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Hobbes' Views on Law & Coercion

This study will discuss the views of Thomas Hobbes on law and coercion, with emphasis on coercion, from a political science perspective.

Hobbes' theory of political philosophy begins with his notion of men in the state of nature, in which they existed before the emergence of political or civil society. As we read in Stumpf, "In this state of nature all men are equal and equally have the right to whatever they consider necessary for their survival. Equality here means simply that anyone is capable of hurting his neighbor and taking what he judges he needs for his own protection . . . The word right in the bare state of nature is a man's freedom 'to do what he would, and against whom he thought fit, and to possess, use and enjoy all that he would, or could get'" (Stumpf, 1966, pp. 243-244).

The "covenants" out of which emerge political society are first borne from the need to soften the state of nature as Hobbes sees it. Justice, says Hobbes, is contained in the state of nature, as are all the desirable qualities of political society: "And in this law of nature, consisteth the fountain and original of justice. For where no covenant hath preceded, there hath no right been transferred, and every man has right to every thing; and consequently, no action can be unjust. But when a covenant is made, then to break it is unjust: and the definition of injustice, is no other than the not performance of covenant" (Hobbes, 1968, p. 94).

While men remain in the state of nature, there is nothing but war, nothing but a state of coercion. Might, essentially, makes right in such a state of nature.

The insecurity of such a state is obvious, for even the strong individual can be ganged up on by a number of weaker individuals. No person is safe from coercion in the state of nature.

Therefore, the civil or political society, to an important degree, is borne out of the desire to inject some sense of security, some sense of safety, ...

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Hobbes' Views on Law & Coercion. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 04:14, August 26, 2019, from