fact.[6] The State of nature, in his own words, never seemed to exist ‘in general’ as a historical fact, except of some  reference he makes, random and undefined in nature, to some savage people living in America. However, and as he speculates “…it may be perceived what manner of life there would be, where there no common Power to feare;”[7]

The exact hypothesis of how devastating the case would be if people did not share any common conquest, refers directly to that historical event that Hobbes had the chance to witness and wanted to put an end to by any means possible. It was the currency of English civil war and the frightening   possibility of the State’s ‘withering away’ the reason that allowed Hobbes to formulate his sovereign theory upon the ‘radical imaginary’ of the state of nature and actually sound so tremendously true. As if ‘natural state’ was always lying there dormant.  The sharing of common concerns about the devastating implications of England falling into a ‘state of nature’ could actually form the basis for a powerful discourse on the State that could bring rivals back together.[8] For Hobbes that seems to be the case most suitable for England to escape civil war, once and for all; to provide an authentic theory of the State being able to respond to whatever conflict and ‘internal decease’ there to come. In a like manner, the formation of a theory that disconnects the individual from society by lifting him at its very centre, could only serve common ends and unitary purposes in the light of unforeseen events and emergency situations.

Hobbes theory of Leviathan as approached in the light of historical context, attains valuable importance not because it is a theory that is simply monarchical and irrefutable by nature, but because it is a theory that ends up being monarchical by the need to save the State from inner collapse and subsequent anarchy. His aims were obviously directed on investing the State with profound arrogance in matters of decision making, though we would be ourselves the least arrogant not to consider the way through and the means he uses for transcending sovereignty into an efficient machine of government. Notions such as the right of the individual to be represented in the constitution of a commonwealth and actually resist against in case his life is threatened, are sincerely accountable for making us consider that Hobbes’s thought extends the limits of a brutal and unconditional authoritarianism. These notions credit us with allowance to support that Hobbes makes space to liberal sentiments to ferment; a conviction which does not necessarily imply that Hobbes himself ought to be seen as a liberal thinker, and certainly not as the thorough architect of democratic constitutions of a very particular kind.[9]

An important remark needs to be added at this point that has to do with my overall approach and treatment of Hobbes’s theory. My intention in this article does not so much consist on engaging in polemics against Hobbes proclaiming what is already known; namely that Hobbes with one way or the other and in conclusion, appears to be endlessly monarchical in character and that this fact can by no means be denied. Either my intension lays on defending an innovative idea about the opposite, namely that Hobbes appears to be the pioneer of democracy or the essential defender of peace. There is already unlimited bibliography devoted on Hobbes which covers almost all the aspects of his theory and indeed someone needs to be careful not to step into the footsteps of previous commentators and repeat what has already been written, if of course the intentions of a writer still rely on contributing to knowledge by bringing new approaches into the scene.

My approach does not imply that Hobbes is the eloquent speaker of absolute monarchism per se. For in that case it would be of limited scientific interest what he means by referring to ideals such as representation, common-wealth or sovereign power. I approach Hobbes as escaping the limitations of his so called ‘absoluteness’ by implementing certain techniques that allow the Sovereign machina to function par philosophical excellence throughout time. The integrity given to the individual to act and behave within the given space of law, reaches moments severely critical where he is entitled to disobey and resist lawful institutions. Which is the character and what are the limitations exactly to any plausible right to resist according to Hobbes? Does he account for a certain violation of law in light of unfair decisions as taken by the sovereign? And the theme most important for our task: Does the right to resistance refer only and explicitly to the individual’s right to preserve life or it can be witnessed as a call to collective action against established authority?

There seems to be a hidden referent in Hobbes’s account on employing the individual’s right to resist orders on the one hand and the prospect of performing collective action against the Sovereign on the other, and it is the main task of the following chapter to bring this into the light. My main hypothesis is that if we want to understand Hobbes’s meaning of resistance then we need to cultivate in depth his theory of war, or better yet- and much to Hobbes’s disapproval no doubt- his political art of permanent War, for it is the landmark of his theory of the State and the prestigious heritage of our present “democratic” times.


[1] The fragile enigma of who is exactly the one occupying the seat of power has been thoroughly addressed by Skinner who deems in Hobbes theory of representation as found and developed throughout the whole of his political writings. Q. Skinner, Hobbes and the purely artificial person of the Statein Visions of Politics Vol. 3, Cambridge University Press, p.177. A productive argument on Hobbes account of representation can be also found in Pitkin(1964), Forsyth( 1981) and Sommerville(1992)

[2] For a brief but thoroughgoing account on Hobbes life see Skinner Introduction: Hobbes’s life in Philosophy in    Visions of Politics Vol. 3, Cambridge University Press

[3] Ibid 1, p.9

[4] In the context of Hobbes political writings I am taking Leviathan (1651) as to be his most representative work, the one that reflects ideally the maturity of his political thought. I also take into account his earlier political treatise on De Cive (1642) following Hobbes intention to ground legitimacy on the precise work some years later when he composes a new Prefatio and the book appears re-published in Britain in 1650. For a detailed chronological and historiographical account on De Cive see Malcolm 2002.

[5] Ibid 1, p.9. Hobbes relation with mind and consciousness appears rather obscure and this is expressed in various points in The Elements of Philosophy. At times he gives the impression that human mind is in somehow disconnected from the rest of the body where bodies are left alone to enact in despair. See for example Chapter VII Of Place and Time p.91-2, Chap. VIII Of body and accident p.101-103. Of course it could be argued against this conviction that this is what Hobbes method of interpreting natural philosophy is all about. That of beginning “…from privation… from feigning the world to be annihilated”(p.91). Concerning body in

The English Works of Thomas Hobbes Vol.1

[6] A solid argumentation on the state of nature as logical and not a historical hypothesis on Hobbes can be found in C.B.Macpherson The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, Oxford University Press 1962,p.19-29

[7] Ibid 1, p.89-90

[8] Foucault offers a remarkable account on war as the motional condition surrounding Leviathan, the mode that runs through and shapes social conditions in their so called natural state as well as in their constitutive form with the emergence of the State. He sees Hobbes in Leviathan as addressing the enemy discourse that spoke the language of the English civil war and the upcoming collapse of the State. This approach finds response in the light of Hobbes’s confessed worries that the causes leading to the dissolution of a common-wealth were to be traced in the uncontrolled circulation of ‘seditious’ and ‘repugnant’ doctrines that were calling the people to disobey the monarch. Ibid 1, p.223-24

M.Foucault 1976, Society must be defended, lecture five, Penguin Books 1996, p.99-100

[9] I tend to agree with the idea that sees Hobbes as a precursor of liberal thought in the light that he derives fundamental premises of republican consent such as individual rights, law, authorship and representation. This view is shared by Vickie B. Sullivan, in Machiavelli, Hobbes and the Formation of a liberal republicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) p.105-110 and Pierre Manent who argues that the task set forward by Hobbes to replace the ancient principle of good with that of right and more specifically with the right of the individual, is the foundational principle of liberalism, the language and value that intensively persist in our days. P. Manent An Intellectual history of Liberalism (Princeton University Press: Princeton New Jersey, 1994) p.21-28.

The afore mentioned view has been defined as “canonical” by some commentators, probably and as Hoekstra suggest, because it “…tries to overwhelm whatever anti-liberal or anti-democratic conclusion Hobbes himself attempted to derive from those premises.” My approach does not view Hobbes in result to the fact that he builds an unconditional State of affairs, but as constructing a civic science that develops thoroughly- and at times contractively- the essential tasks for stable and everlasting governance.

As to the claim that wants Hobbes to be a precursor of democracy, R. Tuck’s uses his imagination so far as to suggest that Hobbes was not (just) democratic in terms of the voluntary act made by individuals to form a body politic, but was democratic mainly because he claimed that people have the sovereign right to decide what has been decided on their own behalf. He constructs this argument by drawing on Hobbes realization of the body politic and the distinction he makes on sovereign power and administration as found in The Elements of Law Natural and Politic II.8.7.

Both Hoekstra’s account ‘A lion in the house: Hobbes and Democracy’, and R.Tuck’s ‘Hobbes and Democracy’ can be found in the collection Rethinking the Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2006)

Διαλύεσαι..

November 10, 2012

Έχει πιάσει να βρέχει νωρίς απ’το πρωί,
όλ’ανάποδα μου πάνε απ’την αρχή.
Στο τηλέφωνο με πήρες, κάτι να μου πεις
κι η φωνή σου είναι τόσο σκοτεινή.
Διαλύεσαι…
Θα περάσει όπως πάντα, τίποτα δεν κρατά,
το’ζησα ξανά και πιο ξανά.
Το ρολόι στον τοίχο δείχνει εννιά παρά,
έχω αργήσει να φύγω για τη δουλειά.
Διαλύεσαι…
Έχει πάρει μια ψύχρα, έρχεται καταιγίδα,
στο κερί σβήνει η φλόγα και συ μου διαλύεσαι.
Σ’ένα ποτήρι με ρούμι, …διαλύεσαι…
Σ’ένα δωμάτιο με στάχτες, …διαλύεσαι…
Σε γκρεμισμένα παλάτια, …διαλύεσαι…
Σε μια εικόνα σου άδεια,…διαλύεσαι…
Σε σφραγισμένα δωμάτια, … διαλύεσαι…
Σε μια οθόνη γαλάζια, … διαλύεσαι…
Σ’ένα καράβι με ρούμι, …διαλύεσαι…
Σε μια εικόνα σου άδεια…