Thomas Hobbes on Fear and Political Order
Thomas Hobbes argued that fear of violent death leads inevitably to a social contract which gives birth to the Leviathan. This argument might lead one to believe that Hobbes was suggesting that transferring natural rights (and power) to an absolute sovereign, people are able to escape this fear. However, close textual analysis of De Cive and Leviathan reveals that Hobbes did not make this assumption. This paper suggests that in De Cive and Leviathan we can identify two levels of fear: a “horizontal” fear of threats among individuals and a “vertical” top-down fear of the power of the sovereign after construction of the Leviathan. In the state of nature, a “horizontal” fear of violent death is indeed the primary reason why people make the social contract which erects the Leviathan. However, people’s hope of replacing constant fear at the horizontal level with clear laws and the predictable fear of the sovereign at the vertical level doesn’t correspond with the reality. In fact, after the birth of the Leviathan, who possesses absolute sovereignty, people must endure a dual fear from both the horizontal and vertical levels. This fact appears inconsistent with the cause of construction of the Leviathan. In addition to identifying this inconsistency, this study uses the concepts of “the Foole” and of “nonidentical actor” to reinterpret Hobbes’s line of thought in order to resolve this theoretical paradox. The paper helps to explain why Hobbes believed that education and religion, in addition to the sovereign’s absolute power and law, were necessary to maintain political order.