Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan 1651 – Modern Constitutionalism
Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679)
What makes a book revolutionary is often the context from which that content emerges, rather than the substance itself. This was the circumstance when Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan was published in 1651. At the time, England was on the verge of ending a nine-year civil war.
Unrest had become the social and political norm, and the law had devolved into a jumble of notions with little structure. Despite the disarray, one overriding framework stood out, according to political analyst Gary McDowell: “the tremendous and pervasive influence of Christianity.”Leviathan caused a stir by challenging traditional Christian concepts of man, law, and government, signaling a dramatic shift in legal thought and setting a crucial foundation for the next century’s development of law.
The title of the book is derived from the Hebrew term for “coiled” or “twisted,” which is used in the Hebrew Bible to describe a sea monster. Hobbes claims that in order for a commonwealth to be free of fear and violence, it must enter into a contract with a sovereign in which it obeys artificial laws in exchange for the sovereign’s protection from man’s naturally violent state. The social contract theory, which explains the rationale for law and government, is based on Hobbes’ notion of exchange between the sovereign and the people.
Leviathan was received with skepticism. Some of Hobbes’ contemporaries accused him of misinterpreting human nature as naturally evil, which was a direct contrast to the Christian deity who created man in His image. Hobbes’ idea of legal establishment, based on man’s desire to contract with the sovereign rather than divine proclamation, further enraged his Christian audiences. Despite this skepticism at the time, the concepts outlined in Leviathan have endured the test of time.
Many scholars consider Hobbes a pillar of modern constitutionalism, as Loreta Medina writes in The Creation of the United States Constitution. Hobbes “learned the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people that made a government dependent on the consent of the governed” from America’s founding fathers, as Loreta Medina writes in The Creation of the United States Constitution.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)